Brothers in Arms

By Byron Wheatley


            The transport Lunar Mother silently sailed towards the planet of Arminium. Though it was a long trip from the Omicron Sector, the rusty old workhorse had almost finished the journey. It was no ordinary cargo that she carried; the outlines of combat vehicles could be dimly distinguished in the spare lighting that illuminated the lower hold. The upper hold had been converted into a berthing area, living space for the hundred-odd men that were riding to fight a war for Yraven Inc.


            Inside the berthing area Gareth Mercer carefully wound his way through the piles of combat gear and sleeping men to the urinal. He contemplated the upcoming combat as he made use of the facilities. The mercenaries were being paid handsomely to fight, and the briefing had described their foes as a collection of security guards and some light armor. He had served with Orion Company for two years now and knew that they would chew through these with ease.


            Shit, he thought, We beat Maden's Planetary Guard last year, and they were no greenhorns.


            When he got back to his berth, Harvey was awake. New to the Company and new to the trade, Harvey looked rattled. He was not the only one who got the shivers before action, but the only one on Mercer's team.


            "What's the matter Harvey? That crap they called dinner give you indigestion?"  


            "Nah," Harvey shook his head, although he grinned slightly, "I'm getting that bad feeling again. Like I'm not going to make it out of this one alive."


            "Cut that static! I always felt that way my first year. You stick by me and you'll be fine, kid."


            "I can't sleep without dreaming," Harvey said desperately, "And I don't want to dream those dreams."


            "Listen kid, there's a difference 'tween dreaming and reality. A dream bullet wakes you up and a real bullet kills you."


            "But what if when you die, its like waking up?"


            "Kid," Mercer faced Harvey, his eyes unblinking, "I have never died so I don't know, but what you said don't make no sense. How come 'dead' people don't fall asleep, if they've just woke up for a while?"


            "I don't know," Harvey stared at the floor, "Still I get a bad feeling."


            "Stop thinking 'bout death," said Mercer, "Think 'bout how you gonna spend this pay stub you'll be getting soon. It'll be a big 'un."


            "Yeah," Harvey rolled over and Mercer continued on to the where he had bedded down.


            "Harvey getting the shakes?"


            "Ice, didn't realize you were up," Mercer rolled into his blanket, "Yeah, kid says he's having death dreams. Didn't take you for the kind to get shook, though."


            "Never bin scared of dying but these dreams," Ice shrugged, "Don't like watching it happen."


            "You're seeing yourself die?" Mercer looked over, careful not to make sudden moves. No telling how Ice would react in this mood.


            "You know me, Mercer," Ice shrugged, "This life suits me. Jest like killin'. Reckon that makes me a psycho or som'thin."


            "I wouldn't say that..." Mercer protested, careful not to look Ice in the eyes.


            "Yes you would," Ice's eyes almost seemed to glow in the dim light of the bay, "It's all over the outfit. No one wants me on their team, afraid I'll stab them in the back. You're the only one that'll take me."


            "Well..." Mercer looked away. "If you don't fear death, then why do the dreams bother you?"


            "Don't like to lose," Ice said simply. He rolled over and closed his eyes.


            Lying back on his bedding, Mercer gazed at the dim lights set in the overhead. They almost looked like stars watching over the company of men slumbering around him. A scene flooded his mind and he tried to banish it instantly. He failed. He grimaced and braced himself to go through the memory step by step. The flashbacks were something he couldn't rid himself of, but he had learned how to deal with them.


            Flooding his mind with an icy calm he walked across the battlefield of the last war he had helped to win. It had been Ice's third operation with his team, and he had begun to relax the close watch he had kept on the man. They were conducting a search and destroy mission, urban terrain. They had an enemy sentry holed up. Mercer had sent Ice to get on the man's flank and provide cover fire. The cover fire never came.


            A smoke grenade, a sudden charge, and the action was over. Mercer set out to find Ice, with his team providing cover, hoping that the man hadn't run into another sentry. When he rounded the corner and found Ice his worry had changed into a terrible rage, fueled by fear and disgust. The cargo hold seemed very far away as Mercer remembered the bitter smoke filling his lungs, the glass crunching under his boots, and the sobbing child, backpedaling away from Ice as fast as she could. A man and a woman lay on the ground. The man was dead and the woman lay gasping, blood spurting from her throat, as Ice calmly wiped his knife clean. Then he started after the child.


            "Ice!" Mercer screamed, rifle poised to shoot.


            "What'cha need Boss?"


            Mercer started. The big man was leaning over him and it took all of Mercer's control not to reach for his knife.


            "Nothing... It was nothing."


            "You havin dreams too."


            "Uh," Mercer grunted, Ice moved out of his vision, and he plunged back into the nightmare.


            Ice turning, turning and smiling into the barrel of Mercer's gun, then turning back to the kid. A surge of adrenaline, a charge and a vicious blow to the head. Mercer had left a man to guard Ice and the child. After they had won he had taken the little girl to an orphanage, suffering the abuse of the matron. She had regarded him with marked distrust and remarked mutiple times that fewer children would be orphans if there were fewer men like him. Still, he had felt it was the least he could do.


            Why do you trust Ice, his dream-fevered mind shouted.


            Because, a calm voice spoke, Ice had asked him to help set up the trust fund with the matron of the orphanage to provide for the child.


            Her name was Julie, and he received a letter from her once a month. Mercer never saw the letters arrive, never saw Ice read them, but every one found its way into Mercer's hands, some bearing tear stains. She called him Uncle Ice.


            He had taught himself the trick of the calm voice, of separating his memory into cell blocks, when he had first joined the profession. He had heard of men going crazy from flashbacks and was determined that it would not happen to him. It worked. The flashbacks still came, but he could always fight free of them.


            As he started to drift away in sleep, he almost laughed. Ice, psycho that he was, was a beloved uncle on a distant world. He would be missed when he died.


            When I die, Mercer thought glumly, there will be no one to miss me.




            It was three days later that Lunar Mother made landfall on Arminium. As Mercer trod down the ramp, toting his heavy bag of gear, with the rest of the company, he glanced around the new planet. They had landed on the outskirts of a city, and it was surprisingly clean for an industrial section. The few people he saw gave the whole company hard looks before moving on. It didn't take before they had all filed into a large warehouse for the briefing of what was to come for the next week. It was dim and hot in the warehouse, and a sense of tension filled the air. Apparently, Harvey's concern had spread. He could hear men telling crude jokes, trying to relieve their nervousness, from a few places loud chuckles broke out. Then their new captain mounted the small stage that had been prepared for him and adjusted the broadcast system that had been hastily setup.


            "Orion Company!" at the sound of his voice the whole company grew silent, "We are about to embark upon a vacation campation. The enemy force is comprised of rent-a-cops that have been mobilized as a field unit by one of Yraven Inc's competitors. They are seventy-five strong and possess only a few pieces of light armor. Their training is minimal, designed for use on criminals. With our heavy armor core we will tear through them and the light infantry can sweep up the remnants. Not only is this a cake assignment, but we are being paid top credit for minimal risk. We will mobilize on the plain today and march out tomorrow. Tomorrow evening we will engage the enemy, hand him his ass on a silver platter, and celebrate our victory with the finest this planet has to offer. Now move out!"


            "He still ain't tellin," grumbled a man standing next to Mercer.


            "There can't be anything to tell," Mercer replied, "They always tell us everything we need to know."


            "Still, there's something I don't like about this," the man said, "I'm gonna get out of the game after this op. Got a wife now and saved enough to start a bar someplace. Can't stick to this work with a wife. No kids yet but when they come I want to be sure the're mine!"


            "We'll cut through these guys easy," Mercer said, trying to ease the man's fear. He wished the man would relax; he was starting to get a little nervous himself.


            Moving swiftly the mercenaries set up their temporary camp on the plain outside the city. Most of the men were pretty well keyed up and started drinking. Loud laughter echoed across the camp to where Mercer sat at the edge of the lamp light. He stared out into the night thinking about anything except the coming battle. It was always the night before the battle that he got nervous. The next morning he would be hard and cold as steel, but tonight all he wanted was to drown his worries in drink like most of the men. Maybe the man he had spoken to in the warehouse had it right. Maybe it would be better to settle down somewhere and raise a family. He had seen a lot of the universe and could think of a few places he wouldn't mind settling down. If he could just find the right girl...


            Better to go get shit faced then start thinking 'bout that, he shook his head and, making his way back to his tent, slept till the next morning.


            They rode in hover trucks across the red plains and towards the late afternoon spotted the first of the enemy. Looking through his binoculars Mercer suddenly understood the extra pay. Their briefing had been incorrect. The enemy was far from being security personnel with a few light armor. In fact, their opponent had equal, if not greater, combat power to Orion Company. He glanced over at his team. Melly, Harvey, and Rick were talking to one side while Ice simply stared at the horizon, waiting for the battle.


            "Guys," he beckoned his team of four over, "Listen up! Whatever the Cap'n told us, this is what I'm seeing. We're in for one hell of a fight! Those ain't no security guards over there! They are the Star Rangers!"


            "The Rangers," Harvey stuttered, "I'm going to die! I can feel it!"


            "We'll be fine, as long as we work as a team." That would be Melly, her soft voice carrying to his ears, despite the wind.


            "Mercer will get us through Harvey. He always does. Besides, the Rangers are a outer world outfit; we will have technological superiority over them." That would be Rick, steady as a rock, his careful enunciation betraying his upper-class origins. No matter how hard they tried, he wouldn't drop into slang. It had originally gotten him a reputation as a pretty boy, but after he had killed three men in a duel, the comments had tapered off.


            "We'll stick together and work as a team," Mercer spoke calmly, "Once our battle orders are issued we'll follow them, and then we'll go back to that city and help Harvey find the prettiest girl on the block, to spend all his pay on. Even if it ends up being Melly!"


            "For the record. I like Blue Nebula's, and what do you mean by even, Mercer?" said Melly with mock indignation.


            They all laughed, and Mercer could feel the tension in the air ease away. Well, most of it. With Ice about, there was no such thing as a tension free atmosphere.


            "Here they come," Mercer listened intently to his earpiece for a moment, and then addressed his team, "We're gonna be the flanking element again. The Cap'n says that they have a sniper team, we're to bushwack ASAP. We'll call in the mortars if we need support. Once the snipers are down we'll take a position on their flank and do what we do best!"




            A large avian creature soared over the smoking plain. The tall red grasses of Arminium hid the blood that had been spilled, but the stink of death, mixed with the burning smell of metal and synthetic fabrics, revealed what had happened. Even the tall grasses could not disguise the smoking, burnt out hulks of combat vehicles.


            The creature was a flesh eater, reptilian, with bat-like wings that caught the soothing breezes blowing above the battlefield. It flew over a hill, perhaps a mile out, where a rain of mortars had caught a sniper team and obliterated them. High explosives had burnt the ground, the grasses smoldering, the bodies torn, arms and legs scattered across the hill like so many wheat seeds. The creature turned back to the main battlefield, and swooped down to perch on a mostly intact corpse. A bullet had turned the man’s back into a bleeding hole and the creature started to feed.


            It only ate for a few scant seconds, before it launched itself back into the air, disturbed by sudden movement around it. Gareth Mercer kicked over the piece of sheet metal he had been behind, carefully looking around, while he checked over his rifle. He knew that if the carrion eaters were coming in, then the battle was over, but that did not mean that there were not other survivors like him, and if there were others, he knew that did not make them friends.


            Mercer was surprised to be alive. The last few minutes had been a holocaust of explosions, fire everywhere, the sound of men screaming in pain drowned out by the sound of grenades and high explosive rounds going off. He barely remembered any of it. Surveying the field, though, he could reconstruct what had happened. He could see where his company’s tanks had made a charge, early in the battle, foot soldiers following behind to occupy the defensive positions. The assault had been disastrous; his team had been pinned down by the snipers’ support until they called in the mortars. Then they had been recalled to support the mortar team. A small team of stealthy commandos had slipped around and pulled the exact trick he had been supposed to use.


            Mercer and his team had made it back in time to help repulse them. They had been real professionals, excellent at disappearing into the tall red grasses and reappearing to slit your throat before you knew it. He had survived through skill and a great deal of luck. Then the enemy had assaulted with their tanks and brought their own mortars in to cover the tanks’ advance. A few well-placed rounds from their last tanks had silenced the enemy mortars, and then the mines that they had laid when they fell back from their assault took care of many of the enemy tanks, breaking the assault.


            Mercer was amazed that he had survived the close up combat that had followed; a grenade blast had caught his team. His armor had stopped most of the blast, but it had still knocked him off his feet. When he got back to his team, he found Harvey dead and Rick severely wounded. A trio of enemy soldiers had closed with them. Ice, out of bullets, charged with knives in either hand. Melly shot one with her last bullet and Mercer got the other. Ice took the third but had taken three rounds to the chest and was down.


            Melly was gunned down by a tank, and Mercer dropped a grenade beneath it before diving for cover. The explosion seemed to set off a chain reaction and Mercer hid behind the sheet metal he had found as cover. As suddenly as they had begun the explosions stopped and that was when he had stood up.


            Harvey, Melly, Rick, and Ice were all lying nearby. Mercer hurried over to check Rick, but the soldier had bled to death. Then he saw Ice move.




            "I'm here Ice, we'll get you home yet," Mercer started fumbling for the small medic kit he carried.


            "Boss, take care of Julie. Don't tell her..."


            "I won't need to, you're going to make it Ice..."


            "No... But Boss!"


            "What?" Mercer snapped, frustrated with his kit. It had been designed to cure hangovers and light injuries, not sucking chest wounds.


            "I didn't lose, Boss... I won..." Ice's voice trailed off and Mercer rocked back on his heels. He had never lost an entire team before. He'd lost men to injuries, desertion, retirement, and death, but never a whole team.


            It was a bloody mess, he thought, they had been too evenly matched, and each had underestimated the other. Then he heard the cry for help. It came from a burning tank near him and he rushed over. The tank had been battered so badly that the emblem that proclaimed what company it had belonged to was gone. With a shudder and mighty effort of will, Mercer pushed away the turmoil that boiled within him.


            There will be time later to mourn, but for now you must figure out how to get back to Omicron, the calm voice from within spoke.


            He ran to the burning tank and forced the hatch open with a bayonet, the metal to hot to touch. The man inside had managed to climb into the turret before being halted by the burning hot hatch. He seemed almost overcome by the heat and Gareth almost took a step back, the intense wave of heat that blasted forth through the open hatch drying his skin. He could feel his already short hair starting to curl. Turning his face to protect his eyes he grabbed the man and pulled him out of the burning vehicle. His eyes streaming, he half carried, half dragged the other man back to the piece of sheet metal.


            It had been a piece of armor plating from the command vehicle. He was already starting to think of it as his base camp, a place where he could pause and think out what he needed to do next. He gave the man his canteen of water and finally took a good look at whom he had rescued.


            The other man was short, for a soldier, and wore mismatched fatigues that looked like they had been collected over several years of campaigning on different worlds. Over the fatigues, he wore a leather battle harness that had gained a lot of popularity amongst the different mercenary companies over the past few months. He wore a Star Ranger patch on his left shoulder and Mercer grimaced.  The man blinked and sat up slightly, looking over his rescuer, eyes widening when he saw the company patch on Mercer's shoulder. He reached for his knife but Mercer stayed his hand.


            "I'm not gonna try and kill you," Mercer said, "The battle's over."


            "Oh," the man lay back down, "You're right. Its quiet. Who won?"


            "As far as I can tell we ground each other to pieces. I haven't even found any other survivors."


            "I might be able to help you with that," Mercer whirled upon hearing the other voice, his knife leaping to his hand from its sheath.


            Three men stood facing the pair, covering them with well-used assault rifles.


            "We've already found a few wounded and I'm sure there are more being found as we speak."


            "You came to help us?" Mercer stared disbelievingly at the rifles trained upon him.


            "We came to finish the job," one of the men smiled slightly, "Mercenaries practically destroyed our planet years ago and we will not rest until your kind has been eliminated from the galaxy."


            "Oh," Mercer paused reflexively as he felt the handgun he wore at his back lift out of its holster, "Well doesn't that suck. If you don't want war then you shouldn't start it. Reckon you're the ones that set us up, gave us crappy intel?"


            "Our government did," the man nodded, "And soon there will be another battle and another until you scum are all gone!"


            "You won't be around to see it, I can promise that."


            "You think not? If you even move we'll gun you down. In fact..."


             Mercer rolled to the side, leaving the man he rescued with a clear shot. The pistol barked three times and one of the assault rifles chattered once. Groaning, Mercer stood up, "My name is Mercer."


            "Dy'Ahard,"  the man offered the gun back to Mercer, "You get hit?"


            "My armor stopped the bullet. Those old rifles don't have the power of some newer ones," Mercer grimaced, "Still, it hurts like a bitch. Can you pass my rifle over?”


            “Take it,” Dy’Ahard tossed the weapon over to its owner.


            They could hear the sound of the other looters coming closer. It sounded like quite a crowd.


            “I’d say twenty,” Dy’Ahard looked up from taking the equipment the looters had found.


            “Roughly thirty,” said Mercer, looking back from the vantage point he had taken near the sheet metal.


            “They are not going to be happy to see us,” commented Dy’Ahard, “Especially since we killed three of their friends.”


            “We? You shot their friends,” Mercer checked the clip in his rifle, loading three more rounds into it, before slamming it home, "I just distracted them."


            “I'm sure they'll take the time to consider that.”


            “Let's not give them that chance. I have a supply key to some of our crates. We can start by heading that way.”


            “And then?” Dy’Ahard finished checking over his new weaponry.


            “There are hills north of here,” Mercer started to move towards the edge of the battlefield, towards were the grass was not trampled down or burned, “If we have to we can cover each other and work our way backwards until they get tired of dying.”


            “Are you suggesting that these guys will be able to best us in a fair fight?” Despite the question Dy’Ahard was followed him, covering the rear.


            “Thirty fingers pulling the triggers to automatic weapons will make for a lot of bullets.”


            Suddenly a small group of looters came around a wreck and opened up. The two mercenaries dove and rolled to the side, behind another wreck.


            “I see what you mean,” commented Dy’Ahard, “Hopefully, we don't need these later.”


            He pushed the activation stud of a grenade and threw it over the wreck. Mercer caught a brief glimpse of it before it disappeared and his eyes opened wide in alarm.


            “Run,” he barked and, following his own command, sprinted to the edge of the tall grass. Dy’Ahard was right behind him, sliding into the grass and dropping prone, following Mercer’s lead. The explosion from the grenade ripped through the wreck they had been hiding behind, tumbling it like a toy across the field. It thundered past them a mere ten yards away. Dy’Ahard looked at Mercer.


            “What was that?”


            “New explosive from the inner worlds. It was designed for mining, but we found a more exciting use for it,” Mercer backed slowly into the grass, watching the crowd of looters that was still coming after them.


            “That crowd is a little smaller,” commented Dy’Ahard.


            “Still too many fingers and triggers,” replied Mercer to the unanswered question.


            “Think they might have vehicles?”


            Mercer paused, “That would make sense, why would they walk out here?”


            Wanna try to find them?”


            “No,” said Mercer, “They would be too easy to track and I want to disappear. Let's stick to the plan and get some supplies.”


            "Ok, but you go first."


            They paused in the grass and watched the crowd for a short time. The looters had stopped and appeared to be having a conference. They were arguing and then two of them got up in each other’s faces, screaming and shouting. With the looters distracted Mercer and Dy'Ahard slipped around to the supply trucks. They reached it before the looters did, although they could hear a crowd of people coming their way.


            "We need to be fast," Mercer said as he opened a crate with his key, "Tell me what you need and don't step behind me."


            "Ammunition for this rifle, survival pack, whatever grenades you can get."


            "I don't have access to the friggin' grenades, what do you think I am? A supply officer?" Mercer snorted, as he cast a survival pack and a bandolier to Dy'Ahard.


            "Just trying to be hopeful," Dy'Ahard donned the two items, watching Mercer closely the whole while.


            "Let's go," Mercer swung another pack onto his back, as well as his rifle, "You first again."


            They spent the rest of the day making it to the hill unobserved. Hindered by their lack of trust for each other, they could only make slow, awkward progress. The necessity for remaining unseen slowed their pace even more, reducing them to a turtle-like crawl. They finally made it to their objective and slipped around to the backside of it, stopping to rest in a small crater.


            Mercer started a fire with the kit in his pack and then sat down with his back to the hill, facing Dy'Ahard, waiting for the fire to establish a decent coal bed. He had carefully used the smokeless fuel in his kit, so as not to betray their presence. They waited in tense silence, each one waiting for the other to make a hostile move, each one ready to defend and kill. It was not a very pleasant environment in which to wait. Finally, the coals established themselves and they heated ration packs. They returned to their earlier positions to eat. Mercer sprawled with his back to the hill and Dy’Ahard sitting cross-legged facing Mercer.


            "You know, where I'm from, once you eat with someone you can no longer do them harm," Dy'Ahard broke the silence.


            "How's that?"


            "It's an honor thing."


            "I notice you ain't started eating yet!"


            "I don't want to have to sacrifice my honor to save my life."


            "Kid you couldn't take me any day of the week."


            "I suggest a truce. Have you thought of how we'll stand watches yet?"


            "Yes!" Mercer snapped, it had actually been bothering him, "You'll eat, I won't attack you, and you don't attack me and we'll stand our bloody watches."


            Dy'Ahard said nothing further but began to eat and study his companion’s rifle curiously. The rifle looked different from any weapon he had ever seen before. It had the basic shape and trigger of a standard rifle but there the resemblance ended. There was a large bored barrel, like that of a grenade launcher, slung under the upper barrel. The upper barrel looked like standard. The scope jutted off the center towards the left of the barrel, leaving the iron sights available for close and sudden action. There was also the extra stud next to the safety stud. Dy’Ahard figured that it fired the lower barrel, whatever that was.


            “What kind of a rifle is that? “ Dy’Ahard broke the silence, “I thought I had seen every weapon to be found in the outer worlds, but I don’t recognize yours.”


            Mercer swallowed the mouthful of rehydrated food he had been chewing, “New model they are producing in the inner worlds. I went without beer for two months saving up for it, but this little baby was worth it,” he paused, to swallow some more food, “She fires a forty caliber round, explosively tipped, accurate up to a mile and a half. The scope has two modes, light gathering and infrared. It’ll bring a target two miles away to about one hundred yards.”


            “Yeah, sure,” Dy’Ahard grunted, “Now you’re just bullshitting me!”


            “That’s what I thought,” smiled Mercer, “Then I tried it out. I was going to sell off the scope. Thought I’d check it out first. Turned out the ads weren't lying. Much.”


            “Sure,” Dy’Ahard frowned, “What about the under-slung barrel? Grenade launcher?”


            Mercer regarded him curiously, “If you like,” he said mysteriously, “You take the first watch?”


            “I’ll take the second,” returned Dy’Ahard, “I’d rather get up early than go to bed late."  Mercer settled his back against the rock wall where he was out of the pool of light cast by the fire. He heard nothing all through the night and the next morning Dy’Ahard said all had been quiet. He need not to have said anything for Mercer had never completely dropped off. Even when he had tried the flashbacks kept coming and he still didn't trust his companion. Although Dy’Ahard had made no hostile moves, he had also watched Mercer out of the corner of his eye. Neither of them felt that the night had been very restful, and two grouchy mercenaries broke camp cold and proceeded to march north to the hill country.




            It was two weeks later that they sighted the lights of the star port over a hill. A rising space ship lit the night sky like a small sun. Mercer slumped wearily back against the slope of the hill, as Dy’Ahard watched the ship rise slowly and break out of orbit. Twenty minutes later, it had disappeared into the dark void of space and Dy’Ahard sat down cross-legged next to his companion.

            “That was a transport, outfitted for carrying liquids, roughly seven tons with a crew of five. It‘s needing some engine repairs. If there are anymore like that then we can probably stow away pretty easy. Starbridge class vessels have a lot of extra room on board, makes them favorites for people who like to tinker with their vessels.”

            Mercer stared at him, “What are you, some kind of pilot?”


            “The Starbridge isn’t very common on the inner worlds anymore but out here it is the working man’s vessel of choice. I know it by the trajectory it follows and that peculiar little waggle that it makes just as it breaks out of the gravitational field. Also, it’s the only vessel that still shows that five-engine pattern of burn. Newer vessels have six engines; they were discovered to be more balanced and efficient.”


            “All the newer ships I seen have got nine or eleven engines,” said Mercer.


            “Well, things in the inner worlds advance a little faster than out here. Maybe they worked out something new, different fuel or something,” retorted Dy’Ahard.


            “I guess,” Mercer shrugged, “So you suggest that we stow away on one of those.”


            “Yeah, it’ll be easy enough and it’ll get us off of this little planet from hell.”


            “Beers 'n cheers,” Mercer concurred, “We’ll move into the city tomorrow. Let's try and get some rest and figure out how we're doing this.”


            “You want to sleep and I’ll take the first watch?”


            “Nah, I’ve got a few inklings of a plan and want to work them out while I’m still awake. I’ll wake you for your watch, don’t worry about that.”


            “Sounds good,” Dy’Ahard rolled over and was asleep in an instant. Mercer sat cross-legged with his rifle resting across his knees as he slowly revolved a plan around in his mind. He needed to get them into the star port without attracting attention, a difficult feat for two dirty men in combat fatigues and heavily armed. Maybe if they posed as bounty hunters… A slow smile crossed his face.




            The next day Mercer woke to the sound of reptilian avians chirping, the same sound that had woken him for the past month. While he was sleeping, he had finalized the plan that had entered his head during his watch. It was the first sleep he'd gotten without memories since arriving on Arminium.




            “Yeah,” Dy’Ahard turned from watching the reptiles.


“I got a plan all worked out. I figure that if we slip in at night then we can stick to the shadows and…”


            “Negative, we’ll be spotted all that much faster by trying to hide.”


            “What are you talking about?”


            “When you are in a crowd, hide in it, don’t try to avoid it. We need to blend with the crowd. That is why we are going to pretend that we are bounty hunters.”


            “Bounty hunters! That is ridiculous. What would we be doing on a backwater planet like this?”

            “We’ve been hired by an off world collector to hunt these scaly birds."


            “Ok, so why are we packing such heavy weaponry?”


            “In case of trouble.”


            “Ok…” Dy’Ahard paused, shook his head, “Ok. As long as we get out of here then I guess I’m fine with it.”


            “Let’s go then,” Mercer sprang to his feet, although a little stiffly.


            They descended into the twisty, dirty streets of the star port. Neon signs proclaiming the best beverages and entertainment on the planet and in the city littered every corner. Although the sidewalks were almost crowded beyond capacity, a way seemed to open before them through the thickest crowds. Mercer figured it was probably due to the tattered fatigues and the high number of weaponry upon their persons, although Dy’Ahard assured him that it was only because they had gone without a bath for so long. They were almost to the landing pads when they heard the sirens.


            “What is that?” Dy’Ahard looked around.


            “Just some cops, relax,” Mercer assured him.


            “Think they’re after us?”


            “Probably just after a thief somewhere.”


            “What if they see us, I’m pretty sure that most of my equipment is illegal.”


            "They do seem to be getting closer," Mercer looked around them, "Let's duck into this bar here and see if there is a back door."     


            They closed the door to the bar just as the sirens turned the corner. Inside it was dim, the only lighting provided by wall lamps and the bar tenders light. There was music turned way up, blasting across the room; a heavy beat accompanied by chords intended to be rhythmic. There were people everywhere, crowded into the small establishment like sardines in a can, yet once again, Mercer and Dy'Ahard had no trouble making their way through the crowd and to the bar.


            "What's your pleasure," the bartender asked them cautiously. They noticed that he kept his hands under the counter. He either had a weapon or a silent alarm down there and was ready in case these two rough customers wanted to cause trouble.


            "Give me the best beer that you have," Mercer grunted.


            "Is the Blue Nebula any good?" Dy'Ahard asked. Mercer choked and looked into his beer.


            "It is the best drink out here."


            "I'll have a glass of that, then," Dy'Ahard drained the glass and leaned against the counter, "Ahh. Needed that. Chasing those damn dinosaurs gives me an aching thirst. Pour me another."


            "What dinosaurs?" the barkeep poured out another shot.


            "Those flying lizards," Dy'Ahard waved his hand in the air, "Some guy a few planets out wanted a few of their hides. So we took the commission and chased a few down. It's a helluva lotta work. Got any smokes?"


            "Here," the barkeep handed across a cigarette and a light, "So you are a big game hunter?"


            "Something like that," Dy'Ahard glanced over at Mercer, who just grunted, "But we don't only hunt animals, criminals too. The worst kind."


            "Did you hear about that battle out in the plains?"


            "I caught a few glimpses of it on the news," Dy'Ahard took a drag on the cigarette.


            "They say that some of the surviving mercenaries murdered a bunch of guys who went out there to help the wounded ones. I hear they put a pretty big bounty on them."


            "Now that would be a fine thing," Dy'Ahard laughed, "Us go up against a squad of mercenaries. It would have to be a god-awful lot of money. More likely to get shot ourselves."


            "I just want to get off this damn planet," said Mercer, "We got our hides, let's go get our reward and then worry about another job. Remember, we aren't done with this job yet."


            "There are some people who have thought that you two might be some of the mercenaries," said the barkeep slowly.


            "That would be funny, now wouldn't it?" Dy'Ahard turned to Mercer, "They would have to be crazy to come in here, with a huge bounty on their heads. They would be bushwhacked in minutes."


            "Well, you are carrying a lot of weapons for hunting those lizards," the barkeep ventured cautiously.


            "Are you suggesting that we are those bloody criminals," Mercer leaned forward, his voice savage.


            "No, not at all," the barkeep took a step back despite the bar between them, "Just wondered why all the heavy weapons."


            "We heard that those damn lizards were like god-damn dragons," Dy'Ahard tossed a few silver chips on the bar, "We'll be leaving now."


            "I'm not finished my beer. This is the first half-decent thing I've met on this shithole," growled Mercer, "Sit back down."


            "But we still gotta finda ship," protested Dy'Ahard.


            "Cut the bitching. We'll find one soon enough."  Dy'Ahard sighed and leaned against the bar, an exasperated look upon his face and his head in his hands. Then he suddenly sat up and caught the barkeeps attention.


            "What's a good ship to take out of here?"


            "Where are you headed?"


            "Inner systems."


            "That's pretty general," the barkeep observed, "Where is this guy who hired you?"


            "He's in Omicron Sector."


            "Isn't that were most of the merc companies train and regroup?"


            "I guess. I think he is supposed to be a big contractor for a few of the companies."


            "Well," the barkeep considered, "Try bay 157. I think Captain Hayes is headed out in that direction. You'll probably be able to hitch a ride from somewhere else to Omicron."


            "Thanks," Dy'Ahard laid a few more silver chips on the counter, "Are you finished that beer yet?"


            "No," Mercer sat for another five minutes before he finally tossed back the last of the beer and they walked out of the bar.


            "I thought you would never finish that bloody beer!"


            "It was so nasty that I could only take small sips," Mercer shook his head, "Besides it would have been too obvious if we had left as soon as he told us where to go."          


            "Well, he'll remember us for sure. The happy handsome young fella with that grouchy ugly old asshole bounty hunter!"


            "You'd better be careful if you want to stay pretty."


            "Yeah yeah," Dy'Ahard grinned, "You couldn't beat me. I'd beat you hands down."


            "Once we get off this rock," Mercer grinned, "Then we can have our showdown."


            "Hurry up then," Dy'Ahard trotted ahead, "Let's get to bay 157 so that we can get outta here."


            They walked swiftly through the crowded streets and finally, after many false turns in the maze of alleys about the cities spaceport, arrived at bay 157. The small street door opened into a large cluttered room. There was a machine shop in one corner and a pair of fuel tanks sat against the wall opposite the door. There was also a large gate set in one of the walls for large machines that delivered cargo to the bays. There were spare parts lying everywhere, along with old tools, some twisted beyond repair. In the center of the messy bay sat the ship, waiting patiently to take to the stars again.


            Emblazoned down the side of the ship, in bright red, reflective paint was the ship’s name, The Anabel. The Anabel had a well cared for appearance that put the rest of the bay to shame. Heat shields protected her slim needle-like profile and conveyed an impression of toughness and solidity. All of the metal surfaces were clean, not brightly polished, but not covered with the dirt that accumulated during space travel. She rested on five legs that sprouted out of the side and curved away from the ship and down to the ground, supporting the great weight of the vessel with ease. The engines pointed downwards, like one of the space shuttles of the old days.


            The boarding ladder was down and a short man was working on one of the hydraulic lifts for it. He worked on the lift with loving care, taking time to ensure that the heavier tools would neither scratch nor dent his baby. His long brown hair hung down over his face, apparently making it difficult to see because he brushed it back occasionally revealing his heavily bearded face. Then, reaching for another tool, he spotted Mercer and Dy'Ahard and walked over towards them, grabbing a gun belt off the floor of the bay, where it had rested within easy reach of his hand while he worked.


            "Can I help you, gents?" The man approached them, rather obviously strapping on the gun belt. He needed a shave very badly, although his heavy beard showed signs of being hacked back to a manageable length when it got too long.


            "We're heading to the Omicron Sector and were hoping we might be able to get a ride with you," Mercer said, "We'll pay of course."


            "I'm not heading to the Omicron Sector and I don't take passengers anyway," the man scowled, "What are you looking at?"


            "She is so beautiful," Dy'Ahard did not take his eyes off the ship to look at the man, "Shuttle-class, right? In beautiful condition."


            "I try to take good car of her," the man said gruffly.


            "Damn she is handsome," Dy'Ahard grabbed Mercer's shoulder, "Do you see the curve of her hips? The way she gently makes a point. It's not a harsh slope like the newer ones, its more subtle and pleasing."


            "Let go of me," Mercer shook him off, "Bloody fool bastard."


            "Name is Captain Hayes," the short man extended his hand to Dy'Ahard, but ignored Mercer, "It isn't often that I get folks who can see the beauty in her. Shuttle-class is the only ship to take up out there. Only reliable one there is."


            "And she has seven engines!" Dy'Ahard was on his knees.


            "Burns a little more fuel," Captain Hayes shrugged, "But still puts out more power than some of the newer models."


            "Damn," Dy'Ahard whispered, "That is sweet. Captain, you gotta let us ride with you. I don't care how much you charge, you gotta let me ride in her. I don't even care if you aren't headed to the Omicron Sector."


            "I don't take passengers," Hayes said, his friendly demeanor vanishing, "You gents would do better to look to another ship."


            A shout from outside the bay cut off the captain. A uniformed rent-a-cop ran through the door flanked by four others. All of them heavily armored and armed with assault rifles and ugly expressions. The rifles were leveled and ready to fire.


            "You three are under arrest. Put your hands in the air! HANDS IN THE AIR!" the leading cop shouted.


            Mercer rolled and pulled his pistol, dropping the lead cop with two rounds to the head, through his open faceplate. Dy'Ahard pulled the captain down and away behind some spare parts as the cops opened fire. The bullets from their rifles rattled against the heavy metal part harmlessly. Dy'Ahard could still see Mercer, crouched behind another part and made a few signals with his hand. Mercer nodded and then popped up, fired three fast shots and dropped again. Dy'Ahard slid around the side of his cover as the cops shifted their fire and opened up. The bullets from his rifle knocked them down but he was sure that they were still alive.


            Sure enough, two of the cops sat up and started to fire at Dy'Ahard. He held his position long enough to knock the two covering Mercer's position back down and then ducked back behind his cover, bullets whistling past his nose. As he made his way back to the captain, he heard three shots in quick succession. Their deep bark cut through the chatter of automatic weapons and small explosions swiftly followed it. Dy'Ahard popped his head back, but froze as he felt the cold steel of Hayes pistol press against his temple. The remaining cop fled, the other three had been blown apart, arms and legs lying across workbenches and toolboxes across that portion of the bay.


            "Drop that rifle!" Hayes shouted, "You two must be those mercenaries. Drop the rifle or your partner buys a hole in the ground."


            "Don't move, Dy'Ahard," Mercer crouched and balanced his elbows on his knees, "I'll finish this bastard and we can escape in the ship."


            "I'll give you one last chance, drop your..." Mercer's rifle boomed and Dy'Ahard felt Hayes grip go slack.  As Hayes’ body hit the floor, the delivery entrance to the bay was blown open and what looked like an army of cops walked through, rifles spraying bullets about the bay. They also brought a portable heavy machinegun. Mercer pivoted, took careful aim, and depressed the stud on his secondary barrel. A thick beam of light shot out and struck the machinegun, as if in slow motion. It exploded, hurling cops against the walls, buying the two mercenaries time to get into the ship.


            "Let's get the hell outta here," Dy'Ahard raced up the boarding ladder to the ship.           "Can you fly this thing?"


            "Yeah!" Dy'Ahard scrambled up the ladder, leaving the captain sprawled on the landing pad, with Mercer bringing up the rear. He led the way into the cockpit, strapping himself into the pilot's chair and setting the take off sequence into motion. Then he sat back and glanced over at his friend.


            "What the hell is that thing?" Dy'Ahard pointed at Mercer's rifle.


            "It is a newly developed laser cannon from the inner worlds. To be honest I had never used it before, just read the descriptions of its use. That was the only round I had for it."


            "You carry that thing with a round chambered. Good God, if it went off by accident you could destroy a building."


            "It doesn't go off by accident," Mercer shrugged, "Sure surprised those guys with the machinegun."


            "I guess it was those explosive bullets that did for the guys in the armor."


            "It did seem to work pretty well," Mercer grinned, "It is a great rifle, but it's expensive. Like I said before I went without beer for two months and that was not the only pleasure I had to abstain from. I'm talking two months of straight work, hard assignments, side jobs when off duty. It was costly but right now, very much worth it."


            "Sure saved our asses back there."


            Dy'Ahard stopped talking as a steady rumble began underneath of them. The engines fired and the force of the ship’s acceleration flung the two mercenaries against their chairs, pressing them into the seats so firmly that they could barely breathe. Dy'Ahard's fingers moved hesitantly across the control board and The Anabel rose up through the clouds faster. A few short minutes after that they cleared the atmosphere and Dy'Ahard cut back on the throttle a little.


            "Now I just have to figure out how to make this thing jump to the Omicron Sector."


            "Will it take long?"


            "Uh, I really couldn't say. Why?"


            "Because they are still coming after us," Mercer pointed to the radar screen, where four contacts were closing fast. The radio spluttered static and then cleared as their pursuers transmission came through.


            "Turn the ship around and return to the spaceport or we will be forced to open fire."


            "Do these guys think we're damn fools?" Mercer muttered.


            "Stall them," Dy'Ahard desperately studied the controls, "Give me some time to work this out."


            "How are you guys doing over there?" Mercer asked pleasantly.


            "I say again, starship Anabel, return to the spaceport or we will be forced to open fire."


            "Maybe you could tell us just what we did," Mercer tried again, managing to keep his voice level, "I still haven't figured out what we did to you guys."


            "You are charged with murder, ship-jacking, and assorted crimes against the government of Arminium. Turn back now!"


            "I've almost got it," Dy'Ahard muttered, "Just got the easy part left."


            "You see, I can't figure out what made you guys mad at us to begin with."


            "You practiced the illegal trade of soldier for hire and murdered the three government agents who attempted to apprehend you," the pilot’s voice bubbled with anger, "This is your last warning. Turn back now!"


            "You bastards, they tried to shoot us, not apprehend us and your damn government hired us," Mercer shouted into the radio.


            "I think I got it," Dy'Ahard triumphantly pressed the last in a sequence of buttons, "Oh shit."


            "What..." The Anabel lurched as laser fire from the four interceptors melted the jump drives to slag. Dy'Ahard poured full power to the engines and hauled back on the steering yoke, wheeling the cargo ship about.


            "Don't we have any guns on this thing?" Mercer shouted.


            "Transport class never was armed and if Hayes installed any aftermarket weapons he hid them well. Bloody bastard."


            "At least try to maneuver evasively," Mercer shouted, as the hull shuddered around them, "Don't steer into every blast!"


            "Look for somewhere that we can hide," Dy'Ahard shouted back.


            "I'm a ground soldier not a pilot," grumbled Mercer, but he started flipped through radar scans of the nearby area.


            "We just lost our communications gear! Have you found anything, yet?"


            "There's some mountains that we might be able to hide in," Mercer pointed out some scans of the planet.


            Gunning the engines, Dy'Ahard brought the Anabel around onto the course that would bring them into the mountains. The four fighters swung in behind and poured withering fire into the stern of the Anabel. The Anabel staggered, the lights in the cockpit flickered, and alarms sounding. Then Dy'Ahard plunged her into the atmosphere at top speed, shattering the sound barrier, and their pursuers fell back, their hulls unable to withstand the heat of plunging into the atmosphere at top speed. The heat shields on the Anabel's nose glowed bright white from the heat.


             "Hell yeah!" Mercer whooped, "We made it!"


            Dy'Ahard frantically ran his hands over the controls.


            "What's wrong?"


            "That last barrage shot out the engines and we're gonna crash! Strap in!"


            The Anabel plunged towards the ground at a frightening rate and the mountains of Arminium seemed to reach up to embrace her. Dy'Ahard wrestled with the controls and managed to pull the nose up and the Anabel bounced off the mountainside instead of pile driving into the ground. The ship slid across the rocky mountain side, her once beautifully cared for exterior scratched and torn by her rough landing. Inside Mercer and Dy'Ahard hung from their harnesses, limp and unconscious from the crash. After a few minutes, Dy'Ahard stirred. Lifting his head, he stared about groggily. Then, drawing his bayonet, he cut himself loose and dropped heavily to the floor.


            Dy'Ahard lay there for a few more seconds, gathering his strength and wits. Finally, he stood up and cut Mercer loose, catching him before the older man could hit the ground, and rested him in the chair. Dy'Ahard checked Mercer's pulse and, satisfied that he was still alive, sat in his own chair to wait, checking over his weapons and ammunition as he did so. He figured they would have a few hours before the government agents arrived, maybe less if their enemies wanted to ensure that they were dead. Probably less, their enemies seemed to have developed an unhealthy desire to ensure that Mercer and Dy'Ahard breathed no more.


            It was almost a quarter hour later when Mercer opened his eyes and looked about him. His hand was on his knife and he was tense, ready to spring at a moments notice. When he saw Dy'Ahard he almost did spring, but stopped at the last minute, recognizing a friend.


            "How long was I out?"


            "About a quarter hour."


            "Any sign of them?"


            "Not yet," Dy'Ahard finished reassembling the action to his rifle and seated a full magazine with a firm smack, "What is our plan now?"


            "We have to get out of this ship," Mercer rubbed his temples, trying to clear his mind, "This is where they'll look, and we are easy prey if they catch us here. Nowhere to go. One grenade and poof."


            "Are you ready to move?"


            "Yeah," he stood up slowly, "Yeah I'm ready. Any idea where we are?"


            "Negative," Dy'Ahard shook his head, "I haven't looked outside, didn't want to risk it until you were up, letting them know we are still alive."


            "Let's go," Mercer nodded and weaved his way to the door.


            "You sure you ok?" Dy'Ahard hurried to help him make a straight course, but Mercer shook him off angrily.


            "I'm fine," Mercer said hotly, "I'm no doddering, senile fool."


            They got out of the ship and made their way as swiftly as they could to some scrub brush up the side of the hill. Far past the hill loomed a mountain range and before it stretched the red plain.


            "Let's head to the mountains," Mercer pointed out the crags that seemed to glare down at them, "I need some time to recuperate."


            "Let's try to take our time. Make sure our tracks are hid well and not wear ourselves down anymore then we have to."


            "Sounds good."


            They started off on their new journey, keeping away from the crests of the hills, hiding their trail as well as possible and watching their back trail every hour or so. It was slow but steady progress and at the end of the day, as night fell, they were several miles away from the wreck.


            They made their camp in a small vale and posted watch up near the top of the nearest hill. It was shortly after he went to sleep that Dy'Ahard was roughly shook awake by Mercer.


            "I saw lights, back where the wreck is," Mercer spoke quietly, "And then they started heading this way. We have to move, I don't know if the bastards have us on a scanner or are just randomly guessing but they will find us bloody soon enough if we don't move."


            "Shit! Let's stay low, try and keep near cover though."


            "I thought that went without saying."


            They ran through the dark night, keeping down in the shadows of the various vales, trying to avoid detection. When the hovercraft buzzed over them though and highlighted them with its search lights though, Mercer knew the game was up. The voice over the loudspeaker confirmed his guess that they had a scanner.     


            "We have you on radar," boomed the voice, "You cannot escape. Lay down your arms now and you will receive a fair trial."


            "Screw you," shouted Mercer. He shot up at the loudspeaker hoping to lodge a round inside of the hovercraft. Dy'Ahard opened up with his rifle and the searchlights went out as suddenly as they had come on. Both mercenaries leaped away from their positions, just before the hovercraft opened fire with a heavy machine-gun. They regrouped a short distance away, on the side of a hill, while the hovercraft continued to fire, chewing the area that they had been to bits.


            "You ok?" Mercer asked, filling the clip to his rifle.


            "Think so," Dy'Ahard said but his voice betrayed him.


            "Did they hit you?"


            "I think it’s my leg," Dy'Ahard tried to grin; "You go ahead. I can hold them here long enough that you can escape."


            "Here," Mercer handed him a bandolier, "Take my grenade. Good luck."


            He disappeared into the darkness. Dy'Ahard could barely hear him moving away down the hill. Then he turned his attention back to the hovercraft. It had stopped firing and was turning back and forth, trying to regain their location. Arming the grenade Mercer had given him, Dy'Ahard tossed it down towards the vehicle. It went off with a crash and a flash and the hovercraft dropped from the sky like an egg laid in flight. Several men leapt clear of the wreck and took cover in the bushes as Dy'Ahard sprayed the area with bullets.


            His fire was soon returned, his position betrayed by the fire from his rifle. As bullets zipped by him, he crawled along the slope, moving to a new place. Suddenly, there was the familiar boom of Mercer's rifle and the enemy guns fell silent. He could hear somebody screaming in pain and fired in that general direction, a quick short burst before moving on again. Once more, the enemy opened up on his position and several bullets struck his armor but he still escaped uninjured.


            Mercer's heavy rifle barked again and once more; his enemies fell silent, trying to locate this new menace. Dy'Ahard crawled slowly away from where he thought Mercer was, gritting his teeth against the pain that shot up through his injured leg. He was almost to the cover of some brush when a flare lit up the night. Dy'Ahard froze, hoping they would not see him.

            Unfortunately they did. Bullets kicking up dirt about him Dy'Ahard scrambled as fast as he could to find a place to hide. A bullet struck him in the shoulder and he dropped heavily to the ground, rolling own the hill, desperately fighting the pain that threatened to overwhelm him. He stopped rolling a few feet from where his enemies had taken up their position. They ignored him, thinking him dead, and had opened fire upon Mercer.

            Rising slightly he sprayed the area with the few rounds left in his rifle and, drawing his bayonet, rushed into them, cutting the nearest man's throat. Then a blow to the back of the head knocked him to the ground and at that close a range, his armor could not stop the blizzard of bullets as they hammered into his back.




            Mercer slipped quietly down the back of the hill and away from hovercraft. He halted at the base of the slope and glanced angrily over his shoulder. His survival instinct had prompted him to leave, plus he was supposed to look after Julie for Ice. Now he felt shame for leaving a comrade to die alone for no reason.


            Often in his career as a mercenary he had received orders to leave men behind to hold a position. Many times they had died, allowing the primary force to escape and later sweep back, crushing their enemy. Now there was no primary force. There was no one to sweep back and crush. There was no victory in defeating his enemy, only in escaping them, and the mountains held no chance of complete escape. The shame grew deeper and turned to anger. He keyed up his Company transceiver, transferred what little money he had saved into Julie's trust fund, and recorded a brief message to her. Anger kept his voice steady as he lied about her Uncle Ice's heroic last stand, defending right from wrong. Then Mercer circled around the hill and then worked his way into a flanking position. The transceiver would ensure that his last minute actions would go through, more cutting edge technology from the core. If only he'd had friends he could have contacted them with it. Then his worries were gone, replaced by rage.


            The anger gave Mercer focus and speed that he had barely ever matched before, even when he was younger. He ignored the sound of the explosion from the grenade; the sound of automatic fire merely spurred him on faster. He stopped worrying about the amount of noise he was making. With the guns firing, they would never hear him. Cresting the rise of the hill, he saw the remaining crew from the hovercraft firing upon Dy'Ahard.


            Sinking into a steady kneeling position Mercer targeted the bursts of flame from the rifles in the valley. He fired once and then moved to a new position, not even waiting to hear the man he shot scream. The guns fell silent and he slid stealthily into a new position, waiting for them to betray themselves again. His infrared scope wasn't working, something must have been knocked loose in the crash. He was amazed that it still held its zero.


            A quick burst from Dy'Ahard's gun set them to firing again, and Mercer drew a new bead. His rifle roared and again he was off, not waiting to see if they had identified his position. Their guns fell silent again and Mercer slipped into a prone position that would give him the most support. It was then that the flare went off, lighting the scene in a bright white light. He could see the remaining men in the valley, as well as Dy'Ahard scrambling for cover; running as well as he could on his injured leg. They opened fire.


            Dy'Ahard dropped and rolled to the bottom of the hill. As he fell, Mercer started shooting rapidly, systematically picking off the men down there. One of them turned and, before Mercer’s precise fire picked him off, got off a spray of bullets. Something tugged at the shoulder of Mercer's coat and a shot smashed into his arm. 


            The anger boiling within Mercer overflowed as he watched them gun down his friend. It had never occurred to him before that they were friends, he had still considered their partnership one of convenience, but now he knew. They were friends. Shot in the back. Anger overloaded his sense of reason.


            "I'll kill you, you sons a'bitches," he screamed, trying to steady his rifle with his injured arm.


            The big gun bucked as he fired the last round but it missed, merely spraying dirt across the area. Casting it aside, he rolled down the hill, drawing his pistol and then rising to his feet. He fired three times and two of the enemy dropped. Then he dropped to the ground and rolled forward, their bullets flying harmlessly overhead and then trailing behind him. He rose to a half-crouch, shot the two closest men and threw the empty pistol into the face of another. Drawing his knife he shoulder charged the man whom he had struck with the pistol.


            The man leveled his rifle and pulled the trigger, but Mercer was unstoppable. He barely felt the bullets pounding through his armor and into his stomach. The man firing into him screamed but it turned into a gurgle as Mercer’s knife cut his throat. Then the last man took the time to aim and fired. Mercer turned, fell to his knees and then onto his face, his blood staining the ground dark, although in the fading light of the flare it was unnoticeable. He fell only ten feet from Dy'Ahard's body, the last of his brothers in arms.


            Thus, the last two soldiers of the Arminium Campaign passed out of this transitory life. A news story later that week told of the firefight that the mercenaries had with the cops. It maintained that a force of ten mercenaries killed all but one of the police, after having been finally tracked down and offered justice.







© 2006 by Byron Wheatley.  I am currently living in Miami Beach, Fl, when not at sea with the US Coast Guard. I enjoy writing in my free time.