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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Simon found himself huddled behind a meager pile of fallen bricks, Sergeant Reynolds by his side, sidearm out and ready.
Around them, he could see the rest of Reynolds' band, hiding among the rubble, too. At a hand signal from the sergeant, they headed out, moving south, swiftly and silently.
"Reynolds, you traitor, you bring that Purplebelly in, and we'll see to it that your people don't spend any time in the brig," a deep voice carried to them.
Reynolds ignored the voice, pushing Simon ahead of him. When Simon's crouch wasn't low enough, a shot clipped the stones around him, sending brick chips at them. Reynolds hand landed on Simon's hair and pushed him lower.
"Best keep your head down, Doc, iffn you want to keep it."
Simon smothered a cough and nodded.
Silently Reynolds pointed out Zoe's hiding place. "I want you to head over there. Stay low and Zoe'll get you home while we hold these boys off."
Simon nodded again, and as Reynolds popped up to deliver deadly cover fire, Simon raced toward Zoe. He was halfway there when a grenade went off not a dozen feet away from him, the concussion enough to knock him off his feet. He landed in a small hollow, his ears ringing.
Blinking up at the sky, he lay stunned a moment, until a shadow loomed over him. Zoe's mouth was open, yelling at him, but he couldn't hear anything above the buzz. He gazed stupidly up at her for a split second before she was tugging at his shoulder. Getting his mind working again, he rolled over, letting her pull him to his knees and forward. They stumbled and dashed to her former hiding place before she released him, letting him collapse against the embankment. He was blinking dust out of eyes, when he saw her gaze flick upwards, then she was pressing a piece of cloth to his head. He winched with the pain, then his own hand covered hers.
He pulled the cloth down and saw it was bloody, then replaced it. She was still talking to him, but he still couldn't hear anything, ears still ringing. He thought her lips might have said, 'stay on my six', but he was only guessing.
Clearly frustrated, Zoe jerked her head to the left and tugged on his jacket again. Swallowing a wave of nausea and a splitting headache, he crouched and followed her. They rounded a corner when the butt of a rifle lashed out and caught Zoe on the chin. If she cried out, Simon couldn't hear her.
The rifle swung around until Simon was staring down its barrel. Raising his hands, he looked up into Jubal Early's dark face. The man grabbed his jacket and jerked him to his feet, slamming him up against an old tottering chimney, rifle barrel resting at the base of his throat.
The slow grin that crossed his face made Simon shiver in terror. Like Zoe's words, Early's voice were lost to Simon, but he understood all to clearly the danger he was in as he was spun around and slammed back into the wall. His hands were twisted behind him and bound by rope. With another jerk, Early pulled him away from the wall, half a dozen men joining him as he dragged Simon along in his wake.
Someone pulled out a rope and tossed one end over the skeletal remains of the building's framework, a hurried loop dangling down. Early grinned evilly down at Simon and slipped the noose over his neck. Oh, Yesu, they were going to hang him. Someone else found an old wooden box, and several men pushed and pulled the doctor until he stood shakily atop it. The box quivered with age under Simon's borrowed boots as he shivered and struggled to keep it under him.
The sound of their victorious gunfire was starting to penetrate past the ringing in his ears, and Simon swallowed hard at the sight of the jubilant lynching party that surrounded him.
He's once seen a program on the 'Devices of Death.' A lynching with a six foot drop was referred to as the Long Drop, generally resulting in a broken neck and a quick death. Considered more merciful. Then there was the Short Drop. Approximately a three foot drop, resulting in death by strangulation. Not quick. More than enough time for the victim to be aware that he is dying as they struggled and twisted, fighting for air.
He watched as Early swung away from him, dramatically pulling out a large knife. Simon looked out to see what it was Early was looking at, finally spotting Sergeant Reynolds and his people in the distance.
Wash was helping Zoe to stand, and Reynolds was on his feet, pistol in the air in surrender. Apparently they were exchanging words with his captors. Jayne was crouched, rifle at the ready, but reluctant to shoot at people on their own side of the war. Behind him, Tracy stood nervously, shifting from foot to foot.
Finally the din in his ears lessened enough for Simon to make out words.
"Cut him down, Early. It don't have to go down this way."
"You want me to cut him down? I'd be happy to, Sergeant!" And with that, Early swung back around and plunged the oh-so-very-large knife into Simon's thigh. Simon screamed, bending double, almost plunging off the other side of the rickety box. His vision turned red with pain. The rope around his neck tightened and the scream cut short, turning into a choking cough. Some kind soul behind him pushed him upright again, and he managed to get his feet under him.
Early looked up, admiring his work, casually dipping a finger into the blood flow and holding it up for Reynolds to see. "Would have thought it was blue with all the boy's highfaluting ways, wouldn't you?" Then Early shook his head. "Just plain red like the rest of us," he mused, wiping the blood away on Simon's pants, then looking up into Simon's face. "Does that seem right to you?"
With cruel indifference, Early ignored Simon's gasp of pain as he pulled the knife back out.
"None of this is right, Early. Let the boy go!" Reynolds yelled.
Tracy moved from his protected position and came closer to the lynching party. Turning back to his sergeant, he said, "Let him hang, Sarge. He's just another Alliance tamade hundan what wants to kill us on this here rock."
Reynolds looked at his own man as if he'd grown another head, before something clicked. He turned to fully face Tracy. "You were on perimeter, Tracy. You want to explain to me how these men got around you without you noticing?"
"That's 'cuz I notified the Commander where we was hold up. We stole him and got you fixed. That's all we was looking to do, Sarge. You're better now. Ain't no need to stick our necks out for some Purplebelly. Let Early have him."
"You're on a dangerous ground, Private!" Zoe snarled at Tracy. "Looking to join up with the Commander? Are you really ready to turn your back on those who been watching it for years?"
"And look where that got me! It's six years gone and we're still stuck right back on this piece of mud rock, and no better for it. I want out! And if that means giving up some Core doctor, I say we do it!"
"That ain't the way we do things, Tracy. And you know it! We're better than that." Reynolds yelled.
"Let 'em hang!" Tracy screamed right back at him.
The Sergeant pushed Tracy away from him in disgust, ignoring him as he landed on his butt.
Instead he turned back to Early and again demanded the doctor's release.
"Can't do it, Reynolds. And more to the point, I won't." Early laid a large hand on Simon's chest and, with cold calculation, pushed, kicking the box under him away at the same time.
What none of them heard above the din of exuberant gunfire and conversation was the hushed whoop-whoop-whoop of a covert hovercraft flying overhead. As Early pushed Simon to his death, several things happened at once.
Reynolds and Jayne raced to catch Simon before he could strangle to death. Men from the Cobra strike team, dressed all in black, rappelled away from the hovercraft, headed for the same destination. Two gunshots rang out simultaneously, one from above -- taking Early in the chest, making his heart explode instantly, body brushing by Simon's as he fell. The other was from Zoe's rifle, a long shot that pierced the swinging, stretched rope that Simon dangled from, shearing it in two.
Simon dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes, unable to loosen the rope enough to catch a breath with his hands tied behind him. Jayne barreled through the confused lynchers like a line-backer, making a path for Mal Reynolds, who reached Simon's side an instant later, loosening the noose and letting the poor doctor take a gasp of air. He pulled Simon up and rested the young man's back against his chest while the doctor coughed and wheezed. Deftly, Reynolds found that knife that Early had used to stab Simon's leg, and cut his hands free.
A booming voice echoed from the hovercraft's speakers above them, ordering them away. A few well placed kicks and punches from Jayne had Early's men on the run and ducking for cover.
Reynolds and Jayne looked up to find themselves surrounded by Alliance soldiers, weapons raised and pointed at their heads.
"No, wait," Simon cried out in a strangled voice, hands coming up to ward off the Alliance soldiers.
The strike team stood in a circle surrounding the three men, when their leader stepped forward. He removed the shaded helmet and the kindly brown eyes of an older black man stared down at them, then he walked over and knelt, placing one knee on the ground to get a good look at Simon.
"Doctor Tam?" his deep voice intoned.
Still coughing, Simon managed to nod and gasp out, "Don't hurt them!"
Over the struggling doctor, the covert leader locked his eyes on Reynolds' face. A slow, knowing smile spread across his face.
"General Harbatkin, I presume?" he asked with wry amusement.
"You'll never get me to admit it," Mal grinned back at him. "Colonel Book, isn't it?"
"At your service, Sir."
The two stared at each other a moment, giving each other the respect of fellow warriors, worthy adversaries, and honorable men.
Behind Reynolds, Jayne stood uneasily, still primed and ready for action should the sergeant call for it. On the ground caught between them, Simon struggled to look from one to the other in confusion.
"What have they told you about commandeering Alliance personnel, Sergeant?" Book gently admonished Reynolds, as he reached down and secured a tourniquet around Simon's leg.
"That it was... manly and impulsive?"
Book chuckled. "Yes, but I believe it sounded more like: Don't do it again."
"Ah, must have missed something in my Alliance-to-Independent Translation Dictionary."
"The Brass does so frown on you stealing people. And they probably won't be too happy with the young doctor, either."
"You know," Reynolds grinned, "If it's a problem, we'd be happy to take the doc off your hands."
The Colonel smiled benignly. "I don't believe that will be necessary. Getting kidnapped once a campaign is more than enough, right, Doctor?"
Simon just stared at the polite adversaries, bewildered.
"Think you two could have your ruttin' tea party when I don't have quite so many guns pointed at my head?" Jayne groused.
Colonel Book turned away, amused, and was about to call for a stretcher when a man came tearing across the field at them, screaming wildly in white-hot anger, rifle blazing.
Guns from both sides sprang into action, blazing back, stopping Tracy in his tracks. Tracy landed first on his knees, surprise and betrayal crossing his face, his hands losing their hold on the gun, before he fell face forward into the mud, dead, new boots muddied with his own blood, his ticket off Hera coming in the form of a coffin.
Cautiously, Book turned back to Reynolds, who still sat in the middle of the circle of Alliance soldiers, supporting the young doctor. Quietly, intently ignoring all else, Reynolds loosened and removed the rope around the boy's neck, unwilling to look out at the fellow soldier who had betrayed him.
Simon clutched one hand to his throat and the other to his leg.
"I need a stretcher," Book called. One of the men around them acknowledged the command and relayed it through his radio. Moments later a carry basket was being lowered down from the craft.
Efficiently, the Cobra team loaded the young doctor into the mobile stretcher. The stretcher was hoisted up, and Simon reached out a hand to the man who had just saved his life. "Thank you, Sergeant."
"Just returning the favor, Doctor."
Colonel Book nodded to his men and the stretcher was lifted toward the hovercraft. With a respectful nod, Book and his men latched onto the dangling ropes and ascended to the craft above.
Jayne and Reynolds watched the craft rise, feeling Zoe join them.
"Good man, the doc," Reynolds commented.
"Yep," Zoe agreed.
"How the hell did he stay so clean clear out here, ya think?" Jayne asked. "Even all covered in mud, he still looked kind of... I don't know... pristine."
"Must be that Core shine. It just don't come off," the Sergeant answered.
"Think we'll ever see him again?" Zoe wondered aloud.
"No," Jayne replied.
"Never know," Mal said thoughtfully. "Be a good man to have as our medic if we ever get our own ship."
Zoe smiled, even as Jayne mummered, "Well, yeah. But you'd never get him to ship out with you. Too rich. Boy's too fancy."
"Never underestimate the draw of the Black, Jayne."
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Alliance Facility, Location Unknown:
It was over. The rogue had been neutralized, new alliances were forged, and the old soldier was rediscovering honor. Freedom was coming, sooner rather than later. The players had met and the new combinations would craft the future.
At this rate she'd be out of here in no time and reunited with her brother.
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End of Chapter 6
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sorry to those looking for more Kaylee or Inara, but they just didn't seem to fit on a battlefield.
This story has been nominated for a 2005 Strawberries: The Blue Sun Fandom Awards for Best AU/Original Series