Battle Hymn
Friday, October 31, 2008

Just my contribution to a Firefly Hallowe'en. Set during the war, no OCs, Mal finds himself needing some help from the other side. And I don't mean the Alliance.


Abner Cartwright was an odd dichotomy of a man. Aged only twenty-two, he was fresh-faced and innocent looking, yet he liked nothing more than discussing the best methods of silent killing with his Corporal, one Zoe Alleyne. Admittedly, he also talked about the Bible with his Sergeant, in depth conversations that kept them occupied for hours.

“You’re one strange guy,” Mal Reynolds said, checking his rifle for the tenth time.

“Why?” Abner asked. “An eye for an eye. It’s in the good book.” He glanced over the top of the foxhole they were sitting in. “I think we can move.”

“Not yet,” Zoe said, her hands gripping her own weapon.

“Why do you –“

He was interrupted by a blast that rocked the ground, tossing earth high into the air to rain down on them.

Mal shook the dirt from his hair as he laughed. “See, Abner, that’s why I let Zoe make all the important decisions.”

Zoe looked at her Sergeant, her implacable face not even cracking with a smile. “We can head back now, sir,” she said.

“Shiny.” Mal checked for himself over the top of the earth ridge, then hopped up and started back towards their own dugout, knowing the others were at his heels.

Abner began to whistle, just under his breath, but in the silence both Mal and Zoe could hear the tune quite clearly.

“One day,” Mal promised, whispering himself, “I am going to get so tired of that damn song I’ll be shooting you myself.”

Abner grinned in the dark. “Nah, you love me really.”

“Or at the very least I’m gonna have you court-martialled.”

A chuckle followed him across the mud.

Except wars don’t take account of how people feel or believe.

“It’s Abner, sir,” Zoe said. “He didn’t make it.”

Mal, poring over maps of the area, sat back, shocked beyond all recognition. “But … how?”

“Seeker. Out on patrol.”

Patrol. Mal swallowed. The patrol he’d sent him on. “Was it –“

“Quick. Yes sir. The man he was with told me he saved his life, pushed him to the ground.”

No more whistling. No more discussions on death and damnation … “Cao.”

“Yes sir.”

No time to grieve. Just collect body parts and bury them where they could, and say a prayer to a God who seemed to have forgotten them. And now Mal was the one in the middle of no-man’s-land, on his hands and knees, biting back on a scream.

He’d got separated from his men, giving them covering fire to pull back, letting them get away so they could report on the Alliance frontline moving inexorably forwards. Only an explosion had gone off not ten feet in front of him, thrusting him back against the remains of a low stone wall, and making his head ring. That wasn’t the worst, though. Dust and debris, stone and wood chips, and good old fashioned earth, had been tossed into his face, into his wide open eyes as he’d tried to see where the next bullet was likely to be coming from.

He rolled away from the wall, shaking his head to try and clear the ringing in his ears, the rifle still gripped in his hand. He spat, tasting sand on his tongue and blood around his teeth, then looked up.

Tah muh duh.”

Mal couldn’t see. He so wanted to rub his eyes, clear them of the fine grit that had contaminated them, but he knew if he did he’d never be looking at anything ever again. But without sight he had no way of getting back to his own lines, and there was no way the Alliance weren't going to overrun this spit of land within the hour.

He had no choice, he knew that. He had to get going, and hope his luck held. Levering himself to his feet on his now useless rifle, he listened, trying to gauge which way to go, but the shelling was still so fierce that he couldn’t hear a damn thing beyond the scream of the rockets, followed by the dull booms as they exploded, but there was no way of knowing which were Independent and which were purple-bellies.

“Zoe, this time I don’t think even you’re gonna be able to save my hide,” he muttered, taking a step forward.

Then he heard it. A whistle. Only not a seeker, or even one of the small ordnance. This was a tune. A tune he recognised all too well. Except the man who used to whistle it was dead, buried in a mass grave with a hundred other grunts.

“Okay. Now I know I'm going crazy.” He took another step.

The whistle changed to a voice, singing softly, yet he heard every word over the noise of the bombardment. “Oh, when the saints go marchin’ in, when the saints go marchin’ in, I wanna be there in that number, when the saints go marchin’ in.”

He stopped, a chill running down his back. “Can’t be.”

The voice got stronger, and he realised it was behind him. He turned slowly, peering through eyes that were streaming with tears, and seeing nothing but grey fog.

“Abner?” he called quietly. “Only I said a prayer over you, more’n a month ago.”

“Must mean I’m dead then.” Abner’s voice.

“Seems like.”

“Probably explains why I’m in this state.”

Mal swallowed, suddenly glad he couldn’t make anything out. The memory of that young man stretched out on the ground was bad enough, bone showing through torn flesh … “So, is this it? You come to take me to the hot place?”

Abner chuckled. “Now you know you ain’t gonna end up there. Got a place reserved for you among the milk and honey.”

It was one of the many things they’d argued about, the true nature of heaven and hell.

“Then I’m -”

“No. Not dead yet. Got a long way to go ‘fore that. ‘Sides, got to get you back to the Corp, otherwise she’ll have my hide.”

“Well, I hate to be having to point this out, but I can’t see shit,” Mal said, feeling foolish for talking to a dead man, and wondering whether the hallucination was from the blow to his head or if he was just unconscious and dreaming everything anyway.

“I know. ‘Swhy I’m here.”

Mal felt something brush his arm, and he shuddered, but it could have been the breeze. “Really.”

“Yep. So you just walk where I tell you, and you’ll be fine.”

“And you expect me to believe you.”

“Just ‘cause I’m dead don’t mean I’m gonna lie to you.”

“But I killed you.”

“You sent that seeker?”

“No. But I did send you on patrol.” The guilt roiled through his belly for a moment.

“Your job. I just didn’t duck fast enough.”

“Abner -”

“Thought you considered I’m just a figment of your diseased imagination?”

“I’m still your Sergeant, you know.”

There was another chuckle. “Then you can court-martial me later. But right now it’s time to go home.”

Something urged him forward, and he staggered a few paces. “Fine. Just don’t push.”

Abner laughed.

It took hours, and each step of the way Abner was either giving directions or singing that hymn, and by the end Mal just wanted to strangle him with his bare hands, only that would mean laying them on a corpse, and he wasn’t quite far gone enough for that.

Eventually he’d had enough. “Will you stop that gorram whistling?” he demanded.

“Sir?” A different voice. “Sergeant Reynolds?”

Suddenly he knew people were around him, hands touching him, taking the rifle from his fingers. “Who’s there?” he asked.

“Private Graydon, sir. Where did you come from?”

Mal shook his head. “Not sure. Out there.” He pointed in the direction he thought he‘d come.

“Sir?” There was a pause. “Out there?” Another pause. “Sir? Are you okay?”

Mal wanted to say he was fine, that he was shiny, but his voice wouldn’t work, and neither apparently would his legs, as they buckled under him and he slid to the ground. Vaguely he felt someone catch him, supporting him, but soft darkness was claiming him, and he let it.

There were noises, just on the edge of his hearing, sounds he felt sure he should recognise, but right now he was too comfortable to bother. Except one was most insistent.


He sighed heavily, but it came out as a kitten breath.


He wanted to tell them to go away, let him die in peace.

“Mal.” Much quieter, as if the person speaking didn’t want anyone to know she’d used his given name.

He struggled to the surface. “Zoe?”

She must have been smiling, or at least it sounded like it. “You’re okay, sir,” she said, her fingers resting briefly on his.

He lifted his other hand, touched the bandages around his eyes. “Am I …”

She understood. “Your sight’s gonna be okay. That’s just to prevent you doing anything crazy. Well, more crazy than usual, sir.”

He exhaled, releasing so much tension he could almost visualise it coming from his mouth as silver smoke. “I can still court-martial you,” he said, but with no venom behind it.

“Then who’d look after you?” she asked, but it was only a whisper, and not meant to be answered. “But there’s just one thing I want to know, sir. One thing we all want to know. How did you get back?”

Mal didn’t answer for a long while, then he merely said, “Luck.”

“Luck.” Zoe sounded as if she had a hard time believing him. “All that way, not being able to see, through a gorram minefield, and you call it luck.”

“Minefield?” Mal tried to sit up, his voice reaching registers he’d never managed since he’d hit puberty.

He felt hands pushing him gently back. “Right through it. Ain’t no way you could have gone around, sir. One wrong move and we’d have been picking you up with spoons.”

“Kinda glad that ain't the case, Zoe.”

“Me too, sir.” She paused. “So would you like to tell me the truth?”

He smiled. “Maybe one day. Not right now. Not sure you’d believe it. Hell, not sure I do.”

“Okay, sir.” She apparently stood up, because her voice was a little more distant. “I’ll be back in the morning, when your head’s clearer.”

“Head’s fine, Zoe.”

“Yes sir.”

He heard her walk out of the medical tent, and he was alone with his thoughts.

No way it could have been Abner, of course. Not with the man in his grave five weeks. But he knew that, for the rest of his life, he’d never be able to convince himself otherwise. Not having walked through a minefield and got back with all his limbs.

“Thanks,” he whispered. “Looks like you ain't holding it against me after all, sending you out on that patrol. Even if I do. But I’m glad. I got a lot of living to do, once we win this war. And maybe now I’ll even be around to see it.” He smiled, touching the bandages again.

“Sergeant, it’s time you got some sleep.” A different voice, a woman’s, one he didn’t recognise. “And keep your hands down or we’ll have to restrain you.”

“No problems,” he said, smiling at who he assumed was a nurse. “Just thinking.”

“Well think quietly. And get some rest.”

“Yes ma’am.”

Hands fluttered around his sheets, smoothing them flat and tucking them under the mattress, then he was alone again.

“And who knows,” he went on to no-one in particular, “maybe when my time comes, you’ll be leadin’ me through the pearly gates with that damn song.” He began to sing softly. “Oh, when the saints go marchin’ in, when the saints go marchin’ in …”

Happy Hallowe'en!


Friday, October 31, 2008 3:33 AM


This was great! I love your optimistic, full of life war Mal who still feels like he's responsible for every death under him.. And the relationship with Zoe was perfectly described. The supernatural aspect was perfect for Halloween, like a creepy campfire story that Mal is sure to never tell. Loved it!

Friday, October 31, 2008 6:47 AM


Loved it too! And now I can't get the song out of my head too. I just wonder if Mal EVER told Zoe?

Friday, October 31, 2008 11:27 AM


When Abner died I had a feeling something like this was going to happen and loved the way you put it together although from the title of the story I was expecting The Battle Hymn of the Republic... Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, October 31, 2008 6:19 PM


Such a great Halloween story!! I loved it.

Friday, October 31, 2008 9:17 PM


Gee! I began to whistle that song now =D Awsome job!

Keep flying ;)

Sunday, November 2, 2008 3:47 AM


Lovely. Just ... wonderful. :D
Really made me smile.


You must log in to post comments.



Now and Then - a Christmas story
“Then do you have a better suggestion? No, let me rephrase that. Do you have a more sensible suggestion that doesn’t involve us getting lost and freezing to death?”

[Maya. Post-BDM. A little standalone festive tale that kind of fits into where I am in the Maya timeline, but works outside too. Enjoy!]

Monied Individual - Epilogue
"I honestly don’t know if my pilot wants to go around with flowers and curlicues carved into his leg.”
[Maya. Post-BDM. The end of the story, and the beginning of the last ...]

Monied Individual - Part XX
Mal took a deep breath, allowing it out slowly through his nostrils, and now his next words were the honest truth. “Ain’t surprised. No matter how good you are, and I’m not complaining, I’ve seen enough battle wounds, had to help out at the odd amputation on occasion. And I don’t have to be a doc myself to tell his leg ain’t quite the colour it should be, even taking into account his usual pasty complexion. What you did … didn’t work, did it?”
[Maya. Post-BDM. Simon has no choice, and Luke comes around.]

Monied Individual - Part XIX
“His name’s Jayne?”

“What’s wrong with that?” the ex-mercenary demanded from the doorway.

“Nothing, nothing! I just … I don’t think I’ve ever met a man … anyone else by that name.”

“Yeah, he’s a mystery to all of us,” Mal said. “Even his wife.”

[Maya. Post-BDM. Hank's not out of the woods yet, and Mal has a conversation. Enjoy!]

Monied Individual - Part XVIII
Jayne had told him a story once, about being on the hunt for someone who owed him something or other. He’d waited for his target for three hours in four inches of slush as the temperature dropped, and had grinned when he’d admitted to Hank that he’d had to break his feet free from the ice when he’d finished.
[Maya. Post-BDM. The Fosters show their true colours, Jayne attempts a rescue, and the others may be too late.]

Snow at Christmas
She’d seen his memories of his Ma, the Christmases when he was a boy on Shadow, even a faint echo of one before his Pa died, all still there, not diminished by his burning, glowing celebrations of now with Freya.

[Maya. Post-BDM. A seasonal one-off - enjoy!]

Monied Individual - Part XVII
Jayne hadn’t waited, but planted a foot by the lock. The door was old, the wood solid, but little could stand against a determined Cobb boot with his full weight behind it. It burst open.

[Maya. Post-BDM. The search for Hank continues. Read, enjoy, review!]

Monied Individual - Part XVI
He slammed the door behind him, making the plates rattle on the sideboard. “It’s okay, girl, I ain't gonna hurt you.” The cook, as tradition dictated, plump and rosy cheeked with her arms covered to the elbows in flour, but with a gypsy voluptuousness, picked up a rolling pin.

[Maya. Post-BDM. Kaylee finds the problem with Serenity, and Jayne starts his quest. Read, enjoy, review!]

Monied Individual - Part XV
“Did we …” “We did.” “Why?” As she raised an eyebrow at him he went on quickly, “I mean, we got a comfy bunk, not that far away. Is there any particular reason we’re in here instead?” “You don’t remember?” He concentrated for a moment, and the activities of a few hours previously burst onto him like a sunbeam. “Oh, right,” he acknowledged happily.

[Maya. Post-BDM. A little with each Serenity couple, but something goes bang. Read, enjoy, review!]

“Did we …” “We did.” “Why?” As she raised an eyebrow at him he went on quickly, “I mean, we got a comfy bunk, not that far away. Is there any particular reason we’re in here instead?” “You don’t remember?” He concentrated for a moment, and the activities of a few hours previously burst onto him like a sunbeam. “Oh, right,” he acknowledged happily.

[Maya. Post-BDM. A little with each Serenity couple, but something goes bang. Read, enjoy, review!]