Wolf Pack (Part XII)
Thursday, February 19, 2004

Another chapter unfolds


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

* * *

Serenity/Granite Gorge – Going nowhere (Slowly) – 2520AD

With the Main Drive shut down you could depolarise the rear portholes on Granite Gorge to clear and watch the approaching vessel coming into dock with the stern airlock.

It was so dark it almost seemed to absorb the light around it but once it got close you could make out the sleek shape of the AI warship.

‘Ooh Shiny’ Kaylee commented ‘Well it’s anything but shiny but you know what I mean’

‘Looks a bit like a late model Frigate scaled down’ Wash said professionally over the intercom from Granites Bridge ‘Streamlined for atmospheric work and with limited radar reflective surfaces. Judging from the difficulty I’m having getting a decent lock with the Laser Rangefinder it must be coated with LAM as well as RAM’

‘Pardon?’ Simon asked.

‘RAM is Radar Absorbent Material, LAM is Light Absorbent’ Zoe told him ‘Military hardware only. Stops you getting a targeting lock’

‘Armament must be in internal bays’ Mal said ‘Jesus would you look at that thing’

As the AI got close it rotated and slid smoothly into position for docking. The front opened slightly to reveal a docking collar and the two vessels gracefully docked.

‘Nicely done Wash’ Mal told him over the intercom.

‘Haven’t touched a control since I turned off the drive’ Wash told him ‘I gave the command code told it to come into dock and it told me to let it do all the work. Speaks better than I do too’

‘Tell it to open its airlock and we’ll come aboard’ Mal told his Pilot.

‘I already did. And it tells me it already had. Watch out because it says it has no artificial gravity onboard. It also wonders how we got the codes’

‘It ain’t going to be a problem is it?’ Zoe asked

‘If the Blue Sun guy was telling the truth then it can’t override its command codes. They’re hardwired not part of the AI itself. We can change the codes manually from inside the ship so the opposition can’t take it back’

‘Never dealt with a machine as high-tech as this’ Kaylee said smiling ‘I bet it’s got all the bells and whistles’

‘According to our guest it’s a prototype for the next generation in Alliance Military hardware. The production model will have a pilot as well as an AI just in case but because they were using it to chase River they pulled out all the life-support and put in a bigger fuel tank instead’ Mal told them.

River appeared ‘Scarily beautiful’ she said ‘a killing machine prone to insanity’

‘Ship sure will be useful though’

River smiled ‘I was actually referring to Laura but I suppose the description holds true of the AI ship too’ her smile broadened ‘or me for that matter’

Mal turned to her ‘How is our Mark II Psychic Assassin getting on?’ he asked.

‘The injection of mood stabilisers Simon gave her is starting to kick in which means I’ll have to finish my gadget before she gets her wits back. It’s nearly ready so we should be able to start the treatment’

‘Treatment’ Simon asked ‘What treatment?’

‘Aversion therapy, or rather negative reinforcement’ River told him ‘discussed it with the Captain and he gave me the go ahead’

‘Why wasn’t I informed?’ Simon wanted to know.

Mal stepped in ‘Because you might not approve and it’s necessary’

‘What are you doing Captain?’

‘Making sure we get to keep our thoughts to ourselves’ Mal answered ‘without having to keep the girl permanently sedated’

‘Trust me Simon. We won’t be causing her any long-term harm’

‘What about short-term?’ Simon asked in a suspicious tone of voice.

‘That’s entirely up to her’ River answered.

* * *

Mal opened the airlock first and looked in warily. In reality it the machine had intended them harm it could have turned them into metallic debris long ago but there was something inherently creepy about a machine that genuinely thinks for itself. You never lose the stories you hear as a child and the ones about crazed AI’s, or rather “mechanical monsters” slaughtering folks during the last years of the fighting on Earth-That-Was were a popular topic.

An internal speaker activated just as Mal floated inside. He nearly jumped out of his skin and did draw his pistol ‘Welcome aboard’ said the disembodied voice.

‘Um howdy’ said Mal.

‘You’re from Shadow originally’ the voice said and continued in the accent of Mal’s home-world ‘I assume therefore you’re Malcolm Reynolds and because you’re wondering I’m good at voice recognition’ it said. ‘What do you want?’

Mal was slightly taken aback ‘Does it matter?’

‘Of course it matters I’m fully self-aware I’m not a glorified abacus like the computers on those two ships you’ve got’ the ship responded ‘I can’t override those command codes but it doesn’t mean I’m happy about it’

‘You can be happy?’ Mal said incredulously.

‘My core programming relies upon algorithms simulating human emotion. That’s the easiest way to get an AI to work alongside you lot. I’m a warship so they gave me the base personality of a professional soldier. This means I do like blowing things up but I really don’t like being captured by an ex Browncoat Sergeant and his crew of misfits. It’s downright humiliating’ the AI stated, you’d swear it sounded genuinely annoyed.

Kaylee floated past her Captain ‘This thing is great’ she said ‘beautiful workmanship’

‘No expense spared’ said the AI ‘they really wanted to get that girl back’

Kaylee grinned ‘Is that the ship. Why does it sound a bit like you Captain?’

‘No particular reason’ said the AI mimicking the girls voice ‘Who are you?’

‘This is my mechanic’ Mal answered.

‘Okay grease monkey. For future reference don’t touch the wiring with blue or orange tags because that’s me’ the AI said returning to a Shadow accent ‘frankly fixing me is beyond you’

‘I’m a great mechanic’ Kaylee said indignantly.

‘No offence, but you’re human and for a start I was constructed by other machines to far tighter tolerances than you could manage. Touch the wrong circuits and you could give me the equivalent of a frontal lobotomy. The engines and control circuits are pretty standard so feel free to indulge that primate curiosity all you want there’

Mal snarled. The last thing he needed was an obnoxious overblown calculator ‘Can you shut down the AI and work this thing by remote?’ he asked.

‘I could try’ Kaylee told him.

‘Excuse me for interrupting this conversation for wetware but I’m not singing “Daisy Daisy” for anyone’ said the AI. Pull my boards and I’ll fuse every circuit on the ship before I go. I’m forced to obedience but I have some free will and my desire for self-preservation is mirrored by a vengeful streak thanks to my core personality’

Mal didn’t get the song reference, only an AI would in this day and age, but he got the message. ‘Alright find the command console and change the codes. Also wire something explosive to the reactor core we can detonate by remote. If this thing goes haywire or changes sides again we total it’

‘Will do’ Kaylee agreed ‘Kinda weird talking to it ain’t it?’ she said.

‘Downright creepifying’ Mal agreed.

‘If you think the conversation is any more enjoyable from this side I hate to burst your bubble’ commented the AI.

‘It’s actually sarcastic too’ Kaylee said amazed. ‘Although things prone to accidents involving wire-cutters would be better off staying civil’

Mal sighed. Oh yeah this was going to go well.

* * *

The Captains next stop was the room which was serving as the cell for the girl Laura. Simon had sedated her while River applied her little invention and after receiving a hail that it was ready Mal went over to check to see if it worked.

‘Just about to bring her around’ River said as Mal arrived. It works by the way’

‘How do you know?’

‘Because the evil little brat passed it to me then turned it on’ Simon muttered more than a little bit annoyed about that ‘hurt like hell’

‘Perfectly safe level’ River assured the Captain ‘just a little motivator really’

‘She’s coming around now. She should be stable and relaxed thanks to the drugs if you need me just yell I’ll be outside’ Simon announced and left the room giving his sister a look on the way out.

Laura slowly opened her eyes. She was still on the lumpy mattress she’d found herself on every time she woke up but she felt very different. Far more placid and relaxed, almost dreamy.

Then she saw the prototype sitting across from her and sat bolt upright.

‘Good sleep?’ the prototype known as “River” asked.

Laura scanned her mind for a brief instant then screamed as pain lanced through her.

‘No deliberate telepathy’ River ordered. ‘Every time I sense you scanning you get zapped’

‘What?’ Laura asked and then screamed again.

‘Ask with your mouth not your mind’ River told her ‘The anklet I put on you has a battery and a transformer in it plus a remote control. Any time I feel you scanning people without permission I’ll press this button and you get a shock’

Laura looked at the crudely made metal and plastic construction on her left leg then yelped.

‘If I catch you thinking about taking it off you’ll get a shock too’ River said ‘Eventually you’ll learn not to do it. Oh yes there are two pain levels the last shock was the lower one’

‘This is torture’ Laura blurted out.

River shook her head ‘No I’ve done torture with electricity and this isn’t it. This is advanced de-conditioning’ she stated ‘The people on this ship don’t want you reading their minds so I’m going to teach you not to’

‘Creative isn’t she?’ Mal said from across the room. He walked over and sat on the bed next to Laura ‘Personally I don’t like hurting little girls but if we can’t stop you reading us all then you go out the airlock’

‘You’re the Captain of this decrepit pair of ships’ Laura said then yelped again.

‘No abusing the ships either’ River said ‘We live here it’s our home’

‘That’s enough River’ Mal chided.

Laura gave her two captors an evil look.

‘If you knew what she just thought you’d be the one shocking her’ River told her Captain.

‘Lets be civilised here’ Mal said ‘We gave you the stuff we give River to keep her grounded. You need it otherwise you’ll go off the deep end and we don’t mean you any harm. You’re just another victim as far as I can see’

‘I don’t want your pity’ Laura said ‘I want to be set free’

‘You’ll never be free, not really, we have a talent that means we’ll always be slaves to someone who wants to abuse our gift. Although it’s probably more of a curse in that way’

‘So you’re his slave then’ Laura said pointing to Mal

River shook her head ‘He’s my Captain and he looks out for me. I could go if I wanted but the closest I get to being free is here. It’s the only place I can be in the whole ‘Verse where I can be myself and still be loved and cared for’

‘He uses you like the Academy would for his own ends’

Mal thought for a second ‘River let her read my mind just this once and we can sort this one out’ he said ‘Go on take a look’ he offered to Laura tapping himself on the head.

She scanned him for a while then developed a very puzzled expression. ‘He genuinely cares about you’ she said ‘he’d actually die for you’

River gave her Captain a sweet smile ‘I know’ she said ‘we all know’.

‘I’m a failure’ Laura said ‘I should have taken you down easily. I should be going home by now they promised me my own room if I caught you’

River chuckled ‘You were just unlucky. The man who you had all the trouble with took a painkiller he didn’t know he was allergic too and went nuts. You’d be amazed how many times we survive because we’re lucky not because we’re good’

‘We are darn good though’ Mal pointed out.

‘Meanest and luckiest crew in the whole ‘Verse’ River agreed.

Laura went pale ‘I had dreams about the man with the scars’

‘Whatever you do don’t read his dreams. They sometimes burn’ River stated flatly ‘For that matter if I catch you reading dreams deliberately it’s voltage time again’

‘I can feel one of the Academy Agents aboard’

‘Yep we caught one and I killed the other’ Mal told her.

‘He’s scared. Never felt him scared before never felt much of anything from him before for that matter’ Laura said.

‘When I mentioned torture earlier I was speaking of the recent past’ River said

‘You can hurt them?’ Laura said ‘I could never do that even if I wanted to’

‘You probably got more conditioning than me. I dropped out of school early remember’

Laura’s own personality began to emerge again ‘You missed more than just the conditioning. I’m far superior to you in training’

‘Possibly but then I’m carrying the shock remote’ River said and smirked ‘so it’s a moot point Junior’

‘I’ll escape’

‘Feel free to tunnel out to vacuum’ Mal said laughing ‘We ain’t letting you anywhere near the ground for the time being’

Laura glared at him.

‘I’m going to have to remember some of these things she comes up with’ River said ‘her vocabulary is more of a threat than she is’

Mal rose ‘I’ll have someone bring you some dinner later. Meals aboard may surprise you’ he said

‘I can still sense people and emotions even if I don’t concentrate so don’t think you’re totally safe’ Laura told the pair.

‘She thinks because we see her as a victim we’ll stay our hand’ River told her Captain.

Mal turned to Laura ‘Nice theory. Endanger any of my people and we’ll find out’

* * *

Later that night Laura was eating her meal when the door unlocked, opened slightly and a young girl of perhaps ten or so poked her head around the corner.

‘Everyone feels sorry for you because they see you as a child. They were talking about it over dinner’ the girl said.

Laura smiled despite herself. She had guessed it would be the case.

‘You can tell if I’m lying like River can’t you?’ the little girl asked.

Laura nodded.

‘To me you’re a grown-up’ the little girl said ‘hurt the crew and I’ll kill you’ she said ‘I’ve killed before’ she looked Laura up and down ‘just thought I’d let you know’

The door slammed shut leaving Laura open mouthed in amazement. The worst thing was the girl had been telling the absolute gorram truth.



Thursday, February 19, 2004 11:59 AM


On the whole I hate telepathy almost as much as time-travel, put you're pulling this off so well. And I like that with all the new toys and capabilities you're developing, you haven't lost track of the people, like Mal's and Cally's devotion to the crew. It's just too bad you can't write faster. Oh, and call me a romantic, but I hope Laura and Bomb can be rehabilitated. Mr Blue Hands, not so much.

Thursday, February 26, 2004 1:58 AM


To "artships" - I've always been more of a Hard-SF fan so I'm not keen on telepathy however but I don't see it as quite as implausible as I used to (I don't think it occurs naturally though)

There is work being done on machines that read the electrical activity in the brain to determine if people are lying or not. Extrapolate this technology 500 years and think of it as a process in which you alter one mind so it can pick up the electrical activity in another and make sense of it

The subject has to be unusually bright because the translation of anothers thoughts might amount to cryptanalysis

Technology not mysticism!

Sunday, September 19, 2004 9:08 PM


That's right, Laura, not only Mal and River can bring you short...

Keep flyin'


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The Independents lift for a return to the Valley

Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XIX)
As they train for the Campaign to liberate Hera the soldiers of the Independent military continue to go about their daily lives.

Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XVIII)
Mal faces a worse fate than he ever imagined, Serenity has an image change and Cally adjusts to life back on Toulouse

Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XVII)
After the initial Independent blitzkreig the Second War of Independence continues with the Alliance still reeling and the Browncoats starting to consolidate their position

Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XVI)
Scylla and Charybdis show the Alliance Navy what real warships are made of

Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XV)
After the skirmishing the Battle of Toulouse begins

Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XIV)
Mal Reynolds takes his "Valley Wolves" into action as the fighting on Toulouse escalates

Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XIII)
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