Company B: Terra Incognita
by Karen

The dust rises up from the ground, the walls and the floor in thick choking layers. The smell was in the air that gave the place a sense of either long tenancy or disuse, given one's preference. Van Zan found it difficult to determine the difference these days. He had never been one for putting down roots. He had always been too restless to stay for long in any one place, becoming a professional mercenary had helped deal with that restlessness.

After a while of being cooped up in this ramshackle remote outpost, Van Zan had become desensitized to the smell and the crowded conditions. His responsibility was to his men in Company B and to himself, however he could not help but be a little disturbed by the lost and hopeless look in the eyes of the refugees that had come flooding in recent weeks. Not to mention the resentful looks by the ragtag band of freedom fighters who had been here far longer than a few weeks. The dust tainted the smell of the food and gave the water a coppery taste. Van Zan, found an out of the way corner and sorted through the supply barrels. His task completed.

He grabbed his projectile rifle down from the weapon's rac. He used the hem of his sleeve began cleaning the stock; water was fine, but he would have traded all his water, okay, maybe not all, for a case of whiskey, 180 proof, " he thought in the back of his mind. "Anything with alcohol in it, really."

Quinn Abercrombie, the freedom fighter leader crossed his path at that instant, a clipboard and ink pen in hand, an irritatingly optimistic expression on his face. The man, a boy really, to Van Zan's way of thinking, looked like the world was a happy place to be alive when in reality it was all falling apart and going the way of the lizards. Van Zan shook his had, sure that the lizards looked like the mythical dragons of folklore and legend. They even smelled like dragons, bat wings and all, but as far as he was concerned, a lizard was a lizard, and they had to be destroyed.

Both men stood up at the same instant and caromed into each much in the manner of the billiard balls that Quinn recalled shooting before the attacks began.

Quinn had always had a gift, with people and with figures, and physics. He prided himself on his good timing and common sense. When he was a young boy his father had taken him to see his first dragon. 'What an experience that had been.' He would never forget, even if he lived to be a 100 years old. Although there were days when that scenario was in some question of being fulfilled.

The mercenary leader's massive shoulders were squared, his stance one that Quinn interpreted as one man expecting a confrontation with another. He didn't have to like the man or agree with his way of thinking, but the assistance of his professional soldiers had been invaluable in the last few weeks, even if they had lost quite a few good men in the raid on the green house. Quinn shook his head, he maintained an outwardly optimistic manner He knew it was vital as they leader of the freedom fighters that he keep up the morale of the people who were depending him, and he had to find a way to keep the refugees safe. At this present time the last thing Quinn needed was another argument with the volatile and unpredictable Van Zan. Quinn had just opened his mouth to mutter an apology for bumping into the older man when the other surprised him.

"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" muttered Van Zan.

"Can I help you with something?"

"Not unless you have a secret stash of whiskey hidden around somewhere."

"Actually we do, but it's reserved for the infirmary, to help with the sick and injured," Quinn smiled, a narrowing of his lips so it came out as more of a half grimace. "Sorry, we can't fritter away. I have to ration, as it is."

"Damn!" Van Zan said, dragging the toe of his left boot in the thick layer of dust. "I really should have known that before I even asked. But I'm glad I bumped into you."

"You are?"

"Don't be any denser than you have to be, Quinn."

"I'm really too tired for this."

"What I have to say won't take long. Van Zan cleared his throat. "I want to say that I respect what you have accomplished here."

"Not bad for a civilian you mean?"

"No, I mean, damn good, kid. Just don't screw it up, you hear me?" Van Zan demanded, folding his arms across his massive chest.

"I hear you. Yes, Siree." Quinn gave a mock salute.

"I swear, before this mess began. If I had kids under my command like you, first I would knocked the contrariness out of them, then I'd take advantage of those brains of yours." Van Zan smirked. "Any chance that I could convince into signing up?"

"As you've already pointed I'm not much for the rigors of military discipline, but thanks for the compliment."

"Take'em anyway you can get them, kid. Just remember to know the difference between a compliment and outright kissing up."

"Sound advice," Quinn replied, "I'll remember it."

"See that you do." Van Zan nodded, pivoted on his heel and marched across the supply room to the staircase that led up to the sleeping quarters for the fighting men and women, wondering how the argumentative confrontation that both men had expected had become a rational discussion instead of a shouting match. Halfway up the stairs to the second landing, he came to a conclusion: it's because we're too damn busy fighting the lizards, it hardly logical to waste valuable time or resources on fighting each other. You're getting old Zan. That's the problem. Time to get some shut eye." he thought to himself, taking the stairs two at a time. He found his cot in the darkness and plunked down on the bed.


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