Author : Jake Trommer

When the Terran Hegemony declared war on Nouveau Katanga, they weren’t lacking for cockyness. General Janssens boasted about how his intrepid soldiers would march over N.K.’s “rabble in arms” within the week.

As the rabble in question, my colleagues and I begged to differ. Four weeks on and the General realized that we might actually have had a point. As it turns out, when you put out a call for professional soldiers, you don’t get the tossers who show up expecting to lounge around in barracks doing nothing. And when you put your conscript infantry up against those professionals then those conscripts are going to get pretty severely mauled.

That wasn’t to say that we’d danced our way through the roses; the Terran Hegemony Peacemakers might’ve been conscripts but they could be just as nasty as we were. I’d had their flank during the Anh Loa Uprising, and had told the President and my fellow officers time and again that they weren’t to be taken lightly.

Johann Mueller had begged to differ. And when he’d led the Eighth Commando in a headlong motorized charge on a Peacemaker outpost, they’d pretty handily torn his lads to shreds. That night we’d found ourselves raising a glass to another fallen comrade that night in the bar.

We weren’t in the capitol anymore: with the Hegemony attack happening in full force, combat commanders tended to get rather strange looks when in the rear. Instead our watering hole was the dingy bar in Themala, ten minute’s drive away from the fighting and notorious for not being able to afford mechanized wait staff.

Dan Carton-Barber, back to the wall like he always insisted on sitting, was the one who made the toast. “To absent comrades.”

And he and Ian Wicks and I raised our drinks in salute. “Heard the news?” Ian asked after draining his tumbler.

“What’s that?”

“The Hegemony might be hiring on the Rakharans to support their forces.”

“They wouldn’t,” Dan breathed, hand unconsciously tracing the scar jagging across his face. A scar a Rakharan officer’s sword had given him in the Nemean Abyss. “Earth’s always handled her own problems, why hire them?”

He wasn’t wrong—the reason men like me had done so well for ourselves was the Hegemony’s insistence that humans be used to solve human problems, even when their armies weren’t sufficient. And men like me had done very well for ourselves.

Ian produced his sidearm, an antique slugthrower, and began to clean the weapon. “They’re desperate,” he said simply in his posh drawl. “If N.K. can break away, God only knows what will happen next. They want to make an example of us.”

Dan fumbled for a cigarette, expression haunted. Those of us who’d been in the Anh Loa Uprisings had never truly left—nor had it truly left them. “Steady on Dan, there’s a good chap,” I said quietly, placing a hand on his shoulder. “We’ve faced the lizards before, we can do so again.”

With a will, he tore himself away from whatever memory he was drowning in. “I know, Mike,” he said, blinking. “Just…remembering.”

Even the usually stoic Ian was about to say something there when a noise sounded in the distance, the dull CRUNK of a man-portable mortar. We froze. “Outgoing or incoming?”

The explosion and screams from the column of APCs parked outside answered that. Weapons fire, gun and laser alike, began to sound in the night.

“Offhand,” said Ian, calmly reassembling his pistol, “I’d say incoming.”

As one, we got to our feet. “Come on then,” I said. “Time to stand-to.”

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