Merc Rule 37: Good Idea: Lead by example. Better Idea: Send someone else in first.
Every merc crew needs a boss who ain’t afraid to get his hands dirty. Ain’t afraid to jump out in front of danger and show ‘em how it’s done. Leaders like that might be well-loved. But they certainly don’t tend to live as long. For that reason, it’s a good idea to send someone else in first. It may not command the respect of your men, but you ain’t likely to command anyone at all if you’re dining with Old Man Death.
Me and Spivey went into the southern end of the Cradle. The Fens. Same maze of skyscrapers and toppled buildings as the rest of the place. Only it was under 20 feet of water. Biggest problem with a city sat in the center of a dam half a mile below sea level is flooding. The Alexandrians took care of most of the leaks, to be sure, but it ain’t exactly like they’ve got the manpower to stand around plugging ’em with their thumbs. Not to mention they’ve got better things to do.
Anyway, children have been going missing. And every last one of ’em that disappeared was last seen at, or near the Fens. Nearest we can figure it’s gotta be Ashlanders. Mutie bastards. Who else but cannibals would be stealing children?
We took the Solid-cast Soldiers and went down into the Fens with the intent of clearing out any Ashlanders we might find down there. Pyscho Cid led the way, and we didn’t argue. No sense telling a crazy bastard how to do his job. We get down there and find an area completely cast in shadow. All the buildings are leaning in just such a way as to block out all the sunlight. Perfect conditions for ash-covered albino man-eaters.
The further in we get, the more it narrows. Until even an idiot can see that the bottleneck head is the best place to set up an ambush. Landmine. Beartrap. You name it.
Pyscho Cid ain’t all there, but he ain’t stupid either. He waves down one of his scrubs. The man don’t like the idea at all, but he likes the gun Cid pulls on him even less. It’s making everyone twitchy, but the fella tip-toes on into the gap.
He fades into the shadow, and all falls silent. A few moments later he shrieks. A blood-curdling scream like he’s just been run straight through. Cid goes charging into the breech after him. Me and Spivey follow close behind.
Nothing can prepare us for what we’re about to see. The fella we sent in is hanging upside down from a pig snare. A band of thirty plus kids, covered in grit and grime are prodding this fella with spears. The little scoundrels have formed their own band of thieves. Half of ’em are orphans and the other half runaways. We convince a few to come home, but there’s so many of ’em. We don’t know which of ’em are the missing kids and which of ’em genuinely got no place else to go.
We offer ’em all a place in our growing group. Scav Harrison is always looking to help out youngsters. The Skyline Runners are in need of fresh recruits. And while me and Spivey ain’t exactly daddy material, we offer to help ’em find a place in any of the merc guilds back at Three Hub.
‘Course, there’s more’ a few that don’t want to leave. Say they don’t need help. They can handle themselves. And after seeing what they did to that poor fella that Cid forced into the gap first, who’s to say otherwise? Anyway, some left with us, and some couldn’t be convinced. It was just our job to bring home the ones that went missing. And most of ’em weren’ hard to convince.
Point is, even a bunch of kids can catch you unawares if they’ve got the right setup. So when you see a situation like that, don’t be afraid to delegate the honor of going first to someone else. Regardless of how it may injure your respect from the crew.
Sometimes it’s a better idea to forgo respect and make sure you don’t end up a fool upside down in a pig snare. After all, there are other ways to command the respect of a crew. Like waving around a loaded gun and making someone else do what you knew was a bad idea.
—Coyote Joe, Memoirs of a Merc
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