Lieutenant Brian Hasek sat quietly in
his room, his chin resting on his folded hands as he looked through the map in
front of him, at something else he saw in his head. Hours had ticked by while
he had looked over the maps of the settled areas of Renfro, such as they were,
and consulted occasionally with books of military history and strategy from his
small collection. Henry had given his opinions, and left to deal with other
business. Ian had given an elaborate collection of notes about the pirates,
including their unit composition and probable plans. Now Brian was alone,
watching the coming battle unfold in his mind...
"How's it look, honey?" The old woman whipped the measuring tape from around her neck, adjusted the length of Ian's sleeve with a pin, and whipped the tape back all in one fluid motion.
Ian Sandoval stared awkardly into the mirror as Red chuckled from where he sat nearby. The big man folded his arms and gave a wink. "He's ugly and the AFFS dresses him funny." Ian scowled; he had few belongings left after being captured, and the Dragons still used AFFS uniforms. So Red had brought him into town to this seamstress, who was now clucking around and fitting him; Ian would soon have new AFFS-style uniforms to fit in with his new home, for better or worse. Neither man had to talk about that; Ian well knew that part of why Red was helping him around was to keep an eye on him. Ian sighed.
"It looks good," he said simply. Being of noble birth, he had decided to keep his words to a minimum til he better understood the inhabitants of Renfro. The Concrete Dragons were the talk of the town, Ian had already noticed that much. But still, he wasn't sure exactly how he would fit into this backwater scene. Nobody seemed to be holding his short period of piracy against him, but Ian didn't have to be told that it was probably not wise to bring it up. Better to just keep quiet for now, and let the past go...as everyone else seemed willing to do, so far.
"Thankee, honey. Been making militia uniforms fer years since me hubby kicked off. Always nice ta have somethin' new ta work with, 'specially fer a handsome young feller." She gave Ian a pat on the cheek and a wink, and wrote some numbers down. "Here ya go, honey. Y'all can pick'em up next week." Ian took the ticket and thanked her, as Red rose to escort him out. Goodbyes were exchanged, and as they left, Ian heard the old woman's cheerful voice behind them. "Y'all come back now, y'hear?"
Out in the street, Ian shook himself, trying to relax. "Now what?"
Red Drake shrugged, and looked at his watch. "Well, what else do ya need? It's not like you can live off an ejection survival kit for the resta yer life." He looked down the street. "There's a market down here, and a pub just past it. We can buy what ya need there, then get a drink." Ian took a nervous breath, and Red looked at him for a long moment. "But first, come over here." The big man led Ian to a bench under a tree; on a warmer day, it might have been inhabited by old men playing checkers and watching the world go by. They sat, and Red began talking.
"Look," he said simply. "I know yer uncomfortable here. If I were in your shoes, I probably would be too. But yer gonna have ta get over it quick. It's a different world, a different day. Be thankful that no bigger deal is being made about what happened to get you here."
"I know," Ian said abruptly. "But that doesn't mean I have to like it." He sighed and looked down the road, at the simple buildings lining it. "I'm not proud of what I did." He sniffed back a chuckle. "That and a lot of other things..."
Red nodded. "Brian told us some." Ian looked at Red. "But probably not as much as he could have told. Brian's got a good way of judging things. He told us what we needed to know. Beyond that, you've got a clean slate." Red looked at Ian seriously. "You should be thankful. Brian's a good man; I know he's tryin' hard not ta make us judge you. That part," Red grinned, "is up to you."
Ian smiled slightly, "Is it?"
"Where I'm concerned, anyway, yes," Red said as he rose to his full two-meter height, then looked down at Ian with emphasis. "Ya may feel out of place, but remember, ya just got here. Give it time. This world needs you, and the Dragons need you. The rest is up to you." He looked up at the darkening sky. "Come on, let's get moving before it rains."
"Come in," Brian said. He didn't take his eyes off the map.
Captain Monroe entered, hat in hand, shutting the door quietly behind him. "Y'all sent fer me?" He looked around the small, simply-furnished suite, and hung his wet raincoat by the door. "Heck of a storm out."
"Is it?" Brian looked up for the first time. "Sorry, hadn't noticed. I've been wrapped up in plans, and need your input for the militia's role."
"Well, what ya need?" Captain Monroe fished out his pipe, tapping out the ash as he pulled out a tobacco pouch. He glanced over the map. "We already prepositioned some, based on intel from the prisoners."
Brian nodded. "I've been talking with Ian, and right now, I'm trying to get into the pirate leader's head." He looked at the Captain, who listened intently as he lit his pipe. "Put yourself in his place. Your raid just ran into unexpected resistance, including Mechs that weren't there before. You lost two Mechs and most of a mechanized infantry lance. It looks like the planet is digging in for a fight, and they've hired mercs to help them out." Brian looked back at the map, fingering a few of the small towns around Renfro's only spaceport city, where they now sat. "You could try hitting small targets, to spread the resistance. But that takes time, and could reduce your own strength further for little gain."
"Or," the Captain interrupted with a puff of aromatic pipe smoke, "y'all could go fer the big win, 'afer they digs in any deeper." He reached over and tapped his finger on the map, at the spaceport.
"Exactly," Brian said, folding his arms as he turned his eyes back to the map. "But that requires taking a big risk, going all in. Because by all logic, that's where the Mechs you ran into last time are." Brian looked up at the Captain. "The question is, how big a risk-taker is this pirate?" He looked back at the map again. "He has a third option: simply going elsewhere. But these pirates used to be part of the Avalon Hussars, a first-line military unit. They're confident, arrogant...overconfident. I can't see them running from just a few Urbies and militia tanks. Especially if they have information planetside."
Captain Monroe puffed on his pipe thoughtfully. "Y'all think they got spies here?"
Brian shrugged. "It's usually a safe assumption. Pirates are just guerillas for profit; they will likely have local informants in the target area."
"So we gotta trick'em, then." Captain Monroe was looking serious now; apparently he hadn't considered the possibility of local informants. Then he seemed to remember something. "Oh by the way, I think ya answered yer own question."
Brian frowned from where he stood over the map. "What question?"
"About taking risks. If this guy is as bigheaded as y'all think, he'll likely try ta drop his whole unit right on the spaceport. It's the only sensible thing. Go fer broke." The Captain decisively picked up the two small shapes representing the pirate dropships, and placed them firmly on the map at the spaceport.
Brian nodded. "I think you're right. And if he does that..."
The Captain finished the sentence, "...we can pin him on the dropships, hopefully."
The two men were silent for a moment as they considered that. Then Brian shook his head. "No, doesn't feel right. Something's missing." He sat and leaned back, his hands on top of his head. "He'll have to assume that we've gotten info out of the prisoners. And he won't try the full strike if he thinks we're waiting for him."
"Mind if I kibbitz?" Henry had stepped in the door, cigar in hand.
"Sure, come on in." The Captain moved over as Henry pulled up a chair.
Brian looked at Henry. "How much have you heard?"
Henry grinned. "Enough to know that yer thinkin' too much. Now listen..."
"Move'em out!" Slowly, the caravan of militia trucks started rolling, splitting into groups that headed out towards the perimeter towns. Infantrymen waved from the backs as they headed out to their new posts. With them went Hetzers and Scorpions, the cheap tanks that equipped nearly every Periphery militia. Captain Monroe waved back, along with the small crowd that had assembled to see the militiamen off.
Brian grinned quietly to himself. No one but those who needed to, knew that half the militia trucks were empty. The core of the militia was still in Renfro's capital, quietly moving into positions around the spaceport and city limits, along with some heavier fire support that had been recalled from the perimeter. That was a surprise to be saved for the right moment...then suddenly, his comlink beeped.
It was Ian. "I've got him," Ian stood half-hidden in an alley, his eyes riveted on a man he knew. A former Avalon Hussar, now a pirate spy planted on Renfro. Ian had confirmed the suspicion of a spy, and Brian had trusted him to ferret him out. Ian had followed through admirably.
"Good job," Brian came back. "Don't let him get away. Where are you?"
Ian glanced at a nearby street sign. "He's at the corner of Main Street and Copper Mine Road, acting very casual." The man was dressed in typical Renfro street clothes, hands in pockets, smiling and waving occasionally to the trucks as they pulled out. "I'll bet my family name that he's got a radio in his pocket and a gun under his arm."
"Ian, stick with him, and let us know when he's made a report. It likely won't be long."
It wasn't. The man stepped back into the shade, pulling out his radio and talking casually, as if answering a phone call. The few locals nearby might have been fooled, but Ian wasn't; that was a military belt-radio handset the man was using, the main unit hidden under his loose coat. Ian scowled. "He's got an AFFS belt radio. He's probably sending to someone outside town, who's talking to the dropships."
"Let him finish his conversation. Dragons, move in."
Ian watched as the man kept talking, as he watched the troops moving out. Then he put the handset away, and casually started walking away. He met Red coming from one direction, casually turned to go another way, and Angel stepped out in front of him. Realizing the danger, the man went to draw, but a quick BANG jerked his shoulder back. And then he was dangling off the ground, his feet somewhere near Red's knees. Angel blew the smoke from her pistol, and spun it back into her holster as Ian calmly stripped off the man's gun and radio. "Hello Benedict," he said with a grin. "Bet you thought you wouldn't see me again."
The pirate, holding his wounded shoulder as he hung by the scruff from Red's fist, gasped in pain as he looked at Ian. "Bloody hell," he stammered. "You bloody turncoat!" Ian just grinned, and punched the Davion traitor. He was surprised at how good it felt.
"More like making amends than turning coat," Brian said as he walked up, with Captain Monroe and a couple of militiamen in tow. "Take him away, he's fulfilled his purpose." At his word, the militiamen took the wounded pirate. Then Brian added an afterthought. "Oh, and if he behaves, you might stop by the doctor for him on the way to the jail."
Meanwhile, Ian was looking at Angel. "Nice speed draw," he said. "Do you practice that often?"
Angel grinned. "I'm fast, but not easy." She gave a wink and walked away, leaving Ian standing in open-mouthed confusion.
Red just laughed, and slapped Ian on the back. "Told ya so, didn't I?"