Chapter 29: "Meanwhile, On Earth"

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Mercenary

In the centuries before the cataclysm, a mercenary was a person who took part in an armed conflict motivated by the desire for private gain. In other words, a mercenary was a person who fought for personal gains of money or other recompense instead of fighting for ideological interests of a country. In the three and a half centuries since the cataclysm, the term mercenary has taken on a more generic definition of any fighting force not directly under the control of standing national government or major organization of political significance (i.e. Corporation, Religious Institution... etc.).

- University of New Lazlo Database (Updated 100 PA)

"The ground runs crimson with the blood of both the guilty and the innocent; which side of the line they stood on means nothing as all fall under the blade of the reaper."

- The Collected Prophecies of Tamara Walker

1

North of Red Rock

Front Line

The men and women of all species comprising the Grey Bear Mercenary Company were spread in a loose arc on a ridge overlooking the Detroit River. Two hundred seventy two battle-hardened veterans from hundreds of firefights stood between the people of Red Rock and the oncoming storm.

"I'm going to make a huge leap and say that's not a good thing," Rudy said, focusing his binoculars on the multitude of camp fires spread before him.

"Whatever gave you that idea?" Adam asked, shouldering his rifle and focusing the scope on the Thorn encampment. "Could it be the thousands of bug-eyed killers down there, eating what I hope is not long pork, working themselves into a bit of a frenzy?"

"Something like that," Rudy said, not looking to Adam. The two men stood the most forward of all the observation teams, nearly close enough to the Thorns to spit on them.

"Rudy, this Miranda," the voice of the Techno Wizard said on the command circuit.

"Go ahead, Randa," Rudy said. His lack of humor was more jarring to the other Grey Bears than the forces arrayed in front of them.

"The militia and the rest of our people are as ready as they'll ever be. The Colonel wants to know how close the Thorns are to moving," the sound of wind could be heard over her voice, indicating she was high in the sky, keeping watch over her people. "We're only going to get one shot at a first strike, Rudy."

"Copy that, Randa," Rudy whispered, unaware he was lowering his voice. "Tell the Colonel and Karl it's only gonna be a few more minutes."

"Copy that," the GBMC executive officer replied.

"Will it work?" Adam asked once Miranda cleared the circuit and radio silence reasserted itself.

"It'll work; trust me, I designed it, brother," Rudy said, turning his head to smile darkly at his best friend and battle buddy. Then he added, "Well, I reengineered it from an old American design, but same thing. Either way, Metal Storm will make them pay."

Adam stiffened.

Rudy snapped his head back and his smile disappeared; the thorns were moving. "Randa," he said coldly into the throat mic, "now!"

***

GBMC Staging Area

"Copy that, Randa. Keep station over the front and let us know if anything changes," Colonel McCoy said. Then he added, "And when it does... bring the lightning."

"There's no one better to have up there, Colonel," Karl said. The artillery and armor commander was a dozen yards from his leader and ensconced in his massive suit of powered armor. "If anyone can keep it together and do the job, it's Miranda."

"Remember, when we met her, Karl?" James asked, turning to look at his old friend.

"How could I forget?" the older man laughed. "We'd just left Ishpeming and were chilling in that bar outside the Tolkeen border when she got into it with that bartender... what was his name?"

"Woody," James laughed. "Yeah, the kid had no idea how bad an idea it was to cut her off; our girl loves her moonshine."

"She damn near wrecked the place before we calmed her down," Karl snorted. "Thought that kid was gonna piss himself."

"Good times," James McCoy agreed.

"Yeah I..." Karl started but stopped when the sounds of battle filled the air and the radio waves.

***

Other Side of the Detroit River

"Did you know this used to be another country?" Books asked. The scholar cum warrior was in the center of the recon group working its way behind the Thorn lines. "Everything on this side of the river was called Canada, back when the world was whole."

"Is that why some of the older residents of Lazlo call themselves Canadians?" YJ asked, genuinely interested. He was on point with a dozen GBMC Rangers fanned out around him. Communicating sub-audibly through throat mics and ear pieces allowed unfettered short range communications, without the worry of being overheard.

"No," John Anders answered before Books could. "That's more of a way for them to distinguish themselves from the Coalition States. They see them as a dark and twisted version of the old Americans, so the term "Canadian" came back into vogue a couple of decades ago."

"He's right," Books said, nodding approvingly at the young mage. "Ever since the rise of the CS people, the major centers of civilization have done everything they can to distance themselves from those sons of bitches."

Every member of the team froze.

The sounds of insectile screeching and roars filled with unconcealed blood lust split the air. All further conversation died in the wake; the fight had begun.

***

Ten Miles West of Old Detroit

"The scouts report fighting at the old city," Lieutenant Khyber Lin said to his father, the General. His armored horse (more appropriate to the terrain they were traveling than a mechanical conveyance) chuffed, seeming pleased to be useful, despite the circumstances. "Captain Meridian ordered me to report face to face; he fears our communications might give us away this close to Thorn territory."

General Raynott Lin, commanding officer of the New Lazlo Expeditionary Force, nodded approvingly. All around him, the soldiers representing the City State of New Lazlo (the youngest of the free nations), marched not away from the sounds of battle, but towards them. His heart swelled with pride.

Not all of them will come home, Raynott thought, sadness tingeing his pride. But those who fall on the field of battle do so for a righteous cause. They will never be forgotten, and those who survive will never be able to repay them.

In the distance, the sounds of heavy weapons fire were followed by the shaking of the ground beneath their feet.

"Soldiers of New Lazlo!" General Lin yelled, standing in the stirrups of his steed. "Double time now; the battle has begun and we are late to the field!"

The words were answered by a cheer and a quickening of pace.

Storm winds blew and the fires raged.

To Be Continued

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