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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Last Stands . . .
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2603 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
The Treasure of Lei Fong Wu
DELTA TEAM LEADER -30:04
“Eat hot death!” Hoban “Wildfire” Washburn said through clenched teeth with practiced malice as a missile from his starboard wing grew a smoky tail and leapt towards the distant speck of metal, so far away it was virtually indistinguishable from the starfield behind it. Wash counted the seconds mentally as he watched the telemetry monitor, where the red blip that was his foe was impacted with a white blip that was the missile that the blue blip – his ship – had fired. His thumb was on the laser trigger – just in case something went awry and he had to try to dogfight the robot. His pulse quickened as the white and red blips converged, and only reduced when a blinding flash of silent high explosives swept the red blip from the monitor.
“That’s one,” he murmured to himself. “Set course for Bandit Two!” He pulled back on the stick, allowed the trigger guard to flip back down over the trigger, and rolled his neck around to stretch it. Even with being weightless he was bothered by the mass of the flight helmet he wore. He wasn’t used to a helmet, and hadn’t worn one since his flight school days.
He did have to admit how shiny it looked, though.
Bandit Two was another three thousand clicks out, and he chose a long, flattish course to bring him into range. This time the machine was not completely unsuspecting, judging by the sudden course change it made before the missile blew it up. Still, it blew up prettily, and the feeling he got when he pulled the fire trigger was as close to orgasmic as made no mind.
The trouble started at Bandit Three.
Just before he entered missile range the damn thing altered course and started flying away. Wash cursed richly and dove in pursuit.
He wasn’t supposed to, he knew – Master Lei had made that clear. But he wasn’t about to let the little bugger get away, not when he could be in range with just a little effort.
The Marauder accelerated eagerly and he evened out, bringing the drone’s trajectory within the plane of his flightpath. It tried to juke out of the way, but Wash was tenacious. Scornfully he chased after it like a greyhound on the scent of a rabbit.
“Think you’re smart, do you?” he said evilly. “Think your poor little robot brain is smart enough to out-fly the greatest pilot— ahh! Whatthehellwasthat?” he proclaimed as the faint lance of a laser lashed out towards him. He reflexively pulled the ship port and dove before locating the thing once again and fired a missile at it before it could repeat the process. He spent the remaining time staying at the far end of laser range on it until he saw the explosion and the empty space on the telemetry monitor that told him that he had been successful.
“Ta mah de!” he declared. “They ain’t supposed to do that!” He flew past the debris cloud just to make certain he had really eliminated it. Off to Bandit Four.
Four was a little further out, and it knew he was coming. Before he got into missile range it was taking pot-shots at him with its own laser, though at this range it was more an annoyance than a threat. It would take a concentrated hit for the coherent light beam to melt anything significant. Still, no one likes to get shot at with a big damn laser.
He slowed down a little just to buy him time to verify that he was undamaged. Then he hit the boosters and sped on. Bandit Four.
He was starting to feel a little cocky – so far this had all been first-level stuff. If drones were this easy to gut, he was starting to get pissed at the Alliance for wasting valuable tax monies – which he may have even paid if he hadn’t been working on a semi-legal ship with a very illegal outlaw gang – on the crappy hardware if this was as much grief as they gave. He had a look of scorn on his face when he swung within twenty thousand clicks of Bandit Four. At this rate, he’d be home with half a tank of fuel.
That’s when he noticed the telemetry monitor, on which the single red dot had grown a few friends. The implication was clear. The drones were tired of getting picked on, and they weren’t going to take it any more. They flew in a reversed-delta attack formation, and Wash could almost feel the malice through the monitor.
“Ai ya women wanle!” he muttered darkly to himself. “I guess we’re on second level now.”
Sinclair looked at the flexi in his hands with a sinking feeling. The engineer’s report was clear: whatever the rebels had, it had been potent enough to penetrate their substantial shielding and effect the reactor core itself. The entire core was registering unstable, now, and the engineer gave it a thirty percent chance of complete failure and a five percent chance of catastrophic failure and explosion.
What kind of people had technology like that?
He was familiar with every grade of weapons systems, from nice and polite EMP bombs to full-scale planetbusting nukes. Lasers, kinetic guns, masers, all manner of ways to hump up a ship from a distance. None of them touched the reactor, except by accident. This kind of technology would be devastating in the wrong hands. He could imagine a fleet of fighters, each with one of these doomsday weapons, taking out battleships and destroyers and cruisers with equal impunity. It would fundamentally alter the balance of power. It could neutralize the decided military advantage the Alliance held.
“Ai ya women wanle,” he muttered. “Is this all the bad news?”
“Not even close,” Drake said, taking a deep breath. “Right after they hit us with . . . whatever it was, they launched a single fighter. It blew past us and is now engaging the drones.”
“An antique. An old Marauder – haven’t been used in eighty years. Sweet little ship, though. Likely came from the Sun Tzu.”
“Of course. We can’t target it?”
“With what?” Drake asked. “Our lasers are power-down, our missiles lack tracking and guidance. I guess I could go throw rocks . . .”
“The drones should be able to take care of themselves,” he assured.
“The first two didn’t. He’s using long range missiles from outside of their detection bubble. He’s engaged with the third, now.”
“Any way we can take direct control?”
“I thought about that. Best we can do is use the little shuttle’s system to tell them he’s there and encourage them to work together. We get power, we can fight them by remote.”
“Do it. Gang up on him. Put him out of our misery. If that little peckerwood freighter gets away, Julian will have our collective ass. And those drones are expensive, too. See how many you can salvage.”
“Any word from Julian?”
“Not in a few hours,” Sinclair said, evenly. “I’m sure he and the others are fine. Thank you for your concern.”
“I was just asking,” Drake said with a trace of frustration.
“Our concern is the gorram reactor. Chief says he can figure out what’s amiss if he strips the shielding and go in? Tell him to prepare to do it. There isn’t enough room on the small shuttle for us all, and the only other ship in sight is not my first choice of rescue.”
“I’m on it,” Drake assured. “And don’t worry – they will be fine. Boss has gotten out of worse problems than this.”
As he walked off Sinclair suppressed an urge to rage. This whole situation was humped up. From the mind-reading machine to the nukes on the Sun Tzu to the new anti-reactor weapon, the seething evil genius of the Tams – he figured the latest device was River Tam’s baby, considering her penchant for pure physics – the bad guys had been two steps ahead of them every step of the way. Every time they found an advantage, they seemed to walk into a brilliantly laid trap.
He was getting sick of it.
RECONSTITUTED GAMMA TEAM -30:12
Mal had just finished reloading his rifle when they hit.
He had been using a hood-mounted spare pneumatic tire on a jeep for cover, doing his best to be annoying with his firearms, when the lights flash – not the bright light of an arc flare (the bounty hunters had run out of those) but the pale light of a searcher spotlight. One minute he was comfortably cloaked in darkness, the next minute there were twenty of the beams penetrating the gloom. And the sound of weapons fire.
Not the happy, decisive crack of small arms, or the laborious thrum of a light support gun – not even the whine-and-hiss of a combat laser. What he heard was the low-end buzz of a non-lethal sonic stunner, the type they had used for crowd control back in the prison camp after the war. He dove for cover in a way that seemed speedy, compared to how he would have reacted against a kinetic weapon. You didn’t need to aim stunners – you merely pointed them. The cone of effect was wide and comprehensive. The only effective way to survive the attack would be to avoid it all together.
As he rolled under the jeep he noted with some small trace of satisfaction that the bounty hunters were also under attack. He had guessed who the authors of the assault were – watching the swirling white figures of White Tigers springing from every door into the bay confirmed it.
He watched as the bounty hunters succumbed, one by one, to the stunners, falling face forward and slumping over their guns. His own men were equally subject, a single sweep reducing them to unconsciousness.
For one spare moment he watched as Jayne did a highly acrobatic dance to avoid the beams, including two well-placed pistol shots that took out two of the stunners . . . but in the end, there were just too many of them. There was easily three times the number of Tigers as his men and the bounty hunters combined. Eventually Jayne went left when he should have went right, and down he went.
He should have known better. Things had been going too well. His fickle mistress, Luck, had once again turned her dark face toward him.
He stayed completely still. He barely breathed. He held his weapon firmly in his hand and willed all of the clutter in his pockets to stay put. But it was inevitable. Eventually a squad of Tigers went down the rows, stunners in hand. And they caught him. A raspy shout for him to come out with hands in view made him consider the merits of a glorious death in defiant resistance – when he realized that they wouldn’t let him die. Not quickly, anyhow. He sighed.
“You boys wanna take my surrender?” Mal asked, crawling out from the vehicle. “’Cause the truth is, I’d rather avoid gettin’ hit with one o’ them, if it’s all the same to you. Gives a man a mean headache. Puts me off my food.” He handed over his rifle butt first, then began emptying his pockets of ammunition, spare guns, knives – that stupid sword – and even his rations. They made quick work of securing his hands behind his back with a plastic cuff, then led him to the former scene of carnage, where bounty hunter prisoners were being laid out and bound. Jayne’s bike still smoldered to one side, and an unconscious Jayne drooled unpleasantly all over himself nearby. He looked naked without his guns. Mal’s other men were there, too, in a comatose state.
Mal wasn’t quite alone in wakefulness, however: one of the bounty hunters – one with a wound in his heel, he noted – was also bound and seated.
“Who the hell are these guys?” he asked in a hoarse whisper. “I thought they worked for you?”
“Nah,” Mal replied in the same whisper. “They’re White Tigers. They used to be the crack regiment of the old Yuanese Empire. The hand-picked troops of their leader.”
“Who the hell is that?”
“Fella named Shan Yu – remember him from history class?”
“That’s the man. Ruthless, bloodthirsty despot. Does terrible things to kittens for fun.”
“’Does?’ Don’t you mean ‘did’?” the man asked, aghast.
“Nope. Present tense. ‘Cause he was in hibernation, too, and is alive and right as rain right now.”
“Shan freakin’ Yu? You gotta be jokin’.”
“Wish I were, son. He done tortured a couple of my people already. And there’s a mess o’ these whitecoats runnin’ around. Real fanatics, too. Hey, sorry about the heel. I did that,” he admitted.
“You did? I just thought y’all were lousy shots.”
“Not even. I was an infantry sergeant in the War. Overlanders. Did plenty of sniping. It soothed the nerves. If I wanted to take you in the head, I coulda.”
“Ain’t it a small ‘verse? I was a corporal in the 21st Boros Volunteers. That’s where I got captured. Where’d you end the war?”
“Serenity Valley. Hera.”
“I didn’t think anyone survived Serenity!”
“Less than two hundred did. Hell, we fought for weeks after the Accord was signed. Can’t believe I made it out my ownself.”
“Well, Sarge, what do you think of our chances with these fellas?”
“I’d say that barring some divine intervention, we’re gonna take some serious damage. Slowly. You ever been tortured before?”
“Uh . . . not officially.”
“Well, you’re in for a treat. Ol’ Shan Yu, he’s the reigning grandmaster on the subject. We can look forward to weeks of agonizing pain.”
“Ain’t you the cheery one?”
“Just sayin’. They get all of y’all?”
The former corporal looked around. “All that were here. We got some more in the Engine Room.”
“They’ll be joining us presently, I conjure.”
“No doubt. Ain’t the smartest bunch. But then we got Mr. Martel with a whole ‘nother unit, s’posed to come relieve us.”
“Like he’ll get relieved of his command.”
“Your people all accounted for?”
Mal looked around to where the Tigers were dragging bodies into loose piles, Imperials and Bounty Hunters alike. He did a quick head count, stopped, did it again. He sighed heavily. “Yep. They got us all.”
“Damn shame about that.”
“Just my thought on the matter.”
“You got a name, Sarge?”
“Mal. Malcolm Reynolds. You?”
“Davey Wingate. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“Likewise. Now let’s hush up, afore some o’ them kittens take offense to our reunion.” Wingate nodded and fell silent.
Mal did as well, but he wasn’t as despondant as he looked. The Tigers had done an admirable job of capturing every man jack of them, in the middle of a firefight no less. And not a man killed.
But they had been less thorough in their policing.
Johnny was not among the unconscious bodies.
Mal smiled a small, undetectable smile. Mayhap his mistress would prove just as fickle with bad luck as she had with the good.
RECONSTITUTED GAMMA TEAM FRAGMENT -30:02
“Wow,” River said in admiration, looking straight up.
The “engine room” was a misnomer. The control center they had entered through had been as complex as any ship’s bridge, with separate banks of controls for each of the reactors and subsystems. But a room full of computer consoles was not the “engine room”.
No, this was the place. You could fit a five story pagoda in here and have room left over for a cathedral and a couple of Shinto shrines. On either side of the great, wide room was the towering cylinder of Reactor 3 and Reactor 4. Around them was a tangled maze of conduit and pipe that brought fuel, removed heat, and otherwise cared for the gargantuan power plants. These two were particularly important, as they did, indeed, drive the engines. From what he remembered about the plan, Reactors 1 and 2 had been responsible for life support and gravity, 3 and 4 for engines and related systems, and 5 and 6 powered the weapons. But each could be cross-routed in an emergency.
“Impressive, isn’t it?” he asked. “It was built in orbit around Earth-That-Was. One of the only remaining ships that can make that claim. And while I don’t mind indulging your historical interest, my dear, may I remind you that we are fleeing for our lives and looking for a place to hide?”
“I know,” River said, slightly annoyed. She continued staring. “I never saw one this big.”
“Size isn’t everything, as you well know. Now let’s conceal ourselves quickly and figure out our next move.” He said it gently enough to break River free of her reverie, and then led her by the hand back to a three-dimensional maze of cooling fans and capacitor banks and all manner of other apparatus that he had no idea what they did. For all he knew, it was a deadly place to be. But the sheer clutter did make it a handy spot to hide within.
“It won’t matter,” River whispered when they had found a place inside, a little cubby hole that provided access to some meters and controls that someone might need to get too some day. It was a lot like hiding in a thick grove of metal trees. River sank to the floor gracefully, and pulled her knees up under her chin. “They know we are here.”
“Yes. They are very good at this sort of thing.”
“Then what do you propose we do?”
River shrugged. “Fight, if we have to.”
Campbell smiled. “We are very good at that sort of thing.”
“I wish I wasn’t. It isn’t . . . it isn’t my fault. I never wanted to do anything but study. And dance. And see things. Learn. I can’t help that I’m great at everything I do. They . . . they liked that about me. They . . . the blue hands . . . and the doctors . . . they wanted . . . they had minds twisted like balls of string. All sorts of disturbing ideas. Ambition. Desire. Control. Greed. Avarice. Sadism. Secrecy. Subjugation. Domination . . .”
Campbell stopped himself from mentally preparing a defense for a moment – there was an alarm bell sounding in his mind. Something in her voice . . . River was starting to . . . drift once again. He had only seen her in such a state a few times. Usually the meds . . .
Her meds. He checked his watch. An hour past when they were due. And they were in a knapsack . . . where? He couldn’t recall, which irked him on a professional level. Dr. Tam’s careful use of pharmaceuticals had been keeping River more or less lucid for the weeks he had come to know her. On those rare occasions when she missed a dose, the effect was profound. It was as if she just drifted . . . no, snow drifted, rivers meandered . . . across the landscape of reality.
“This should be interesting,” he murmured to himself.
“Oh, crap! I’m going crazy again, aren’t I?”
“That seems to be the case. Any idea how it will manifest?”
“Hopefully I can stay out of catatonia – that’s rare I do that. Likely just some run-of-the-mill schizophrenia. Probably some paranoia, too – that happens, when your amygdala has been stripped. Hard to filter the data,” she explained.
“Good to know. Any chance of some homicidal mania? Might be useful.”
She smiled. “I’ll see what I can do. Colonel? I . . . I want to thank you.”
“For . . . for not listening to what the others say. For not just seeing me as just a crazy girl. For treating me like a grown-up . . . even when I don’t act like one sometimes. And for not being afraid of me. The others are – all of them. Except maybe Book, but he has . . . some other issues. Even Simon is afraid of me. Almost as much as he’s afraid for me. My best friends in the ‘verse all worry I’ll get them killed every time they see me. But you . . . you aren’t afraid at all.”
Campbell smiled. “River, I gave up fear a while back in my career. I miss it, sometimes. But I have seen horrors, and I have seen death. I have seen my home destroyed and my family killed. I’m not afraid of my own death. My other fears have largely come to pass. My Empire has fallen, my purpose in life is missing. I have lost everything I once held dear. That leaves me with . . . appreciation. I appreciate anything and anyone who does their job the way they are supposed to, and all the more if they do it with style. I admire the way you fight, I envy your mind’s quickness, and I find your spirit a fresh breeze in a ‘verse that’s all too often dominated by grim stagnation. Because when one gets to be my age, and when one has walked in the Way, then one learns this important, fundamental aspect of the ‘verse that they never tell you in church or temple or school: Style counts. It is often all we have left at the end of a long life. And I like your style.”
“Thanks,” she said, shyly. “Uh, oh. Mayhem approacheth. Six of them. They are checking out the bodies we left behind. They hunt in a pack. So hard, their minds. So rigid. They want us alive. They are under orders . . . they won’t shoot to kill, even if they want to. And they do. They are afraid. Only their Master makes them strong. The fear and love, the fear and love the fear and love—”
“A little less volume, please,” Campbell said, grimly. “If they cannot shoot back, that gives us a distinct advantage.”
He waited quietly, trying to ignore River’s rapid transition away from lucidity. He could just make out the turn around the reactor that they would have to take. He raised his pistol and braced it on a convenient pipe. The moment he saw the first one, he took the top of his forehead off.
The others became much more cautious. They fired a few warning shots, but were more interested in sneaking forward undetected. Hard to do against a telepath – River kept indicating how they were approaching, effectively directing his fire. That kept them at bay for a while, but before long they had discovered a large piece of reactor armor and used it as a shield for their approach. Campbell emptied the clip, dropped his pistol and drew his reserve gun. An instant of an exposed knee was enough for him to disable one of the two men holding the armor, and he sprawled forwards, his gun clattering noisily across the floor.
Campbell’s second shot missed, as his comrade hauled the injured man back behind the armor, and he hoarded his other rounds against future opportunities. He looked covetously at the machine pistol the Tiger had dropped, but retrieving it would have meant exposing himself to their fire. He didn’t care what orders they had received, they were soldiers under fire. They would shoot back.
“We can’t stay here anymore,” River said, wide-eyed with madness. “There are more coming!”
“I know,” Campbell said through clenched teeth. “The only way out is the way we came in.”
“Then that’s where we’ll have to go,” River replied. “Follow me!”
Campbell didn’t have time to shout, to order her to stop. River executed a perfect forward roll, came to her feet, did a one-handed handstand, and picked up the machine pistol with the other. By the time she had landed back on her feet she had shot three of their attackers perfectly in the forehead – apparently without looking, much less aiming.
“Remarkable!” Campbell whispered to himself.
“Come on!” she urged. Realizing she was holding a gun, she panicked and let if fall to the floor. Campbell stooped to retrieve it, then put himself in front of her.
“I’m armored,” he reminded. She nodded blankly.
“Only two more,” she said, “just around the corn—”
Before she could finish the sentence one of the Tigers appeared. Or at least his weapon did, held at shoulder height and spraying a wide area. Had it been a regular firearm, he would have been well wide of the mark. As it was, he had a sonic stunner with a very large cone of affect. Campbell felt the wave wash over him, sapping the strength it took for him to remain conscious, no matter how valiantly he fought it. He slumped face-forward onto the floor. River fell next to him. His last conscious thought was staring deep into her eyes, where sorrow, regret, and madness all struggled for possession. In an instant it was gone, replaced with unconsciousness. An instant later, he succumbed himself, leaving them both to the tender mercies of the most vicious killers ever spawned.
DELTA TEAM REMNANT -29:40
“Here’s the plan,” Zoe said, in between sips of coffee. “I can’t do nothin’ ‘bout my idiot husband, ‘cept stare at the monitor and curse him ‘till he gets back. I ain’t that kind o’ woman. We got a full team fightin’ their way to the Engine Room – can’t help them, not unless you got some wise idea ‘bout that. No? Well, we got two old Chinese men holed up in the Bridge, with a squad of mercs besieging them. We could relieve them, but they aren’t in any immediate danger.
“Lastly, we got a wounded, drugged up, and likely crazy old preacher wanderin’ around in this labyrinth what needs his meds. He can’t have strayed far from our path. He couldn’t’ve got far in his condition. I aim to take the Doc and bring him back, while everyone else does their heroic part.”
Zoe took another long sip of coffee. “Any questions?”
Kaylee shyly raised her hand. “Um, yeah. Who’s in charge?”
Zoe smiled. “That’d be you, Kayleebear.”
“Me?” She sounded shocked. “What about . . . Inara?”
“You’re the last crewman aboard. We don’t come back, Cap’n don’t come back, you heat her up and get the hell away at least six hours afore she dives. That’s an order. Get far away from here, have a good life. Inara can pilot her out, if need be.”
“You drive a shuttle, don’t you?”
“Well, yes, but a shuttle is tiny!” the Companion protested.
Zoe shrugged. “Principal’s the same. Point her in the right direction, push the button. Go. You’ll figure it out.”
“I don’t know, Zoe,” Kaylee said, visably afraid. “I ain’t never been in charge o’ nothin’ before.”
“You seen what Cap’n does. You get into a pickle, you just ask yourself, ‘what would the Cap’n do?’ then you do something just a little less likely to get you killed. Easy. But I don’t aim on leavin’ you in command more’n a couple of hours.”
“ ‘Cap’n Kaylee!’” she said, trying to talk herself into it. “Got an interestin’ ring to it.”
“You have some good talent here, with the commandos. Likely they’ll take care o’ you, should the worst come. But like I said, don’t aim to linger. Just gonna track the preacher and bring him back. Shouldn’t be more than an hour or three. Oh, yeah,” she said, putting down her empty cup. “When you see my idiot husband, please explain to him that I’m feelin’ a relationship discussion coming on. He’ll know what I mean.”
“You sure about this?” Inara asked, nervously. “I mean, just you and Simon out there?”
“You walked every step of that way,” reminded Zoe. “Wasn’t deadly. I know we got foes creepin’ out there, but I’m guessin’ they’ll be headed aft towards the Engine Room – that’s where all the action is. Me an Doc will be fine.” She looked at Simon who looked almost embarrassed at having lost one little semi-comatose patient from right under his nose. “Doc, you’re gonna have to upgrade to somethin’ a little more forceful than that pistol you’re fond of,” she declared. “Go see Yang about a new toy. Submachine gun, I think – you ain’t quite ready for an assault rifle. Maybe a shotgun?”
“You ain’t like to be shootin’,” Kaylee said hurriedly, trying to sooth herself as much as Simon. “Probably won’t even cock it. But . . . get some armor, too. You got a nice . . . jacket there, hate to see it get perforated.”
“I’ll take that under advisement,” promised Simon, amused.
“Great,” continued Zoe. “I’ll get us some rations, you get whatever meds you need, we can get out there and fetch him back afore the trail gets cold.” She looked around the table at the tired, worn faces – Inara’s and Nyan Nyan’s, who both looked more gorgeous after days without sleep than any five other women she could name, Kaylee, who was trying to wrap her head around the idea of leadership, and Simon, who was just . . . she didn’t know what he was thinking. That wasn’t good. Not for him, but for her: it meant she was as bone tired as she’d ever been.
Except for Serenity Valley.
That thought straightened her spine and made what she had to do simple in comparison. “This whole adventure done got cocked up – but it ain’t too late to set it aright. Let’s just do what we gotta, and everything will be fine.”
She said it with so much confidence she almost believed it.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006 12:18 PM
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Wednesday, March 15, 2006 5:49 AM
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