The Jackal

The Jackal grinned at his client.

A sliver of moon shone cold and pitiless high overhead. Downslope, mountains loomed. The poor lighting left the Scree a confusing jumble of dark colors, black and blues so deep as to make little difference. Outcroppings, boulders, and shards of stone mixed chaotically with the desert sands, and the omnipresent craters--left by artillery fire or archaeological diggings--did nothing to improve the footing. Such obstacles did provide decent cover, though.

Another spray of machine gun fire tore through the night and ricocheted off a nearby rock formation. The Jackal’s client--a man in a fine Aldish suit--let out a small whimper as he tried to somehow become one with the sand and stone upon which he lay.

“Relax,” the Jackal’s grin never faltered. “They are much too far away to shoot accurately with their machine guns. You will be fine. Tell me—” and here the Jackal’s grin did slip a few degrees, and his eyes narrowed slightly, “who are the tailors who have made you such a nice suit?”

The man on the ground stared, slack jawed and goggle eyed. “H-h-hutchins and G-Grear,” he stammered.

“Ah! An excellent house, by all accounts. My suit,” the Jackal opened and closed one of his jaegerpanzer’s heavy, armored fists, “is not so nice, maybe. It is from Foster Heavy Industries.”

Another burst of machine gun fire struck the rocks around them.

“W-w-would you like to trade?”

The Jackal laughed, long and loud.

“No, no. We are not the same size. But perhaps!” The mercenary held up a finger, “Perhaps when we are done here, and your masters at Fury-Baker pay me my guide fees, perhaps then I shall get my own suit from Hutchins and Grear.”

The servos in the Jackal’s armor whined, whisper quiet, as he turned to face the direction of the incoming fire. Machine guns chattered in the distance, and the Jackal’s client yelped again.

The Jackal, however, stopped smiling.

“Feh. Muzzle flash. Downright amateurish.” The mercenary reached up to the radio rig on his armor. “Probably one of the Burning Suns. Takes all the fun out of it.” He keyed the radio channel open. “This is Jackal for Rainmaker. Over.”

“Rainmaker here. Over.” a woman’s voice crackled from the speaker.

“Would you be so kind as to give Lawrence his presents?”

“Wilco,” came the reply.

The Jackal’s grin returned.

Somewhere upslope another jaegernaut braced herself into firing position. A full rack of shoulder mounted rockets screamed into the sky, and the rolling thunder of their detonations rumbled across the desert for miles. A second, superfluous barrage followed some moments later.

“She is nothing if not thorough,” said the Jackal. “So. All is done now. You may stand without fear of impending death. From your Loreardan competitors, anyway.”

The client fearfully took his feet. When no gunfire was forthcoming, he relaxed slightly and surveyed the blasted landscape.

“It’s amazing to think anything of value is found in all this...rubble. Though I’ll admit, I thought the ruins would be more impressive.”

The Jackal laughed again.

“Oh, nothing to be found here. At least not anymore. This is just the Scree. Down there,” the mercenary pointed downslope, into the crevasse.

“What, near the mountains?”

“Those are not mountains, my friend. Those are ziggurats. That is the Dead City. Come, let us make good time while it is still dark.”

The Jackal grinned at his client.