written by: KMS
kmspider at aol dot com
Summary: AU—instead of losing the Battle of Serenity, the Independents won, extending the course of the war. Takes place around the same time as the series, six years after the First Battle of Serenity on Hera.
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Alliance Facility, Location Unknown:
Light years away from the smell of gunpowder or the agonies of war, a young girl sits in a white room surrounded by tactical information for a planet called Hera. Maps, armament, troop movement, the complement of men; lists with individual names of personnel currently stationed there. Even a list of names of the opposition believed to be currently sharing the war-torn planet.
The room has one wall made of mirrors. On the other side sit two very similar men, both gaunt, both with a very sterile air about them. They are watching over the young woman as she pours over the raw data, awaiting her latest report. Recommendations for the Alliance Commander-in-Chief on how best to win this war once and for all.
Back inside the room, the girl smiles to herself, hiding it behind her unruly mass of dark hair. The strange men with blue hands have made a mistake, and it's one they haven't realized that they've made yet.
Time to start moving pieces of the puzzle around. Lining them up like billiard balls, one knocking into the next, until the eight ball is sunk and the game is over.
As much as they think they are using her to their own purposes, she is using them.
But she must be oh-so-subtle. No dinosaurs to spring on the Alliance. More like mice. Or tiny insects. Butterflies still in their cocoons. For now she must maneuver the meeting of minds. This person needs to meet that person, who in turn helps that person.
On the outside of it, her recommendations make perfect strategic sense. Of course, these troops are needed at that spot, but the pattern is intrinsically flawed. There is a tactical error imbedded in the overall scheme. One that will lose the war for the Alliance and allow for her own rescue.
River Tam runs her hand down the column of names, briefly pausing, the pad of her finger passing gently over the typeface as though it were brail instead of standard printer ink. She lets the micro-ridges of her fingerprints absorb the letters, as familiar to her as her own name. Secretly she smiles. She lets the paper flutter to the floor as if it couldn't be of less interest to her, letting them think that she hasn't registered the importance of that one name.
Tam, Simon. Captain. Doctor
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Alliance Captain, Doctor Simon Tam, Medical Infantry, 12th Division, leaned exhaustedly against a tent post and closed his eyes. He'd been up for over twenty-four hours and it looked like the volume of incoming wounded would never lessen.
Shaking off the bone-tiredness, he headed off for a cup of coffee before the ambulances unloaded another batch of surgeries at his door.
In the distance he could hear the sound of bombs exploding. The vibrations rocked the makeshift infirmary tents, sending shivers of dust down, but few patients complained. Most were still unconscious, awaiting med-evac to off-world hospitals.
The Alliance had thought they were on the verge of dealing a crushing defeat to the Independents six years ago on this same planet, yet here they were again, on Hera, loyalists and rebels entrenched in Serenity Valley, pounding away at each other.
He was still a student back when they had thought the Independents were on the threshold of surrendering, but a young soldier, merely a sergeant at the time, had rallied his inherited troops and staged a full-fledged assault against the Alliance generals' headquarters that sent them running.
Caught utterly by surprise, the Alliance had been routed, withdrawing to a safe distance. Independent air support that had all but disappeared suddenly returned, tearing Alliance assault ships to pieces and turning the tide.
Instead of peace that day, the Alliance had been handed their collective hats and asked to move on. They had withdrawn, tail between their legs, Hera lost.
And, now, six years later, the Alliance was back, attempting to take back the high ground.
He remembered his sister, River, delighting in reading aloud to him all the articles she could find about the young soldier, who had all but been promoted to general that day by his troops. The articles referred to him as Harbatkin, but everyone knew that the name was false. Even Independent Command didn't want to admit that a mere foot soldier had grasp victory from the jaws of defeat, while their own generals had given up.
Simon gulped his coffee, still a touch too warm, letting it scorch his throat on the way down. He wanted another cup before he headed back in for another twelve-hour session. He hadn't even bothered to change yet, the front of his scrubs still covered with blood from one surgery after another. He'd change to fresh ones before he walked back in again.
Idly, he wondered how different things would have turned out if the young soldier had been defeated that day. Perhaps he would still be on Osiris, practicing medicine in pristine conditions, on his way to becoming one of the Medical Elect as his parents had hoped. Instead he had finished his residency and had immediately been drafted, despite his father's efforts to the contrary. The Alliance needed surgeons, and gifted, core-trained, trauma surgeons were a prize to be treasured. Not that he felt especially cherished at the moment, he thought ruefully as he refilled his cup, trying not to taste the dust that drifted into it, or see the oily residue that floated on top.
Another bomb exploded, closer this time, raining more dust down from the canvass overhead. He hoped they wouldn't have to move in a hurry. Surgery on the run was never pleasant, for patient or doctor.
Simon found a chair near the curtained off operating room, and sat for a moment, closing his eyes, coffee still clutched in his hand. He'd almost drifted off, when a strange noise caused him to open his eyes again.
He must be dreaming. In front of him stood a black woman, a decade older than himself, covered in dirt and dust from head to toe, a large rifle in her hands. And pointed right at him.
Simon blinked, squeezing his eyes closed, then blinking them open again. She was still there, looking grimmer than ever -- despite the lack of sleep and an over-tired brain – definitely not a hallucination. She took a step closer, one finger vertical to her lips in a 'stay silent' signal, and tapped his chest with the rifle. She was very real. So was the gun.
The cup of coffee slid from his numb fingers, the splashback wetting his shins as it hit the ground. He raised his hands, hoping she wouldn't shoot. It was obvious from her lack of gray uniform that she wasn't Alliance. She was Independent. Maybe she just wanted drugs. It wouldn't be the first time a soldier came in desperate to forget their situation. She motioned him to his feet, clutching his collar and pulling him close, rifle tip digging into his throat.
In a voice barely above a whisper, she said, "Not a sound or you'll be picking your Adam's Apple off the far wall, dong ma?"
She gave him a assessing once over. "You're a surgeon."
It wasn't really a question. Simon nodded.
Simon's brows furrowed in surprise, and his head tilted, studying her in turn, as he nodded again.
"You're with me," she said, tugging on his collar, pulling him along.
"I can't just…"
She whirled back on him, and he fell silent as the rifle tip dug painfully under his jaw, making him rise up on his toes. "You're coming with me, Doctor. You got any objections and there won't be enough left of you to scrape into a bed pan, got it?"
She lowered the weapon and he swallowed painfully.
"Where are we going?" he asked, surprised that his own voice sounded as steady as it did.
"I got a wounded man needs looking after. Some of our troops have been through here and had good things to say about you."
"Why don't you take him to your own doctors?"
"Those last shells hit the medical unit. Recovered some supplies, but most of the staff is finished. Now move." She pulled on him again and he stumbled in her wake.
"W-w-wait! Why not just bring him here? We've treated rebel soldiers before."
"Alliance get their hands on this man, they're not likely to want to let go. Now would you like to stay and jaw, or you ready to save a good man's life?"
Simon opened his mouth to suggest they bring his surgeon's tools, but she yanked him forward again, and then they were outside.
Night had fallen while he was in surgery and he hadn't even noticed. The falling bombs provided sporadic flashes of light, blinding him as much as they lit the way. Out of the darkness appeared three more figures, dressed in ragged scrapes of clothing, much as the woman, and all armed. They neatly avoided the incoming ambulances and headed toward enemy lines.
Kidnapped by rebel soldiers so he could operate on one of their wounded. Oh yeah, River was going to love this story. If he survived to tell her.
His tiredness had disappeared in a rush of adrenaline, and he stumbled over the uneven ground, through the darkness, the four-man squad closing around him.
"Wash!" the woman called softly. A blond man responded to her call, moving close to her side. "Give the doc your blanket. He's gonna get shot fer sure in those whites."
Wash nodded and tugged a dark woolen blanket out of his pack, tossing it to the doctor with a grin. "Here ya go, Doc. You're standing out like neon in those scrubs."
Simon swallowed and wrapped the blanket tightly around his slender frame, making him all but disappear in the moonless night. He certainly didn't want to get shot by his own people during his kidnapping.
The squad moved into a small gulley, stopping a moment to get the lay of the land. At the woman's hand signal, one of them peeled off to scout ahead. One of the big men beside him moved closer. Reaching down into the dirt, the man scooped up a handful and moved the dirt to Simon's face.
Simon blocked him with one arm, frowning in confusion.
"Jayne!" the woman hissed, annoyed. There was too much movement. They were bound to be noticed.
Jane? The man's name was Jane?
"That lily-white skin of his is gonna shine, too. Gotta muddy up the pretty some."
Simon blinked. Muddy up the pretty? Simon glanced at the woman, who nodded at Jayne. The big man reached for Simon's face again, but Simon stopped him a second time. Frowning, Simon scooped up the mud himself and applied it, giving himself a raccoon appearance. God alone only knew how much bacteria he had just willing put on his face.
Jayne watched him intently, making Simon want to squirm. When Simon finished, he turned to the big man for inspection. Jayne nodded in satisfaction, moving away to scout ahead.
Simon turned back to find the woman grinning at his scowl. She twitched her head, and he crawled up beside her.
"Keep you head down and stay close," she whispered.
Simon nodded. Her luminous, dark eyes peered into the smoky ink surrounding them, and seeing one of the scouts signaling her, she began to move forward. Silently Simon followed, the last squad member coming up behind him.
They got closer to the nearest checkpoint, and again the black woman signaled him to get down. He saw a flash of a knife blade, and Zoe leaned in close. "Not a word."
Simon nodded with a gulp, the blade too close for his own liking. In the near distance he saw the man, Wash, at the fence, peeling back a layer of wire. This must have been how they had gotten past the sentries in the first place. A hole was revealed and Wash waved the squad through.
Running low, they traveled over the no-man's land between embattled sides. The bombing had lessened, thankfully. At least the flashes wouldn't reveal them, making them easy targets for a bullet in the back. Their position in the open was entirely too exposed.
They were nearing the Independent lines when a shout went up behind them. Suddenly the place was filled with the sound of gunfire from behind. An instant later, cover fire from the rebel line erupted. A large hand closed over Simon's shoulder, urging him to move.
Breathless, adrenalin rushing through his veins, Simon ran faster, legs pumping beneath him, when a large body impacted with his, and they went down in a tangle. Mortar fire exploded mere yards from where he had been. Close enough to feel the flash of heat.
Simon panted and looked up into the face of the man who had tackled him, seeing Jayne grinning down at him like a loon, white teeth glowing in the dim light. He had no time to wonder just what kind of lunatics he had been kidnapped by before he was hauled to his feet, and they dashed the last twenty yards, sniper fire throwing up dirt at their heels. .
The other members of the squad were there ahead of him, the woman covering their flank, a step behind them. The blanket was lost in no-man's land, hot lead pinging against metal barricades as they passed into safety
Hunkered down behind earthen barriers, Simon took a moment to catch his breath.
"No time to rest, Doc. Got a man waiting for your attention."
Simon nodded, and was pulled to his feet, lead through a maze of trenches, deeper into enemy territory. He'd never be able to find his way back even had he been able to see his way.
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end chapter 1
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