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Tales From the Nordic Troll - #7: Strange Bedfellows (part 5).
Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Alliance soldiers, hearing the roar of the engines, turned and watched in shock, spouting epithets in English and Chinese, as the Troll sprang from the pad. The two in the foxhole with Gerrin turned to him and demanded “Where the Hell they Going?!?”


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2121    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

“And you’re sure you’re okay?”

“Yes, Loomie”, Gerrin assured her, girding his patience. “Everyone out there’s okay, so far”.

Gerrin, Reilly, Loomie and Aldous stood beside the Troll’s semi-new truck in the ship’s cargo bay where Reilly and Aldous had just unloaded the latest load of cargo from the town’s holding building. Gerrin had noticed the two of them drive the truck on board and had called Loomie to meet the three of them in the cargo bay. Now the four of them stood in the cargo bay, out of sight and earshot of anyone outside, discussing their next move.

“Okay”, Reilly surmised, “I think we can finish loading in three more trips”.

“I don’t know if we have time”, Gerrin mused. “Those guys are probably on their way back right now and they’re already looking for a fight”.

Aldous looked at Gerrin. “We can’t hold ‘em off?”

Gerrin thought for a second. “I don’t know”, he answered finally. “Their last two visits used up a lot of ammo”.

Loomie broke in “Why don’t we just take what we have and go? I can have us out of here in five minutes”.

Aldous turned toward her. “How are we gonna get everyone out of here? Or do you wanna leave ‘em all behind?”

“I didn’t say that!” Loomie protested. “But if we need to, we can get a lot of people in here and just take off”.

Gerrin shook his head. “We’d never get everyone, and that skiff can only hold so many as well. No, we need something else”.

“What about the tail guns?” Reilly broke in. “Those are big enough that they could do some damage”.

“I could just hover over ‘em and blast ‘em again”, Loomie offered.

Gerrin looked from Reilly to Loomie. “Both of those might slow the bastards down, but they won’t stop ‘em. The guns’re low on ammo as is, and knocking ‘em off their feet again and again’s not stopping ‘em. We need to get inventive. Any thoughts?”

They all looked at each other for several long seconds. “You all sure got quiet”, Gerrin finally commented.

Aldous sighed. “Let me look around and see what I can find”.

“Don’t take too long”.

“Not if I can help it”. Aldous turned and started toward the open door.

Reilly watched Aldous retreat down the ramp as he asked “What do you want to do in the meantime?”

Gerrin paused to consider his options. “Stick with the current plan until we get things sorted out. As soon as we get a new plan we’ll start on that”.

Reilly regarded Gerrin for several seconds before saying “Ju nee hao yun (Good luck)” and turning for the door.

Loomie stayed at his side, doubtful. “You sure?”

Gerrin looked around and leaned close to his pilot and continued in a low voice “Be ready, just in case”.

“Roger that”, she nodded.

“Good”. Gerrin turned and started for the door. Squinting as the sun hit his face he stepped down the ramp and looked around him: the field continued to be a scene of purposeful chaos as the Troll’s crew, the Alliance soldiers and several civilians continued digging foxholes to fortify their position. Gerrin started toward the weathered one-story building on the edge of the field that Doc and the Alliance medic had set up as a triage area. Through a broken window he could faintly hear Doc and the Alliance medic shouting. What’s it this time?, he wondered as he rounded the corner.

Inside the small one-room bunker Wilkins stood between a quarrelling Doc and the Alliance medic, holding them both at bay. Only this time, Doc was the aggressor. “What happened?” she snarled, “you found a field kit and started playing ‘medic’ and now you’re on the job, is that it?”

“What did you do?” the medic shot back. “Find a free medical license in a box of Fruity Oaty bars?”

“Do I need to drop you both?” Wilkins demanded angrily.

“That would be a plan B”, Gerrin answered from the door in a loud, cold voice.

The three of them turned as Gerrin stepped through the door. “You three need to find a way to play nice together”, he admonished slowly but firmly, concluding with “Now”.

The medic, clearly frustrated, retorted “No one can work with her. She’s arguing every decision, throwing out the book and making everything up as she goes. I can’t do my job with her around”.

“Learn”, Gerrin shot back. “She may be a bitch at times, but she was patching people up when you were skipping grade school, so work it out”. Glancing around he noticed the chipping and cracking around the windows and corners of dingy white walls. The gray painted concrete floor supported four stretchers, one bearing an Alliance soldier, three containing townspeople. Fresh dust lay on the floor around them. “And get these people moved to a firmer building”, he added.

“Who the hell are you to give orders?” the medic barked.

Gerrin lost a measure of his patience. “Who am I?” he demanded. “I’m the guy who’s done this before. I’m the guy your sergeant listens to. And I’m the guy who’s gonna pull your pee-goo through this alive. You don’t like it? Put your stuff down and go hide in the gorram skiff, Elsewise, get back to work”.

The medic stared at him angrily before grabbing his bag and exiting, muttering something about working outside.

Wilkins stared after him as he left. “He is a bit of a SAB” (Superfluous Air Bandit) she remarked to Gerrin.

“Yeah”, Gerrin mused, watching him go, “there’s always one”. Turning to Wilkins, he asked “What happened?”

Wilkins continued “She was just kinda standing there, staring of into nothing, then the medic said something kinda snarky and she just went off, started yelling how he could treat the wounded or become one. I hadn’t seen her like that before, so I got between ‘em to keep ‘em from tearing each other’s heads off. I don’t know why she went off like that”.

“It’s nothing”, Doc broke in tersely.

Gerrin turned to her. “Doc, you’ve been at it for hours nonstop, why don’t you go take a break, get some water or something?”

“I’m fine”, Doc answered in an irritated tone.

“Doc”, Gerrin rebounded firmly, “go get some water or something”.

Muttering under her breath, Doc turned and marched out of the building, shoving the door open roughly as she went.

Gerrin waited until he could no longer hear her footsteps before musing in a low voice “Could be post-traumatic stress. She used to drop hints about how gritty things got during the war. Maybe it’s starting to feed back on her”.

Wilkins turned to face him. “After all this time?”

Gerrin’s gaze shifted toward the door. “It hits different people at different times. Some go all wooly right away, some are fine for years until something sets it off”. Turning back to Wilkins, he added “Keep an eye on her for now, just in case”.

Wilkins paused. “What if she gets violent?”

“Sit on her”, Gerrin answered.

“Sit on her?”

“Soothingly”, he added.

“How do you do that?” Wilkins asked skeptically.

Gerrin paused, out of ideas. “You’ll figure something out”.

“No promises”, Wilkins relented.

“Good enough”, Gerrin nodded as the sounds of an argument drifted inside through the broken window. “Because it sounds like we’ve got another problem”. He turned and started for the door, thinking to himself Shto tepyer (What now?).

Turning the corner he saw the corporal from earlier, Dalbec, and one of the townspeople taking turns shoving each other. “HEY!!” Gerrin roared. “Knock that gos-se off!”

They both turned to face him as Gerrin stormed across the field. “Spend that energy on these foxholes”, he barked as he approached.

Dalbec glared angrily. “You need to get your lil’ buddy here straight before he honks me off”, he snarled. “I ain’t babysittin’ no backbirth girlyboy here”.

“Not following your orders either, are you?” Gerrin shot back. “You want to be Reaver fanboy food, you can take off into that valley once my holes are dug, Dalbec, but ‘till then, I need every man on the line and I’ve had it with your niou-se (bullshit)”. Pointing toward the holes, he barked “Foxholes. Deep. Dug. Now”.

“I ain’t puttin’ up with this”, Dalbec humphed, throwing his shovel down. “Where’s the Sarge?” He turned and stormed toward the skiff.

The townsman who had been working with Dalbec spat after him. “Hey!” Gerrin snapped. “That’s not getting this hole dug”.

“Neither is his winjing all the time”, the townsman griped. “They’re lookin’ down on us ‘cause they got guns and stuff”, he growled. “They think they can make us do what they want ‘cause they got themselves some shiny toys”.

“Those shiny toys’re keeping the boogeymen away right now”, Gerrin reminded him, reaching down to pick up Dalbec’s abandoned shovel. “You want them to just go away?” he continued. “All of them? Right now?” Stepping down into the hole Gerrin paused before continuing “We’re all in the fire, here, and it’s gonna take all of us to stop those Tyen-sah duh UH-muo (Goddamn monsters.) out there”. Wiping his hands on his pants and grasping the shovel, he added “So come on. We got a foxhole to dig”.

Reilly and Aldous watched the exchange from the window in the room where the collapsed ceiling had nearly claimed Aldous. They had just finished loading several of the fuel drums containing the cargo onto the vehicles and had been watching Lewis drive the loader across the field toward the Troll’s open cargo bay, followed by Anna in the truck.

“Nick looks like he’s almost having fun”, Aldous observed wryly.

“Of course he is” Reilly confirmed. ”He’s got his old life back for a little while”.

Park, overhearing their exchange, considered this latest musing about his new captain, wondering again what he had gotten himself into.

“He’d have been better off without it this time”, Aldous continued. “Between us, the ground-pounders and the townies, it’s only a matter of time before this whole thing blows-“ he froze in mid-sentence.

Reilly and Park looked at him. “What?”

“That’s it”, Aldous murmured, repeating loudly “That’s it!”

“What’s it?” Reilly and Park demanded, almost in unison.

“Tell you in a minute. Give me the comlink”, Aldous reached out.

Ten minutes later Aldous stood with Gerrin, and Loomie in the cargo bay, ready to unveil his idea. Before he could speak, Loomie held up one hand and said “Wait”. Turning to Gerrin, she handed him a cup. “Drink this”, she said.

Gerrin peered into the cup, sniffed, sipped at the contents and immediately spat it out. “What the hell…?”

“Coffee”, Loomie answered. “You’ve been at it for hours without a break”.

“Well, I usually like to drink it, not fight it”, Gerrin remarked. “This could jump out of the cup by itself”.

“You need the energy and this will keep you up and going”, she remanded him sternly.

Gerrin peered into the cup and sniffed. “For a week”, he commented, tilting the cup to his lips and fighting the liquid down his throat.

“Listen”, Aldous broke in. “Remember what Loomie said about blasting over top of ‘em again?”

“Yeah”, Gerrin and Loomie nodded.

“Well”, Aldous continued, “This is bugshit crazy, but it should work”.

Gerrin and Loomie listened as Aldous laid out his plan. When he finished, Loomie opined “You’re right. It’s bugshit crazy”.

“Well, at least it’ll have the virtue of not being obvious”, Gerrin concluded. Drawing a breath, he decided “Set it up, fast, and call me when you’re ready”.

Loomie looked at him worriedly. “You sure?”

Gerrin turned to her. “We’re gonna run out of ammo before help gets here. We need something fast. Besides” he add, raising one corner of his mouth, “they’ll never see it coming, will they?”

“I hope not”. She turned for the ladder to the upper deck. Turning back she added “Be careful, okay? And tell everyone else to be careful”.

Gerrin smiled to himself. “That’s the plan”.

- - - -

Returning to the field, Gerrin continued to move among the soldiers and civilians on the field, supervising the construction of defenses around the edge of the landing area. He was also pleased to notice how the soldiers and civilians were starting to work together, instead of floating toward their own kind and arguing with each other.

He also managed to talk Durant into moving the machine guns off the rooftops and down to the edges of the field. The sergeant didn’t fully understand why he needed to move the guns, or why the foxholes had to be at least armpit deep, but he had come to trust Gerrin’s judgment, so he complied.

The sun was sinking toward the horizon when the last rooftop sentries called over the comlink “Movement! Bearing zero-niner-three degrees, two point oh clicks out! Just clearing the ridgeline!”

Gerrin heard Durant acknowledge “Roger contact, zero-niner-three at two-point-oh. Captain Gerrin, do you copy?”

Gerrin raised the comlink. “Copy your last, call all hands to stations”. Cutting the link off, he shouted “Incoming, people! Get to your places! Anyone without a gun, fall back to shelter!”

The field became a scene of organized chaos as Alliance soldiers and Troll crewmembers alike scrambled for the foxholes. Manning their foxholes, they waited. What seemed like several painfully long minutes passed as the men on the field waited, watching the attacking horde inch closer like a swarm of invading ants.

Suddenly a flash from across the valley rang out, followed immediately by a muffled *boom*. The incoming shell exploded seconds later several yards short of the field. “Commence firing! Fire at will!” Gerrin shouted into the air and over the comlink. The sharp cracking of automatic weapons erupted from the field as the defenders opened fire on the approaching invaders.

In the basement of a building behind the one-room former triage shelter Doc and the medic continued to look after the wounded while Wilkins returned to the field to defend a foxhole. The medic knelt over a stretcher, pale and shaking. “I never thought it would be like this”, he exclaimed.

Doc glared at him. “Oh, it gets even better”, she sneered.

Park rode with Anna in the truck as Anna plowed across the field toward the Troll’s open cargo bay. Reilly rode shotgun with Lewis in the loader. One after the other they roared up the ramp into the bay, screeching to a halt. Park jumped out of the truck, yelling “What now?”

“Just tie it down and get back out there”, Reilly answered, hopping from the loader and reaching for a set of load straps hanging from the bulkhead. Grabbing two, he tossed one to Lewis. “You get that side!”

Park grabbed two straps of his own from the opposite bulkhead, tossing one to Anna. “Can you tell me something?” he called to Reilly.

Reilly quickly attached his strap from the side of the loader to a strap-down eyelet on the deck and scrambled for a second set of straps. “Depends”.

“There’s been talk among the crew –“, Park began, finishing his strap, “-then you two in the building –“, he grabbed two more straps and tossed another strap to Anna, “- is our captain Nikolai Turgenyev?”

Anna and Lewis froze, but Reilly kept going. “How the hell you figure that?”

“I just want to know”.

“You need to know a lot more”, Reilly answered him, springing to his feet as he finished his side. “He’s foolish, idealistic-“ he stepped over to the gun locker, reaching inside “-sometimes crusty when he’s tired, but he’s no monster”.

“But he is Turgenyev?”

“Talk to us later if you want the real story”, Reilly barked, “Right now, we got work”. Tossing Park a rifle from the locker, he shouted “Come on!” and dashed for the ramp as it started to raise.

Sitting in the cockpit, Loomie waited anxiously for the signal. She checked the monitor to watch the approach of the Purists, growing more and more anxious the closer they got. Come on, come on, she thought to herself. They’re getting way too close.

Gerrin stood in a foxhole in the center of the line on the field firing at the approaching Purist raiders. Their foot solders moved forward slowly firing handheld rifles and machine guns, while the few vehicles followed, firing larger mounted weapons. Peering in a scope and measuring the distance between them he reached for the comlink. “Stand By!” he ordered his pilot.

“What the hell you think we’ve been doing?” he heard Loomie shoot back frantically.

Gerrrin ducked as a rocket-propelled grenade whizzed over his head and checked the scope again. 300 yards. Perfect. Grabbing the comlink he shouted “Go!”

Loomie heard the engines come to life. “She’s all yours!” Aldous called from the engine room.

“About time”, Lomie grumbled nervously as she pulled back on the controls and the Troll lifted off the pad. “Everybody strap in!” she called on the intercom as the ship lifted off the pad.

The Alliance soldiers, hearing the roar of the engines, turned and watched in shock, spouting epithets in English and Chinese, as the Troll sprang from the pad. The two in the foxhole with Gerrin turned to him and demanded “Where the Hell they Going?!?”

Gerrin yelled “Just stand your ground and get ready to duck!” as he continued to fire on the advancing enemy.

Turning his head briefly every few seconds he watched the ship shrink to a dark speck in the sky. It was then that Sgt. Durant demanded over the comlink “What are you people DOING?!?”

“Get ready to duck and cover on my command!” Gerrin yelled, turning his head to see the Troll turn and start back toward the field. Frantically shifting his attention from the ship to the field and back, he watched the Troll swoop toward them like an angry bird. Closer…closer…As the ship drew close, Gerrin saw something liquid drop from the ship: Loomie had dumped the refuse tanks, the given signal. Gerrin snatched the comlink. “EVERYBODY DOWN!” he roared at the top of his lungs as he dove for the bottom of the foxhole and curled up into a ball.

The troops on the field did as ordered, diving into the bottom of their holes. Almost as soon as they hit the ground, an ear-shattering BOOM split the air followed by a roar like a howling storm and an avalanche of dirt and singeing heat pouncing on the backs of the foxhole occupants. Gerrin held his breath: twelve agonizingly long seconds passed and the noise and heat were gone. Gerrin pushed himself up through the inches of loose dirt and looked up. Everything seemed normal. Standing up, he scanned the valley where the Purists had been attacking. Every bush in the valley had been blasted from its perch and lay burning in the dirt. Bodies lay motionless about the valley, some burning, some charred. The few vehicles the Purists had attacked with lay on their sides several yards down the length of the valley, most burning. Gerrin turned his gaze toward the sky: the Troll was nowhere to be seen. As Gerrin began brushing himself off the comlink crackled to life. “Everybody all right down there?” Loomie asked nervously.

Gerrin looked around. Most of the buildings on the other side of the field lay in ruins. “I’ll get back to you in a minute”, he answered. “Go ahead and bring the ship back. Looks like it worked”.

“On my way” she chirped in response.

One of the soldiers in the foxhole with Gerrin stood up, dirt rolling off his back and shoulders. “Did you guys just do what I think you did?” he asked cautiously.

Gerrin turned to him. “If you mean did we just fly over them and fry ‘em with the blowback from the main engines, yeah, that’s what we did”.

The soldier shook his head. “Bugshit crazy”, he murmured.

Gerrin smiled to himself. “We’re still walkin’ and talkin’, and that’s what counts”.

-

. . . . . . . . . . To Be Concluded . . .

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The Alliance soldiers, hearing the roar of the engines, turned and watched in shock, spouting epithets in English and Chinese, as the Troll sprang from the pad. The two in the foxhole with Gerrin turned to him and demanded “Where the Hell they Going?!?”

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“I will rise soon”, the Purist continued. “My time here is done”. He paused before adding “I only regret that I won’t get to kill more of you myself”’.
- - -
“Why?” Hawkins demanded. “What did any of us do to you?”
- - -
The Purist smiled coldly at them. “God frowns on you”, he smirked hatefully.
- - -
“Wouldn’t be the first time”, Gerrin grunted.