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Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XII)
Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Unification Day 2522 goes not as expected


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3720    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.

* * *

“We are they that burn faster than fate, Angels of Death bringing chaos and hate”

Song of the Independent Aerospace Force

* * *

AI Warship Shadow – Sihnon Sector – 2522AD

The timer reached zero and the AI core began to power up slowly in order to prevent the telltale signal of a sudden energy spike. The Comet would have already been screened and flagged up as a non-threat long before it got this close to Sihnon but even though it wasn’t being deliberately deep-scanned any more you couldn’t get this close to one of the twin capital worlds of the Alliance without tripping some sensor or another unless for were being extremely careful with how you operated.

Even buried under tonnes of ice Shadows own passive sensors could still give the AI a very good situational report of what was going on for a large chunk of the space around Sihnon. As expected the traffic was as heavy as ever in and out of the Core world and the AODI system was still diligently looking for trouble.

Shadow was trouble incarnate and was a lot closer to the AODI than anybody would have thought possible without detection.

Charges of plastic explosives buried in the ice would free the AI when needed but for now the ship ran diagnostics on its system and continued to build up a picture of its surroundings without doing anything as daft as actively scanning them. The ship slowly, carefully trickle charged the initiators needed to start the main reactor and engines when needed and began modelling its flight path.

With a whole comet as a heat-sink the increased heat being generated by the ship as it powered up was being effortlessly conducted away to millions of tons of ice by its own heat superconductor plated hull so Infra-Red telescopes wouldn’t be picking Shadow up either.

The AI waited and listened.

* * *

Transport Serenity – Outskirts of Toulouse Space – 2522 AD

Private Mailer stared in disbelief at the contents of the crate. ‘What the hell is this thing?’ he asked in bewilderment.

Zoe looked from Mailer to the box then back to Mailer ‘Recoilless Cannon’ she answered.

‘It’s a what?’ he asked.

‘Recoilless Cannon’ Zoe repeated. ‘You load one of these projectiles in this end and one of those in the other’ she explained pointing at two of the selection of cylindrical objects sitting in the open box next to the crate holding the Cannon. ‘When you press the trigger a charge hurls the warhead one way and the counterweight here shoots out the back to cancel the recoil. The counterweight’s much heavier so it only goes a short distance while the projectile goes real far real fast.’

The newly recruited Ranger looked slightly nonplussed. He’d been expecting to be issued a Rocket Launcher. Other members of the platoon were wandering over to look now too all equally mystified.

‘Newtons Third of Motion’ a voice called out across the bay ‘For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction’ it explained.

Everyone spun and looked at the source of the explanation.

Jayne shook his head. ‘What’s the matter?’ he asked, ‘don’t none of you ignorant bastards know any physics?’ he said to all the Rangers now looking at him and went back to oiling Vera again.

Somehow maintaining her poise Zoe bought attention back to the Recoilless. ‘We’ve got three types of ammo’ she said. ‘HESH is High Explosive Squash Head which is just a lump of plastic explosive that goes splat on target then blows a big hole in it’ she explained holding up one type of warhead. ‘HEAT is High Explosive Anti-Tank which is a shaped charge like you get in a rocket launcher. It won’t go through the Front of a Roller, maybe not the side neither if it’s a Heavy Tank but it’ll take down pretty much any APC.’

‘You said three types of ammo’ Keppler asked. He was the demolition expert of the team, during the war he’d blown up bridges and afterwards had gone back to his original career of mining. Dave Keppler had been hitching a lift on a transport when it was stopped by one of the roving Independent Privateers and had signed up. Not that they would have let him go on where he was headed anyway but he did volunteer once he’d found out what was going on.

Zoe nodded and picked up one the rounds. ‘Canister Shot’ she said, ‘works like a darn great shotgun round full of half-inch ball-bearings. No good at much range, or against an armoured target, but close up, say under a hundred yards it’ll shred a whole platoon at once. Assuming they’re kinda bunched up of course’

‘And this thing actually works?’ Mailer asked suspiciously.

‘We crippled two Pirate boats with it on Lynx two years back and Jayne over there blew a Reaver Ship all to hell with it out beyond the Rim’ Zoe reassured them. ‘I’ll admit it’s a bit unusual, but it works real good.’

‘Reavers?’ one of the other Rangers asked, ‘You seen many?’

‘Yup’ Mal answered walking into the hold heading from talking to Simon in the Medical Bay, ‘killed plenty too’ he told them.

‘How many is “plenty” Sarge?’ The Ranger asked curiously.

‘Thousands’ Mal replied. ‘We dropped a nuke on a whole heap of them a while back. They ain’t so threatening when they’re even more radioactive than normal’ he said off-handedly. ‘I see you’re showing the boys and girls one of our secret weapons’ he said to Zoe. ‘I guess it’s your baby now Mailer’ he said looking at the Ranger. ‘Don’t break it or I know a Cavalry Officer that’ll kick your ass’ he told him. ‘Same goes for whoever gets to carry the Brimstone’ he continued, ‘it’s on loan, it ain’t actually ours.’

Hughes was standing closest to Jayne. ‘Is he kidding about the Nuke?’ she whispered.

‘Nope’ Jayne replied. ‘I wasn’t there though’ he said sadly. ‘We did get to fight a couple of boats worth in a domed colony once’ he said brightening up. ‘That was fun’ he said with enthusiasm, ‘even the Doc back there joined in and bagged his-self a few.’

The mercenary looked down at his Callahan fondly. ‘We had ourselves a good time that day didn’t we baby’ he said to the rifle and gave Vera a friendly pat before looking back at the female Sniper. ‘Reavers is all Rep’ he told her with the calm reassurance of a complete maniac ‘They scream something awful, and if you get too close they’ll eat your face off, but keep your discipline and your distance and you’ll own ‘em. No tactics at all.’

The Pilots voice boomed over the intercom. ‘We are about to enter Toulouse Sector’ he announced. ‘The Corvus is leading us in. Hopefully she won’t have to cover our ass on the way back out again anytime soon.’

Mal put on a serious expression. ‘All right Rangers you know the mission and you know your own part in it’ he said. ‘Don’t any of you get killed because if you do when I arrive at the Pearly Gates myself, many, many years from now, I’ll track you down and kick your ass because I hate writing to folk’s parents and the Corporal here won’t do it for me.’

* * *

Alliance Federal Garrison – Toulouse – 2522AD

Jack Foreman wound down the window and showed his ID badge to the Soldier guarding the gate who scanned it then waved him on through. He was driving a very sporty little hovercar imported all the way from Ariel and the troops at the gate threw him envious looks as he drove off.

The parade ground was already full of Federals being inspected by NCO’s prior to their march into town and through the wide boulevards of the worlds Capital City. It wasn’t exactly a ticker-tape parade and for the most part they’d be ignored by the locals at best, sworn at or maybe even spat on at worse, but they were going to make damn sure of two things. That they looked their very best and that they made sure the gorram locals knew who ran this planet.

An Alliance Corporal flagged him down and indicated a place to park. As the businessman got out the soldier walked over, ‘Good morning Mr Foreman’ he began, ‘The Governor is waiting for you in the Garrison Commanders office along with Colonel Albertson.’

‘Lead on son’ Jack Foreman replied and followed on behind the Federal.

‘I hear some of your People are joining the parade this year Mr Foreman?’ the soldier asked making conversation as they made their way across the parade ground towards an impressive marble fronted barracks building where the officers lived while the other ranks made do with concrete blockhouses on the other side of the base. Actually he personally detested the idea of having a load of fat Security Guards march along with real soldiers, as did the Colonel according to rumours, but Foreman was the Governors golden boy and the civilian administration called the shots.

‘That’s right’ Foreman replied. ‘They’re meeting up with the Federal column at the Spaceport then marching along with you through the City from there.’

‘Sounds good’ the Corporal responded lying through his teeth.

As they reached the building they had to walk through a gun scan which bleeped and indicated the businessman was carrying something. He laughed and reached into his pocket and pulled out a laser pointer used to help give lectures or business presentations. It might have the wattage to burn through human skin, if you could get the person concerned to hold completely still for about three hours that is.

The Corporal laughed along with the businessman and told him he could keep it. As a weapon it was of more use if you used it to poke someone in the eye.

Jack Foreman paused for a second and asked to check his mail before going in. He pulled out a handheld Cortex Access pad and checked for waves. There weren’t any but before putting it back in his pocket he pressed send and a text wave written earlier zipped off into the ether.

It wasn’t very professional he knew but sometimes you’ve just got to gloat.

* * *

Blue Sun Corporate Headquarters – Osiris – 2522AD

The junior Vice-President was still more than a touch disgruntled at drawing the short straw and having to man the office on a public holiday when all the rest of the Company Executives were out having fun with their families and friends.

At least one of the Executive staff had to be in the office and as the youngest, newest and most junior member of that august body it meant he was going to have to be in work today, along with a skeleton staff of managers and administrators. It was the same at all the big conglomerates across the Core and he’d just got a wave from an old college friend over at Telephonix who was in the same situation.

It wasn’t like anything was going to happen. The entire Core was closed for the day but Company Rules stated that there must always be a Duty Exec in the office at all times so he was there eating peanuts and wondering if there were any places open that might deliver a pizza to the office.

As befits an Executive, even a junior one his office was in one of the buildings top floors and he had a view of the city that he would normally never tire of. Today however looking down from the Blue Sun Tower at the shorter buildings it loomed over, though they were themselves skyscrapers by most peoples standards, his only emotion was jealousy that all the little people down there were having fun and he was wasting his time slouching behind a desk.

The Console on his desk bleeped indicating a new wave. The executive tapped a key and the text appeared on the screen (the new holographic projections popular amongst most people nowadays gave him a headache after a while for some inexplicable reason) and he read the message.

It was from Jack Foreman on Toulouse. The Blue Sun Exec knew the name, he was some up-and-coming industrialist who’d become a major purchaser of manufacturing equipment from the Corporation as well as being a Venture Capital partner. The wave was addressed to all the Senior Staff.

Dear Blue Sun Corporation,” it began.

On behalf on the Independent Military I would like to thank you for supplying the industrial plant and equipment needed to rebuild our armaments industry and the capital investment needed to help pay for it. We really couldn’t have done it without you.

The Exec chuckled. This was clearly some Rimworlder’s idea of a joke.

The message continued. “I must however apologise for the fact that we will be defaulting on the loan. It would be wise not to bother seeking redress through the Courts or via a Debt Collection Agency as we do not recognise the former and we totally outgun the latter”.

The Junior Vice President really started to laugh now. This stuff was gold he thought reading on.

Finally I would like to offer my best wishes to you and your families for when Parliament and the Military finds out your part in today’s events because I’m betting, high-level contacts or no, they’re going to nail your balls to a block of wood.

Best Regards

Jack Foreman, Independent Navy

There was one final piece of text.

PS. Happy Fuck-You Day

Laughing fit to burst the Duty Executive nearly missed the bleep of another wave this one seemed to be from somebody styling themselves “Admiral Marc van der Heijden” and it was a copy of the Declaration of Independence from the last war. It wasn’t nearly as funny as the first wave although it looked like it was sent to just about every single important person in the Core.

The following wave, a formal Declaration of War, from the same source wasn’t particularly amusing either.

The Junior Vice-President re-read the first wave again and was still laughing quarter of an hour later when a 1000 Megaton Thermonuclear-Pumped EMP Device, built out of one of the bombs originally meant to destroy Londinium and hidden in a cargo of old radioactive engine parts en-route for disposal, exploded a thousand miles above the most populated continent on Osiris and shorted out every unhardened electronic circuit across half the planet, sending aircars and ships crashing to the ground (and into buildings) and knocking out the planetary Cortex and the entire civilian power-grid.

Other bombs simultaneously bloomed above Greenleaf, Ariel and Bernadette. All four worlds were in a state of near anarchy by the end of the following day with every Alliance Federal and Cop that could be scraped together put on the streets to impose martial law.

A day after that they were shooting looters on sight on both Greenleaf and Bernadette and all four planets were calling up war veterans to help restore order.

In all the chaos it was simplicity itself for the three two man teams of Marine Force Recon who had been infiltrated into Osiris to systematically assassinate the seven leading Scientists and Surgeons working at the Academy. They’d already marked their targets days before and were waiting for all the lights to go out and the local law to be too busy to get in the way.

Working from memory, her own and thoughts and images from Laura’s mind, River had thoughtfully provided names and some very artistic and realistic sketches of just exactly what they looked like.

Their civilian economies on the four worlds were wrecked. The fragile electronics that ran the high-tech factories would take months, maybe years to fully replace.

Of course those worlds didn’t have an AODI system to protect them.

* * *

AI Warship Shadow – Sihnon Sector – 2522AD

Admiral van de Heijden's carefully worded, and to Shadow’s mind overly florid and verbose, declaration of war was the signal to get going and bust some heads. Or rather shoot up some satellites.

The AI remote-detonated the explosives planted in the ice above him and forced his way through the debris into the comets tail. He had been deliberately buried in such a location that he would emerge within the tail which would help mask him, before emerging completely into empty space. This close to Sihon the traffic in and out of the planet was more concentrated and the AODI system would have more trouble separating the wheat from the chaff so to speak but Shadow still made sure he was going to be going like a bat out of hell when they did get a solid lock and he was burning hard.

His energy signature was by necessity through the roof but that couldn’t be helped in the circumstances and the next senor sweep of the area wasn’t due for a few minutes.

If you can push a constant 100 gees of acceleration for a few minutes you’re already really moving, add in the ‘what the hell’ factor when they did pick him up, the verification of the scans, the prevarications and the inevitable ‘I’m going to get the blame for this shit’ induced human errors and the AI would be almost at his target before anyone actually tried to do anything about it.

Shadow charged his Railgun and directed-energy weaponry and followed a vector that would have his target presenting itself any second now.

It wasn’t the Alpha station. That would have been an insane mission for a ship of Shadows size even if he was a lot meaner that any vessel of his size should be. The Defence Satellite was designed to survive an assault on the planet by Capital Ships not egotistical Frigates with delusions of invincibility.

There’s my bitch’ Shadow thought scanning the hundreds of vessels in the immediate vicinity. This close to any Core World was a hive of activity even on a day like today.

The gigantic Ore Freighter was bringing material from one of the Asteroid Mines out near Boros to the orbiting factories and shipyards of Sihnon it was heading in exactly the right direction and had only just started decelerating to bring itself into the correct orbit so it was moving fast enough for the AI’s purposes too.

The AODI network detected Shadow five minutes before Shadow opened fire. Six minutes later he was being targeted, if not yet fired upon, by enough firepower to turn him into metal slag. If he got any closer to Sihnon he’d be toast but he’d had to cut it pretty fine to get the effect he wanted.

In fact if he had got too much closer Shadow would have likely ended up not much unlike the vast cloud of assorted asteroidal junk and spaceship parts that was now falling right into the orbital path of the Alpha Station and a great number of the automated Defence Satellites it controlled.

Shadow had blown the million tonne Freighter to pieces by the simple expedient of firing right up the back of its engine into its totally unarmoured reactor core. A military ship of the same size might have been able to take that kind of abuse but an Ore Freighter couldn’t. It was a tricky shot at this range but the AI had managed far more difficult ones in the past.

Ethically speaking it was a bit hard on the Freighters civilian crew, but war is hell and it’s not like Shadow was exactly prone to a guilty conscience or second guessing himself.

The AI watched the bits of freighter and its cargo spill out into vacuum whilst continuing on its previous course just like mass tends to once it gets going. The freighter was Shadows bitch he considered but the whole ‘verse was Newton’s.

Over the next hour the falling debris would scour just about every satellite in equatorial orbit around Sihnon before providing one of the prettiest meteor storms the planet had ever seen. Not only would a good percentage of the AODI network be destroyed, including the more dangerous of the missile and directed-energy installations, but so too many other medium to low orbit communication and observation satellites, both civilian and military, were exposed to what amounted to the largest shotgun blast in history. When you’re moving at orbital velocities hitting a grain of sand can be fairly destructive. Slamming straight into a couple of kilos of rock or freighter hull is downright fatal.

It was something you couldn’t achieve from further out. The AODI system would have been able to target and destroy the material and the “shot pattern” wouldn’t have been concentrated enough to ensure hits on all the required targets, but at this range the spread was just perfect and it was too late for countermeasures, there were just too many targets and not enough time.

The Heavily Armoured Alpha Station itself would survive but the myriad satellites it controlled, both sensors and defence, its eyes, ears and claws if you care to think of it that way were shattered.

Shadow sent a wave to Taskforce Rubicon advising them of the successful neutralisation of much of the Satellite Defence Network.

The AI began to detect Alliance warships starting to get into the game. There were fewer than there would have been on most any day but U-Day, when so many military personnel were on leave or on Parade marching through the myriad cities of the Core, but there were still a whole heap of them and although several were undermanned they were pissed.

The machine had a secondary target and changed course to get there before the Alliance Ships could intercept him. It wasn’t a military target it was a small civilian shipyard in high orbit, way outside the expanding debris field, belonging to the Research and Development Division of the Blue Sun Corporation.

Shadow was on a mission to take out his birthplace.

Hey Ma I’m home’ the AI signalled to the shipyard. ‘I’ve bought some friends home for dinner hope that’s okay’ he continued as he received a reply wave from Taskforce Rubicon.

* * *

Toulouse Spaceport – Toulouse – 2522AD

The only Alliance personnel at the Port were in the Aerospace-Traffic-Control Tower and there weren’t too many of them. Security for the place had been in the hands of Jack Foreman’s Security Division for quite a while and the limited number of Federals who would usually have been there to support them were either whooping t up in the limited number of Alliance Friendly Bars in town or else up at the Garrison getting ready for the parade.

As for the Security Guards however there was a acre of those guys most of who were there to hook up with the Parade when the Federals got this far. Well most of them thought that’s why they were there anyhow.

Jonas Brock (always just called by his given name as was traditional on some moons) as the Head of the Foreman Security Division had picked the majority of the guards himself and they were pretty much all either war veterans or the sons, daughters or other kin of war veterans with a disproportionate number being former members of the Toulouse Colonial Legion. At first he’d worried the boss might object to this kind of blatant favouritism but Mr Foreman hadn’t complained one bit and in fact often praised Jonas for his choice saying the Legionnaires were a good dependable choice who often deterred people messing with them by sheer reputation.

There was one group of the Security Team that Mr Foreman had appointed himself though and they were his personal guard, a necessary evil sometimes on the rim where a wealthy man might be kidnapped. Jonas had easily recognised other ex-military types and had determined pretty quick that they were former Marines who Mr Foreman had known in his Navy Days and felt obliged to hire when he had the opportunity. Jonas didn’t object to the boss choosing his own people for the job, that was his right and besides which the old Independent Marines were nearly as tough as the Legion in his estimation.

The head of the private security force was of Asian, probably majority Japanese extraction by her name, Fushida. Her team was occasionally known to call her Major which she corrected each time pointing out they were civilians now this didn’t surprise anyone. Many of Jonas own Security Guards still called him Captain for that matter having served in his company in the war, it was a really hard habit for some ex-soldiers to break, and it weren’t too surprising that the Marines still identified with their officer in those terms too.

The guards were milling around making sure they looked presentable though not liking the idea of march with the gorram Federals when Fushida beckoned Jonas over for a word.

‘Having a good day?’ she asked.

‘Not so much’ Jonas admitted, ‘goes against the grain to be marching with those assholes on U-Day.’

Fushida developed a wry smile.

‘Rather be shooting at them?’ she asked with a twinkle in her eye.

Jonas chuckled. ‘Thought has crossed my mind every time I pick up one of those new Callahans’ he said, ‘never carried anything like it in the war.’

‘What about your troops?’ she asked pointing to the hundred or so Guards who were talking amongst themselves.

‘Carried a few of them in the war too’ Jonas replied laughing.

The woman laughed along then her expression changed very serious. ‘How do they feel about the war you think?’

‘That it was worth fighting and it’s a damn shame we lost.’ Jonas replied, ‘hey this is a pretty serious conversation are you going somewhere with this?’ he asked.

Fushida smiled. ‘Tell you what how about you come somewhere with me instead.’

‘If this is seduction I’m married and I don’t go for Jarheads’ Jonas joked, ‘especially ones that used to outrank me.’

‘No seriously tag along’ Fushida told him. ‘You’ll enjoy this.’

By now awash with curiosity Jonas followed the woman to the Traffic Control Tower which he noted was being guarded by two of her men. She walked straight in with Jonas and four others following and when she got to the door that led to the control room she looked at her watch.

‘All a matter of timing she said’ checked the watch again walked in the door, pulled a pistol and shot two holes in the ceiling.

‘What the fuck?’ the lead controller shouted out with his ears ringing from the loud pistol report in the closed space.

Jonas didn’t do a thing. This was all too bizarre.

‘Nobody touches a radio or I’ll kill them’ Fushida promised. ‘step back from the consoles and nobody gets hurt.’

‘What the hell are you doing?’ another controller asked. ‘You’re Foreman Security aren’t you?’

‘No I’m rutting not’ Fushida replied. ‘I’m Major Helen Fushida Gamma Battalion Second Marine Expeditionary Unit and you are all my prisoners.’

‘Is this a joke?’ the Senior Controller asked stamping over to Fushida and snarling. ‘Someone is going to have to pay to fix the holes in that ceiling’ he said.

Fushida rolled her eyes. ‘Sergeant please restrain this man’ she said to which command one of her marines took a step forward and in one fluid motion grabbed the man concerned, threw him to the floor and put him in an armlock causing a cry of pain which resulted in a tighter and tighter armlock until he got the point and shut up. The other two controllers took the hint and just looked on in horror.

‘As of this hour’ Major Fushida said. ‘The Independent Military has reengaged full-scale hostilities with the Alliance and is currently undertaking military action across the Colonised Worlds’ she declared. ‘A Task Force is heading to Toulouse and will be entering your scanning range any time soon so I’m here to stop you letting the local Alliance Military know about it.’

Jonas was apparently in the company of a madwoman and her minions.

‘Hey look at that there they are now’ Fushida said happily pointing to the Sensor Screen in front of her. That big one will be the Troop Carrier Ecnomus carrying three full companies of Marines’ she said before turning to Jonas and offering him a letter from her pocket. ‘It’s from Commander Foreman’ she explained. ‘He’s sorry for keeping you out of the loop but it’s been all very need-to-know as you might guess.’

Taking the letter Jonas opened it and started reading. After a few seconds his eyes grew wider and wider until eventually he looked up with a dazed expression. ‘Battlecruisers?’ he asked in amazement.

‘Oh yeah’ Fushida replied. ‘We’ve been hiding out for ten years. Did he mention the fact that right about now we’re EMP-ing half the main Alliance cities and we’ve got a fleet of warships heading to Sihnon’ she said with a huge grin. ‘It’ll go down in history as the great U-Day ass-raping of 2522’ she said laughing.

‘Sihnon?’ Jonas said. ‘Rutting Sihnon!’

‘Taking the war to the core Captain’ Major Fushida responded, ‘taking the war all the way to the fucking core. This time we’ll be dishing out as much as we take, hopefully a damn sight more’ she stated determinedly.

‘I don’t know what to say’

‘Well I was hoping for “Where do I sign up?” to be honest’ the Marine told him.

Jonas looked back at the letter then the growing number of blips on the console, then out of the windows that looked out over the Spaceport then finally back to Major Fushida. ‘Okay’ he said eventually. ‘I’m in.’

Good thing I persuaded Foreman not to mention the telepaths in the letter, Fushida thought as transferring her pistol to her left hand she offered her right to shake then used it to return a salute from Jonas. Battlecruisers, Nuclear EMP’s, Privateers and mass assassinations are one thing but ain’t nobody going to buy the psychic stuff she considered with good reason.

High above the invasion force would be shortly entering atmo. The first ship in would be the Frigate Corvus which had a special package to deliver on the way in.

* * *

Alliance Federal Garrison – Toulouse – 2522AD

Jack Foreman had made his excuses from the informal party in the Garrison CO's Office saying he had to make a kind cortex call outside before they left. He was going to be travelling with the planetary governor himself to the sumptuous banquet that was being laid on for the most important people of the planet in the cities Great Hall which reflected his status as a major player in local politics and trade.

A Federal followed him outside back to the parade ground when he took a seat on a rock and started making the call. After a few seconds he paused and turned to the Federal. ‘This is going to take a while’ he said. ‘You guys got a bar on this base?’

The Alliance soldier nodded. ‘Pretty much anybody that ain’t already marching to the spaceport is in there’ he said.

Foreman smiled and reached into his pocket pulling out a very high denomination Alliance Banknote. ‘Go any buy a round for everyone there on me’ he told the soldier. Then winked at him, ‘If you have one yourself don’t stand close enough to an officer for him to smell you afterwards because you’re on duty right.’

The Federal thought about it. Hell it was U-Day for Gods sake he decided. He looked around to make sure nobody senior was in sight then snatched up the note. ‘Thanks Sir I’ll make sure everyone in the Bar knows who paid for the drinks’ he said and disappeared.

Jack watched the young Federal until he was out of sight then still pretending to me making a call he got his laser pointer out of his pocket and aimed it surreptitiously at the Garrisons Air-Defence installation about half a mile away. For the most part the base was deserted so he wasn’t too worried about being watched.

A tiny red dot appeared on the reinforced concrete structure.

High above the package delivered by Corvus on the way into atmo plunged unpowered through the air whistling through the sky as it went.

Twenty miles out and five miles up from the Garrison the simple seeker head at the nose of the Laser Guided Bomb picked up the tiny dot being painted on its intended target by a supposed businessman with a laser pointer pen and steered itself straight for it. The bomb was as stealthy as it could be, shaped so as not to be picked up on sensors very easily and largely non-metallic in any case except for the nose which was coated with Radar Absorbing Material.

Seconds later the five thousand kilo bunker-buster warhead with an armoured nose smashed straight through the concrete wall of the Air-Defence Installation drove itself another fifty yards in by sheer momentum then exploded setting off the Surface to Air Missile battery inside and between them blowing the building to pieces sending concrete and metal raining down across the base.

The sound was deafening. Windows shattered right across the garrison.

Jack Foreman picked himself up off the floor just as everyone in the Officers Quarters poured outside and yelled at them. ‘What the hell happened?’ he asked. ‘That rutting building over there just blew up I might have been killed’ he cried out. ‘What in Gods name have you got in there?’

‘One of the Missiles must have cooked off somehow’ an officer called out as the base went into pandemonium with firecrews starting to swing into action and sirens blaring.

The laser pointer was already back in Jacks pocket. Definitely more dangerous used that way he considered than just sticking it in someone’s eye. Well so much for Alliance Air Defence over this part of the planet he thought smiling inwardly.

* * * Toulouse Spaceport – Toulouse – 2522AD

The ships were coming into land just as new began to flood in on the Cortex that all hell was being let loose in the Core.

As the majority of transports prepared to land one of the number veered off on its own heading north. Serenity and her Rangers had another mission, there was another major Alliance Military Base two hundred miles from the Toulouse Capital and unlike the City Garrison it wasn’t just Federal Infantry stationed there for public order and parades there was a whole Regiment of Mechanised Infantry up there and they’d be rolling anytime soon.

The Rangers got to slow them down whilst the Marines and other forces prepared to give them a really warm welcome.

‘I’m not sure about this new career move’ Wash told Mal as he piloted the Firefly just above the treetops heading north.

‘It’s not just a job Wash it’s an adventure’ Mal replied standing next to him in the cockpit watching the neat fields and farmhouses of Toulouse fly past.

‘Well next time how about an adventure playground with swings and slides and ropes and such’ the pilot responded flying over a small cottage so low the Firefly’s slipstream tore off a good number of its roof tiles.

‘There could be ropes Dear’ Zoe interrupted sticking her head into the cockpit. ‘Of course we’ll be hanging from them’ she explained before turning to Mal ‘Rangers ready to roll Sir’ she reported.

Wash’s face was a mask of concentration as he bought the Firefly down into a small River Valley which was barely wide enough for the ship to fit through. ‘Three minutes people’ he said ‘It’s going to be a touch and go on the LZ so anyone not off the boat in twenty seconds gets to stay.’

‘You’re already staring to talk the part anyway’ Mal told Wash putting his hand on his shoulder. ‘If we call then come running’ he told him.

Mal and Zoe trotted back to the cargo bay.

‘This is it people’ Mal called out, ‘let’s show those Purple-Bellies what Army Rangers are made of.’

Serenity’s ramp was coming down and the troops were moving before the landing gear hit the dirt.

* * *

Task Force Rubicon – Sihnon Sector – 2522AD

‘Got to give it to that AI it gets the job done’ Major Brown said with grudging admiration as he checked out the situation. ‘Raised merry hell in these parts it has.’

‘Get to know Shadow better and you’ll find yourself saying “him” not “it” before long’ River told him watching the displays. ‘Are all units in the fleet deployed as I instructed’ she asked.

The Major nodded. ‘It’s all up to you now’ he said and stepped back, well as far as you could step back on the bridge of a Corvette. River’s Flagship had to be a small ship or the minds of its own crew might interfere with what she needed to do.

The telepath closed her eyes and opened her mind listening to the void, concentrating on the rapidly forming armada of Alliance Warships that was accelerating to meet them.

‘The enemy leader is a Commodore named Shichang’ River said opening her eyes again.

‘We’re totally outgunned’ Brown told her looking at the array of ships that was moving to intercept Task Force Rubicons small number of Destroyers, Frigates and Corvettes.

River closed her eyes again. ‘Give me a dozen full Railgun salvos from all ships at these coordindates, time on target ten minutes from… now’ she said tapping the keyboard in front of her.

All the Alliance ships were randomly changing course and speed to avoid mass-driver fire. What they couldn’t know was that the Independent Ships were firing at the space where Commodore Shichang had ordered them, on a totally secure encypted signal, to converge in ten minutes time.

‘That should even things up some’ River said opening her eyes and smiling sweetly at the Intelligence officer.

Major Brown imagined flying headlong into several hundred quarter-metre diametre steel balls all fired at different velocities so they all arrived in the same place at the same time. Yes that should level the playing field a bit.

More than half the Alliance ships were smashed in the first exchange, pieces of smashed metal and ceramic would still be falling into Sihnons atmosphere years from now, the broken warships finishing as a firey steak in the sky if not in a blaze of glory on the battlefield.

Shortly after the time-on-target barrage River really started to get her game on.

Part XIII

COMMENTS

Tuesday, February 21, 2006 6:22 AM

ARTSHIPS


Still with the true-to-character banter, I see. And all the little stories making up hte big story - Professional work, Hotpoint. Just... You're not done!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006 12:59 PM

AMDOBELL


Impressed with Jayne's knowledge of physics and just shiny to see our Big Damn Heroes gear up for action. Oh yeah, ready to rock and roll. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, February 22, 2006 6:10 AM

SOULOFSERENITY


Hotpoint, this is awesome. I am so gled you decided to finish it. Wow!!

- Soul


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