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Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XI)
Sunday, February 19, 2006

Reunions and opening gambits


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3598    RATING: 10    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.

* * *

“Hit hard, hit first, hit often”

Admiral W.F. Halsey 1882-1959

* * *

Whitefall – 4th Moon of Athens – 2522AD

Mal shaded his eyes from the sun with his hand whilst he scanned the skies. She should be coming into view any moment… now.

Serenity.

He smiled.

The Firefly swooped down over the other grounded ships and in one fluid motion set down smooth as silk not fifty yards away, her ramp already coming down before her undercarriage fully lowered. It was a great piece of piloting, the Firefly had even turned as it set down so the open ramp was pointing right towards Mal.

A familiar figure bounded down the gangway to meet him as Mal walked over to take command of his boat once more.

‘Kaylee’ he called out. ‘What in the nine hells are you doing wearing that get-up?’ Mal called out to his mechanic over the sound of the engines winding down.

‘I got drafted Cap’n’ Kaylee replied. ‘Well kinda’ she continued. ‘It’s a bit drab don’t you think?’ she asked spinning so Mal could check out her Navy Jumpsuit from all angles. ‘They told me I couldn’t go with you and Serenity unless I signed up so I did’ she explained.

Mal grimaced looking at Kaylee’s new uniform, ‘Couldn’t you have at least joined the Army Air Corps’ he said eventually.

‘They didn’t give her that option’ another voice replied ‘Good to have you back Sir’ Zoe told him.

Mal looked up at the other figure that had appeared at the top of the ramp opened his mouth to speak, closed it again did a double take then tried his best to regain his composure.

Zoe smiled then looked down at the bundle in her arms. ‘Her name is Erica’ she said turning the bundle so Mal could get a better look.

Mal couldn’t help but stare. ‘I’d forgotten how long it had been since I left the Fort’ he said eventually.

Zoe sighed. ‘I was just over three months gone when you left and that was seven months ago so…’

‘You’ve got a kid’ Mal stated in a tone which made it sound revelatory rather than just plain obvious.

‘Very observant Sir’ Zoe responded, ‘that would explain the agony of childbirth and the stretch marks. I did wonder if it was just something I ate.’ Zoe responded whilst Kaylee giggled.

Mal looked from mother to child then back again. ‘Well… um… Congratulations’ he said then stepped up to Zoe and kissed her on the cheek and that felt pretty awkward too. It was extremely difficult to think of Zoe as a mother, he’d known she was pregnant of course, at least on a conscious level but when you came right down to it Mal’s overriding mental image of the woman was of her head-butting some drunk in a bar-fight or ramming a bayonet into someone’s guts.

Zoe was really more of a Napalm rather than a Nappies kinda chick from Mal’s perspective.

‘Hasn’t got Wash’s hair’ he observed looking at the small child which was looking silently back at him with big brown eyes.

‘Yup’ Zoe said happily.

‘Hey’ Wash called down from the gangway above the cargo bay in a hurt tone. ‘What’s wrong with my hair?’

‘You’re ginger’ Mal called back.

Zoe smirked. ‘This is just your day for stating the obvious isn’t it Sir.’

Mal narrowed his eyes. She wasn’t this scathing before the kid was she he wondered?

‘So what do think of my little girl?’ Wash asked making his way down into the bay.

‘She’s… um…. Beautiful’ Mal replied then looked back to Zoe ‘She really is Wash’s?’ he asked ‘you’re sure now?’ he asked with a wink.

‘I’m pretty sure’ Zoe replied playing along. She smiled at the Captain then went back to looking at her child, she was beautiful.

‘I ain’t’ another voice declared. ‘Don’t think he’s got it in him.’

Mal turned to look at the figure that had just entered the bay through the forward hatch. ‘Oh you’ve got to be rutting kidding’ he swore.

‘What?’ Jayne asked.

‘Who gave him that uniform?’ Mal demanded to know crossing his arms.

‘He volunteered Captain’ Kaylee replied, ‘Signed up all legal like.’

‘Yeah with a great big X’ Wash interjected from a safe distance. ‘He asked how to spell it’ he told Mal with mock sincerity.

Jayne growled at the Pilot, before turning back to Reynolds. ‘Specialist Jayne Cobb reporting for Duty Mal… I mean Captain, or Sergeant or whatever the hell I’m supposed to rutting call you.’

Mal looked Jayne up and down. He was wearing Army fatigues with his name on them and certainly looked the part. ‘Specialist?’ he asked Zoe.

‘Ain’t no way anybody was going to give him authority over anyone else and he wouldn’t accept Private so he signed up as a Specialist.’

‘I like it’ Jayne said, ‘sounds classy.’

‘Jayne and “class” are not words you would usually place in the same sentence’ a refined voice commented, ‘at least not without the proviso “lack of” in there as well.’

Mal spun and looked upwards. ‘Inara?’ he said wondrously. ‘What are you doing here?’ he asked in amazement resisting the undignified urge to run up to meet her. It would look bad in front of the troops and besides which he’d crush her dress. She was wearing a damn fine one, probably for him he realised with a dopey grin.

‘We thought we should see you off before your great adventure’ Inara replied. ‘We can’t go back to Toulouse until after it’s secured anyway so it was a stop-off at either Gibraltar Station or here.’

‘It’s good to see you’ Mal told her, ‘real good.’

‘Aww ain’t it sweet’ Jayne commented sarcastically then immediately buttoned up when both Zoe and Kaylee glared at him.

‘Where’s Daddy?’ a child’s voice called out from behind a box.

‘Claire-Marie?’ Mal asked startled ‘Is everyone here?’

Jennifer stepped out from behind a large crate holding John’s hand. ‘The children were hoping Steven might be with you, we were going to spring out at him for a surprise’.

Cally appeared in view. ‘Not my idea’ she said, ‘kinda immature’ she explained. ‘Hi Captain’ she continued ‘nice to see you again.’

Claire-Marie was less restrained and bounded out from behind a stack of ammunition crates holding a ball of fur which was mewling quietly she ran over and gave Mal a one armed hug holding the kitten with her other. ‘We got a ships Cat, present from Captain Raine on the Scylla, she’s really nice’ the little girl told Mal. ‘Well it’s a kitten now but it’ll be big soon’ she told him holding up the animal to the Captains face so he could get a good look. The kitten eyed Mal and batted at him with a small paw before mewling again.

Mal was really more of a dog man but pretended to be pleased at the new addition to the crew for Claire-Marie’s sake before casting his gaze around the room. ‘The Doc?’ he asked.

‘On his way’ Zoe replied. ‘He’s on the Corvette that was escorting us.’

‘Why?’ Mal asked curiously.

‘We thought somebody should travel with Book and Laura. They’re on the Corvette too, locked up of course. The Admiral didn’t want to leave them back at Obsidian, especially not Laura with River so far away.’

‘Simon volunteer?’ Mal asked.

Kaylee shook her head. ‘Not so much’ she answered, ‘they also wanted someone who could safely drug Laura up to the eyeballs en-route.’

‘Sensible precaution’ Mal agreed, ‘Girl’s a handful when she gets a mind to it.’

‘You know she broke a Marines arm at Fort Obsidian a couple of months after you left’ Cally told Mal. ‘The Jarhead thought all the talk about her was just that, talk, so he manhandled Laura a bit when she wouldn’t go back to her cell first time when ordered.’

Mal winced, ‘Only a broken arm?’ he asked. ‘Let him live did she?’

‘She’s mellowed’ Inara deadpanned.

‘I like her’ Cally said, ‘nothing wrong with being a bit ornery, right Captain?’ she asked Mal for support.

The Captain looked at the girl. ‘Fine in its place’ he agreed ‘but there’s a time for everything and being mean 24/7 ain’t proper behaviour for anyone especially a young woman’ he told her.

Mal turned his gaze onto Claire-Marie ‘So do you still want to give your Pa a surprise?’ he asked.

* * *

Alliance Orbital Defence Installation Alpha – Sihnon – 2522AD

The AODI network of orbiting weapons satellites and early warning systems protected each of the twin Capital Worlds of the Alliance. A multi-layered virtual web of surveillance satellites, advanced Radar, Optical, Electromagnetic and GAD sensors and the automated weaponry needed to make the sensors worthwhile, the AODI line was the shield that insulated the two most important Core Worlds from the rest of the Galaxy and the security blanket that had let the people sleep peacefully in their beds even at the height of the war.

Of course with nobody left to fight the Alliance hadn’t bothered to continue upgrading the orbital defences, and both its latest electronics and weapons were at least a decade out of date but they were still incredibly formidable and no ship could get anywhere near either Sihnon or Londinium without being detected and targeted by overwhelming firepower if required.

Nothing moved near the two Capital Worlds without being monitored, absolutely nothing. Even the random debris floating through space was carefully scanned, catalogued and inspected by robot probes or gunships if necessary. Other Core Worlds had their own defences but they paled into insignificance compared with the weaponry that guarded Londinium and Sihnon and plans to build new equivalent systems had been shelved when peace came. Even a world as developed as Ariel lacked so much a tenth of the defensive firepower that shielded Sihnon and made sure that the City of Light would never dim.

Each planets AODI network contained four manned stations although ten years after the war only one of each, the Alpha stations, were still operating with crews aboard. The relatively tiny post-war defence budget was still being drained by both the construction of the new Unification Class Cruisers and the Federal garrisons stationed on the former Independent Colonies so the Navy regarded the maintenance of redundant orbiting stations a luxury it couldn’t afford. Anyhow, nothing could get close enough to target the Alpha Stations without being tracked and incinerated if so required.

For the most part being assigned to an Alpha Station was an exercise in monotony and a total waste of talent which is why the best and brightest got a job on a warship, or planetside at Headquarters whilst the lazy and otherwise useless got to man a console on either an Alpha itself or the downlink station back on the planet.

Today’s “excitement” was the regular visit of a comet which orbited the local sun and swung past Sihnon every forty years or so. Long distance sensors had been monitoring it for nearly three months and in that time it had continually failed to demonstrate any un-comet-like behaviour. It had no EM field which meant no power source, it was no hotter (or colder) than it should be, there was zero ripples from the GAD sensors other than would be expected from a few million tonnes of mass which meant no Artificial Gravity, Gravity Engine or Inertial Suppression was in use and Deep Radar Scans showed… well they showed a comet.

Back in wartime the AODI Controller would have dispatched a gunship to check it out anyway but in this day and age he just opened another bag of chips and after flagging the object as safe went back to watching the football.

There was no point in being excessively diligent or paranoid. There wasn’t a power in the ‘Verse to threaten the Alliance right? The iron fist of the Alliance Army and it’s garrisons held every world in its mighty grip and the Navy bestrode the Galaxy like a colossus.

Such hubris is a poor personality trait in a man, in a military it’s a recipe for disaster.

Under tonnes of ice deep inside the comet Shadow slept where the Independent Navy had buried him five months earlier, his last act to write a complex virus that could override and disable any non-AI Alliance Military computer if you could connect to it. The totally inert powered down warship, which needed no life support, or gravity or even something to do to pass the time, just slept as a timer ticked down working off a trickle of current so small even the AODI sensor net couldn’t possibly detect it.

The AI slept as the comets orbit bought him closer and closer to Sihnon.

* * *

Whitefall – 4th Moon of Athens – 2522AD

Two sets of feet stuck out from underneath thirty-five tonnes of armoured war machine resting on blocks in the centre of the main bay on Granite Gorge raised voices could be heard coming from underneath.

‘Can’t you just hurry up?’ a man’s voice begged, ‘I’m getting cramp lying under here.’

‘For God’s sake hold that damn thing steady’ a female voice chastised. ‘It’s hard enough to do this already.’

Steve did his best to point the flashlight at the bank of relays underneath the Excalibur but he’d been there nearly half a hour lying in one position and it was starting to get really uncomfortable.

‘That’s it’ Claire told him. ‘That’s the spot.’

Steven Hicks’ a woman’s voice thundered, ‘what are you doing under there with that woman.’

‘Bloody Hell Jennifer we’re just doing some maintenance’ the Cavalryman yelled back then a moment later froze dead in his tracks. According to Claire afterwards it was the first time he’d actually managed to hold the light steady for that matter.

Major Steven Hicks and Lieutenant Claire Hart laying on their backs side by side under the hovertank both turned to look at each other. ‘That was my wife right?’ he asked.

‘Sounded like her.’ Claire told him.

Steve scrambled backwards and just cleared the edge of the Excalibur when a small shape landed right on top of his chest knocking the wind out of him. ‘Get off me John’ he managed to wheeze and pulled himself into a sitting position finding himself looking at his wife and daughters.’

‘Daddy’ Claire-Marie called out joyfully and threw herself at her father. ‘Auntie Claire’ she said with equal as the other prone form, her partial namesake in fact, emerged next to him.

Jennifer crouched down and kissed him tenderly. He still looked more than little shocked to see them but you couldn’t say he didn’t enjoy the kiss. It would have been a lot longer and deeper but he was acutely aware of the audience which included not only most of his friends from Serenity but also his commanding officer and direct subordinates. They must have snuck up on him he realised.

Standing aside Cally watched her siblings clinging to their father and gave him a wave ‘Hi Dad’ she said. ‘The Excalibur is way cool can I take it for a drive?’ she began. ‘Maybe blow something up?’ she asked hopefully.

* * *

INS Battlecruiser Scylla – Outskirts of the Colonised Worlds – 2522AD

On the bridge Captain Raine watched the live video feed from the bow of the ship as the fleet separated. The command deck of the battlecruiser was buried deep inside the vessel under layer upon layer of armour so the only view of the outside was either by monitor or projected in the holographic display in the “stage” of the amphitheatre shaped compartment.

The Admiral had gone to say farewell to Lieutenant Tam as she left on her own mission with the Light Fleet Carrier Salamis, most of the Fleets complement of Frigates and all but two of the Destroyers. Dividing your force when facing a numerically superior foe was usually considered a poor military tactic but some of the greatest tacticians in history had made it pay off big before and they didn’t have River Tam to do the planning.

‘Our squadrons are all clear Captain’ the tactical officer reported.

Captain Raine nodded, ‘and those of the Charybdis?’ she inquired.

The tactical officer averted his gaze ‘Yes Ma’am’ he replied, ‘before ours.’

‘Damn’ Raine swore, ‘Decker will be on the comm any second to gloat’ she said through gritted teeth. ‘Don’t ever let that happen again.’

‘No Ma’am’ the tactical officer responded deliberately still not making eye contact. The rivalry between Captain Raine and Captain Decker of the Charybdis was almost legendary they competed on everything.

A rumour only spoke in hushed voices claimed that it was really just sexual tension, but another, probably more plausible, explanation was that they just didn’t like each other very much. It was a personality thing, Raine didn’t think Decker had one worth mentioning and Decker thought much the same of Raine.

An anonymous suggestion to Admiral van der Heijden once pinned to a notice board at Fort Obsidian to order them to go to bed to make sure for certain that it wasn’t the root of the problem was an almost legendary event amongst the crews of Task Force Omega. This was itself an event also best not spoken of near either of the Battlecruiser Captains unless you wanted to find yourself crawling inside a 1000mm railgun tube polishing the inside of the barrel with your tongue.

Captain Raine changed the display on the monitor to the projected flight path of the four squadrons of Aerospace Fighters that would normally be based on the twin Battlecruisers. ‘Right at the limit of their range’ she said. ‘They’d better have somewhere to land or they’ll not be going anywhere afterwards.’

‘Colonel Taylor seemed confident of the plan Ma’am’ the Tactical Officer observed.

Raine snorted. ‘Put not your faith Commander in people whose idea of a good time is charging into machine gun fire’ she replied. ‘How long to fill up the bays?’ she asked turning to the Chief Engineer who was monitoring the process.

‘The mining crews are already at work Captain’ the engineer responded. ‘We’ll be finished in eight hours.’

Raine pursed her lips. ‘Make sure we’re finished before Charybdis’ she ordered. ‘Get out there yourself in an EVA suit with a shovel if you have to.’

‘Yes Ma’am’ the engineer responded with a sharp nod and went back to work.

‘Give me the cube, strategic display’ Captain Raine ordered, ‘project all colonised worlds and the flight path of the fleets.’

A large three dimensional image of the colonised worlds fro the Core out to the Rim appeared at the front of the bridge, dotted lines representing the planned flight-paths of the Battlecruisers, River Tam’s Taskforce and the vessels currently on or around Whitefall also appeared a second later. Captain Raine stood up purposefully and walked right into it, she traced the dotted lines with her fingers then looked around at the bridge crew and made as if to seize the small dot representing Sihnon in her fist.

‘Gottcha’ she said throwing a grin to her senior staff.

Decker was never that funny she thought to herself.

* * *

Whitefall – 4th Moon of Athens – 2522AD

Zoe walked along the line and looked each one in turn in the eyes. You could tell a lot about a person by whether or not they stared right back or looked away even a liitle bit.

They all stared right back.

Zoe stopped and looked one of them up and down. ‘Where are you from?’

‘Triumph’ the woman replied.

With great effort Zoe resisted the urge to state that only steers and queers came from Triumph, and just threw the woman a disparaging look instead. ‘What’s your record?’ she asked instead.

‘Sniper’ the woman replied. ‘Two years.’

Zoe took another look with renewed interest. ‘How many kills?’

‘Sixty-Eight confirmed’ came the reply.

‘Actual?’ Zoe asked looking for a response.

‘One-Hundred twelve by my count’ the woman said without a hint of emotion either way. ‘that’s just the long-distance stuff, saw my share of close-in too.’

Zoe was impressed but didn’t show it. ‘What you been doing since?’

‘Ships cook’ the woman replied.

‘No shit?’ Zoe asked in surprise.

The woman nodded. ‘Ain’t got many marketable skills’ she explained ‘Left school early to go to basic training, was on the line at seventeen and didn’t want to go back home to gorram farming, just couldn’t see myself settling down on a dirtfarm with a parcel of kids.’

Zoe threw her a look of understanding. ‘Name?’

‘Hughes, Katherine M’

‘Okay Hughes if you can cook that’s what you’ll do on ship. Otherwise you’ll be spending your time looking through a scope dong ma?’

‘Clear as crystal’

Zoe took a couple of steps back to get a good collective view of the dozen men and women lined up by Serenity’s loading ramp. ‘Alright you’ve all volunteered which means you’re all dumb or you’ve got yourself a gorram hero complex’ Zoe declared loudly. ‘I can deal with dumb as long as you obey orders but anybody with a hero complex can get lost right now because you’ll just end up getting yourself or somebody else killed.’

Mal Reynolds right hand woman became pacing up and down the line with her hands behind her back. ‘As of the moment you decided that you’d come seeking “adventure” and “glory” you have signed your own death-warrants I’m telling you straight. Our job is to go ahead of every other lucky son-of-a-bitch in the Army, see what’s there and blow up and shoot as much of it as is physically possible before the Alliance realises we’re on their turf’ she explained. ‘I’m told you all have skills that make you suitable for this suicidal new profession but until I’ve seen you do it personally none of your war records impresses me one damn bit.’

Zoe paused and stopped walking. ‘As of today you are all Independent Army Rangers under the command of Malcolm Reynolds and the chain of command goes God, Mal then Me’ she told them pointing to herself. ‘I will personally shoot any damn one of you that endangers the group or the mission and if you think I’m just feeding you the usual NCO fèi huà I ain’t’ she vowed ‘believe it people.’

‘So what do you think Zoe?’ asked a voice behind her.

‘Rangers Atten-hut!’ Zoe called out and snapped her arms to her side as did the line of volunteers in front of her. She turned her head slightly as Mal moved in beside her wearing his Browncoat which now bore the old Independent Military Insignia once again but with a Ranger patch added. ‘I’ve seen better Sir, but I’ve seen worse too’ she conceded.

The Army Rangers detachments were one of several new Recon and Special-Forces units being set up as part of River Tams ground up reorganisation of the composition and methods of the Independent Military. They were intended to keep the numerically superior Alliance units off-balance during the first stages of the war and later on they would be the spearhead of the Regular Army once it was established.

A Rangers job was to scout, produce mayhem and in many ways act just like a load of gorram bandits. With those criteria in mind River couldn’t think of anyone better qualified than Malcolm Reynolds to head up the one of the first units.

Needless to say Mal had serious reservations about Zoe tagging along this time. She was a new mother and should be staying with her daughter to Reynolds way of thinking. Wash was of a similar frame of mind but Zoe had stubbornly overridden both of them saying that her little girl was going to grow up free if she had to kill every rutting Purple-Bellied húndàn from here to Sihnon with her own bare hands in order to make it so. Besides which Wash and Mal wouldn’t last a month of combat without her to save their asses. Little Erica was going to stay with Jennifer and the kids a situation that had resulted in Steven Hicks making Zoe and Wash swear they’d come back because there was no way he liked either of them enough to contemplate having to put four kids through college.

Mal leaned his head to one side and looked them over himself ‘I reckon most of you have heard of me now, even if you hadn’t before you got yourself tangled up in Admiral van der Heijdens little crusade, and let me tell you right now that all the stories are true’ he told them. ‘I really do pick fights with a brigades worth of Reavers at a time armed with nothing but a blunt spoon and I chew on broken glass for breakfast each and every morning ‘cause its cheaper than cornflakes.’

A ripple of laughter went down the rank.

‘Good now we’ve got that sorted out I want you all to collect the kit Flight Engineer Frye over there is handing out then collect your weapon from Specialist Jayne Cobb’ Mal told them. ‘In case you’re confused Jayne is the guy and you’ll find it easier on your jaw not to tell him it’s a girl’s name.’

Mal took a step forward and stood ramrod straight. ‘Okay I’m betting none of you so much as dreamed not too long back you’d be going off to war again but we are and that’s the way it is’ he told them. ‘Some of you won’t be coming back but I give you my word if I get you killed it won’t be because I’m trying to get a medal or a rutting promotion cause I wouldn’t give a squirt of piss just to have some rear echelon asshole pin a bit of metal on me. If you do die under my command it’ll be because I think what I’m ordering you to do is vital to the mission or else it’s because you screw-up yourself.’

Reynolds turned to his Second in Command ‘Fall them out Zoe.’

‘Rangers’ Zoe said loudly. ‘Fall out and collect your gear.’

The line all turned to their right in synch then headed off to the makeshift table where Kaylee had a pile of personal equipment to hand out.

The first to collect their kit was Hughes who then headed straight over to Jayne who handed her the Sharpshooter version of the new Independent Gaussrifle the GR-21S with the zooming multi-function scope (taken and modified from a more conventional 54-R Sniper Rifle) and a fold-out bipod arrangement instead of a bayonet clip.

Jayne looked the woman over almost as intensely as she was looking over the rifle. She weren’t half bad looking and if she had over a hundred long-distance kills under her belt she might actually be once of those rare women you could have a meaningful conversation with afterwards too.

Hughes couldn’t help but notice the look Jayne was directing her way. ‘Specialist Cobb right?’ she asked. ‘So what do you specialise in anyhow?’

Jayne looked thoughtful for a second. ‘Mostly I just hurt people’ he admitted.

* * *

Task Force Rubicon – Underway – 2522AD

River wondered how many among the crew of the ships of the Task Force knew the aptness of the name bestowed upon it. In the days of ancient Rome a General was not allowed to enter Italy under arms, to do so was treason and once you were committed your only choices were to win and successfully other-throw the Republic or else you’d likely find yourself nailed to two pieces of wood.

The point no Roman Soldier could pass under arms was called the Rubicon, if you crossed that line there was no going back.

The Rubicon was also a river.

River frankly doubted a particularly high percentage of the crews would know anything about that. It was probably a result of her snobby high-society background to put it this way but let’s be honest, she thought, the ratio of Rednecks to the Classically Educated amongst the Independents favoured the former by a considerable margin.

Of course on the other hand Rednecks did generally make much better riflemen than Librarians River reasoned then returned her concentration to the speaker.

‘The route we’re taking avoids Alliance patrols, and we intersect hardly any civilian shipping lanes and none with frequent traffic, but as soon as we get remotely close to target we’ll be flagged up on every threat warning board in the Core’ Major Brown told the conference of Ships Captains assembled on the pressurised flight deck of the Carrier Salamis. ‘Now if our frozen present does its job that won’t matter a damn, and we’ll be kicking ass and taking names, but if it doesn’t then, well what the hell, I guess we’ll just have to fight our way in and then fight our way right back out again.’

‘I would like to have it on record that I’m good but I don’t think I’m that good’ River announced from her chair next to the Major’s facing the group. ‘Anything more than a thousand to one odds gives me a headache’ she told the assembly ‘Now five-hundred to one… well that’s easy’ she said laughing.

‘What about the rest of the fleet?’

Major Brown smirked. ‘I don’t think a few of those ugly great glowing pieces of crap they call Cruisers will do much more than give our Maelstroms some target practice and they just haven’t got the concentration of force out Rim way to overwhelm our forces out there before we’ve got them by the balls and they’re running home to momma back in the Core.’

A voice came over the ships loudhailer ‘Fleet will enter final approach vector in five minutes. All vessels will minimise power signatures and radio traffic from this point’

‘The die is cast’ River said quietly.

‘Let us hope Lieutenant Tam, or should I say Caesar perhaps’ the Major responded just as quietly so only she could hear it. ‘That we do not end up saying in the future “what millions died that River might be great”’

* * *

INS Battlecruiser Scylla – Outskirts of the Colonised Worlds – 2522AD

‘All strike teams are in place Admiral’ the tactical officer announced. ‘The volunteer units have lifted from Whitefall and making their way to target worlds at full burn as are our Marine Companies.’

Van der Heijden nodded. ‘Give the go code’ he ordered. ‘All privateer transports will engage any targets of opportunity they see fit as of 22:00 Fleet Standard Time, no more trying to be discrete. All primary strike teams will hit their targets as soon as the troops get into scanner range of Toulouse. Secondary teams will hit targets of opportunity as the enemy reacts.’

The Admiral stood up. ‘I want Scylla and Charybdis in position no more than twenty hours after the fighting starts on Toulouse. That’s two hours less than the minimum time they can get a Cruiser there and I don’t want to leave our ground forces exposed to orbital bombardment… or our citizens there open to retaliation because by then the Alliance is going to be seriously pissed.’

Projected Alliance civilian casualties from the Rubicon mission were likely to be fairly high even though they would be collateral damage rather than a deliberate act of policy. The Admiral couldn’t really claim to have too many qualms about it though, after all the original mission of Task Force Omega had been the thermonuclear incineration of Core cities containing hundreds of millions of people and he would have done it too if the order hadn’t been revoked by the Independent High Command. Even back then he would rather have been killing soldiers by personal preference but they’d been killing plenty of civilians on the Independent Worlds, though not on remotely the same scale of megadeaths Omega was formed to do, and he was more than determined and ruthless enough to push the button which is why he’d been picked to lead the fleet in the first place.

Oh well that was ancient history now the Admiral knew. This was a new conflict and was going to be fought as cleanly as it could be because both powers would have to live together in the aftermath and that would be easier if the colonised worlds weren’t littered with broken cities basking in nuclear afterglow.

Van der Heijden closed his eyes and took a deep breath. ‘Ladies and gentlemen’ he began opening his eyes again. ‘We are at war. Let it be victory. Let it be our last.’

Part XII

COMMENTS

Sunday, February 19, 2006 6:45 AM

AMDOBELL


It seems ages since the last part, so good to see the story ongoing and I loved Mal's reaction to seeing his crew all recruited and in uniform to fight for the cause. Also loved Zoe talking to the troops and introducing them to the chain of command "God, Mal, then me". Oh yeah, shiny! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, February 20, 2006 6:12 AM

ARTSHIPS


You've always excelled at clever dialogue and solid, exciting combat. I enjoyed the former in this chapter, and look forward to the latter.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006 5:52 AM

SOULOFSERENITY


God, this is good!!


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The Independent Navy takes the fight to the Core while Mal Reynolds takes his new troops into action on Toulouse

Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XII)
Unification Day 2522 goes not as expected

Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XI)
Reunions and opening gambits