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A short story by

Kal-El Bogdanove

Breg Shaw arrived in Quijadas late Wednesday in a ramshackle transport that made Rin reconsider her decision. Haskins looked like he'd smelled something unpleasant. But it wasn't as if they had much of a choice. They'd suffered two more deaths since Rin closed her link with Pearly, and the town was on edge.

When the dust had settled, they entered the hangar to meet their merc.

Shaw was a crusty, wizened man with obvious scars as if he'd been whittled out of knotty wood by an inexpert sculptor. He scoured them with deep, squinty eyes.

"You're the lady marshal?" He spat it out with a voice like a testy chainsaw.

"Katrin Shearon."

I don't like him, Rin thought. Rita would say that was because she didn't like most people. Rin felt this was unfair—she liked people who were worth a damn. Didn't matter; if Shaw could do the job, Rin would warm to him soon enough.

"Makes you the politician," continued Shaw, sizing up Haskins.

Haskins smiled as if he'd just bitten into a donut and discovered it was actually a bar of soap.

"And you've got a mutalisk problem you want me to clean up. I'll do it. Thirty thousand, plus maintenance fees for my gear. You'll have your sky back."

"You can get it done?" asked Rin.

"Oh, yes."

"Unfortunately, Mr., ah, Shaw, we aren't the ones you have to convince." Haskins had chosen this moment to find his voice. With a phlegmy little cough, he proceeded, "The aldermen have to okay an expenditure of this size. Now, we called an emergency meeting when Liddy at the port here picked you up as incoming. We're gathering at the town hall…"

Shaw smirked. His eyes, Rin noticed, remained humorless, his voice quiet like an idling engine.

"Five dead, and you're worried about the aldermen—"

"Six," interrupted Rin.

Shaw went, "Ungh?"

"Six dead. We lost two while you were en route."

"Where's yer damn town hall?" he barked, revving that chainsaw.

"Center Green, up the main drag. I'll take you in the cruiser."

"Keep yer cruiser." He turned and stomped back to his ship.

Rin threw a bewildered glance to Haskins. Takes a big asshole to make me side with my boss, she thought.

There was a grinding whirr from inside the transport. A large cargo bay door began to open.

The door slid back completely, and all of a sudden Rin was much less worried about Shaw's abilities.

Out of the transport stepped the deadliest-looking goliath Rin had ever seen, with Shaw at the helm. On the side was stenciled the name Flyswatter I.

In fact, Rin had never seen a goliath in person, but the walker figured prominently in the articles on mutalisk defense she'd been reading since Alden Moss's death. She'd seen pictures, but none of them looked quite like this.

Shaw had replaced the usual twin smoothbore autocannons with Gatling-style chainguns on fully articulated arms complete with loader-claws. They seemed to Rin as if they would make for effective use on airborne targets. He had also managed to jury-rig a pair of UED-built missile racks. And in place of the standard crotch-mounted swivel machine gun, Shaw had somehow cobbled—

Holy crap, that's a burst laser off a Wraith! How'd he even get that thing running?!

But before she could fully form the question, Shaw's goliath was out of the hangar and striding toward her town at top speed.

Damn it! thought Rin, and she ran for the cruiser.

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