2947-10-29 – Tales from the Service: A Mercenary’s Wrath
Last week in this space, we left Jacob Borisov and his groundside detachment from the mercenary carrier Taavi Bancroft (in system on contract with one of the many private interests in protecting the planet’s xenoarchaeological heritage from the Incarnation) at the end of yet another sharp engagement in what was supposed to be a milk-run contract on Adimari Valis (Tales from the Service: A Mercenary’s Milk-Run). Tasked to protect a heavy-transport crawler as it trundled through the mountain passes between the planet’s remarkable Xenarch ruins site and the spaceport capitol, he likely wished that he had price-gouged the planetary governor more than he actually had.
In this later part of his account, which was accompanied by microcamera footage, the mercenary commander has already completed the contract – but only after learning that a simple protection contract had become something entirely different. The final attack on the transport crawler was nothing like the opportunist ambush described here last week – it was professionals against professionals. Friends against friends. It was, as it turned out, a mercenary's worst nightmare - fratricide.
Jacob shoved past the governor’s secretary and lone office guard and all but kicked open the office’s imitation oak door. The guard and secretary, stunned by his arrival, reached for weapons, but the three mercenaries in full battle harness squeezing into the outer chamber behind their commander persuaded them to allow this unscheduled appointment to intrude on Governor Yamaguchi’s calendar.
Jacob stomped into the spacious governor’s office to find Yamaguchi sitting placidly behind his desk. The little man barely looked up at the intrusion. “Mr. Borisov, welcome back. Have a seat.”
Jacob approached the desk and tossed a handful of hard-synth wafers in front of the governor. “You knew about this.” He didn’t sit down. Sitting down would be admitting defeat.
Yamaguchi glanced up only briefly, then picked up one of the wafers, turning it over in his hand. Each was slightly curved, and bore a unit insignia on the convex side. Several were burn-scarred or stained with unmentionable things which even the deepest clean-cycle had failed to expunge. “I’m sorry, I don’t follow.”
Jacob growled. If he had to embed each of the little insignias in his employer’s head, he would make the man admit what he had contracted the Bancroft outfit to do. “Those are the Hoplites’ patches, dammit.” Cassandra’s Hoplites, a ground-force mercenary outfit which shared several investors with Jacob’s own mercenary company, had been one of the other outfits rotated through the long-term Vinteri defense job. Their commander, Lori Cassandra, was a personal friend. “They’re the damned dig-site security force. Why in all hells would the dig-site security force hit us halfway back to the city on your little escort job?”
Yamaguchi set down the patch face-up, the shield, twin spears, and Greek omega glyph only too visible. “Perhaps you mean, why would persons equipped with dig-site security company hardware hit you? There have been thefts at the site recently. Perhaps-”
“Liar. I’ve already spoken with Captain Cassandra.” Jacob placed his hands on the desk and leaned forward. “You know what the penalty for administrative corruption is on my home-world, governor?”
Yamaguchi looked at the hands on his desk calmly. It was unlikely he knew about the iron brutality of Schovjsa’s penal code. “We are not on your home-world. Besides, you have already been paid, and the contract was fairly struck. I do not see-”
“I lost one man and two are clinging to life in geltanks. The Hoplites lost seven, including two who used to be on my crew. Explain yourself immediately.”
“Or you’ll what?”
Jacob glanced above the governor’s head to the cityscape visible behind the desk. “Or I throw you through that window and then go have a chat with the other mercenary outfits guarding your worthless little planet, on the ground and in the sky. I think maybe half will stay, if your successor promises them double.”
The governor stared up silently for several seconds. Both knew the threat was far from idle – Mercenary companies tended to think of themselves as all fighting on the same side, and when a client earned a reputation for pitting one company against another, most outfits would avoid them. As for a vigilante defenestration, Jacob might not be able to carry out the threat alone, but with the help of the three toughs glowering at Yanaguchi’s secretary and guard, he certainly could.
With a sigh, the governor looked down. “Perhaps you are right. A bit of an... explanation is owed.”
“Talk.” Jacob straightened and folded his arms.
“The crawler and its cargo were perhaps less secret than you were led to believe. It was... meant to draw out some of the criminal element who has been causing the digs so much trouble.”
“The treasure hunters. The first several attacks were that sort of rabble.”
“And all attacks would have been, except that the Hoplites learned the rumor which I allowed to circulate in the underground. That the crawler was full of Xenarch treasures being smuggled off-world by a corrupt dig official. They asked CAX, but they were not aware of this effort... The Hoplites went into action.”
“Right into our trigger-happy line of fire.”
Yamaguchi nodded. “In retrospect, perhaps they should have been notified, but I did not wish them to spoil the ruse.”
“Eight good merc troopers died for this idiocy, governor.” Jacob leveled a finger at the administrator, still not sure whether he was going to throw the man out the window. “And what did you get for it, thirty fewer treasure-pickers?”
The governor nodded. “Would you like to learn why such a ruse was executed, Mr. Borisov?”
Jacob scowled. “It had damned well better be good.”
Yamaguchi held up a slate, contract terms already visible on its surface. “Good or no, I think you will find it pays well.”
Jacob snatched the device and skimmed its contents. The number of zeroes on the contract’s full payout would have made his eyes bug out, if he hadn’t been good at hiding his surprise. Of course, that price tag came with an ambitious plan of operations.
“Let me know by tomorrow if you accept.” Yamaguchi gave a bored, dismissive wave, and returned to his forms.
Jacob growled under his breath. They both knew he would accept – the payout was simply too high to do otherwise.