BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

HOTPOINT

Death or Glory (Part VI)
Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Continuation of the 'Death or Glory' sequence. River gets to play a game


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 4450    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Disclaimer – Everything either does belong to Joss or it should. I’m just borrowing his shiny ‘verse for a while.

The 21st Lancers belong to the British Army so I’m borrowing them too. I hope they don’t mind

* * *

Alliance Ground Control Station – Toulouse Spaceport – 2519AD

The controller leaned back in his chair and addressed the station commander ‘Sir we have a communication from that Firefly that lifted to geosynch earlier’

‘What do they want?’

‘They say they’re sending down a shuttle with a kid on board and wanted to advise us given the alert status on traffic. Apparently they were on a joyride with the gravity turned off, somebody didn’t like freefall and they’re insisting on going home. The Firefly pilot says it ain’t pretty up there and they’ve got the mechanic chasing bits round the cargo bay with a vacuum cleaner’ the controller was smirking.

The Station Commander grimaced. Throwing up in freefall was not attractive ‘Why aren’t they all flying down in the ship?’

‘Rest of the family want to stay and get their moneys worth. Pilot says they’re a pain in the ass’

‘Who checked that ship out before it launched?’

‘Corporal Persico Sir’

The station commander switched on his headset and connected to the Corporals receiver. He was still down on the bays checking ships. ‘Persico this is the Ground Control Office are you there?’

‘Persico here’ his voice answered over the headset.

‘You checked out the Firefly that lifted earlier. Who was on it?’

‘Just the crew and a family who wanted to go have some freefall time’

‘They seem alright to you?’

‘Crew was okay, they’re not from here. Family were locals and not too friendly why?’

‘They’re sending a shuttle down and I’m checking it out. One of the kids didn’t like freefall but the rest wanted to stay up there’

‘I ain’t surprised. The father seemed the type to get his moneys worth. Some stuck-up academic from the University’

‘Pilot says they’re a pain the ass too. Nice to know it’s not just us who don’t get on with the people around these parts’

‘Surely is. That all you wanted to know Sir?’

‘That’s it. Ground Control out’ the Station Commander switched off his headset and turned to the controller ‘Story checks out. Thank them for advising and tell them we’ll find them a bay’

‘They say they’re going to land near the kids’ house not at the Port. Flight path is heading for the residential area in the south of the city’

The Station Commander considered for a second ‘Tell them that’s fine just to tell us when they’re lifting again’

‘Will do’

* * *

Serenity Shuttle Two – De-Orbiting to Toulouse – 2519AD

He looked around the shuttle nervously ‘Am I the only person here getting combat drop flashbacks?’ Steven eventually got up the courage to say. He was sitting with his ISWS standing upright on its stock between his legs. Jayne was still casting occasional admiring glances at the weapon. Brimstone envy thought the cavalryman.

‘I wasn’t going to say but I keep getting the urge to throw up so I’d say that’s a big yes’ Zoe answered. It really was all too reminiscent of the war. Lots of unhappy memories involving landing under fire were coming to the surface. Better to let Steven know he wasn’t alone in his thoughts.

Mal was flying the shuttle and called back ‘Ain’t nothing to worry about. We land, we get our people, we leave’

‘I’m not worried. It’s just that I should have told you about the chronic Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder I suffer with. If I start to shake furiously just give me a smack round the head’ Steven joked trying to relieve the tension.

‘Any other mental disorders we should know about?’ Book asked playing along

‘Just the usual but don’t worry. Eight out of the ten voices in my head say not to shoot you all and barbeque the remains for lunch’

The Shepherd smiled ‘Well it’s nice to know you have the ideals of democracy close to your heart’

‘I teach politics. Abstract notions of government are my thing’

Jayne was perfectly calm, well maybe a little excited but not nervous ‘Stick by me you’ll be okay’ he told Steven.

‘I was planning to stick by you. Let’s face it, guy your size is the makings of a good barricade if nothing else’

‘Yeah feel free to use Jayne as a human shield. That’s what we do’ Mal interrupted.

‘Hey’ Jayne said hurt ‘I didn’t have to come on this’

‘You haven’t been involved in gun-play in months. You need the practice and you were getting annoying complaining about it’ Zoe told him ‘Anyway you enjoy this stuff’ she paused ‘and that’s the worrying part’

The big mercenary frowned and went back to checking his gear. Vera was cradled in his lap and every so often he stroked the advanced rifle gently. Jayne was a good fighter but sometimes he was as creepifying as River.

Thinking of River she was sitting quietly staring towards the bulkhead with her eyes totally out of focus. She had checked the Wolverine Carbine now lying next to her and set it down ignoring it.

‘Coming up on the course change’ Mal announced ‘Landing in two minutes’. He turned on the radio ‘This is Serenity Shuttle-Two to Toulouse Ground Control we have a mechanical problem’

The speaker crackled to life ‘This is Ground Control to Serenity Shuttle-Two are you issuing a mayday?’

‘Negative. Slight problem with the engine so I’m setting down early, I think I can fix it easily enough on the ground, same things happened before, but I don’t want to risk total failure over a populated area. There’s a clearing ahead near those old factories so I’m putting her down there’

‘Do you want an emergency team despatched?’

‘Don’t bother. If we need help I’ll ask for it thanks for the offer though’

‘You’re welcome Serenity Shuttle-Two. Call if you need us. Ground Control Out’

Mal killed the radio.

‘Right that should buy us some time before interceptors turn up’ he said. ‘Everyone is wearing their headsets? Good. So you all ready to go?’

‘Just one thing’ Steven said and pulled something out of the satchel of grenade magazines he was carrying. He opened it up and put it on his head, it was a black tank-crew beret with a brass ‘Death or Glory’ Lancer badge on it. ‘Got to keep up tradition’ he said.

‘Hell of a rutting target for a sniper’ Jayne commented professionally pointing at the badge. ‘Somebody with a sense of humour’ll put a round straight through that’

Steven shrugged ‘If it happens it happens’ he put on the targeting goggles and plugged in the wire which connected it to the black glove he was wearing on his right hand. He touched the grip on the Brimstone to check the connection and was rewarded with a transparent, slowly tumbling 3D image of the weapon floating in space in front of him as the computer ran a self-check program and projected the results into his eyes.

Book bowed his head and started to pray to himself. Jayne and Zoe looked at him then bowed their heads too.

River suddenly stood up and moved to the front of the shuttle. They flew through the last layer of cloud cover and found themselves flying over the start of the abandoned factory complex.

‘There’s the game board’ River told Mal.

Strangely enough the perfect grid system of the complexes roads and identical square factories and warehouses with different coloured flat roofs really was slightly reminiscent of a chessboard from this height.

‘Simon you there?’ Mal said into his headset. He hadn’t communicated with him earlier in case somebody triangulated the Doctors transmission. It was scrambled so they couldn’t understand it but you could still trace the signal.

‘Right here Captain’ Simon answered on his walkie-talkie.

‘Just about to land at the empty lot in the middle of the complex. Head straight there’

‘On our way. Simon out’

Just as they came into land River pointed at a column of vehicles just about to enter the complex in the distance. ‘Black pieces setting up on the board’ she said.

‘Darn’

* * *

Abandoned Warehouse Block – Toulouse – 2519AD

Simon looked around. ‘Alright everyone our ride is just getting here. We’re heading for the middle of the complex’

Inara pointed to their captive ‘What about Deborah?’

‘No point keeping her now. Miss Setters you are free to go’ Simon told her.

Deborah was very happy ‘Thanks for keeping your word. Well I suppose I’ve got a story to tell my friends now’

‘Jennifer you ready to go?’ Simon asked.

‘Yes. So is Cally’ she replied and stood up holding her daughters hand. Cally had calmed down a lot but was still very pale ‘Do you want your jacket back?’ Jennifer asked.

‘That’s okay I can live without it for a while’ Simon gestured to the stairs, shall we go?’

The walkie-talkie buzzed again.

‘Receiving’ Simon said into it.

Mals voice again ‘Alliance soldiers inbound. They’ll be at your location before we are stay put and hole up. You don’t want to be caught out in the open. We’ll come get you over’

Simon dropped the radio back in his pocket and took a look out of the window. Why couldn’t things go smoothly for a change?

‘We’re staying then?’ Inara asked.

‘Hopefully not too long’ Simon answered ‘I might suggest you leave now Deborah there may be a fire-fight and it’s not your concern’

‘Are you sure somebody won’t shoot me accidentally if I’m out there?’ She asked

‘No’

‘Do they want you alive?’

‘Yes’

‘Then I’ll stay right here thanks’ Deborah stated and sat back down. This was certainly one of the weirdest days in her life. Maybe she was in mortal danger after all just not from the person who hijacked her.

Simon looked at Inara. ‘Watch the stairs I’ll cover the window’

‘Are we not going now?’ Cally asked ‘I want to go home’ it was the first thing she had said.

‘We all want to go home Cally’ Simon answered. It’s just that fate seems to arrange it so some of us can’t he thought.

* * *

Serenity Rescue Party – Toulouse – 2519AD

Zoe was the first off the shuttle making up ground with Jayne and River in hot pursuit. They were heading for the tallest building in the complex, a factory three stories higher than the rest and which lay directly west of where Simon was. The entire abandoned industrial area was a perfect north/south orientated grid which River visualised as a game-board for her pieces.

Mal and Book cut south at a run for two blocks then started double-timing eastwards. Their objective was to flank to the south and get behind the Alliance troops if possible, or if not then to stop them flanking the Serenity party instead. Mal was initially moving like he had a purpose but soon had to slow down for the Shepherd who was fit for his age but not as fast as he had been. You never outdistance your partner in a fire-fight. That’ll get you killed.

As they pounded up the concrete roads something occurred to Mal. By habit he had started using the standard army hand signals as he would with Zoe to indicate what he was doing every time they came to a junction and he noticed that the Shepherd understood them, stopping and starting, dropping to the ground and shouldering his rifle for action when requested. Only a serviceman would know those signals. One day he was definitely going to have to sit Book down for a little word about his personal history.

Steven was running too, heading three blocks north before cutting east looking for a place to set up his Brimstone. His role was to stop any attempt to flank them that way, it was decided he had the firepower to do that on his own. He wasn’t moving very fast because he was hauling a lot of ammunition and his flak-jacket wasn’t a lightweight either but River said he’d be in position before he’d be needed.

* * *

Abandoned Warehouse Block – Toulouse – 2519AD

A line of vehicles pulled up outside the warehouse to the south and began to deploy soldiers who fanned out. Some of the vehicles moved to surround the other three sides of the building. Simon couldn’t understand how they’d found them here but it was no time for hypothetical debate. They were here and they wanted him very badly.

One of them had a loudspeaker ‘Simon Tam you are bound by Law. Surrender and you will not be harmed’

Despite himself Simon smiling broadly. Did anybody really ever buy that line?

‘We know you are in this area’ the loudspeaker continued ‘there are dozens of soldiers here who will locate you very soon. We know you have a number of women and a little girl with you. You wouldn’t want to endanger them would you? I assure you again no harm will come to you if you surrender’

Simon turned to Inara ‘Well I’m convinced are you?’ he said rolling his eyes dramatically ‘I guess we’ll all just get a slap on the wrist and be sent to bed without dinner’. Despite the situation Inara couldn’t help but chuckle, spend enough time on Serenity and you develop a touch of gallows humour despite yourself.

‘How can you be so relaxed?’ Deborah asked. She herself was petrified and Jennifer and Cally were hugging each other. Inara was scared too but not showing it as much.

Still looking out the window Simon replied. ‘Let me explain my life for most of the last two years’ he said. ‘I wake up in the morning and get chased by Feds, Gangsters, Alliance Soldiers, Reavers or Bounty-Hunters. Except that is for the occasional day when a bunch of superstitious primitives attempt to burn me at the stake or I help rescue a friend from a crazed psychotic with a torture fetish’ Simon shook his head ‘Frankly this is becoming almost routine’ he looked towards Deborah ‘I think I’ve sort of shifted my outlook beyond the fear stage to a grudging acceptance of the horrible reality that is my existence’

‘But why go on?’ Deborah asked ‘It sounds awful’

Simon went back to looking out of the window ‘Because I have people I love and I have to keep going to protect them, plus I get a certain satisfaction from knowing I’m still free and breathing despite the efforts of so many people to change that’ he chambered a round in his automatic pistol.

‘But is that enough?’

Simon chuckled ‘Still flying’ he said cryptically. It’s funny how that made so much more sense to him now.

Downstairs a soldier opened the double-doors on the south wall and saw the Hovercar. ‘In here Sir’ he called out.

What is it that Jayne always says? Simon thought. Oh yes ‘Time for some thrilling heroics’ he said grinning manically, smashed the window with his pistol and began firing at the closest Alliance Soldiers.

* * *

Alliance Military Patrol – Toulouse – 2519AD

‘Crazy chûnrén’ Major Riordan said diving for cover behind his lightly armoured groundcar. ‘He can’t seriously think he’s going to hold us off with a pistol’

‘Well it’ll be a short battle Sir’ responded one of his NCO’s also sheltering behind the vehicle ‘We can open up at your command. He’s surrounded and we’ve got at least a dozen rifles on him’

‘I want them alive. Get the launcher and fire some tear-gas in there’

‘Yes sir’ The NCO ran from cover to cover until he got to the third vehicle where one of the soldiers had the launcher. He took the single shot breech-loader and a few grenades then started to run back to where he could get a shot clean through the window where the fugitive was firing from.

He was halfway there when a supersonic round slammed into his chest going straight through his light body armour and blew him backwards.

‘Sniper fire’ someone yelled and the Alliance soldiers began scanning the area.

A lieutenant in a light duty cap guessed where the shot had come from and looked that way through his binoculars.

He’d been right on the direction because the next round went straight through his binoculars right eye-piece and kept going, expanding slightly on route and eventually blowing off the back of his head. He dropped to the ground in a heap.

‘Sniper is in the tall structure to the west’ Major Riordan called out. Take cover from that direction’

* * *

Serenity Rescue Party – Toulouse – 2519AD

Rook takes pawn. River thought as she watched the big mercenary shoot another Alliance soldier.

Jayne and River were lying prone on the roof of the tall factory building with Jayne sniping and River both spotting for him with zoom binoculars and getting a better feel for the game thanks to her panoramic view.

This was the kind of thing Jayne lived for. There were plenty of targets and a good commanding place for him to fire from. According to Vera’s auto-lock scope display his assorted prey were between 550 and 700 yards away which was a breeze for a Callahan. The jet-propelled rounds were fairly accurate to twice that range and he barely had to adjust for trajectory. He was actually showing off a bit going for headshots only.

River watched dispassionately as Jayne splashed out the brains of another one. The other player would soon try to counter her Rook by sending a major piece up the board. Their only problem was that River had already predicted the game several moves ahead.

From the air she had counted thirteen wheeled squad patrol vehicles and a single tracked Armoured Personnel Carrier half way down the column. Each one of these fourteen vehicles would be carrying a squad of up to ten men making approximately one-hundred-forty total. Her pieces were outnumbered just over twenty to one. This would be no challenge at all she decided.

‘They’re so dumb it makes you almost feel bad for killing ‘em’ Jayne said and inserted a fresh magazine into Vera. ‘Ain’t even got the brains to duck, and stay ducked’ The Callahan fired again ‘Just bagged me another Lieutenant’ he said.

* * *

Alliance Military Patrol – Toulouse – 2519AD

Major Riordan was sheltering behind the lightly armoured side of his vehicle. ‘Gorramit keep your heads down’ he hollered as another of his officers had his teeth blown out the back of his head. The bullet had gone straight through the supposedly “bullet-proof” glass that was fitted in these things. The Sniper was well out of range for the sub-machine guns the vast majority of his men were carrying, a quarter of his troops were only equipped with shotguns. They hadn’t gone out expecting long-range engagements this was supposed to be close up work. They didn’t even have any proper grenades for the launcher only smoke and tear gas.

He had only one man with a sniper rifle. Corporal Morgan was his sharpshooter. He ordered him to try and get a shot but warned him not to take any risks as he didn’t want to lose his best marksman.

Fortunately he had bought along the APC and he ordered Third Squad to mount up and go flush out that damn Sniper.

* * *

Serenity Rescue Party – Toulouse – 2519AD

River turned on her microphone ‘River to Mal. Stop at the next junction with Book and wait until I give you the word’

‘Will do’ Mal answered, River had the best view in the house and the scary precognition thing going for her, best to do as she says when she was so positive. He halted his advance eastwards with Book just behind him. They had been moving up slowly from cover to cover since Jayne started firing and were now about three blocks east and two south of Jayne’s sniper nest. They hadn’t seen anyone but you don’t take the risk. Always move in short alternating sprints with the second man giving cover.

River had drawn the game in her head, it was more efficient that way. She could rotate it in her mind and zoom in and out to determine moves and firing angles. Each factory or warehouse was a square on the board. She was working off a map eight blocks by eight with the intersecting north-south roads lettered A to I and the east-west roads numbered 1 to 9. Currently Jayne was firing westwards down road 6 but could also cover road 5 from here if he moved to the other side of the roof which he did occasionally. Mal and Book were by the F8 junction whilst Steven was covering eastwards down road 3.

She considered telling everyone this but she didn’t think they’d like to think their moves were being plotted in such a mechanistic fashion. To River at the moment they were pieces to be pushed around the game-board. They might not appreciate the imagery but she was going to win the game for them.

Black was making his move.

‘River we got an APC headed our way’ Jayne told her. It ain’t armed but I can’t stop her with Vera. If she gets up here and dumps a lot of troops in our lap we might be in trouble’

She looked through her binoculars. Sure enough the Black Queen, their most powerful piece was rumbling eastwards towards her.

What unimaginative play she thought. Anyhow you shouldn’t send the Queen out too early in the game in case you lose her.

‘Hey I see a guy with a scope-rifle down there trying to stay behind cover’ Jayne said quietly. ‘Hey there used to be a guy with a scope rifle down there who was bad at using cover’ he said joking to himself after he put a shot right between the Alliance marksman eyes. As he slumped he dropped the rifle to the ground in the open next to one of the vehicles. Jayne put his next shot straight through it shattering the mechanism best not have someone pick that up he thought.

The APC rolled on ignoring the side streets either side. There was one sniper and he was ahead of them. Just get up there drop off the infantry and let them clear them out.

Zoe had been working her way eastwards up the “board” out of line of sight going through the buildings breaking locks and kicking in doors. She was a block and two side-streets ahead of Rivers position when she heard the APC rumble past and took a peek from a recessed doorway. Jayne was right they really were dumb they had the back doors open and they didn’t have their weapons ready to fire. Never assume they aren’t behind you she thought to herself stepping out of the shadows and gently tossing a short-fuse grenade into the back of the thing before ducking back into cover. Gorram amateurs she thought running away from the blast.

The dozen men inside had seen her step out and throw something, and had just enough time to realise what was happening when the grenade exploded right in the middle of them on the floor of the APC.

If it had exploded outside the Carrier it might have messed up the paintwork. Inside however it blew the entire crew to pieces and set off a small few secondary explosions as their ammunition burned and detonated. The frame of the heavily armoured vehicle was completely intact but within it was a charnel house.

‘In case you was wondering about the noise’ Jayne remarked on the radio ‘Zoe just took out an APC’.

Zoe piped up ‘You jealous Jayne?’ she asked picking herself up from the ground and dusting herself off before resuming her progress along the line of buildings.

‘Nah, I’m still ahead on kills today’ he said and shot a hole in somebody’s leg six-hundred yards away. It was the only bit of him not in cover. He was also starting to shoot out engines working his way back along the line when there was nothing better to shoot at.

* * *

Alliance Military Patrol – Toulouse – 2519AD

Riordan watched his APC burning four-hundred yards or so down the road and grimaced. He’d just lost a dozen men and a very expensive piece of hardware just because he’d assumed it was just the one sniper out there.

His marksman was lying dead too next to a shattered rifle.

Who were these guys anyway?

The Major considered calling for backup but he still had well over a hundred men and only two confirmed hostiles. Time for a change in tactics let’s do this the old fashioned way he thought.

‘Fourth and fifth Squads move one block south then head west to outflank. If you stay close to the buildings the Sniper will not be able to engage you. There are at least two of them out there but watch for more’

The Alliance Major considered. The remains of squads one, seven and the half of squad six not inside the warehouse were still with him pinned down by the sniper. Meanwhile he didn’t want to move squads two, eight and nine as they were deployed to surround the building on the other three sides and the arrest of the fugitive Tam was still the overriding priority. That did however leave him half a dozen squads so far unutilised at the rear.

If he sent them north in their patrol vehicles and they looped around the grid he could have them arrive en-masse where the sniper and his cohort were. He’d let his dismounted soldiers get moving first then get the remainder rolling. This would mean a total of eighty men hitting the opposition from two directions

Well that’s as good a plan as any. He decided.

* * *

Serenity Rescue Party – Toulouse – 2519AD

‘Zoe here. I’m in the next but one building west of the objective. When I move onto the next one I’m going silent. Let me know when to make my play’

‘Affirmative’ River answered. ‘Mal if you look north around the corner you are about to see soldiers run past your line of sight heading west to flank me and Jayne. Please stop them. Book do not fire but get ready to take over his position’

Reynolds leant around the corner and aimed his Assault Rifle north, he had it set on three-round-burst and his finger was already on the trigger.

Sure enough an Ally soldier ran straight across his field of view. He let him nearly reach the other side of the junction by which time another one was also in sight before firing.

Perfectly judged for lead the three round burst caught him in the centre of the chest, dropping him like a stone, the high-velocity bullets going straight through the lightweight body-armour he’d been wearing. The other one must have been a rookie because he figuratively stopped dead in his tracks when his friend fell down in front of him. Mals next three-round-burst stopped him dead in reality.

Another one appeared looking around the corner nervously and received the reward that the overly curious often get when Mal blew his brains out.

‘Mal move another block east immediately. Book take his place don’t let them get past you’ River commanded on the radio

He was already running as the Shepherd moved to take his place.

Another curious type took a look around the corner just after Mal had started moving and Book fired a round straight past their head, deliberately missing but not by much.

‘How did you know they’d be going that way?’ Mal asked River on the run ‘You can’t see from where you are’

‘Mainly because they are making very predictable moves’ she answered then paused for a second ‘I’m also cheating because I’m reading the enemy commanders mind’ she sounded almost guilty about the second part. ‘When you get to the next junction aim north again you’ll have plenty of targets in a second’

There was definitely an advantage to having a psychic sidekick Mal decided as he reached the next junction and dropped to the ground with most of his body still in cover and his rifle aimed northwards around the corner.

A trio of the guys who had been trying to go west one block up backtracked straight into Mals’ gun-sights and he took out all three in quick succession. Any others in the group were now stuck between his line of fire and Books.

Additionally Mal realised he was now almost directly south of where Simon was. He could see another squad of soldiers and their vehicle surrounding the western side of the warehouse less than three hundred yards out, they were out of Jayne’s line of fire and not even taking cover although they had turned to see where the sound of firing was coming from. Time to demonstrate that the big mercenary wasn’t the only person who could do the sniper thing Mal decided.

Switching to single-shot he took out the Squad NCO, a Corporal, then three more in quick succession before they realised what was happening. They had no cover from this direction except to shelter behind the patrol vehicle.

They really should have thought about the fact Mal might be firing from a prone position and their transport rode very high on its suspension because he shot two more of them in the legs, by firing rounds straight underneath the thing.

The rest of the squad broke and ran.

* * *

Alliance Military Patrol – Toulouse – 2519AD

Major Riordan was talking on the radio to the Sergeant now in charge of both fourth and fifth squads. His Lieutenant had apparently been killed sticking his head around a corner, Darwinian natural selection in action Riordan thought, survival of the least stupid. The two squads minus their losses were stuck between two firing lines with their thumbs up their asses. They could try and go forward or back as a group if they willing to take the casualties but it seemed they were facing automatic weapons so the losses might be heavy.

‘Can’t you break out through a building?’ Riordan asked.

‘Negative Sir it’s a Valley. No windows and the only doors are steel plate. Haven’t got explosives to blow them’

‘Alright Sergeant hole up there and wait for the group flanking north to sweep around’

Riordan frowned. Who were these guys and how many of them were there anyway? They seemed to be cropping up everywhere and they seemed to know their business far too well for comfort. He considered asking for backup again but he still only knew of four shooters for certain and he didn’t want anybody else taking the credit for apprehending the fugitive.

‘Motorised column move out. We’ve got people pinned down who need saving so lets get this finished now’ he ordered.

* * *

Serenity Rescue Party – Toulouse – 2519AD

‘Hey Crazy Girl, we’ve got vehicles moving north fast’ Jayne announced.

‘They should have made that move much earlier. They should also be calling in support because they have no idea what they’re facing. They’re not very bright or rather their commander isn’t’ River stated looking through her binoculars. ‘Steven you are about to receive a column of enemy vehicles are you ready?’

‘Ready as I’ll ever be’ he answered over the radio. He was knelling behind a large pile of rubble from a collapsed factory wall with the bipod set up on his Brimstone and a 250 round box loaded. The buildings round here seemed in even worse condition than most, it looked like many had been burned out by vandals.

‘I need you to take out as many as possible as quickly as you can’ River told him.

‘Yes ma’am’

Steven lined up several clips of miscellaneous grenade types next to him for ease of reloading. He ducked, lying behind the rubble using the Brimstones’ Sight-Camera to see what was coming.

As River had expected the column turned west into his line of fire. He let them get within three blocks, putting them roughly parallel with Book then rose back to his knees and bought the bulky weapon to his shoulder.

‘Okay I’m about to open fire. Things are going to get very noisy round here’ The Lancer Officer announced.

The targeting computer locked onto the lead vehicle and he selected the grenade launcher. Two crosshairs appeared, one where he was aiming one where he should, he angled the oversized weapon until they overlapped and then fired.

The grenade launched itself with a very loud ‘Ka-Pung’ sound, arced down the road and slammed straight into the front of the first Alliance vehicle. It exploded in a sheet of flame and ploughed sideways into one of the factories to its left.

This meant that number two was now in the line of fire and a second grenade hurtled off to detonate just by its left wheel-arch blowing off the side of the vehicle and sending it screeching to a halt in a shower of sparks.

Steven rapidly fired off the rest of his 10 round clip of high-explosive grenades in a more ballistic fashion trying to hit vehicles further down the column, one grenade went slightly off-course and struck the wall of one of the burned out factories along the firing line it disintegrated showering chunks of concrete into the roadway on top of the column. The last but one grenade landed on top of the rearmost patrol car just as its driver was trying to reverse back out.

Then he cut loose with his machine gun.

The Brimstone had a fully electronic firing system. You could select various rates of fire and he had chosen the lowest full-auto rate, 500 rounds per minute. That gave him thirty continual seconds of firing before reloading and he poured a stream of mixed armour-piercing and tracer fire towards the Alliance soldiers some of whom had dismounted to attempt to shoot back at him. He had chosen a tracer mix for his first box because he thought actually seeing the volume of fire heading their way would seriously intimidate the opposition. The unfortunate counter-point is that tracer works both ways so they now knew exactly where he was.

There was smoke and fire but the targeting computer looked straight through it and all he had to do was direct the stream of bullets at anything that moved.

Some of the oppositions return fire was getting close so Steven ducked back behind the wall and aimed using the camera for the last fifty shots or so of the box. It wasn’t as accurate, as bracing the thing against your shoulder took up the recoil that otherwise made it jump around but he was playing the intimidation game not trying for hits any more.

‘I’m dry. Reloading now’ Steven announced to one on in particular. It was just habit.

Steven loaded a 100-round drum magazine which he had left next to him for quick reloading and snapped in a fresh clip of grenades. This time it was a mixture of two different types.

Okay boys say hello to the Infantryman’s nightmare, he thought and rose to shoot again.

Another ten grenades launched off rapid-fire in less than eight seconds dropping randomly amongst the rapidly dismounting soldiers in the column. Unlike the first clip of high-explosive grenades these were a mixture of fragmentation rounds and white phosphorous, respectively designed to rip through flesh and burn anything they struck.

Burning white phosphorus, on the skin would melt through muscle and sinew to the very bone itself. It was a truly horrific weapon.

It was also a seriously gorram effective way to maim your fellow man, hence its popularity for centuries.

This was pure butchery Steven knew but it wasn’t exactly the first time he’d burned and eviscerated large numbers of his own species so he dismissed the thought and got back to the business at hand opening up with the machine gun again at the few remaining soldiers still firing at him.

River could feel the agonies of dozens of wounded Alliance Soldiers as burning phosphorus seared through their flesh. She put her hands over her ears to try and drown out the screams but they were in her head. She screamed.

Jayne nearly jumped out of his skin ‘Captain’ he said ‘There’s something up with River’ She managed to get herself back under control. She had been becoming better at that recently and it took a major wave of pain and emotion to overwhelm her now ‘I’m okay Jayne. I’m okay Captain. Just lost it for a second but I’m alright now’

‘You sure girl?’ Jayne asked. He actually seemed genuinely concerned.

‘I’m sure’ she answered and went back to looking through the binoculars. Jayne got back to sniping.

The Brimstone ran dry again. There was no more firing from the column although there was a great deal of screaming. ‘This is Steven. The enemy units are neutralised, requesting orders. Do you wish me to redeploy?’

‘Yes can you move another block north and start sweeping eastwards at the double’ River told him. ‘You might see a few targets en-route, survivors from the column but you should be able to deal with them’

‘On my way’ Steven said and after loading another drum plus a clip of canister rounds into the launcher he crawled backwards to the junction staying behind the cover of the rubble then cutting north. He was definitely getting the scenic tour.

* * *

Alliance Military Patrol – Toulouse – 2519AD

Riordan was screaming into his radio ‘I repeat we are being engaged by military grade hardware, request immediate assistance… no I don’t mean a few gorram assault rifles I mean I just had a column of vehicles OBLITERATED by AUTOMATIC GRENADE LAUNCHERS AND MACHINE GUNS… I’ve got some sniper blowing the head off everyone in sight, I’ve got infantry flanking me to the south and somebody blew up my APC… no I don’t want another few squads. Send the whole fucking REGIMENT!’

He slammed the radio down and considered his options. It seemed he was facing more and more of the enemy and they were better and better armed. His only option seemed to be to dig-in until reinforcements arrived.

Ideally he’d call in aviation support because it would get there much quicker but there were no gun-ships based on Toulouse and the squadron of Jet Fighters would flatten half the area and you never knew if it was going to be the right half as opposed to the part he was in instead.

* * *

Serenity Rescue Party – Toulouse – 2519AD

The wind was blowing from the north-east and smoke was rolling down the streets from the smashed vehicle column. Even up on the roof Jayne and River could smell the acrid smell of white-phosphorus on the air.

‘Other side is requesting more pawns on the board. We need to finish this soon’ River said. She dropped the binoculars letting them hang from their strap round her neck and picked up her carbine ‘Steven I need you to get parallel with the western side of the objective as fast as you can and lay down smoke north and south of it’ she set off towards the fire escape at a trot.

‘Already going double-time, as soon as I’m there I’ll start dropping smoke grenades as requested’

River reached the fire-escape at the side of the building and sprinted down, gracefully taking five steps at a time ‘Mal this is River’ In a little while a lot of soldiers are going to come running out of where you and Book have them trapped.

‘Why’s that?’ Mal asked.

‘Because I’ll be shooting at them’ she said reaching the bottom of the steps and taking what she thought of as the ‘C’ road south.

The next junction was with road ‘7’ which was the one the Alliance Soldiers were bottled up in four blocks east. River ran to the middle of the road lay prone on the ground and looked through the small telescopic sight on the Wolverine. It wasn’t a good weapon for long-distance work she couldn’t get in accurate shots with this low magnification scope but it would get the job done she knew. She was just driving the herd towards the cliff nothing else.

The Soldiers in the road had seen her but she was unreachable with their short-range sub-machine guns.

With a look of total disinterest on her face she started firing single shots.

The first round hit a Corporal in the leg and he went down screaming. The next one struck a kneeling Private in the chest knocking him backwards. The third shot missed another soldier, he heard it whistle past his head, but the fourth round actually went straight though the Sergeants neck before he could order the rest of them to lay down flat.

Most of the remainder broke and ran. Straight into Mal Reynolds own personal firing range in fact.

His Assault Rifle fired burst after burst. It was a total duck-shoot most didn’t even try to fire back they were just panicked and running. They had already been at the end of their tether before she started shooting knowing from the radio chatter that the majority of their colleagues were already dead or wounded and because they could actually see bodies of their dead buddies lying in the open in both directions. In fact River had been waiting until now to shoot at them for this reason. Earlier on they would have just stayed down if she’d started firing.

‘That’s the lot that’s running Mal’ River announced. I’ve got a few more pinned to the ground if you want to move up and take them out. Oh that’s one less’ she said scoring another hit.

Girl was scary on so many levels Mal considered as he fired an extra few shots into those soldiers who were still kicking before moving up the road and rolling a fragmentation grenade around the corner to mop up.

* * *

Abandoned Warehouse Block – Toulouse – 2519AD

Simons’ radio was on a different frequency, River didn’t want him to know she was involved as he’d be mad, and he had no idea what was happening other than he could see the occasional soldier get shot by a sniper he thought to be Jayne because of the distinctive sound the bullets of his favourite gun mad in flight, well that and the fact he hadn’t actually seen him miss yet.

There were also explosions in the distance and the sounds of machine-gun fire echoed amongst the buildings from many directions. It looked like the Serenity crew were really putting their hearts, souls and trigger fingers into this one big time.

The women were all lying on the floor, with both Jennifer and slightly surprisingly Deborah, shielding Cally with their bodies. Maybe it was the Stockholm syndrome at work Simon thought, the captive identifying with her captors. On the other hand it might just be common humanity he did still encounter it from time to time.

Inara still had her pistol aimed at the door. She’d been praying a lot too, Simon was sure he’d heard her mumble Mals name more than most. When were those two going to stop being so stubborn and admit they had feelings for each other. Even Simon had noticed ages ago and he freely admitted a serious lack of emotional awareness on the romantic front.

Simon had used up half his ammunition right at the start of the fighting just to show he wasn’t going to give up without a fight. He now had half a clip in each of his pistols and was planning to save one bullet for himself if things went badly. It would be his last gesture of defiance. Let’s face it, it would be his last anything he thought to himself.

* * *

Serenity Rescue Party – Toulouse – 2519AD

Making his way east a considerable distance north Steven ran head first into a small group of survivors from the column coming out of a junction presumably retreating from the action, they thought. They were all wounded to one degree or another and one was being carried.

If some of them hadn’t been armed, and if he wasn’t here to rescue his wife and daughter Steven would probably have let them go. As it was he couldn’t take the risk to his family and fired a burst of machine gun fire and two shots of canister ammunition and took out the group from less than ten yards range.

Canister ammunition was basically an oversized shot-gun shell fired from the grenade launcher it’s effects on a group at close range was devastating. The last thing any of them saw was a man with sunglasses, a badly scarred face and a huge gun so close they could read ‘Or Glory’ on his hat. Then he shredded them, literally.

Steven turned into the junction and saw more survivors limping away. He dropped to his knees and cut them down. If he’d believed he had a soul he knew it would be black as night after today.

After finishing off his canister loads and seeing there was no one left who might pose a threat he got up and set off eastwards again at the double, loading a clip of smoke grenades as he went. Behind him he left a number of piles of unrecognisable corpses.

River had left her position and was heading down towards Mal. She told Book to go back to the shuttle and prepare it for launch and Jayne to get down to the warehouse on the northern side as soon as Steven started laying down smoke. She would need her Rook to finish off the last Pawns during the endgame.

* * *

Alliance Military Patrol – Toulouse – 2519AD

All his squad leaders wanted to retreat. There was only the equivalent of four squads left around the warehouse of the original fourteen. He had lost over a hundred men plus almost all his transport. There didn’t even seem to be very many of them, they just seemed to know what he was going to do sometimes before he did but how could they?

Reinforcements were at least ten minutes away. Well he was damned if he was going to let them win. It was going to be a draw, he’d kill the fugitives.

‘All squads open fire on the building. Let’s kill the tāmāde húndàn. Units inside open fire on the doorway and when I tell you storm it’

* * *

Abandoned Warehouse Block – Toulouse – 2519AD

‘We must be winning’ Simon yelled out as a hail of fire started smashing through the windows and through the doorway. He rolled to cover the stairs like Inara and hoped he’d got more bullets than they had men in the warehouse. Equally importantly he hoped his bullets were better than the body armour they were wearing if they came up the stairs.

* * *

Serenity Rescue Party – Toulouse – 2519AD

‘Mal you need to get behind them right now go straight east then engage units to your north’ River yelled. You’ll be behind most of them’

Her Captain had already reached the same conclusion and was already sprinting like his life, or rather lives more important to him than his own, depended upon it which they did.

Steven was in position and started unloading smoke grenades firing like an artillery piece to get the range. It was a good thing a computer was doing most of the aiming for him. Ten grenades rained down on the western side of the building and soon thick smoke began to fill the streets on three sides of the warehouse.

‘Steven head straight south towards the warehouse. Jayne and Zoe are going to cross your line of sight don’t shoot them. Move your ass Lancer’ River practically screamed into her headset.

He started to run towards the action at full tilt he was the furthest away though and not going as fast as the others either.

Jayne was double-timing along what River thought of as road “5” on her game-board as soon as the smoke landed. He had Vera at his shoulder and was looking through the smoke with her infra-red sight. He saw a few Ally soldiers running trying to use the smoke too and gunned them down on the move.

Zoe kicked open the western door on the building directly next to the warehouse and found herself standing next to a patrol car and two men with leg wounds, Mals’ handiwork earlier. She shot both of them again in a more fatal way then prepared to storm the next building. There were enemy troops inside and it looked like she’d have to shoot off a lock, so she waited until Mals’ attack distracted them. He was good at drawing attention, not to mention fire.

Mal turned the final corner and saw a number of Alliance Soldiers who looked like they were firing into the building. He quickly dispatched them and started running towards the warehouse hollering like a complete lunatic spraying bullets at anything that moved and a lot that didn’t.

Well it certainly had the desired effect because the rest of the soldiers began panic firing in all directions thinking they were being attacked by superior enemy forces from all sides.

Standing in a cloud of smoke Zoe blew the lock off the door and burst into the warehouse. She saw two soldiers in front of her firing upwards, towards her people she thought, and she took down both of them out before they realised what was going on.

Another one fired a sub-machine gun at her causing her to drop and roll behind a pile of empty wooden crates dropping her rifle in the process.

He was firing full-auto and burned off his whole clip in a couple of seconds. He was desperately trying to reload when Zoe popped up and shot him with her pistol knocking him flat on his back. His body armour had stopped the round but couldn’t do anything about the inertia. He was raising his gun when her next bullet went through his head via his face.

Outside Mal was reloading still yelling battle-cries and obscenities at the top of his voice. He hadn’t half stirred up a hornets nest.

The thick smoke helping to obscure his movements he started running again and shot two more before seeking cover behind one of their own vehicles.

Then he took a round in the leg that had ricocheted off the concrete roadway. He fell sideways and fired off the rest of his clip underneath the patrol car then dropped the rifle. He was still shouting and hollering for all he was worth. If they were shooting at him they weren’t shooting at Inara.

There were at least ten guns on him now spraying rounds indiscriminately. He dragged himself to the best spot he could and drew his pistol.

On the other side of the building Jayne was being very systematic. There were a few Ally soldiers here but they were no match for him. They were scared shitless and couldn’t see very well for the smoke. He walked down the road gunning them down one by one.

Another bullet grazed Mals arm almost causing him to drop his handgun. It was only a matter of seconds before one hit something vital.

Well at least I got to go out a big damn hero he thought and began firing his pistol towards the Ally Soldiers.

Inside the warehouse Zoe was still behind the crates exchanging rounds with the last Alliance Soldier who had just appeared. He couldn’t hit the side of a barn if he was in the barn but she still only had her pistol and he had a sub-machine-gun.

Back outside and realising they were no longer under sniper fire and there was only one guy despite the noise a few Alliance Soldiers rose up still firing and began to move towards Mal pinning him down with fire so he couldn’t shoot back.

Mal was just about to meet his maker when another burst of fire from the smoke behind them dropped three Alliance soldiers almost simultaneously.

Jayne? Mal wondered, looking out.

A figure came running out of the smoke firing from the shoulder. It fired two more bursts which knocked over two more enemy soldiers then sidestepped to avoid incoming fire before taking out another.

‘River’ Mal said in wonder.

The nineteen year old was still running at top speed. She fired burst after burst never missing. She started turning or side-stepping to avoid return fire before it even happened. It didn’t even look like gun-play it was too graceful, too fluid, too pre-determined.

It was like ballet.

Still running River ejected a spent magazine from her carbine, shoulder rolled to avoid more fire, and actually reloaded whilst still rolling ending up running and firing again in one smooth continuous movement.

Holding her carbine in one hand she cut down a pair of soldiers and used her free hand to swing herself around a lamppost changing direction in an instant. She actually ran up the front of a patrol car put a burst through the man behind it while he tried to reload then jumped off putting a three round burst through the head of another soldier before she landed.

The entire thing was simply impossible her opponents knew. They couldn’t possibly fathom the truth that she was always a move ahead countering every gambit before they even thought to make it.

Mal rose and started firing his pistol again. They were all too distracted by the unstoppable apparition to worry about him anymore.

Inside Simon looked down the stairs. He could see an Alliance Soldier near the bottom behind some oil drums firing at something out of his vision. With a pistol in each hand Simon stepped out onto the stairs where he could get a good aim from and emptied both guns into his back. Looks like I didn’t need that last bullet after all he decided.

Back outside River dropped behind cover to reload again with a desperate storm of full-auto fire heading towards her. All the guns ran dry in seconds and she jumped up and shot two more soldiers through the head before starting to run again.

It was down to three of them versus River. An Alliance Corporal bolted and Mal shot him as soon as he got up. The last Private fired off his magazine wildly which River avoided with ease, dropping sideways to the floor and half-rolling half-flipping herself back up into a run again somehow. He was trying to reload again when she appeared next to both him and his officer and shot him in the chest point-blank spraying the Major with his blood.

Splattered with gore, and with an empty pistol in his hand, Major Riordan looked up in astonishment at a very pretty teenage girl who was looking down at him with a knowing gaze and a carbine in her hands.

‘You had my King in Check’ she said ‘so I had to play the game myself. She saw his confusion and explained further ‘My Queen has rescued our trapped pieces and my Rook is taking the last of your Pawns’

He shook his head not comprehending.

‘Checkmate’ she said and ended him.

* * *

Alliance Ground Control Station – Toulouse Spaceport – 2519AD

One of the junior controllers burst into the main office ‘There’s an insurrection or something going on’ he shouted ‘I just heard it on the military frequencies. A load of soldiers have been shot to pieces and they’re sending a whole Regiment in’

‘What the hell are you talking about?’

‘It’s true. Something like a hundred of our guys have already been taken out. Someone ambushed them with heavy weapons and stuff when they were trying to capture those fugitives they keep talking about’

‘You’re yanking my chain’

‘Put the military band on. Apparently they didn’t call for backup because they didn’t realise how much firepower they were facing until it was too late. They’ve been blown all to hell’

The Controller switched the radio to the military band and turned on the loudspeaker.

‘This is Regimental Command to Major Riordan are you receiving over?’ the radio said ‘I repeat Major Riordan answer me’ a pause ‘If you’re still listening we have an ETA of just over five minutes hold on Major’

‘This is actually for real?’ The Controller said stunned.

‘Yes Sir. From what the radios been saying there must be dead soldiers all over the old Industrial Estate’

The Controller stood bolt upright ‘All over where?’ he shouted

‘Those abandoned munitions factories just outside town. That’s where the fugitives were hiding’

‘Qù tāmāde. This is the Spaceport Controller to Airbase Bravo’ he said flipping on his microphone ‘Airbase Bravo are you receiving’

‘Bravo here’ responded the closest Airbase to the Capital.

‘I need a squadron of Interceptors in the air now. There’s a shuttle about to take off that I need stopped immediately. Mâshàng understand?’

* * *

Serenity Shuttle Two – Lifting from Toulouse – 2519AD

As soon as they all got to the shuttle Inara took Books place at the controls, it was ready to launch as soon as they arrived. She was the most experienced and skilful at flying these things so she was best choice for pilot.

Zoe and Simon had carried Mal back to the shuttle with a tourniquet around his leg and after bandaging his wounds properly and giving him a shot of painkiller from the shuttles medical kit Simon told him he’d be fine but would need some work back on Serenity. Mal dragged himself to the cockpit next to Inara and Zoe.

After doing his Doctoring duties Simon embraced his little sister who returned his hug though he couldn’t get her to let go of the gun in her hand. She said she liked it and might ask Jayne to suggest a name for it. ‘Wolverine’ was a bit of a mouthful. Maybe Wolfie she thought.

Steven hoped Deborah was okay. He had hurriedly tied her up and put her in the back of her car so it would seem she had had little contact with them. It would be for the best if the authorities didn’t know she’d talked to them very much when they arrived he’d told her earnestly.

Jayne and Steven had covered the run back to the shuttle as they had the most firepower of the group. Jayne had finished off the last of the Alliance soldiers around the warehouse shortly after River killed their commander, Steven arriving just afterwards completely out of breath. He was still panting furiously because he didn’t have a chance to recover before they headed for the shuttle.

Jennifer and Cally were curled up next to him and he had an arm around both. Cally had jumped into his arms when she first saw him and had to be peeled off so he could get back to covering the withdrawal. She was now wearing his Lancer Beret and looked safe and content, all her fears gone for now. The Brimstone was lying on the shuttle floor on top of Stevens flak-jacket ignored by everyone except Jayne who still cast the occasional avaricious look in its direction.

One thing was bothering the academic though. ‘River’ he asked between breaths ‘Why did you have me run to the warehouse when it was all finished before I arrived’

‘Lots of variables at work, you might still have been needed I wasn’t completely sure’ she paused and looked thoughtful ‘anyway I think you need to lose some weight’

Steven looked at her in astonishment. Girl was still playing with him like a chess piece. Bloody cheek he thought.

‘She’s right you know’ Jennifer said prodding him in the stomach then smiling. He gave her a look and she gave him a tender kiss which brightened his expression a great deal.

Book was praying for the souls of those they had killed. He thanked God for their deliverance and asked him for his forgiveness.

Zoe looked up. ‘We’ve got inbound’ she said. Looks like Interceptors’

‘Too late’ said Mal smiling broadly as Serenity came into view. Wash had flown down to meet them and was adjusting his flight-path so they could dock on the move smooth as silk. Inara just held her course and let Wash do all the precision work she just slid the shuttle into the bay.

‘Lets moon ‘em’ Jayne called out triumphantly

Wash must have been thinking the same thing because as soon as the shuttle locked into position he engaged the main drive creating a fireball behind them and leaving the Interceptors trailing in their wake.

Part VII

COMMENTS

Tuesday, January 20, 2004 2:41 PM

AMDOBELL


Excellent! I absolutely adored how you wrote River and the action sequences played out like chess pieces was inspired. Well done, very shiny. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, January 21, 2004 10:00 AM

ARTSHIPS


This was done right, on several levels. Rousingly well written. Quit your day job.

Thursday, January 22, 2004 10:14 AM

HOTPOINT


To 'Anonymous' - "Wonderful" might be exaggerating but thank you :-)

To 'artships' - I've only been writing again for a few weeks. Quiting work would be a bit drastic. Thanks for the sentiment though

To 'AMDOBELL' - I aim to please. My aim is of course improved thanks to my patent-pending auto-targeting shades :-p

You might be interested to hear that because I am still getting positive feedback I'm keeping the sequence going. It will continue as long as my imagination holds out and people still think it's worth reading

Saturday, September 18, 2004 2:24 PM

CASTIRONJACK


Good action piece. Lotsa creepifying River thinking...

Keep flyin'


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