Lone Star – Chapter 10

Trindle dismounted first, playing the part of bad-cop perfectly. He didn’t point the rifle at either Mageera or Garranth, but it was up and at the ready.  Yaran smirked, getting off his own hover-cycle and readying his own weapon.  He walked slowly over to Damian’s hovercycle, helping Mageera dismount. Her hands had been cuffed since she climbed on, and she was awkward getting down.  Garranth nearly fell off when he hit the ground.  The image was perfect.

They had stopped a safe distance from the front gates of a decent-size military outpost.  The occupants were a unit from the 1st Apolcalyptic Cavalry, which mostly controlled the territory Yaran and his team had planned to move through.  What they hadn’t planned on was being caught between two patrolling units- large patrolling units, at least company strength- and the outpost that they now stood in front of.  Had they been spotted in the wilderness, a group of mutants their size would have definetly attracted notice.  They might even have been arrested and brought back here and thrown into jail until they could explain themselves.  So they had opted to come right up to the gates and show themselves.  This way, only two of them were handcuffed.

“I’m not getting a good feeling about this, si-shon,” Mageera said as they walked closer to the gates.  The searchlights were converging on them, even though there was another hour or so of light.

“Being in handcuffs never feels good,” Damian replied with a smirk.

“Yeah, next time its your turn,” she said.

“Ok, people, lets get our game faces on,” Yaran said, putting his hand on Mageera’s shoulder.  Then he shouted out to the guards.  “Hey there!  Hope we didn’t startle you folks!”

One of the guards at the gate replied, “We had you on our scopes two kilometers out.  Identify yourselves, please, and get ready to put down your weapons when we come out.”

“I’m afraid our friends here would make a break for it if we did that, sir,” Yaran shouted. The group continued moving forward.  “We’re Coalition States – Mutant Containment and Recovery team 661, on our way back home.  Figured we should let you know we’re in the neighborhood.  All our heavier weapons are broken down and stowed away.”

After a moment to report to his superior, the voice called out from the gate again.  “Stand by a moment.”  There was a loud clunk, then the reinforced gate slowly swung open.  The Apocalyptic Cavalry built even their outposts out of heavy materials; this one had an 8-meter-high wall of reinforced concrete, and the gates themselves were heavy composite that would stop a dragon’s fire.  There were large burn-marks on the one Yaran and his team passed through, giving hints that something had once tested the fort’s defenses.  In the open ground on the other side, 15 guards in piecemeal armor and heavy weapons stood at attention around a pair of officers in battle uniforms of some kind.  Yaran had never met anyone from this particular fighting force, even though he’d been through the area dozens of times.

“Thanks for letting us inside,” Yaran said, stepping out in front of his team.  “Captain Yaran, MCR.”

One of the officers stepped forward, offering his hand.  The action surprised Yaran a little, but he didn’t let it show.  “Welcome to Outpost West Friendship.  Lt Colonel John Parkins, and this is my executive officer, Major Torres.”  The woman beside him offered her hand as well, and Yaran shook it.

“How many in your team, Captain?” she asked, looking over the group.

“Ten of us, plus two prisoners,” Yaran looked back over his shoulder.  “We’ve got outdoor gear, just wanted you to know we were in your neigh-”

The Lt Colonel cut him off.  “Not a chance we’re letting you sleep outdoors, Captain.”  He nodded to the major, who turned and walked briskly toward a cluster of buildings on the eastern wall. He turned back to Yaran.  “Your prisoners will be better watched in our brig, and I’d guess you and your team could use a hot meal and a night out of the weather.”

Yaran smiled, and sighed. He was better spoken than most of the dog-boys in the CS military, thanks to study in Tolkeen and many years of practice.  It was certainly swaying the human officers before him.  “It sure would be nice to not have half of us on watch, sir. Not much we can offer in exchange, I’m afraid.”

Parkins waved the idea away.  “If it got back to the brass that I had a CS team come thru and didn’t extend every courtesy, I’d wake up a private.”  He chuckled, then waved the group toward the buildings.  “So whats the story on your captives?”

Yaran smiled, signaling his team to move inside.  They began to move inside, doing their best to hide their discomfort.  “Nothing too dangerous.  I served in a patrol unit with one of them, years ago.  Sometimes we get a canine that just doesn’t sit well with the life they’re born into, and we can’t do much for them.  We usually can’t bring them back alive.  But most runaways just want to get out for a while, see what the rest of the world is like, and those we can usually get back into line after some time on KP.  That’s what we’ve got here.”  He looked over his team, reading the discomfort on their faces- he had just described the whole group of them, himself included.  “They’re not a threat to anyone.”

“We’ve got a few prisoners in our brig, so there’s guards there already.  We’ll keep an eye on them for you.”

“That’s very thoughtful, sir.”

Major Torres was striding back toward them.  “All set for them, sir.”  She turned to Yaran.  “Follow me, Captain.”

Fifteen minutes later, they’d been shown their bunks, brought their hovercycles into the hangar, and were sitting down for a meal in the mess hall.  Trindle and Yaran sat with Parkins, Torres, and the outpost quartermaster, Captain Wellington.  The others were arrayed around three other tables, enjoying the best meal they’d had since leaving Tolkeen.

Yaran could barely eat, he was answering so many questions.  Wellington was the most curious of them.  “Why is it you’re all out of uniforms, Captain?”

Yaran smiled, having forseen this question before they’d pulled up outside.  “Well, a team like ours, CS mutant team this far north-west, we’re tempting fate as it is.  Wearing uniform armor out here would be like painting targets right on our backs.”

Wellington smiled, nodding.  “You nervous about stopping at a post like this?  No telling whether we’d believe you were really CS military.  Sounds like you were taking quite a chance coming in like that.”

Yaran had thought of that question, too.  He amused himself with the thought that the best response would be mostly the truth.  “True, but you’ve got a lot of patrols out there, I’m sure.  If one of them had come across a group of 10 mutant canines out in the wild, toting guns and riding hovercycles, what would their response have been?”

Major Torres answered.  “We’d presume you were a gang looking for trouble.”

Yaran nodded.  “Precisely.  What would you advise that patrol to do, given a report like that?”

“Bring you in for questioning.”

Yaran opened his hands. “There it is.  We’re behind schedule as it is.”  He pointed his thumb over his shoulder, even though he had no idea which way the brig was.  “Those two were tough to track down.  They’d almost made it to Tolkeen when we caught up to them.”  He took a last bite of the steak they’d set in front of him.  “I gotta say, Colonel, your people here sure know how to make a tasty piece of meat.”

Parkins nodded. “It’s buffalo out here, not cattle.  We trade with the tribes to the south all the time.”  He stood.  “Well, I need to get back to work, Captain.  You and your dogs get a good night’s sleep, and we’ll see you off in the morning.”

*****

Yaran stopped in to see Garranth and Mageera before turning in. They were fairly comfortable, in one cell with two bunks in it.  They didn’t speak to him, merely nodded silently.  The guards were too close for any communication between the canines.  Yaran sighed at the sight of his friends behind bars, but the cell was clean, the bunks had matresses and pillows, and the two had been fed.  He’d made sure his team had tucked away extras of the meal they’d been served in the mess hall for these two.  Truth be told, even Garranth and Mageera were going to be more comfortable here than they would have in the tents.

In the cell beside them, separated by a concrete block wall, a pair of humanoids sat on their bunks, looking scared and tired.  It took Yaran a few moments to determine their race; they were both pale, thin and long-limbed for humans, and the pointed ears gave them away.  Whether the rifts in space/time had brought these two elves here recently, or they were the descendants of travelers and had grown up here, Yaran could never tell.  It didn’t really matter in the end.  The world was big enough for all of them.  The trouble was that not everyone believed the world was big enough.  And for some people, it didn’t matter how big the world was.  That was the way the Coalition States were, and the Apocalyptic Cavalry wasn’t much better.

That had been one of the real reasons Yaran had left, he remembered as he headed back to the building he’d be passing the night in.  He couldn’t find it within himself to fight and kill others who had done nothing to deserve it.  He had no problem with justice to those who had done wrong.  And with as dangerous as the world was, justice was death, more often than not.  That he had come to grips with long ago.  But when one of his officers had ordered his unit to execute an entire village- men, women, children alike, humans and beings from other pockets of existence- he couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger.  His squad had patrolled the area several times before, and he’d known those people to be peaceful.  Even the dimensional beings- the D-B’s, as they were nicknamed- had hurt no one, and had used their supernatural gifts to build and help things grow.

And because he had done what he thought was right, he had been severely punished.  He had been imprisoned, whipped publicly, and sent to a retraining program.  But the worst part was that his squad-mates no longer respected him.  They had all followed their orders without hesitation, and Yaran couldn’t accept a place among creatures like that.

*****

Trindle woke on his own, just before sunrise. Yaran had been up and ready to go throughout his watch, keeping himself occupied by looking over the maps they’d been given and going over their plans for their route.  The Apocalyptic Cavalry had a relatively small area that they ‘protected’, but they had mapped it very thoroughly.  He had not expected their visit to turn out so profitably.

The younger dog stretched his arms out, then looked around the room.  “I wasn’t sure whether I was dreaming all this.”

Yaran chuckled.  “Feel like going for a run before we spend all day on the cycles?  It’ll look good for our hosts.”

Trindle jumped out of bed, going through a longer set of stretches.  “That’d be great.  I’d be worried about half the team falling out on the run, though.”

“We’ll keep it short.  Have Damian lead us.”

The soldiers at their posts watched the team of canines pick out a small part of the parade grounds, going through a series of exercises before running around the outside edge of the outpost.  The rest of the team, even those who hadn’t kept up with exercise over the years, had agreed that a day of riding hovercycles would be a lot easier on them after a run.

Gordon and Trindle spent a few minutes checking out their cycles and gear before Yaran took Damian along to retrieve their ‘prisoners’. Mageera and Garranth were as prepared as they could have been, and tried not to look too relaxed as they were led out of the building they’d been held in and assisted onto their mounts.  It wasn’t until they were a few kilometers out of sight of the outpost before they finally relaxed, and removed the handcuffs.

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