"We're here to assess your fitness to deploy, Specialist," Cawsworth says, a smirk on his face. "Where's your PT uniform, soldier?" He turns to the Captain next to him. "Out of uniform, that's one demerit already."
"An excellent use of army resources Sir, if there ever was one." As tempting as it is to pull the Superman routine, Angel instead casually undresses down to a Turai skinsuit. His physical shape - a combination of exercise to distract from bullshit like this, that a vox makes the best gym buddy ever and some of the best genetic enhancements the Imperium can buy suggests that actually getting him to fail will be a tall order indeed.
"I believe I'll have to eat the demerit Sir. On the plus side, that does make me sound like I go to Hogwarts." He motions for the door. "Shall we?"
Cawsworth and the Captain both look disappointed - and more than a little scandalized - when Angel's undergarments also double as his PT outfit. Both of them follow him outside, with the Captain getting down next to Angel on the dirt to count out. The push-ups go by with little more than a burn in his shoulders and a rock-solid count of 75 - 80, if you count the five the Captain screwed Angel out of for "poor form" at the start. Ten minute wait later, Angel's down on the ground again banging out sit-ups. He can feel the Turai H'lapa making a difference in his abs, and cranks out 82 before letting the last fifteen seconds run themselves out just to spit in Cawsworth's face a bit. The Colonel turns bright red and starts barking at Angel about giving up and being a quitter, but he's still well in excess of the PT standard, and they both know it.
Finally, after the mandatory recooperation period and some argument as to what will constitute the two mile course, Angel sets off for the two mile run at a pretty leisurely pace for the Delta Force scout - which means that just under fourteen minutes later, he pounds back up the hard-packed dirt to Cawsworth, with the Captain huffing and puffing right behind. The Colonel looks infuriated, but Angel just crushed his PT test. "Passing score - barely, and in non-standard equipment," Cawsworth scowls.
That turns Cawsworth even redder, but he knows he's just been beat. "I suppose that you think you've won here, Specialist Riviera. You and your 815 buddies, doing whatever the fuck you want with your alien friends." He stuffs his binder back into his attaché case and shoves it in the Captain's hands. "We'll see how good your rinky-dink alien army is in a real combat situation soon enough - and then you'll be begging us to take over for you." He leans forward and smirks. "And we'll just remind you that you fucked over the only people capable of winning this war as we send your Fifth Columnist asses to the bench."
Angel is not normally one to press his luck, but something in Cawsworth's little rant gets to him. His tone drops to the same low, steady level he tends to use for people beneath his dignity, about to die, or in very special circumstances both.
"Sir, with all due respect - the Army took over once, without bothering to bring in 815 or our rinky-dink alien friends, and it got a lot of men killed. Men with 'E' in front of their rank, and last names like Riviera. I'll take one devoted Bashakra'i who have seen what the Imperium can throw at them over ten Terrans who thinks that something like bullshit PT evaluations is a worthwhile use of not one, but two officers. Not only did you not come ready to play ball, you don't even know what league you're in. I'm proud of being Army, but goddamn do you make me rethink that from time to time."
Angel nods to the Captain. "Thanks for the run Captain. On your way back to the highway, stop by Morgan's. Tiny place with a big red sign, can't miss it. More tomato than proper North Carolina barbecue, but it does the job. Part of our...cultural exchange program. Tell them Kesh sent you." With that, Angel starts getting dressed again.
Cawsworth turns one more shade closer to the tomatoes Angel just mentioned, but knows that he's just been outclassed. "Then perhaps you should join your other alien sympathizers and leave," is all manages to spit before turning on his heel and leaving, the Captain walking briskly to his left.
“Oh, what’s a few bullets between friends?” Hunter says with a shrug. ”Did Garrett say how you’d be fitting into the chain of command?“
“I would be starting as a Turai, or whatever the Narsai’i equivalent is,” Hale says. “And would be assigned to a more experienced Turai for field instruction. And since your ’Maah-reens’ seemingly cannot find a single soldier willing to mentor me…” he gives a sideways look to the officer standing next to Hunter, “The ‘GRHDI’ and I settled on being mentored by one of the 815. And then -”
“’And then we raised some reasonable concerns about the proper kind of instruction, and if he would be able to get it from one of Task Force 815’s members,’” the officer interrupts, having apparently heard all of this before.
“Yes, as if their lack of status as ’Maah-reens’ was ever the issue,” Hale says, again giving a sour look to the officer. “But you were one of them, yes? Before you became 815?”
“I was,” Hunter confirms. “I began as something like a Turai, served for twenty years, and ended as a Major, which is something like a Rav-Samal. I understand how 815 works, how the Marines work, and am one of the people trying to figure out how we’re all going to work together.” Turning toward the assembled Marines and staffers, he switches to English. “’I can understand why I’m the compromise choice, but I’m a little curious why I’m only hearing about this now.’”
“’There were some...bureaucratic hurdles,’” the officer cautiously says.
“Meaning one of the colonels stonewalled us for weeks about putting Hale with anyone on 815,” Belliot says. “Cited ‘concerns about seditious influences’. You’re new to 815, and you’re a Marine, and that was enough to get him off our asses.”
“So what you’re saying is, now this is my problem.” Hunter concludes. “Alright sol-jar, what’s your background? Capabilities, specialties, service record?”
“Betraying my Emperor aside?” Hale asks. “I am an experienced Turai in dense urban, forest and mountain terrains. I held the rank of Rav-Turai for ten years, and lead many trins during that time to many successful battles, only some of which…” Hale pauses as his glibness runs out, and for the first time averts his eyes. “I have more experience fighting an enemy that shoots back than one that does not.”
Hunter holds steady. “We’re not going to ask you to do those things. We may have our problems, but massacres are a rare thing here, and a sign that something’s gone very wrong with the unit.” Hale looks back to Hunter, his brow furrowed. Hunter explains: “Our military forces are expressly forbidden from shooting non-combatants. It’s a crime. There are investigations, and court-martials when this happens. We are given rules of engagement, and we follow them. Sometimes that means we can only fire when fired upon. The ROE change by operation, but there are bedrock things we’re never allowed to do. No killing prisoners of war or non-combatants, no reprisal killings as collective punishment, providing care for the sick, wounded and shipwrecked of any side, that kind of thing.”
“Hrmph,” Hale grunts. “Garrett told me something similar. I guess we’ll see if you live up to your ideals.” He starts to bow again, but then thinks better of it, and just extends his hand. “I am yours to command, Rav-Samal Brand.”
Hunter returns the handshake. “Here’s to new beginnings, Turai Hale.”
Official orders for Task Force 815 come rather infrequently - in fact, the last time was assembling for the assault on Whiirr more than six months ago. Still, every member of 815 has received the same email missive to report to Mesas Negras for the big muster - almost. Hug'sh's name is absent from the CC header, and in fact from the entire message, and there's one more surprise as well for most of the team. Luis and Arketta merit an entirely separate section, with their summons instead phrased as an official request for Samals Stanhill and Quis to be loaned from the Bashakra'i Turai, their organization of record - not the GRHDI itself. What that could mean is left up to the imagination as everyone schleps their personal gear across various Gateways - Angel, Garrett, Ngawai, Swims-the-Black and Hunter from the Bashakra'i village, and Luis and Arketta from their berth on Atea. The only one without a journey to make is Zaef - the training concluded, he's simply moved in with his fiance, not that it was such a big move in the first place for his formerly nomadic lifestyle. Joining them is a familiar face - former Imperial Rav-Turai and current Narsai'i Turai Sexton Hale, who the orders noted is slated to be attached to Hunter's hip for the duration of the deployment.
As the team moves their gear towards the GRHDI agent housing as Mesas Negras, the view out of the shuttle van's windows makes it plain that this is a considerably larger endeavor than the training ever pretended to be. A tent city has sprung up on the red dirt of Mesas Negras, at least ten thousand individuals strong. The vast majority of them seem to be human, either Narsai'i or Bashakra'i, but there's no shortage of tall, stocky wherren silhouettes and the various shapes and sizes of Sheen.
"Vidas Lam," Arketta says as she looks out the window. "We look like a real army now."
"We'll have to see if we can act like it," Ngawai chimes in from the back.
"Of course we will," Garrett says, and leans against his wife. "They had some great instructors."
Hale simply stares out the window at the multi-species army forming up in air conditioned tents on the hot desert plain.
The visit to 815's temporary housing is just long enough to toss bags onto bunk beds and square away the absolute basics, as a request comes down from the leadership council to report to their temporary command center as soon as possible. They look like a pretty rag-tag group as they walk down the hallways: Angel in a modified version of Turai carapace (smaller plates for better coverage and doubtlessly other features as well), his vox mirrorshades that flicker from transparent to mirrored as the midday sun filters through windows, and carrying his very, very expensive Imperial 7.62mm NATO battle rifle and .45 sidearm, Arketta and Luis in standard-issue Bashakra'i carapace complete with green-and-blue hood, Zaef in a similar getup - carapace, hood, beamer - an XM-10, but with a Narsai'i gear webbing over the top with loops for grenades and gear and four different knives strapped to him, Garrett and Ngawai dressed in civilian expedition clothes, Swims-the-Black decked out in the new Narsai'i designed Wherren-sized ballistic armor and tactical vest over his usual shimmering color-change vest, loose billowing pants and sandals, Hunter in bog-standard USMC combat gear, and Hale in the matching standard issue Imperial Turai gear with its shining akwhela crest on his chest.
When the team walks through the door into the command center, a set of first-floor conference rooms with the rolling walls pulled apart to create one large space, things look at least somewhat more uniform - thanks in no small part to the prevalence of Narsai'i and Bashakra'i soldiers, each wearing their respective service uniforms. A dozen or so Wherren hustle around the floor as well, dressed in Bashakra'i-made wherren garb, and a dozen Sheen shells ranging from housecat sized to slightly taller than human scuttle and step between the other sophonts. Tables with cogitators and holodisplays dominate most of the room, with a few primitive Narsai'i terminals scattered about (it's now that the team notices that the extra Bashakra'i outnumbering the Narsai'i are mostly spending their time showing the Narsai'i how to use an actual cogitator instead of their achingly slow computers).
In the center of the room, though, is the big table, with the big holodisplay, and gathered around it are the people that Task Force 815 have come to meet: the leadership council of this operation. Two Marine generals represent the Narsai'i forces: Major General David Cooper, and Brigadier General Doyle Keating - although Hunter notices two of his good friends, Major David Hoffman and Lt. Colonel Marco Arenas, giving him a respectful nod from the back of the room. Both of the generals are in their full Class A uniforms, trying to project as much “I’m in charge” as possible. The Bashakra'i forces are represented by Bello and Onas, and aren’t having much of that - Bello in one of his usual forest-green gowns, and Onas in his Turai skinsuit with a white Bashakra’i tunic and Bashakra’i light green billowing pants. The Sheen, well, it's hard to tell with the whole "able to jump shells" thing, but if Angel isn't mistaken, it's the two lead combat branch Sheen that initially came through to Narsai and he convinced to cooperate with the Narsai'i in the first place. And the Wherren - the Wherren are represented by Hug'sh, backed by Rodirr. Hug’sh is wearing a loose cotton tunic under his tactical harness, with a knife at his side that could be a sword if it had a finer blade and therefore has to settle for the “machete” designation. It’s a considerably less martial look than Rodirr’s, who rolled up in full battle rattle, but it nonetheless sets Hug’sh apart from the rank and file outside.
“’Welcome,’” General Cooper says. “’Your reputation precedes you, Task Force 815. General Keating and I have read a great deal about your previous missions, and we’re duly impressed as to your capabilities.’”
“Yes,” Onas nods. “We are.”
“Having soldiers of your ability on this mission should give us that little extra edge - not that we need it,” one of the Sheen says. Angel recognizes the voice, it’s “Gunny”, the more reasonable of the two leader combat Sheen.
“’All of us here are grateful to have you with us for this operation,’” General Keating says - intentionally leaving out the fact that they didn’t have a choice, “’but this is not a place for your usual tactics. Here, you will operate as a normal special operations unit under our orders. No making up your own missions as you go. Understood?”
Garrett nods. "'Understood,'" he says. "Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to continue my end of this briefing in a language everyone will understand."
Cooper and Keating don't look pleased, but nod. "'Fine. Do you have anything to say, Mr. Davis?'"
"Just that we are fully aware that this is not one of our missions undercover in Imperial space," Garrett says. "We are here to support the mission to push the Taliban and other extremists out of the western edge of Afghanistan, which means when you tell us where to go and who to shoot, that's what we will do. But, you should understand that we operate best when given a target or category of targets, and then given freedom to choose how to accomplish that goal. We're not far off from other special operations groups in that way, and you would be wise to use us as such."
Cooper grunts in thought, then looks to the others on the leadership council. "Is that your experience with Task Force 815?"
Onas nods. "They're very good at killing the people and blowing the things up that you ask them to do - even if their plans do seem like they have a dozen too many steps."
"Or it's just enough to get the job done without negative consequences," Bello chimes in.
"815 are a credit to their people," Hug'sh says, flashing green - with a subtle effect for Rodirr's benefit, telling him to use that exact phrasing. "Whatever the objective is, I am certain they can fulfill it, given the means."
"I have read their action reports, and having worked in independent operations for many years, their effectiveness is second-to-none," Rodirr replies. "Truly a credit to their people."
"'Yes, thank you, Walks-the-Fire,'" Cooper says, his face and tone contorting both with the subtle jab from Hug'sh and Rodirr, and with having to call someone of similar rank Walks-the-Fire. "'And I suppose the Sheen back them up as well?'"
"We saw the Dantumi raid playback - they're badasses, because otherwise they'd be dead," the other, slightly higher-pitched Sheen replies. "We could use some more badasses around here."
Garrett smirks and bows. "And I think that's our bona fides, General. Still, we're grateful to be brought along."
"On the mission that you planned and orchestrated," Keating points out.
"Still," Ngawai says. "We're grateful."
Cooper crosses his arms, but nods. "Very well. I think we understand each other. Go and unpack, then report to your duty stations. Mr. Davis, Mrs. Holoni, you have briefings in a half-hour."
And with that, the meeting is over, and you're all left to your own devices to unpack and look around the mass of people and machinery (and the machinery that is also people) unfolding at Kabul International Airport.
Kabul International Airport isn’t unused to war—it’s certainly not every airport that has a special terminal just for processing the long lines of C-17 cargo planes and the various warcraft required for almost a decade of military occupations in the mountainous territory. However, the materiel being offloaded there now after the most recent round of cargo flights is something new even here—grumbling robot battlewagons arguing as they offload themselves under the watchful eyes of cargomasters who had secured them for flight, giant Wherren walking around to stretch after hours cramped into hastily-converted seats, and humans wandering around in shiny, plastic-looking armor. Unlike the last time a similar show assembled at Mesas Negras, the groups are more at ease which each other, and mixing a bit as the organized chaos of a major force in motion plays out among the giant aircraft, but it draws more than a few gawkers from among ground crew and airport staff.
The experience is surreal for Luis, too, in the middle of it with Arketta making sure “their” Bashakra’i and Sheen get their gear sorted out, pairing stragglers with groups, and getting everything and everyone moved to staging points to be transferred as planned. It’s the same force they’ve been working with for months now, the same kinds of technology and gear they’ve been training with for years, but now—well, there’s something different about taking this force from the other side of the Gate into the field in what Luis used to think of as the “real world” down on Narsai. Forcing everyone to work together well at Mesas Negras was one thing, but this time the fire will all be live, and the Red Team isn’t being run by Hunter. Luis tries to focus on his work and not let the thoughts sink in too much, he’s always found it easier to focus on action to pull out of a mental rut, but as two real worlds collide on the tarmac in the slight chill of fall in the mountains, it’s not the easiest thing. “I hope this all works,” he muses to Arketta.
"I'll take it only being a little bit of a disaster," Arketta replies as she hastily edits a roster on her vox.
Luis snorts a laugh in response. "Well, I suppose we can hardly make things worse around here."
"Yeah, I read about what happened here before," Arketta says. "There's been more than a few wars here, none of them started by the people that live here."
"Graveyard of empires," Luis says, idly. "I guess we can hope the one that starts to die here is the Imperium."
"Hopefully," Arketta says. She steps up behind Luis and looks over his shoulder at the Bashakra'i that will be under their command in the coming weeks. "I never thought that I would be in command," she says, her hands on Luis' shoulders. "My mother would be so proud."
"I know my parents are proud too, if a bit confused," Luis says. "I got a call from my dad the other day, said he'd driven down to the village on some business trip and was reading about it in the news. And I know your mom's proud--I've seen how hard she's been pushing your squads, and it says a lot that she trusts she can do that."
He shakes his head. "We're all adapting, I think that's all we can do."
Arketta leans over into Luis' vision and gives him a look. "I know that tone."
"Hmm?" Luis asks, watching a forktruck driving past carrying a case of idled spare Sheen infantry shells.
"The 'I have something on my mind' sound and face you make," Arketta replies, taking a seat leaning against Luis as she resumes her organizational busywork.
Luis turns towards her. "Just really aware in the back of my head that we're doing this for real now," Luis says. "And that if this works, we'll be taking this force into the real war soon, and trying not to let that turn into worrying about another Botane." He pauses for a moment, then shakes his head to clear it. "And trying not to get too sidetracked by it."
Arketta pokes Luis with her elbow. "I think I should be a bit insulted. We aren't like those Narsai'i. We aren't in denial about the threat we are dealing with. We can do this. *You* can do this."
"Thanks," Luis says, and grins at her. "All right, you have the updated bunking lists?"
"Just give me one second..." Arketta replies - but gives Luis a peck on the cheek before she looks back to her vox.
“Thanks,” he says. “For everything.” Around them, the business of unloading and settling in continues, with the sound of another Globemaster touching down momentarily drowning out the ambient noise.
Things are looking up for Hug’sh and his troops. Back at Mesas Negras, it was hot and sandy all the time, but here at Kabul International, they’re still far from the deserts that would blow grains into their faces, and the weather is less oppressive - almost cool, even. Hug’sh does find himself snapping for more of the thin air as he hefts a 500-pound munitions crate onto his shoulders and carries it across the tarmac. Oh, well. Can’t win ‘em all. At least the flight was nice - even if his troops might have been a little nervous to begin with, by hour three they were drowning out the engine noise with singing. Hug’sh got so caught up in it he missed the vox pinging from a new message: a picture of Torega holding up her homework. How can he already miss her so much when he’s only been gone a day?
”Hug’sh!” Kurr calls over to him; the young warrior’s carrying four heavy canvas bags slung over his shoulders, while the thusly less burdened Army soldiers walk with him. Hug’sh flashes green and waves back, generating a few cautious waves from the humans as well. Hug’sh smirks as he adjusts his custom sunglasses. Maybe this whole cooperation thing is starting to work after all.
His vox goes off again, this time a real-time call; Hug’sh paws at the controls while keeping the swinging crate on his shoulder from becoming too unbalanced. ”Go ahead,” he says. ”Walks-the-Fire, we need you at the new barracks,” Rodirr says. ”The local humans are arguing with our interpreter and they don’t seem to be coming to an agreement.” ”I’ll meet you and see what I can do,” Hug’sh voxes back. ”Are they threatening you?”
Hug’sh can almost hear Rodirr’s smirk. ”Nobody threatens us,” the old mercenary replies. ”They are cubs in big old uniforms.” ”Well, humor them for a bit longer,” Hug’sh says, giving one final huff before he sets the crate down on the tarmac, next to a growing pile of gear that’s been chained off with dangling signs that read “Wherren Delegation - Materiel Pool #3” in English, Pashto and Wherren runes. There’s a hard-to-describe pang of something seeing their own language listed last, but given that the signs are mostly to keep the humans from touching anything, it does make sense.
“Barmanou!” comes a call from the nearby terminal building; Hug’sh spots two young men with seriously bushy mustaches waving to him. They’re wearing chocolate chip BDUs and slinging AKs, so...Afghan National Police? Afghan Border Police? Not the Afghan Army, they have their own camo, right? Hug’sh mentally moves “Learn to recognize our local allies” up a few places on his list of priorities. He smiles and waves to them, for the moment, and that encourages them to walk closer. One of them holds up his cell phone.
“Photo?” he asks.
”Yes, of course,” Hug’sh rumbles, before adding a nod for clarification. The other soldier walks up and takes position next to him while the cameraman jostles the cell phone around, apparently trying to get both Hug’sh and his buddy in the frame. Hug’sh simplifies the problem by taking a knee, though he stops short of putting his arm on the man’s shoulders. The cameraman does something with his cell, then lowers it and gives Hug’sh a big smile and a thumbs up, getting some green fur and another nod from Hug’sh in response.
What was that all about?
Hug’sh doesn’t have time to ponder that question for too long before General Cooper walks past him. “Walks-the-Fire,” he says with a nod, heading in the same direction Hug’sh is heading, towards the barracks. ”Hello, General Cooper,” Hug’sh says.
The green in his fur is a little fake. Just a little. Okay, so he’s not super-happy to see him, but tweaking him is fun, and that’s worth some positive attitude. Also no need to torpedo this op before it really begins, is there? And with Hug’sh representing a whole planet, he needs to play the long game. Green fur it is. Seeing as the General keeps walking, Hug’sh decides that the conversation doesn’t really have to continue here. So, Hug’sh starts walking, too. Not exactly following the General, just going the same way. In fact, with Hug’sh’s bigger steps, it’s not too long before he threatens to overtake the General. That also generates no comment, so Hug’sh just does his thing and walks past him, heading for the barracks at somewhere above brisk but still below hurried.
Hug’sh is, therefore, the first top-level official to see the situation unfolding at the barracks - a group of Narsai’i humans standing around, arms crossed, a similarly-numbered (not sized) group of Wherren flashing confusion and unease as they press together, and Rodirr and one of the GRHDI interpreters in between. ”Walks-the-Fire!” Rodirr barks, waving him over. The other wherren roll colors of relief and fear as they turn his way and they press even closer together.
Hug’sh puts out a reassuring green-brown as he closes the distance. “I’m here,” Hug’sh barks in response. ”What seems to be the problem here?” ”Captain Reed has a problem with the placement of the cooling station on this side of the Wherren barracks,” the interpreter grunts.
Rodirr rolls orange a couple times. ”Yes, he says it is too close to the sidewalk, and is complaining that the Narsai’i are so fragile they will dissolve.”
Hug’sh looks down at the US Army guys, who are looking pretty damn smug, while the Afghanis are trying to look like they belong in the discussion, and his own troops seem mortified at their supposed mistake. He turns to Rodirr. ”I see,” Hug’sh says. ”Please show me the paperwork that details where we were supposed to set up our gear.”
Rodirr chuffs and nods towards the cooling station in question, a PVC pipe construction that sprays a mist of water to cool down and hydrate the “fur” of any Wherren that need it. ”As if we were given something like that. This whole operation is being thrown together, we were barely given permission for the cooling stations as it is.”
Hug’sh shrugs. ”The system was authorized,” he says, ”and we were not given deployment guidelines. This area was provided for our use, so I say we can use it as we please, provided we do not cause any permanent damage to the facilities. If Captain Reed disagrees with this, he is welcome to discuss the matter with General Cooper, and then we shall speak of it at our next meeting. Until then, the gear stays where it is.”
Some of the Wherren lose their blue coloration at Hug’sh’s words while the translator explains Hug’sh’s position to the Army personnel - which doesn’t dissuade them as much as Hug’sh would have thought. “This may be your area,” Captain Reed replies, “but the sidewalk is ours - and your little rain hut is running a Goddamn river over it. It’s a safety hazard, and it needs to move.” ”No, Captain,” Hug’sh rumbles. ”You need to tell your men that this area is off-limits until this hazard to their safety can be mitigated without compromising the health and welfare of my troops.”
Reed looks at the sidewalk for a second - and the millimeter of water on top of it. As far as Hug’sh can tell, anyone wearing shoes with more grip than a greased loafer could walk across it just fine, but it is technically a slip hazard, and technicalities are what Army rules are based off of. “Or we could ask the General himself,” Reed replies, and throws up a salute directed behind Hug’sh. “Good afternoon, General.”
“Good afternoon, Captain,” General Cooper replies. “You mentioned the Wherren causing a safety hazard to your CO?”
“Yes, Sir,” Reed replies. “This ridiculous lawn sprinkler is wetting the sidewalk outside of my barracks, but the Wherren refuse to stop creating this safety hazard. I was hoping some clarification from the people actually in charge would clear things up.”
Cooper looks at Reed and sighs, then turns to Hug’sh. “Walks-the-Fire, why are your people refusing to relocate this particular cooling station? There’s other ones available, yes?” ”Patrol and workup schedules require us to spend a significant amount of time in this area here,” Hug’sh says. ”Given the current weather predictions calling for sustained highs in excess of 95 degrees Fahrenheit, we simply require a cooling station in this area to do our part. This is the location where it can be used by the most troops at once, thus maximizing our efficiency.” Hug’sh smiles. ”I think I’ve submitted a memo to this effect two days ago. I’ve been writing a lot of memos, though, so it might have gotten lost in the shuffle. You’ll have another copy within the hour.”
“Yes, I remember the memo,” Cooper replies with another sigh. “Expect some kind of official complaint regarding safety and the location of the cooling stations, or some kind of request to keep the runoff off of high-traffic areas by the end of today.” He turns back to Reed with a glare that says “I have upheld your authority, now fuck off” in bright, flashing letters. “Anything else, Captain?”
“No, Sir,” Reed replies.
Cooper turns back to Hug’sh. “Anything from your end?” ”My troops will look into ways to collect the runoff and keep the sidewalk dry,” Hug’sh promises. ”I will see you at the dinner tonight, yes? I look forward to it.”
Cooper nods. “The same to you, Walks-the-Fire,” he says, then turns to walk off.
Hug’sh turns to Reed. ”Is there anything else we can help you with, Captain?” he asks.
Reed looks from Hug’sh to the wherren behind him, and smirks. “No, I think my point’s been made,” he says, and looks back to Hug’sh, waiting for him to step away first.
Hug’sh smirks, and that’s a bigger smirk by any measure. ”I think you were leaving, Captain,” he says.
Reed’s expression instantly flicks from smug to furious. “Don’t think that you can order us around,” he spits out. “And don’t forget who got you here.” And with that, he turns on his heel and walks back towards the human barracks, soldiers in tow. ”He’ll be back,” Hug’sh says to Rodirr. ”Don’t engage him. Call me. I know how these Army Captains work.” He nods towards the cooling station. ”Is the rest of the barracks set up?”
Rodirr nods. ”The last of the refitted bunks went in a half-hour ago. If nothing else, we will be able to sleep here tonight, and clean ourselves with the hoses outside.”
Hug’sh nods back. ”Good. If the troops get bored, let them work on the runoff problem.” He puts his arm inside the radius of the water mist - oh, that feels nice after the long flight and the sun beating down on the tarmac. ”Make sure everyone gets their turn to work on the problem. We wouldn’t want to waste any...ideas.”
Rodirr smirks as his face turns green and orange. ”Not a problem.”
Hug’sh smirks back. ”Well, you handle this, then. I’ll be off.”
Hug’sh saunters away, checking his vox for new messages. One problem down, twenty-four to go...
"So, your people have been fighting a war here?" Hale asks as he and Hunter take a late lunch at the main Kabul International DFAC.
A war. Makes half a decade of Hunter's life seem so distant, so simple. He fought in a war, where he arrived a seasoned but hungry 1st Lieutenant with a young family wishing him well on his mission to protect America, and left a Major with his wedding band on the other hand and a relationship with his children that he'd only recently begun to repair. He had lead men here, good men, men who all deserved families, success, to see their homes and loved ones again, and more than a few of them never did. A war that started with a desire to find and punish those responsible for a terrible tragedy, and ended with them escaping across the border left open in an incomplete-at-best strategy that left him and his men trying to convince a people who have known centuries of war that this time the invading occupiers would be different.
Hale takes a drink from his glass of chocolate milk before asking Hunter the question again. "Hunter? Your people have been fighting a war here, yes? That is what all of this base is for, I assume."
As Zaef wanders around the outer edge of the massive hive of activity that the slowly unfolding operation has created, he's afforded something that he's had precious little of as of late: a moment to himself. The trucks, forklifts and other heavy equipment (and Wherren, and Sheen, and the Bashakra'i skimmers, apparently, as Zaef spots a few of them hefting crates of their own) all are making short work of the massive endeavor, and it's slightly hypnotic in its operations.
Which is all the cover that Bello needed to walk up behind him. "Hello, Zaef," he says, standing straight-backed behind him. "It seems things are going well enough so far. I have to give the Narsai'i credit for one thing, their organizational and logistical skills are second to none. Comes from having to move about so inefficiently, I think."
"You could help some of our people get settled into their barracks, I suppose," Bello replies with a sigh. "Onas is spreading himself rather thin at the moment trying to put a thousand Turai in proper housing. The broadcast power and Cortex systems are up and running, though, so we should get our first packet from Atea within the hour. I've already placed enough listening devices in the Narsai'i quarters that my cogitator should warn us in advance of most moves against us, so I am taking a moment to...to watch the Narsai'i in action, as I've already said." He clears his throat - probably to try to get the sentence stuck in his throat out. "And Brinai has asked me to ensure that you are all right." He looks Zaef's way. "So. Are you all right?"
Hale nods. "Oma. Border mining world, maybe...a few hundred thousand people there, settled in the northeast of the planet in dozens of small towns. Terrorists - I mean, rebels - had a solid foothold, and the Hand that Guides declared the mining operations too valuable to risk Needleship strikes, and so we went in. The whole Forty-Second of Duis' Ninety spent four years going from town to town." Hale pauses to take a bite of his food, giving Hunter the chance to look around and see all the inquisitive/wary/furious eyes looking at the Imperial sitting across the table from him. "We'd move in, meet with the local council or leader, and then do weeks of patrols around the area, keeping an eye out for any terrorist activity. Sometimes we'd find nothing, sometimes they'd be stupid and trigger-happy and try to blow us up right away, but usually they were smart enough to stay hidden and had friends in the town." Hale sighs and looks out the window again. "And that was when we brought in the Truthseekers." He shakes his head. "We'd get what we wanted, but...I would prefer to forget how often I've seen what a motivated Truthseeker can do." Hale's eyes drift towards the mountains off in the distance. "Beautiful planet, though. Good people, when they weren't trying to kill us. But I suppose they had a good reason."
"For our safety, Zaef," Bello says, having been on the receiving end of Zaef's glare enough not to be phased by it. "Many of the Narsai'i here can be trusted, yes, but there are far too many for us to be completely safe, either. Our enemies here hide among people exactly like the ones we have surrounded ourselves by, and I would rather be safe than explaining how we lost some of our best Turai to a Narsai'i betrayal, be it from Simmons and his men, or one lone misguided individual." He gives Zaef a bit of a glare of his own. "This is what I do for us, Zaef - I keep us safe. Do not think I enjoy having to mistrust our closest allies, but it is how we have stayed alive as long as we have."