This is part of a continuing short story I wrote a couple of years ago. The companion story, "Fiddlestix" was given an Honorary Mention in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest. "Among the Shine Clan", though written later, is first chronologically. This story is not appropriate for readers under 14.
Fiddlestix' men looked terrified. They saw an enormous, angry man looming across a narrow, flimsy table in a room deep underground with no sure way out. What was Gunny doing? Why was she baiting him like that? Shouldn't she be negotiating? Playing nice? Maybe doing whatever a woman did to a man to make him more compliant? So far, she'd done everything except shoot him. If it was possible to verbally castrate a man, she was working on it.
Kaz, who was a short, wiry built man, swallowed with difficulty, his hands shaking. Harmony, who wasn't used to feeling small, was. They didn't dare speak. Neither man wanted to draw attention to himself.
"Suppose you share one of your theories with us," an older man with graying hair leaned over, striking a pose much like Jasper's.
Fiddlestix' eyes flickered over to him. She liked what she saw. He was slightly shorter than Jasper, lean built, but just as strong. His green eyes glimmered with humor, his lips twitched with suppressed humor.
"Yes, sir," she sat smoothly, crossing her legs elegantly. Despite her combat gear, she comported herself like a lady.
"No need to 'sir' me, Gunnery Sargent. We're the same rank. Frank Lord." He nodded at Jasper and Deacon. "Their uncle. I was by their father's side when some of those wild men cut him down."
She saw now that he carried himself carefully, as if nursing a wound. There was a tightness around his lips that spoke of great pain. He'd been wounded, rather severely, but he'd never in a million years show weakness in front of her.
"Yes, Sargent. I'd be happy to. Provided General Scott doesn't object."
Frank Lord glanced at his nephew. "He don't mind. He's just a dumb hillbilly who can't control his temper." He nodded sharply at Deacon to sit.
Fiddlestix suppressed a smile as Deacon sat without argument.
"If General McLain is who we think," she continued. "Then none of this should surprise us. In fact, it fills in a lot of gaps in his narrative. I think it's a good possibility that he sent them here to attack you. If they can get a toehold, they can wipe the whole lot of you out. There's very little defense against these guys."
"Why would he want to do that, Gunny?" Lord asked quietly.
"Like I said, he's a snake and a dumb son-of-a-bitch. He carries a grudge and he's now in a position to do something about it. Even if they don't take you all out, you're weakened and vulnerable. Then he sends me in with my people, without asking, and that would, in my opinion, constitute a warlike act. I don't take kindly to well armed interlopers on my turf. I don't suppose you do either."
Jasper's eyes twinkled, but he didn't speak. Frank Lord smiled gently, his eyes softening.
"No, I don't suppose we do."
"I didn't ask to be sent here, General Scott," she directed at Deacon. "But if I'd had my way, I'd have asked before I barged in. I would have brought no more than twenty people with me and we would have taken care of this nice and quiet."
"Why do you think McLain sent you in like this then?" Deacon couldn't keep the curiosity out of his voice.
"Slap in the face to you and a burning desire to see me cut down. He hates me. He's a dumb ass and I've told him that more than once. I used to be Captain Hannah Braun. About six months ago, he busted me to Gunnery Sargent. Only because he couldn't really take me any lower without raising a few eyebrows. There's not a man or woman on my team who hasn't had some sort of confrontation with him."
"Except Lieutenant Frieze," Harmony added quietly.
"Yeah, well, look where that sorry sack of shit's hiding out," Kaz added vehemently. "Doped up in the hospital. Coward."
Fiddlestix grinned, her eyes twinkling. "Oh, Kaz, is that any way to talk about our superior officer?" She snorted derisively.
Harmony and Kaz joined her in a short, hearty laugh at Frieze's expense.
"Superior, my ass...." Harmony chuckled.
One look at Deacon and the laughter stopped. His eyes were hard, like crystals. His face bland, dangerous.
"So, you're saying," he said quietly. "You think this whole thing was McLain's way of getting even with us and taking you and your people down? Is that it? That's your brilliant theory as to why all this transpired? My father is dead because of this! My men are dying, my people terrified. I've got a society that's falling apart around my ears and you think it's for revenge?" He leaned over the table once more, banging both fists on it forcefully.
"Deacon," Frank Lord spoke so softly, Fiddlestix barely heard him. "Sit down, son."
Deacon's glare turned to his uncle. He pointed angrily at the older man. "I'm not your son. Don't be thinking because we're kin that it gives you any kind of advantage here. I will see hell burn before I believe this is simply revenge."
He headed for the door, his men in his wake. All but Frank Lord and Jasper followed him. He hesitated at the door. Shrugging his shoulders, he tossed his long, blond hair aside. Jerking the door open, he nearly took it off its hinges. Without another word, he was gone. The silence settled in the room somewhat uncomfortably.
For Part 5: http://www.myspace.com/dellanioakes