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Trinity RPG - Standoff

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<H1>Standoff</H1><H3><A HREF="mailto: LordSchmit@aol.com">By Chris Schmidt</A></H3><HR>

The searing Texas sun burned down on the rocky ridge, illuminating the battle as it neared its conclusion. The Mexican rebels were in retreat, overwhelmed by the better armed FSM troops that guarded the caravan. Somebody, somewhere, had miscalculated the strength of the troop compliment when they had planned this raid. And there were numerous dead rebels evidencing the price of that mistake.

Not that the guerreros hadn't drawn blood on the Americans. There were FSM corpses strewn about as well. Smoke and flames decorated the battlefield as one of the cargo haulers burned, adding unneeded heat to the summer afternoon. Gunfire, both laser and bullet, sounded throughout the area as the FSM troops chased the rebels into the hills.

Sergeant John Hudson crept along the interior of small gully. The trench was maybe no more than ten to twelve feet deep, and wide enough for only one man to walk through at a time. Using it as cover, he hoped to outflank some of the fleeing Mexicans on the rocky fields up above. The chaos of the raid had separated him from his unit, and his minicomp, having taken a bullet, was no longer functioning. Still, busted communications was preferable to eating the bullet himself. The FSM trooper shrugged his shoulders uncomfortably. The blazing sun made the armor sweaty, and his laser carbine, despite being light and compact, was getting heavy after the hour or so of gunfighting. The gravelly earth crunched lightly underfoot. He wished he could move more quietly, and tried, but he was a big man, wearing clunky battle armor. Stealth was not his strong suit. Carbine at the ready, he moved along the shallow ravine.

Someone, far more skilled in silent movement, shadowed John up on the edge of the trench. Keeping out of sight and crawling without sound, the Mexican moved on all fours, knife in his mouth, shotgun on his back.

The raid had not gone well, and Julio Rodriguez knew it. It should have been quick and simple. Spring an ambush, kill some American goons, steal some of their supplies, and split. But there'd been more troops than they'd anticipated, and the raid had degenerated into a bloodbath on both sides. Julio could only thank God that they'd picked the site of the ambush so far from any FSM base. Enemy reinforcements would not get here in time to help their friends. The rebels still had time to escape.

He should have been retreating with his fellow rebels. Most had gotten away by now, Americans in pursuit. But some, like himself, had stayed for the opportunity to pick off a few more foes. Julio had seen this one enter the trench, and now intended to stalk the stalker.

Hudson paused a moment, looking down at his feet. A canteen lay in the dust and gravel, apparently dropped by some rebel in retreat. He looked up and around for a long moment, wondering if this was bait for an ambush. John heard and saw nothing unusual nearby. The Mexicans were running away. They wouldn't have the time to set up a trap for a lone soldier. He licked his lips in thirst and bent down to pick up the canteen.

Rodriguez lay still up above, breathing as quietly as possible, not moving an inch. When the American had stopped moving, so had he. Julio wondered what the trooper was doing. He had no view from here. His eyes darted around. No other FSM troops were in the vicinity. He could see some in the distance, but they were concentrating in another direction and probably couldn't see him in his prone position. Did the trooper in the trench know Julio was up here? Was he now waiting for the rebel to stick his face over the lip of the trench and present a target? A drop of sweat trickled down his face as he continued holding his position. He could wait the trooper out. He'd done it before. There were several dead overeager Americans as testament to his patience.

Hudson crouched in the relatively shady trench and drunk from the canteen after he checked to be sure it was filled with water. The sun was unforgiving out here. He glanced around again, listening carefully. Deciding he could take the chance, he set his rifle down and removed his helmet. His dark blonde hair, in the standard military cut, was soaked with sweat. He wiped the back of one hand across his brow, then lifted the canteen over his head and poured water down on himself. The water wasn't cold, but it brought relief from the heat.

Julio could hear the water splashing. The soldier was taking a break, it sounded like. Finding some respite from the oppressive summer temperatures. Now was the best time for it. Slowly, he took the knife from his teeth and gripped it in his right hand. Even more slowly, he brought himself up to his feet, ready to pounce. He still couldn't see into the trench. If he took the time to peek, the trooper might notice and he'd lose precious ambush time. He had to do this fast. He did his best to estimate the man's position below from the sounds he was making and readied himself.

Hudson gulped down the water like a dying man. It was too damn hot out here. Blasted Texas climate. He pulled at the collar of his armor and tried to pour some water down his shirt to give his back and torso a little relief. The canteen was nearly empty now. John moved to set it down when he saw it. The shadow looming up over him. He had company.

Julio came over the edge of the trench and down into it, knife poised to strike at the FSM trooper's exposed neck. As he came over, the rock of the trench walls gave way under his weight and sudden movement. It threw him off balance as he descended. While he regained it as his feet touched the trench floor, he had lost his knife. Julio immediately reached for his holstered pistol and prayed he could draw it in time.

Hudson snapped into action as the shadow came down towards him with the sound of cracking rock and tumbling scree. Dropping the canteen with one hand and grabbing his carbine with the other, the soldier rose and whirled around to face his ambusher.

Both men stood no more than four feet apart. Both had guns out and pointed at one another. An American soldier with a Voss 63k laser carbine, and a Mexican guerrero with a Stavros 11mm slugthrower autopistol. Both clicked their safeties back in the same instant.

Hudson was aware of the knife that clacked on the hard earth at their feet, but made no attempt to look at it. He dared not divert his attention now. The Mexican's pistol was right in his face, the muzzle no more than an inch from his nose. He stared across the sights of his own carbine into the dark brown eyes of the rebel.

Julio stared back at the trooper's blue eyes. His enemy's laser rifle pointed squarely into his face. His mind raced to think of some way out of this, but came up with nothing.

Neither man dared fire, for fear of causing the other to do so at the same time. Both wished to kill the other, but not at the price of killing themselves. Julio Rodriguez broke into a grim smile. "What we have ourselves here," he said in a heat-parched voice, "is what's called a Mexican Standoff, gringo."

Sergeant Hudson's lips twitched. "You could say that."

They stared at each other for what seemed an eternity, but in reality was about twenty seconds. In that stretch of time, they mulled over their situation, over the mutual extreme choice facing them both. At least one of them would not walk away from this alive. They both knew that, and they could see in each others eyes that the other knew it, too. Now the only matter was figuring out if there would be a lucky one, and which it would be.

Hudson spoke first after the pause. "Trying to jump me from beyond, Paco? Your guys' tactics never change, do they?"

"Go with what works, O'Brien."

"My name's not O'Brien."

"And my name's not Paco."

Silence descended again. Both men looked outwardly calm. They had spent too long in this conflict to let anything shake their cool, and neither was going to start now. Julio studied the FSM trooper's face. He wasn't used to seeing them with their helmets off, wasn't used to seeing their eyes and hair. The helmets made it easier for his side, Julio thought. The helmets made them look less human. It was easy to forget there were people in those suits of armor, instead of the soulless automatons he often regarded them as.

"So, what is your name?" John spoke up again.

"What do you care?"

He shrugged very slightly. "Everyone's got a name. Better than 'the Mexican'."

Julio wished he could readjust the grip on his pistol, but he could not afford the movement. "My name don't matter to you, killer."

Hanson scowled. "I'm not a killer. I'm a soldier."

"Fucking Soulless Monster by any other name, gringo."

Hudson scowled again, this time at the name the rebels used in reference to Federated States Military troops. It was undeserved, in his mind. Not that the Mexicans would care. He slowly took in a deep breath, and let it out just as slowly, his eyes never leaving those of Rodriguez. "Wouldn't do much good if I tried to tell you we aren't like that, I suppose."

"Tell me all you want. Won't change my mind. Actions're louder than words and shit."

The trooper licked his lips. "And our actions say...." he let the sentence hang, half interested in hearing what the rebel had to say, and half trying to buy time. Maybe if he could keep the Mexican talking, his fellow FSM troops would come by and help capture the man.

"Stop tryin' to distract me. You know what you done." Julio wasn't buying it. But he had no idea what to do with the American. This ambush had gone very wrong.

John could feel his hands beginning to cramp as he held his rifle steady. He resisted the ugre to flex them and tried to ignore it. "All I do is try and keep peace here."

Julio's eyes flashed dangerously. Hudson had struck a nerve, and wasn't sure if that was a good thing to do right now. He needed to keep the Mexican calm. But Julio's anger went as fast as it came, and his cool returned. When he spoke, however, there was passion in his voice.

"Keep the peace? You gringos buying into your own hype now? You cause more death around here than we do. You arrest our people off the street without reason. You barge into our homes in the middle of the night! You tax us unfairly! You force our children into your schools, teaching them your culture, if you allow them to be schooled at all! You are monsters! And our people will not stand for it! We never have!"

Hudson didn't react outwardly. "Nice speech." he said calmly. Inside, he had always wondered if such things were true. Did his government really commit such acts? Or was it just rebel propaganda? His training had always said the Mexicans were just dangerous thieves and a threat to American security. He was inclined to believe his own side, naturally, but sometimes he wondered....

They both stared at each other for another tense fifteen seconds. Sweat poured. Trigger fingers cramped. Minds raced. Neither man saw a way to get out of this without gunfire. Neither man trusted the other an inch.

Hudson watched a bead of sweat drip of the end of Julio's nose as he thought on something the man had said. "So, just who are we supposed to have arrested on the street for no reason?"

Rodriguez's mouth twitched a moment. "Lots of people. Nobody you'd know or remember." Hudson caught the mouth twitch. Julio had someone specific in mind.

"Like who? Someone special?" Hudson again attempted to keep Julio's mind occupied with other matters, trying to buy time.

"Like my wife, asshole."

John Hudson was a bit taken aback by that. He had expected the answer to be some rebel general or other. He forgot these rebels sometimes had families, like he did. Wives and children.

Julio Rodriguez smiled slightly, seeing he had caught the FSM trooper off-guard with that response. But Hudson's slight suprise disappeared quickly.

"So what did your wife do?" the soldier asked.

"Do?" Julio sounded incredulous, "She didn't do nothing except be married to me, gringo! That was crime enough for you bastards...."

"We wouldn't...." Hudson frowned and started in, then stopped. Would we, he thought?

"Wouldn't you? You did. It's been done. It's being done. And if we got anything to say about it, it'll never happen again!" Despite his aroused anger, Julio's arm was getting tired. he'd been holding his pistol in the American's face for.....what? Three, four minutes now? The tension in the air wasn't helping matters any.

Hudson was still frowning. "And this is how you'll put an end to the alleged mistreatment? With guns and knives and grenades? You ever stop to think about talking? Political action? Or were you just too eager to start shooting?"

Julio gritted his teeth. "Like political action would ever work with the FSA. The shooting started with you fools, remember? When you invaded OUR country? When've the oppressors ever listened to the oppressed except when forced to? Never. We're just defending ourselves. We're fighting for our freedom, fucker!"

Hudson's trigger finger almost squeezed. It was an ugly page in American history, and he hated to be reminded of it. Sure, the FSA government made no qualms about what it had done, but it wasn't a picture of his country he wanted to see. He spoke quietly, swallowing his anger. "Those were desperate days. We were starving. The Aberrant War left us in ruins. We had no choice."

Julio smiled this time. "Rationalize it all you want, but think of the irony while you're at it. Now we are the ones who are starving, because you took over all our farmlands. These are our desperate days. We have no choice."

John Hudson had nothing to say to that. He knew it was true. He'd always known, maybe. But like most, he chose to ignore the truth and just tried to get by. He had a family to support. He couldn't forsake them for the ideals of a bunch of revolutionaries. So he just pushed those thoughts away into the back of his mind. Julio had brought them out and put them in the mental spotlight again. In spite of his annoyance at that, John also felt the pangs of guilt, as well.

The two men resumed their standoff. It was hard for either to ignore the gun muzzles pointing into their faces, though they both acted unbothered by their mutual positions and kept their eyes locked on one another. The sun continued to pound down on them. In the distance, the sounds of fighting grew fainter.

Julio was being left behind. If he didn't leave now, the FSM troops would swarm all around and catch him. But this one here was in his way. Shooting it out wasn't an option, he knew. He had to stay alive. He had to rescue his wife. Who else would?

"Cell 346-4B, Block 3, Callfield Complex, in San Antonio," he said.

Hudson blinked. "What?"

"That's where my wife is kept."

"Why tell me?"

Julio paused a moment, the sounds of the battle had stopped, replaced by distant sounds of tanks and troops marching. He was out of time.

"So you can see her. So you can check the trumped up charges they keep her on. So you can know she is innocent, as are so many of my countrymen abducted by your government. So you can see the truth."

"What makes you think I'd do that?"

"Same reason you ain't going to shoot me, gringo. You got morals. And you believe me." Julio took a step back. Hudson made no move to stop him.

"How do you know that?" The soldier watched as the rebel took another backward step. He still made no move to stop his enemy, and he knew he wouldn't, even as he asked Julio how he knew.

"I'm a good judge of people. Plus, you ain't shot me yet." Another step.

Hudson watched as Rodriguez walked steadily backwards down the trench, towards where the floor slanted upwards to the ground level. Both kept their guns pointed at each other. Julio stopped just at the end of the trench.

"Somebody's gotta save her."

With that, the rebel turned and ran up and out, exposing his back to Hudson, presenting an easy target. He didn't take it.

It took perhaps only three or four seconds before the gunfire sounded. The calvary had arrived. It stopped just as quickly. Hudson stood in the trench, rifle lowered to his side, breathing deeply and looking that the knife near his feet. He stood that way for a long moment before a figure appeared above the lip of the trench. Hudson squinted up at the man, silhouetted against the blazing sun.

"Sergeant Hudson? This is Private Ferris. You alright, sir?" the voice was familiar.

"Yes, Private. I'm not hurt. Did you get him?"

"The Mexican? Yes, sir! Nailed that bastard before he could get off a shot!" The young soldier sounded proud.

John Hudson looked at the knife. The knife Julio had originally attacked him with. "He didn't get off a shot because he was out of ammo. He had been the whole time." He said softly, more to himself than the private.

"What was that, sir?"

"Nothing, Private. Move out. I'll catch up."

The figure saluted, "Yes, sir!" Then it turned and left.

He stood and stared at the knife a while longer before picking it up and studying it more closely. It was a hunting knife with a leather-bound grip. The letters 'JR' were inscribed at the base of the blade. The Mexican's initials, he supposed. They never did learn each other's names. Hudson took a deep breath and stuck the knife in his belt, then started walking to the incline out of the trench.

Cell 346-4B, Block 3, Callfield Complex in San Antonio, Julio had said.

Somebody's gotta save her.

Somebody would.

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