Merc Rule 26

Written by J. D. Wiley --- Art by J. D. Wiley

Merc Rule 26: A well-timed pause says more than the words around it.

Which is another way of saying that sometimes the best way to make your point is by not saying a damn thing. If actions speak louder than words, then showing that you ain’t even gotta act can speak louder than… well… acting.

But this don’t work for every loudmouth that decides to just up and shut his yap. There’s technique to it. A look in the eye, a menace in the way the jaw is set. Like you’re ready to chew concrete.

The right pause gives a sentence a certain punctuation.

That punctuation can say a lot of things. It can show you mean business. Or beg a deadly question. Put a stamp of finality on the end of a statement, or just set up the next one. A pause can do all them things and more. ‘Specially if you set precedent first.

Tank Hutchinson, Captain of the Iron Hides, F. I. S. T. Second Infantry, was running drills with his boys in the high country. Military hired me and Spivey in an advisory capacity. On account of our familiarity with Skullbagger methods. Local mutant bastards use the tunnels from old mines, guerrilla tactics. Do their dirty work without being seen, hit and run style. I seen ’em crawl out a hole, brain a fella, and drag him back underground ‘fore I knew what happened. They take them poor souls and turn ’em on a spit ’til they smell sweeter’n bacon.

Me and Spivey, we know it. And Tank knows it. But these young’ns don’t know have the good sense God gave a goose. They ain’t got the proper fear in ’em.

Me and Spivey are trying to teach these grunts to drop on command. Belly to the dirt. Best thing to do when you’re being ambushed and ain’t identified where the enemy come from yet. But they’re getting tired. Sloppy. And they’re doing their drills half-assed.

Spivey’s fuming. Pacing behind me, ready to march over and start handing out beatings wholesale. Tank’s just sitting back, cool as you like, in his battle-mech watching how I handle the situation. So I figure it’s time to give these boys a lecture ‘fore things really heat up.

“You little bastards will drop when I say drop. You’ll do it fast and clean. Or you’ll find out what it means to be scared… Now, drop!”

But these boys clearly ain’t impressed. They’re too tired and too damn young to know what’s headed their way.

I put more grit in my voice this time. “You boys just ain’t getting it. You know what? I’ve been too easy on you…” I set my jaw, sweep my eyes across the line, and pause for effect. Let it hang in the air just long enough to get their hackles up. “Cap’n!” 

I nod to Tank.

A nine-barrel minigun starts rotating on the arm of Tank’s mech. It rings for a second then pounds the air with flashes o’ lead. Not inches over those boys’ heads. They hit the deck like the earth itself dropped out from under their feet. Screaming rounds are throwing up chunks of sod, chopping trees, exposing fresh skyline behind them boys. After a moment’s silence, I realize I’m smiling like a Cheshire cat. It’s a thing too beautiful for words, Tank sitting in that battle-mech, smoking barrels spinning to a stop.

Damn, but I missed the old days. Takes me a second to wipe the stupid grin off my face, and I command them grunts back up.

They climb to their feet, slow and shaken. “You know what…” I say it twice as sharp this time. Pause for effect again. There’s a menace in my silence they were too tired to recognize before. But they hear it now. ‘Fore I can give Tank the signal, every one of them fellas is up, in line, and standing straight as fence posts.

‘Cause now they know the fury that follows that pause.

Fella like me, I sometimes gotta set precedent. But for notorious mercs like Thaddeus King, the Wraith, or any of them other boogeymen across the Red Frontier… this rule is as good as gold. ‘Cause when they want folks to listen, all they gotta do is stop talking. So the next time you’re looking to make a point, keep your ear perked for the right moment to let that mean silence stretch out and do it for you. Even if you gotta make an example of someone first.

Coyote Joe, Memoirs of a Merc

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