BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

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Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XV)
Tuesday, February 28, 2006

After the skirmishing the Battle of Toulouse begins


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3758    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.

* * *

“Toulouse wasn’t the most industrialised, the most populous, or even the world most hostile to the Alliance but it was pretty close to the top in all three categories and even more importantly it also possessed one of the only notable universities out towards the Rim. Guts and enthusiasm amongst the troops will take you a long way, but having a decent team of scientists and engineers backing them up behind the scenes is pretty much a must in a modern war. You might fight in the field but a whole heap of the winning is done on the factory floor and the Research and Development Lab and we still had a goodly amount of captured Alliance tech that was state of the art, or better, to reverse engineer and chuck back in their faces.”

General Eric Brown – Head of Independent Military Intelligence 2531AD

* * *

Toulouse City – Toulouse – 2522AD

Mal jumped out of the passenger seat on the ammunition truck and just stood there looking around for the best part of a minute “Wode tìan’ he eventually mumbled unable to believe what he was seeing.

There had to be thousands here.

And they were constructing fortifications… fast.

‘Sergeant Reynolds’ a voice interrupted his chain of thought. ‘Are you with us?’

Mal straightened up. ‘Yes Major sorry Ma’am’ he responded to the Marine. ‘I’m just a bit surprised by… this’ he said sweeping his arm to indicate the scene.

‘You’re surprised?’ the Marine replied. ‘I’m supposed to be in charge and I don’t even know to the nearest thousand how many people are here.’

The Rangers were now stood in a loose group behind him all watching in equal amazement. About five hundred metres ahead it looked like there was a team of construction workers in hard hats digging tank traps with mechanical diggers, closer in people were digging trenches and bunkers with other machinery and hundreds of willing backs toting shovels in a rapidly expanding line to the east and west. At the current rate it looked like there would be a solid line from the lake to the Northwest of the city all the way to the forest to the East within a couple of hours.

‘Where did all the machinery come from?’ Mal asked.

The Major shrugged. ‘Local Construction and Demolition companies seem to have a lot of veterans. One of the owners was a Major in the Army Engineers and he called in every other crew in the city’ she replied. ‘There’s a damn architect around here somewhere that says he drew up the gorram outer defence cordon at Serenity Valley and he’s been running around on a damn Quad Bike telling people where to set up bunkers for overlapping fire for the last hour. Seems to know his shit too I just gave him a free hand.’

‘Were you expecting this Ma’am?’ Mal asked.

‘It wasn’t in the battle-plan. The response to the leaflets we dropped and the news coming off the Cortex has been ludicrous.’

Mal threw the Marine a look of surprise. ‘They’re reporting the attack on the Core on the Cortex?’

Fushida nodded. ‘They were until half an hour ago’ she said. ‘Colonel Taylor thinks Rubicon and the other EMP attacks screwed up their Command and Control systems and structure so much nobody with the authority to shut down the news feeds had the ability to get to a secure line or the sense to do it until then. Parliament was likely evacuated to a secure location in the mayhem’ she continued.

‘I reckon all those Alliance Officers getting shot at the same time wouldn’t have helped matters much either’ Mal replied referencing the wave of assassinations that was planned for the minute the war began. Lists of key targets had been verified against those supplied unwillingly from Book, and right across the Rim dozens of the most competent Alliance Senior Officers of the last war, most still in service but some just enjoying retirement on the reserve list, had been ruthlessly removed from the equation by various means. More than a few had their brains ventilated by a sniper while they were reviewing troops for the U-Day celebrations which was sure to have an interestingly psychological effect on those present too. ‘Have we heard how Monty got on?’ Mal asked.

The Major grinned. ‘Got the news just before the Cortex went down’ she replied. ‘That Parliament building is really going to leak some for a while with its roof blown open like that. Surprised you didn’t hear the cheering that went up when the news came.’

‘Fucking A’ Heaney said in the background and this started similar comments and the sounds of hands being clapped together behind Mal which he ignored.

‘So much cheering already on the way here I likely missed it Major’ Mal replied. Good for Monty if he got back alive he’d have to get the big ox drunk. Of course affording to get Monty drunk would probably mean taking out a loan with Serenity as collateral, the big sasquatch as Zoe called him, could really put it away.

‘Back to business Sergeant’ the Marine said returning to her original purpose. ‘I want you and you men to take command of dishing out rifles and ammo to volunteers. We’ve got about two hundred and fifty of our old Marine Issue Carbines that we cashed in for GR-21’s in that container there and you just bought the ammunition for them in the trucks. Three hundred rounds a man and remind ‘em that the rifle runs out a lot less sooner if they don’t switch it over to Full-Auto.’

‘Only Two-Hundred and Fifty Rifles Major?’ Mal responded. ‘That just ain’t going to be enough and a lot of these folks are just turning up with hunting rifles and such no good for a proper firefight’ he observed pointing to some of the locals milling about carrying weapons bought from home.

‘A detail is currently collecting the rifles and harnesses from the Federal Column that we shot up by the spaceport’ Fushida replied. ‘That’ll give you another couple of hundred at least with hopefully a decent amount of ammo, it’s not like they got the chance to shoot much back. Also there are two platoons of Marines at the City Garrison collecting the captured gear from there too and loading it for transport to us, the Alliance spiked their heavy weapons before surrender but there was a heap of rifles and ammo plus a few machine guns. They’ll drop the gear to you for distribution when they arrive, I’ll issue instructions to their commanding officer.’

Mal nodded. ‘What about the fighting when it starts? Where do you want me and mine?’

‘Stay back and plug any gaps you see’ Fushida ordered. ‘A lot of these people are veterans and probably won’t cut and run, but judging from the ages of some of them they would have either been at school ten years back and they’re just caught up in the excitement, or they were with one of the reserve Militia units at best and never saw any action because they were too old to ship out off-world. Just steady the line if you see it buckling.’

‘Air support?’ Mal asked. This was a sore subject with him.

‘One squadron running CAP to keep any remaining gunships off our ass and the other three are loaded with LGB’s Cluster Munitions, Napalm and other assorted presents to drop on the Alliance Grunts if we can deal with their mobile Air-Defence.’

‘And if we can’t deal with their Air-Defence?’ Mal asked coldly not liking the possible implication of what the Major was saying.

‘Colonel Taylor has ordered them that if the line breaks they’re to make their attack runs anyhow regardless of risk’ the Marine told him. ‘They’ll take heavy losses but they’ll unload a crap load of ordinance over those Federals anyhow.’

Mal Reynolds looked pleased and wished he had someone as determined as the Marine Colonel in authority back in the Valley when the son-of-a-bitch in charge back then had decided it was too hot for the Angels and so he’d let the Infantry burn instead. Mal didn’t doubt that if the Aerospace Fighter jocks didn’t obey the orders Taylor would have them put up against a wall and shot. That was why the Marines had been with the Fleet to start with, to ensure that if the crews disobeyed Admiral van der Heijdens orders they would be quickly overpowered by the jarheads and forced to do their duty at gunpoint if necessary. It took a brave man to be a coward in Taskforce Omega.

Reynolds saluted the Marine who went off to detail orders to another group.

‘All right you heard the Major’ he said turning back to his Rangers. ‘Get these trucks unloaded and start setting up a line to distribute arms to these volunteers.’

As he went to see if he could get hold of something to make coffee for the troops, or hopefully a friendly soul to do it for them, Mal could already hear the griping starting regarding the number of times they’d had to move these damn crates today.

It was just like the old days he thought. Well maybe not quite he considered walking along shouldering his GR-21 and listening in on a conversation between a dozen guys digging a hole about how the Sihnon Defence Fleet had just got its ass kicked big time.

* * *

IAV Vasco de Gama – Under Hard Burn – 2522AD

Admiral Luis de Langara couldn’t believe the reports coming from the Core. Even with the civilian Cortex no longer providing live updates, not that it was operating from the areas that had been EMP’ed the only reports from those had come from ships just arriving there from outside the Pulse Zone, the hardened military lines of communication were still operating like they should and with more and more people reporting for duty the situation was gradually becoming less confused.

Luis de Langara would have rather it had stayed confused it was worse than he would have imagined himself. Ariel, Bernadette, Greenleaf, Sihnon (even Sihnon!) had had their most populated and industrialised districts, hell whole continents, instantly put back into the pre-electronic age by multi-megatonne nuclear pumped EMP bombs. Even more shocking what appeared to be a small taskforce of at best Destroyer class vessels had engaged and defeated a vastly superior Alliance Fleet thanks to what seemed to be radically improved ship technology and what looked like supernaturally good battle tactics.

The invaders had revealed themselves, or had rather claimed to be, Independent Military from the war but how the hell could forces of that size still be operating ten years after the Browncoat defeat and almost as mystifying why had their military tech apparently jumped at least two generations ahead. For that matter how in the name of God had they managed to do so much damage so fast and in such a carefully orchestrated and effective manner, how could their Intelligence and knowledge of exactly where and how to hit the Alliance military where it hurts be so damn good? So far today they’d likely caused more industrial, political, economic and military mayhem, than they’d succeeded in years of intensive fighting a decade ago.

Well all that wasn’t for Admiral de Langara to determine. His job had come directly from Fleet Command on Londinium, take ever ship you can get there to Toulouse and crush the apparent rebellion. There were reports of fighting on several other of the former Independent Colonies but the reports from the Garrison posts on that particular world spoke not only of hit and run tactics, small unit actions and minor local uprisings in support but of hundreds of well equipped, well organised troops with Air-Support. Toulouse was clearly the focal point of much of the trouble and while other units rushed to the Core the vessels under his command were going to counter-attack and get some payback for the attack on their own homeworlds.

He had eight Cruisers, six due to arrive at the same time as Vasco de Gama and two more to follow shortly afterwards plus twenty smaller vessels. Normally he would have been able to scrape up a far larger proportion of Destroyers and Frigates but they were either burning for home to replace the Sihnon Defences or else waiting to escort troop ships which would hopefully soon be full of Federals from those planets with no insurrections heading for the EMP effected worlds. Law and order on those worlds would be a nightmare de Langara knew. The lives of the people on the Core Planets was too comfortable in some ways, the people highly reliant on their shiny technology to entertain, inform and even feed them.

There is an old saying that any society is three meals from anarchy. Admiral de Langara fervently hoped it wasn’t true and prayed if it was that the Military could keep a lid on it.

‘Sir we will be in range of Toulouse in three hours’ the Cruisers Captain reported breaking the Admirals train of thought.

‘Have all gunship squadrons on the way as soon as we arrive within their Combat Radius and dropships ready to deploy when we enter orbit. We’re going to crush this rebellion before it spreads then intercept those damn ships that attacked Sihnon. I don’t care how advanced they are or how well they’re commanded they can’t match a Capital Ship Battlegroup.’

‘No Sir’

Admiral de Langara went back to reading the reports that continued to flood in. Several of his friends had apparently been assassinated on the ground and the expected civilian death toll on the EMP’ed planets was rising fast due not only to the hundreds of ships whose power had failed above ground but the tens of thousands of crashed aircars not to mention those unfortunates killed on the ground by falling space and aircraft. Fires were breaking out too and much of the fancy high-tech firefighting equipment wasn’t working.

Browncoat bastards are going to pay in blood for this atrocity the Admiral vowed.

* * *

Toulouse City – Toulouse – 2522AD

‘They might have the heavy stuff but by God we’ve got better Intelligence’ Colonel Taylor said dropping into the bunker and handing Major Fushida a portable computer screen that was displaying a live feed from a high-powered camera in orbit deployed by the Frigate Corvus on arrival. Like most military issue computers it was a lot bulkier than the civilian models, almost an inch thick almost all of which was the reinforced casing.

Major Fushida had a birds eye, or even better an orbiting spacecrafts view of the advancing Mechanised Infantry Regiment as it rolled across the farmland north of the City heading right towards them. ‘Looks like they’re following a damn military textbook’ she noted passing the screen back to the Colonel.

‘Not exactly an innovative method of advance I’ll admit but after their lead units got shot up at the river by Reynolds and his Rangers they started to do things properly and they’ve been moving a lot slower and more carefully since’ Colonel Taylor observed. ‘Guess they didn’t want to get ambushed again.’

Fushida nodded and looked at the screen again. ‘Didn’t think they’d have Rollers’ she said. ‘Look like Medium Tanks.’

‘Only a handful and they’ve got them spread out amongst the APC’s and AIFV’s instead of concentrated’ Taylor replied. ‘Not particularly good doctrine even if they do have a massive disparity in armour over us, I’d have kept them together in reserve and punched a hole in our line with them when they got a decent appraisal of our disposition.’

‘No Self-Propelled Artillery anyhow’ Fushida said gratefully.

Taylor was zooming out the image on the screen so he could see the whole area. ‘No need to have Heavy Artillery for crowd control’ he said. ‘The Rollers are probably only kept here for intimidation purposes’ he continued then looked up from the screen. ‘I’ve got to admit I’m still taken aback by the gorram line you set up here’ he said, ‘got to be well over fifteen hundred in rifle-strength not including our Marines.’

‘Wish I could say I had much of a hand in it Colonel’ Fushida replied honestly. ‘Most of it was down to the locals, they’re good folks Sir’ she said. ‘Captain Jonas has managed to put together a full company of former Colonial Legionnaires to add to his Security People, a lot of whom are former Legionnaires too for that matter. They still look like tough sons-of-bitches to me Sir’ she told her commanding officer, ‘they’re over on the left flank next to Major Tucci and his Marines. Probably our strongest part of the line although numerically we’ve got more Infantry Strength on the right.’

The colonel nodded. The other volunteers from Militia units to the right flank were more numerous and it likely looked stronger to the unaware observer but it’s a question of quality as well as quantity and the Marines and Colonial Legion were tough-sons-of-bitches, being usually regarded as elite heavy infantry formations during the war. A lot of it was higher training standards, a lot of it was seeing more action than most, but a large part was still what the locals would call esprit de corps which the Marines and the Legion both had aplenty. Basically they were good because they believed themselves to be, both individually and collectively. Again one of the locals would have likely quoted Napoleon in this matter “In war the moral is to the physical as three is to one”.

What it really came down to was this. If the shit hit the fan the Militia might run, the Marines and Legionnaires however would fix bayonets and they’d hold.

‘Pity we haven’t got a battlecruiser in orbit’ Major Fushida said wistfully.

‘Oh I think Corvus will still shake them up a bit’ Taylor replied then flicked on the radio headset microphone fitted to his helmet. ‘This is Colonel Taylor to all Marines please advise anyone in earshot of your position that the enemy units are closing’ he said. ‘Also tell them to watch the sky.’

It took a couple of minutes for the word to spread but eventually most the defenders along the still partially completed defence line were craning their heads skywards.

A streak in the sky coming in at a steep angle from behind suddenly flashed over their heads heading for the ground disappearing from view just below the horizon.

A few seconds later the sound caught up with the sight and a sonic boom followed eventually by a dull crump in the distance.

‘Whose got the high ground you bastards?’ Colonel Taylor yelled at the top of his lungs towards an enemy miles further away than could actually hear him. It wasn’t for their benefit though it was for his own troops.

Howling and cheering thundered down the line. Corvus was starting to pound the advancing Alliance Armour with Railgun strikes from low orbit. They’d deliberately kept her out of the game until now so the Alliance would take the field and not dig in instead, but with the Federals fully committed it was time to show them who was really calling the shots here.

It wasn’t a devastatingly powerful strike like a 1000mm diameter railgun round from one of the battlecruisers would have been, leaving a massive crater on impact, but if it did hit near its target the vehicle would not come off too well as the kinetic energy was instantly converted to sound and fury. A direct hit would knock out just about anything.

Another streak in the sky was already on its way before the sound of the first hit reached the line. Watching the scene live from above on the computer screen Taylor could see the first shot had in fact missed completely but by God it had attracted attention to itself the Alliance vehicles immediately scattering into a more widely dispersed formation to prevent one lucky hit taking out more than just one APC or other armoured vehicle, at a time.

If the physical impact of a quarter-metre diameter iron ball coming in at thousands of miles an hour was impressive, the psychological impact on both sides was equally as notable. The thought that at any second they might be blown all to hell by a weapon they couldn’t defend against was certainly going to be playing some on the Alliance minds while the Browncoats in the trenches meanwhile were whooping up a storm.

‘They’re accelerating’ Taylor announced still watching the screen. ‘They want to get close in hoping we’ll not risk mass-driver strikes near to our positions or populated areas’ he said. ‘They’ll also be thinking the quicker they are the harder they’ll be to hit.’

Fushida nodded. ‘Here we go then Sir.’ Colonel Taylor smiled and flicked on his microphone again. ‘All units stand by to receive enemy armour. Mortar crews commence defensive bombardment at my command, Snipers to engage any targets of opportunity, Anti-Tank Missiles concentrate on AIFV’s. The APC’s aren’t as much threat and you’ll just bounce your rockets off the frontal armour of those Rollers.’

Taylor looked away from the computer screen and looked behind him. The suburban district of the town started barely half a klick to the rear. Hopefully the homes there wouldn’t receive too much damage from incoming fire he thought although on the other hand if the Alliance gunners were missing by that much it would be a blessing from the Gods.

Corvus meanwhile continued to unleash the wrath of the Gods on the enemy armour the sounds of impact getting closer and closer.

Looking back to the screen the Colonel could see the enemy were moving into the first imaginary line projected onto the image. Just out of line-of-sight of the fortifications as it happened.

‘Heavy Mortar’s open fire’ Taylor yelled, quite unnecessarily, into his helmet mike. Twenty-five 105mm tubes in dug outs behind the main line fired in a ragged volley hurling their charges off into the distance whistling through the air and finally landing several miles further on with another ragged series of explosions. The Mortar crews had already put another bomb in the air before the first landed and they continued to salvo volley after volley, shortening the range as the bulk of the enemy armour got closer and closer.

‘Okay give me the seventy-fives’ Taylor ordered as the armour reached his second imaginary line bringing them into range of the further thirty light mortars that they had bought along. Most of them barely more than crude steel tubes manufactured for the task on Omega’s hard pressed factory ships and manned not by Marines but by volunteers trained with them on Whitefall.

The armour came into view in the distance moving fast amongst the falling mortar rounds and the occasional much larger impact courtesy of the Frigate Corvus. They were nearly in missile range now and the anti-tank crews steadied their aims and picked targets.

The first missile rocketed off leaving a streak of smoke and flame behind it followed by more from up and down the line. The missile left a thin wire behind it that feeding from a spool on the launcher that enabled the operator to steer the weapon in flight to some degree without risking the jamming that a radio directed weapon would have been prone too. The Alliance Anti-Tank Missiles were “fire and forget” with complex electronics that steered them straight to target but those cost a hell of a lot more to produce and the Independents couldn’t afford that kind of luxury when there was a perfectly good soldier just standing there with an empty shoulder fired missile launcher and a thumb to steer a tiny joystick with.

The first missile hit a turreted AIFV which exploded followed by others as the missiles hit their marks. The Launcher crews were already reloading as more cheers echoed down the line but that took a mite longer than for the mortar teams who just dropped one bomb after another into the metal tubes sending a steady flow of high-explosives into the oncoming vehicles. The mortars weren’t guided at all, and the 75mm’s needed a direct impact or they’d do little other than ruin the targets paintjob but they were scoring the odd hit and the continual shelling was not having a beneficial effect on the morale of the Alliance crews and the infantry shut up inside the Personnel Carriers.

On the screen Taylor could see that several APC’s had dismounted before they came into view and the crews were setting up mortars of their own. Unfortunately for them they were forced to do it out in the open and a quick order to his own mortar crews to shift targets and ammo for two rounds saw fifty anti-personnel fragmentation bombs landing in and amongst the Federal Mortar Crews before they could get off a shot. A few survived and began firing back which gave the defenders a reason to duck but they were few and far between and besides which it’s a lot easier to survive a mortar attack if you’re in a trench rather than standing in the middle of a meadow.

Lacking an inexhaustible supply of ammunition however the Browncoat Mortar Crews began to reduce their rate of fire to a trickle and the flow of Anti-Tank Missiles dried up too.

Twenty-Millimetre Cannon on the AIFV’s began to fire fast as the Federal Infantry dismounted and began to move up under the covering fire. They were still following standard battle drill which said to dismount before you entered rifle range and move up in small teams one team on the dirt whilst another moved then vice-versa.

They might have been out of rifle range but they sure as hell weren’t out of Gauss Rifle range as they soon discovered. Apparently they hadn’t learned that much from the firefight at the bridge earlier.

Hypervelocity slugs began to crack their way across the no-mans land between the advancing Federals and the dug-in Independent Marines and Volunteers. Snipers easily singled out and picked off Officers and NCO’s when they appeared.

Explosions now started to hit the Browncoat lines hard as Rollers moved up. Automatic 105mm cannon on the Alliance Medium Tanks pounded into the Independent lines as it had done so many times in the war sending up plumes of earth and smashing any position to pieces which received a direct hit. Disobeying orders one Anti-Tank Missile Crew fired their last rocket at the closest Roller the heavy shaped-charge warhead exploding on impact but not slowing the machine one inch.

With the cannon fire now streaming into the line many simply gave up thought of firing back and ducked down covering their heads with their hands. Only a continuing flow of Gauss-Rifle fire, now joined by Jet-Propelled Callahan ammunition from the Legionnaires faced the Alliance now.

A large group of local Volunteers in a sawtooth shaped trench position who had never seen action lost their nerve when the bunkers both to left and right of them were taken out by Roller Fire. The first threw down his rifle and clambered out of the trench just reaching the top when a hand reached up grabbed him by the jacket he was wearing and pulled him back down in a heap.

‘First one of you bastards tries to run again I’ll shoot them’ an extremely serious looking man that had just crawled into the trench told the terrified youngster.

More new faces carrying the same strange weapons as those bought by the Marines appeared in the trenches and spread themselves out not only looking out at the action but making sure they were in a position to prevent anybody else with a mind to leave from doing so.

‘I’m in charge here now’ the serious, determined looking man said loudly and in a very commanding tone. ‘We are going to hold this ground because if we don’t we’re risking the lives of other men and women that depend on us to rutting hold it.’

‘Who… who are you people?’ another of the scared volunteers asked in a trembling voice.

‘My name’s Sergeant Malcolm Reynolds and these here are the Valley Wolves’ the newcomer said. ‘We’re Independent Army Rangers and not only isn’t this our first taste of action it’s not even our first gorram taste of action today and we all made it out alive so don’t go thinking you’re going to die just because you’re here, because you ain’t’ he said steadily and deliberately turning his stern gaze on each one of the volunteers in turn.

Several of the Rangers then started to fire from the trench out into the battlefield. Including one that was carrying what looked like a weird combination of a machine-gun and something else that fired with a Ka-Pung sound. Grenade Launcher must be.

‘Zoe take the far end of the trench, Jayne and Hughes try and bag yourselves some officers. ‘The rest of you, and I mean all of you, get on the rutting firing line and get ready to fight because it’s either fight them or fight me and I’m meaner than any damn Federal you’re likely to meet.’

For some reason the Alliance Commander couldn’t fathom the firing suddenly dropped in volume considerably.

Seconds later as the advance got within a kilometre of the defence line he found out why.

Ever other Marine had ducked down, not to hide but to turn his Gauss-Rifle up to setting 4, plant the stock in the ground, stick what looked for all the world like a tin can on the muzzle angle the GR-21 and pull the trigger.

Well over two hundred Rifle-Grenades arced across the battlefield and rained down into the Alliance Line each one little more than a tin of plastique propelled on its way by a piece of very fast metal kicking it in the ass.

You couldn’t say much for accuracy but they certainly made a ruckus when they all landed in a rough group over a very wide area. A ruckus reinforced by the fact that the advancing Federals were now nearly in effective range of the conventional rifles held by the majority of the defenders and the volume of bullets in flight jumped through the roof just as a second volley of Rifle-Grenades hurtled off with marginally better results and accuracy this time.

The Rollers and AIFV’s meanwhile continued to eat up ground under their treads and at less than a thousand metres they were at practically point-blank range.

Colonel Taylor checked the screen as fire streamed overhead. ‘Okay lets see what you can do Twenty-First’ he ordered.

Even over the sound of the other fire the sudden noise was ear-shattering, not to mention glass shattering as the windows of all the nearby homes were promptly broken by the report.

Something moving too fast to see, though it left a distinctive shockwave pattern in the clouds of smoke left by burning vehicles similar to the Gauss Rifle but big, slammed into the front of a Roller which exploded instantly, seconds later another Roller exploded.

Moving at well over a hundred miles an hour an Excalibur Hovertank shot into view from the buildings by the lake shore on the extreme flank of the line and began to fire repeatedly into the alliance armour smashing anything it chose to, to the cheers of Browncoats who watched in awe as the metal thunderbolts slew the mighty Alliance Rollers with ease.

‘Well why the hell didn’t he do that sooner?’ one of the Rangers asked.

‘He was waiting I reckon’ Zoe replied.

‘For what?’ one of the volunteers asked as the Excalibur continued to fire on the move.

‘So he could get behind them’ Mal replied to the question.

‘How?’ Jayne asked loudly. They’re in a solid line from the lake to the forest like we are.’

Mal groaned. ‘It’s a hovertank you moron’ he said as the Excalibur continued on its course, went down the slight incline of the lake shore then just flew right over the top of the lake sending up sheets of water either side as its gravity engine wrestled with the liquid surface.

It was halfway across the lake when it changed where it was aiming and began firing into the distance, half a dozen rounds later it went back to work and blew a Roller apart that was trying to target the speeding machine as it headed back to shore coming up just behind the Federal line.

‘What was he shooting at?’ a Volunteer asked just before a howling shriek began to build louder and louder.

‘He took out their mobile air-defences coming up a few miles behind the line it’s a lot easier to do that for him than from space’ Mal hollered back as two squadrons of Angels flying a barely a couple of hundred feet above the ground thundered in releasing Cluster-Bombs and Napalm.

The next squadron coming up behind carried much the same but with a few birds carrying Laser Guided Bombs which they dropped on the remaining Rollers.

Colonel Taylor ordered a ceasefire except for the Excalibur which began smashing any remaining intact enemy armour. The scene was one of utter carnage in the wake of the aerospace fighter run with burning machines and men littering the landscape.

‘The Angels came and sent them to the hot place Sir’ Zoe said. ‘You said they would.’

Mal rolled his eyes. ‘Didn’t plan on them turning up ten years late though’ he said. ‘Thinking of late…’ he continued flicking his radio over to a different Channel, ‘Captain Hicks you out there?’

Yes. Sitting in the gunners chair because Sean got the good one’ a familiar voice on the radio replied. ‘Claire’s driving.’

‘Well I’m sure the three of you are having a ball Captain’ Mal responded ‘but you sure cut that fine didn’t you?’

We’re the Cavalry’ the Lancer replied. ‘We’re supposed to arrive just in the nick of time’ he continued ‘Claire says to tell you it’s in the job description’ he finished after a short pause.

‘Hell at least you didn’t play a damn bugle’ Mal replied shaking his head.

I wanted to but like I said Major Thomas is in the Commanders Chair and he outranks me.’

Mal considered that reply for a while and eventually decided the cavalryman was probably being serious which was truly disturbing.

The Excalibur rode back towards the lines as Angels started to do victory rolls overhead in the darkening skies as night began to fall.

* * *

IAV Vasco de Gama – Decelerating into Toulouse Sector – 2522AD

Admiral de Langara threw the Tactical officer a cold look. ‘Would you mind repeating that’ he said.

‘Sir’ the tactical officer began again, ‘we’re just passing through the Corsican Asteroid Belt and two of the larger asteroids look, well they look like they’re powering up.’

‘The asteroids are powering up?’ de Langara repeated.

‘Yes Sir the mass and density of the objects concerned is too great to be a mining ship, and the power signatures are still… rising’ the tactical officer paused. ‘Sir they're getting up to the same level as we’re putting out or more, a lot more’ the Alliance Nava officer reported as he continued to read the data coming in from the scanners.

‘Incoming signal’ the communications officer reported. ‘Voice only.’

‘Let’s hear it’ the Admiral replied.

This is Admiral Marc van de Heijden to the officer commanding the Alliance Naval vessels heading for Toulouse’ it began. ‘As a member world of the Independent Colonies Toulouse is under the protection of the Independent Armed Forces and as a hostile invading force you will be engaged and destroyed’ the message continued. ‘I offer you the opportunity to strike your colours at this time and surrender.’

The scanner display suddenly went haywire then returned to normal. ‘Active Scanning’ the tactical officer reported. ‘Extremely high power range.’

Admiral de Langara activated his microphone and signalled back. ‘I’m bringing eight Capital Ships to this engagement.’

Feel free to try your luck Admiral, I’ve only got the two but I imagine that should be plenty.’

The tactical officer turned to de Langara. ‘Sir the objects appear to be late model Independent Battlecruisers of the last war, tactical computer believes Maelstrom Class but with considerably greater mass than others of the same type encountered before.’

‘Battlecruisers?’ de Langara repeated ‘well tai-kong suo-yo de shing-chiou doh sai-jin wu di pigu. Isn’t that just the crowning glory of a fantastic day?’ he asked nobody in particular.

The Alliance Admiral steadied his voice. ‘All units to engage enemy Super-Heavy class combatants’ he ordered. ‘Get in close because they’ve got a lot more reach than we have.’

‘Give me the cube’ he ordered and getting off his chair stepped into the three dimensional image projected in front of him. The fleet had been slowing down to bring themselves into Toulouse orbit so this was going to be a knife fight not a joust of ships tearing past each other at high speed.

All things considered he should have the firepower to win this but based on the way things had been developing in the ‘Verse so far he was feeling more than a little fatalistic. Battlecruisers for the love of God!

It occurred to de Langara that maybe God was just not in a friendly mood towards the Alliance today and he suddenly wished he was an atheist instead.

Part XVI

COMMENTS

Tuesday, February 28, 2006 9:23 AM

ARTSHIPS


Who needs a tank battalion when you've got a railgun hovertank! Great action - Bring it on!

Tuesday, February 28, 2006 10:42 AM

SOULOFSERENITY


You know, I was wondering where Steve was!! Great suff, yet again! More!

- Soul

Tuesday, February 28, 2006 11:10 AM

GRIMLOCK


This is just a fantastic whuppin' you're writing, Hotpoint. Did anybody but me get images of a skateboarder when he was describing that Excalibur's jump-shot?

Lasers? We don't need no stinking lasers!

A brief question to Artships, any chance of seeing a rendering of Shadow or Scylla?


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