Jack the sound barrier. Bring the noise.


Preparing for the Moot

1st Day, 1st Ride, 9th Month, 1374th Year

After talking to Creighton about the work we'd have to do first thing in the morning, I retired back to my room in the keep. I looked out of the window of my room and heard the quiet whispers coming from the settlers' camp to the north. I reckoned the camp was no more than a mile away and that gave me an idea. I spoke to Blackwing and asked her to keep an eye on Ser Fosco's tent, easily recognised by his flag flying proudly above it. With an angry flutter of feathers that magnificent bird took off.

What little remained of the evening I spent studying my spells. I am ambitious and eager to fly by Blackwing's side. I've followed the lineage from Mage Hand to Feather Fall, to Levitate and I hope that if I study hard enough I will be able to attain flight that gives me a greater degree of mobility and control.

2nd Day, 1st Ride, 9th Month, 1374th Year

Early in the morning I met with Creighton in the study. He had brought the required ledgers for us to come up with several economic scenarios from which Quentyn could choose. We worked while we broke our fast. It turns out Creighton kept meticulous records of all production over the last few years. Considering Lord Marbrand's varied investments in local businesses, we had a lot of material to work with. I did most of the mathematics and risk assessments and came up with four likely scenarios.

By the time I was supposed to meet Quentyn and Brother David in Glister proper, I had decided to send Blackwing to deliver my apologies. I felt my talents would best server Quentyn if I would take the extra time to finish the work so that he would be well prepared to face the Glisterians at the moot.

At noon Quentyn and Brother David arrived back at the keep for lunch. I had been so busy with work that I had failed to notice a bird had arrived with a message from Lord Balta, the Western Warden of Vaasa. Apparently he had sent a scouting party to clear the High Pass and claim the keep there, but hadn't heard from them in over a ride. He inquired if they had been spotted in or around Glister.

Quentyn's concern was that if Lord Balta would take the keep at the High Pass it would mean that Quentyn couldn't. Not without ousting Lord Balta's men and setting off a territorial dispute with a neighbouring lord. One that Quentyn likely wasn't able to win. He felt he should claim the keep before Lord Balta did. Another item on his ever-growing list of matters of import.

Yesterday, Widukind and Jago brought another small keep to Quentyn's attention. One that was in the foothills of the Galena Mountains to the south east, towards Hulburg. According to the two trackers there is a lot of Lizardmen activity in the area, which means a rather significant detour for any caravans coming from that direction.

Two keeps, one to the north east, the other to the south west. Securing both of them would improve trade relations, and securing the one to the north east would also win a territorial dispute before it starts. Hopefully we'll resolve the matter of the settlers at the moot with enough support that we will be able to focus on the keeps.

Creighton was happy to go over the numbers of the different scenarios and give them a good polish. After hearing Jago mention that the High Pass keep was said to be haunted, I decided to do some quick research in the Marbrand library. The more information we'd have, the easier it was to prioritise the taking of High Pass keep and the recovery of Lord Balta's scouts. Meanwhile, Quentyn and Brother David decided to visit the Widow. Her support at the moot, as with Wulfric's, would be crucial.

After a short while I had found references to several keeps in the High Pass region. It was quite possible they all referred to the same structure, just mentioned under a different name due to changing allegiances or rulership. It was clear that whatever was there was meant to guard the High Pass, and perhaps even the Low Pass.

Since the High Pass lays on the south-western border of Vaasa it was controlled by the Witch King during his brutal and unholy reign. It's not unlikely that it was the seat of some very evil people, and perhaps even one of the Witch King's undead minions. This could explain the keeps superstitious reputation. At least, I hope it's superstition.

When Quentyn and Brother David returned they told me of the meeting with the Widow. Judging the mood of the two men, I got the sense that the meeting was less fruitful than they had hoped. The way they spoke, the doubt in Quentyn's voice, his choice of words...

Having observed my lord father govern his lands, I find the contrast between him and Quentyn quite shocking. My father always appeared to be just and fair but uncompromisingly stern and steadfast. Quentyn doesn't seem to posses the conviction of his rule. David also speaks to him as if he's a common rube. Upon reflection, I probably patronise him in the way I speak to him. If even his closest advisors don't offer him his due respect, how are the townsfolk going to respond to him?

I suggested that Brother David and I take the evening to visit the camp in order to find out what kind of labourers the settlers had been before they took up arms. I had already sent out Blackwing to keep an eye out for the source of their food, and she had reported back that the settlers seemed to forage and trap small game.

When we arrived at the camp the mood had changed significantly compared to our first visit. We were welcomed and allowed to walk the camp without a problem. It seemed that Ser Fosco had made good on his promise to keep his men in line.

An amicable conversation with Gunnar revealed that there were two blacksmiths in the camp, several hunters and trappers, and that they had several novice herbalists, a few leatherworkers, tanners and cobblers. Bakers, cooks, tar makers, fletchers were also present. Most of the men came from farming stock, so they would be able to till the land and grow enough crops to become self sufficient.

We spoke with the Hammer (the official name of one serving Tempus) about the moot and he was genuinely shocked to hear that the Glisterians had a say in the decision making. That while Quentyn's opinion carried a lot of weight, that his rule was not an absolute one. The Hammer decided to share that Ser Fosco's tactic had been to undermine Quentyn as lord by purposefully causing friction between the settlers and the Glisterians. Likely, he'd never have done that if they had known just how decisions were made in the town.

We decided to talk with all the settlers but for some reason we weren't really able to get a good conversation going. Perhaps it was late or they were distrustful, but we couldn't get through to them and they wouldn't offer up too much of their background and skills. I resorted to figuring out their trades by looking at some of the tools they had laying around.

Another thing; I spoke to Gunnar to see if he could get his hands on some wine. I told him I'd be willing to pay, barter or trade. Let's hope he'll be able to find some among the settlers.

When we returned to the keep on Wizard's Hill, we found Quentyn sitting in the courtyard, by himself. He looked dejected and somewhat forlorn. We spoke about what we had discovered at the settlers' camp, and about the strategy at the moot. I suggested that Ser Fosco should come with us to retake the keep at the High Pass as a task for his new lord. Brother David wisely suggested that his right hand Matteo should take a small group to retake the keep in the south east. Split them up. See if we can form a bond with Ser Fosco.

At one point, Brother David spoke to Quentyn in a manner that didn't suit me. It was then that I noticed Harald's belt, with that intricately carved bone stag at the buckle. The stag's details had receded and faded, as if by intense use. The antlers that the stag displayed were worn down compared to when I had first seen and investigated the belt, as if by long use. I took out my scrying crystal and spoke a few arcane words of divination.

Detect Magic
Mindok pah lah.
Know all magic.

It was true, the power of the belt had severely diminished. My mind raced for an answer. At first, I thought that maybe I had overlooked the possibility that the belt's magic was finite and that with common use the power would slowly wane.

But then it occurred to me that the belt was Uthgardt in origin, created by its members to reflect their chosen totem. The totems of the Uthgardt were made to reflect their ideal. The bear was powerful. The wolf was loyal. The cat was sly. Quentyn wore the belt and it showed his ideal; the stag -- regal, commanding and proud. Quentyn's mood was fueling the belt and it was losing power as Quentyn was losing faith in his ability to command.

I immediately tried to reassure him. I referred to him as my lord, and paid him his proper dues. I assured him of my confidence in his plan and his ability to lead the people of Glister. I noticed that the power of the belt returned almost immediately. I should remember that the belt will give me a good reflection of how capable Quentyn is feeling as a lord.

One last thing of note about our conversation. Something that Quentyn had neglected to share with us is that besides this group of settlers, there were two more groups coming up from Cormyr. If they are each the size of the current group, it would mean that Glister's number would swell by eighty and one hundred. That would be more than an increase of half the original inhabitants, and something our current economy would certainly not be able to support. It was unlikely the other two groups would risk arriving in the middle of winter, so that would mean they would arrive in the spring at the earliest. We would have to start preparing for their arrival. And we would have to do it soon.

It sickens me to think that I left my family, I left the circle, I left my homeland, all in order to avoid politics. Anything to avoid politics. And now I'm in the employ of a Cormyrian lord learning how to be a lord even though he was never groomed by his family to become one. The gods are playing a cruel joke on me.


The Settlers

1st Day, 1st Ride, 9th Month, 1374th Year

It has been two years since the battle with Nar-Narg-Naroth. Much has changed on the Oldmark. The new Lord of Glister has shaped up the militia and has built a palisade along the moat, further separating the Oldmark from the Newmark. Harald has been replaced by Widukind as the paragon of the foresters and he has been working in concert with Jago to open up new and secure old trade routes.

The village has grown and its productivity has grown along with it. I've helped optimise the production of arable land by changing crop rotation cycles and fine tuning sowing and reaping times. I am loathed to take responsibility for the jump in crop yield. The herds of cattle on the Hoof have also been procreating faster and more steadily, and growing larger and healthier than before. I suspect that vanquishing the Tanar'ri has had a positive effect on Glister. And dare I say on the whole of the Thar.

I've been...reckless with my divinations, but I cannot say it's been without its rewards. If it wasn't for the current unrest in Glister I would spend much more time learning the secrets of the bloodstone, and the being that is banished inside of it.

Quentyn has made great strides in advancing himself as the Lord of Glister. He has also made great strides in advancing Glister as a trading hub along the Thar. Neighbouring fiefdoms have sent word, and a certain Lord Balta, the Western Warden of Vaasa even made the trek to Glister to make a personal appearance.

Occasionally there is word from Cormyr. A great horde of orcs has descended upon my homeland. I'm certain that the Cormyrian knights and war wizards are more than capable of defeating the horde -- it is not the first time they come reaving down from the mountains -- but I cannot help but be somewhat worried for my family. Danan especially. He should be of an age now that he'll have his own command, or leading some vanguard. I wonder if he's been anointed yet. I should write him again. Until I hear back, I shall pray to Chauntea to lend strength to him so he can defend home and hearth.

As a result of the trouble in Cormyr, and likely eager to send word back of his progress, Quentyn has send an open invitation for refugees to come and settle in Glister. His ambition is admirable. For a long while I thought that none would make the trek across all the way north to Glister. Even if you take a boat across the Sea of Fallen Stars and north into the Moonsea, like I did, the journey across the Thar from Thentia, Melvaunt or Hulburg will take weeks.

And yet, they came. A large host of sixty mercenaries, lead by a Cormyrian knight by the name of Ser Fosco. It was a ragtag band of Cormyrians, Sembians, and mongrels. Glister was ill-prepared. Quentyn was ill-prepared. I am not sure what he was expecting, but I was expecting people less armed with swords and more armed with ploughshares. They look less like settlers and more like raiders. But here they are, looking for a home.

The settlers -- yes, settlers, that's what they are and I will continue to call them that so that they, and the people from Glister, don't forget why they're there -- have settled in a large camp on the Newmark, just across the moat, in sight of the keep. It's been weeks now, and understandably they are getting restless. I don't know what is stopping them from settling properly. I guess my curiosity has gotten to the point where I will set aside my studies and venture forth. Perhaps I can help.

This day I woke up to the smell of food coming from the kitchen. When I came downstairs, I saw that Quentyn joined his two squires -- Godric and... and... Godric and the other one -- to break their fast. Mund had prepared what most people would consider a fine start of the day. Despite being here for a while, I still have trouble adjusting to the Glisterian choice of food. The Thar breeds hardier people than myself.

Luckily, I've been able to figure out what works for me. The friendly simpleton Gilbert and I have grown friendly, and he sells me eggs from his flock of ducks. Mund has started to prepare the eggs in the different ways. When I told him to be more conservative with the spices, his creations became a delight.

The amount of wine in the village is still at an abysmal level. It's rare. The villagers seem to enjoy their ales and meads more and so the merchants have given up bringing it on their voyages across the Thar. I've started to drinking some light ciders, which I'm learning how to digest. If I don't overdo it, the acidity of the apples doesn't upset my stomach. Perhaps I should see about getting Jago to bring some grapevines from his trips to Hulburg. Perhaps I can start growing my own. The climate isn't suited for it, but with Chauntea's blessing anything I create will be better than ale.

While I quietly ate my breakfast at the kitchen table I started to wonder what kind of knights these two squires would become? They seem brutish, boorish and devoid of the five chivalric virtues that a knight should imbue; valour, honour, compassion, generosity and wisdom. Perhaps I shouldn't judge them too harshly. Perhaps it's simply that they don't come across as any of these things. At the Circle of Magi I had to jump through some awful hoops in order not to be judged too harshly. I ended up showing everyone wrong. I hope Godric and... thinger will show me wrong.

With Quentyn not being a knight himself, or a priest; can he even anoint new knights?

Creighton arrived and joined to break his fast. He asked Quentyn if it was wise that Wulfric dictate the terms of the moot. Apparently, Wulfric had called for a moot. Apparently, the mercena*... no, the settlers had been causing some trouble. Skirmishes, intimidation and thievery had gone up and the settlers had been involved in all instances. Quentyn decided that as lord, he should be the one to call for a moot.

Brother David arrived wearing that ghastly chain of his and heartily attacked the breakfast larders. He had come to ask about the moot as well and he was also able to confirm that the settlers were the cause of much unrest on the Oldmark.

After breakfast brother David wanted to check my constitution. I could have saved him the effort and replied with "miserable," but he seemed quite insistent. My seizure has left him worried. When the checkup was concluded I was told I was relatively good health, which was good. I was told that I shouldn't neglect the hearth during my studies. I knew what that meant. Oftentimes I am so lost in thought or study that the hearth extinguishes and the bitter cold creeps into my bones.

We spoke briefly about the settlers and the moot. He wanted us to keep the mood of the moot calm and to prevent the villagers from antagonising the settlers. They are well armed and most of them seem seasoned combat veterans. They could take over the village if they wanted to.

We all met atop the keep to look at the camp of the settlers on the Newmark. We noticed the banner of Ser Fosco; a triangle of three black arrows on a field of green. His heraldry seemed sophisticated enough that he should likely be, or have been, a landed Cormyrian knight. I did not recognise his banner, but I resigned to find out what I could. Perhaps Lord Marbrand left some books on Cormyrian heraldry behind while searching for his heir. I could send Blackwing for Cormyr to inquire, but it would likely take two rides for her to return.

We all ended up walking up to the Hoof to find Wulfric. I was reminded that when we had first arrived in Glister, Wulfric's daughter Annika had been taken by gnolls. Quentyn, brother David and Jago saved her and Wulfric was very grateful. I wondered what had soured his mood towards Quentyn, and whether we'd have to remind him about the debt he owed them.

I felt embarrassed to find that Wulfric was actually quite hospitable and friendly. He offered us some cheese that his daughter had learned how to make, and essentially confirmed what we had already suspected. He wasn't happy with the way the settlers had been behaving.

His main gripe, besides the infractions, was that the settlers simply weren't contributing to the village. They were not producing, only consuming. Not pulling their weight. He also wanted to know where we would house them. And why they seemed so disinterested in clearing land, erecting houses and plowing fields.

Even with the added productivity of the fields and the herds, could we keep up that productivity under the strain of sixty extra mouths to feed? It was a very valid question, but not one I could answer without doing some mathematics first. I decided to talk to Creighton and get to the bottom of that conundrum. How much food is produced on how much arable land? To house, feed and cloth sixty people, how much extra land needs to be tilled, how much extra cattle will it take, how much extra game needs to be hunted and how much extra fish needs to be caught? Once we know that, we know what we'll need to provide in terms of land, tools, seed and cattle.

Jago and Widukind had joined us at Wulfric's the moment they heard we were on the Hoof. When we left, we decided to pay a visit to the settler's camp and Jago decided to join us. We crossed the palisade and took the ferry across the moat and walked up to the camp.

At the camp we were made to wait outside the camp. Under guard. Eventually it became insulting and Quentyn resolutely shouldered his way past the guards. He and I don't have much in common, and in that moment I was jealous of his ability to command respect simply by imposing his physique and stature. It probably doesn't hurt that brother David, who is an imposing man himself, was standing to his side wearing that ugly chain and that magical cloak of furs.

Ser Fosco turned out to be a tough nut to crack. There was some back and forth between the knight and Quentyn and it became... tense. It certainly felt as if Ser Fosco was trying to squeeze every bit out of the leverage he had, even if that leverage was gained through intimidation. It became quite clear that Ser Fosco wanted to be a landed knight yet again and I wondered how realistic it was to introduce feudalism to Glister.

A deal was struck; Ser Fosco would keep his settlers in line, Quentyn would come up with a plan and present it at the moot in two days. Quentyn would bring three people, as would Ser Fosco. Quentyn decided to depart, but brother David asked Ser Fosco's permission to walk the camp and tend to the needs of the settlers. He granted permission, though I felt that permission wasn't his to grant. The Newmark was as much a part of Glister as the Oldmark, despite being outside the palisade.

While walking the camp with brother David we both came to the conclusion that most of the people in the camp came to Glister to earnestly accept Quentyn's invitation. Brother David could detect some bad apples in the batch, but most of the Cormyrians really were fleeing the war in our homeland looking for a better life.

We met a priest of Tempus by the name of Gunnar, a wintered soldier. He was open and amicable, and his voice betrayed his Damaran heritage. He wasn't sure whether he would stay. This made sense to me and confirmed to me that we had gotten the right of it; the majority of the people here came with good intentions. If they would stay and settle, Gunnar would move on to find the next battle, to find another war to serve his Lord.

When we were done we returned to Ser Fosco's tent. Brother David had asked me to distract Ser Fosco a bit so that he could say a prayer. So I asked Ser Fosco where he was from and how he came to leave. His tale was a tragic one, of a small house of some nobility, losing more and more power when the orc horde came, until all that was left was a title. It seemed Ser Fosco was here to reclaim some of the prestige he lost in the war.

On the way back to the Oldmark, brother David told me that he had divined that Ser Fosco had a deeply selfish core and I was once again reminded of the conversation I had with Quentyn and the two squires; was Ser Fosco an exemplary knight? Did he embody the five chivalric virtues of knighthood?

When we returned to the keep, we talked to Quentyn about what we had found at the camp, and the conclusions that we had drawn. I suggested that we'd refer to the land to be designated as "The Gift." It would help us in our conversations, and convey the spirit in which we were entering these negotiations. It also sounded good.

Before bed, I talked to Creighton and came up with a plan to do the mathematics about what Glister currently produced in terms of crops, cattle, fishing and game. We would need to come up with several models in which we distributed the sixty new hands in such a way as to optimally create enough goods to support the visitors and yield the most to Glister.


This is a great resource for Skyrim's dragon language:

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Why would PMCs be in politically-unstable places, as opposed to waiting in comfort to be called?

Private Military Companies

When I'm running a campaign -- Shadowrun, D&D or Call of Cthulhu -- I'm constantly expanding the universe I put my players in. I like the setting to be internally realistic, and as a result I am constantly reading up on things. For my last Shadowrun campaign, I dove into vault lines, volcanos, radio activity, extreme weather conditions, etc.

I came across something on the World Building Stack Exchange that I thought was interesting, and I thought I'd share. Someone asked why private military companies would keep their troops stationed in unstable places. The first answer was a great insight into the world of PMCs, mercenaries, and it gave a good background information for Shadowrunners and how they must live their lives.

The original link can be found here, but I've also copied and pasted the relevant bits here, in case the link goes dead.

Original Post

I'm writing a story, based off of the Stars Without Number system. Now, there's one thing bugging me, and that's that the military contractors and bounty hunters and the like are all congregating in the war-torn areas, waiting to be hired, instead of relaxing in luxury, waiting to be called.

There's mostly reliable, long-distance superluminal communication, but only in the sense that you can put a message on a ship (or into the ship's computers) and have that ship carry it, mostly reliably, between systems.

How can I explain why PMCs would do anything but stay at home, waiting to be hired to fight?

Top Rated Reply

Not sure quite what definition you want to give of "being a mercenary", but I spent a few years as a contractor in Africa, Asia and the Middle East after leaving the Army, so I can tell you why I spent a bit of time wandering around the smellier parts of the world between contracts.


You get hired and find contracts by making sure people know you. I was in Special Forces for 6 years, and in a tiny community like that your reputation is everything. Once you get out it is the only way you get good contracts, too -- not by applying for them, but by getting cold-called by someone you know and already worked with before.

But the longer you've been out of the military where assignments aren't your decision and you meet new people as a matter of course, you wind up becoming slowly isolated. Whatever sort of work you have been doing is the only way you meet people if you're only in the ugly parts of the world when you're on contract. That means you only meet people who do the same kind of work as you, and pretty soon your old contacts change careers (nobody does this forever, not unless they get paid extremely well -- but its actually feast-or-famine, and that begins to wear on you). Over time your contacts go stale, contracts become less frequent, wars end, new wars start in places you've never been, rules change, industry players change, empires come and go, languages you know becomes useless, etc.

We watch all this firsthand, which is why we know that we can't count on being comfortable, ever, and absolutely none of us trust things like pension programs after watching entire governments implode overnight. That also means we don't have much faith in getting a next call while we're a world away sitting on our asses enjoying the good life. Yes, you do that a little, but only when you know you already have a contract lined up to go back to.

Location location location

So what does one do? Why do programmers looking for easy cash from VCs they can blindside with a storm of buzzwords migrate to San Francisco? Its one of the absolute worse places to run a company, but its one of the best for starting a company simply because the community is there. In the same way one might wonder why I would wander around a shithole like Baghdad or take a trip to Mali when job hunting? Because the community is there.

Its not just bases and checkpoints and whatnot. Those of us who have to stay there a lot begin doing more pleasant things with our time. Some start up private bars, open restaurants, hire stranded immigrant workers who were screwed over by their former employers and start a service shops that handle things people like us know are needed (vehicle repair, gear cleaning, safe parcel delivery, couriers, good alcohol smuggling, proper medical supply import, etc.). We tend to those things when you're not on contract, meet local girls ("local" as in she's there, and so are you for the moment), train with each other partly as play and partly to keep skills alive (and its fun), etc. and keep making contacts. It takes a little effort, but you can make life comfortable for yourself in the middle of the never-ending nightmare that is most of the world.

Most of us are, if not friends, at least cut from the same cloth. We've had similar experiences. We like to swap stories and lies with one another over a drink. We like to roll and box with each other for fun. We have beer shoots on the weekends sometimes (loser buys for everyone). Very few of us can train much back home. People at home sincerely do not understand a huge part of our lives. We come from the same dozen or so countries. We speak, if not the same language, the same 2 or 3 common pidgins. Its a comfortable place, even if its a rough one. And sure, maybe a few towns over people are getting their houses knocked over and roughed up by the local gangs or whatever, but nobody comes to mess with our little cobbled together neighborhood in that way. So yeah, its less safe than living in, say, Austin, but its a lot safer than the general violence statistics for the region would make it appear. And that's just better for us -- less competition.

We're feeding off of the chaos

Most of the world is not very well planned out. When a crisis occurs and a bigshot needs to go somewhere bad in a big hurry there simply isn't time to establish a strong guard force and mobilize it. Most countries don't even have decent diplomatic security forces, so external contractors are a necessity.

Usually an office that is already in position will get a call at the 11th hour with a desperate need for diplomatic security. Not ten minutes later a few of us are running up and down the street knocking on doors, calling each other "Do you have any solid guys and a few locals you can bring on a run to X in two days?" and "Hey, do you still have that bigass armored bus? How about the bricked-out Mercedes and the Rhino, are they out of the shop yet?" and so on.

The next day we're all out, not officially on contract yet, but we're already rehearsing, making sure everybody knows what to do. One major advantage of working in a group like this is that you generally only need to rehearse actions-on, get guys new to a particular technique or scenario up to speed, and cover a few contingent actions. That's a lot different from having to rigidly train core skills because most of the trigger-pullers are privates who just left home for the first time. (The general age range of the guys I prefer to work with is 30~60 -- and don't let 60 throw you off, there is this freakish phenomenon we call "old man strength" and its totally real.)

A few days later we've swapped out our patches and hats for whatever logos the prime contractor has and are standing all clean and pretty at the airfield waiting to meet the guy who is paying for the party.

From the outside I suppose it looks like Xe (or Blackwater, or whatever they are now), or Triple Canopy or Aegis or whoever appear to be some full-time private military force you can just hire on short notice -- but that doesn't mean they have a barracks in Florida or Cape Town and are just waiting for the green light. Its expensive to have us around, just eating through corporate profits. They assemble their forces from people they already know right then and roll. (The really huge contracts that cover a whole warzone may wind up being slightly different in effect, because those contracts may be ongoing for 5 years at a time, but even those stories must eventually end.) The only people with some level of job security are the country/region managers and up. The polite girl who used to call me from Virginia to tell me my travel routes, for example, had much better job security than any contract lead ever would.

That's just diplomatic security. There are plenty of other contracts like training foreign militaries, providing direct QRF support, high-value recovery (sort of borderline legally), K&R response, countersurveillance, and some other stuff for example, but the way you get to know each other and find your next job tends to be the same: by being out there, being well known, being likable, making friends, working lower-paying contracts that involve a ton of people to have a chance to meet some other guys, and remembering who the dirtbags were so you can avoid them in the future.

It sounds bad to say "we feed off the chaos", but that's true. But its also true that the chaos is never-ending, people suck, nothing is stable, and nobody gives a crap about your problems but you and maybe your family. Its not going to get any better, and it hasn't been any different throughout history -- we're just this season's leaves, soon to be swept away whether we spend them shivering in our beds trying to stay safe or out there sweating, trying to get some cash together so we can get out of the crappy places of the world and start a family somewhere less screwed up.

So in the end...

Why do gravitate to the eye of the storm? Because in a world with no job security you have to make your own luck.

What about the organizations?

The above discussion was all about the people involved, explaining some of the reasons why I would occasionally hang around nasty places while off contract or at least spend my off-days while on contract making sure I had a good shot at having another contract one later on (or finding a better one right away if the current one paid peanuts but was super dangerous for no reason). That's all about us guys who are on-off contract every few months (or whenever the phone rings) and have no job security. The companies that are actually getting the contract awards have slightly different, but related, reasons to always have a presence in a disturbed region.

Contracting companies don't really have any job security, either. Any given conflict will eventually end, and -- contrary to the hilariously off-base conspiracy theories that PMCs "cause conflict to profit off them" -- peace could break out at any time. But this is Earth. We can rest easy in the knowledge thatwar is a natural state of mankind. The trick is, just like owning a chain of grocery stores or selling fire insurance, you have to diversify your presence and product offerings to make sure you've got market coverage if you want your company to survive beyond a sing huge conflict. (A lot of PMCs have come and gone just around the Iraq conflict. Others will come and go elsewhere. A few have a semi-permanent presence on the eternally screwed up continents.)

When everything goes to crap and the local embassy or company office needs to source something locally, it is a very good thing if you've already got a point of contact in country. Nothing fancy, just renting a one-room office or keeping a local on hire to answer the phone. If operations are fairly regular, though, like when a larger trend of conflicts is ongoing, it is absolutely impossible to keep up with regulatory requirements. Your job is, after all, to wield lethal force. In reality you do this every time you move a chair, pick up a rock, throw a baseball, grab any kind of farm tool you can imagine, or get the cutting board from under the sink... but that's not how regulators see things. (And before you say "but you don't wage wars with rocks and knives and stuff" -- that is precisely what insurgents do.) Sourcing the best weapons money can buy in a country like the US, UK or France is not terribly difficult -- but shipping them out sure is. The other side is even harder: getting authorization to ship weapons into a warzone. Now that last bit is highly ironic given the typical glut of weaponry just laying around and the fact that there is usually a vibrant black market in action -- but it is absolutely insane the layers of paperwork, ass-kissing, bribing, cousin marriages, and personal relationships you have to maintain to ship a container of 30 rifles from Arizona to Pakistan.

Given that doing things the 100% legal way involves insurmountable regulatory hurdles, and to even be allowed to do things legally one must do the illegal stuff anyway to grease the skids on the operation (the bribes, cousin jiggering and relationships part) the path of least resistance is usually to source and maintain weapons locally and then make that legal by way of the bribes and whatnot. The end result is that you have mountains of paperwork to do (once your cache is made legal it will have to be registered and maintained by an armorer), but its done quickly and you have access to what you need now (money and arms) instead of never getting the operation off the ground because someone else can beat your price and timeline by sourcing locally. Its a race to market! But maybe not the sort of race to market everyone is aware occurs.

The tradeoff is money (flexible) and time (inflexible) in exchange for a much lower availability of the weapons you want to use. In a big theater like Iraq or Afghanistan its not so hard to get real M-4's and things, but they will often be Bushmasters instead of Colts, for example (and when the the teeth on the bolt break while you're firing... you really hope the rest of them hold until you can maybe find a new one and a new barrel, which is anything but certain). In a smaller theater you are rarely that lucky and will have to settle for unreliable remakes (that look good, but don't sound so good), crappy magazines (failure to feed == failure to fire), ill-maintained former stockpile gear (that works, but requires some rehabilitation work), former Soviet stock (contrary to the popular image, the AK-47 and PKM are not the first choice of most discerning infantrymen...), or a big fat pile of "frankenguns". And that's just guns! The situation with ammunition is absolutely laughable most of the time (protip: practice stoppage drills).

[Frankengun: A firearm, usually of Soviet design, that is assembled from the not-yet-totally-broken parts of a collection of other guns that used to work. This is particularly common with PKMs, which are already bad enough when they are in factory condition compared to an M-240B* or an MG-3**.]

*  or MAG-58, or M-60, or...
** or MG-42, or MG-11, or MG-53, or...
See, guns have lineages, too! The PKM's line had a lot of inbreeding...

Where individuals trying to find contract work hang around to be known and put themselves in the right places at the right times, companies hoping to score prime contracts have to have an early logistical presence and maintain it in order to be confident they can service any contracts at all.


In the spirit of this answer I'm preserving a thread that occurred in comments below that will certainly be lost to moderation eventually.

tl;dr: A tech contractor who worked for a PMC some of the same places I have asked some details about where the tactical contractors hang out and we had some back and forth. Ultimately, I want to keep in touch with the guy. This is partly out of habit, partly to reminisce, partly because I sense a kindred spirit, and partly because who knows when it might be a good thing to know another guy who does PMC work that is into tech?

This is what I am talking about in terms of contractors sticking together like a tangle of Christmas-light-string shaped magnetic fishhooks.


Call of Cthulhu: Sir Kevin O’Reilly vs Detective Taegan “Tiggy” Quinn

It struck Kevin as a strange conversation to have, with anyone, but especially with detective Quinn.

It wasn't that detective Quinn was an unpleasant fellow, just a bit rough around the edges. Nothing Kevin hadn't seen before in the Great War; men of violence whose situation slowly eroded their civility. Perhaps it wasn't so much an erosion of civility as a sharpening of their violent nature until they became the perfect soldier, devoid of the unnecessary trappings of civilised society. In detective Quinn's case, he had probably galvanised into the perfect bloodhound, giving up superfluous things, like bathing and shaving, in order to gain focus and clarity.

"In all honesty, detective, I had forgotten all about the safety deposit box," Kevin said, slightly bemused.

The detective scratched his head as he studied his notepad. "Now that I've reminded you about it, any chance you'll clue me in on the contents of the box, Mr. O'Reilly?"

"Sir," Kevin said. Quietly. Like he couldn't help himself.

"What?" the detective said, crudely.

"Sir Kevin O'Reilly," Kevin said, with slight hesitation.

"We haven't recognised the monarchy since that little tea party we had in the Boston harbor, pall."

"Yes, of course. I apologise, detective." Kevin felt he was getting on the detective's bad side and he might need the good detective to find his possessions. It might have skipped his mind that he had a deposit box at the local office of First National, but that didn't mean the contents weren't very dear to him.

It didn't surprise Kevin at all that he had forgotten all about the deposit he made since all of the details surrounding that time in his life were a little distorted. He reckoned it was hard enough for the human mind to remember many of life's details without the circumstances around those details being more than most minds could bear. In all honesty, even if Kevin could remember an accurate description of the items in the deposit, which he had a hard time recalling, he wouldn't have given them to the detective anyway. Better not, lest the detective start asking questions about the origins of the ill-gotten items.

"Okay, your highness," the detective said with an elaborate sweep of his arm, "should you be able to give me a few more details beyond 'some papers and antiques', let me know, if you please?" The detective ripped the page of notes he took of his interview with Kevin off the pad and paperclipped it onto the rest of the file of the bank robbery and placed the file on a stack of other files on his coffee stained desk. "Thank you for coming into the station. You've got my card, so ring me on the telephone or come by any time." Both men stood up and shook hands. They walked across the large expanse of the office, past other detectives sitting at desks filled with papers and boxes of evidence, into the public area of the police station. "Have a nice day, O'Reilly," the detective said and immediately turned to the next person waiting to be interviewed about what the robbers might have taken during the heist.

Kevin walked past the many waiting people and stepped outside. Slowly some of the details of the house at 25 French Hill Street and the church on Brown Street started to come back to him. They were details he had put to rest in the hope of never having to review them again. He had been forced to when the detective confronted him with the news of the bank heist, presumably performed by Bosso Morgan and his crew, and he felt a knot form in the pit of his stomach.