BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

HOTPOINT

Wolf Pack (Part II)
Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Continuation of the sequence. Just laying some background story before the plot kicks in


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 5064    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

* * *

Transport Ship Serenity – En-Route to Wilkes Moon – 2520AD

Mal looked around the group. This was a serious matter and one that needed to be resolved immediately.

‘I think you all know why I asked you here’ he said ‘It’s becoming a problem and one that I am going to put an end to right now’

Mal stood up and put his hands behind his back.

‘The wolf thing ends right now. I don’t want to hear any more growling, howling or snarling on my ship from this moment on’

‘Nooooooooooo’ howled Wash and everyone went into hysterics. They’d been desperately trying to hold it in until then.

Mal smashed his fist on the table ‘It’s been a whole week’ he said exasperated ‘Can’t you all find something else to do’

Inara was by far the most collected individual in the group although the expression on her face was less than straight ‘I’m sorry Mal but it’s just become far too amusing. To be honest it’s your reaction to it that feeds the pack as much as anything’

Mal cast his eyes downwards ‘And could everybody stop speaking in gorram wolf metaphors. We are not a pack’ Mal pointed out with a pained look. ‘Next person I hear says that goes out the airlock’

‘In space no one can hear you growl’ River stated ‘no air to carry the sound’ she explained. Simon put his fist in his mouth to try and stop himself laughing again.

Mal turned to Steven ‘You’re an educated man. Can’t you see how childish this is? Can’t you please follow my lead here’

The Academic looked up at him and thought for a second ‘If there’s a lead involved is it time for walkies?’ he asked deadpan.

Mal grimaced ‘Wuh de tyen! I swear that every single one of you is dāì ruò mù jī’

‘Can we go now?’ Zoe asked. She was so conflicted, she felt strange not backing up Mal but it was funny as hell to wind him up sometimes and Serenity ran as much on levity as it did its gravity engine.

‘Do what you want’ Mal stated and stomped out of the galley heading towards the cockpit shaking his head.

‘I think we’re really starting to get to him’ Simon said ‘perhaps we really should stop it now?’

They all looked at each other.

‘Maybe just a few more days’ Wash said.

They all looked at each other again grinned and nodded in agreement.

‘We are bad people’ Zoe pointed out.

* * *

It is very much easier to teach proper physics on a spaceship than on a planet. Wash decided. He and Simon were about to demonstrate Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion to the children in the most fun and easily understood way possible.

One thing that had developed over the months was the children’s schooling. Their parents insisted their education not suffer for being ship-bound and fortunately they had a good mix of people to help out. Simon taught the sciences, River had tried teaching mathematics but didn’t have the temperament for it so Wash had taken over. He was actually very good with numbers as most skilled pilots tend to be. There’s a great deal of math involved in aerodynamics, navigation and orbital physics and Wash combined the ability with his innate good humour to good effect.

The children’s father taught them History with more than a little politics and economics thrown in. At Jennifer’s insistence Book taught them comparative religion although Cally was a monumental thorn in his side there. Jennifer had originally been an art student at the University, which is how she had actually met Steven, so she insisted they studied the arts as well.

Everybody helped teach John to read. Except Jayne who did however teach him some really nasty tricks to play on his sisters.

Time for today’s science lesson ‘Okay Kaylee’ Wash said into the intercom ‘kill the artificial-gravity’

Everything had been tied down except the people and Wash held onto a box at the far end of the bay whilst Simon also remained on the deck holding himself in position by the railings with his left hand while the children watched also holding themselves in place.

‘Alright everyone as I told you yesterday Isaac Newton was a famous physicist whose ideas were eventually instrumental in getting mankind off Earth-That-Was’ Simon told the children. ‘His discoveries in gravitation and optics were ground breaking but today we’re going to show you how his Three Laws of Motion work and influence not only how Wash flies the ship but how the entire ‘Verse works’

‘Stated simply the First Law states that “An object in motion tends to stay in motion, and an object at rest tends to stay at rest unless the object is acted upon by an outside force”’

‘What that means is’ Wash said ‘that the ball in Simon’s hand will stay where it is when he lets go’

Simon let go of the ball which floated next to him.

‘But if Simon throws it, it will keep going’ Wash continued. ‘We also call this effect “Inertia”. Everything moving wants to keep moving, everything still wants to stay still. We need to apply force to change that”

Simon grabbed the ball again and prepared to throw it reasonably hard across the cargo bay towards Wash.

‘If we were outside the ball would keep going forever but inside the air will slow it down a bit. However you can see what we mean.’ Simon said throwing the ball.

The ball was still travelling quite hard in a perfect line by the time it reached the pilot who caught it.

‘The Second Law is best described by an equation. Force equals mass times acceleration. What that means in simple terms is that the heavier something is the more force you need to get it moving at the same speed. Now we don’t usually say heavier in space because there’s no gravity and therefore no weight so we say “mass” instead but it sort of amounts to the same thing’ Simon continued. ‘Allow me to demonstrate with the help of a volunteer’

Claire-Marie stuck her hand up first and Simon took her hand. ‘You’re going for a ride’ he told her. ‘Ready Wash?’

Wash grinned ‘Ready Doc’

Simon threw Claire-Marie across the cargo bay eliciting a cry of joy from the little girl as she floated across the bay to be caught by Wash on the other side.

‘Now Claire-Marie has a lot more mass than the ball so although I threw her just as hard she didn’t go anywhere near as fast’ Simon told everyone ‘That’s the Second Law’.

Wash gave Claire-Marie the ball and told her she could help demonstrate the next part too.

‘The Third Law is that “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” Simon told them ‘Wash can you prepare our subject’

The pilot reached out as far as he could and released Claire-Marie who floated there smiling broadly.

‘Throw me the ball please’ Simon told her and she threw it at him as fast as she could. This sent her backwards towards the bulkhead spinning slightly but not going anywhere near fast enough to hurt herself. She hit the cargo bay doors with a slight thump and bounced off again laughing.

‘By throwing the ball one way Claire-Marie went the other way. The “action” of throwing the ball caused a “reaction” pushing her in the “opposite” direction. Because she has more mass than the ball it went faster than she did which is another example of the Second Law. If she had the same mass as the ball they’d be going the same velocity’ Wash said pushing himself into space and intercepting Claire-Marie en-route heading towards something to grab on to.

‘That’s basically how a rocket works. We throw mass out of the back so we go forwards” Wash told them. “The more mass we send out the back and the faster it’s going the more powerful the rocket’. He paused ‘Serenity’s engines work in a different way which Simon will explain another time because it’s a bit more complicated’

‘And there you have it’ Simon said ‘The Laws of Motion affect everything in our lives, when we fire a gun we get recoil because of the third law, when we coast through space to save fuel that’s the first law.’ Simon grinned ‘Who said science can’t be fun?” he asked ‘Any questions?’

“Can I have a go at flying across the room?” Cally asked. “Just in the interests of learning more about physics of course”

“I think the Captain wanted the gravity put back on as soon as possible Cally” Simon told her. He knew the Captain would fold in a second.

She looked up at Mal who was watching from the gantry above holding onto the rail “Please Captain. Just for a few minutes”

Mal looked at her and sighed “Five minutes then I put the gravity back on” he said.

“Yea” she yelled and got Simon to launch her across to Wash. Fairly soon the whole crew was in the bay playing kid pong, with Jayne trying to get backspin on John whilst he threw him to his father. All the time Wash and Simon continued to explain to the children how the laws of motion were effecting how they moved about. John couldn’t really follow but he learned practically nonetheless.

Mal shook his head. He was sure this couldn’t be educational they looked like they were enjoying themselves far too much, especially the adults. Still at least they weren’t all howling he thought.

Heading from the galley River sailed gracefully over his head bounced herself off the ceiling and straight into her brothers arms who then sent her spiralling away laughing towards Kaylee who had floated back out of the engine room earlier to watch.

Inara floated up to Mal and grabbed his arm to stop herself. “Not joining in?’ she asked.

“Nope”

“Spoilsport” she said and launched herself over the railing.

“Yep definitely a children’s crusade” Mal said to himself.

He was just stubborn enough to hold out for another two minutes before he joined in.

* * *

Transport Ship Serenity –Wilkes Moon – 2520AD

Mal, Wash and Steven were walking from the landing strip into town. They had radioed ahead and the cargo was already being unloaded by the locals under Zoe’s stern eye. Mal wanted to check things out and Wash insisted on coming along because he never got to do the “scout” thing. Steven was there because he was the only person who had ever been to this moon before.

‘Are you sure you won’t be recognised?’ Mal asked.

Steven shook his head. ‘Very doubtful, only time I was ever here was in 07 and not only was I thirteen years younger I didn’t exactly look much the same’ he indicated his scars ‘had more hair too’ he said sadly. His retreating hairline was not one of the benefits of approaching forty, not that there were any benefits in approaching forty as far as he could tell so far.

‘Still never heard why you were here before’ Wash said.

‘It was just after the Regiment had received the first hover-tanks off the production line, we needed an out-of-the-way place to practice live-fire exercises and combat drops before seeing action so we came here. Nice varied terrain for manoeuvres, big open plain for a firing range just out of town and it’s a hell of a long way out so we didn’t have to worry about the Alliance dropping in’ He looked around ‘This place has grown a hell of a lot since I was last here. They said there was lots of ore in the ground so that’s why they’re starting to develop some industry I suppose’

‘Main industrial area is a few miles north powered by a hydroelectric dam but this is supposedly the best place for trade’ Mal told them. ‘I’ve got the list of farm equipment we’re supposed to buy with the money for the crops and the name of a trader hereabouts that’s supposed to be fair’

The community was large enough not to be overly fascinated by strangers. The buildings were electrified too, and there was street lighting which meant it was a positive fount of civilisation by Outer Rim standards.

‘According to directions traders around the next corner’ Mal told them and they followed him around the next right.

Steven darn near dropped the notebook with the list in that he was carrying.

He stood there open mouthed for a while until eventually Wash broke the silence ‘Is that what I think it is?’

Mal nodded ‘Ain’t seen one in nearly ten years but that’s what it looks like’

Steven suddenly started running and they followed on behind. He stopped in front of the mirage, took a step forward and touched it to make sure it was real.

It was. He turned to the others with a huge smile on his face ‘I never thought I’d see one of these again in my life’ he said ‘Gentlemen may I introduce you to the M-1A Excalibur Armoured Fighting Vehicle. The meanest, most manoeuvrable, most heavily armoured hunk of junk to ever grace a battlefield. Not that I’m biased or anything’

Steve started to walk around the thing with a dopey grin all over his face. ‘Chainguns gone, looks like somebody ripped the guts out of the Railgun, probably for cable’ he bent down and looked underneath finding that it was resting on several large concrete blocks ‘Gravity Engine’s been taken out too’

He worked his way around to the back followed by the other two. He was acting like a big kid showing off a new toy.

‘That’s pretty clever’ he said pointed to the mass of cables that came out of the engine compartment and which led to the nearest power line via a transformer ‘looks like somebody is using the fusion reactor to power the town’

‘Is there enough output for that?’ Mal asked.

Steven nodded ‘Oh yeah easily, they’ll have the output fairly low. Think of the juice you need to get something this heavy to hover, then travel at two hundred miles an hour. Let alone the power needed to charge the Railgun capacitors at the same time’

He stopped walking for a second and just looked at the thing.

‘Not one of ours’ he said ‘I mean not a Lancer Excalibur, those markings mean it was from the 6th Dragoons. They used to practice here too’ he smiled ‘still bloody beautiful though’ he said and climbed aboard.

Mal and Wash watched him climb up onto the turret ‘Hatch is sealed down’ he said ‘somebody put a padlock on it’

A local appeared from one of the buildings ‘Climb down off there’ he called out ‘Leave that thing alone’

Steven jumped off and walked over to him ‘Sorry it’s just I used to ride one of those in the war and I thought the last ones were in Alliance Museums’

The local gave him a look ‘You rode an Excalibur in the war? The hell you say. What Regiment?’

‘21st Lancers’

The local broke out into a broad grin ‘Jake Boise’ he introduced himself ‘6th Regiment of Dragoons. That was my tank’ he said offering his hand.

Steven seized the hand and pumped it up and down ‘Sean Thomas’ he responded ‘How the hell did you get to keep it?’

‘A few of us were sent here after Fosters Moon to train replacements. They used to cycle ‘em through here before sending them onto the Regiment. We were still here when the war ended. Most of us went home but I got hitched to a local and stayed. I ripped out the armament and set it up to power the town. When the Alliance finally sent somebody here they checked we’d pulled her teeth and said we could keep it because there was no way they’d provide a replacement generator’ he beamed ‘I’ve got the biggest gorram toy in the ‘Verse’

‘What’s it like inside?’

‘Almost everything’s been removed for spare parts and cable. Seats are still in there though and I left the reactor controls intact for an obvious reason’ he paused ‘you were really a Lancer? Serve on Fosters Moon?’

‘Damn straight. I was riding with the 1st Battalion up the Granite Gorge’

‘Ah so you were one of the guys that took the scenic route whilst the rest of us rode straight at them’ the former Dragoon joked.

‘We had to do it. The rest of you would have got lost’

The Dragoon paused and looked serious for a second ‘Serenity Valley?’ he asked.

Steven nodded.

The other tanker drew himself to attention. ‘The 21st bought honour to the entire Armoured Corps that day’ he said ‘I just wish the Dragoons could have been there to have ridden with you’.

Steven nodded ‘If we’d had two intact Regiments of Excaliburs there, the Lancers and Dragoons would have chased the bastards all the way back to the rutting core’ he said with all the sincerity he had. ‘Beat us by numbers not guts’.

‘I’ll go along with that’ Mal commented.

Steven turned remembering he wasn’t alone. ‘I’m sorry I should introduce you. This is Melvin Ackroyd the Captain of the ship I’m with. He served at the Valley too, with the Infantry’

The former Dragoon held out his hand ‘I’ll shake the hand any man who served in the Valley even if they were a ground-pounder. Wish I could have been there as well’

Mal shook the offered hand ‘Honestly wish I hadn’t been’ he said truthfully ‘It’s Mel by the way, Captain of the Tempest. This is my pilot’

Wash shook hands with the man as well. ‘I don’t suppose you know a trader by the name Schmidt?’ he asked ‘We’re supposed to be meeting him round here’

‘It’s the store over there’ Jake replied pointing ‘He’s a good man you’ll not get a fairer deal in town’

‘That’s what we heard’ Mal said. He turned to Steven ‘Wash and I will go sort this out we’ll leave you to talk’

‘Thanks Mel’ Steven told him and handed over the notebook. Then turned back to the former Dragoon ‘You work in the machine shop there then?’

‘Own the place’ he responded and led Steven inside to fetch a couple of beers so they could talk armoured warfare in comfort.

Mal and Wash left them to it and headed for the traders.

* * *

Wash was walking next to her with his hand over Cally’s eyes. He trusted the other two to keep theirs shut like they were told, they were walking hand in hand with their mother and Inara their eyes screwed shut. The ever curious eldest daughter kept trying to break away but Wash told her he wouldn’t let her spoil the surprise.

Eventually they stopped and Wash let go.

Yep seen that expression before Wash thought looking at the stunned look on her face when she opened her eyes, about an hour ago on her father in fact.

‘Excalibur’ she mouthed. Her father was sitting on top of the turret with another man, they were both wearing crew helmets from the war and waved at her and the other two children who were staring too.

‘Want to get in?’ her father asked them and jumped down. Cally got her wits about her first and ran to him.

‘Is it real?’ she asked.

‘Yes’ he told her ‘this is Mr Boise he was in the 6th Dragoons and this is his tank. Well it sort of belongs to the town but it’s his really’

Cally reached out to touch it ‘I’ve only seen one in pictures’ she said. She still looked stunned ‘can I really get inside?’

‘Certainly you can’ Jake said. He’d removed the padlock and swung open the turret hatch ‘One at a time though’

Steven picked her up and passed her to Jake who helped her get inside the turret where she planted herself in the commanders chair.

‘Are you really named after one of these like your father says’ Jake asked her.

‘Yes’ she answered ‘But I’ve never really seen one before let alone been in one’ she moved down to the drivers chair low down in the chassis and looked through the optical periscope which still had its lenses and prisms fitted. ‘It’s amazing’ she said. I never realised it was so big inside’

‘Only to someone your size’ her father told her sticking his head over the turret hatch. I think Claire-Marie wants to get in too so you can climb out now.

‘Can I get a photograph of me sitting on top?’

Steven laughed ‘I think that can be arranged. Out you come’ he said taking her by the arms and lifting her out. She jumped down to the ground and began walking around the grounded hover-tank whilst her father helped Marie-Claire inside.

John looked a bit intimidated by the size of the thing and stayed with his mother until Steven came over and picked him up ‘Daddy used to ride in one of these during the war’ he said ‘Don’t you want to have a look?’

As Steven carried his son to the Excalibur Wash turned to Jennifer ‘I finally see what he meant when he said a pair of those things was a damn sight more effective than a shotgun at your wedding’

Jennifer smiled ‘It wasn’t the tanks it was his fear of me that swung it’ she said and winked.

Cally came running back to her mother ‘Don’t you want to have a go?’ she asked.

Her mother shook her head ‘I’ve actually driven in one’ he said ‘your father took me out for a ride a couple of days after we got married’ she turned to Wash and Inara ‘they even let me fire the Railgun at a target. How many women can say they spent their honeymoon that way?’

‘Can’t be many’ Wash agreed then followed Cally back to the tank saying he’d like to have a look.

Inara lent closer to Jennifer conspiratorially once the others were out of earshot ‘Are you sure that as an innocent newlywed you didn’t just misinterpret your new husbands desire that you should blow something rather than blow something up?’ she whispered with the merest hint of a smirk on her face.

Jennifer looked wide-eyed at her, blushed then started giggling ‘I have no comment to make on that subject but you’re a very naughty girl Inara’

‘I try’ she told her.

Jennifer thought for a second and leaned over to Inara this time ‘Can you keep a secret?’ she whispered.

‘Yes’

‘The real reason I decided to call her Cally is because she may have been conceived in one of those’

Inara looked at her in amazement ‘There’s room?’

‘Just about’

‘You’re a very naughty girl Jennifer’

‘I try’ she told her.

* * *

They lifted off for Lynx the next evening with the cargo of agricultural machinery, and a couple of rusty Railgun rounds which Steven had dug out of the old firing range as a souvenir. He said they made great paperweights once you flattened one side with a file and a lot of effort. Cally was happy with the photo of her wearing a tank-crew helmet sitting on top of a machine she was named for that was now pinned above her bunk.

On the way back from Wilkes Moon Mal radically changed his mind about the whole wolf thing. This was entirely Inara’s doing.

Mal had gone to see her in her shuttle in the hope he could get her to persuade the others to stop (a) nagging him for more time with the gravity off, and (b) howling.

With enormous effort of will he stopped to knock before walking in. He was after assistance here so it was best not to provoke her. Although he was reasonably sure she was fond of him he didn’t really know what their relationship was.

‘Ah Mal have you come calling from a reason or do you just feel like an argument?’

Mal bit back a snappy rejoinder. Must focus he thought. ‘Nah I here to ask you to take up your ambassadorial role again and negotiate with the crew for me’

Inara’s face lit up ‘You want me to talk to the crew for you?’ the thought was extremely amusing. ‘Take a seat’ she said. ‘Is the task beyond your scope?’

Mal sat down ‘Darn it woman I ain’t as good at that persuasion stuff as you are, at least not without a firearm. The crew are driving me nuts, I think its boredom’

‘Ah well you see that’s the fundamental problem of living life on the edge’ she said ‘everyone turns into an adrenaline junkie’ she paused ‘perhaps you could steal something from someone to give the crew some fun. I’m sure some more of your usual brand of petty larceny would do the trick’

Don’t bite Mal, he thought to himself. ‘Please Inara I can’t take it any more. Much more of it and I’m going to need the drugs Simon pumps into his sister or I’ll shoot one of them’

‘Well I’m sure you’re exaggerating but in any case I’m afraid I’m with the others on this one. You are very entertaining to annoy and you know it’s all in good humour. Next week we might all be picking on Simon or Jayne again. Actually I think Jennifer is long overdue her spell in the stocks for that matter and she can take a joke otherwise she’d have killed her husband by now’

‘So you won’t help me’

‘Not like that. However I have been thinking’

‘Yes?’

‘Well if you are the Alpha-Male I really should make sure to raise my status in the pack’

No more of that luh-suh please Mal thought, and then looked quizzically at Inara as she walked over to him. She stopped just in front of him, bent down, looked him in the eyes, growled and then kissed him full on the lips.

He was so astonished he didn’t do a darn thing.

‘Nothing to say for yourself?’ she asked coyly .

* * *

‘What the hell was that?’ Wash asked Simon as he helped him and the others rearrange the boxes in the cargo bay.

‘Sounded like a man howling. Not all that unusual on this ship of late’

‘But we’re all here… except Mal that is’

That was a good point Simon realised looking around and seeing Jayne, Steven and Book working alongside them ‘But he can’t stand it when we do it, he winces every time, I think he’s even developing a neurotic tic, that’s why we do it because we’re evil. Why would the Captain be howling?’

‘Beats me’ Wash replied shrugging his shoulders.

Part III

COMMENTS

Tuesday, January 27, 2004 9:27 AM

ARTSHIPS


Wonderful! Thank you for doing the physics stuff, too. Most people wouldn't have wanted to bother writing it, and it could have been very boring but you made it anything but. Don't stop!


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