Delivering in post-sized sections as I edit it.
Edited from the 2013 original.
The smoke still lingered from where the few remaining Browncoats in the valley had been burning off the mixed remains of soldiers whose lives had ended with the battle over a month prior. The rocky terrain left no option for preventing outbreaks among the survivors. Yet one could barely discern the foul scent of rot and burning bones from the remains of the machinery of war still smoldering not a few hundred meters distant. A modest line of inbound aircraft had stirred the place up into a roaring wind of grit and sound.
Amid this grim outcropping of stone and dust and dehydrated men, Colonel Ben Pierce, commander of the 53rd Medical Battalion – Forward, knelt low next to a man whose life he might yet just save. The boy seemed determined to die though. Ben did not approve and had been ventilating him while feeding out a half-pint of his own blood though an IV line, knowing they both would have access to water in a short time.
Mal’s timing was perfect as always, rounding the boulder pile and shouting, “Doc! Doc! Let’s go!” just as Ben came to terms with how many hours he’d been pumping air and blood into a corpse. But again, he did not approve. Some might call him stubborn.
“It’s not over, Sergeant!” he barked at Mal.
“Colonel, the evacuation is en-route. It’s time to vacate this [expression]!” Mal shouted back.
Ben’s defiant rise yanked the needle from the dead soldier’s arm and left it dangling and dripping from his own as he spun to face Mal in a rage.
“I’m the ranking officer here Reynolds! It’s not over! You hear me?”
Mal closed the last steps arrogantly to speak directly into Ben’s face.
“I got 20 men left, sir!” he sneered. “What do you plan to do with that?”
Ben saw the disgust on Mal’s face and heard it in his voice. That assessment woke him from the delusions he’d been having about his circumstance. Mal was more than just a trusted friend and comrade in arms. He was family. And while Ben was certain he himself would seek every opportunity to continue this war by whatever means he found available, he wasn’t so sure that Mal would be so eager to see a blood debt paid in full. And he intended to see Alliance blood flowing in rivers as deep as he could feed them.
So to convey to Mal the weight of that debt now bound to his soul forever in the faces of thousands of folk, mostly young men, slaughtered for obedience or a lack thereof to an intolerable Alliance - he held up the dogtags of his final patient, the tinkling tin landing in Mal’s upheld palm.
“You got 19 men, Sergeant. It ain’t over ‘til WE say it’s over,” Pierce said in a voice laden with death before marching angrily back around the rock pile to the LZ.
Mal absorbed the name from the dogtags for a lingering moment before he too turned back with haste toward the rescue craft arriving to carry them away from this monumental failure. He felt no inclination to look back, even once.