Jade Imperium - Convocation, Pt. 2

punkey 2013-09-29 15:00:10
Month 2
punkey 2013-09-29 15:00:21
July 10th, 2013
0745 UTC
2 Hours Before 815 Arrival At Dantumi

Across Mesas Negras, Diego Garcia, and Vouskiano, the mission clock for the incursion to Botane is synchronized one last time. It’s fifteen minutes to Zero Hour, which means the trucks are gassed up, weapons have been checked and rechecked and checked again, and the last couple of stragglers have found their way back from the head, where the grand collective expression of nervousness fell into equally strong camps of the runs and puking. Now, there’s just one thing left to do before it becomes a matter of simply waiting for the countdown to carnage: a carefully prerecorded speech from General Hamilton to the troops. In each location, one seasoned 1st Lieutenant has the honor of pressing “Play”, and soon the gateport transit chambers and PA systems are flooded by the General’s deep timbre while 5,000 troops stand at attention.

“Gentlemen,” he begins, “the moment we have been preparing for so long is almost here. In just a few minutes, we will set foot onto enemy soil and take the war to the heart of this so-called Imperium. The Imperium thinks it knows what we are capable of. It thinks we are a nuisance, a bunch of guerillas with big mouths. Today, we will teach them better. Today, we will take the fight to their homes. And tomorrow, they will know what it means to be at war with the United States of America.

“All of you know that we are, at heart, a peace-loving nation. We are not entering into this conflict lightly; we have taken losses and held back so far while we asked ourselves - is there a better way? Is there another resort? Well, we have tried. We have tried daring commando raids - but Special Forces alone do not win wars. We have tried to find allies - but freedom fighters alone do not win wars. We have exhausted every avenue of diplomacy. Our enemy does not value peace and coexistence like we do. The Imperium cannot be reasoned with. Like any other bully, it only truly understands violence.

So, once again, the United States Army must pick up the banner and fight. Throughout history, when injustice and tyranny could no longer be tolerated, our brave men in uniform went to far-flung places all around the world to fight for freedom and democracy. Germany, Japan, Iraq...we marched, and we fought, and we won. There were voices then that said it couldn’t be done - there always are. But in the end, no bully is as powerful as they make themselves out to be. We have proven that time and time again, that when we stand up for freedom and democracy, we will win. And although today will soon be listed alongside these moments in the history of our nation, we are aware that there can be no victory without sacrifice. Yes, although we can wage this battle with complete surprise on our side, although you have all received the finest equipment and training in the history of human warfare, we know well the danger of open battle. That is why we must strike decisively. We will use their arrogance and defeat the Imperials before they know what hit them. Today, we are the tip of the spear being driven into the heart of the Imperium! Botane will fall, and with it most of the Imperium’s war machine. And once this mortal blow is struck, our work will begin in earnest, gentlemen. We will not rest until the Imperium yields completely. It is a tough road we travel, but I have faith in all of you to see it through.

“All of you are here because you are the best of the best, our bravest and finest soldiers. It is an honor and privilege unlike any other to lead you into battle today. Together, we will triumph today. Together, we will do what the Imperium in its boundless arrogance considers impossible. And together, we will win this war, once and for all.

“Godspeed, gentlemen. General Hamilton out.”
punkey 2013-09-29 15:00:45
Gateport waiting areas have always been crowded affairs, but to Teo Ngaketha, the new security restrictions imposed by the People’s Emperor have finally tilted the environment over to “potentially dangerous”. Not since he worked the pens in the Phiseis Combine accountancy department has he seen such a chaotic atmosphere - thank the Masters he got his own office last year - and between the shouting of the food and drink vendors, the bustle of the hundred-odd people waiting for their gates, and the Kansat and Turai wandering through the crowd, looking for terrorists, there’s barely room for Teo, his wife Honi, and their sons Toni and Holon to take a seat with their baggage. Teo’s position in his department pays well enough to allow for an annual vacation - this time to a resort built into a peak high in the Kheiwkheti Mountains on Ruvas, and with an hour before their Gate opens, Toni plays Banner of Courage 18 or some other damn thing on his vox, Holon is napping sprawled out on his bags and Honi sits next to Teo and leans on her husband as he rubs her shoulder. This vacation is long overdue, and Teo cannot wait to spend a week lounging on their suite’s deck, taking turns with his wife massaging oils and resins into each other. Teo’s sleepy imagining of his alone time with his wife is rudely interrupted when the Gateway flashes open without the optical shielding lowered - someone’s going to get a stern disciplining for that -

Teo doesn’t see the Narsai’i emerge from the Gateway; all he knows the horrific shouts of their unintelligible battle cries and the first deafening BANG of their weapons, and then chaos. Out of pure reflex, Teo looks over his shoulder and instantly regrets it: at least two quads of Narsai’i are already through, the bloodied bodies of the Kansat near the Gateway at their feet as they shout in their language at everyone around them. One of them points his weapon Teo’s way, and his heart stops - but when the weapon fires, it’s the man next to him and the Kansat officer beside him that are hit, before a beamer shot hits a terrified woman as she leaps to her feet. Kansat and Turai shouts for people to stay down and make for the exits are barely heard over the panicked mob now forcing its way out of the Gateport; on pure reflex, he grabs Holon as Honi grabs Toni and they are both carried with the flow towards the exit. Shouts and screams of those trampled underfoot, Turai and Kansat desperately trying to guide people towards the exits while moving towards the sounds of weapons fire, and the increasing staccato of shots being fired as the Gateport hall steadily empties are all Teo can hear, and all he can see is the back of the man in front of him.

Within moments, he and his family are disgorged onto the Gateport plaza, the floodlights of the perimeter shining off of the orange reflecting stripes of the Kansat uniforms and bright chrome carapaces of the incoming Turai in the nighttime dark. Looking around, he can see that similar events must have happened in the other Gateways as a similar panicked crowd streams out of them too.
“Hey! You!” a voice yells, and Teo looks to see a Turai standing in front of him. “Get to the west end of the plaza, we’re commandeering skimmers to get you all out!” Her hand flutters as she activates the carapace’s speakers. “All citizens! Please make your way to the west end of the plaza for evacuation!” she bellows in her amplified voice.
Teo nods in thanks to the Turai and hustles past her as he and Honi lead/drag their sons towards waiting rescue.

Turai and Kansat all line the perimeter and herd everyone towards the skimmers, while behind them Teo can hear the sounds of battle echoing across the plaza as the Turai and Kansat bravely hold the line against the invading Narsai’i, buying him and his family time to escape. Teo and his family are caught in the crush of evacuees for a moment, but are quickly guided into the back of a commandeered delivery flatbed. After a few terrifying moments as more and more people are loaded on, a Turai bangs on the side of the skimmer’s cab and shouts for the driver to take off. As the skimmer takes to the air, Teo keeps his sons from looking at what he sees: the last stragglers of the evacuating citizens in the plaza, and the defensive line of Turai and Kansat, outlined by their bright uniforms and armor and highlighted by the bright blue-white of their beamer fire keeping the invaders at bay.
punkey 2013-09-29 15:03:23
Rav-Odun Nia Lobsha frowns at her console readouts, watching comms traffic spike across Kansat and Turai frequencies. She flicks her vox, checking the scheduled training exercises for the day. Nothing. Her frown deepens.

“Hicano, report,” she orders the stout communications officer. The increasingly-flustered, balding Hicano taps his console for a moment of peace and turns to face Lobsha.
“Rav-Odun, I have corroborating reports of... Narsai’i invaders egressing from the District 3 gateport,” he says, beads of sweat prickling his tan face. Silence clamps down across the CIC of the Needleship Legendary Innocence as every face turns towards Hicano.
To her credit, Lobsha freezes for only a few precious heartbeats. First, she looks to her own - the local volume surrounding the Legendary Innocence proves to be largely cleared of traffic, save for two mantas-

The Rav-Odun’s heart stops again, the second time in as many minutes. Fleet had been well-briefed on just how ruthless the Narsai’i were. Misdirection, joint operations with abominations, alliances with beasts, and above all, nearly every single black eye the accursed Homeworlders dealt the Imperium involved stolen mantas.
“Fire control!” Lobsha nearly leaps from her couch in her insistence. “Confirm target lock on mantas 334 and 890!” The orders flit between console to console as the Needleship’s commander’s heart hammers in her chest.
“Targets locked, Rav-Odun,” comes the reply. “But ma’am, their docking codes check out.”
“And you are wasting precious seconds!” Lobsha nearly screams at her gunnery officer. “The 815 would have valid auth-codes” - as if she needed to explain herself to her subordinates! By Shenmai’s still-cooling corpse, she had taken a light touch with her crew of late... Lobsha cuts herself off, fixing the suddenly-regretful gunner with her most piercing glare. “Engage those two mantas. Fire!”

A pause, the distant hull-rumble of heavy weapons put to deadly work, then: “Targets destroyed, Rav-Odun,” came the gunner’s clipped response.
The Rav-Odun nods to her subordinate, calming just a hair. “Tag the debris vectors and prep recovery teams.” For good or ill, we need to know who was in those mantas. “Hicano! coordinate our feeds with Harness the Fury and get me the status for all Gateways in this star system.”

The comms officer frowns at the scope of the task, but he knew better than to waste time asking stupid questions. Standard vox transmissions return with the expected all-clear status from all but one Gateport on Botane. That Gateport, nestled deep within a hab-block, seemed to be the only Gateway dirtside with a Narsai’i problem - but what a problem. Hicano sends the standard request to the outsystem Gate a moment later, then uses his Fleet override to spin up Botane’s orbital, dialing the outsystem Gateway from its closer partner. The connection passes with no problems, and Hicano smirks. If the Narsai attackers were about to attempt an orbital insertion, they had no shot now, not with both Botane space Gateways tied up.
“Rav-Odun,” Hicano reports at last. “All Gateways but one are accounted for and in the clear. I’ve taken the liberty of locking down the orbital and outsystem Gates as well, ma’am.”
“Good,” comes Lobsha’s reply. “Keep watch and be ready to free them up if reinforcements are needed.” Lobsha’s panic was truly gone now. They are just another enemy, and you have not taken command of an entire system’s defense by showing weakness under adverse conditions. If it wasn’t for the word ‘Narsai’, you would have considered this a sloppy, ill-prepared insurrection and reacted accordingly. So react accordingly.

“Fire control, coordinate with Turai forces on the ground. Tell them to continue to evacuate who they can and clear us some room. Be ready to cut power to the Gateports in our fire zones on command. I want-” The Rav-Odun pauses before spelling out “puke orbital death on the invaders” to her crew.
“Tell them... I want prisoners.”
punkey 2013-09-29 15:04:22
Imagine there’s a war tomorrow and nobody shows up - that’s how Staff Sergeant Alonzo Moralez feels right now. The way everybody kept talking this up, he was expecting this shit to go down like Normandy - his grandpa with the 4th took one through the leg on Utah Beach - or at least Umm Qasr. But the way it went down was this: the space-gate-thing opened, the guys up front pushed through, and by the time it was Moralez’s turn to go, the shooting was pretty much over. Botane’s gateport was this big fat open plaza in the middle of a cluster of apartment blocks, and the only hostiles Moralez personally made were a couple of dead guys on the floor, half of them with their pistols still holstered. Not that those were the only dead: couple of civilians caught in the crossfire - okay, more than a couple - and to hear the Fifth tell it, they went toe to toe with actual Imperial soldiers, most of whom died covering the evacuation of civilians. So, great invasion overall: came in, shot a lot of people, maybe a third of them were actually enemy combatants. Then they pushed out from that little massacre and through the blocks - made it about a mile from the port before the Imperial cops and soldiers stopped retreating and dug in. Moralez’s squad ended up pulling perimeter watch on the North, where they had a little park and hiking trail leading away from the port like a street should have; although he kept his rifle pointed up at possible snipers in the apartment blocks, all he got to see was the flying car traffic being redirected away from the gateport and nearby blocks within minutes, then a big fat load of nothing. And that’s where things still stand with the mission clock at four hours in.

They are trying to secure everything, of course, going block by block, but that doesn’t fix any of the shitty intel they went in with. This was supposed to be the arsenal of tyranny, the Imperium’s assembly line for warships and weapons - not some damn housing project.

“Yo, Sarge,” Corporal McKinsey says. Moralez steals a glance at the scrawny little guy: buried under heavy armor and sporting some Army-issue birth control glasses, it’s hard to believe McKinsey can pass a PFT, nevermind get on the shortlist for this little adventure, but the geek’s tougher than he looks.
“Yo what, soldier?” Moralez says.
“I just did some math,” McKinsey says.
“Great,” Moralez says. “How about you do your job instead?”
“What’s that, look at our new special friends cowering behind riot barriers?” McKinsey says. “No, Sarge, I mean, I just did some math. We went like six blocks from the port to here, yeah?”
“Sounds about right,” Moralez concedes.
“Okay, so that’s six blocks in every direction that we’re controlling, more or less, yeah?”
“Get to the fucking point.”
“My point is, a circle of six blocks around the gates, that’s about a hundred blocks inside the perimeter, yeah?” McKinsey says. “A hundred blocks full of people. We’re not gonna clear all them today. We’re not gonna clear them all tomorrow. We’re sitting on a shitton of civvies.”
“I think we’re all aware of that, McKinsey,” Moralez replies.
“And I count ten floors on those blocks, I wanna guess that’s ten apartments per floor, say 2 civvies to an apartment,” McKinsey counts out, “that’s 20,000 civvies, give or take. So, we just took Augusta.”
“What are you talking about?” Moralez says.
“Uh, Augusta, capital of Maine?” McKinsey says. “That’s about the size of it.”
“Highly relevant as always, McKinsey,” Moralez says. “You know anything that’s actually going to help us?”
“I don’t see us needing much help, Sarge,” McKinsey says. “The Imperials folded pretty quick. I’m just saying, it’s going to take a while to get everything under control.”
“Yeah, well, let’s not put down roots quite yet,” Moralez replies. “When word comes down, we’re going to put some effect on those barriers and get moving again. I don’t like being surrounded.”
“If we keep going like this, we might make Annapolis by dinner,” McKinsey says.

Staff Sergeant Moralez, however, is not currently paying attention to Corporal McKinsey. What he is paying attention to are the weird floaty signs on the ground level of their block flickering and finally failing completely.


The gateway plaza has been cleaned up for use as an impromptu command center, which mostly involved getting the bodies moved out of the way and covering the pools of blood with paper towels before soaking in some bleach. Not that the movers and shakers of this operation like Lt. Colonel Hendricks got to see much of that blood - riding in the back of an M1130 Command Vehicle, he’s been far too busy coordinating units and poring over the recon reports. One thing’s for certain: their own intel was off, but 815’s intel was straight up bullshit. If one were to believe such luminaries as Assistant Director Davis or that embarrassment of an Army officer “Captain” Verrill, they should have never made it five minutes into this operation - but here they are, and the worst thing that’s happened to them are scared and angry civilians. By Hendricks’s count, Operation Nimble Hunter has four battalions on the ground and controls 25% of the total population of Botane’s capital, and the panicking retreat of Imperial forces suggests that they’re not prepared to offer any serious resistance to further pushes into the city. And in a way, coming out in the middle of downtown is even better than some industrial park: with so many people around here, the Imperials are going to have to be damn careful with heavy weapons.

“Where are we on the drones, Rick?” Hendricks asks; his adjutant, 1st Lieutenant Richard Shelby, doesn’t turn around, keeping his eyes on the display in front of him.
“Ravens are orbiting the port, Sir,” Shelby says. “Shadows are still preparing for launch, first one should be coming online in ten minutes.”
“Good, we need feeds on those barricades and beyond,” Hendricks says. “Mortar teams?”
“Standing by,” Shelby answers.
“Air defense?”
“Airspace is clear, no intruders.”
“Alright,” Hendricks says. “Send our sitrep to HQ. I’m going to get some pictures.”
“Heh,” Hendricks chuckles to himself. “815 should at least see what Botane looks like, don’t you think, Rick?”
Shelby suppresses a polite little giggle. “I suppose they deserve that, Sir.” Something on his console flashes red, leading to a short expression of consternation, then increasingly frantic typing on his keyboard.
“What’s the matter, Lieutenant?” Hendricks asked.
“It’s weird, Sir, I just lost our uplink,” Shelby says. “I keep trying to reconnect, but -”

Just then, the rear hatch of the Stryker receives some very enthusiastic banging; seeing that his adjutant is busy, Hendricks climbs to the back himself and opens it up. Standing outside is a pale-faced Lieutenant who shrinks back a little when Hendricks looks at him.

“Well?” Hendricks goes. “Spit it out, son.”
“Colonel, we just,” the Lieutenant stammers. “The gates, they all - they’re all down, they’re shut down.”

Hendricks doesn’t answer that; he climbs out of the hatch, past the Lieutenant, to get a look at the situation for himself. The first thing he notices is that everything around them has gone dark - street lights, signs, even the blocks surrounding the gateport. The only sources of light remaining are what the brigade brought themselves: headlights on the vehicles, flashlights for the techs and on the guns. And, indeed, the gateways are all powered down, and despite several teams of techs crawling around them, they don’t look like they’re going to work again anytime soon. Colonel Hendricks knows exactly what that means.

“Get your shit in gear,” he growls to the Lieutenant, then jumps back onto the steps of the command vehicle and climbs back in. “Rick!” he shouts, “they’re coming!”
“Sir!” Shelby answers, abandoning his efforts to reestablish the uplink in favor of getting on the radio. “Hunter Six to all units, go to REDCON One!”

The primary tactical channel explodes in activity in response to the call for REDCON One, but then the activity doesn’t taper off. In fact, it only gets louder, spilling over to the secondary platoon channels and filling the command vehicle with noise. A blizzard of calls rushes over the airwaves about Imperial soldiers advancing, firing on positions, and flying tanks coming in from all directions.
“One at a fucking time, Rick!” Hendricks shouts.
“All sectors reporting enemy contact!” Shelby shouts back over the din. “Positions are holding -”
A fusillade of detonations sound distantly in all directions, and the radio traffic peaks yet again. “Cancel that! Incoming fire from flying tanks have inflicted heavy casualties on cavalry units and Imperial units are pushing in!”
Hendricks spins around in his seat. “Move all search teams to reinforce the perimeter and ready air defenses! I’m taking a look topside, Lieutenant.”

The commander’s hatch is thrown aside as Hendricks stands up. Light from the Gateport’s floods and surrounding buildings provided plenty of illumination, all of which has vanished with the cessation of power to the Gateport and surrounding blocks. All light is now provided solely by soldiers’ flashlights and the headlights of various IFVs and Humvees as the men under his command scramble to reconnect the Gateways to power, erect floodlights of their own, carry missiles to the Avenger air defense vehicles, and boarding trucks, Strykers, Humvees and any other vehicle they can find to get to the front lines. Binoculars raised, Hendricks can see clear to the perimeter down three unpaved avenues, and even from a mile away, it’s clear that the Imperials are giving his boys Hell. Blue-white beams lance out from behind cover, and as he watches, a flying vehicle spits a flash of light, and a moment later the front of a Stryker peels back like a banana and spits a gout of flame out the open rear doors. He turns to another approach in time to spot an Imperial soldier lob a pole into the air. Hendricks doesn’t understand why, until rocket exhaust lances out of the rear of the pole and it sharply arcs up and over the cover his men are using and detonates. Hendricks looks away in disgust as two of his men are blown apart before his eyes, and climbs back down into his seat.

“God-dammit,” Hendricks swears. “Rick, send everyone we have to the perimeter. If they’re not defending the Gateways or getting them back online, I don’t care if they have a ride or if they have to run, they get there, now!


“Fuck,” is all Moralez can muster when the call comes in over the radio. Readiness Condition One aka “shit has hit the fan” is exactly what he didn’t want to hear, and even worse, there’s not much they can do about it now - given that they were already in cover, all it’s good for is forcing another weapons check and pushing everyone’s BPM past 120. A block down the trail, the headlights on their Stryker switch on and the engine roars to life as the unit gets ready to fight and move. Moralez decides that he has to do something, so he drops to the ground and crawls forward to stick his head around the corner.

It’s all quiet. For just a moment, Moralez starts to relax again - could be some false alarm, could be a precaution, could be anything at this stage - and then it gets bright behind him. Moralez can’t resist the instinct to look behind him, back towards the gateport - just in time to see the gateport disappear in a flash of light. By the time Moralez’s pupils can contract - nevermind close his eyelids or flinch away - he’s already blind, and whatever skin was exposed is quickly burned. He cries out one last word - “Incoming!” and buries his face in the dirt, letting the overpressure sandblaster of the supersonic shockwave wash over him.
punkey 2013-09-29 15:04:51
The next thing Moralez will remember is McKinsey trying to yank him off the ground by the handle on the back of his plate carrier vest. At this point, Moralez is still conscious and somehow not quite as deep in shock as one would think, but he’s about a hundred miles from thinking clearly, which is why the first thing he does when he’s on his feet is flail a wild punch at McKinsey - which goes way wide because Staff Sergeant Moralez can’t see a damn thing. McKinsey does his best to dodge the blow while staying in Moralez’s way, because the last thing Moralez needs is to fall and hurt himself even worse. Moralez half-spins, half-collapses into McKinsey, but stops flailing - mostly - when McKinsey speaks up.

“Sarge! Fuck, Sarge! Stop fucking fighting me, shit!”
“McKinsey?” Moralez croaks.
“Yeah,” McKinsey goes. “Yeah. Come on, we have to move. I’ve got you.”
“What the fuck happened?”
“The hell do you think happened?” McKinsey whispers. Moralez can hardly hear it; while his right hand is steadying him on McKinsey’s shoulders, he yanks his earpro off with his left hand. The plug he pulls out of his ear feels more like a dirty tampon, wet and squishy, and this may be the only time in the history of human consciousness that the thought ‘I hope it’s just a perforated eardrum’ has ever been considered. Moralez just lets the bloody earplug drop to the ground. The pain all over his chest and face and neck and, oh, the small matter of being blind are all vying for his attention, and that’s before he comes back to the million dollar question.
“What happened?” he asks again.
“We got fucked up pretty good,” McKinsey says as he walks Moralez towards cover. “Miller’s right arm is barbecue, it looks pretty bad. Something whistled clear through LaRouche’s leg, we’ve got the bleeding under control but he’s walking with a crutch. I’m sorry I came for you last, but...they were shouting, so I knew they were alive.”
“Big brain comes through again,” Moralez coughs. “I don’t hear them. Where are they?”
“We’re getting there,” McKinsey says. “No sense for them to keep screaming, might get us into more trouble, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Moralez says. “What about you, genius?”
“You’re fine?”
“No, Sarge, I know what ‘fine’ feels like, this isn’t it,” McKinsey says. “Cuts, bruises, I feel like I went ten rounds with Ali. It’s just, you’re all doing worse.”

Moralez doesn’t reply. He’s too busy just trying to hold it together against the pain and the fear, just trying to not drop to his knees and cry and wait for somebody to shoot him. McKinsey, though, keeps carrying him.

“Watch out, there’s a step,” McKinsey says, and then the two of them slowly walk down a stairway for maybe a couple of feet before they’re on level ground again - this one crunches less under their boots, and Moralez can hear breathing and whispers - Miller and LaRouche, he knows the voices, and that gives him just a little bit of hope back. McKinsey stops and turns with Moralez, then slowly sits down on what feels like a concrete bench with him.

“Thank God you’re here,” Miller says.
“Gonna have to do worse than that to knock us off,” LaRouche adds. “You need anything looked at, Sarge?”
“I’ll deal,” Moralez says. Sitting down’s better than walking, a little bit anyway.
“So, that’s everyone,” McKinsey says. “Sarge, you rest up for a moment, but we need to move. I saw Imperials rushing over the perimeter, they’re maybe two blocks away -”
“- and they don’t take prisoners?” Moralez says.
“Actually, Sarge, they do,” McKinsey says. “Either way, I don’t think we want to meet them.”
“Okay,” Moralez says. “Jesus. Yeah, we need to find some cover, or a place to hide, or...goddammit.”
“Sarge?” Miller says.
“I’m fucking blind, asshole,” Moralez growls. “Jesus fucking Christ. Everything’s all fucked up.” He takes a deep breath. “Okay. Just had to say it, feels better. Sorry.”
“No problem, Sarge,” Miller says.
“So, a place to hide?” LaRouche says. “We’re in the middle of downtown Botane City. There’s hundreds of places to hide around here, it’s called an apartment.”
“You want to bust into one?” Miller asks.
“Better than crawling out in the open with all those Imperials on the street,” LaRouche says.
“Uh, there’s a problem with that, yeah?” McKinsey says. “There’s people in those apartments. We can’t just...I mean, they’re civvies.”
“No,” Moralez throws in. “They’re insurance. They can hide us, they can help us with our wounds, they can show us a way out.”
“You think they’ll help us?” Miller asks.
“We have guns, don’t we?” Moralez says.
“Sarge -” McKinsey goes, but Moralez cuts him off.
“Whatever it takes to get home,” Moralez says.
“Yeah...whatever it takes,” Miller says. McKinsey doesn’t say anything, just holds his rifle tighter.
punkey 2013-09-29 15:05:20
Private Perales loudly curses out the Imperial sensibilities of urban planning as he pilots the M35 truck down the intersecting canyons of tower blocks. “All this fucking space alien technology, and they have Goddamn dirt fucking roads? What kind of bullshit is this, Corporal?”
“Just drive the truck, please, Perry,” Corporal Snyder answers. He doesn’t have an opinion on the state of Imperial technology and how much it expresses himself in road design; he just wants to make his drop-off for the supplies in the back. There’s a clipboard on his lap with the list of units they have to resupply. They’ve now done three circuits of the area since they got here, which isn’t easy given the environment and the natural tendency of combat units to not be where they are supposed to be at any given moment.
“It’d be easier if the Imperials were smart enough to put down a real road,” Perales grumbles.
Three sharp bangs sound from the bed of the truck. “Hey! Shitload of lights just went out back at the Gateport!” PFC Mary Dunhill shouts.
Snyder looks behind him, and indeed, all the lights in all the buildings for several blocks around the Gateport are out. “That’s probably not a good thing,” Private Warren Geiger remarks dryly.
“No shit!” Perales shouts back.
Command’s voice booms over the radio. “Hunter Six to all units, go to REDCON One!”
“Motherfucker,” Perales swears.
Snyder bangs on the roof. “REDCON One! Keep your eyes open!”
“REDCON One, copy!” Dunhill shouts back, gripping her rifle tightly.
“Double-time it to the perimeter, Perry,” Snyder says as he turns back.
“Can do,” Perales says, and downshifts to get the truck up to speed that much quicker.

That extra speed proves almost fatal when the truck has to take a sharp corner, and for a second it can’t seem to decide whether it wants to slide or tip over; Snyder’s knuckles and face barely have time to turn white before Perales throws the steering wheel to the other side, keeping the truck upright. The engine groans in protest as Perales works the shifter again and hits the gas.

“Fucking dirt roads,” Perales mutters.
“Just keep your eyes - WOAH!” Snyder hollers; Perales catches the soldier stumbling onto the dirt track fifty meters ahead of them just in time for another last-second save, swerving the M35 just to the side of the deer-in-the-headlights grunt while the brakes squeal in a desperate attempt to bring 7 tons times 30 mph of momentum to a stop. The clangs and curses from the back tell Snyder that their cargo wasn’t secure enough for that kind of maneuver, but at least they didn’t commit fratricide by roadkill.
“What’s going on?” Dunhill shouts from the back. “Why are we stopping -”

Dunhill stops cold when she sees what the rest of the truck does - at least two or three dozen soldiers barely limping themselves back from the front lines a few blocks away. Blast waves and bursts of light echo off the buildings and provide the disturbing backdrop to what looks like the aftermath of a brutal ass-whupping: nearly half of the soldiers capable of walking on their own are supporting someone else who can’t, with everyone’s armor blackened and burnt from some kind of alien weapon. One soldier is being carried by two of his buddies with great difficulty - because his left arm had been blown off at the elbow by the alien weapon. There’s ten times more of them back at the perimeter, but if this is just from a few minutes of battle, the aftermath is going to be ugly.

For a few long moments, no one can respond. “Shit,” Snyder mumbles.
“Yeah,” Perales quietly says in response.
Snyder shakes his head to clear the shock out and turns around. “All right! Let’s get these people back to the Gateport for treatment! Mary, Warren, dump the MREs and tents, we need all the room we can get! Clear the floor for wounded!”
“You got it!” Dunhill calls back.
Perales jumps out of the cab shortly before Snyder does. “Hey! Get over here, we’ll take you back to the Gateport!” Perales shouts, and the tragic progression turns towards the rear of the truck.
Snyder runs out and helps guide a stunned soldier, stumbling along and bleeding from one ear, back towards the truck. “Perry, triage the people getting on board, we’ve only got room for a couple dozen back there!”
“Got it, Corporal!” Perales responds. “Mary, you got the back clear?”
Dunhill kicks one last crate off the back. “Got it! Bring ‘em in!”

In short order, 26 people are loaded into the back of the truck - nowhere near as many as are out there, but it’s all they can carry. Snyder shouts to the others to get into a side alley somewhere safe if they can, that they’ll be back for them soon, and slaps Perales on the shoulder to turn the truck around and get moving.
“The fuck is going on?” Perales asks, shaking his head as he pilots the truck back the way they came. “Four hours of nothing and now they’re fighting back? Did they just get back from fucking soccer practice or what?”
“I don’t know, Perry,” Snyder says.
“Guys, can you step on it?” Dunhill calls from the back. “We need to get to a medic.”
“We need to get to a whole shitload of medics!” Geiger adds.
“Gotcha,” Perales shouts back, angling the truck for the flatter parts of the dirt track as he pushes the engine into the upper third of its rev range again. “Are we retreating, Corporal?” he asks after a moment of silence.
“I don’t know, Perry,” Snyder repeats. “I really...that’s not my call.” He pauses. “We are emergency medevacing wounded back to medical aid. That’s what we’re doing.”
“So, we drop those guys off,” Perry says, “and we go back out?”
“Unless we get different orders,” Snyder says, “yeah.”

Finally, the open plaza around the gateport appears in the distance down the endless canyons of Imperial buildings, and Snyder bangs on the roof. “Almost there! Get ready to -”
Snyder turns back in time to see a blinding speck of light appear in the sky. Before anyone in the truck could comprehend what they’re seeing, the speck of light lances down as a brilliantly bright hot column of blinding white that engulfs the Gateport. Snyder quickly turns away from the flash, while Perales shouts a big loud “HOLY SHIT!” and slams on the brakes, keeping just enough presence of mind to hold the wheel straight as he buries his face in his arm. An instant later, the shockwave slams into the truck, spalling chunks of the blast-resistant glass into the cab, blasting the fabric cover clear off the truck bed and filling the air with sand and dust. Snyder and Perales feel like they’ve stepped in front of a blast furnace for a brief moment, but the truck skids safely to a halt. The back fills with shouts of surprise and pain, both from the blast and from the sudden stop. The air is filled with a strange metallic odor, and the eerie silence that only a tremendous explosion can bring.

Snyder’s the first to recover, keeping his mouth open and blinking rapidly as he tries to lean his hands on a part of the dashboard not covered in glass shards. Perales adds a “FUCK!” to his previous exclamation; Snyder grabs his shoulder and pulls him back into his seat, then takes the filipino’s chin and turns his head around. With shaking hands, he picks the shards of glass from the top and side of Perales’s hair.
“Okay, you’re good,” Snyder says. “Open your eyes.”
“What the fuck...” Perales moans, but Snyder’s already turned away toward the back. “Mary! Warren! Are you okay back there?”
“Yes!” Dunhill shouts back. “Yes, we’re okay!”
“I don’t think I can drive,” Perales says.
“Okay,” Snyder says. “Okay, you wait here, I’ll take a look outside.”

Snyder wrenches his door open and slowly climbs out. The ground underneath his boots feels like solidly-packed earth, with most of the surface dust blown clear by the blast. There’s a sick feeling in Snyder’s guts from the silence and the smell of ozone, but mostly from what all that means. One thing is clear: the gateport is gone. Not overrun, not destroyed, straight up gone. The apartment blocks around it are still mostly standing, a few collapsed sections aside, but whatever was where the Gateport used to be simply isn’t there anymore - troops, command, supplies, the way home, all gone. The best Snyder can do is stumble forward and do a quick check of the truck itself: the tires seem to be fine, the engine’s still running, and aside from the shattered glass on the bonnet and the missing tarp, there’s not a lot of noteworthy damage. If they had been closer -

“Warren!” Snyder shouts. “Can you come and drive?”
“I’m coming!” Geiger shouts; his voice sounds much less tinny now that they’re not shouting at each other through the small window in the back of the cab. Snyder turns around and walks towards the back, helping Geiger down as the tall soldier climbs over the side of the cargo area and drops down to the ground.
“What just happened, Don?” Geiger asks.
“I don’t know,” Snyder says, giving a helpless shake of his head. “I don’t know. There was the light, and then the explosion, it was like...” He swallows the next few words for a moment. “...like a nuke.”
“Must have a been a small one,” Geiger says. Snyder looks at him with a slack-jawed expression of disbelief.
“Or a Needleship battery,” Dunhill pipes up, standing up and leaning on top of the cab to join the conversation. “I read the debriefing of Task Force 815. They said this could happen. They used strikes like this on Aikoro.”
“But that’s insane!” Snyder protests. “Mary, there are thousands of their people here! And the gateways, they can’t just destroy -”
“They just did,” Perales says. Snyder and Geiger circle around the cab; Snyder opens the door, and they pull Perales out and lay him on the ground.
“What do we do now, Don?” Geiger asks.
“I don’t know,” Snyder repeats. “I guess we...we need to talk to somebody, get new orders. Warren, can you get the radio?”
“On it,” Geiger says, then climbs up into the cab, brushes some glass off the seats and reaches for the radio set mounted in the dash. He doesn’t even get to the first word of a request for orders, because their channel is overwhelmed with screaming and muffled sounds of war that correspond eerily well to the distant echoes from the perimeter.

“Guardian Three taking heavy fire, say again, Guardian Three needs backup!” Click. “This is Assassin Five calling all friendlies on West, we’re stacking bodies but we’re red on ammo, can anyone...” Click. “...sweet mother of mercy!...” Click. “...if there’s anyone hearing this, we’re falling back to the southern park, all units, fall back and regroup...” Click. “My name is Guiterrez. I’m the last one. They’re not getting me. They’re not getting me. Nobody’s getting me. I’m sorry.” The channel fills with an ear-torturing screech that fades away into the echo of a very close gunshot. Geiger clicks the dial again. “Mountaineer One, we’ve got eyes on the south approach. Lots of hostiles, they’re marching our guys out to one of those VTOLs. We can take a couple, but we’re too far away for a rescue. Do we have release authority?” Geiger stays on that channel for a few more seconds. “Mountaineer One requesting release authority, over...Mountaineer One, somebody say the word and we’ll light those fuckers up, over... Mountaineer One to whoever’s in charge, we need a fucking call, right now, do we have release - oh fuck!” Small blasts come through the radio from nearby weapon impacts, then the channel goes completely dead.

Snyder seems frozen again. His look goes from Geiger in the cab to Dunhill on the truck bed and the soldiers peeking over the side, all looking at him. None of them has any color left on their faces.

“Don,” Dunhill speaks up. “You need to say something.”
“Uh,” Snyder starts. “Um.” He looks around again, back towards the smoking crater, towards the truck, towards his squad. He nods, and swallows hard. “We left some guys back towards the perimeter,” he says quietly. “The Imperials are pushing in, let’s get another truck and see if we can hide in a side alley or something until morning. Maybe we can dodge the sweeps until then.”
“We’re fucked,” Perales says from the ground.
“Standing here won’t help!” Dunhill calls, then turns to the soldiers on the truck bed. “You and you!” she says, pointing fingers. “Help Perry up!”
There’s no discussion about rank or chain of command; the two guys closest to the tailgate just climb down and hurry over to Private Perales, grabbing him by the arms and pulling him to his feet, while the other soldiers keep their guns pointed outwards, watching for threats. Geiger finishes brushing glass from the seats and dash, then slides over to the driver’s side.
“Come on, Don!” he calls; Snyder looks around one last time, then steps up to the cab and climbs in, pulling the door closed behind him. The engine roars and the truck starts moving again, turning in a tight circle and then heading back out to the perimeter.
punkey 2013-09-29 15:05:59
Rav-Turai Harpani Swahas has not had a good day. Her trin was on standby when the first reports of a shooting spree at the gateport came in; by the time she had grabbed her gear, the incident had been upgraded to a full-scale planetary invasion. From there, it was a case of ‘hurry up and wait’ as command figured out how to respond, mostly by drawing the Narsai’i invaders far enough apart to make them open to a counter-assault, but a lot of it was simply holding back, waiting for the other shoe to drop, for whatever nasty trick the Narsai’i were trying to pull this time. But after four hours of watching them crawl through the gateways and pitch their figurative tents, it became clear that this was it, absurd as it seemed. No hidden Narsai’i in Needleships or Mantas or freighters, no crazy Gateway tricks, just a bunch of Narsai’i - all standing around in one place, no less. Word passed down that the Rav-Odun needed them all to prepare for immediate action, and her trin got to watch the orbital strike through the exterior cameras of the Manta ferrying them into the hot zone.

“Vidas Lam, I never get used to seeing that,” Turai Leol Duaksa swears, shaking his head.
“Fuck the Narsai’i, I hope no one I know lived in those hab blocks,” Turai Ralonai Vima adds as she slams her helm’s visor down. “Didn’t they fucking know better?”
“Keep it cool,” Swahas says. “This might still be a feint. Assume nothing, stay careful, it’s over when we’ve got them all and not a moment sooner. Got that?”
“Understood, Rav-Turai,” Duaksa nods.
Vima slams a fist into the wall of the Manta, but nods as well. “Understood, Rav-Turai.”
“Here’s our search area,” Swahas says, pulling up an interactive map of a handful of blocks on the trin’s helms. “We have the park and hab blocks M’sainuta 3 through 7.” A single sweep of her hand highlighted four blocks and the adjacent park. “The streets have already been swept, but we have comm blackouts in several blocks, so there might be Narsai’i hiding in them. What we do know is that the blocks are still in lockdown and not evacuated. Even without Narsai’i soldiers, we’re looking at scared and confused citizens. We’re going unit by unit, floor by floor, drone up front, and we check everywhere. And remember, the Rav-Odun wants prisoners.”
“Are we putting capturing Narsai’i ahead of rescuing citizens?” Duaksa asks.
Swahas hesitates for a moment before she answers. “No,” she says. “There are a few thousand Narsai’i loose in this area, and already too many civilians have had to be sacrificed to stop this invasion. We do not put the enemy’s life above that of our people. The Rav-Odun will get her prisoners even if we have to shoot a few of the Narsai’i.”
Vima gives a big nod at that. “Finally, some First-damned sense. There’s too much blood on the ground already.”
“Arrival in thirty seconds,” the manta’s pilot blares through everyone’s voxes. “All Turai, stand by for drop.”
Samal Onalhan stands up by the manta’s doors. “Twentieth of Awuka’s Eighty! Get on your feet and heat up those chamakanas! I want three things! Narsai’i prisoners, safe citizens, and no casualties! It’s going to be a long night, but you can handle it, right?
Through Dust And Storm!” the quad shouts.
“That’s right!” the Samal pounds his fist into the hatch release. “Go! Go!”

Rav-Turai Swahas is closest to the hatch, so she gets to bail out first. The Manta hasn’t landed - in fact, it hasn’t even fully stopped, instead orbiting an area of flat parklands that’s big enough to disgorge the quad. Swahas falls feet first for about thirty meters before the impellers on her jumppack kick in and start their brief fight against local gravity, slowing Swahas’s impact as if she had only fallen a single meter. Boots hit the ground as she pushes forward with raised beam rifle to secure the drop zone, with the rest of her trin just a few steps behind her.

It’s a matter of seconds before a panicked woman runs towards the group, pointing behind her. “Help us, please!”
Duaksa’s hand flips through the haptic for the external speaker in an instant. “Ma’am, stop or we will shoot!”
The woman halts instantly. “The Narsai’i! They’re in our block!”
“And we’re here to take care of that!” Duaksa calls back. “Just lay down and once you’re checked we can evacuate you!”
The woman slowly lays down on her stomach as Vima looks at her Rav-Turai. “It’s gonna be like this all night, isn’t it.”
Swahas nods. “No doubt about it.”


The Narsai’i are, indeed, in hab block M’sainuta 4 - Swahas’s trin enters the third floor and immediately spots the broken door on one of the units. Swahas moves forward, with Vima behind her and Duaksa guarding the rear; when they’re only a few meters away, Swahas reaches for the deactivated drone clipped to her armor and tosses it upward. The drone’s impeller drive activates almost instantly, stabilizing it in position before it even reaches the apex of the throw.

A feed from the drone’s camera appears on Swahas’s visor as she guides the small robot forward in complete silence and floats it through the broken door. As it edges inside, the picture in her helm isn’t very pretty: the residents of the hab appear to be crowded on a couch, with their arms bound behind them: an older man, a woman and their teenage son and daughter. One Narsai’i soldier with injuries all over his face sits next to them, while three others are spread around the room, two covering the windows while one has his slugthrower aimed at the door. The drone doesn’t even get to take detailed scans of the citizens’ faces: it barely transmits long enough to see the Narsai’i grab their hostages from the couch and push them forward before one of them shoots the drone down - Swahas hears one BANG! as the drone feed goes dead, then two more shots of the Narsai’i apparently making sure they really got it, then there’s a lot of shouting.

“Shit,” Vima curses as she advances up to the edge of the hab’s door. “They’re using them as shields, the bastards.” She looks to Swahas. “And we’re not blasting in?”
“No, we’re not,” Swahas replies. She taps on Vima’s shoulder to swap places with her, and switches on her external speaker. “Narsai’i soldiers! We have the hab block surrounded, your one Gateport has been destroyed, and you have injured! We don’t want any dead tonight! Just put down your weapons and come out, and you will not be harmed!”

The answer is brief silence, punctuated by whispers and then some shouting, all in the Narsai’i tongue. Only the whimpering “Please...” of the male hostage cuts through that.
“Don’t think they speak Imperial,” Duaksa says.
“They invade one of our planets and don’t even speak the First-damned language?” Vima asks incredulously.
Swahas runs through the haptic to turn her speaker off. “So maybe they’re not as smart as the 815,” she says. “Trying to get a view inside, be ready to move if I say go,” she voxes, then takes a knee and puts her chamakana on the ground. A few hand motions uplinks her view through the chamakana’s sights to the rest of her trin, and then she slowly pushes it forward along the ground, trying to get an angle into the apartment. Fortunately, none of the Narsai’i seem to notice the weapon slowly sliding into position past the doorframe, and as soon as Swahas has a picture, she leaves the weapon on the ground and backs up to draw her pantaki. The feed’s at an awkward angle, but shows enough of the apartment to know that the situation hasn’t gotten better. Husband and wife are lined up as human shields, with two of the Narsai’i soldiers behind them; the man with the facial wounds is propped up on the couch, with his rifle braced to aim at the doorway. The last Narsai’i soldier can’t be seen; he’s presumably still covering the windows.

“We can’t go through the door,” Swahas voxes. “Windows are our best option. Vima, Duaksa, use the transport rail on fifth level. On my go, you come in through the windows. I’ll keep them busy.”
Vima and Duaksa both nod and hustle down the hall and up the stairs as Swahas calls up a connection to her Samal. “This is Swahas, Samal. I’ve got Narsai’i holding hostages, and I need something to keep them busy. Do you have anyone who knows Narsai’i?”
“Quamni does, one second,” Samal Onalhan replies.
A few seconds later, Swahas’ connection beeps. “Rav-Turai Tanaw here. I only know a bit of Narsai’i, but I might be able to help.”
“What’s ‘what do you want’?” Swahas asks as she patches Tanaw into her audio loop.
’What do you want?’” Tanaw replies.
“All right, I’ve patched you in, translate their response for me,” Swahas says, and edges back towards the door. “’What do you want?’
The Narsai’i shout back something. “They want to go back to Narsai,” Tanaw translates.
Swahas nods as she keeps one eye on the image from her chamakana’s sight. “Okay, and how do I say ‘let’s work something out’?”


Turai Vima and Duaksa catch a lucky break: one of the hallway windows on the fifth floor was blown out by the blastwave from the accelerator shot, solving the question of how to get to the transport rail. Vima frees the carabiner hook from its cradle near the armor’s toolbelt, drawing about a meter of cable out with it. She steps onto the windowsill with her right foot, and Duaksa holds her left hand while her right with the carabiner reaches out towards the rail mounted above. With her own safety line hooked in, she helps Duaksa attach his hook, then the two climb out onto the outside ledge together.

“Which window?” Duaksa asks.
Vima leans out and looks down, watching for the indicator of Rav-Turai Swahas’s position. “Over there!” she says, pointing towards a set of two closed windows two levels down and about three apartments away from the hallway windows. A few seconds later, the windows get their own highlight on her visor as Duaksa tags them for navigation.

The two proceed slowly along the ledge; while the carapaces shelter them from the wind up here, their climb still requires concentration, and neither one is looking forward to slipping and being banged against the hab. The really scary part begins when they’re above the occupied apartment; Vima swipes the controls on the toolbelt, releasing the carapace winch into manual control. After one more pull test to make sure the carabiner’s hooked in securely, she steps off the ledge and walks her way down the exterior wall, letting out the cable as she goes down. Duaksa seems to lag behind, staying on the ledge for a few seconds, but then pushes off and lets the winch drop him by a full story in an abseiling move that makes Vima’s heart skip a beat.

“Cut the crap!” she voxes. “Slow and quiet!”
“Yes, Rav-Odun,” Duaksa replies, but after getting the sarcasm out of his system, he walks down slowly with her, around the windows of the fourth floor until they’re just above their target. Vima resets her winch for an automatic one-meter drop on the next release, while Duaksa runs one last check on his chamakana.
“We’re in position,” Vima voxes.
“Good, because they’re not backing down,” Swahas replies. “Stand by for go.”


Swahas picks her beamer back up and braces it against the bent remains of the door. Using the sights, she carefully places the reticule right on the face of the Narsai’i holding his weapon against the woman’s head. “’This is your last warning! Surrender!’” she shouts through her carapace’s amplification.
She can see an argument break out amongst the Narsai’i - one of them, the one standing near the windows and conspicuously not holding a gun to an unarmed citizen, shouts something that causes the lead Narsai’i to turn and bark something back. This back and forth goes on for a few more seconds before the other standing Narsai’i points his weapon at his own man, while the lead Narsai’i bellows something else while pushing the terrified woman a step forwards with the point of his weapon - and looks away.
Swahas’ eyes go wide. Vidas Lam - She doesn’t hesitate for an instant and squeezes her chamakana’s trigger. The WHAP and flash are all the release Duaksa and Vima need - seconds later they fly through the windows, chamakanas at the ready as the Narsai’i at the window is knocked flat, first by Vima landing on him and then by a swift boot to the face.
Drop your weapons!” Vima and Duaksa bellow as Swahas charges into the room herself, all three Turai pointing their chamakanas at their own targets.
The two Narsai’i still conscious look around in terror between the three Turai, their hostages, and the now mostly headless Narsai’i on the floor. Their weapons are still in their hands, still held against their hostages. “Don’t fucking do it,” Swahas hisses, then fumbles for some Narsai’i. “’Surrender, please.’

The Narsai’i on the floor says something, and the two others seem to fold instantly. The badly burnt one on the couch starts to weep, and the standing one simply drops his weapon and hangs his head. Swahas quickly grabs the weapon from the burnt one as Duaksa disarms the standing one before the plastic restraints come out.
“Samal, we’ve got three Narsai’i ready for pickup and all citizens in one piece, send in Kansat to get them and the citizens out,” Swahas voxes out as she restrains the burnt Narsai’i.
“Good job, Rav-Turai,” Onalhan replies, relief apparent in his voice. “Good job.”
punkey 2013-09-29 15:06:44
“He’s dead too, Don.” The hope’s gone out of Geiger’s voice. Snyder logs it and sighs. There are a lot of names on his grimy notepad. “Some of these guys weren’t hurt that bad, Don. Do you think-”
“I’m not a medic, Warren,” Snyder snaps. “Dunhill thinks it’s radiation poisoning.” The previous night had been worse than any Don Synder could remember; moans of the wounded, curled in the dust and debris in the floor of a double- or triple-decker alley, the terror of being discovered, of being wiped out by another strike, the exhaustion of trying to keep that terror from cracking through. Needless to say, sleep hadn’t come easy, and Snyder was starting to feel it now. Geiger’s unspoken question is plain, however, and Snyder pulls himself together to answer it.

“We were pretty far from the blast, though, and we haven’t directly engaged any of those flying tanks. We’ll be all right.” Snyder doesn’t feel all right. He wonders if invisible death is hiding in his cells even now, then pushes those fears aside. Nothing he can do about that. He would have to do what he could for the people in front of him for as long as he lasted.
“Thirty-five, Don,” Dunhill’s voice breaks through Snyder’s reverie. Mary carefully picks her way around one side of their truck. Perales, looking the worst for wear but the most rested, follows her, his newly-pocked face a storm cloud.
“That leaves...” Snyder checks his notepad again, the weight of numbers beginning to prickle into guilt. “An even fifty.”
“Jesus,” Perales spits. “Fuck.”
Geiger still manages a weak smile. “Shouldn’t have dropped all those MREs. Man’s gotta eat.”
“We’ve got enough for now,” Dunhill comments. “I’ve got the ones who can stand on perimeter duty, but it looks clear for now.” She nods up to the crisscrossing gangways, rail systems and catwalks for automated recycler drones above them. “We’ve got cover.”

“Won’t last,” Perales gripes, his tone sour even thought the others knew he cut straight to the heart of it. “We can’t stay here, Don. There are other Gateports, right? You remember that much from the briefing? Let’s get to one and get back.”
Don’s too tired to even notice Perry’s lack of any sort of protocol, but he catches Dunhill’s reflexive nod at Perales’ idea. In the space it takes for Snyder to compose a response to an idea that would likely result in all their deaths, Dunhill cuts in.
“Sounds good to me, Perry,” she says. “Chances are we’re not the only ones still out here with the same idea. We can regroup on the way, make a push for home, try to salvage this...” Mary trails off, unable to even put words to the situation.
“The imps’ll have those covered,” Warren explains, shaking his head. “Those gates are a trap, guys. They’ll expect that, so let’s do what they won’t expect.”
Perales glares at his comrade. “You want to attack?! Shit, Warren, we couldn’t do a goddamn thing out there but get our asses kicked and that was with an entire division-”
“Keep your voices down,” Snyder says. They ignore him.
“I didn’t say attack, did I?” Geiger replies, bristling at Perales’ words, the stress and exhaustion transforming them from Perry’s usual maudlin complaints into verbal attacks. “But there are others out there. Maybe captured. We find ‘em, we free ‘em.”
“Bullshit,” Perales says.
Geiger talks over Perry. “If these bastards drop orbital strikes on their own people there’s no way we can leave our guys in their hands.”

Don finally gets a word in. “It’s suicide, Warren. Suicide. I’m sorry. But so is trying to attack a Gateport in our current state. We need something else... we can hole up and wait, scavenge food from these apartments, we could-”
Mary keeps shaking her head, discarding one dead-end plan after another before they even reach her lips. “No, no, we wait, we die. Much as I hate to say it, Perry’s right, they’ll find us.”
“So we don’t just scavenge food,” Perales says, keying off part of Snyder’s contribution. “Clothes too. Maybe get a vehicle running, we can just sneak out.”

“And you speak imp now?” Don snarks, his temper finally beginning to flare, the helplessness closing like a vice. “We don’t even know enough of their fucking language to find a bathroom!” Behind the four soldiers, a few of the walking wounded were beginning to pay attention. Curious faces with tired eyes peered around the battered truck, their morning rations held loosely in dirty, bloodied hands. “Shit,” Snyder brings it back down a notch. “We all know how long it took to navigate these shitty roads. We’ve got no map worth a damn, we’ve got no backup. We don’t know the language, and we can count every single person on this goddamn planet as a hostile.” Don slides down the dusty hab wall, the spraycrete picking at his fatigues. “Damn it.”

Dunhill steps partially into the space where Don was standing and speaks up, drawing attention off Snyder’s breakdown. “Okay. All our plans are shit because we don’t have enough information.”
“I was gonna say because of all the shit Don just said,” Perales quips.
“Forget that,” Mary continues. “We get a small team and scout, see where the imps are and where they’re not, reassess after that-”
Perales and Geiger shake their heads, then look at each other. Perales rolls his eyes. “That’ll get us picked off one by one,” Geiger says.
“Don’t be such a pussy, Warren,” Mary shoots back.
“Your plan is shit and we’re all gonna die,” Perry says. “I’d rather at least try to get home.”
“By running a gauntlet of ray guns?” Dunhill turns on him. “Go ahead, send me a postcard when you get there.”
“Maybe I will!”
“Jesus, keep your voices down!”

“(Something in Imperial maybe?)” shouts a young voice. Don shoots straight back up to a standing position, his hands fumbling for his rifle. Geiger and Dunhill have their weapons trained on a skinny Imperial boy a moment before Snyder and Perales zero in. “(Snarky alien language)”, the kid says, but he holds his hands up anyway. A cut-down beamer dangles from his bony shoulder from a handmade sling.
“Get the weapon,” Snyder says. Perales inches forward and swipes the alien rifle from the kid, who pats the air with his upheld hands. “(Short phrase, same short phrase)”, he says urgently, nodding back down the alley, where the superstructure blocked the trucks from rolling deeper.
“Don, I think he wants us to follow him,” Geiger says, lowering his rifle a hair.
“Fuck that, he’s Imperial,” Perales says. “Just trying to lead us into a trap.”
Don shakes his head. “Why not shoot us off the bat? He was armed, and we clearly had no idea he was there. Why not call the chrome imps down on us?”
“I don’t like it either, but we don’t have much else,” Dunhill says what they’re all thinking. Their other options were all bad. The kid... the kid could be just as bad, but he at least represented a chance at another way out. They’d be fools to refuse.
“Maybe...” Don gets out, then lowers his rifle. “Okay, what the hell, it’s not the worst plan I’ve heard today.”

The boy smiles in response, and waves his hands again.“(Maybe he said yes? Maybe not? Some more gibberish.)”
“Day ain’t over yet,” Geiger quips as they get their people ready to move.
punkey 2013-09-29 15:07:12
It’s not often that Rav-Odun Nia Lobsha gets to see the immediate results of her orders. For all their fearsome firepower, Needleships are more orbital base than fire platform, more mother- than warship. But even this single low-velocity impactor has left an impressive crater, one that Lobsha is now standing in. The cost in lives is more abstract - it’s hard to imagine the hundreds of dead when most of their bodies are simply gone. The scale does get a little easier to picture when she looks around. Endless rows of field-expedient corrals created from linked barricades hold the thousands of Narsai’i prisoners her forces have taken. Many surrendered when they saw that they were beaten and now sit in the dirt with their hands in plasticuffs, praying or planning or just staring straight ahead. In the beginning, a few crazy ones threw themselves onto the barricades, either ignoring the harsh red warning lights or welcoming them - they all fried and served as examples to the others. The sporadic gunfire in the distance tells of a few foolhardy ones still holding out, but they too will be brought in, dead or alive. Lobsha’s face twists into a bitter smirk. Cowardly barbarians they may be, but the fighting spirit in some of them...almost admirable. Almost.

“Rav-Odun!” Hicano calls, bringing her thoughts back to the present. “Awuka’s Eighty are reporting another captured Narsai’i quad.”
“Good,” Lobsha says. “Good. How goes the sweep?”
“The Southern and Eastern quadrants are clear,” Hicano says. “We managed to restore communication with all the blocks there, the supervisors were able to guide our trins. The Narsai’i did not know to assault the supervisor offices. North is 90% clear, we’re checking out a few blocks with intermittent power failures. We estimate another two hundred Narsai’i in the Western quadrant, the damage to the power circuits and loss of comms means we need to search block by block. Odun Korra wants to relocate some troops to -”
“No, keep our perimeter tight,” Lobsha orders. “Nobody escapes. Not from this. I want them all captured - or killed. I don’t care how long it takes.”
“Yes, Rav-Odun,” Hicano says, then relays the Rav-Odun’s orders.
“But recall the manta patrols from the pacified areas,” Lobsha adds. “We need to start moving the prisoners before nightfall.”
“As you command, Rav-Odun,” Hicano says. “Odun Boku -”
“- can wait for a minute,” Lobsha finishes. “Have you set up the loudspeakers?”
“They are ready, Rav-Odun,” Hicano says, pushing the most up-to-date translation of her big speech to Lobsha’s vox with a twitch of his ocular implants.
“Very good,” Lobsha says, then actually turns to look at her comm officer. “You have performed well today, Hicano. It has not gone unnoticed, and it will not go unrewarded.”
Hicano beams at that. “Yes, Rav-Odun. Thank you, Rav-Odun.”
“Now attend to the squabbling children while I welcome our guests,” Lobsha says.

Their trajectory has brought the two almost to the center of the impact crater, where the gateways used to stand; Hicano wisely clears out while Lobsha’s look sweeps around, drinking in the looks of the Narsai’i soldiers close enough to stare at her. Let’s make it all of them, she thinks, then triggers the show on her vox controls. Within seconds, the holoprojectors around the improvised camp paint her head into the sky over the crater while the speakers roar to life with her voice - translated to English, while the turai get a simulcast pickup of her original voice.

”I am Rav-Odun Nia Lobsha, the Hand That Shields Botane! I have come here to declare the victory of our brave Turai in their struggle to defend our home from invasion. Soldiers of Narsai, you have lost! Many of you have yielded to the Turai, and that was a wise decision. Know that fighting is senseless and that you are worth more alive than dead! If you surrender now, you will live!”

Lobsha pauses for effect, turning around to address a different direction - her holographic head follows.

”When we have pacified this area, you will all be transferred to a prison. You will receive food and medical treatment while we send news of our victory and our terms to your leaders. If they are wise, they will yield, too, and you will go home. I implore you with honest conviction, be wise and do what you are told in all things! We will not tolerate attempts to escape or to harm yourself or others.”

Lobsha stops short of telling her prisoners what “not tolerate” means, exactly - their imaginations will fill in the rest of her speech, and she dismisses the holo show with a wave over her vox interface. A glance at Hicano finds him with a pleading expression; Lobsha sighs and unlocks the incoming call filter on her vox to take Odun Boku’s twentieth call in six minutes.

“Speak, Boku,” she says.
“Rav-Odun, your speech was unconscionable!” Boku yammers. “Already my Rav-Samals are wondering what to tell their troops.”
“Tell them to follow their orders,” Lobsha says. “The speech was for the Narsai’i, nothing more.”
“But they are going to a holding facility, yes?” Boku asks.
“Only for the night,” Lobsha says. “Boku, are you so naive to think that the Narsai’i will negotiate with us in good faith? To open a gateway to them is to offer only another chance for them to try and trick us. We have nothing to gain from them. No, we will identify the leaders among our prisoners and ask the usual questions. The footsoldiers are worthless for that, but they are fit for the arenas - and public executions. What better way to raise the spirits of the people than to assure them that the only Narsai’i that set foot on their worlds do so to serve as their entertainment?”
“Should we not tell them?” Boku asks. “Crush their spirits before they have time to scheme?”
Lobsha feels a headache come on. What a fool Boku is! It is a wonder he ever rose beyond Samal. “Boku, you do not understand how to wield hope,” Lobsha says. “I do. Let us suppose you buy a slave-beast. Do you first whip it and tell it it will toil in misery to the end of its days in your house? No, you do not. To crush this hope is to instill another one - a desperate hope for either death or freedom, a dangerous madness that drives the beast beyond concerns for comfort or even its life. Such a beast is impossible to control because it is impossible to predict. But tell the beast that if it serves you true and honorably, it will repay its debt to you and be free in time? That is hope you control easily. It is the same with those Narsai’i. They may be defeated now, but they are trained fighters, and they are many. To tell them the truth now is to dare them to move as one and wield the power of desperation against us. I do not imagine they would win, but I also do not imagine you would very much like the outcome, Boku, would you?”
“....no, Rav-Odun,” Boku admits.
“To the defeated enemy, we show smiles and kindness,” Lobsha says. “All the way up to the gates of the arena.”
“Your strategy is flawless, Rav-Odun,” Boku says. “Forgive my doubts.”
“Go and attend to your duties,” Lobsha says.

Finally, with the idiot taken care of, Lobsha can take a breath and get down to business. “Samal Jonma,” she calls out. Within seconds, the six Khiraba walking at her side decloak, and their leader, Samal Kuo Jonma, turns his head toward her.
“Yes, sister?” he asks, his teasing smile hidden underneath his helmet.
“Boku’s amateurs are having trouble chasing down the Narsai’i,” Lobsha says. “I want you to handle it.”
“Of course,” Kuo says. “But I was hoping for worthier prey.”
“If the 815 are here, they have hidden it very well,” Lobsha says. “But you may just get your chance, Samal. They must know by now what has happened. I can imagine them attempting some harebrained plan to free the Narsai’i soldiers.”
“And if they don’t?” Kuo asks.
“Then we have already won,” Lobsha says, “because we have shown that the 815 cannot simply do as they please. Their successes were a result of seeking out fights they could win, but they cannot work miracles. It’s time for the rest of the Imperium to see them for the holo taranteks they really are.”
“I guess,” Kuo says. “Still, it would be a good fight...”
Lobsha pulls up the area map on her vox and scrolls through the latest reports. “Hmm, perhaps this will be to your taste, Samal,” she says. “The 12th of Awuka’s Eighty reported a Narsai’i quad trying to breach the perimeter. They’re in pursuit now, but I can tell them to back off...if you want to give the Narsai’i a head start.”
Kuo’s grin grows wide under his helmet. “Well, it wouldn’t be sporting otherwise, sister.”
Lobsha smiles in return. “Go, but don’t draw it out too long. I’ll need you when the Ethics Gradient arrives. You have six hours.”
“Thank you, sister,” Kuo says. “I won’t disappoint you.”
“You never do, Samal,” Lobsha says.
punkey 2013-09-29 15:07:40
Even in a “cleared” area with less patrols, it’s not safe to use the streets, but leading fifty people - many of them injured - through the hallways of hab blocks isn’t much easier. For starters, although the apartments are locked down and there’s no other foot traffic, the people are still there - waiting, listening for an all-clear from the authorities. They’d be losing their shit if they knew fifty Narsai’i invaders are sneaking past their homes right now. Don Snyder feels his knuckles go white pressed around the grip of his rifle every time they pass an apartment and hear voices from inside. Any one of those could have a way to alert the Imperial authorities somehow, and if there’s one thing Don’s sure of, it’s that they won’t survive that experience. If there’s one good thing about it - and God, does Don need to find something good about this - it’s that there’s no more discussion, no more freak-outs from the troops behind him, just occasional moans of pain and effort. The small part of his mind that is not locked down into survival mode casts an eye at the interior decor, which reminds him of the housing project he grew up in, or at least how it must have looked when it was built in the 60s - it’s clean, but kind of sterile, nice enough without ever even touching the lofty region of “fancy” - mass-produced lower-middle-class chic.

There’s a door up ahead, which the boy is now leaning against, and Don knows that this is the part that’s really going to suck: crossing open ground. The best they can do is try to get the wounded across the “street” at a brisk walk, ideally all in one go, and then bound the rest as quickly as possible. The grid layout of this area ensures that if anyone’s looking down this street, they could easily see their crossing even from half a mile away. Bad news. Don just has to hope it won’t come to that, because he has no Plan B for this. The boy still listens at the door; Don turns to his troops for a quick visual. Mary Dunhill’s steadying Peralez, who for once doesn’t look like he’s ready to complain, and Geiger’s on his way to the back of the formation, doing the grim job of counting soldiers to figure out if they inadvertently lost someone - not that they can go back and retrieve them, even if they had.

“(Whisper-shout!)” goes the boy, tugging on Don’s sleeve when that’s not enough to get his attention. Don spins and nearly has his rifle up before he realizes what’s going on. The boy mirrors Don’s shocked expression, then they both step back from that particular ledge and the boy shakes his head. “(Calm voice. Something about Turai?)” he says, holding up three fingers on his right hand.

Don takes a half-step back to brace himself for combat. If the boy is saying there’s three Turai on the other side and they need to kill them -

The boy lowers his hand, then nods to Don. “(Something pleased, maybe?)” the boy says, then steps back and opens the door. He’s first through and holds it open on the other side, and Don’s right behind him. It’s only now that Don can appreciate the finer details of Imperial architecture - like the soundproofing. The deep throbbing bass of impellers is coming at his head from above and kind of to the left, and the way it keeps moving, Don’s pretty sure they just dodged one of those Imperial VTOLs.

The boy nods to Don, then takes off across the “street” to another hab block while Don scans the surroundings, looking for further surprises before he lets the others out - because this way only I get killed he thinks, but he doesn’t have time to be shocked at his own detachment. The boy has crossed and is waving them forward to the side entrance of the next hab. Wordlessly, Don signs for the first group of soldiers to cross. Once they’ve got people on both sides, they can cross with the wounded, then bound the rest, and God willing there’s fresh underwear wherever they’re going.

The next hab block is much like the last one, as in empty hallways, simple decor and the building conviction in Don’s mind that they’re just about to get caught. For Pete’s sake, they’ve been on the move for nearly half an hour now just to cover two blocks - the kid’s clearly chomping at the bit to go faster, and to be honest Don would feel better if they could, but they can’t - not without leaving their wounded behind. And that is not going to happen; Don’s not the kind of guy who gets a bug up his ass about leadership and Army values, usually, but on this one he’s most definitely not listening to his inner bastard coward. At least the next “street” is clear, but the next block isn’t one of those cloned apartment projects. For starters, the ground floor is ringed with wide shutter doors with inset people-sized doors - the holo-signs are still out, but Don figures one reading “Tony’s Garage” wouldn’t be out of place on this kind of view. Workshops on the bottom, and judging from the lack of windows and gargantuan ducting running along the side of the building, heavy manufacturing up top - one side even has an enormous sliding door spanning about three floors, with one of those transport rails leading directly towards it. The boy finds his way to one of the small workshops at the bottom, and stops before a regular hinged door built into the front of the fifteen feet of roller door. He looks from side to side, then swipes a card over the door and pushes it open before waving the soldiers over.

End of the road, Don thinks and raises his rifle to cover the street while everyone else rushes across the street as fast as they can; Geiger taps him on the shoulder as he runs past, and Don rushes after him, past the boy, into the dusty workshop. Big metal containers sit stacked two high on the floor all around them, and the unmistakable smell of worked metal and oil fills the air.
“(Excited shout!)” the boy says, and motions for them to follow him towards the back of the shop.
“Not sure I like this, Don,” Geiger goes, eyeing the workshop.
“At least we tried,” Don replies.
The kid runs back from the rear of the shop. “(Same shout, but more annoyed this time),” he says, and waves for them to follow him more slowly this time.
Don nods to the kid. “Alright, let’s go, everyone,” he says, trying to keep the resignation out of his voice.

The kid leads them towards the back of the shop, with some of the men that are being supported by others having problems negotiating the tight spaces between the boxes and alien technology, and into a stairwell. Instead of going up, the kid leads them downstairs and into a big machine and electronics shop or some kind. Stacks of raw metal, big industrial machines, and a bank of workstations covered with what Don recognizes as some kind of soldering setup fill the expansive basement, and finished versions of what could be appliances of some sort stand stacked on plastic pallets on an elevator on one end of the shop.
The kid hustles back to the stairs. “(New excited shout)!” he says, and slowly waves for the soldiers to stay behind.
Don silently raises his left hand in a fist, and the rest of the soldiers slowly gather around him, more of a gaggle than a defensive formation.
“Hey, Don?” Mary says as she sets Peralez down onto a knee-high crate.
“No matter what happens? You did a good job,” she says. Don takes his eyes off where the kid went to look at her try to smile.
“Yeah, you kept us safe,” Geiger echoes. “Couldn’t ask for anything more.” To the extent that the other soldiers notice the conversation, the general murmur is agreement.
“Well, let’s see what happens,” Don says. The footsteps of the kid have faded, and all he can do now is wait.

It’s a short wait. From above come the sounds of footsteps; Don looks up at the shadowed catwalks to see about a dozen men and women walk in. The most important detail he notices is that they’re armed. The second-most important detail he notices is that they’re not wearing Turai armor. Though they all have their hands full with rifles, no weapons are pointing at the soldiers - and though the reverse is also true for the moment, Don can feel the looks of the other soldiers on him, waiting for him to make the slightest move and signal that they need to start shooting.

“Don!” Geiger hisses.
“Stand down, everyone,” Don says, loud enough for his soldiers to hear and - he hopes - for the imperials to understand. He leaves his weapon dangling from its sling as he slowly raises his hands. “We just want to go in peace. We’re with the boy.”
One of the men looks to the other Imperials. “(Firm order),” he says. “(A joke?).” The other Imperials laugh, and then he waves over his wrist. A holographic display pops up into the air over his wrist, and he waves his fingers at it for a second before he speaks.

“Tcha-ar-lee, Oshk-alr, Pa-pa,” the Imperial says, his accent almost masking the fact he’s speaking - or at least sounding out - English.
“- the hell?” Geiger whispers. It’s more than Don can do, whose silence is almost literally slackjawed. It’s only when Dunhill nudges him with her elbow that Don snaps out of it.
“Uh, shit,” Don says. “Uh...damn...I mean - Papa, Echo...Romeo.”
The Imperial nods and waves his weird wrist display off. “(New order-sounding sentence),” he says, and he and the rest of his people walk back into the door they came through, leaving the 50 US Army soldiers alone in the machine shop.
“They probably tortured that out of one of our guys,” Peralez says, but the cynicism bounces off the quickly rising feeling of hope and relief in Don, who can’t help but laugh out loud at that.
“Oh my God,” Don says between cackles. “Oh, man. Perry, you...don’t you get it? They’re rebels!” Whoops and cheers erupt from the other soldiers, and after a quick round of shushing, continue at a much quieter volume.
Peralez almost joins in the laughter, but pushes it down to a smirk. “I know, Don. I know. Just giving you a hard time, man.”
Mary Dunhill turns to Geiger and snaps him up in a quick embrace. “We’re saved!” she whoops. “But, hey, Don -”
“- you think maybe, it could be 815?” Mary asks.
“They’re not here,” Don says.
“That’s what they said,” Mary says. “But think about it, how did the rebels find us? Maybe 815 is here. Like...like a backup, or...”
“A rescue mission?” Geiger chimes in.
“Yeah,” Mary says.
“I don’t know,” Geiger says. “I just - I guess it’s possible. Lots of crazy shit today. I’m not counting out anything right now.”
“Whatever it is,” Don says, “let’s say our prayers and move on, okay?” The smile fades a bit. “We’re not home yet.”
punkey 2013-09-29 15:08:12
Iro Briwama paces the shipping floor of his machine shop, silently cursing the Masters for his fortunes. Operating a rebel cell on Botane was never an entirely easy task - money is plentiful enough to keep the wealthy placated but not enough to put the nobles too far removed from everyone else, the workaday nature of the planet's temperament makes appeals to a more free future difficult, and a planet so dependent on other systems for essentials is hard to convince to break away - but now, with the whole planet on lockdown and Turai turning over every rock for the idiotic Narsai'i, he and the other cells on Botane are just bunkering down and hoping to not get accidentally discovered in the sweeps. But then Irak - his mother's son, that boy - heard about some Narsai'i hiding in an alley, hidden by a hab block from the Imperial sweeps for the moment, and now they are here, in his shop, in his hideout, and there are fifty of the First-damned people. And Iro might be a cool operator, some say too cool, but he is not made of ice. These Narsai'i have to get home, and it is up to him to get them there.

So, to that end Iro sent Huto, Hori, and Rethma out a half-hour ago on a very special errand with his heavy skimmer to a "friend" of his - a friend that happens to supply the Turai with vacuum-sensitive equipment, and thus has a supply of airtight and security-cleared containers. That is the current source of his nerves, and the reason why he is pacing on his delivery floor, instead of his office upstairs.
Irak blazes a path between the containers on his impeller-lifted push scooter, a drumming sound from the boy's fingers along a container rippling through the room. When his path intersects with Iro's, he sees his father standing over him, having been given something else to worry about temporarily.
"What have I told you about riding that thing in the shipping area?" Iro asks quietly as he looms over his son.
“That I should not do it,” Irak spools off, reciting his father’s familiar sermon, “because it’s not safe.”
"And what are you doing?"
“I can’t ride it outside, dad,” Irak says. “There’s Turai everywhere and they’ve got everything locked down.” The disapproving loom continues. “And I saved all those Narsai’i and now we’re just sitting around.”
Iro takes a knee. "And that is no excuse to stop being safe," he says patiently. "In fact, it's a reason to be even safer. If you got hurt, I couldn't take you to the medicae. So, please."
“Fine,” Irak says, switching the scooter’s impellers off. “Why are they here, dad?”
"The Narsai'i?" Iro shakes his head. "Brinai's widecast made it sound like the 815 couldn't convince the Narsai'i to not strike directly at the Imperium without a plan - or at least with a plan that wouldn't be suicide. So, they attacked and the Imperium are trying to capture them all and send them to the Arena or to be executed, and we are not going to let that happen." He puts a hand on his son's shoulder. "Right?"
“Right!” Irak says with a bright smile. “What’s the plan? When do we start?”
"As soon as Huto, Hori and Rethma come back," Iro replies. "But still, don't get too excited, all right? I need you focused. Can I see your focused face?"
Irak looks up at his father with a face that’s about 90% serious but still 10% boyish smile. “I’m focused, dad!” he says.
Iro smiles and tousles his son's hair. "Good."

The tender family bonding moment is cut short by the well-timed rapping on the shutter door at the front - and to Iro’s relief, it’s the actual “Let us in” signal, not the “Turai caught us, blaze of glory time” sequence. Iro steps forward to unlock the door to find Rethma there, giving him a small smile and a sideways glance at the spoils of the trip - two vacuum-rated cargo containers on the heavy skimmer driven by Huto, with Hori riding shotgun. Iro doesn’t waste time on congratulations and instead closes the door to get the shutter open and the containers inside as quickly as possible. After a bit of close-range maneuvering and a few warning signals from the proximity sensors, they’ve got the loaded skimmer backed up far enough into the workshop that they can close the shutter again.
"Any problems?" Iro asks.
"Almost got fucking sunballed, but no," Rethma replies.
"Korso's vox codes popped the door right open," Huto says as he climbs out of the skimmer's cab. "That skinny fuck isn't going to know what hit him."
Hori slings her beamer over her shoulder as she climbs down. "I guess that made up for the times he stared at my ass." Huto's fists tighten at the memory of the boot-licker ogling his sister. "So, what is the plan, boss?"
"Tanlo and the others are keeping an eye on the Narsai'i, making sure they don't hurt themselves down there," Iro says.
"Keeping them from sticking their hands in the cutters," Rethma cracks.
Iro doesn't react. "Next, we get all the spare rations we can, fill up a few big bladders with water, and give them a couple tanks of air per container, pack them up, and deliver them to the spaceport. Get them out of my shop."
“Just a small problem,” Rethna says. “How do we explain our brilliant plan to these yahoos? Do we draw them a picture or what?”
“I think they’ll get it,” Hori says.
“These guys hung out under a Needleship for four hours,” Rethna says. “I’m not erring on the side of smarts here.”
"We'll just have to explain it slowly, and use a lot of gestures," Iro says. "The tanks of air and the food and water should probably make it clear what the plan is. If not, well, qopah-copy, right?"
“Mother always wanted me to become a first-year teacher,” Huto says. “Hey, Irak, they follow you, right? Can you bring them up?”
Irak looks at his father. "I'll go with you," Iro says, and father and son walk into the elevator down to the production floor.

Downstairs, Iro can see that the Narsai’i have taken to just sitting down on every available surface, including the floor, talking softly among themselves and comforting their wounded best as they can. That stops when Iro and Irak exit the elevator; they now have fifty scared and confused Narsai’i staring at them, waiting for some sort of sign.
Iro looks for the four that seemed to be their leaders, the three men and one woman, and points at them. "You, you, you and you, come with me," he says, and adds an exaggerated wave towards the elevator for good measure. They look at each other, with an expression that seems to betray more lack of complete confidence than understanding, but finally rise off the floor and go to follow Iro’s gesture, with the leader of the four glancing down at Irak a few times to look for some sort of confirmation.
"Come onnn," Irak moans, and waves a few times for them to join them himself.
That seems to trigger the leader’s communicativeness. “(Kind of a short squeal)” he says and points to himself and his friends. “(Calm words, smiles, agreement?)” The others nod along, but don’t say anything.

After a few more waves from Irak, they follow the two into the elevator and ride it up with them. Iro looks over at the four of them, and they've kind of made a loose circle around the injured normal-skinned one, not saying anything. At the shipping area floor, Iro walks out and Irak herds them from behind towards the stolen containers, as Hori and Huto are tossing in a box of rations.
Iro grabs a ration, and points to the metallic bag full of water on the ground. "Food, and water." He tosses the ration into the container. "You go into the container, we ship you to a friendly planet." He steps into the container by way of demonstration.
"'Cause this planet sure as fuck isn't friendly anymore, thanks to you people," Rethna cracks from somewhere by the other container.
"Quiet, Rethma," Iro reprimands, and waits for the Narsai'i reaction.
The large female Narsai’i whispers something in the ear of the pale leader. The leader nods to that, then turns to the other male at this side. “(Sharp-pressed sound, rising pitch at the end?)” he says; “(Same sound, falling pitch)” is the reply, then there’s a few more nods around. The leader turns back to Iro, smiles and nods and holds out his right hand in a fist with the thumb straight up.
"Right, I'm going to assume that means you're on board," Iro says. He motions towards the elevator. "Go, get the rest of your people and load them up."
Again, there’s a short discussion among the Narsai’i, too quiet for either Iro or the others to pick up more than the rough pitches; eventually, the Narsai’i walk back into the elevator, their leader still smiling and occasionally repeating the thumbs-up gesture at Iro. The woman fiddles with the controls for a few seconds before she finds the right button to send the elevator down; the doors close and the cab descends.
“Vidas fucking Lam,” Rethna says. “Garrett Davis owes us so many drinks right now.”

A few minutes later (and no small amount of shouting in Narsai'i from downstairs), the first group of the Narsai'i soldiers reluctantly walked out of the elevator and towards the first container. It’s Hori’s first good luck at them, and it instantly gets her a little worried about fitting them all in, because the Narsai’i gear - well, you can’t blame them for trying to compensate for lacking armor tech with more bulk, but the amount of padding and straps wrapped around these people is simply ludicrous, and then there’s all the pockets and pouches and...well, trying to fight a war against the Imperium like this speaks to a special kind of bravery. It’s hard not to feel a little pity looking at their fearful faces and slumped-down shoulders, but the way the wounded smile at her, like they know they’re going home, it’s also hard not to feel a certain urge to keep that promise.
Huto waves them on into the container. "Come on, come on, hurry up." He looks over his shoulder at the big roll-up door. "You get the feeling a sunball's gonna blow through that door any second now?"
“Thought that since we came back here,” Hori replies.
"This is so fucking stupid," Rethma shouts from the other container. "Just for the record."
Iro climbs up on top of the first container to better supervise the loading. "If this were our people, Rethma, you'd be wanting the Narsai'i to do everything in their power to get us home," he says. "We're allies now, so it's fair that we do the same for them. Yes?"
"Hey, I didn't say it wasn't the right thing to do," Rethma protests. "Just that it's really fucking stupid. Like, 'jumping off a cliff and expecting the Masters to swoop down and save you' stupid."
"Noted," Iro says. "I'm sure Bello would like that in the report." That shuts Rethma up.

Finally, the last four Narsai'i are waiting, and all the Bashakra'i note with a degree of respect that it's the four leaders. They all look worried about getting in, but they’re still gonna do it.
Iro climbs down off the container to send them off, and Irak follows right behind. Rethma walks over as well, bringing a look of solemn respect with him.
Iro bows to the Narsai'i. "You've done all you can for your people, and done well. We'll take it from here." Rethma, Huto, Hori and Irak bow as well.
The leader of the Narsai’i quickly bows as well. “(Same thing when we gave them food, probably ‘thank you’?)” he says. The woman and the quiet man also bow a second later, while the darker-skinned one with the injured leg stares at Iro.
Iro simply motions into the container, and after a moment where they each took a deep breath, the four Narsai'i step inside. Huto shuts one door, but Iro holds his open for just a moment longer. He takes a look inside, at the twenty-five scared, injured and tired Narsai'i inside, and even though he's never bought into the idea of the Masters staying behind, he quietly asks them to make sure these Narsai'i make it home.

"Good luck," Iro says. The tall one says something in return, and even though he doesn't understand it, he thinks it's probably the same thing.
punkey 2013-09-29 15:08:37
"Container One to Container Two, status check," Snyder whispers over his radio. He and Geiger didn't realize until they were being carried somewhere by an Imperial floating truck that they didn't know how they were going to talk to the other container - fortunately, the Imperials must not use a lot of metal in these big boxes.
“Container Two, all quiet,” comes a hoarse voice. Snyder just knows it’s one of the guys they saved, but they never got a quiet minute for the ‘shake hands and introduce yourselves’ part. "We've been here for six fucking hours by my count, Sir. We're starting to think the Imps hung us out to dry."
Snyder thinks for a moment about what to say. It has been a long-ass time, but they don't really have any better options. "Uh, just wait. We've all waited for longer on a hot runway, and that was when we had a scheduled pickup. Just sit tight."
"Copy that, Sir." The radio falls silent, and Snyder sits back against the wall - gently - and tries to settle his uneasy nerves.

“Got promoted, huh?” Geiger whispers as Dunhill checks on Pereles again. “I never took you for a lifer, Don.”
"Just trying to keep them comfortable, Warren," Snyder says. "If they need to think that I'm an officer or NCO, then I'll let them think that."
“Typical, really,” Geiger replies. “A General gets us into this mess, a Specialist digs us out.” After a moment, he adds “What are we going to say when we get back? About all this?”
Snyder shrugs. "The truth. Don't know what else there is to say."
“But we might be the only ones,” Geiger says. “And they’ll look at us like it’s our fault, because we made it back. You know?”
Snyder shrugs again. "Then we'll be out on our asses - which we were planning on doing anyway - or in prison, which beats the shit out of being in prison here or dead. Just looking at it, anywhere is better than here. That's what I'm focusing on."
“Yeah,” Geiger says. “Yeah, I guess that’s for the better. So, you good, Don? You know we’re here if you want to talk about - whatever you’re thinking.”
"I..." Snyder sighs. "I'm just thinking about getting everyone back home. That's what I'm thinking about, because thinking about anything else is just depressing."
“You’re doing a good job, Don,” Geiger says. “And I promise you one thing, you are never going to pay for beer ever again. Right, guys?” A general murmur of quiet agreement runs through the container.

Snyder's about to respond when the radio pops to life again.

“We got movement outside, going quiet,” the hoarse soldier whispers. Don stares at his radio. There are 25 soldiers in the other container; Don knows none of their names, and this little snippet might just be the last thing he ever hears from them. 25 soldiers under his command, and the only thing he can do is wait and pray they radio in again. It’s that exact kind of feeling that makes Don so sure that he’s never going into combat again, the quiet certainty of two dozen deaths on your score sheet and no way to come out ahead.

Then the radio pops again - with gunfire. Geiger’s eyes snap open wide at the sudden burst of sound, and Snyder dials it down so far that all they can make out is gunfire so distant, they’re no longer sure if it’s coming from the radio or from outside. Snyder strains to make out the shouting in between, but it’s no use. His mind hasn’t fully processed the situation, but his eyes are ahead of the curve, already misting up.

“Don!” Geiger hisses. “They need our help, now!” Others in the container are already standing up and checking their weapons.
Snyder hisses and motions for everyone to sit back down. "We can't do anything! If they've found them, they've got soldiers all over here! We go outside, we all die!"
Geiger stares at Snyder for longer than is comfortable, and then a few more seconds on top of that. “Goddamn this shit!” he hisses. “Fuck,” he adds, already reaching up to wipe his eyes.
“Don’s right,” Dunhill says from the side, her voice deathly calm. “If they find us…” she begins, but then shakes off that thought. “Somebody has to get home.”
The rest of the container slowly settles back down, some glaring with the most intense hatred Snyder has ever seen, some looking at their feet, and one or two even breaking down into quiet sobs as the battle slowly winds down. A few more desperate pops - sounds like it's from a pistol - come over the radio, followed by a couple of simultaneous WHAPs of the Imperial rifles, and then silence.
Then, an Imperial-sounding voice comes on, sounding out words in English. "I-f tcherre arre ahny al-ive in herre, sta-and up...and youu willh no-t be ha-armed!" The voice sounds too loud, like it's been amplified. There is no response. "(Something dismissive-sounding)," the voice adds, and then nothing else.

The only sound in the container is the click of Snyder turning the radio off, but that says everything he had to say. For a moment, silence reigns, and then Snyder notices soldiers shifting their weight again - but instead of readying weapons, they’re moving closer to hold hands, before one raises his voice to a whisper.
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
Amen,” the other soldiers reply, as loud as they dare to whisper.
“Amen,” Mary Dunhill chokes out.
Geiger feels a hand reach up to him and grab his; he turns and clicks on his flashlight for just a moment, looking down at Peralez, who gives him a stern look and a nod. “Amen,” Geiger says for both of them.
“...amen,” Snyder mumbles, feeling pretty much the opposite of looked over and protected.
punkey 2013-09-29 15:08:53
Imperial Cortex - News at 1000
Special Announcement from People's Emperor Thrax Vikethan

“Citizens of the People’s Imperium! I come to you today with great news - news that the feared and terrible Narsai’i terrorists are not invincible! Yesterday, the Narsai'i military - if you can call it that - launched a suicidal offensive against Botane. Thousands upon thousands of screaming Narsai'i barbarians -" [footage from Gateway security feeds of the Narsai'i rushing through into the Gateport, weapons blazing, is aired behind Thrax] "- poured through the Gateport in the Zi'simsa Kairta co-operative hab blocks, slaughtering innocents and ruthlessly killing the brave Kansatai and Turai posted at the Gateport, many of whom bravely laid down their lives to allow others to escape."

"The Turai quickly moved to contain the Narsai'i invasion, but reports of Narsai'i savagery poured out of the occupied areas. Mass executions, rape, and destruction of property were said to have been common, and so Rav-Odun Nia Lobsha, the Hand that Shields Botane, acted quickly and decisively to stop the Narsai'i savages at her door, and with great sorrow, was forced to fire upon the Gateport. 115 brave citizens of the Imperium gave their lives to halt the Narsai'i incursion, and I ask for a moment of silence and respect for their sacrifice."

[Thrax bows, a moment passes before he resumes] "As our brave Turai pushed inwards to rescue our citizens from Narsai'i terror and abuse, the Narsai'i turned desperate and feral. Many took hostages in a craven and cowardly attempt to use the lives of our citizens to save their own." [A chamakana image of Narsai'i soldiers holding hostages is shown] "But our Turai, ever resourceful, managed to capture almost all of the Narsai'i without injury. Unlike the Narsai'i, who would simply condemn us to starvation and darkness, these captives will receive a full trial for their crimes in the weeks ahead."

"And as for the hated 815, where were they when the Narsai'i needed them? Yes, it is impossible to deny the news of their cowardly theft of the Needleship August Stalwart from the yards above Dantumi - no matter how seditious and traitorous the leaks are - but it is just further proof that the 815 only strike as a matter of convenience! Only picking fights they know they can win! This is a cowardly way to wage war, if you can call their strikes from the shadows war! The Narsai'i, no matter how brutal and savage they are, at least have confronted our forces on the field of battle! The 815 know they cannot win a fair battle, and so stick to their lies and subterfuge. They are the lowest of the low, citizens, their influence a deadly taint on our society that will surely splinter the worlds."

"As for the Narsai'i, your ravilars will keep you informed as to the proceedings in their trial in the coming weeks. Security measures will be increased, so to prevent such a terrible event from happening again. For the sake of the Imperium and all our lives, cooperate with Turai authority in their investigations into Narsai'i, Bashakra'i, and 815 influence. Be safe, citizens, and fare well."
Gatac 2013-09-29 17:14:06
The next day breaks with Hugh heading back to Mesas Negras to continue his training regimen, but his mind isn’t really on the job. Although it’s coming off fresh of a row of good things - Needleship jacked, Garrett and Ngawai are parents, still madly in love with Rhea - the radio silence from the Army staff about Botane is deafening. The only thing Hugh knows is that they’ve been out of contact for days now, with all redial attempts to the Botane gateport failing, and...well, that could mean a lot of things, but Hugh’s not feeling very optimistic about it.

Hugh doesn’t get the livecast, then. By the time Thrax makes his speech, Hugh’s out in the boonies with his troops on an advanced landnav exercise, with full radio silence part and parcel of the crouch-walking through local shrubbery. (And, honestly, did you expect Hugh to remember to check his vox?) But that state of ignorance fades quickly when Hugh returns to base camp in the early afternoon, where the Army guys proceed to - not say much of anything, but the bad news is plain to see on their faces. Hugh grabs his vox and checks his messages, finding several forwards of Thrax’s speech and the Bashakra’i response.

As Hugh listens to that, the ground under his feet seems to shift once again, that dreadful familiar feeling that Something Terrible has happened. Hugh remembers where he was September 11th, and he won’t soon forget where he was July 11th, either. A tree stump provides a seat for him as he plonks down and rewinds and listens to Thrax again, reads the Bashakra’i message again. His eyes are locked downward, drilling a hole all the way to China through the dirt. At some point, he feels the furred hand of Khodash on his shoulder, and when he looks up he sees the rest of his trainees gathered around him, and that’s when he notices that the collar on his shirt is damp like his neck and face, his cheeks flushed red from the tears and his throat scratchy from the “No, no…” he keeps repeating even now. He sees Khodash turn yellow and blue, and then it’s like somebody reaches into his brain and just switches off the parts that know how to form words.

Khodash says something that Hugh doesn’t hear, but he does get up, then tries to push forward, but that’s not working, either; his legs feel like rubber, and it’s only because Khodash is already standing in front of him that she’s able to catch him before he eats dirt. Kurr appears in a flash on the other side, and together, Khodash and Kurr hook Hugh’s arms over their shoulders and steady him. They help him to his tent; while Khodash sets him onto his field bed, Kurr fetches his canteen from his webbing, offering it to Hugh. Hugh’s brain finally seems to shift out of neutral, as he takes the canteen, unscrews the top, takes a swig and nods to Kurr within the space of a few seconds. Another swig, then he hands the canteen back, retrieves a small pack of tissues and gets to work wiping his face dry and clearing his nose. Still, he hasn’t said anything, and so it falls to Khodash to finally break the silence.

”Captain Verrill,” she asks. ”What is wrong?”
Hugh can recognize the words, but it takes a few seconds to put the sentence together, then a few more to think of a response, then a few more to make his mouth start moving - Khodash is about to repeat herself when Hugh speaks up.
”Thank you for your help,” he says. ”Something bad has happened. Come with me.”

Hugh stands up - his legs seem to work again - and slowly walks back out of the tent, with Khodash and Kurr following. Outside, his troop of Wherren stands assembled to a man, with Rodirr to the side giving Hugh a curt nod and a flash of green. Hugh returns the nod, then lets his look sweep the assembly, giving Khodash and Kurr time to join the formation.

”Let’s sit down,” Hugh says, and does just that; the Wherren are puzzled for a moment, but follow suit. When everyone is sitting on the ground, Hugh takes a breath and continues. ”I am sorry for my behaviour, I did not mean to alarm anyone. But...you see, Narsai’i sent 5,000 men to the world of Botane, and I have just gotten the news that...many are dead, and the survivors are prisoners of the Imperium now. They may never come home. And...and we tried to stop it, but they wouldn’t listen, and...I feel terrible. I wish there was something I could do, but there isn’t, and that’s...God help me, but I am sitting here, telling you this, showing you this, because I need you to understand. I need you to understand that I am trying to prepare you for terrible things. I do not wish death upon any of you, but these tears I cried, they will be your tears, and the tears of your parents, your sister and brothers, maybe even your cubs. That is...that is the cost of war. And the only way we can stop...the only thing that will mean no more tears must be cried...is to win this war.”

The Wherren sit in silence as Hugh squeezes his eyes shut, lowering his head for a new wave of tears.

“Oh, God…” he whispers to himself. It is then that Khodash puts her arm around him and pulls him in, and the blue on her fur spreads to the whole group. Hugh soon disappears into the middle of the huddle. Those closest to Hugh try to soothe him with petting and purring, while those on the outside build a ring as if in defense, keening and whining their shared pain into the woods. 5,000 lost souls is enough reason for anyone to mourn.
e of pi 2013-10-01 01:38:30
Luis is out with the Sheen in the field - really in the field, not behind the dirt berms and plywood walls of the killhouses - when his vox chimes. After weeks of patiently training the Sheen piecemeal how to act as actual soldiers and not rampaging killbots, the Sheen soldiers are finally almost ready to be called as such, and as the capper to the training so far the whole Sheen contingent is out in the field, practicing moving as a large unit, spotting pre-constructed “bunkers” and “structures”, and each Sheen squad having a chance to break off and assault these practice scenarios. The month and change of training has paid off - the Sheen are moving together, and even the most recalcitrant Sheen are at least pretending to follow orders.

And then the messages come, courtesy of Luis’ pre-programmed alert for anything regarding the Botane invasion and Bashakra’i intelligence. Luis’ nerves shoot up, and he can feel his hair stand on end as he turns away from the fake battle and pulls up the messages about the real one that’s been haunting his imagination. As Thrax’s pompous speech and the Bashakra’i summary of the invasion’s event fill his vision, he forces himself to take deep breaths even as his hand can’t keep still, curling into a fist and back. They didn’t even get away from the Gate, he thinks. You didn’t even give them a target they could reach. You threw all of them away on making your stupid point, you killed every single one of them, and you couldn’t even make it mean anything. His fist clenches tighter as he forces himself to watch the speech video again, this time with the Bashakra’i analysis of likely impact, his fingertips leaving white marks in his palm, but he barely notices the pain though the haze that’s somehow descended between the images from his optics and his awareness. It takes an explosion of one of the assaults to break him out of it. He turns towards it--for a moment, he’s half expecting to see Hugh, lying on the sand in a marketplace before he comes back to the moment, but it’s only one of the other observers, pointing out the nice use of covering fire, with the large shell at that bunker deliberately drawing fire to let its squad get into better position. Luis nods like he saw, and forces his hand to unclench. This isn’t the time or place, he thinks. It’s hard anyway.

“Bunker’s clear!” Hallelujah It’s Raining Blood shouts as it walks out the door of the bunker, its accelerator arm glowing with castoff heat. It walks over to the command Humvee and nods its sensors towards Luis. “Who do you need blown up next, or is it back to waiting around for us?”
“Bet it’s fucking waiting,” I’ve Got Your Nose grouses as it squeezes its shell out of the bunker.
Luis forces a grin that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “We’ve only got so many bunkers. You can wait while everyone else finishes. Nice teamwork.”
Hal nods again. “Right on, can’t contain our badness, I get you.”

Hal turns to leave when it stops in its tracks - in fact, Luis notices all fifty Sheen stop cold. “Holy fucking shit,” Hal vocalizes. “Hey, boss, are you seeing this shit about Botane?”
“Yeah,” Luis says, “I just got it, too.”
“That’s some stupid fucking bullshit, right?” Hal shakes its sensors. “Can’t believe they tried to pull something like that.”
Luis takes a breath and lets it out before he relies, not wanting to let his first reaction out of his mouth. “It was stupid, and they got good people killed,” he says instead.
“Fucking waste of meat - and I mean that in a good way,” Hal says. It looks back to Luis. “You all right?”
Luis swallows, and nods. “Sure. I’m fine. Let’s get back to it,” he says, a bit too quickly. “It just makes this more important.”
“Right on, back in the saddle, kicking ass,” Hal nods, and walks off. For a long moment, Luis just watches them walk away, his mind elsewhere, then shakes himself and turns back to the other training assaults.
threadbare 2013-10-03 17:33:23
“Midshipman Brand!” Sergeant Caro barks as he marches into the female half of the concrete barracks at Quantico. “On your feet!”
Katelin Brand jumps up from her bunk and snaps to attention. “Yes, Sergeant!”
“You’ve got a phone call, Brand,” Caro says as he comes to a stop in front of her. “Secure your locker and then report to my office.”
“Right away, Sergeant!” Katelin barks.
“You don’t want to keep the GRHDI waiting, Brand,” Caro remarks as he walks off.
Katelin smiles as she quickly - but neatly - returns her reading material to her footlocker before slamming the padlock back into place.

Katelin raps twice on Sergeant Caro’s office door, and he says for her to come in before she can knock a third time. The phone receiver is sitting on his desk, and Caro quickly excuses himself for the phone call. She picks up the receiver and puts it to her ear.
“Dad?” she asks.
“The one and only, kiddo,” comes Hunter’s voice over the line. “Quantico treating you alright?”
“Nah, but I’m kicking its ass, Sir,” Katelin replies with a smile.
“As long as you’re giving better than you get,” Hunter says, in that tone Katelin knows accompanies a smile. “I’m actually going to be in D.C. in a couple days. Work.” The smile-tone fades.
Katelin shifts in her seat. “About what happened on Botane?”
“That’s right. We’re still sorting it all out, but it’s all pretty awful. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.” Hunter sighs.
“I’ve only heard that the invasion went south and a lot of soldiers died,” Katelin says. “What happened, Sir?”
“They had very little advance intel, no one who spoke the language, no complex terrain to hide under, no way of dealing with orbital superiority. Force cohesion, as far as we can tell, lasted about four hours after entry. HQ got hit from space.”
Katelin’s heart sank. “With what?”
“The technical term is an accelerator shot,” Hunter replies. “Basically a hunk of metal moving at a decent fraction of the speed of light. But it’s why their Needleships keep me up at night. If we don’t win in orbit, we can’t win down on the planet. I told them this. I said it many, many times.”
Katelin pauses. She doesn’t want to know, but she has to know. “...what happened after that?”
“Most of the survivors were taken alive.” Hunter says. He knows that it probably means a worse fate in store for them, but there’s no need to drop that all on his daughter at once. “I didn’t expect that. I don’t know what it means. But I want you to know that there is nothing wrong with feeling sad or angry about this,” Hunter continues. “It’s a terrible situation. We all have to keep going, but you don’t do that by burying it deep. Give yourself some space and time to feel it, and then let enough of it go so you can do your job.”
“Dad,” Katelin says, cutting her old man off, “you don’t sound like you’re doing a lot of that. How are you feeling about this?”
Hunter takes a deep long breath, holds it a second or two, and spills it back out of his lungs. “You’re right, kiddo...I have every reason to be mad as hell about this. I want to throw a twenty-pound-binder full of reports at the joint chiefs of staff and tell them the old british admiralty would have had them all hanged for negligence.” Hunter stops himself. “And it’s true, but I know that venom wouldn’t be for the honored dead, or for the greater good. It’d be because I was right and they were wrong and I wanted to rub their nose in it. It’d be for my ego, for getting back at them for slamming the door in my face a month ago. I know I can’t do that, but at the end of the day I’ve still got this balled-up anger in me I don’t know what to do with. I think...I think I might talk to someone here about it.”
Katelin nods. "Anything else you can tell me, Sir?"
A bit of Hunter’s smile comes back into his voice. “Yes: I love you very much, and I’m so proud of you. Keep your head up, we’ll be excited to see you in a few weeks.”
Katelin smiles. "Love you, Sir. Hope to see you soon. Will you be in town for graduation?"
“I’ve got it circled in the calendar, I’ll be there with bells on," Hunter replies. "Or service ribbons. Depending on which one gets back from the cleaners. But yeah, I get the feeling I’ll be in this neck of the woods pretty often for the next while.”
Katelin smiles - well, as much as she can given how her dad sounds. "Good." She pauses. "I love you, dad. Keep fighting the good fight, okay?"
“You know I will. Love you, too. See you soon.”
"See you soon, Sir," Katelin replies, and the line cuts out. Hunter Brand sets down his vox, leans back in his chair, and stares at the ceiling for a few seconds. It could have been her, he thinks, but for the grace of god. Pulling himself forward and standing up, he muses, and it could have been me, too, once upon a time. All I can do is make sure something like this never happens again.
punkey 2013-10-06 07:21:17
While Luis is out in the mix with the Sheen, leading from within, Angel and Erika are towards the back in the command vehicle, watching over the operation from a dozen different cameras - some of which are the Sheen’s optics themselves. Erika seems to have figured out how to balance dressing for business and dressing for combat after many visits to the Mesas Negras PX, while Angel’s still rocking his dapper desert wear. Even on maneuvers, Erika is managing the nascent Kesh Holdings empire, her holodisplay stuck to the wall with a wad of adhesive gum.

Which is why she’s the one who first gets the vox widecasts on Botane. Angel hears his vox ping, but lets Erika pick up the message. He hears her gasp, and when he turns to look, she’s gone pale and the one hand she isn’t holding on with is covering her mouth.
“Oh my God,” she whispers.
Angel raises an eyebrow, but he’s already pretty sure what the news is about - from his experience, there’s not much that can make Erika go pale. He lets the message go through his vox, listening quietly, and his expression goes still. A moment later, he dismisses it, looking down at the screen.
“Right flank has left a 20 meter gap in their coverage.”
“Got it,” the Sheen - Ten Pounds of Flesh - voxed back, and the line tightens back up.
“Good.” The scout turns back to Erika, his expression softening somewhat while he cuts the vox for a moment to speak with her privately. “First time you’ve been on the receiving end of news like this?”
Erika quietly nods.

“I’m afraid I’m going to make it a little worse. You’re going to be minding the shop for...awhile.” Angel turns back, looking at the screens for a moment, more so he doesn’t have to look directly at her. “I’m going to be occupied. And when this gets out...well, you have the misfortune of being the personal assistant of one of 815’s members, and one of the faces of a very visible little part of the rest of the galaxy here on Earth.”
Erika swallows hard and slowly nods. She’s still pretty pale from shock, but Angel can see the determined spark in her eyes come back a bit. “I knew that was part of the job from the start, boss,” she says.
He smiles. “Good. The men and women out there...they’re scared, they’re trapped, and they need help. They’ve been told, been trained, to believe the higher ups know what they’re doing - and they’ve just been confronted with the fact that they’ve got no fucking idea. More to the point, a lot of those same higher ups have been as well. People are going to start to panic and...that doesn’t do anyone any good.” His face softens a little more. “And if you need to talk, talk. To me, to Barnes…”
Erika nods again. “Maybe. It’s just...it’s more than I can process right now. Maybe later. Is there really no way we can get them back?”
“In the short term?” Angel shakes his head. “No. But we’ll work something out. At the very least, we’ll make it an expensive victory.”

“Okay,” Erika says. She takes a deep breath. “Okay. So, what are we going to do?”
“Right now? We’re going to finish this exercise. Then I expect we’ll be going to DC so Garrett can have his fill of staring at people at the upper end of the government pay scale with that look in his eye. Then you’re going to keep the lights on while your boss does some fairly ugly things.” He sighs softly. “And also go to Gorlan’s party. Don’t let me forget that, please.”
“I won’t, sir,” Erika says. “I think we could all maybe use something like that soon.”
Angel nods. “We’ll think of something. It’s going to get worse Erika, in pretty short order. But then it’ll get better. There’s good people on our side, and everyone likes the underdog.”


Garrett gets Thrax's gloating Cortex widecast and the Bashakra'i intel follow-up at the same moment Luis does, while he watches Arlana and Arketta lead one half of the combatives cross-training as the Marine and Army instructors work with the Bashakra'i. Instead of rage, though, all Garrett feels is a sad sense of resignation. He'd warned them, told them time and time again that the old ways of doing things would be suicide against the Imperium, but… He sighs. He did what he could, and now he needs to do the same.

"Water break!" Garrett shouts. "Let's take a water break, everyone, time to hydrate."
Both the Turai and soldiers look at each other and then shrug, as Lt. Decker and Sergeant Lee follow Arketta and Arlana over to Garrett.
Arketta can read Garrett's expression. "What is going on?"
"Thrax just broke radio silence on Botane," Garrett says. "It's...bad. Thrax claims that the Turai have captured almost the entire invasion force, and intel from the Bashakra'i supports that claim."
Decker stares at Garrett for a moment, until Lee puts a hand on his shoulder. “Lieutenant?” Lee asks.
“I can’t believe this,” Decker says; he turns to look at Lee, who removes his hand, then turns back to face Garrett. “What do we know?” he breathes, looking a little dizzy from the shock. “Do we have numbers, do we have any other reports, where are the survivors and what the hell are we doing next?”
Garrett takes a deep breath. He's expecting to have to have this same discussion to a whole bunch of confused and pissed-off Army grunts in a few minutes, but one guy is bad enough. "We don't have any specific numbers yet, but the Bashakra'i cells on the planet report only a handful of soldiers made it to their protection - a couple hundred, at most. Everyone else, they believe has been either captured or killed. The Bashakra'i had time to do some investigation of their own before the system lockdown was lifted, and their report is pretty comprehensive." Garrett waits for Arketta to finish translating for her mother. "There was an orbital strike from a Needleship after the Imperials shut off power for the Gateport, that's what the connection loss was. The strike vaporized the Gateport, command, the supplies and heavy weapons, and part of the surrounding hab blocks. After that, the Turai moved in and mopped up - the Bashakra'i guess that no more than five or six hundred died in the attack, with most of the invasion force being captured."
“Holy shit,” Lee says.
“Okay,” Decker says. “Okay. Got it. What’s the plan, Agent Davis?”
"That's the thing - those captured have already been taken to the Arena," Garrett replies.
Arketta and Arlana, who have both been silent save Arketta's translation of Garrett's English for Arlana's benefit, both look away and curse at the same moment, and look like they've been forced to eat a mouthful of lemon rind.
"The Arena is the Imperium's supermax prison," Garrett continues. "We have no idea where it is or what any of the gate codes are. We can't get them back."
“But you’re gonna find out,” Decker says. “That’s what 815 does, right? This is what you do.” He looks at Garrett. “I mean, I know it’s going to take a while to plan, I don’t expect you to pull a mission out of your ass right now, but we are going to come and get our boys back. Right?”
"It is not possible," Arlana replies sadly, her arms crossed.
“Bullshit,” Lee says. “Half the stuff you do ain’t possible and you do it anyway. What’s different about this?”
"We do not know even where to start looking," Arketta explains.
Garrett nods. "The Arena, as far as the Bashakra'i know, is in a system with no inhabited planets, and the codes to the Gateways were not in the part of the Cortex we obtained. What little we do know says that an invasion from within would be suicide, and we have no intel on where they are being kept inside. We have nothing at all to work with, guys. We have less than nothing."
“Then find something!” Decker snarls. “You want to get the Pentagon on your side? Go in there and tell them what you need to do this. Doesn’t matter how crazy it is, doesn’t matter how difficult it is, but our boys deserve more than a ‘Can’t do’!”

Garrett nods. He wants to shout back that he's damn fucking right they do, that they deserved better than being filled with bullshit hope before they were sent on a suicide mission with zero chance of success, that they deserved better than having their lives thrown away for nothing, that this is where things are and that they're damn good but nothing short of a fucking miracle is bringing those soldiers home. He wants to, but he doesn't. Instead, he just nods. "They do. But that's all we've got. I can give you stacks of reports to convince you, but I know that's not going to make you want to believe me any better. I want to say we're gonna mount up tomorrow, believe me, I do, but there is literally nothing we can do."

Decker stares at Garrett for a moment. “I thought they were wrong about you,” he says. “But you’re exactly what they said you were: a fair-weather commando in way over his fucking head. You don’t have the grit to get this done. But I’m sure the Army will find someone who does.” He snorts. “I’ll go tell the boys,” he says, then turns and stomps off.
“I’ll get him,” Lee says, softer than Garrett’s ever heard him talk before. “Decker! Wait up!” Lee shouts, jogging to catch up with his Army counterpart. Decker tries to ignore Lee’s intercession, until the smaller Marine steps in front of him. They exchange words, almost loud enough for Garrett to make out, with Decker giving him some angry stares throughout. Finally, Decker turns to leave, but Lee puts his hand on the Lieutenant’s arm again and extracts a begrudging nod before leaving Decker to walk off to his quarters. Lee shakes his head a little, then walks back over to Garrett, Arketta and Arlana. “He’s gonna get some rest,” Lee says. “I’ll handle the troops. You keep me looped in, alright?”
Garrett nods. "You know literally as much as I do at this point. You have your vox and holodisplay on you?"
“Not right this moment, but it’s in my range bag,” Lee says.
"I can send you everything I have so you can have everything at your disposal," Garrett says. "The next move is we're giving the bad news to everyone here, together, and then we break for the day. I'm going to be in the DFAC, and I'd like all of you to join me. Anyone from our group wants to ask questions, we're going to provide answers. Today is now all about helping people deal with this. Agreed?"
“Agreed,” Lee says.
Arketta nods. "'I agree,'" Arlana says.
"Good," Garrett replies. "Let's get started. Sergeant Lee, you and I will take the Narsai'i, Arlana and Arketta, you handle the Bashakra'i."

It’s a long day before Garrett finally makes his way back to his apartment. Breaking the news to the Narsai’i went about as well as he could have expected: silence and shock, held in just long enough to get to the dining hall. There, the question and answer period was much less one-on-one than Garrett would have liked: pretty much all the Narsai’i surrounded Garrett, Arketta and Arlana and asked one question, the same question Lt. Decker asked before them: when is the rescue mission that 815 is leading heading out? As Garrett, Sgt. Lee, Arketta and Arlana all explained both to the group and individually the impossibility of a rescue from the Arena, more than a few soldiers - particularly those from the Army - had the same reaction as Decker: disbelief and anger, mostly directed towards Garrett. None of them took a swing, but some of them certainly looked like they wanted to. Garrett tried to answer their questions as respectfully as completely as he could, but telling someone that their comrades in arms were goners, not to mention the undercurrent of betrayal that most of the soldiers were only dimly aware of, was never going to be easy.

One bright spot did come out of all of that pain, however. Arketta and Arlana’s request for the Bashakra’i to be available for the Narsai’i did not fall on deaf ears - to the contrary, every single one of the Bashakra’i on the base, Turai or not, showed up at the dining hall. They all knew exactly what it feels like to have a comrade be captured by the Imperium from personal experience, and they all felt an obligation to help their squadmates through it. Where Garrett knew his words would fail, the Bashakra’i stepped up and helped their Narsai’i friends at least start to understand what’s really going on. When Garrett finally stepped out, he wasn’t exactly looked at kindly, but there was a lot more understanding than anger behind the eyes of the Narsai’i.

Garrett quietly put his gear down, not wanting to disturb one of the blessedly quiet moments created by Naloni’s slumber, and gently sat down on the sofa next to Naloni’s crib. Ngawai tiptoed out of their room and sat down next to Garrett, wrapped her arms around his side and gave him a peck on the cheek as the two of them sat together, neither one needing or wanting to put their feelings on today’s horrible news into words.
“I did all I could,” Garrett whispers. “Right?”
Ngawai nods. “More than anyone else. It’s not your fault they wouldn’t listen.”
“I’ve certainly said that enough.” Garrett sighs. “And now, we get to deal with the aftermath.”
Ngawai nods again, and Garrett leans his head against hers as he holds her tightly and watches his newborn daughter sleep.
punkey 2013-10-06 14:08:28
Luis sits back at the table in the living room of the berth as early evening works its way towards late night. A set of scrap Interceptor circuit boards lies on the table with a set of tools, partially pulled apart. Earlier, Luis had been looking through them, looking for the failure that blew them out--it’s all good to know the theory, but sometimes you just need to get hands on and see the thing in practice. However, by now, the tools have been sitting untouched, as Luis has been distracted by more important matters.

“Yeah! Come on Ashdaha'i!” Luis yells, and slams his coffee mug down on the table as one of the local team members manages to dodge a shot, then wrest their way out of a tight corner before returning the favor on their attacker with far more success. The local ward team’s had a good night of it tonight, and the scores flickering next to the reptilian toothy mouth in the scores next to the feed in his HUD reflect it--no blow out, but a solid lead so far in spite of tough competition.

Luis stands up to pour another glass of water from the autochef when he hears the tone for Brinai's vox in his ear. An eyebrow at the holo mutes the match noise, and he picks up. “Stanhill here.”
Brinai sounds out of breath at the other end of the connection, and Luis can hear people shouting orders to clear a deck in the background. “There’s a container from Botane docking in twenty minutes - we think it’s some of the Narsai’i that escaped.”
Luis blinks. “Oh, thank god. Some of them made it out?”
"We're about to find out," Brinai says. "Bay 25, level 18. I need you both there."
Luis nods. “All right. We’ll be right up.” The line goes dead as Brinai ends the call.

Luis stands and clears all the match scores and the feed from his HUD, then steps to the door to the bedroom and knocks at the doorway molding. “Babe? You awake?”
Arketta mumbles and waves at Luis.
“Brinai just called,” Luis says. “She thinks they’ve got some of those poor bastards off Botane, and they want us up there.”
"Shit..." she mumbles and rolls upright. "Give me five to get into my carapace." She yawns and rubs her eyes. "You should do that too."
Luis nods. “Yeah, I know. Was already going to.”
Arketta pulls her sleek top off as she stands up, and waves a hand at Luis. "Skinsuit, please."
“Sure, “Luis says, “If you’ll pass me my boots.”

The tube ride to the sector is tense and quiet as Arketta downs a can of the first mild stim she could find. Luis just can’t help thinking over and over about the ravilar feeds about the brushing of the Army beachhead on Botane. His hand twitches a bit, then he rubs his eyebrows nervously. Poor bastards, he thinks. I’m going to make sure the fucker who got you into this pay for everything they put you through because they were too stupid and pleased with themselves to pay any attention to the actual god-damned reality.

The adit for the docking sector is awash in yellow light from emergency beacons that have emerged from their sconces in the floor and ceiling, and the sector Kansat bar the doors from any unauthorized entry. Luis and Arketta are authorized, though, and are swiftly escorted to a skimmer to the dock in question. The presence goes from Bashakra'i Kansat to Turai, and minutes later, Luis and Arketta are deposited at the outer edge of a very secure looking perimeter. A couple dozen Turai are standing guard around the airlock, while four teams of medicae stand just behind cover.

And in the center of it all is Brinai. She walks over to the two of you, and Arketta bows a salute.
"Reporting as ordered, ma'am," Arketta says.
"Thank you both for getting here so quickly," Brinai says. "We have our own Narsai'i translators, but having one born of their planet might help."
“Of course,” Luis says. “Anything we can do.”
"Just be in position over there," Brinai says, and points to the keystone position of the defensive arch. "I am handing Rav-Samal to you and Arketta - the scene is yours." She gets a sour look. "Bello has threatened to harangue me every day if I am injured tonight."
Arketta is surprised at her sudden promotion, then laughs at Brinai's statement. "Thank you, ma'am."
Brinai bows to you both. "Good luck, Rav-Samals."
Luis nods. “Thanks.” He turns and surveys the arrangements--it looks in order as far as he can see--and then back to Arketta. “How do you want to play this?”
"Pretty much as is - keep a strong perimeter and wait for the doors to open," Arketta replies.
Luis nods, and pulls up the dock status feeds on a corner of his HUD, tracking the docking progress.


Don Snyder’s having one of those awful nightmares, the ones where bad things happen to you and nothing you try changes anything. The special thing about his nightmare is that it’s been going on for three days and he hasn’t slept for any of it. Adding to the long list of things he couldn’t do anything about is watching one of his friends die in slow motion. Peralez is in a bad way, barely conscious - and that’s relative to the rest of the passengers in this sweaty, suffocating, pitch-black hellhole. Slipping into one of those wakeful moments that feel hyper-lucid, he thinks that the only way he’s kept sane is by losing track of how long they’ve been in this thing, and keeping faith that they’ll eventually get out.

“Eventually” arrives on cue with a loud clang that shakes the whole container. Don takes a gulp of stale air and grips his rifle tight. Heaven or hell - time to find out.


“Hard seal,” Luis says aloud as the clang of metal-on-metal echoes through the receiving bay. In his HUD, a telltale flashes from red to yellow. After a moment, it cycles on to green as a couple of pneumatic hisses indicate the docking collar being filled with air. The pressure holds. “All right, soft seal. They’re locked in.” He turns to Arketta and says, “Showtime.” The Bashakra’i security forces hardly need to be told, the sounds of a docking seal being one you learn fast living on or around ships, so when Luis steps forward, he’s got everybody’s attention. “Stand by,” he says, and triggers the lock doors.

The door hesitates for a moment, then cycles open with a well-practiced groan. Luis gets a whiff of the air from inside the container, and it’s - well, you really don’t want to know what it smells like, but it’s two days’ worth of that. It really makes the Turai - who are closest to the airlock - question their decision to show up in only partial carapace. But beyond the nauseating funk, Luis can make out silhouettes stirring in the dark, most of them on the floor or leaned against the walls of the container. Fortunately for the purposes of identifying friend or foe, the sound of an M4 chambering a round is distinctive enough, and that’s before one of the shadows gives a halting, Boston-accented ”Hello?”.
Luis forces his New Hampshire accent to slide back out a bit as he replies. “Who’s in there?”
There’s a moment before the shadow answers. “Golf.”
“Tango,” Luis replies.
“Oh Jesus Christ,” the shadow answers, and multiple safeties click on inside the container.
“This is Luis Stanhill of the 815,” Luis says. “We’ve got medical teams standing by. How many do you have in there, and how many need help?”

The immediate replies are whispers and the first sounds of weeping as the soldiers inside the container try to process that they’re really home free. Somebody inside bangs on the wall twice, then that sign is repeated a few more times. Finally, the soldiers quiet down enough for their leader to answer Luis properly. “We’re just...we’re coming out,” he says. It takes a few more seconds for the sound of footsteps, but finally two soldiers stumble out with a third hanging in between them. They’re all down to their sweat-patched undershirts, dirty and unshaven and close to collapsing themselves, but they clearly had their heart on getting out of this on their own feet. As the two hand off their wounded friend to the medicae, the remaining soldiers trickle out, and by the end of that, Luis counts 25 survivors, stumbling out of the container, blinking their eyes at the light, and more than a few simply grabbing onto the nearest Turai and bawling their eyes out at the impossible dream of being rescued coming true.

Their leader - a scrawny guy that brings back Luis’s memories of his time before Delta - opens his mouth again, though his eyes won’t quite focus on Luis. “Corporal Snyder, Sir,” he says. “Did...did anyone else make it?”
Luis locks eyes gently. “You’re the first we’ve managed to recover. We don’t know yet about any others.”
“...okay,” Snyder says. ”We’re…” He looks around, seeming to actually take in his environment just then. “Excuse me asking, but where are we?”
“You’re on Atea,” Luis says. “The Bashakra’i worldship. You’re safe here.”
Snyder just looks around some more, like he’s trying to process a few too many things at once, though his mouth doesn’t hang open quite wide enough to call it slack-jawed. “Need to report in,” he mumbles to himself, but doesn’t look at Luis.
Luis looks over the Corporal, barely keeping his feet and looking like Hell raked over. “We’ll be reporting your arrival to the Army, you and your people,” Luis says. “You can get some food, some sleep, and then get your full report together.”
“I think I need some water first,” Snyder says, then looks straight at Luis for the first time. “And then I need something to drink.”
Luis meets his gaze. “We’ve got you covered there, too,” he says, and signals one of the medicae over. As he does, though, he thinks back to the long walk across the Sheen world, scared out of his mind and way out of what he thought of as his depth, and what he wanted to hear then. “You got your people home, it’s the least we can do.”
“Yeah,” Snyder says. “My people.” He shakes his head. “Sir, you’ve got no idea.”
punkey 2013-10-06 14:08:50
It takes a few hours for Snyder to make it to the infirmary, which hardly feels like one. It’s not the Imp labels or the uniforms or the people or the fact that they are on a gigantic freakin’ spaceship in the exact astronomical middle of nowhere, it’s the smell, or rather the lack of it. Don Snyder can’t process the idea of “hospital” disconnected from the twin bites of antiseptic and rubber. Still, he’s made some progress on dezombiefication. The beer helped a bit.

With his Bashakran escort guiding the way, he finds the room where they put up Peralez, knocks on the sliding door and then walks in a second later. The only safe thing Snyder can say about this is that it’s a room with a bed and Perry’s lying in that bed - the interior continues to be Imp through and through, with a couple of devices attached to that walls that Snyder can’t rightly tell what they are. At least the chairs look like chairs: Geiger and Dunhill are using two of those, sitting by Perry’s bed, with Dunhill holding his hand and rubbing it gingerly.

“Hey,” Snyder says. “How’s he doing?”
“Hey,” Geiger replies. “Hey, Don. Perry’s okay. The doctors say - well, the Imp terp says the doctors say he’s lost a lot of blood, but they’ve got him stable for now.” Catching the look on Don’s face, Geiger quickly expands his report. “He’s just sleeping. He’ll be fine, Don.”
“Good, that’s good,” Snyder says. There’s an empty chair in the room for him, but he doesn’t sit down yet. “You guys? They get you something to eat?”
“Yeah,” Geiger says. “We got something deep-fried, they called it spink.” Geiger shrugs. “Tastes like chicken with diabetes.”
Snyder cracks a small smile. “The drinks are good, though,” he says.
“Anything from the Army?” Geiger asks.
“Yeah,” Snyder says. “I spoke to Hamilton.”
“Pretty angry,” Snyder says. “He was pretty angry.”
“Well, that makes four of us,” Geiger replies, looking to Dunhill for a nod. “Did you tell him off?”
Snyder sighs. “He wants us back on Earth for a debrief, all of us. I told him I’d see what I can do, but…”
“And he didn’t like the ‘but’,” Geiger says.
“No, he didn’t like it,” Snyder says.
“God, what an asshole,” Geiger says. “Anybody needs to be grilled, it’s the guy whose fucking idea this fucking bullshit death march -”
“Warren,” Dunhill throws in, looking up from Peralez. “Warren, this is not the time, okay?”
“When is it time?” Geiger throws back.
“Let’s be calm, okay?” Snyder says. “Perry’s sleeping. We should all sleep. We’re not” - he pinches the bridge of his nose - “we shouldn’t be making decisions right now.”
“I’ll stay with Perry,” Dunhill offers.
“Good, thank you,” Snyder says. “Warren?”
“...I guess I could use some sleep,” Geiger says. “Okay, fine. But we’ll talk about this tomorrow.”
“Yeah, tomorrow,” Snyder says. “Goodnight, Mary.”
“Goodnight, guys,” Dunhill says, giving the two of them a soft smile.

Snyder turns to leave, but before he can figure out which button to push to make the door slide open, it does so all on its own and reveals an elderly woman, just a bit taller than he is. Her dark tan skin and two stone-faced young guards mark her out as one of the Imps, and an important one at that.
“Are you all the leaders?” she asks in a thickly accented English.
“Uh, yeah,” Snyder answers. After a moment, he extends his hand. “Corporal Snyder, Ma’am, these are Privates Geiger and Dunhill.”
The woman bows to him. “I am Brinai. I am the leader of the Bashakra’i.” She looks around, then notices Snyder’s hand and shakes it. “Do you need...anything?”
“Um,” Snyder says. Then he says nothing for a bit, his tired brain trying to weigh whether they do need something versus whether it would be insulting to ask for something or not ask for something, and -
She reaches out and puts a hand on his shoulder. “Anything,” she says, emphatically. “You are…” she struggles for the word. “Heroes. Just ask.”
Snyder seems to relax a bit at that. “Ma’am, all I want right now is a hot shower and a warm bed.”
She nods. “Yes.” She motions for Snyder and the others to follow her. “Come.”
“Thank you, Ma’am,” Snyder says.
“Thank you, Ma’am,” Geiger repeats.
“I’d like to stay here,” Dunhill says.
“Yeah, she’s…” Snyder says. “One of us needs to stay with our friend.” After a moment, he adds “She’s taking first watch.”
The rebel woman nods. “Good.” She turns and starts to walk down the hallway. The guys follow her, out of what seems to be the main hospital and into a side wing (?) of the place, where a few open doors reveal sparsely furnished bedrooms with attached showers.
“Living it up like a Sergeant,” Geiger says, but Snyder’s in no mood for jokes. He’s just taking in the surroundings, locking eyes with a few of the medics that seem to be using those rooms.
“Here looks good,” Snyder says, cocking his head toward an empty room. “If that’s alright with you, Ma’am.”
Brinai nods. “It is. Stay as long as you want. If you need anything, tell the ‘medicae’ to get Brinai.”
“Got it,” Snyder says. “Thank you, Ma’am.” And that’s all the ceremony he needs to walk off into one of the rooms, shutting the door behind him. Geiger looks after his friend, concern building on his face.
“Sorry about that, Ma’am,” Geiger says. “It’s...it’s been a long day.”
The old rebel sagely nods. “I understand, I do.” She bows to Geiger, then motions towards the showers. “Go, clean yourself. You...you smell like a ’scrofa’, a bad one.” She smirks at him.
Geiger smirks back. “Yes, Ma’am.” With a curt nod, Brinai leaves Geiger be, and after he watches her leave, he follows Snyder into the room. There are six beds inside; four are empty, one has a medicae taking a power nap, and the last one - well, Snyder’s sitting on that bed, elbows rested on his thighs, slumped over and looking at the floor.
“Hey, Don?” Geiger asks.
“You can go first,” Snyder answers, not looking up. After a moment, he starts stripping off his boots. “I’m just gonna sleep.”
“...okay,” Geiger says. “Uh, Don?”
“I just...I just wanted to say thank you again,” Geiger says. “For bringing us home.”
Snyder doesn’t respond.
“Okay, so,” Geiger says. “Goodnight, Don.”
“‘night, Warren,” Snyder mumbles, then lies down, turns towards the wall and buries himself in the bed.
punkey 2013-10-07 06:29:40
One of the many improvements to Mesas Negras with the GRHDI expansion of the base is the creation of a proper base watering hole. Patterned off of the Imperial spraycrete impromptu expansion of the Diego Garcia bar, it's got more than enough space to handle at least half of the base's drinking population - which does it little good as the whole drinking population shows up on a routine basis. Still, everyone squishes in and finds a way.

It's been two days since the news of the disaster that the Botane invasion turned into made it to Earth, and while the arrival of a bare handful of survivors through various clandestine routes has raised spirits a bit, a few dozen surviving soldiers out of an invasion force of 5,000 is still a disaster of historic proportions. Many of the Army soldiers, emboldened by alcohol, are still openly discussing a rescue mission - not how that would work, since nobody’s got a good idea for that, but just reassuring each other that if there’s one, they’ll all be fighting for first place in line to go. The Marines are a little more withdrawn - one, heartless as it sounds, it wasn’t exactly their guys getting lost, and two, the Corps never quite got over World War 2, so the comparisons to the horrific losses in the island-hopping Pacific theater comes easily and places the whole effort into an easier-to-digest mental framework. Still, more than a few beers are bought and raised in honor of the fallen and the lost. Every night the last two nights, baseball and NASCAR - the summer staples of military base viewing - have been suspended for watching the nightly news. The first night, it was to wait for the horrible news to break - but it never came. Army orders came down the next morning - Botane was still classified Top Secret, and no one was to speak to anyone about the news, and it was heavily implied that even they shouldn't have found out. Now, two days later, the news has still not broken, and the wait for the rest of the world to find out has taken a grimly comedic turn as the US military sits on the capture of more than 4,000 US Army soldiers.

“Man,” Danielsson says, nursing his beer. “This is bullshit.” He fishes out his smartphone and shows it around. “You see this? My sister’s been calling all day, because nobody’s telling her what happened to Cody.” He looks around.
"Cody?" Leaj asks. The two Bashakra'i still have thick-as-mud accents, but they've picked up enough English to get by.
“My brother-in-law, the only decent guy in Worst Cav,” Danielsson says. Noting Leaj’s confusion, he continues. “First Cavalry, that’s a unit. And BIL means he’s my sister’s husband. Anyway, the fuck am I supposed to do now? The nobles are playing it hush-hush while my sis is bawling her eyes out not even knowing that my best mate is dead, or...worse. Fuck! Man, this is some fucking bullshit.”
Shenloma and Leaj talk a moment in Imperial as they collectively translate Danielsson's rant, but when the message gets through, Shenloma nods. "That is bull-shit," he nods. "Why are your leaders making you keep this quiet?"
“Because fucking PSYOPS is still trying to figure out how to make this look good,” Danielsson says, less fiery now. “Like something - honorable, and less fucking retarded. Fuck ‘em. All fucking nobles must fucking hang. I’m not even kidding, fuck these guys and their mothers, too. Either they finally get off their ass, send a search party to find their balls and admit they fucked it up, or…”
"Hey, calm down, man," Boyd says. "It's bullshit, yes, but getting worked up and making all this noise isn't going to help anyone."
"It is..." Leaj turns to Shenloma and they exchange more words in Imperial. "It is shameful," she continues. "Your friends gave their lives for your leaders, and now they hide that they lead your people to die." She shakes her head and takes a drink of her own beer. "We would never hide such things from the families."
"Then you've got better people up top than we do," Danielsson mutters bitterly into his beer.
"But there's nothing we can do, so...just cool it," Boyd replies.
"Fuck," Danielsson curses, and Shenloma and Leaj take a sympathy drink with their squadmate. Danielsson looks down at his smartphone as he fiddles with it for a moment, but then stops. "You know, there is something I can do." He looks up at the rest of the table. "But only if you all swear that this stays just at this table."
Shenloma and Leaj nod immediately, but Boyd hesitates. "I don't know, man, this is a big OPSEC violation."
"What fucking good is OPSEC when it hides five-fucking-thousand captured soldiers?" Danielsson shoots back.
Boyd looks at his beer, then sighs and nods his head.
"Thanks, buddy," Danielsson replies, then looks at Shenloma and Leaj. "Thanks, all of you." He unlocks his smartphone and hits the speed dial for his sister. "Hey, sis, it's me. Listen, are you...alone? Because I've got some things you need to know."