My ongoing post-Serenity novel.
Chapter Three – The Man Who Fought Back
It began slowly. Stories like that always do.
When the riot was going on and blood was being spilled no one stopped and pondered over who did what first. Fists were flying, buildings were burning, the cursed soldiers were easy targets everywhere you looked, there were plenty of weapons in the form of bricks and lumber and dad’s old rifle, who had time to chat?
It was hours later, when the temporary barracks the local constables had set up for the additional troops was a blackened hole in the dirt, when smoke rose from a dozen pitched battles, when the soldiers — the ones that were still alive — were huddled inside barricaded government buildings, far from the maddened crowds, that was when people had time to wonder..
The soldiers had fought back desperately to contain a maddened populace that outnumbered them many times over. Many of them, them that believed in the dignity of man and the ultimate righteousness of the Alliance’s cause, did their best to calm the situation. They were the ones who had made friends among the citizens of Persephone while they were stationed here, and in more than one situation that respect saved lives. Several were granted safe havens when the rampaging crowds drunk on their own righteousness would have killed any solder outright. One sergeant and his platoon holed up with several local families on the same block and protected them from all attackers, military or civilian. As in every war, big and small, there were stories of heroism and nobility on both sides.
The troops in this mismatched battle without safe retreats or friendly defenders were forced to become more brutal and relentless just to survive. Some ( a small minority, for what it’s worth) had been brutal from the day they arrived; this just gave them license to cut loose what few shreds of decency had survived so long. That didn’t do much for crowd control but such atrocities did serve to turn previously innocent bystanders into dedicated insurgents.
By nightfall there were hundreds dead, martial law had been declared, and the fighting was contained to the central areas of the city. Locals stayed in their homes, frightened, with the lights low and the curtains drawn, and there is no more fertile ground than that for a good story.
“Browncoat started it,” Jack Finston said. He stood by the window and moved the shutters aside just enough to see out. The glow of distant flames danced across a thin slice of his face. His wife Emily looked up from where she had been dishing out cold stew to their children. Her brother Groder, his clothes still dirty and bloody, sat staring off into the darkness.
“What do you mean?” Groder asked without turning.
“Heard about it from Frank’s boy. Purplebelly was beating a little girl in the docks. Browncoat came up and slugged him, sweet as you please, right in the street, and all hell broke loose.”
Emily handed him a bowl as he came back to the table. “Janyce next door said it was ten soldiers rapi—“ She stopped, glanced at the children, and continued with her voice lowered. “–bothering some pregnant girl, but she didn’t know who saved the poor thing.” Emily shook her head. “We always knew those men were beasts, don’t know why anyone’s surprised they started acting like it.”
“They were… bothering… the girl’s brother, right in front of her,” Groder said hollowly. Emily’s hand flew to her mouth; Finston lowered his head and muttered something underneath his breath that might have been a prayer. “I was there. The first soldier did it to him and then held him down while the rest of the bastards lined up, told her she was next. Laughed at her. She screamed and screamed, and no one did anything. I didn’t do anything.” His right hand was tightly gripping the left but it wasn’t enough; they were both shaking uncontrollably. “Except for one man. One Browncoat. He stepped up and did something, like they tried to do years ago when the purplebellies were throwing their weight around and calling it civilization. We shoulda listened, back during the war. They tried to tell us.”
He stared at his trembling hands, and on the ruddy stains on them that he wouldn’t let Emily scrub off. Each one of those stains was another murdering soldier that wouldn’t come back, and despite his aching confusion and despair he felt a fierce pride in that. “Well, I’m gorram listening now.”
Crowds gathered around small fires in the town square, merchants and farmers loading their weapons – some old, some captured — and readying themselves for another assault on the parliament building where some of the shattered remains of the military were holding siege. And while they prepared their plans and doctored the injured and comforted the dying, they talked of the Man Who Fought Back. He was tall, they agreed, and noble of bearing. Clean shaven, hair the color of turned earth, eyes that cut through falsehoods like arc lasers, and lightning fast fighting skills such as they had never seen before. All wrapped up in a leather coat the color of good turned earth, a coat that went on for miles, engulfing soldiers and acting with a mind of its own.
Inside the building, behind the piles of overturned desks and heaps of filing cabinets, terrified soldiers passed bottles, held on to their discipline with chattering teeth, and whispered about the leader of the Eavesdown riots. Seven feet tall, carrying a gun with a two foot barrel that spat fire. Concussion rifles had no effect on him and he beat an armored man bloody with just his fists, they said, and the murmur went down the line.
Various small underground groups who had been quietly planning and arming themselves for an uprising were taken by surprise when it exploded without them, but that didn’t stop them from quickly taken advantage of it. Armories were liberated. Regional police stations were breached and taken. The groups met each other in secret and under fire, and they found enough common ground to band together. Word was sent to other friendly factions on nearby moons, nearby worlds where the Alliance was also treading with a heavy boot, to spread the word that the uniformed bullies weren’t unstoppable after all.
And each group assumed the Man Who Fought Back was a leader in one of the other groups, someone who had a reason to stay hidden. More than a few of the underground movements were ex-Independents, and they rallied around their own even as they wondered who and where he was. Was he protecting family, loved ones? Was he a government man himself, sick to his soul over the injustice committed in the name of security? Or had he left Persephone to go help other oppressed people? Maybe even now he was speeding towards another moon where unsuspecting Alliance soldiers were running roughshod over good folks’ lives. More power to him, they thought, and they fought all the harder.
It began slowly, but it got twice as big with every telling. Stories like that always do.