In the Eyes of a Ranger

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Chapter 22

A week passed by after Boone and I came to the Dam with no event. Day after day we sat in our camps, us and the Legion, staring across the Colorado over our gun sights and waiting for the other man to make his move. Why didn't they attack? Their forces were in place and they had to know that they had us outnumbered, so why didn't they make a move? It wasn't like them to just sit tight and wait. The Legion were bulls, more likely to smash through a wall than to use the door in plain view just to prove how strong they were. They were in place, they were ready, and for the moment they held the advantage. I remembered all too well how they had come filing off the boats back at Nelson and stormed up from the river before we scarcely knew they were even there and I had an idea that they would do the same thing here when the time came.

Could they know about the president's visit? I had no doubt that they did, and thought made me cringe. The Legion had their spies everywhere in the NCR, both the Frumentarii and crooked sources all over the place. Merchants, mercenaries, wanderers, anyone who wanted a quick cap and didn't care where it came from sold information to the Legion. There were even places where high-ranking officers in the NCR military had been found out as being paid off or replaced in order to gain classified information. A while back I'd heard about how Jubal had found out a major over at Camp McCarran as being a Frumentarii spy and gunned him down in a control tower.

The news of Angeline's pregnancy had my head spinning. Several times I found myself rereading her letter while on the wall and walking the lines checking on my men. They were good men and top Rangers, every one of them, and they needed no direction in their duties. We had all been through it and we knew what was expected of us and, furthermore, we were all Rangers. We had been trained well by our drillers and by the Mojave. All of them looked to me for leadership and they all seemed to like me in the role. Some of them were older and more experienced than me, but they all knew that I'd been through it too and that I'd been at Nelson. Most of the other Rangers who'd fought there were dead now, either at the battle itself or in the ensuing fighting in and around the town. Gibson, Gray, Bronson, Cooper, and a dozen others, all gone now. Some of them had heard about the letter and the news it contained and several of them gave me smiles and nods as I passed by.

Often in the past I had contemplated having a child with Jenny back on our farm. She had always wanted children and, truth be told, I had always thought of it with pleasure myself. I had always wanted a son that I could teach how to hunt, to shoot, to track, how to find water in the dry lands, how to fight when it was necessary and how to talk yourself out of it when it wasn't, all the things that my father had taught me. I had less to offer a daughter, but the thought of a little girl made me smile anyway. I could remember the way that my father had always doted on my sisters back when he was alive. They had always laughed when he came home from one of his hunts or one of his adventures down the trails. When we heard that he'd been killed, they had sobbed for hours and clung to my mother like ticks. They were both daddy's girls, always ready to run to him and laugh and play with him every chance they got. Us boys had gotten the most of his attention, always going with him on hunts, trading trips, and the like, but my sisters had always been the apple of his eye.

What kind of a father could I be? The though had been in my mind ever since I read the letter and it wouldn't go away. How could I be a father to a child in the life that I led? I was a man of violence who had lived by the gun and knife, a man who had taken too many lives to be called upon to help start and nourish one. How could I raise a child after all that I had seen, all that I had done? How long could I keep the violent part of me concealed from those that I loved?

That was nonsense. Was my father not a man not unlike myself, a fighter and a killer of men? I had been called a killer more times than I could count, but I had always been taught that there was a difference between killing and outright murder. Killing a man in battle in order to survive was something altogether different from shooting that same man down in the street for no reason at all. Although I might be a killer, I was no murderer, and for that I had little reason to fear retribution either in this life or the next. My father had lived and fought in rougher times than these, back when the Mojave was an empty wasteland with only a handful of settlers just beginning to trickle in from the west and the east and when it was literally every man for himself, and hadn't he found a way to make a life for himself? Hadn't he been able to start his own family with a woman he loved and done a spectacular job of it?

The Mojave was full to the brim with men who had lived by the bullet and the blade and yet found a way to make a living for themselves in this harsh land. No man lived in this place without having blood on his, or her, hands. Whether it was raiders, the Legion, ghouls, the Khans, or just the squalid ravages of the cities and the camps where the poorer folk were forced to live, no one lasted long in the Mojave without knowing how to fight and to kill. At every turn there were men and creatures who would kill a man as soon as look at him and take all that he had and all that his family had to offer. Men fought over land, water, some scrap of metal in a heap of Old World junk or just the last piece of moldy bread that could be found in the camp. Even the most domestic farmer or townsman out here more than likely had at least one killing under his belt and more than a few were men who were running from a past they would rather forget in some town or another.

Well, if those men could do it, then so could I. I was no better or worse than them and now, for the first time in a long time, I had something to live for. For so long I had been on a mission to simply kill as many of the Legion as I could for what they had done to me and mine and not caring whether I lived or died in the process. Now I had something else, something beyond the battlefield and a lonesome unmarked grave on some silent patch of desert out in the middle of nowhere, to look forward to on the other side of the fight. Somewhere out there was a high mountain valley where I would build my home and in a little town near the front lines was a woman whom I loved and a child that would soon come into the world with my blood in their veins. For the first time in close to a year, I had a family.

Preparations were still being made for the president's arrival. The stage had been put up and the sound systems had been put in place, drapes and decorations were hanging everywhere on the command building and the inner facings of the perimeter, the guard had been doubled all over the Dam. The California Rangers were constantly on patrol, and after a few days a vertibird came in carrying Heavy Rangers, all of them wearing salvaged and repurposed armor that had been taken from the Brotherhood of Steel after the short war over Helios One. They all carried Battle Rifles and heavy weapons of one kind or another. These were the best, the elite of the elite, who had been recruited and trained for the one purpose of protecting the president and other VIP's coming out of the NCR. That could only mean one thing; Kimball was on his way.

Just over the mountains I could see the darkness of gathering clouds. It would soon be the rainy season, the signal that winter would soon begin. The desert would bloom again, the rivers and streams would run in their dry banks, the watering holes and the tinajas would be filled once again, and for a time life would return to the Mojave after a long season of death. Up in my valley the snow would soon be falling, but that was no matter. The work could wait and the trails would be open soon enough. I could have a cabin up in a couple of weeks, a crop in another week, and with any luck could buy a few head of Bighorners from the mutants at Jacobstown and drive them in within a day or two. I could almost see the valley in bloom, the meadows covered in rich, green grass and colored with wildflowers, the birds and insects singing in the trees, and I could imagine a hot meal cooked over a real hardwood fire in that cabin that I would build. It was a fine, grand dream.

The sound of an approaching vertibird brought me back to reality. The sound was still far off in the distance and I could hear the methodical beating of the engine in the valleys beyond the hills. That would have to be President Kimball's craft coming in. the military didn't have many of those birds left and their use was strictly limited to official use only. The sound came closer and closer as I listened and I could feel the tension building in the ranks as it came nearer. They all knew that the president was taking a huge risk coming here and they knew that he was coming to decorate one of their own and the NCR men took comfort in the thought. For us Rangers, though, it gave us all an uneasy feeling. We all knew that he Legion had to have something in mind for his visit, and that if something happened to their president then the NCR would be looking for someone to lay blame on. We were right out front where the enemy would be coming through, when they did, and I began to realize that that was no coincidence.

A trooper came running down the long concrete ribbon and I heard his boots grate on the old concrete and I heard our sentry challenge him and his response, but I thought nothing of it. Messengers were always coming and going to and from the command post relying orders when the radios were down or when the comms were being monitored or running silent. It wasn't until a Ranger came up behind me and said my name that I wondered why he was there.

"Ranger Weathers," he said, "your presence is requested at the command post. Chief Hanlon and Colonel Moore have both ordered it."

Hanlon and Moore both wanted me there? Well, I guess that was that, then. I transferred command to Ranger Orbison and slung my Cowboy Repeater over my shoulder, then followed the messenger back to the command post at a steady trot. As we passed the stage and the seating area I could see that the NCR wasn't pulling any punches on this one. Every seat was already filled with troopers in dress uniforms and brushed BDU's, some of them armed but with most of their weapons in coned stacks just behind the seating area, and on the wall of the Dam, the rail of the command post, and all along the edge of the upper level of the building I could see snipers and sharpshooters posted at every vantage point as well as Heavy Rangers with heavy weapons and armor were posted all around the stage itself. One of them was making a last check of the podium as I passed by.

Hanlon, Moore, Boone, and Jubal were all on the roof of the command center when I got there. Hanlon was in his same dirty and worn armor, looking fresh from the field as usual, while Colonel Moore was in her full dress uniform. Jubal was dressed in his black jeans and tactical vest, both well brushed and his white shirt looking cleaned and pressed, as was his hat, and he looked every inch the well dressed gentleman. Gentleman he might look, but the .44's at his hips left little room for doubt that he was ready for trouble when it came. Boone was in his usual trail clothes and had his rifle slung over his shoulder. Looking down at myself I realized that I must really look a sight, so I took off my hat and tried my best to whip the dust off my clothes with it and combed out my hair with my fingers a couple times. I smelled of old sweat and I wore the stubble of a few days' growth on my face, but it was the best I could do.

The vertibird came in over the mountains and the rumble of the engines came in closer and closer until all else was drowned out and the wind was whipped up and into my face as the bird came down to the old landing pad. Suddenly I didn't worry so much about the dust on my clothes. If any of it could stay on through the whirlwind that was kicked up by that vertibird's engines, then it deserved to stay right where it was. The Rangers on the wall all went to high alert as the bird came closer and lower and I watched the green chassis descend onto the pad and the doors opened. Four Heavy Rangers filed out with guns up and formed up in a short line on either side of the doors and I heard the pilots and crew shouting ordering back and forth to each other in the cabin, then the engines toned down and I saw him step out.

He was a tall man, Kimball, standing at maybe six feet two or four, and he seemed to be a little broad through the shoulders and arms but not so much as the men on the front. His brown hair was thinning and just starting to go gray around the edges and his suit was of the highest quality and looked to have been brushed that morning. He was every inch the politician. His face was clean shaven, his leather shoes were polished to a high sheen. He wore a red tie over his white shirt. He was scowling when he came off the bird, but when he saw us he put on a nice big smile and started toward us.

"Hello, gentlemen! How are you this morning?"

Colonel Moore snapped to attention and threw up a salute, Hanlon gave a half-hearted salute, and the three of us simply stood there with smiles on our faces. One by one he shook our hands and gave us nods and congratulations or thanks. When he came to Jubal he shook his hand and clapped his hand on Jubal's shoulder, then proceeded to tell him that all that he had done for NCR was appreciated and that he had the thanks and admiration of everyone in California, and whatever other political bullshit he could think of at the moment to make himself sound good. He didn't fool me. He probably didn't even know the man's name, aside from Courier, until he had come to the Dam. Any other time, he would have looked down on Jubal as just another mercenary that was doing the dirty work that he didn't have the stones to do himself.

When he came to me, his glance sort of hardened a little. I had become something of a hero to the men on the front, just like Jubal had, but Jubal was an outsider, a wandering man with a gun and a cause, but I was a Mojave Ranger. We fought for the NCR, but we were almost never seen as real soldiers or anything other than irregulars carrying out the minor duties that regulars couldn't be troubled to do. At least, that was the high command's view of us. A man like me being a hero of the Republic was something unheard of. I'd already been told that the only he wasn't giving me a medal today was because I was a Mojave Ranger, and no doubt he hadn't been expecting me to be here at all unless it was on the front line.

"Ranger Weathers," he said through his pearly white smile, "always a pleasure to see a Ranger about his duties. I understand that you've been given a command?"

"I have, sir."

"Wonderful! We need fine young men like yourself if we are to win this war, and win it we shall! Keep up the good work, son."

And that was that. He shook my hand and I felt my iron grip almost overpower his, just as I'm sure Jubal's and Hanlon's had, and then he nodded and started on his way to the stairs that led down into the main command center and then out to the waiting crowd. We all stood there for a moment and exchanged a less than favorable look his direction, and then after a short chuckle we all started after him when the Heavy Rangers had gone down behind him.

Jubal and I were the last to head down. He was building a smoke when I walked over beside him and looked down at the crowd below us. They were all waiting to hear what their president had to say, and the both of us knew that it was all gonna be pure BS. He was a politician more than anything, that much was clear, and he was going to say whatever he had to do to convince those men down there that his cause was still worth fighting and dying for. There were a few men down there that thought as we did, but there were always the young zealots who'd been told that honor and country were first and foremost. Neither of us spoke, but I knew that our thoughts were the same.

The engineers came up while we were waiting, their white jumpsuits marking them as workers and not soldiers, and they immediately set to work on the president's vertibird. In a place like this sand, dirt, and all kinds of grime could blow into the inner workings of machinery and potentially foul them up to a degree that they could soon become inoperable without regular maintenance. Added to that that this was one of the few remaining vertibirds known to exist, and that it was the president's, no less, and they were under even more pressure to keep it in good working order. They went right past us as they went on to their work. Most of them were the usual rough-looking types that I had seen in the fields and mines all over the Mojave, but there was one man that stood out to me.

I don't know why, but there was something about him that just seemed a little off kilter to me. His hair was darker and his face less weathered than the others, although he seemed to be of about the same age, and he was a little shorter and leaner than the others. There was something in the way he walked, as well. All of it seemed to remind me of the legionnaires that I'd seen. It was a far stretch, since the Legion didn't bother with any kind of complex machine that would make a man familiar with anything approaching a vertibird, but I had a hunch that just wouldn't let go of my mind. He gave me a quick, hard glance when he passed by, and when I looked into his eyes I could see something like that old fire in them. And there was the smell, too. I caught a whiff of something that reminded me of that strong tea that the Legion preferred as he walked by, and it stirred memories in me that went back to that long walk with Angeline and the kids.

Jubal struck a match on his thumb and lit his cigarette, the strong smell of the wild tobacco filling the air after a puff or two, and I sort of casually sauntered over closer to him so that my back was to the engineers. "Say, Jubal," I said in a low tone that only we could hear, "you see that one man in the dirty jumpsuit, with the slick black hair? Something ain't right about him."

"I know. I noticed it, too."

"Did you smell that tea on him?"

"Yeah."

"I ain't never smelled that tea anywhere but in a Legion camp."

"Me, either."

"I don't like it. It ain't much, but it might be enough."

"I'll keep an eye on him. Have you thought anymore about our conversation the other day?"

"Some."

"And?"

"I still don't know. I better get back to the line. The Legion's bound to try something."

"Yeah, you better. Keep an eye out."

We shook hands and I went back down the stairs, then into the courtyard just as the band burst into the national anthem and Kimball started toward the stage. The troops gave a cheer at his approach and he waved and smiled at them all, every inch the politician. It was a show, that was all. I walked down the long concrete ribbon of the Dam and didn't give the celebration a second look. Soon the music died away and I heard the start of a speech over the speakers in the voice of Colonel Moore, then another officer that I didn't recognize. I didn't envy them. Well, they could have their hoopla. I had a job to do and I meant to have it done.

It was good to see the sandbag wall and the boys again. It's funny how things turn out sometimes. A week ago I would have given anything to be back out on the open desert and on the trail of a Legion raiding party or a band of raiders or something of the like, but now I wouldn't want to be anywhere but here. Somewhere on the other side of this river was the man that I was sworn to kill, and when he came across it I meant to be waiting for him with a bullet ready for his guts.

I looked down the line of men at the wall and found myself pleased. Every man was at his post, all of them alert and ready for trouble. Every rifleman was on the line with his weapon at the ready, all the line officers were going up and down the line making sure every man was ready, and the man I left in charge was . . . . . now that was odd. Where was Ranger Orbison? I left him in charge while I was gone, and yet he was nowhere to be seen on the line. Was he below in the Dam for some reason? Was he up on the tower for a look-see? The tower was the most likely place. Why would he be up there, though, unless he had seen something that piqued his interest? The more I thought about it, the more I didn't like the smell of it. First it was the man on the roof beside the vertibird, now my second in command out of sight for no reason that I couldn't fathom. It all added up to no good.

"Ranger Sampson," I said to the first man I saw on the line, "where's Orbison?"

"Up in the tower, captain. He wanted to get a good look at the ceremonies."

"Damn it all, I told him to stay put. You watch the men while I take care of him."

"Yes, sir."

The door to the tower was open and I walked right on in, then took three steps before I really realized that something was wrong. That door had been locked since I first took command of the company, with the only key being in my possession. We were under strict orders to keep that door locked at all times, lest an enemy agent find his way into the Dam's inner levels. I gave that key to Orbison when I left, but he knew better than to leave it standing open. I felt my senses come alive in a way that they had only ever done out on the trail when I smelled an ambush or when a predator was near, and before I could even think about it my hand went to my gun and I felt my thumb slip the thong off the hammer of Lucky and then lift it a couple times to loosen it in the holster. My rifle was still slung and I left it there. The stairs were too narrow for it anyway. If there was a fight here, it would be fast and close.

Fight? Here? The thought sent a chill down my spine, but in my mind I knew that it was a distinct possibility. Something was very wrong here and my every sense told me that there was danger here, and my senses were almost never wrong. I started up the stairs carefully and slowly, my hand hovering within inches of my gun, and after a few steps I rounded the first flight and came to the first landing. That's where I found Orbison. His bare chest was red with blood and I could see the thick line across his neck, and from the paleness of the his face and the way that his eyes stared coldly into nothing I could tell that he was dead. His rifle, shirt, hat, and vest were gone, but his revolver was still in its holster and I took it and shoved it behind my waistband. I started up the stairs again, then had to stop and close the young man's eyes. He deserved better than that, and the man who killed him deserved much, much worse.

I went quicker now, but I was also doubly careful. Whoever was up there was a good man at his trade, a master Frumentarii, to be able to take a Ranger off guard and unawares like that. Orbison had been killed from behind, a heavy blade drug across his throat and a hand clapped over his mouth so he would make no sound, and now that man was up on the roof of the tower. From there he would have a fine view of the ceremonies and the courtyard, and with a good rifle he would have a perfect shot at the president. My God! If that man had a Sniper Rifle . . . .

I almost ran to the top of the stairs, stepping as lightly as I would on some lonely trail where any sound could mean death, my mind set on the one goal of getting to the top of that tower and seeing who it was who had killed Orbison and taken his armor and hat to better fit in to any watching eyes that might look his way. To a casual glance he would look like just another Ranger sharpshooter at his post providing overwatch for the president's speech. If only they knew what was really going on! Finally I came to the top of the stairs and the sealed door that would take me onto the roof. Lucky slid into my hand and the hammer came back as smooth as glass under my thumb, and I rested my finger gingerly over the trigger. He was just on the other side of the door, probably about to carry out his plan, and I had to act fast.

My hand tapped the control and the door came open in a flash of metallic sliding and cranking and I stepped through with my gun low and ready. I saw him at once. He was at the far corner of the tower and he was dressed in Orbison's Combat Armor and hat, and he had a Sniper Rifle leaning on a bipod on the wall. "Freeze! Drop it now!", I yelled at him. He took one quick look back at me and I saw his eyes widen with fear, then his head darted back to the scope and he leaned into the gun to fire. I squeezed the trigger and saw the bullet strike his armor, the sharp report of his rifle drowning out my pistol shot a split second after I fired. He jerked on the impact of the bullet and I saw his rifle move just as he shot, so I knew his shot had to have been ruined.

He spun around under the force of the .357 slug he'd taken, dropping the rifle as he moved, and when he turned to face me his hand was grasping the heel of a 9mm on his belt. I thumbed three more fast shots at him and saw the bullets take him in the chest and saw the white scars on his armor, knocking him back against the wall and throwing his gun out of line. He fired as he went back and his bullet went wild. I went in close and swung hard with my gun and hit him in the head with the barrel, knocking off his hat and letting his thick black hair fall loose. He tried to bring his gun up again and I grabbed his wrist and brought my knee up into his groin. He doubled over and groaned from the pain and I hit him again with my gun barrel. There was blood on his temple and I saw him stagger, but his strength was still in him and he tried to swing his gun up for a blow at my head.

I blocked his swing with my arm and kneed him in the midsection, then again and again, and he jumped and groaned from the pain, even through his armor, and as he doubled over I grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and threw him across the platform. He went down and rolled over twice, coming to his feet against the opposite wall of the tower, and as he came up he tried to bring the pistol up again. Somehow he'd managed to keep hold of it through all of the fighting we'd done. I saw the gun coming up and threw up my own, firing on pure instinct. The bullet caught him in the forehead and he snapped back, fell over the wall, and then he disappeared into the abyss of Black Canyon. Somewhere hundreds of feet below his body would meet the sloping wall of the Dam and then the cold waters of the Colorado, and I had no pity for him. He was an assassin and got what was coming to him.

The courtyard was all abuzz with activity now. In the minute or so that had transpired since I first shot the sniper, President Kimball had been pulled off the stage and rushed into the command center and then to the landing pad where his vertibird was waiting. The engines had already been fired up and I could hear them rumbling even from here. A few seconds later he was aboard and the craft lifted off of the pad and began to rise into the air. Immediately I thought of the engineer I'd seen when he first came in and I grabbed the microphone for the tower's radio. They were already screaming for confirmation of a shooter and an immediate response, so they were happy to hear from me.

"Command Post One! Command Post One! This is Captain Dan Weathers reporting from Tower Four, respond!"

"Roger, Captain Weathers. Do you have a bead on the shooter?"

"I got him. He's dead, but he has an accomplice. There is a saboteur on the president's vertibird. I repeat, there is a saboteur on the president's vertibird!"

"Did not copy, Weathers, say again."

"The president's bird is sabotaged! There's a bomb on the president's bird!"

Panic came over men when I remembered that the president was rushed off the stage and taken straight to the aircraft when the shooting started. I knew that the plan was to get him to the bird and evacuate him as soon as possible at the first sign of trouble. Those men down there were the absolute best of the best and they were well trained for their job, but they had no idea that they were taking their president right into a trap. I wanted to run. I wanted to jump over the railing and make a sprint for the command center. I wanted to, but I knew that it would be no use. I would never make it to the landing pad in time and even if I did I knew that they would never take the word of a Mojave Ranger in a matter like this. I watched the blades spin faster and faster and the craft itself begin to rise from the platform. Any second now I expected an explosion to rip the thing apart, but it rose up steadily and turned into the western sky.

A shot came from the platform and echoed across the Dam and the river, a .44 magnum if I had ever heard one, and suddenly I felt a glimmer of hope. Jubal carried a pair of .44s and he could pick a bird in flight out of the air with either hand. He used a Trail Carbine too, but I knew that he would go for the pistols if push came to shove in the close quarters of the platform. The vertibird rumbled off into the west and was soon nothing more than a dark speck on the horizon. I let myself relax a little. If the bomb was still there, then it would have gone off by now. Jubal must have found it and taken it off or disarmed it before the shooting started. I went back down to the men and told them to be on high alert and to break out the munitions we had put away for just such an event, and in a minute we had our ammunition out and ready for use. I didn't have to tell anyone to do their job or where to go with what. In an instant we had cases of .357s and .44s all along the line and bandoliers handed out to the Rangers on the wall.

Two men came running up to the wall and when I turned to look who it was I saw that it was Jubal and Boone. Both had their rifles out and both men were dressed in new Combat Armor that Jubal said he'd bought from the Gun Runners on his last run to New Vegas. They came up to the sandbag wall and Boone gave a nod and started for the tower, ever the sniper looking for the high ground. Jubal took off his hat and wiped the sweatband, looking up and down the line at the scurry of activity. He couldn't hold back a smile.

"Good men, you Rangers," he said, "damn good."

"Did you find the bomb?"

"Yeah. You were right about that engineer. He was Legion if I ever saw one. I snooped around some after everyone was gone and I found it on the fuel tank. It wasn't much of a bomb. The Legion may be a lot of things, but technicians aren't one of them. I had it off in a couple minutes. I was waiting for him to come back up when I heard the shot.

"You got damn lucky on that one, you know. That bullet knocked the end right off of the president's microphone! Another two inches and his head would have been in a million pieces. I tossed the bomb over the side and stood guard while they got him on the bird, then that Legion bomber came up to the roof to blow the bomb. Ooh, he was mad as hell when nothing went boom!"

"And?"

"He had a gun under his jumpsuit. He tried me."

That was all I needed to know. I was known as a fast man and a good man with a gun, but they always spoke of me and Jubal in the same breath in terms of skill. The Courier was known all over the Mojave for his skill with weapons and for the things he had done, just as I was, and we were both something like folk heroes, I suppose. Well, we both gave them something to talk about today.

The Dam and the command center were abuzz with activity again, although this time it was of troops moving into position and carrying supplies to the front and to their respective posts where they were needed. The seating area had already been cleared out, as I could see through my binoculars, and now the reserve troops were forming up into units. The secondary line of defense was just a few yards behind ours and already the NCR troops were being rushed to their positions at the sandbag wall and the perimeter defenses. The Khans were in place along the shore of the reservoir to the north and somewhere to the south there were several squads in place to fend off any attacks on that front. The howitzers were lowered and the and ready to fire on the narrow strip of land on the eastern side of the Dam,

And then it came. It pierced through the air like the bellow of some far-off beast coming for its prey. It was a Legion horn, blasting out a long note and then another after a short pause. There was a sort of exclamation from across the river, then a rumble as from a sort of storm. I took out my binoculars and looked over the low junk wall that separated the halves of the Dam, and I saw them coming down the narrow strip of trail that led down from Fortification Hill. They came down in ordered ranks and perfectly formed units, their armor shining in the sun and their red tunics blazing bright and crisp in the midday sun. they were clean and new, probably new for the occasion, and I could see by the way they were ordered that they were serious. The first few units were of Recruits, followed by Veterans with a Decanus assigned to every rank as an officer, and in the rear came the feared Praetorian Guard with their distinctive purple capes and tunics and their sunglasses and Power Fists marking them apart. This was it.

"Get ready for a party, boys!", I shouted down the line, "Here they come!"


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