Tools of the Trade 3

Tools of the Trade Chapter 3

Russo Nevier sat clinking his plastic drink markers together and scanning the printouts from the availables database he had picked up at the de-embarkation center. A small amount of credit changed hands in the transaction but that’s the way the game was played and a rule that couldn’t be ignored. You have to spend a bit to make a bit was as true now as it had always been. “What a dump,” he thought, and for a moment looked around the dingy smoke filled barroom from his table near the door. But there were ways used and things which must be done in order to make ends meet, and he knew more than a few of them. Those he could afford to hire wouldn’t be hanging out in the fancy places.

The credit chips he carried from Ophia put severe limits on the funds available for contractual hire. And personal expenses came from the same pot. But only a small portion of the total, and could only be drawn against profit. So there was some wiggle room and a way to scam a bonus as well; something he was always on the lookout for but only if he could get this done and be back on Ophia to make the final draw before the time limit on the chips clocked out.

He wondered if there might be another additional bonus coming from the diminutive corporal, or as she said, Spec 4, he had talked to the day before. Audie Madry was the name she’d used and he still couldn’t believe such a small package could hold so much of the hi-octane rotgut that passed for booze in this seedy section of the capital city of Witherway. One never knew but hope springs eternal.

“Time to go Connie,” Calvert said looking up from his com unit.

“Sure you don’t want me to tag along?” Audie said. “I kinda think he likes me.”

“I think not. Let’s throw this guy a slight curve and see how he handles it,” was Calvert’s response. “Until a deal is done, no fraternizing with the enemy. And a military contractor is certainly the enemy until proven otherwise.”

Russo felt the cold air sweeping down from the mountain highlands brush across the back of his neck when the door opened and he looked up from the printouts. “That’s prime,” he thought, taking in the vision of a tall sharp featured woman with long dark hair wearing the plain black standard issue Indie officers uniform but with the lieutenants rank insignia of Llanfairn on the tunic collar, enter the barroom.

Llanfairn had no direct stake here, no military unit of their own, so she was dressed that way on purpose in order to make a statement about her need for a job. He began immediately imagining what she would be like in bed, but then his personal life had gotten to the point that he did that with every woman he met.

A moment later his eyes narrowed in a different kind of appraisal when the even taller uniformed figure wearing Witherway issued Captains tabs and accompanying her came through the door. Here was without doubt the man he was waiting to meet. For now though Russo said nothing but was content to watch as they took their places at a table towards the rear sitting opposite each other, but seated so that between the two they were able to see everything in the room and cover both exits.

Russo had zero doubt that they had placed him the moment they stepped inside from the description the corporal would have given. Still the seeming lack of notice was well done.

When the woman’s eyes were finally facing in his direction he gave a slight smile. A cold appraisal was all the reaction he got in return. He picked up his drink and the folder of printouts on his table and walked over to their’s.

“Good evening Captain Calvert, Lieutenant Melbourne. Russo Nevier at your service,” he said, beginning to extend his hand.

Just then the barmaid arrived with her credit reader. Such personal concern was a fixture of only the highest and lowest establishments. In the first case though one would pay only once, just prior to leaving, rather than incrementally for each drink or service rendered. Nevier passed over two of his markers and without actually being invited sat down saying, as Wes started to raise his hand turning down the payment offer. “Please, I insist, permit me to at least buy both of you a drink. You are here after all by my invitation. And as I seem to recall the first commandment is Thou Shalt Not Turn Down a Free Drink.”

Calvert was about to object again, but Connie, knowing all too well the state of their finances said, “Thank you Mr. Nevier, and what would you recommend?”

“The Vodka synthesis is rather—neutral,” he replied, “and do call me Russo— please. I look forwards to a friendly rather than formal discussion.”

They both ordered and after the waitress was out earshot, with a lack of further pleasantries Russo set upon his spiel. “As I am sure your corporal Madry, a fine soldier, must have related… I represent the planetary government of Ophia, a government which is currently experiencing, shall we say—difficulties, from a group that calls itself a popular front, though I assure you nothing could be further from the truth. These traitors and terrorists, rebels being too kind a word, are being funded and equipped by the Caliphate and their purpose is not the freedom of the people but their subjugation.” Russo was quite pleased with the introductory but neither of the two facing him seemed overly impressed.

“Ophia is not a rich world, though poor would be an unfair description also, and in the past had no need to maintain much in the way of a standing army. It was unprepared for the initiation and use of force by this so called ‘Popular Front for the Liberation of Ophia’ in order to overthrow the elected leaders of the Planetary Senate.

I, by virtue of the corporation I serve, (Russo felt no qualms in omitting any mention that he was the sole owner and operator of the corporation in which he served), and along with a number of others, was given standing by the Ophian Senate, and issued authority to offer letters of Marque and Appraisal, and to recruit trained forces to assist us in our defense. Hearing of the imminent termination of hostilities on Witherway I immediately booked passage in hopes of finding people such as yourselves.”

As Nevier was finishing up his situational introduction the barmaid returned with two tall glasses of the locally grown herbal tea seasoned liberally by the equally local grown synthetic vodka. With a nod towards Nevier, Wesley took a sip and then spoke for the first time.

“Looking at the thickness of the folder in front of you I suspect you’re very well aware of our unit’s strained financial circumstances. Not to put too fine a point on it but, if as you say, Ophia is somewhat less than prosperous, and assuming we would sign on with you, how do we know or how can we insure that payment will be forthcoming?”

Russo spoke to both, though primarily to Calvert, and needed to consciously resist the temptation towards looking mostly at Melbourne. “Ophia is an independent world, and fiercely so, yet the justness of our cause has compelled the Confederation to offer financial assistance. I have in my possession a credit guarantee which is proof of that commitment.”

Calvert turned to his Melbourne and said, “From your experience in these matters Lieutenant, would that meet with the company’s approval?”

Melbourne replied, “Provided the bonafides pass muster, and we can agree upon specifics, and most importantly, the first credit draft clears, I think that we could work something out.” And with that negotiation began in earnest.

By the time they were ready to leave with a rough proposal they had agreed to forty percent up front and a bonded account to pay for passage out at the end of the terms of service. The initial contract term was set for one year and Nevier was asking for a second year option. Because the company had no planetary sponsor Nevier had gone along with the position that the percentage payment that would have normally been due to the sponsoring governmental entity in in that case be reduced by twenty percent and used to purchase equipment for the companies use. With any remainder to be set up as a cash drawing account.

The rest of the monies would be paid in quarterly sums with a twenty-five percent bonus due if and when the PFLO was defeated or at the end of the contract term if the fight was still in progress but the option was not picked up.

His one stipulation, that he be the agent for all equipment and material purchase, had a purpose that was both time worn and transparent to all, and naturally was of a verbal nature not even set down in the fine print.

They finished up their second drink, also purchased by Nevier, and Wesley said, “I’ll take this back to the company and a final decision. I expect it to be accepted and Lieutenant Melbourne and I should be ready by some time tomorrow to finalize. Do you have a number where I can reach you?”

Nevier gave them the number assigned to his personal com unit and watched them leave. He gulped down the rest of his drink, and leaving summoned over the servitor and fed a tip into her personal account. He then gathered up his papers and went on to his next stop, he had more than one potential client lined up and preferred to deal with each from a different location. They were less likely to compare notes that way.

He had learned one thing though; you don’t play off one group of mercenaries off against another because if you try that and they find out both of their prices go up. It was a matter of pride rather than common sense.

They had pitched their tents a couple of kilometers outside the landing field perimeter while looking for a place in town. With the influx of hired soldiers there was not enough space in town at any of the places within their price range to house them all. The nearby military barracks was full of native recruits undergoing training. No matter, they were not likely to be here very long. It was early evening but the word had gone out about and the 24 members of the squad were all in camp and for the most part sober. They had picked up a few more on reaching town. The troops all gathered in the mess tent to hear the details of Nevier’s offer.

Wes presented the proposal while Connie watched their faces. He summarized, “So there you have it, anti-guerrilla suppression on Witherway. A one standard year term and a six months option, standard pay rate plus combat pay and victory bonus. Re-supply or credit for used ordinance. The cost of passage out to be paid up front. And yes the standard death benefit so make sure your paperwork’s in order. Lt. Melbourne and I will retire while you talk this out. Sgt. Davis the meeting is yours.”

Davis took center stage. “First off, as most of you have probably figured this is kinda a usual type contract from our end but considering there’s only 24 of us not bad at all. Those who were here when the Captain took over know one thing for sure. He may be young to command a PMC but, he’s got a head on his shoulders and watches out for his men; He is also better than average at doing unto them before they do unto us. That’s more than I can say for a lot of officers I‘ve served under, and I say stick with a winner.

“Half of us here,” he looked around the tent, “Joined up cause of word of mouth on how we survived after the Calps took out the rest of the Company. I got nothing else to say but we ain’t gonna get a better offer and the sooner I’m off of this dirt ball the better I’ll like it. So if any of you apes got something to say do it now and let’s get on with the voting.”

There were a few who spoke up, mostly to hear themselves talk, and the vote in favor was unanimous. “Pilchard, go and get the Captain and let him know. Unless I miss my guess he’ll want to say a few more words. It never fails in with the new ones—or old officers either.” That brought a few laughs. But understandable since most had had more than a drink or two already.

Just a few more words, Calvert said, as Davis had predicted, “Lt. Melbourne. . . bring in the refreshments,” and with that Connie came into the tent wheeling a hand truck piled high with cases of beer and a couple bottles of harder stuff.

* * *

Connie made the call to Nevier. Wesley didn’t need to explain that he wanted to keep his personal relationship with the contractor to an absolute minimum. People like Russo Nevier garnered every conceivable advantage from knowing everything they could possibly ferret out about their client and their client’s affairs. Wes was not going to make things any easier for him. Connie and Wes met him at the same bar they had used for the first meeting.

This time they beat Nevier to the place and were seated at a booth as he walked in. When he had settled into the bench opposite Wesley and next to Melbourne Wes signaled to the barmaid who promptly brought over a tray holding three glasses, a bottle of the vodka, a bowl of Ice, and a bottle of mixer.

Connie poured for all of them then handed Russo his with a smile. “A toast Mr. Nevier, I think we are going to have an interesting relationship.”

By the time the last ‘T’ was crossed and ‘I’ dotted Russo was feeling no pain at all but surely they couldn’t think plying him with liquor and the seemingly inadvertent looks and occasional brushes due to Connie’s proximity could have any effect on the final contract. Could they?

There was another toast made when he docked the Ophian credit chip to the one Calvert supplied and after verification the green transfer completed lights came on. Still he enjoyed it while he could but was not a bit surprised when they begged off from his offer of dinner. There would be other chances and he fancied despite Melbourne’s only feigned display of overt interest, time was on his side.

After the two mercenary officers left Russo flipped open his com unit and began making calls. Trying to get the off planet transport locked in as soon as he could, there was a little more profit to be made and no time like the present to make it.

* * *

“Sgt. Davis, Cpl Madry, please be seated,” Connie Melbourne said a little later that afternoon to the squad’s senior, and only Non Com, and the ranking tech specialist. “The contract has been signed and registered and the first credit download is in the squads account. Davis, as you requested, Madry will for the time being assume the duties of a normal company’s clerk. So between the two of you go over the numbers with the rest and verify that each squad member’s personal account is in order then get their verification of that fact recorded and countersigned. I’ll give you a few minutes to scan the basics.” Connie leaned back while the two read the documents. “Any questions so far?”

“Lieutenant,” Davis spoke up, “This is all pretty standard, but I think we need to make a couple of changes. The draws are set up for a two week hold and then weekly thereafter .I’d like to modify that so we can release up to fifty percent of the first three months to any that choose. Some of us, myself included need to pick up some personal gear.

“We’ve got a few newbies and most of the rest lost also lost most of their personal kit. We can prorate the pay for the rest of the first and second quarter to make it come out equal.

The only other change I see is how to set whatever each do with the 5% per pay savings hold back. I am going to strongly recommend to each that they boost the amount but that’ll be their choice. That’s it for me right now.”

“Madry?” Melbourne asked.

“Nothing now Ma’am, but this sure looks like a lot of extra work, I never realized all the hassle Cpl. Kennerly must have put up with.”

Connie nodded agreement and explained for Madry’s benefit, “Kennerly took care of the whole company and a lot of things that you haven’t gotten into yet, but as we each contracted to Witherway directly the planetary governmental apparatus handled many of the kind of details we as a private outfit, are dealing with now. One of the joys of being an independent mercenary unit. But notice. . . the pay is better; and from here on in I start referring to us as a company rather than a squad or the platoon size unit we actually are. From an operational sense that’s just what we are. If it weren’t for the guerrilla situation on Ophia making a unit our size viable we would either have to break up or be absorbed into a larger organization. As it is we will make the most of it and be looking to expand.

“Now for the second item on the agenda, Company supplies. We need to do some acquisition. Eighty percent of the credit which would have gone to a sponsoring government is in the company coffers. We need to hold on to a reserve but more importantly, right now we need to buy our load out for Ophia. No telling what might be available there but right here on Witherway the captured Calp equipment alone should more than cover our needs. The government has also already declaring as surplus quite a few things we might find useful.

“Capt. Calvert is going through some of the storage depots now but I’d like for both of you to review the lists we already have of what’s out there. And then go over them with anyone else in the company you think might have something to add. Then tomorrow, the four of us, along with our purchasing agent, will do a little shopping.

They met Nevier at the surplus depot the next morning. “If we can add a few more troops how many can we add to the contract?” Wes asked.

“No problem adding at all,” Russo replied with a smile. “I’ve got enough Ophian credit for another ten or twelve and I am not looking to sign individual contracts. A group that small by itself is also too small for an arrangement to be practical.

Wes got the thing going at once, “Higgins, beat it back to barracks and get the scouts out. Just make sure they all know that their ass is gonna be on the line with the rest of ours for every one we enlist. If we come in with more than twelve then good, we can do some weeding. Come on back when you’re done. We‘ll still be here.”

The list of what they needed was long and the list of what they wanted even longer. They had decided to bring Pilchard and Higgins along to take care of the quartermaster purchases and cart things out to a guarded high security storage locker they had rented and reserved at the port. For the few days they had until departure that was credit well spent. But because of the time limit a lot of important decisions needed to be made in a very short time.

They couldn’t be sure what would be available on Ophia but Nevier advised them to buy everything that they could here and now. As he explained it, “This stuff is surplus, on Ophia its survival, and the prices will be pegged accordingly.”

Russo followed Madry as she headed to the corner of the warehouse where the electronics were stacked, much of the smaller stuff in open wirework bins. Calvert and Davis went to the next building down the row where the smaller crew served weapons were located. Pilchard went to check on consumables while Connie began strolling the aisles. It looked like 30% of this buildings surplus hadn’t even been inventoried yet.

She had taken a look at about half of the unpublished contents and taken a few notes on some possibles when she reached the corner where Madry still maintained herself though Nevier seemed to have vanished. “Find anything on the list Corporal?” Connie asked.

There was an attendant standing nearby and Madry’s eyes were saying something else when she answered in a guileless tone, though quite loudly, “Mostly scrap Ma’am. Not sure anything’s worth even making an offer on. I’d almost say ask about this Mod 2 tracker, it’s the same as the unit we were using when the Calps overran us. That was a nice piece of gear but this thing’s shot up pretty bad and might not even be fixable”

The attendant, hearing her, came over came over to stir the waters a bit. He was working on a commission and there was no one else in the warehouse at the time. The battered clamshell of the briefcase sized unit was open and the shattered screen and exit hole through the back gave ample testimony to its operational readiness. Looking at the tech insignia on Audie’s uniform the salesman said looking at the sticker and price tag,

“Unfixable, no way! Why slap in a new display and she’s good as new.”

“So you say,” Audie shot back, “The power supply and wave guides run right behind the screen and with them gone its useless.”

“Wait a sec,” he said as he scrolled through his portable data terminal. “I can give you a display from a Payton tracker that’ll fit almost perfectly. “And we both know,” he said conspiratorially, “that there’s nothing that touches a Treadway when it comes to accuracy and canned software.”

“Zeeland makes better stuff,” Madry sniffed, in a superior tone. “But even so, that still leaves the problem of the power supply and the wave guides. I sure did like that old unit though. Offer him a third Ma’am I might get it to work given time.”

“Madry we’re not here for old times sake if it doesn’t work we don’t want it.” Madry was facing her and away from the sales guy and Connie could see Audie’s lips moving saying buy– it over– and over.

“Take it now for sixty percent and it’s yours.”

“Half with the new display and a power supply and I think I’m going to regret this.”


When they got outside Connie asked, “Ok what was it I just bought?”

“It’s a Treadway Mod 4 Ma’am, there like beyond state of the art right now. I never heard of anyone outside the Feddies even being allowed to purchase them. They can track a mortar round or a shell back to the launcher with either radar or IR .almost before it‘s fired.”

“Ok, that’s what we got, but can you fix it?”

“Better than new Ma’am.” Audie said without a hint of doubt, “better than new.”

“This 90 looks like it’s in good condition,” Wes said examining the mortar tube and base plate.

“Probably so, never got much use cause it was too damn heavy to carry. I think we gotta stick with 40’s and 60’s and overall the 40 is the better choice most times. Weight again and we can carry a heck of a lot more rounds. The same thing applies to slug throwers. From a fixed position defending mostly open ground I’d take a 50 cal. But in cover or if I needed to lug it around the 30 cal is the way to go and they cost less besides. How many people we gonna buy for and how many units of fire.”

“Figure fitting out thirty-six with three and the possibility of four units acting independently.” Wes estimated. “I don’t imagine it’ll be hard to enlist another eight. So let’s list what we want based on that and then see what we can afford.”

“A unit of fire was the basic load of munitions carried by a combat unit when on a patrol that could last up to several days. It was supposed to be sufficient for any engagement they might fight but effectively meant all that they could without being loaded to the point where they would drop from exhaustion. So beyond food, water, poncho/shelter half IR cape, personal electronics and 5 kilos of body armor, in general terms that meant an infantryman carried 200 round for his rifle, 2 hand and 6 20mm rifle grenades and one anti-personnel mine.

After that it got complicated and depended on the mission but it almost always meant that a squad had to manage between themselves one or two 40mm tubes a 30 cal machine gun and a couple of shoulder launched missiles good for either ground to ground or air to air. The total never came out to less than 35 kilos per man. For company use they also wanted a couple of 50 cal machine guns and 2 60mm mortar tubes and ammunition for both.

Pilchard returned while they were making selections and had another soldier in tow. “Captain,” he said coming to attention but not saluting as they were indoors, “I’ve found a medic that wants to join us. This is Lance Corporal Petty Sir,” he said introducing the new recruit, “I’d like him to help with the med supplies sir.”

“At ease and welcome aboard Petty, will sign you in later but help out Cpl Pilchard and we’ll sign you in later but you’re on the books as of right now. Carry on.” The two corporals went about their business.

By the time Calvert and Davis completed the list they had been working on they were 30 percent over budget. “Not a surprise Captain,” Davis said, “We could spend three times what we got and still want for more. The only thing I would hate to go light on is ammo and mortar rounds. Food we can find; ammo that you did not bring is one of the three truly useless things in the universe.”

“Don’t I know it. Go ahead and have the small arms and the 40’s crated. I’ll go find Madry and the Lieutenant and see how their making out then we can finalize on the heavier stuff and ammunition reserves.”

“Sounds like a plan Sir.”

Wesley found Melbourne with Pilchard and Petty signing for a Mod one-Company one-field portable-medical pallet. That had been on the original list and Wes was just happy that Petty would be joining them with enough training to use the contents.

“How did you do with the rest?” Wes asked. And after going over her checked off items and seeing the credit balance remaining, “Outstanding! But how did you manage it?

“Cpl Madry Sir, She has a nose for a bargain that would put a hound dog to shame. She’s said she felt like she was being sucked inside when we passed Anti Air and Armor gear so I left her there and said I’d pick her up after we completed the basic list.”

“Very good. If I spend half of what you have left Sgt. Davis and I can finish up the ordinance. Then we can see where to use the remainder.”

When they reached the tipple A section everyone else was present, even Nevier who they had not seen since the first arrived. They compared notes and Wes announced the credit balance remaining. “Anything else we need and can afford?”

“Sir, take a look at this,” Madry gushed, leading him over to a 2 unit short range missile launcher.

“Captain, may I speak with you a moment,” Nevier said. Connie and Wes along with Nevier moved away from the others. “You remember my commission I assume?”

“Not to worry Russo, It came off the top. You’ll get your pound of flesh.”

“Please, don’t look at it that way; a man has to make a living after all.”

They went back over to where Madry was starting to take a cover off of the damaged radar control unit that guided the five foot long missiles. “Ok Madry. If you’re sure you can go ahead and buy her but that taps us out so no reloads or spare parts.

“Thank you Sir, you won’t regret it!” and she continued removing the covers.

* * *

Later that day, along with Petty they signed in seven more soldier bringing their compliment up to 34 enlisted and two officers. Their gear was in a bonded warehouse and they would do their own loading on the morrow when the shuttle would take them up to the transport orbiting overhead. There was just one more piece of company business left unfinished.

Wes had used what little remained in the company account to rent a small reception hall and had the company assembled. As Lt. Melbourne made the announcements Calvert handed out the new rank insignia he saluted and then shook hands with each.

“Private first John Higgins, promotion to Sergeant Grade 5.

“Corporal Carl Pilchard, promotion to Sergeant Grade 5.”

“Spec 4 Audie Madry, promotion to Sergeant, Spec 6.”

“Sergeant Robert T. Davis promotion to Sergeant Grade 7.”

Wes and Connie in unison both then came to attention and saluted the newly promoted. Then Wesley said, “Congratulations to each of you. You have done us proud.”

There were cheers from the rest as food and drink was wheeled in and the celebration got underway.