Concrete Dragons - Now Bury the Dead
Lieutenant Brian Hasek stood at
stone-faced attention. Behind him, the other Dragons stood in silent ranks.
Their AFFS field uniforms were immaculate; only the Dragons' badge, in place of
the Davion sun and sword, betrayed that they were not still a House unit.
Around them stood the soldiers of Renfro's militia; they were not so polished
in dress, but no less professional in manner. Brian could not help counting the
coffins as a lone bugler played "Taps"; three dozen in all, the
casualties of the pirate assault. As the last note faded away over the wooded
hills, soldiers marched from the ranks to take up each coffin, bearing them to
graves already dug in neat rows. Only when the last coffin was in place and
covered, was the stand down given. Finally, the soldiers started dispersing,
while the gravediggers finished their grim work in the background.
Brian turned to his unit; they had dropped from attention, but were still waiting for his word. Brian examined each of them for a moment. Red was unreadable. Angel looked tired. Henry, the older veteran, was stoic at first glance, but a closer look revealed a single tear at the corner of his eye. Behind them were the techs; they were no less soldiers, the unsung heroes that kept the Dragon's warriors in the fight.
Finally, Brian exhaled. "Dismissed." The Dragons began dispersing back towards the hangar that was their planetside home, and Brian took up a conversation with Henry and the lead tech. "How are repairs coming?"
The lead tech flipped open his "pocket brain" before he answered, making sure he had the details correct for his commander. "Three Urbies are 100%...yours, Red's and Henry's. Barring anything unexpected, Angel's should be ready by week's end; the torso structure has been repaired, and we're to the point of putting in the replacement engine. After that, it's just a matter of testing, and then buttoning up the armor." He flipped a page and continued. "The Valk is still down. I'm working with the locals to get a new hip joint made, but it's going to be at least...well, hopefully by the end of the month. We're having to mirror image from the good leg to make the parts."
Brian nodded, "Good enough. Keep me posted." He looked at Henry. "How's the backup plan going?"
Henry grinned. "Our dropship just made its first bounce last night." He pulled out an envelope, and handed it to Brian. "10% of the revenue per trip, plus expenses." Brian checked the voucher; 25600 C-bills in profit, just for renting their Buccaneer and its crew to a local merchant. That was a deal, especially for a little unit like the Dragons. The arrangement wouldn't buy them new Mechs anytime soon, but it was extra money in the coffers for parts and other needs.
"Any profit is a good profit," Brian said as he handed back the voucher.
Henry grinned. "Yer learnin' this merc stuff fast."
The men arrived at the hangar to find Captain Monroe waiting for them. The old man looked stern, and Brian had a nagging feeling that it wasn't just because of the funeral. He gestured him into the small office that Brian had claimed as his own. The two men sat down, Brian behind his desk and the Captain in the chair opposite him. Brian offered a cup of coffee, and the captain took it as he spoke.
"Thanks fer showin' like that at the funeral," he began. "It meant a lot to the boys." The boys he referred to were the militia's soldiers; Brian knew they had to have reservations about working with mercs. He stayed quiet as the Captain continued in his drawling way. "We got intel outta the captured bandits. Them pirates may be comin' back fer another shot soon; they're after the factories here. I'm pullin' in reinforcements from the outlying towns to help out."
Brian nodded. "We'll make plans as soon as your reinforcements arrive. My own unit should be back to full speed by the end of the week; one of my Mechs got shot up pretty badly, but it's being fixed." He paused, then changed the subject. "Are they cooperating well?" He was referring to the captured pirates, one of whom Brian was very interested in.
The Captain grinned. "Most of'em. The ones that ain't, we ain't botherin' too much. We just let'em stew in their cells, they'll get bored'n start talkin' eventually."
Brian nodded again. "What about the Mechwarrior?"
The Captain's grin widened. "Was wonderin' when you'd ask. He's been a little stubborn; not too happy about bein' taken down by a buncha rednecks. I figgered y'all might wanna talk to him."
Brian smiled. "Let's go then."
Together, the two men went to the jail. It was a spartan, simple place...all concrete and steel bars, like jails had been for millienia. The cold, foreboding mood of the place weighed a bit on Brian as he and the Captain checked in through the guards. A few locked doors and passages later, they were sitting in a sterile-looking room with a table as the pirate Mechwarrior was brought in.
Brian examined the man carefully. Dark hair, blue eyes, probably the same age as Brian. His uniform had been replaced by prison coveralls, but Brian knew from that dead pirate Mechwarrior that he had once been a Davion soldier. The man was seated at the table by his guards, his shackles still in place; Brian patted his pistol with a grin, and the guards nodded and exited. Brian watched them go, unaware that the shackled pirate was observing him.
"Brian Hasek?" The man's voice was uncertain, incredulous.
Brian looked straight at the man, who suddenly seemed terribly flustered. Brian ran the man's face through his memory. "Yes, Brian Hasek." He kept his voice cool. The man's name was Ian Sandoval, and he had been one of Brian's classmates at NAIS. "Fancy meeting you here, Ian."
"Yes, fancy that," came the embarassed reply. Brian kept a chuckle to himself; Ian had been a summary jackass at NAIS. He had graduated to the Avalon Hussars, and had rubbed the front-line assignment in Brian's face at every opportunity. Finally, Brian let the chuckle out; this was poetic justice at its finest. "Yes, I know." Ian held his head up and look at Brian, though it was obviously hard for him. He was clearly humiliated by Brian's knowledge of his downfall, more than anything else could have done. "A little payback from school days, eh?"
Brian smiled coldly; the question had answered itself. "You know why I'm here, Ian. Let's hear it."
Rod smiled, trying to show a little bravado. "Certainly. But afterwards, I want to hear how the runt of the Hasek litter wound up on a dirtball like this."
"That part's easy," Brian said with a cold smile. He leaned down in Ian's face, who backed away at the venom in Brian's voice. "I made a decision like a man, not like a high court fop." He stood back up again, his eyes drilling the old school bully. "Now, go on before I decide you aren't worth my time."
Ian searched Brian's face, looked him over for several seconds. He saw the cold experience, the uniform, the badge of his own unit. This wasn't the Hasek runt anymore; this was a man who had made his own way, in spite of everything that had been done to discourage him. Finally, with the kind of respect that Brian had never expected to hear from him, Ian began to talk.
Brian let Ian ramble for a long time, occasionally prodding him with questions. Ian talked about how his unit had been at the front of the Fourth Succession War, how an ambitious clique of officers planned a mutiny in protest of not being granted titles and land in the conquered territory. Brian restrained a snort of contempt; he hadn't been happy in the AFFS, but he and his unit had at least finished their duty honorably. Then his ears perked up, as Ian gave away the pirates' strength: Merchant jumpship, Union and Condor dropships, fully loaded. He also made clear that the attacks up to now had been softening up; the Black Sun Raiders were planning to turn Renfro into their new base. The Concrete Dragons had been an unpleasant surprise, but would likely not discourage the pirates for long.
In the end, both men sat silently for a while. Brian was surprised to feel a little sorry for his old rival, now a victim of his own arrogance. He was thinking about the tactical situation. Four UrbanMechs versus most of a Mech company...
"What do you think they'll do with me?" Brian looked up at the question. Ian sounded tired, and his smile was weak. The confession had clearly taken a lot out of him.
"I don't know," Brian admitted. He paused, then stood. "I do know you've just been very cooperative though, and I'm quite sure they'll keep that in mind. Especially," he looked at Ian directly, "if I go to bat for you."
Ian jerked like he had just been hit with a cattle prod, and stared at Brian. "What..."
"I've got five Mechs and four Mechwarriors," Brian said with a shrug. "And you've got knowledge of what we're up against. I MIGHT be able to get you out of this, IF you are willing to cooperate."
"Well, of course I..."
Brian cut him off, hauling him to his feet by his lapel, looking him right in the eyes. "And if I do manage to save your sorry hide, if you betray me, I'll blow your head off myself." Brian smiled sweetly, then dropped him back into the chair and rang for the guards. "Do we understand each other? I'll try to get you probated to my unit, but you'd bloody better do your best for me."
Ian, still in shock, just stared wildly for several seconds at the man he used to bully. "Aye, sir!" He looked utterly lost as the guards led him out.
Captain Monroe walked in from the next room, where the whole thing had been watched and recorded from behind a one-way mirror. "Not bad. So you knew him, huh?"
"Went to Academy with him. An old school rival." Brian let out a breath; he had actually surprised himself. "What do you think?"
The Captain shrugged. "Given what we're up against, I don't think we got a choice. If he's willin' ta drive a Mech fer us, we need him."
Brian nodded. "I'll keep an eye on him, make sure he behaves. I bet Red will have some things to say to him about staying in line." The thought of turning the strongman loose on his old rival had a certain odd appeal. He shook himself, and the looked at the Captain. "Well," he said, "we know what we're up against. Let's go make plans."
Later that night, as Brian was walking back to the hangar, he passed the graves where the pirate casualties had been buried. The fresh graves were simply marked; many didn't even have names, their anonymity as the final price of their actions. Death, unknown and forgotten, for soldiers who had betrayed their duty.
Brian shivered, and put his hands in his pockets. He felt something in his hand, and looked; it was the old AFFS badge from his uniform. He had kept it as an afterthought, a memento, when he put on the badge of the Concrete Dragons.
He looked at the sword and sun for a long moment, then at the graves. He felt an odd sense of shame, watching, almost of pleading. Pleading for what? Recognition? Forgiveness? The AFFS badge almost seemed to burn in his hand...
Finally, Brian simply put it in his pocket, and turned away. He walked briskly through a cloud of his own breath, away from the pirate graves, towards the warmth of the Dragons' home, such as it was.
Outside, it was going to be an especially cold night on Renfro...