Firefly: Take the Sky

Prelude – Truth From Above

It began as a dim light in the atmosphere, as bright as a distant satellite and moving just as slowly. Then that light intensified, pulsed, flashed like the landing lights of an L-Sung transport before dividing into a cluster of fiery comets that streaked directly downward toward the ground. The impact lit up the horizon with white light, turning Hera's darkest night into the brightest of days.

Sergeant Malcolm Reynolds watched it all, emotionless, unblinking, even as the thunderous concussions of the earthstrike roared passed him. The sudden static that hissed through his radio told no lies—

He had just watched a starship fall out of the sky.

"Strike one up for the bad guys," he muttered, making sure he was the only man in his squad that heard. Then, a bit more loudly, "All right, listen up!"

His men stood in the trench below, boots squishing around in thick mud. Their eyes were tired and their arms hung loose at their sides, but they still managed to look in Mal's direction. It was all he could hope for at this point.

"As you may or may not have noticed, our orbital reinforcement just kissed the dirt. That means we gotta work twice as hard for twice as long until our boys get another ship into position up there." Mal held up the handheld radio and let his men hear the static before he tossed it over his shoulder. "From what I'm guessing, might be a bit before they can jump to our aid. All we gotta do is hold out, make sure the Feds don't cross this line. If they do cross this line, ain't no more offensive, 'cause we'll be on the defensive for a good long time. Can't let that happen."

"No, sir," came the reply.

"Won't let that happen, will we!" he roared back at them.

"No, sir!" they shouted in return.

Mal nodded. It had gone better than expected. The other officers had made a habit of telling their soldiers what they wanted to hear, instead of what they needed to hear. Mal, contrary to the popular method, always preferred handing out the truth.

The truth shall set you free. And it let the troops know what they're fighting for. Mal didn't care for lying. The second you started lying to the soldiers who were paying for your new way of life with their own blood, that was when the real war was lost.

That was Mal's take, at least, and as far as he could tell he seemed to be in the minority concerning that opinion. But like he always told himself: the Independents started this war against the Alliance because they knew they could make a better way for themselves, not because they knew they could lie better.

Call it honor. Call it ignorance. Maybe he had just never been a great liar. Now was certainly not the time for practice.

"Everyone in positions," he ordered. "Weapons locked and hot. Put those rifles to your shoulders and mind those triggers." He walked along the rim of the trench, making sure everyone was readying up. "Remember: one shot, one kill. But if you have to, shoot 'em twice for laughs."

Mal casually jumped down into the trench. Not because he felt like it, but because he had spotted, out beyond the next hill, the slightest glint of a signaling lamp.

The next attack would be coming soon.

"Remember why you're fighting!" Mal said as his squad got into firing position. "We aren't fighting to keep our lands or to satisfy our pride. We're fighting for the future. For our families. For the idea of bringing our children into a piece of this 'Verse that we're able to call our own—because we do own it. The spirit of it. The spirit that the Alliance, those gorram Feds, are trying to break. 直到太阳去世, we will not stop!"

As the cheering response sounded, a tremor moved under Mal's feet. He looked up just in time to watch a wall of fire move through the far end of the trench, consuming dozens of his soldiers, vaporizing some. He was knocked back and fell straight into the mud. The heat of the flames licked the nape of his neck and cooked the brown duster that clung to his back.

Screams filled the air, as well as the squishing and slurping sound of the troops running frantically around the trench. Some ran toward the wounded, a few simply retreated. He didn't blame them... Well, maybe he did. He didn't feel sore about it, though. Some people just react differently to seeing their friends blown apart.

Mal picked himself up and reached for his autorevolver. He pulled back the hammer and heard the the pack ring to life. Walking the trench, he could smell burned flesh and some kind of fuel. Looking up, he saw a slight dark pillar of smoke that led up into the sky and out of sight. They had just been hit from orbit.

Looks like the Feds aim to take potshots at us, after all. And here he was thinking they'd be above that.

One of Mal's soldiers ran up to him looking frightened beyond reason. For the life of him, Mal couldn't remember his name.

"We got wounded, sir!" the man shouted. "Medic's among the dead! I don't... I don't know what to do!"

Mal looked past the soldier and saw the human debris that littered the next several charred and bloody meters of the trench. He could see movement and life where there rightfully shouldn't have been. "Do what you can to make them comfortable."

That wasn't what the soldier wanted to hear. "But, sir, I—"

"Even if that means a bullet in the brainpan," Mal said evenly and clapped the man on the shoulder. "Either way, I need that weapon in your hands, soldier. We're still in the middle of a battlefield."

"Y-yes... Yes, sir..." The man spun around, half-confused, and rushed back to the wounded.

"Company!" Mal shot his gun in the air and mounted the lip of the trench. "Get ready to shoot yourselves some Feds!" He peered down the field and beheld the real tragedy of the situation.

After the orbital strike, he had only a handful of troops to his name, some rifles, pistols, and a few grenades. The Alliance, on the other hand, had three half-tracks, four RC-88 Gauntlet assault vehicles, and a full company of soldiers pointed straight at their trench, getting closer.

Mal cursed under his breath. At least the infantry wasn't armored. They could still kill a few people here. "We hold this position!" he said. "We hold! When you see those Feds get near enough, you do what you do best! Don't care if they're still breathing when your done with 'em, but if they are, I want them breathing dirt! Get me?"

"Yes, sir," the living bits of his squad replied reluctantly, weapons readied.

It was true: Mal never once lied to his soldiers. But, then again, he had never told the full truth neither. He spoke to his men as if the situation wasn't helpless—though it was. It really was.

He knew a great many things about this battle. He knew that the Independents' cause was worth fighting for, worth dying for. He knew that Serenity Valley would be their real last stand, that there would be no other place in the 'Verse to fall back to.

Among many other things, he knew they wouldn't make it off this planet alive.