We’d smoked out two ringleaders in the capital and started moving out to the rural areas. I took a platoon out to this two-bit nowheresville out on the coast and we hit the streets. I wanted to see the grounds with my own eyes. The locals were nervous, but I told the Jarheads to pop their helmets, let ’em see our faces, see that we’re just like ’em.”
Rodgers face fell. “We passed this old house in the middle of an open plaza, a man was standing in the doorway, just watching us. I smiled at him, gave him a wave and he waved back. Next thing I know his head disappears in a red mist and he drops like a sack of ‘taters. I look at the marine next to me and he’s got his rifle up, pointing right at the dead man.”
A fire ignited behind Rodgers’ eyes. His hands came up and he started moving them in space as he talked.
“Before I could tear it out of his hands and demand an explanation the whole squad opened fire. None of them knew where the ‘attack’ was coming from, but they had rifles up and firing like good little marines. I rushed into the midst of them with my shock baton, knocking marines on their backs and shocking them left and right. The rest of the platoon worked out right quick that I was the one attacking them and they tried turning their rifles on me.
I tossed flashbangs to distract them and circled around a building to close the distance and I went at it again. I didn’t just want ’em to stop shooting, I wanted those sons ‘a snakes to bleed a little. Get something resembling justice for those civilians.
Finally when the whole thing was brought before the MPs the whole damn platoon was cleared of any wrong doing.” Rodgers snorted angrily. “They said the Marines were just following standard operating procedure. The marine that fired the first shot said he thought the man was reaching for a weapon.” Rodgers slammed his hand against the judge’s box and turned away.
Penny gave him a moment to cool before saying. “One isolated incident…”
“Isolated!” Rodgers spun to face her. “You think marines trained for assaulting and capturing planets can transfer over to peacekeeping with just one screw up? You’re smarter than that Dreadful. Throw in the political games at the top end, the senators squabbling over pacification contracts whether their troops can speak the local language or not and you honestly want to tell me that massacre was the only one? I know it wasn’t. I’ve seen more.”
Penny fumed at him quietly. “I know.” She said. “I’ve seen Marines and Garrison troops fly off the handle and I’ve seen civilians pay for it. But I’ve always brought it to the attention of their superiors.”
Rodgers leaned in close. “And you’ve seen justice done?”
Penny stared up at him, defiantly. “Not always.”
“But I’ve seen the Black Mask Society disregard civilians lives and livelihoods as well. On the very last planet I was on a Triad Red Pole almost contaminated the ground water for an entire continent. All so he could mine Kerium on the sly.”
Rodgers pulled back and grudgingly nodded to that as well. “The BMS ain’t saints neither. But the weaker side in a fight can’t afford to play by the rules. That’s why I taught you grunts my code. I wanted to make sure you conducted yourselves as decent human beings in the midst of that bloodbath. So that I’d never see you punching down on the Periphery citizens. But when you’re the little guy, when the other side has all the resources, soldiers, weapons and logistics, striving to always be an officer and a gentleman won’t get you nothing but a quick death. When your back’s against the wall the only part of the code that matters is that you ‘Do what has to be done’.”
“SO WHAT!” Penny shouted, taking a step towards him. “Was everything you told me just a lie? Just whatever happened to be convenient for you at the time?”
Rodgers stood tall through Penny’s assault and replied calmly. “If what I taught you was what you needed to make a real soldier of yourself, if it got you through the nightmare of the Hades campaign and let you move on to keep helping people even after you done your time, then you’re damn right I meant every word of it.”
Penny blinked, but held Rodgers gaze. The words hung heavy in the virtual air around them.
“So.” Penny said after a while. “You think the Black Mask Society are the lesser of two evils?”
Rodgers shrugged. “I think out of the two, they’re the ones with less blood on their hands.”
Penny nodded. “Then with all due respect sir.” She threw him a sharp salute. “I have to say I disagree with you.”
Rodgers lowered her eyes. “Then I guess this is war.”
Penny pulled her hand back to her side. “It already was.”
Rodgers reached up and tipped an imaginary hat to her. “Goodbye, Penny.”
And with a quiet ‘blip’ he disappeared.
Penny pulled out of her nanoputer returned to the Ravenwing‘s common room. She slumped back into the couch and stared down at the little book in her hands. Penny drew out a long, tired sigh, closed her eyes and closed the book.