Wolves

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“Personal Log entry number 329, Commander General Claudius T. Vault. Repairs to the capitol are nearly complete as of now. Next week will be three years since the final Nektro attack on Neptune, where they launched a major assault on the capitol, and then proceeded to hail my ship in peace. Since that pact between myself and the leader of their order, Duk Revi'ktas, there has been no further disturbance or conflict, for which I am grateful. As the new leader of the Galactic Armored Marines, I have been working with Agent Dart of IRO in discovering the root of the terrorist organization known as the Umbragites. Our last encounter with one of their members was some eight months ago, and what that particular member revealed during the interrogation led us back to my predecessor. It is Agent Tirion's theory that Venko established this organization, as well as several other violent insurgencies, as a failsafe, to keep the GAM in supreme power, should the conflict with the Nektro come to an end. Dr. Ivan Klept, a close associate of Venko, has played a significant role in the uncovering of Venko's secrets that have been left over since his death.

“Although with the treaty between the GAM and the Nektro established and peace on the horizon, Cordlow Industries has posed a considerable threat as well, because their battle clones are being extinguished of their purpose. Needless to say, the business is careening, and many of the battle clones are being used as pawns of rebellion. So, keeping them in commission of the GAM, the Death Squad is acting as the vanguard against this new threat. I have found them extremely useful and they have been nothing but a supplement to the State, even with their assassination of the former Commander General. Hopefully I can restore peace and drown any opposition to it with these men. End entry.”

Commander General Vault swiveled his chair half a rotation looked out of the window in his office, toward the bustling capitol. Construction cranes were more plentiful than they had ever previously been, though every once in a while, when he stepped outside for a breath of fresh air, he could still smell a faint waft of that deathly smoke that entered his nostrils when he first landed to survey the damage nearly three years ago.

He drew a deep breath and leaned back in his office chair for a moment, gazing at the city before him. Granted, there were conflicts here and pockets of resistance there, but the way Vault saw it, the State was finally in at peace. Interrupting his thoughts came his secretary's soft, pleasant voice, “Sir, the squad is here to speak with you. Do they have permission to enter?”

“Oh, of course. Have them come in,” he granted.

With the opening of the broad doors, the Death Squad entered the room, armored as usual. “Good to see you again, gents. Sit down, please,” Vault gestured, pointing to the round table on the other side of the room. His private desk was on one side of the room, with an extendable wall available for privacy, and the round meeting table was on the other side, with a full view of the city offered through massive, unscratched windows.

The men sat down without a word, taking off their helmets. Aveer had a four-inch scar across his left eye and Clayton had a burn mark on his lower jaw, both of which were from their more recent encounters with the rebellious clones. “So what brings you to my office?” Vault wondered, looking each of them in the eye for a brief moment.

“Our pay,” Moore answered with a raspy voice. He had taken up the habit of smoking after the final Nektro attack in order to calm his nerves, and the effects had caught up to him. “We don't want it. Don't need it.”

Vault looked at the floor, almost laughing to himself. “Out of all the people in the world, Moore, you'd be the last one I thought would say such a thing. Should I ask why? Do you all want better accommodations, more freedoms, better armor?”

“None of the above,” Sanchez answered with his arms folded. “Just keep us goin' on missions. Hell, make up ones if there's nothin' to do. We ain't gonna leech you of more money than we need. I ain't goin' back to how I used to live. There ain't nothin' for me there, and the other guys feel the same.”

“You...you all feel this way?” Vault asked to confirm, a bit confused. They each nodded independently.

“I could fall down and become a corpse any month now,” Clayton grinned with a sort of fatal realization in his voice. “The cancer I have should have killed me two years ago, but I'm here before you now. Those pills and shots the medical research center gave me worked for a while, and I don't feel the pain, but they told me last week that I could fall down dead at any given moment, and there would be no way to revive me. I have no family waiting for me, certainly no wife or children...there's no sense in giving me more than I need to survive.”

Sanchez added, “Yeah, if you could send a check every now and then to Las Doreson, especially to the hood where I grew up. They need good schools, libraries, all that. I never was into any of that stuff, but I think they'd be a whole lot better off if they had 'em.”

Traw remained in his seat, staring at the surface of the table with no life in his expression. He had not spoken a word that day, like many days before it. The rest of his team knew to give him space.

Vault nodded to himself, taking in the newly received information. “Very well then,” he concluded. “I'll make the arrangements for you all. Also, you have a new mission shutting down a Cordlow Industries facility on the planet Kajir. You leave at 0230 tonight. I don't need to supply a plan, you know what to do. You're free to go then. Best of luck, gentlemen.”

The squad rose from their seats, and Vault called in a subtle voice, “Traw, could I speak with you for a moment?”

Traw bit his tongue and stayed a moment, to oblige Vault. “What d'ya need?” he asked, looking Vault straight in the eyes with tight lips and squinted lids.

“I want to know if you're doing alright. You've been more tacit than usual,” Vault mentioned, putting his hand on Traw's shoulder.

Traw pulled himself away, taking a step backward. “I'm fine,” he dismissed. “You got a country to run. Get your priorities straight.” He turned to leave and join his team, leaving Vault.

“How often do you think of your family?” Vault called. Traw stopped in his tracks. He looked at the metal floor.

“Every day,” he answered, remaining with his face away from Vault. “And every night. I'm not gonna ask much of you now, Vault. It's not in my nature. But that bastard took away the two people who meant the world to me, the two remaining gems I held onto.” Traw turned around and came face to face with Vault. “I'm only gonna ask one thing: you send me on mission after mission, and you keep me running with this team, and you run me into the goddamn ground until I can't lift an arm to hold a pistol. This is all I have left, and by god, I'm gonna keep at it until I crawl into the six foot hole and never draw another breath. Is that abundantly clear?”

Vault looked into Traw's eyes. Traw was tired, not only physically but mentally. He suspected the team's sniper was suffering a severe lack of sleep as well. For the first time, Vault could not see the same man he brought aboard the Indefatigable with his wife and daughter. “And you will have it,” Vault granted, extending his hand. Traw shook it with a firm grip, and they looked each other in the eye not as soldier and commanding officer, but as comrades.

The Disciple sat in the study, watching a publicly broadcasted propaganda feed of the Death Squad on one of their missions. He reclined in his chair, twirling a pencil round in between his fingers. "Fast rose the knight, with spurs hot and reeking, ever waving an eager sword, 'to save my lady,'" he recited.

Traw felt the rumble of the dropship as he gripped the pole overhead. He had learned to love the feeling of a rifle in hand, and he suspected the rest of the team felt the same. “You ready to kick ass?” Sanchez grinned with a clap to Traw's shoulder, chewing gum between his molars.

“Hell yeah,” he replied with a brief fist bump.

"Fast rode the knight, and leaped from saddle to war," the Disciple continued, watching the feed.

The bay door lowered, revealing a vast field of tall grasses with a massive hostile facility in the near distance. Wind blew into the rear cabin of the dropship as the Death Squad stepped out onto the ground.

Traw gripped his rifle and looked ahead at his target. The rest of the team stood firmly on the ground, ready to tear their enemies apart with lead and muscle.

"Men of steel flickered and gleamed, like riot of silver lights."

Far from Sino, far from his family, far from his former self, Traw was home.

"And the gold of the knight's good banner, still waved on a castle wall."

Sebastian Traw had found his home.


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