Roan observed his son playing with his toy gears. He had a row Southern gears lined up facing off against a single Northern gear. He flicked a marble at a Cheeta, his tiny voice mimicking a crescendo autocannon and missle fire. The Cheeta toppled riddled with imaginary bullet holes.
"What's that you're playing Joshua?" Roan asked.
Without looking up from his game Joshua answered matter of factly, "These are the southern scum..." Joshua held up the model of a Jaguar "... and this is you".
Roan smiled, then with a tinge of sadness wondered if there was ever a time when his family hadn't been at war or preparing for it. Now there was a new enemy. The CEF had hit the ground running, surprising and overunning positions, north and south alike. Roan felt hopeless, crippled, miles from the front.
The instructor's Hunter ran at him with surprising speed, fainting to the left, then drawing a vibroknife. Roan tried to bring his autocannon to bear. Too late, the sargeant blocked his movement, tagging him with the training blade. The Jaguar's systems shut down with sad whine and Roan cursed himself for being so sluggish.
"Corporal you have to think faster, your greatest weapon is you mind. An unarmed gear can be just as dangerous as one with a full payload if you let it be."
"Yes Sir," sighed Roan.
"That'll be all for today Gentlemen. Head back to base."
The rest of the unit turned and began a lumbering run back to base.
"Roan, you wait here a minute."
"I need a smoke"
Roan climed out of the Jaguar's cockpit. The sargeant was standing in the shadow of the Hunter, sheilding himself from the morning sun. He lit himself a cigarette.
"You're a good kid Roan," the Sargeant stated out of the corner of his mouth, lighting the cigarette at the same time. "You're smart, or, at least your test scores say you are. I get the feeling you're holding back though?"
"I hesitated," mumbled Roan, kicking the sand at his feet.
"It takes time kid, but don't hesitate, trust your instincts."
"I saw you coming, I knew that you were going to try something different. I just couldn't believe it when you closed on me with just the blade."
The Sergeant took a long drag, exhaling as he spoke, "Get used to it kid, life's full o' surprises. Just when you think you've got it all worked it hits you where and when you're least expecting it."
The bar was packed. His second badlands tour was over; the regiment was on the eve of heading home. Roan thanked the prophet. Tommorrow their relief wound arrive and he'd be heading back home to his wife and their new born son. Roan conjured up an image of Elsie in his mind, as the Barman filled his glass.
The fighting had been tough this time. Rover gangs with suspected Milicia support. He'd lost Grieg and Ericson, two new recruits. The enemy had been well trained and resourceful.
He scanned the room; the men and women of his command were letting their hair down. Laughing and letting themselves forget the past few months bitter tit for tat fighting. Parkes and Wingate looked cosy snuggled in onether's arms. I'll have to watch those two he mused, making a mental note to himself to have a word when they arrvied back home. Let them have their fun, he decided, life was so damned short.
Peterson was balancing a beer glass on his forhead, daring allcomers to punch him in the gut. If he kept his balance they bought him another drink. Heavens that man could drink. Wingate's assertion that the glass was glued in place met with a growl then a goofy grin from the big man. Roan smiled.
"All as it should be," Roan mumbled before standing and draining his beer. Then, out of the corner of his eye he caught a figure winding its way through the crowd. It would be a pretty brave local to venture into this wolf's den thought Roan. His eyes followed the figure. They kept their face hidden, Roan could'nt decide if it was a man or woman. Roan's stomach sank and tightened. Something was wrong. The figure reached under their poncho. On instinct Roan dived rolling a table on top of himself.
A flash of light... a roar... then nothing.
Joshua was tugging on his dressing gown, bringing him out of his reverie.
"You weren't listening. I said when I grow up I'm gonna be just like you. I'm gonna become famous and kill those southern bastards.
"Joshua, where'd you learn that language?"
"That's what Tobi Jenkins calls them, he said they murdered his dad an' he's gonna kill 'em and I gonna too."
With that Joshua smashed the Cheeta and the Jaguar together, making explosion sounds. Then broke into a childish giggle and ran off, his attention switching to something else.
Now they had a common enemy. The battlefield had shifted from shades of grey to crisp black and white. The petty border squables, the covert missions seemed insignificant. This wasn't about lines on a map; this was a fight for the Terra Novan way of life.
Roan rolled his wheel chair forward; picking up the figures that would become anti-personel mines to the unwary foot. He held the Cheeta in the one hand and in the Jaguar in the other.
It was never so simple before, just us against them.
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