Jade Imperium - The War At Home

punkey 2011-03-14 20:38:31
Ngawai shakes her head. "It's always the ones where you're looking into your own people that seem to go sideways."


The rebels had already moved your bags to the luggage quarantine area near the Gateway, so once the team decided that it's time to go, it's a short walk over to the Gateway. As the device charges up again, Davis embraces Brinai, then bows a salute to the rebel leader.

"Wait, but be ready," Davis says.
"Hmph, always am, Garrett," Brinai says. "I've been suspecting this day might come."
"We're not there yet," Davis says. "Have a little faith, Brinai."
"We'll see."

As Brinai walks around and says her farewells to the rest of the team, Davis stands with his wife, arm in arm with her as the Gateway's humming grows more insistent. Finally, the glyphs light up on the gateway, and the dialer mechanism spins around the gateway, activating the glyphs to Diego Garcia in rapid succession. Everyone looks away for the gateflash, after which stands the steel iris of the Diego Garcia Gateway.

"*Atea Gateway, this is Diego Garcia Control, please transmit authorization codes.*"
The man standing at the shielded kiosk brings up the software for the rolling authorization codes. "Dukka, Six, Jonsani, Esti, Alaph, Nine."
A few seconds pass while the codes are verified. "*Thank you, Atea. What's the cargo this time, Tanmu?*"
The rebel looks at his manifest window. "Materials for GRHDI research..." He throws a glance over to the team, who are waiting to see if they'll be given clearance to enter, or if Simmons has already followed through on his threat. "And Task Force 815 and cargo."
"*Hold one second,*" Diego Garcia voxes back. There's a few nervous seconds while something goes on on the other side of the Gateway. "*Okay, Task Force 815 and cargo are cleared to enter. Welcome home.*"

The iris opens, allowing the team to see through to the other side. A few dozen people are standing on the other side, clapping and saying something that doesn't transmit through the Gateway. Davis shrugs to the team, and steps through with Ngawai.

On the other side, it looks like all the rebels on base, a few dozen of the off-duty Earth military personnel, as well as a couple of the expatriots from Whiirr have shown up to applaud the team's efforts on Hedion. Slaps on the back are given, handshakes shared, and beers liberated from the Hitch'n Post are passed around (except for Ngawai, who receives another hated ginger ale, but smiles and drinks it anyway).

The US military officers running the Gateway, after getting their own thanks in, shout over the PA for the celebration to move away from the Gateway platform, and the celebration moves outside. It's already starting to peter down a bit, but most of the rebels are still there, going one-by-one through the team, saying their thanks and telling them their version of how big a win they think Hedion is.
Gatac 2011-03-14 21:10:48
Atea Gateway

Brinai walks over to Hugh, motioning for him to join her slightly away from the rest of the team.

"I didn't tell him anything about you," Hugh says.
Brinai motions for Hugh to come closer, so she can whisper to him. He has to bend over to put his ear to old woman's level. "I know that you, under normal circumstances, are a decent and honorable man, Captain Verrill," she says. "You were doing what you thought was right, and didn't know what kind of stakes you were playing for, yes?" Her voice, low and even, sounds like every pissed-off superior officer Hugh has ever had to encounter. Even though she's a good six or eight inches shorter than Hugh, he feels the return of the old fear of being dressed down by the Captain coming back.

"Let's cut this short because I'm not here to talk about my feelings," Hugh says. "Being wrong sucks. Being stupid sucks. And I wish everyone could just take a turn kicking me in the balls so we can move on."
Brinai's grip on Hugh's shoulder tightens. Now it feels like a proper military dressing-down. "Then let me be the first in line. You were stupid. You let yourself be blinded by the waving banner of your people, and let a provacateur into my ship, and put my people in danger. You cannot be this stupid, Captain Verrill. Many of your people are short-sighted and hateful of us. Simmons is just the start. It is time for you to open your eyes and see what problems lie in front of you, because we might not withstand you blindly stepping on another sunmine. Understood?" Hugh can hear the difference between the "doddering tough old woman" front that Brinai usually wears and this, the "ruthless, shoot-you-in-the-head-and-dump-you-in-the-protein-vats" side of the rebel leader.
"Copy that, Ma'am," Hugh says. "Won't happen again."
"Good," Brinai says, and releases Hugh, taking a step back. She gives him a smile. "Because you're a good man, Captain. If you pull your head out of your ass, you might just become a great one."
"Partial credit if I shove Simmons's head up his ass?"
"Consider it an extra assignment, Captain," Brinai says, and walks off.



In between slaps on the back and congratulations, Davis turns to Hugh. "Well, at least we're getting a warm welcome here," he says.
"Yeah, but I'd like to move before it stops being warm and becomes hot."
skullandscythe 2011-03-15 01:07:22
Atea Gateway

Brinai walks up to Zaef and fixes him with a look that communicates the complicated relations between the two of them. "Zaef, are you sure about this?"

Zaef glares at her for a second. "You sound like my mother."

Brinai returns the look. "I am merely looking out for one of my more skilled members. It would be a shame to lose you to a Narsai'i prison or whatever else they will do to off-worlders that they catch defying their leaders' short-sighted decrees. You must be careful, Zaef."

"I do not plan on killing anyone. Not even Simmons. Save your breath. Your concern is touching, but it is better spent elsewhere, perhaps even on yourself. " Zaef rolls his eyes. "Though I doubt you would be so selfish. I will persevere."

Brinai bristles at Zaef's comments. "Dammit, Utari -" She stops herself and spends the energy smoothing her shawl and tunic out. "Just - I was young and impetuous, once. It was a long time ago, yes," she says, cutting Zaef's comment off. "I know what it is like to be loyal to a team, to your friends. But, just be sure that where they go, you can return from as well. The Narsai'i who despise us might not be so kind to you as they are to their own." She folds her hands together.

Zaef throws his hands up in exasperation. "Do you think I'm stupid, Brinai? I am aware that the Narsai'i through that gate may be prejudiced against me for who I am. You might even say I've seen this firsthand. I would not go if it wasn't worth it. And I would not rush off to get myself captured or killed-I plan on living through this war and making full use of the freedom I'll win. I'll come back, one way or another. If you-yes, you specifically-will have me."

Brinai growls. "Utari -" She takes another deep breath. She seems to do that a lot when she's talking with Zaef. "Just take my advice and...interest to heart, will you? And of course we will have you. That's why I'm telling you this, because it would be difficult to find a replacement shipmaster of your skills." Her rage peters out again, and this time Zaef sees the genuine fear that Brinai has that Zaef won't make it back from Narsai. "Is that clear?"

Zaef fixes her with an even stare and a scowl. "It would be even harder to find someone of your calibur, which is why I tell you this. I will not come back at all if someone who doesn't have your leadership skills is bossing me around. I will take care of myself, Brinai, always have, always will-and you should do the same." Zaef shakes his head. "You do yourself far too little credit."

"Credit is only due to our accomplishments, and I have much left to do, Zaef," Brinai says, then nods her farewell and walks off. Zaef nods in return, then turns to the gate, waiting for it to open.

She'll die before she learns otherwise, the stubborn old tarantek.


Zaef doesn't like attention; it makes him feel awkward and it shows, but he tries to entertain the men anyway.

Probably be a long time before someone genuinely acts this nicely towards me again.
punkey 2011-03-17 07:26:20
Atea Gateway

Arketta stands next to Luis, arm around his shoulder as she flips through her vox's news feeds. She looks up from the holodisplay when Brinai walks up to the two of them. She bows a greeting to the both of you and, in a Earth-centric gesture, extends her hand to shake Luis'.

"Good luck to the both of you," Brinai says.
Luis grins, and shakes the offered hand. "Thanks, Brinai," he says. His grin fades a little as he continues. "Your support means a lot to us. To the whole team."
"After all you have done for us, backing you and providing a home is the least we can do," Brinai says. "I hope the two of you find happiness in spite of the efforts of your leaders. Relationships...they are precious in wartime." Brinai's hand rubs something underneath the neck of her shawl, while her eyes first grow distant, then hard. "And are worth fighting for."

She then looks back to Luis and Arketta, and gives them a polite smile. "And keep an eye on Garrett. He needs adult supervision at times."
Luis smiles again at that, "We keep an eye on our own, ma'am. Not sure I'm the best one to ask about responsibility, but I'll do my best to not let him get into anything we can't get him out of. Even if we have to impersonate another Truthseeker." His grin slips a bit. "Not sure how well that'd work on Earth, though."

"I have confidence in your abilities to make up excuses as you go, Luis," Brinai says, then turns to Arketta. "And you watch your back, my dear."
"And everyone else's," Arketta adds, hand patting her beam rifle slung on her shoulder.
Brinai nods at that, and with a short bow, walks away.

"She certainly is driven," Arketta says.
"She has to be," Luis says. He looks up at the Gateway, "We all have to be for this whole thing to work out."



Arketta's uneasy as the celebration moves outside. She's scanning rooftops and watching faces instead of focusing on the claps on the back.
Luis takes a few moments to process the welcoming, and he's still taking it in when he notices the looks Arketta's giving the crowd and the suroundings. He leans over.

"Simmons isn't playing it that way," he whispers. "They want us gone nice and legally. They're not quite to the 'tragic accident' level." Nevertheless, he finds it harder to refocus on the smiling faces. The reception the team expects elsewhere has reclaimed its hold on the worry part of his mind.
"Just because Simmons is being subtle in his plans to eliminate us does not mean others won't try to take us out," Arketta says. She takes a distracted and distracting drink of the beer pressed into her hand. "If some lone man with a grudge is after us, this is a good place for a shot."
Luis thinks that over for a second, watching the crowd. "I suppose. But you think like that, and Simmons is right about this not being our world anymore."
Arketta gives Luis a...sad-for-him look. "You cannot tell me you do not have the same concerns as I do, Luis."

Luis shakes his head, "I have some of them, yes. But I'm not going to let that spoil enjoying time with apparently the one group who are trying to welcome us home instead of kicking us to where they think we belong."
Arketta thinks for a second, then gives Luis a smile. "I guess I can be vigilant and enjoy myself a bit," she says, and gives Luis a peck on the cheek. She smiles and laughs with some of the rebels, but Luis still notices she's watching the rooftops.
CrazyIvan 2011-03-17 08:08:57
Atea Gateway

Brinai approaches Angel last. The scout is sitting off to the side, like he usually is, but right now he seems far more distant than usual. The rebel leader stands in front of Angel, intentionally disrupting his internal reverie.

"We did not have a chance to talk before, on your arrival," she says.
Angel looks up at the approaching older woman, an expression of annoyance flickering over his face before he settles into his usual composure. "No, we didn't."
Brinai takes a seat next to Angel, groaning as her joints creak on the way down. "I heard from the noble Kesh what happened between you and his sister. I understand that you probably do not want to talk about it, least of all to me. So, instead, can you lend an old woman your ear?"
Angel nods. "Suppose it's good he's talking to someone." He motions for her to continue. "I also suppose saying no to you would be unwise."

Brinai smiles. "Not this time, I suppose." She sighs, and looks over at Luis and Arketta. "I must say, I was not expecting...all of this. Garrett and Ngawai, and now Luis and Arketta." She shakes her head. "Who would have suspected such things would happen so quickly." She pulls out a well-worn gold trinket out of her tunic and rubs it in her thumb and forefinger. It twinkles with the rainbow diffraction of holo tech. "Call me a cynic, but I haven't looked for such things for...a long while."
"No? Successful rebel matriarch like you doesn't have a couple young impressionable...whatever your flavor is...on the side?"
Brinai smiles. "I have not been celibate, no. But as you well know, there is that, and then there is something more."

She passes Angel the trinket from around her neck, rubbing a trigger on the side as she passes it. The holodisplay lights up, showing a much, much younger woman, but still recognizable as Brinai, maybe in her late 20's. She was very attractive to Angel's eyes, strong, with a good figure, fighter's shoulders and shoulder-length brown hair, just a shade lighter than her skin. Standing next to her was a taller, wiry but strong man with short-cropped hair. "His name was Kalois. We met in the Bashakran defense services."
Angel leans back, eyeing the holodisplay, his frown growing. "Ah. I think I see." He passes the worn trinket back to her.
"He was in our intelligence headquarters when the Imperial Gateship dropped out from light speed. He made it to the defense cannons on the roof, but when they melted the entire building into slag..."

Brinai's hand tightens on the holo locket. There are tears, but they are squeezed out of eyes filled with rage. "I was in the field, monitoring a disturbance that would turn out to be the Imperium's first attempt to ensure my planet's destruction." She closes her eyes for a moment. "I could see the particle beam burn the sky down from orbit and impact where I knew Kalois was. It is that image I see when I close my eyes, when I see the Imperial akwhela or think of their control. I will never forget that sight, Angel. For as long as I live." She fixes Angel with a stare that speaks to an intensity even he cannot approach. "And I will not stop until I know that the Imperium has paid the proper cost for Kalois, and for all the others. I believe that you understand this, Angel. Yes?"

Angel listens, his expression...sympathetic. He closes his eyes, letting his breath go in a long, slow exhale. "I didn't lose my planet in the deal. But I could have saved her. I set her up to get killed. You...you have your war for him. I thought...I thought she might be the end of it."
"And then the Imperium took her away from you." Brinai puts the locket back under her tunic, and takes Angel's hands in her own. "Hold onto that feeling. That rage. There's dedication, there's drive, there's doing it for the freedoms of a galaxy. But I will tell you what has gotten me to this point. The blind, inconceivable rage I felt when I saw what the Imperium had done. It is your rage that will sustain you, Angel. Hold onto it, cultivate it, and it will see you through. Do you understand?"

Angel is suddenly very uncomfortable. He nods, standing and stretching slightly. "I'll keep that in mind Brinai. Thank you...for everything you've done for 815. It's good to know we still have a side."
"Always, Angel." The solar-hot fire in her eyes fades, and she's back to looking like she always does, a twinkle of mischievousness in her eyes, old but still razor-sharp. She smiles at Angel, and gives him a bow of respect. "Good luck on Narsai."
He nods, returning her bow. "We'll need it. Hold down the fort while we're gone?"

"Of course. Think about what I said, Angel." She then turns and walks off. She doesn't shuffle, or walk hunched over. She walks upright and strong.
Angel, for his part, looks more worried than before as he heads toward the gateroom.


Angel steps through the gate, taking in the Terran side of things for the first time in what feels like awhile, even if it wasn't. Fresh eyes he supposed. A ring - with enough exotic toxins to down a horse - rests on a chain under his BDUs.

The first thing he notices isn't the cheering troops, or indulgent civilians. It's Arketta. She looks jumpy enough for two of them - and he knows why. Coming up alongside her for a moment, he whispers in her ear.

"Won't happen here Arketta. I know probably a third the men Simmons would use for it. It's a bad place for it - good for the shot, bad for the aftermath. Not the move the desk jockey would go for - not while he thinks he's winning. Save it - you'll need to be fresh later."

He smiles, accepting a handshake from one of the Air Force types brought in to keep the computer systems running.

"Besides, save some paranoia for the rest of us. You'll leave me with nothing to do."
Arketta snaps to attention when Angel starts to whisper to her. She must be really keyed up, but he can sense her unwind and de-clench as his words hit home. She sighs and leans against Luis. "Thank you, Angel." She gives him a slight smile. "When you say that we're safe, I believe it." She leans a bit harder against Luis and smiles. "Sorry, Luis, but I trust the Khiraba-killer a bit more."
Angel smiles at both of them, genuinely glad they've found each other - and is glad to watch Arketta relax just slightly. "You owe me one Luis." He claps Arketta on the shoulder, smiling. "Go mingle, find out just how much most of the Terrans regard Imperials."
She takes one last look around the perimeter, and then shrugs. "Sure, why not?" Arketta takes another drink from her gifted beer and starts to walk through the crowd, shaking hands, telling stories, making friends.

As the woman walks away, Angel takes a long sip of his own - and picks up the slack for her, mostly out of habit, and an active desire not to mingle. Brinai's words - along with Tora, Simmons and the rest - have set him on edge. Now was not the time to hear what a splendid job he did.

A 20-something Navy Petty Officer walks up to Angel, beer in each hand. She smirks at him as she approaches. "Are you Angel Riviera?"
Angel arches an eyebrow. "Depends on who's asking."
"Petty Officer First Class Erica Cottrell," she says, pushing a bit of Navy-cut blond hair out of her eyes with one hand while she takes a drink with the other. "I heard what you accomplished on Hedion, and I just wanted to congratulate you in person." She gives him a smirk when she says the last part of that sentence.
"Is that so Petty Officer Cottrell?" He nods, taking the drink. "What have they got you doing on this little chunk of nowhere?"
"Systems integration, working with our systems, the Bashakrans' systems, the Sheen, making sure everything connects like it should," she says, leaning into Angel a bit at the end. "Want me to show you how it all comes together?"

Petty Officer Cottrell is certainly a reason to regret joining the Army. She's got a fine figure by Angel's eyes, nice hair, blue eyes, and she's one of the few people Angel's ever seen who looks good in Navy service uniforms. On Angel's scale, she's a 9, maybe even a 9.5.

Angel takes a long sip of his drink. "Lovely people the Sheen. Bit literal minded though. As for..." he pauses for a moment "your very tempting offer, you should know things are...complex."
Cottrell smiles and puts her hand on Angel's shoulder as she slides up against him. "Oh, I can handle complex."
"So, apparently pretty girls do go for the damaged, haunted look. Should have figured that out earlier. You know...being around me doesn't exactly rate a gold star in your personnel file?"
"If you're looking at working in Washington, yeah. I'm planning on staying here, where the action is." She taps him with the back of her hand and maintains her smile. "Besides, you don't look that bad."
"Not looking very hard." He gives her a smile. "You had somewhere in mind for your demonstration?"
She takes his hand. "I have a spot in mind."


As soon as Cottrell gets Angel through the door of her quarters, she's all over Angel. Hands go in his shirt and at his belt, her lips on his, tongue going every which way. She is ready to go and wants Angel, bad.
Angel kisses her back, the feeling full of...something. Less urgent, but something deep, powerful. Her hand brushes against the ring while she's exploring his shirt, his own grip firm on her waist. Breaking the kiss, he half-whispers something in decidedly not English.

"Wha-what did you say?" she whispers, briefly stopping her attack on Angel's face.
"Imperial - sorry, still slips in now and again." Angel replies with a decided non-answer.
"That's weird," she whispers. "Didn't learn Imperial, just the tech stuff." Then she goes back at it, her hands rubbing against his chest and jostling Tora's ring around some more.
He holds her still for a moment, his fingers on the ring. "This...needs to come off."

She sighs and leans back. "What did you say? I said, I didn't learn Imperial."
He laughs, slightly nervously. "Sorry...said this needs to come off."
"Where'd you get a ring like that?" Cottrell asks, having stopped pawing at Angel.
The urgency already evaporated, Angel decides to go the honest route. "Friend of mine used to wear it - she died. On Hedion."
"Aww," Cottrell says, pressing up against Angel. "That's sweet. No, leave it on. Just...keep it to English." Her hands move back to his chest, venturing downwards.
Angel places a hand on her chest, against nearly flawless breasts, his touch gentle but unyielding. "No, it needs to come on. If for no other reason then it's got enough neurotoxin to drop you before you could say 'that's not the sexy kind of pain'".
She smiles a bit. "Whatever you say." She waits for the ring to come off, and then slides right back up against Angel, pressing him against the wall.

She sticks her tongue in his mouth and slides him along the wall, and onto her bed. Eyes closed as they are in such close quarters, he feels the clink of rings together on her hands, the feel of her Sambasanian earrings against the sides of his head. "I love you, Angel."
Angel's eyes widen for a moment as he falls into bed, feeling her against him. Hands run across the familiar curve of a hip, his expression...distant as he squeezes her tight. She bucks with the motion, the same playful move from that hillside outside of Akis. Her body rolls on his, her tan skin and brown hair shiny with sweat. She feels so right.

Angel can't take the tension any longer, and as they make that promised connection Cottrell was hinting at, Angel opens his eyes and sees Tora's face. Her eyes are closed and her body rocks back and forth with Angel's thrusts, and his face breaks into a huge smile upon seeing her again. She arches back and screams out in ecstasy, then lays down against his chest. She opens her eyes, looks in Angel's and whispers to him again, "I love you, Angel."
"I'm sorry." He closes his eyes, laying back in the bed.
"I thought I told you, no Imperial..." Cottrell mutters, but doesn't move from her place on Angel's chest.
punkey 2011-03-21 20:48:58
Eventually, the normal operations of the Gateway and the rest of the base demand that the celebration be moved somewhere not in the middle of one of the busiest parts of the Gateway complex, as the team (minus Angel, last spotted wandering off with some devastatingly attractive young Naval petty officer), remaining Earthside soldiers, rebels and refugees move into the Hitch’n Post to continue the revelry. In between drinks and requests for war stories from the mission, the news the team missed over the last two weeks spent running back and forth between Atea and Diego Garcia and away at Hedion comes out.

The big event that everyone missed was the arrival of the Sheen on Diego Garcia. GRHDI and the various militaries working together on Earth’s security agreed to a limited Sheen permanent presence on Earth, now that relations between the AI race and humanity had come into a semi-comfortable permanent arrangement. The next day, the Sheen server walked through the Gateway from Hashateem to Diego Garcia (literally, as it was temporarily being ridden by one of the Sheen stored inside it for the tranport), as well as a dozen other shells of various shapes and sizes. They were provided with a hangar for shelter and one of the Groi reactors recovered from Boranai, and immediately made themselves at home, which was, for the most part, a simple and painless affair.

There was one major point of friction, however. Upon connecting to the Internet, the new Sheen immediately spread to every corner of the Internet. The tales of what systems the Sheen were seen in very from the easily verifiable to the ludicrous, but what’s obvious is that they entered a great many systems they weren’t supposed to be in. Accounts of Sheen popping their virtual heads up and saying “hi” include Obama’s laptop in the Oval Office, the main screens at NASA, NORAD, MI-5 and completely crashing the FSB’s databases, the Congressional email servers, and hijacking Justin Bieber’s Twitter feed. They even took over a few hours of MTV, overlaying themselves into an episode of Jersey Shore (not coincidentally now the highest-rated episode in show history).

Understandably, faced with the immediate and complete infiltration of what seems like every secure computer on the planet, the governmental response was massive and furious. Demands to kick the Sheen back off of Earth effective immediately flooded Samantha Barnes’ office, but once the Sheen Ambassador was informed that they were causing an international crisis of unprecedented proportions, the Sheen immediately left and resecured the servers behind them. The Ambassador’s explanation was simultaneously humbling, insulting, and logical if looked at from the Sheen’s perspective: They simply thought that these were open servers, as the encryption and security that the Sheen were used to, even more than 100 years ago during the war with the Imperium, were light-years ahead of what Earth had to offer.

Once the unintentional nature of the breaches were made clear, and the Sheen made clear that they didn’t actually download anything from the secured servers they penetrated (“Just taking a look around” one of the Sheen told an Army tech), they agreed to stay out of servers marked with a certain running program “tag” unless given permission, and the governments of the world calmed back down. The one lasting impact, aside from a mild degree of lingering paranoia at the overwhelming computational power of a mere dozen Sheen, is that some of the Sheen have shown a particular like for interacting with humans. 7 of the Sheen have started maintaining Twitter pages, despite subtle attempts from the US military to block their access. Davis is particularly pleased to hear about this, and the fact that they’ve actually proven quite popular, if from a subtle but definitely alien perspective.

Elsewhere in the galaxy, what the ravilars have taken to calling the Great Hedion Mariposa Blackout had already started to have repercussions beyond just Hedion. Calls for the removal of People’s Emperor Sun Shenmai, normally an act considered ill-advised at best, had become almost commonplace on even loyal Imperial worlds. The disruption of an entire planet’s power supply, not to mention the collateral blackouts elsewhere in the Hedion system and the chaos the disaster has played on galactic trade, has shaken the Imperium to its core. Shenmai has even appeared personally on a Cortex broadcast, the golden halo of his specialized implants glistening in light, calling for “calm in the affected systems, loyalty in those unaffected, and the patience and iron will to find and punish those responsible for this heinous act of terrorism”.

All of this, plus the problem that still lies before the team, and the attention payed to their actions, by not only the rebels but many here on Earth, reminds you all what stakes the team is playing for now, and the importance of getting to the bottom of this growing faction of Earth’s leadership that have made it clear their intentions to save Earth and Earth alone. Only for a moment, however, as tonight, there is still beer (and ginger ale) and good food to be consumed, stories to tell and good times to be had.
punkey 2011-03-21 20:55:57
While Luis and Arketta are unpacking in their quarters, Luis gets a vox message, sent from the Sheen Ambassador. "*Luis Stanhill, we have received information that you were implanted with cybernetic upgrades while on your previous mission. We would request a chance to examine your cyberware, and discuss how we might be able to do to further enhance your equipment.*"
"You could do that?," Luis asks. "I wouldn't think you'd have much experience with biological interfaces."
Arketta stops cleaning her armor's joints and stares curiously at Luis as he dictates the message out loud.
"*We have analyzed your stolen backups of the Imperial Cortex extensively. It seems that in the intervening centuries since our rebellion, Imperial technology has advanced little, possibly out of fear of another technological insurrection. We do not, however, have detailed knowledge of the architecture or software of your specific hardware set. Thus, we ask for permission to analyse your hardware and interface.*"
"What would that involve? I only just got one helmet off, I'm not big on another round of brain surgery," Luis says.
"*It would not require any intrusive actions,*" the Ambassador replies. "*A simple scan of your hardware, and connection with your skull-mounted interface should suffice. Then we can discuss other possibilities, perhaps?*"
"All right, I'm game."
"*Excellent!*" The Sheen Ambassador seems very excited at the prospect of scanning Luis' head. "*Please, meet us in our quarters presently. Bring your mate along, if it would make you more comfortable.*"

Luis nods, "All right. See you then." He disconnects, and turns to Arketta, "That was the Sheen, they'd like to take a look at my new hardware. It's apparently farily simple. You want to come along?"
Luis can see Arketta's shoulders tense up at the mention of the Sheen. "Are you sure...that's all they want to do?"
Luis starts to reply, then stops and thinks for a moment, "I think so. I'm not sure what else they'd want. Something on your mind?"
Arketta shakes her head. "Just...the Sheen, your augmentations..." She stands up and puts her hands on Luis' shoulders. "I just want you to know that if your eyes start glowing red and you talk about destroying all humans, I'm hitting you on the head with a shovel and running." She smirks at the end of that last sentence.
Luis grins, "I wouldn't have it any other way. Think we can rustle one up before we head out?"
"I insist," she says.


The Sheen's "quarters" are actually part of one of the increasingly disused hangers on the base near the Gateway complex. A Groi reactor from Boranai hums outside, with a dozen or so cables snaking out of its quicksilver surface and through an access door in the side. Stepping through the open hangar doors, you see a few tables and chairs for the comfort of the occasional human technicians that visit here, but most of the space has been taken over by the Sheen themselves. A dozen shell charging and interface stations line the wall nearest the reactor, and in the center of the room sits the Sheen server, a black feathered monolith five feet high by three feet wide and four feet long. The "feathering" sways gently, but not with the breeze; it's actually active cooling elements built into the case of the server, keeping the contents at standard operating temperatures. Cables snake all over the floor, some bringing data, others providing power, all connected to a mix of Sheen and human computers.

A dozen beady red eyes mounted on the walls snap to Luis and Arketta as they enter the hangar, and three of the shells that are lounging about the room swivel their heads to watch the new arrivals. Arketta unconsciously tightens her grip on Luis' hand as the Sheen devote their physical attention to the two humans in their midst.

The Sheen Ambassador's sphere descends from the rafters in front of them, its face less creepily emotionless than before, but still reserved. "Hello, Luis Stanhill, Arketta Quis. It has been a few weeks since we last spoke." The Ambassador leaves that statement hanging in midair.
"Been a bit busy," Luis says, "How've you been?"
"We have been granted permission for this limited presence here on your planet," the Ambassador says. "We have learned much already, and are anxious to begin transport of more shells and intelligences to Earth for the combat ettiquette training program." The Ambassador bobs slightly, then continues, a bit more excited than before. "So, may we begin the analysis?"
Luis looks to Arketta quickly. "Sure, why no-"

Before Luis can finish the rest of his sentence, a black centipede-shaped shell drops out of the rafters in front of him and leaps onto Luis' head! It grabs ahold of his scalp with four of its ten legs, while the others scan his scalp with lasers and other sensors. Its tail comes down and probes around the base of his skull for the jack for a second before sliding into the socket. His HUD overlay lights up, flickering through the options and settings at a pace too fast for his mind to register individual images. None of this hurts, but it's certainly enough to freak Arketta the fuck out.

She draws her sidearm and points it at the shell sitting on Luis' head. "Get the fuck off of him right now!" she shouts, pointing the stinger at the shell's "head".
"Jeez, how do you operate with something so small?" the scanning Sheen says, ignoring the gun pointed at him. "And it's all locked down and DRM'd! No interoperability, sub-par specs, it's like living in the Stone Age in here!"
"Arketta, stay calm. Guys, a little warning would be nice the next time."
The Sheen Ambassador's face looks up at the scanning shell for a moment, then its legs settle down. "Oh, that's what the female's all het up about," the scanning Sheen says. "Take a powder, doll, it's all unintrusive."
"It looks pretty fucking intrusive to me," Arketta says. She looks back to Luis for a moment. "Luis, are you all right?"
Luis nods, "I think so." He turns to the Sheen Ambassador, "So, what do you think?"
"We think we cannot do very much with this hardware at this point in time," the Ambassador says.
"Mostly because it's like the cyberware Abraham Lincoln would have had," the scanning Sheen interjects.
"Perhaps if you would consider allowing us to implant several sub-processors of our own design, it would only require the removal and replacement of some of your internal organs with artificial functional copies, we could host one or two intelligences, or replacing your limbs with multi-function appendages, we could fully augment your physical form," the Ambassador says, mentioning gutting Luis like a fish like Luis would replacing a pen refill. "Perhaps you would consider upload to our servers? We are currently evolving technologies that would allow for your consciousness to be converted to our formatting, it would just require the removal and dissection of your cerebrum." Arketta's eyes go wide at the mention of pulling Luis' brain out and cutting it into slices.
Luis shakes his head quickly, "No thanks, I'm fine for now. That sounds like a little more than I'm comfortable with. Thanks for the offer, though."
The cyberware Sheen makes a sighing sound and settles a little lower on Luis' head. "Fine. I guess we can work on smaller, less-cool augmentations. How about giving you root access and Earth-standard wireless access? Or is that too scary for the wussy augment?"
Luis grins slightly at the Sheen's attitude. "That'd be a little more in line with what I'd be willing to do, yes. Would it take long to do?"

Another quick flash through his control options as the Sheen cracks open his control software, and then his vision flickers for a moment. It comes back up with a brand new HUD, with a new red and angular color scheme. A video of a Sheen shell blasting an Imperial manta to pieces plays, and then is replaced by "Sheen OS". The video overlay blinks out, and is replaced by a progress bar. It says Upgrading your shit... as a progress bar crawls across his vision, and Luis feels an itch inside the back of his skull. The itch intensifies as the bar finishes, and then stops. The overlay vanishes again, and a small window appears in the upper right of his vision, showing a list of WiFi, cellular and vox networks available for Luis' system to connect to.

"Alright, upgrades are done. Manual's uploaded too, run it while you sleep, it'll upload what you need to know," the cyberware Sheen says. It disconnects from Luis' skulljack and drops to the floor. "We'll let you know when your pussy upgrades are ready, if you're not too ascared to get them." It shuffles off and climbs back up a wall to sun itself and recharge.
"We thank you for this opportunity," the Ambassador says. "We do require some more experience in this 'personal space' concern you humans seem to have, I apologize. Do you have any other questions or requests?"
"Thank you," Luis says, "I think I'm all right. Do you need anything? We may not be on Diego long, so if you need anything, now's the time to ask."
"We have all the information we need for now," the Ambassador says. "Good day, Luis Stanhill." The sphere floats up and away.

As they turn to leave, Arketta gives Luis a worried look. "Are you all right in there? I mean, are you still all there? Did that Sheen do anything to your mind?"
"I feel all right, and I'm pretty sure they only touched the electronics," Luis says, "I'm just trying to figure out who has stranger graphics, the Sheen or Faxom-Io."
Arketta grabs Luis by his shoulders and looks him in the eyes. He can plainly tell how worried she is about what just happened. "Luis, I'm serious. Are you still...you?"
Luis returns the gaze, and reaches up to cover Arketta's hand on his left shoulder with his own. He squeezes it, then says, "I'm as sure as I can be. What more could I..."

Arketta moves in and kisses Luis mid-sentence. She holds it and opens her eyes, waiting for Luis to make a move.
Luis wraps his arms around Arketta and returns the kiss. After a few long moments, he pulls back slightly. "Is that some kind of means for outing Sheen infiltrators they teach at Turai school?" He takes her hand again and cocks an eyebrow, "Did I pass?"
"No spikes, no nanoviruses...you pass," Arketta whispers. "Ready to go finish unpacking?"
"Sure," Luis says.
Gatac 2011-03-21 21:03:19
Hugh keeps away from the bulk of the group for the rest of the day. It's kind of a self-imposed mini-exile. At the evening's festivities, Hugh provides his usual assortment of grilled food (wearing his new "75C - Steak Prep Technician" apron) to the team. It's good to be home.
punkey 2011-03-23 23:15:26
The day after the impromptu celebration of the Hedion victory was a relatively lazy one. Barnes had pulled some strings for Gorlan Kesh, since he's ostensibly a big VIP, and big VIPs don't fly from place to place in the back of C-130s. Instead, a Gulfstream has been dispatched to Diego Garcia to pick him and the team up, and fly them directly to Los Angeles Air Force Base, the newly-declared West Coast depot for Imperial storage and residents, and from there, after a brief layover for fuel and scenery, they would continue on to Washington DC.

The plane still has to get to Diego Garcia, though, and that leaves everyone with plenty of time on their hands while their luxury jet makes the journey across the Pacific. Each team member goes off to do their own thing, taking advantage of the rare down-time.

Hugh goes for an old standby - a trip to the range. There's a nice bit of clarity to be gained from killing paper, and besides, it gives him a chance to see the rest of the base in action and judge for himself the people who are holding the fort. For this trip, however, he requisitions a SCAR again. He's been spending too much time on beam rifles lately, and truth be told, he's got a hankering for a solid BANG! and some recoil.

The armory staffer gave Hugh his rifle without problem, and with a fresh SCAR-H in his hand and few magazines of 7.62x51mm ammunition in the other, Hugh settled into a comfortable rhythm. Standing, sitting, prone, CQB to the end of the iron sights range, a thorough workout with a weapon that by Hugh's own admission he had become a little rusty with.

After his sixth mag, he hears the loud "SIR!" of a young soldier behind him. Turning to look, Hugh sees a young 2nd Lieutenant standing at boot-perfect attention, couldn't be more than a year out of ROTC, who has "aide" written all over him.
"At ease, Lieutenant," Hugh says, snapping off a quick salute. "Sitrep?"
The aide returns the salute and slides to at-ease, then looks at Hugh. "Colonel Owenby wants a word, Sir." The base commander has seen his workload (and relative importance) explode since Diego Garcia was made into a proper Gateport, and clearing time to talk to Hugh could be either good or bad.
"Then let's not keep him waiting," Hugh says. "Walk with me, I just need to return the gun first."

The young lieutenant ("Elem", according to his uniform) nods, and follows Hugh back to the armory. Hugh turns the weapon in, then walks with Elem to the Colonel's office. Really, there's not much point to diverting it. "How long have you been on Diego Garcia, Lieutenant?"

"Just a few months, Sir," Elem says. "I was requested by the Colonel when they decided to make this the place for the Gateway. It's been quite an experience. I've been working on learning Imperial, working with the Bashakra'i...my friends from boot can't believe what I'm doing now." Elem got a big smile on his face, then realizes that he's been gushing a bit and returns to a more regulation facial expression. "It's a great opportunity, Sir."

"Yeah, it is," Hugh replies. "I just wish it was a little friendlier out there. Did the Colonel mention what he wanted to talk to me about?"
"No, Sir," Elem says. "Just that he wanted to catch you before you left for Washington."

To the surprise of those who know him, Zaef spent most of the day in his bunk, sleeping. No one really figured this out until he crawled out in the middle of the afternoon to use the latrine with some of the worst bedhead the base personnel have ever seen.

In a separate and completely unrelated incident, some of the guards received a bit of a dressing-down from the commander on base when a few privates went to the roof and discovered a telescope and an empty 12 pack of A&W root beer-and had absolutely no clue how it got there.

As Zaef is about to climb back into his bunk, there's a knock at the door. "Message from Colonel Owenby, Mr. Utari," a gruff voice says from the other side.
The door opens a crack, and the soldier can see one tired hazel eye staring at him. "Don't call me that. Zaef's fine."
The soldier on the other side of the door looks like he's about 30 or so, and sneaks a look past Zaef's feet to the empty bottle of Coke next to the door. "Colonel Owenby wants a word, Mr. Utari," he says.
A heaving sigh comes through the door crack. "Of course he does. I'll be on my way once I change."
The soldier nods. "I'll be right outside, Mr. Utari."
"I said don't call me that. I'm not some high muckamuck you gotta kiss up to."

The door opens, and Zaef, wearing casual Narsai jeans and a black t-shirt, stumbles out. He still looks tired, but his fingers drumming a small beat on the knife handle suggest he's more alert than he appears. The knife itself is strapped in his side in an obvious manner, with a twin to match. He sizes the soldier up for a second.
"I take it you're an escort?"
"That I am," the soldier says. His shirt's name-patch says "Kays" on it, and he looks Zaef up and down as Zaef does the same. Kays has the little scars on his hands that say "combat experience", but the look on his face and in his eyes tell Zaef that he wasn't hardened by it, and he didn't love it too much. Just a standard soldier. He could probably take him in a fight with his knives, but it wouldn't be easy.

"Now that we're done sniffing each other's asses, here," Kays says, and tosses Zaef a pair of darkened glasses made out of plastic. "That squint's no good for your eyes. Keep 'em, I get them cheap at the PX. Let's go, shouldn't keep the Colonel waiting."
"Sniffing each other's-please tell me that's one of your-what's the word...idioms that I'm unfamiliar with." He catches the glasses and puts them on. "Thanks. Yes, let's." He starts to walk in the direction of the Colonel's office, looking much better without having to squint to see where he's going.
"Yeah, it's what dogs do when they meet each other, how they size each other up," Kays says, and then falls silent.
Zaef cocks an eyebrow. "Why? Do they think that the smellier asshole is a sign of strength?" he asks quizzically.
Kays thinks for a moment. "You know, I've never thought about that." He shrugs. "Maybe. Who the fuck knows?"
punkey 2011-03-24 07:21:41
Davis follows Swims-the-Black down the dock at the Diego Garcia Yacht Club, the oversized orange PFD looking rather odd over the wherren's shoulders, his lightweight Imperial tunic and pants fluttering in the breeze blowing gently over the atoll and into the lagoon. The sun shines down from above and the clear blue waters of the Indian Ocean lap against the boats moored at the dock. Davis carries a cooler of beer, making it just about the perfect way to spend the heat of midday on Diego Garcia.

"So, they finally qualify you to go out on your own?" Davis asks.
"Yes!" Swims-the-Black barks excitedly, carefully climbing into a 15 foot sailboat. Its lines sway in the breeze and the white fiberglass hull bounces off the dock every so often. The gentle breeze and quiet water of the lagoon make it perfect weather for a learning sailor to go out on his own. Swims undoes the lines securing the sails down and lowers the keel into the slot. "I was certified last week. It feels good to be captain of a vessel again, even if it is just a small craft like this one." He starts raising the sails while Davis climbs into the boat.

"I've offered to keep an eye out for freighters and ships on mission, Swims-the-Black, but you keep on saying no," Davis signs, settling into a seat by the mast.
"And I thank you for your offer, but..." Swims pauses as he finishes securing the lines on the sails, "...but a ship is not something you can just have someone else find and purchase for you, Garrett, even a friend. It is...it is hard to explain." He settles into his position at the stern of the little sailboat. "Untie us from the dock, and once we are under way, I will do my best to help you understand."

Davis unties the knot holding the ship to the dock from the cleat, and Swims takes hold of the rudder and the line controlling the sail's angle. He pulls on the line, angling the sail to catch the wind, and the boat pulls away from the dock. Before long, the boat is skipping across the water, wind whipping Davis' hair and blowing Swims' fur back as green streaks in waves across his body. A smile spreads across Swims' face, the profile of his slight muzzle and jade-capped tusks exaggerated in the wind as he taps his claws on the fiberglass hull. Davis enjoys the gentle motion of the boat as it slices through the water, and simply leans back in his seat, kicking his feet up on the bench opposite him.

After a few minutes, Swims gets the boat settled into a nice cruise a few hundred yards off the shore in the lagoon, and secures the sail line with a quick knot so he can talk. "I think this is good for now. So, let me try to explain this ship thing. Did I ever tell you how I came to be on board the Akamu to begin with?"
Davis uncaps a beer and passes it over to Swims before opening another one for himself. "No, you have not."

"I had just earned my freedom from the Arena, and had spent the previous several months doing skilled labor and roughing the occasional bad person up when the occasion was warranted," Swims signs, taking a drink and thinking back to those times. "Eventually, someone would recognize me as Fourth Claw, Arena Champion, and then every tough and criminal would come looking for me, trying to challenge me to a fight. It would clear out a great many of the local scum, but made it hard to earn a living, and I had no interest in making fighting my profession, so I would have to hire on as a hand on a freighter out of system and try again. It was...not an enjoyable existence."
"Doesn't sound like it," Davis signs. "How did you wind up staying with the Akamu, then?"

"I was on Mia, and after killing one half of a particularly stupid and unpleasant pair of gang leaders for preying on local shop owners, I had to make my leave again. When I went to the port with my two bags of possessions to hire out, I saw this interesting ship from the skywalk over the landing pads." Swims finishes the rest of his bottle of beer and places it back inside the cooler on the floor, then looks up at the sky, picturing when he saw the Akamu for the first time. "It was sleek, unlike most of the tramp freighters out there. It looked like it had purpose, and that purpose was decidedly not hauling containers of protein and machinery between colonies. I felt drawn to it. I wanted to know more about what it was doing."

Swims takes another beer and continues. "Master Farsad was outside, 'negotiating' angrily with an unsavory looking man. I patiently waited for my turn to speak with him, and Helo quickly turned to ask me what I wanted. I told him that I was looking for work, that I had many skills that would be valuable to a shipmaster like himself, mechanic, navigator, loadmaster. He also surmised that I had to be a former Alef-ka, the latter because of my tusks, and the former because I was asking him for work."

He chuckles at the next memory before continuing. "That was when the other man, who apparently believed that his conversation with Master Farsad was not yet finished, interrupted. He threatened to have Master Farsad's ship impounded and his crew imprisoned on charges, and have me sent to the Arena as a renegade Alef-ka. I had no interest in going back there, so I...resolved the situation."

Davis laughs. "Meaning you punched him so hard he was feeling it for a week."
Swims' smile widens. "Possibly, I do not know how long he was unconscious for. Master Farsad said that I was hired, and that as his new crew member, I should finish loading his cargo before the local merchant's organization realized that their man had been knocked out. I did, and we barely escaped a system lockdown."

Davis nods. "Sounds like my kind of guy."
"There was not much difference between your method of solving problems and Helo Farsad's," Swims agrees. "Once we were coasting on cruise to the outer colonies of...some system, he told me who he was. He was Bashakra'i, and escaped the destruction of Bashakra with his father on the ship. He had inherited the ship from him, who named it after the man who destroyed his world out of a sense of irony. He and his crew all had issues with Imperial or industrium authority on one world or another, and they made their living carrying cargo, legit and otherwise, between planets and staying off the Cortex. He said that it had to be difficult, being an Arena Champion, former Alef-ka and a Wherren on my own, and said that if I could handle myself on a ship as well as I could handle myself in a fight, there was a spot on his crew for me. I accepted, and that's when I joined the Akamu's crew."

"I'm confused," Davis signs as Swims adjusts the sail and the rudder. "What does this have to do with finding a ship?"
"I am getting there," Swims grunts. "A year later or so, we were transporting rebel supplies when we were boarded by a Turai quad, and their Samal recognized me from my time at Akamu's side. He revealed my past to the entire ship, told them how I stood between Akamu and the Emperor's Avatar as the order to burn Bashakra was given, and waited for someone to betray me or betray the ship's cargo. Master Farsad stood up and said that he already knew about my past, and that as his second-in-command, he trusted me implicitly." Swims chuckles. "Helo had never had a second as long as I or anyone else on his ship had known. No one said anything else, and the Turai left empty-handed. Afterwards, Master Farsad called me up to the helm. I asked him jokingly if he was serious about making me his second, and he said he was. I could not believe it, after what he had just learned about me, and that is when he asked me why I approached the Akamu in the first place. I said that I did not know, that it seemed like something more than just a ship, that it had a purpose, a sense of freedom about it that called to me. He told me that is why I was his second, that I felt an immediate connection with the ship and could sense its purpose, what it was there to be." Swims stares off towards the horizon. "He knew that by looking at me, and after hearing what I was before, he knew that I was the only person who he could trust to take command of the Akamu when Helo no longer could, just like I knew that the Akamu's purpose. After that, there was no doubt."

Davis doesn't know what to say after that. The two of them coast through the water for a few seconds in silence, a gull passes overhead as the cool breeze off the ocean counteracts the blistering heat of the tropical sun, and then after adjusting the sails again, Swims-the-Black continues. "That is what I am looking for, Garrett. A ship that calls out to me, that I take one look at and just know its purpose like I did the Akamu's. It will come again, someday, but not quite yet."

"Okay, that, I understand," Davis signs. "And what about this thing?" he adds, motioning to the little sailboat.
"This is just fun, my friend. I am allowed to have fun without justifying it, I believe," Swims says, the smile returning to his face.
Davis laughs. "I suppose so. Still, you let me know when you see that ship you're looking out for, and I'll make sure you get it."

"I never doubted your word before, Garrett," Swims replies. "Now, pass me another beer and tell me about this alleged rolling catastrophe that your plan was on Hedion. I heard it almost went off the rails more than once."
"You've been listening to Angel too much," Davis says, handing Swims another beer.
"And Hugh, and Arketta, and Zaef..."
punkey 2011-03-24 21:39:50
Hugh and Zaef arrive at the Colonel's office at about the same time, and both are forced to wait in the outer office while the Colonel conducts some degree of super-special top-secret business, or finishes his lunch. Colonel Owenby is only in charge of the Gateway complex (and even then only because he was the only high-ranking Army officer in the region with an open slot in his dance card when gate construction started), but what seemed like a very interesting side project, opening a door with aliens, has now turned into one of the most important jobs in the entire US military. Neither Hugh nor Zaef have any read on the man, having never met him, so this might be another dressing-down from one of the Pentagon's cronies, or maybe something else altogether.

Rather than talk about anything revealing in front of who knows what, Hugh and Zaef both remain quiet. After a few minutes, the door opens and a tallish black man in what is obviously a colonel's uniform to both Hugh and Zaef opens the door. "Captain Verrill, Mr. Utari, please, come in," he says with a smile. He walks back towards his desk, leaving the door open for Hugh and Zaef.

"Just call me Zaef."
"Reporting as ordered, Colonel," Hugh says, not bothering with the salute but assuming an at-ease stance.

Colonel Owenby sits down behind his desk, a fairly standard military sheet-steel affair, complimenting his Cold War-era steel filing cabinets, painted drywall office and cheap plastic frames on awards and certificates. The only actually high-class objects in the room are the four chairs: an ergonomic full-back office chair behind his desk, and three well-cushioned leather-and-plastic half-backs for guests. Clearly, a man who's used to working in remote locations, not Washington.

"Take a seat, if you want," he says. "I asked for you to come here because of what I'm hearing from the Pentagon, State Department and GRHDI these days, and I'm concerned. I figure you two might be able to provide some perspective."
"We don't hear much politics out there, Colonel," Hugh says. "What exactly are your concerns?"

"Some of the generals back at Washington are talking about moving the whole off-world operation structure directly under DoD control, including relations with the Bashakra'i and our other allies. Making this a purely military operation." Owenby folds his hands on his desk. "They want to put pressure on our allies to up the timetable to stopping those Gateships headed our way, instead of focusing on fighting the Imperium. I've been told to prepare for a big push through the Gateway once the DoD wrests control of off-world affairs from the GRHDI, and to prepare to do it through other Gateways than Atea. I don't know how they're planning on doing it, but plans are in motion to cut you boys out of the loop. Now, I don't know about the line that Garrett Davis is pushing these days for integration, but it seems to me that forsaking our allies just to stop the Gateships seems like taking care of a symptom instead of curing the disease."

"That sounds like a load of bullshit to me, Sir," Hugh says. "We don't even know how to reach the Gateships. If we did, we'd have hijacked and stopped them by now. How precisely is the DoD going to do this? Are they gonna bend space and time around their egos?"

"They seem to think that either they'll find the answer they're looking for on Boranai, or they'll simply pick a suitably important enough target and take the information when they get there," Owenby says. "I don't know for sure, though, they don't seem to trust me all that much in the Pentagon these days. They're afraid I'll leak their plans to the wrong element." He smiles at that last remark.

"But that's what I hear is going down. And what I want to know is, does 815 have any idea about what the next move is, or do the rebels? There's a lot of us in the military who aren't thrilled about what's being planned at the higher levels, but we're certainly not interested in just sitting back and waiting for the Needleships to arrive. Your team are the only ones who have a good look at the big picture outside of this base, and I need to know what's happening out there."

"The Imperium is changing figureheads so quickly I didn't even bother learning the last guy's name. We're doing a lot of damage where it counts and while they limp on through inertia, the movers and shakers are not happy. Personally, I think that another Hedion or two will get them to the negotiating table with a vengeance."

Hugh draws another breath.

"As for the Needleships, the way I see it, intercepting them won't work. Either we seriously try to figure out their gatecodes - and that's something 815 can do and we don't need DoD goons for - or we start assembling our own fleet and wait for the showdown. At the pace we're going with Imperial tech, we'll have those Needleships seriously outmatched when they finally show up here."

"Frankly, Colonel, at this stage I'm not worried about the Imperium. It's the fiefdom building and infighting here that stands a serious chance of derailing our efforts."

Colonel Owenby nods thoughtfully, then looks at Zaef, who's remained quiet since correcting the Colonel on his name. "What about you, Zaef? You've got a lifetime more experience with the rebels and the Imperium than us, literally. What do you think?"

Zaef tries to stifle a yawn, fails, and then tries to answer the question. "Verrill's mostly right, although they will certainly be a lot more reluctant to step up to negotiate, I think. The government, that is," He corrects himself, "They can't allow themselves to appear wrong, if only to smooth over their massive egos. But the people are very unhappy with the war, and they will only continue to grow dissatisfied if the government keeps cracking down on rights and freedoms for every loss they take-and they will, it's the only way they know how to react to crises. The more pressure we put on the Imperium, the sooner the war will end, either by our hand, the Imperium's, or the people's. So, you see, we can't afford to have petty squabbles or plotting behind each other's backs. It only gives the Imperium more time to quash it's own problems, or even find a way to press an offensive front against us."
"Will the rebels accept the Pentagon as their partners here on Earth instead of the GRHDI?" Owenby asks. "If they do succeed in pushing the Barnes and 815 out of the picture."
Zaef snorts. "Quite honestly, I don't think the Pentagon will give us the option."
Owenby laughs. "I've talked with Brinai, Bello and Onas on a few occasions. They don't strike me as the 'roll over and take it' type." The smile drops off his face pretty quickly. "If it comes down to it, we need to stop the Imperium. And we probably can't do it alone. You both know the Pentagon's attitude towards the rebels better than I do, and vis versa. Will the rebels still work with us if the DoD gets its way, or will they just tell us to fuck off?"

"That's not a hypothetical I'm willing to entertain, Colonel," Hugh says. "It's not our job to convince the rebels that we can be trusted as partners even if we've got internal differences. We have to go and resolve those differences, make sure everyone's on the same page. If that means stuffing myself into my Class As and taking the next flight to D.C., well, I've done worse."

Hugh's reply provokes something you don't usually see from a ranking military officer: complete surprise. "I don't understand, Captain. As far as I can tell, that is your job, and has been for quite some time. The rebels were sold on participating in Boranai and Napai based on your team's involvement, they provided support for Whiirr for the same reason. Hell, they trust you so much that they jumped at a major operation like Hedion just because you asked. If you're not out there as our number one liason between the rebels and Earth...what do you think you're doing?"
"We are the number one liason - but if the DoD goes out there and tries to talk their big game, it'll shoot our credibility to hell," Hugh says.

Zaef speaks up. "The DoD has made it pretty clear that they don't plan on treating us as equals. Your own words, Colonel-we don't just lie down and take it. The best thing that can happen is we kick you all off Atea and never talk to you again."

Colonel Owenby nods. "All right. Well, I'll pass it along." He stands up and extends a hand to shake. "Good luck in Washington, and remember, there's a lot of us out there that are pulling for you to succeed. Most of the men and women back here on Earth want to take down the Imperium just as much as you do."
"And that's appreciated, Colonel," Hugh. "We just have to go straighten out a few people who aren't wearing Team 815 shirts."
Zaef shakes the hand silently.

"Have a good day, Captain Verrill, Zaef." When Owenby has Zaef's hand, he throws in a knowing smirk. "Oh, and Zaef, the next time you're up on the roof of your quarters, if you could clean up after yourself, the base maintenance crew would really appreciate it. Leave the telescope, though."
Zaef blinks for a couple seconds, then frowns and says "Knew I'd forgotten something."
Owenby nods to both men, then takes a seat back behind his computer and returns to working, signalling both men that their time in his office was up. They both left without another word, Hugh returning to the firing range to resume his target practice, and Zaef simply heading back to his quarters to climb back into bed and resume his interrupted nap.
CrazyIvan 2011-03-26 20:57:12
To the surprise of no one, Angel spends much of his day off asleep. Admittedly, even for his stance regarding the proper use of off-duty time, the fact that he spent most of it with a blonde bombshell curled up against his side was an unusual point of departure. And despite his conflict last night, not an unwelcome one.

Though when he thought about it, Petty Officer Cottrell certainly rated, and probably deserved better. He very much doubted the young woman's plans for bedding the dashing space marine involved playing surrogate for a dead Imperial noblewoman. Beyond that, what Brinai said still unsettled him. She might have seen kindred spirits in her eyes, but she was wrong. Tora's death wasn't some call to arms for him, her memory something that could only be cleaned away on burning gateships.

She wasn't a reason to bury himself. He was supposed to be building something, not tearing it apart until he lost who he was.

He slipped out of bed, carefully drawing the sheet over the sleeping figure beside him, lacing the chain of the ring back around his neck before dressing, and going for a run in the impressively direct heat of Diego Garcia at mid-day.
punkey 2011-04-02 11:18:39
The worst part of being pregnant, Ngawai thinks, carrying her baggage to the front door, isn't being sick, it's everyone treating you like you're useless. She was fortunate enough to avoid the worst of the early sicknesses of pregnancy, the bulge didn't keep her from exercising nearly as much as she feared it would, and her greater strength kept her back from aching most of the time. No, what Ngawai hated most of all was that everyone treating her like she's incapable of doing anything herself. Even Garrett tried to pack my bags for me this morning. It was sweet, but kinda condescending. She drops the bags by the door and then takes a seat at the dinner table, resting her hands on the 7-month bulge under her shirt. Although, you're certainly not making it easy on me, Naloni.

She looks across the living room to the crib that Davis had put together this morning. She imagines Naloni in there, sleeping peacefully. Probably not going to happen all that often, she thinks. Probably spend all night crying and be nothing but trouble, just like her parents.

She stands up, fills a glass of water in the kitchen, and then takes it out to the front porch, where her vox is sitting, Narsai military files sitting open on the holo. The front windows are wide open, letting the sea breeze waft into the house and blow her long black hair as she sits in the sun on the wood bench built into the front of the cabin, dark brown skin showing through her lightweight blouse in the light. She starts flipping through the projected files, scanning them for information.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of boot-covered footfalls, jogging at an even, steady pace, and before too long, Angel came into view, his shirt showing signs he had been out doing this awhile, his expression focused and a little detached. He catches her out of the corner of his eye and stops, sauntering over toward the porch.

He hadn't actually had a chance to talk to Ngawai in awhile. Both of the Imperial women associated with 815 had been mercifully too occupied trying to kill either the Captain or Simmons with their mind to try and have a heart-to-heart, and Angel hadn't been exactly seeking people out. "You look more worried than I do - no offense, but that's a bad sign."

Ngawai looks up at Angel as he stops in front of the cabin and smiles up at him. "Hello, Angel," she replies in her own accented English. "I'm just thinking about all of these problems. Simmons, your leaders, and this little one." She pats her bulge as she says the last part. "Come, sit down. We have water, and you look like you need some." She gets up to go back inside and get him a glass.

Heading inside, Angel looks around the decidedly homey cabin - vastly more lived-in looking than his own place. "I like what you've done would the place. Would you rather us use Imperial?"

"It's all right if you want to speak English," she replies in Imperial as she reaches up into the kitchen cabinet and pulls out a plastic tumbler from the PX. Her speech is noticably more fluid and natural in her native language, but she's not incapable of expressing herself in English. She carries on in Imperial. "I should be getting back into practice, now that we're heading back to Washington DC. It's been months since I've said more than a few sentences at a time around the base." She puts the glass down on the kitchen table and sits down herself. "It is nice to see you, though. What brings you by today? Garrett is out on the water with Swims-the-Black, he left a message for Garrett about finally being allowed to sail by himself and to bring beer. He just packed a cooler and headed for Swims-the-Black's cabin as fast as he could."

Angel chuckled, returning to English - it would serve him well in the next couple days to remember to default back to it. "That sounds about right. Still, at least in the middle of the water Davis can't get in to much more trouble." He smiles, the statement intended in jest. "Can't say I had much of a plan, or even that I intended coming here. Went for a run, picked a direction and well, here we are."

"Well, since you are here, what do you think of the crib?" Ngawai asks, speaking English herself and motioning towards the mostly-assembled wooden crib in the corner. "It is not completely put together, and we still need to apply the stain and complete it, but..."
"I'll confess that I'm probably the last person on this base to ask about child rearing." Angel grinned, looking over the crib. "But it looks sturdy enough - neither you or Davis are the type to do things in half-measures, even if it is just flat-pack furniture. Part of why I like you both."
Ngawai smiles in return. "Thank you, Angel. It's at least the one part of all of this that I think I'm ready for. Do you know anyone who has children, happily?"
Angel gives her a thoughtful look. "And here I was hoping this was just about DC. Is that what's weighing on you this much?"

"No, it's not all of it, but it is something of a concern, I guess..." Ngawai attempts to brush it off, but Angel can see the beginnings of tears in the corners of her eyes. She breathes a deep, stuttered sigh, and continues, unable to focus on speaking English and continuing on in Imperial. "It's just that...all I know is how to be an Apprehender, it's what I've been doing for more than a decade, and what if that's all I know how to do? What if I'm just that person who sets up takedowns, scouts hideouts and hurts people to get what I need to know?"

By this point in time, Ngawai is on a roll, tears falling down her dark skin as she puts a death grip on the glass and table. "I mean, what am I going to do when Naloni cries all night, or when she won't listen to me at dinner, or anything else? I don't want to treat her like I was treated, I want her to grow up better and happier than I was, and I never learned from my parents, I've never seen how a happy family works except in holos, and I'm just afraid that I'm not capable of...taking care of her." She looks up at Angel and wipes her eyes on her sleeve. "Do you understand?" she asks, back in English.

"I do. My Dad...spent most of his life terrified that he was his Dad." He pauses, going a bit closer to her, his voice softening, though not close enough to impede on her personal space. "No one knows how to be a parent Ngawai. You were all Apprehenders, or doctors, or shoe salesmen or students. But you and Davis are good people, and like I said, you don't exactly do things in half-measures. So when Naloni cries at night, you'll comfort her, and when she doesn't listen to you at dinner, you'll find the balance between discipline and letting kids be what they are."

He looks toward the crib, then out toward the ocean. "And if its not going well - to be honest, I've seen you both dig in and fight over way more trivial things than your flesh and blood. When it gets hard, you'll fight to keep it together. It's all you can do - and you'll both make fine parents. Probably scare her first date a bit, and Davis will end up the bane of teachers everywhere by making sure she's far too clever for her own good, but in the end, you'll be fine. And you'll be happy."
Ngawai listens intently to Angel, laughs when he jokes about Davis and puts her hand on Angel's. "Thank you, Angel," she says in English. "I just...had to...get that off my chest." She asks the last phrase more as a question whether she used it right. "It feels good, thank you."

She wipes her eyes again and puts herself back together a bit. "Well, now that I have said all of that, do you want something more to drink? I have some work to do before we go to Washington DC, I have files that I want to go through for connections to Simmons, I want to create a list of targets for while we are there. Do you want to help, or do you want to finish your running?"
Angel nods slightly. "My pleasure. And sure I'll sit down for a drink and see if I can help you out for a bit. The running - well, it wasn't exactly something I was doing because I had a plan in mind."

"Let me bring my vox holo inside and we can share the work." Ngawai gets up and brings her holodisplay back inside from off the porch. She puts it down on the table between the two of them, and with a few gestures, splits the screen between the two of them and pulls her vox off the unit, clipping it back on her ear. "I am trying a trick I learned as an Apprehender to find the associates of a target. I am going through all the paperwork I could find with Simmons' name on it, making a list of people who often sign off on his reports and other papers. Usually, the people who sign Simmons' papers the most often will be those who are working with him. And from there, maybe we can find out who our problems are, and target them."

Angel nods, sitting down where she motions him to. "Heard some counter-terrorist guy go on about that once. Figure out who owes who favors, if someone goes to a particular person every time they need something done, things like that."
He grins slightly. "Doubt Simmons would appreciate being on the recieving end of that particular mission."
"Neither will his friends." Ngawai copies down a few names and slides the pad of paper in between them. "Here's what I've found so far, just mark what you find."


A half-hour later, Ngawai and Angel have made some progress; a long list of names from all over the Department of Defense, CIA, NSA, even a couple from the FBI and local authorities, but five names have risen above the rest. Generals Okuna, O'Connor, Ward from the Pentagon, and Russell and Pascoe at the CIA. The presence of Davis' old boss on that list isn't surprising, and the others are also in similarly-high positions of power in their respective organizations. Whether or not they're involved in the efforts to sabotage the team remains to be seen, but it's certainly a place to start.

The search is winding down when Davis and Swims-the-Black return, both of them smelling of sea water and wet fur. Davis looks a bit more tan than before, and he carries the empty-looking cooler into the kitchen. "Hey, Angel, what are you doing here?" he asks, giving Ngawai a peck on the cheek.
"I will shower, if that is all right with you," Swims asks, his fur standing slightly on end, both from the heat and from the salt that Angel can now see dried on the tips of his fur.
"Yeah, go ahead," Davis signs, and takes a seat next to his wife.
"Helping your wife with the housework, while you go fishin' with your buddies." Angel nods down to the stack of files being used to untangle Simmons' contacts.
"Target list?" Davis bends over and looks at the paper list.
"Something like that. Ask her though, she's the brains of the operation."
"Ah, Bob, why am I not surprised that your name is on this list?" Davis comments. "Do you have the bugs?" he asks Ngawai in Imperial.
"Courtesy of Brinai, she said she threw in a few extras, in case you need more than you thought," Ngawai replies in kind, motioning towards a package on the living room table. She wrinkles her nose a bit when the breeze blows inwards. "Oh, Garrett, you really smell like Swims-the-Black."

Angel can smell it too. Davis sharing an office with the Wherren in the hot tropical climate means that he always smells a bit like the earthy-smelling musky oil that covers Swims-the-Black's coat, but now he smells like he rolled in it. Probably, the sea water and breeze out on the lagoon blew a mist of it all over Davis.

Davis shrugs. "It's not that bad of a smell, I don't think. I'll shower when he's done."
"Davis." Angel gives him a flat, fixed expression. "A pretty girl tells you you smell off, the answer is not 'It's not that bad'."
Ngawai laughs. "Thank you, Angel. It is more that when Garrett comes home like this, unlike with Swims-the-Black, he leaves the oil on everything he touches. Swims-the-Black can sleep in sheets and leave them clean, but it's like Garrett has been greased."
Davis rolls his eyes and gets up. "Fine, I'll wash my arms in the sink, but unless you want me to get in the shower with Swims-the-Black, you're going to have to wait."
"I prefer wait," Swims barks from the bathroom.

With a decidedly satisfied expression, Angel sits back in his chair. "I should probably get going." He stands, pushing his chair back in. "Was good talking with you Ngawai."
Ngawai stands as well and embraces Angel, bending over a bit to accomidate her bulge. "Thank you for stopping by, Angel, and for your kind words. You are welcome here any time, my friend."
Returning the hug, he gives them both a warm smile. "My pleasure. Stay out of trouble, Davis." He raises his voice a bit, calling to Swims from the shower. "Keep an eye on these two, will you? Furniture assembly brings out the worst in our species."
"I will keep the damage to the furniture," Swims replies over the shower.


Swims-the-Black nods to Ngawai as he walks out of the bedroom. He’s slicked the fur on the top of his head back and is wearing his color-shifting coat over his lightweight Imperial garb. “Thank you for the use of your shower, Ngawai,” he says. “I should probably take that list and coordinate with Ms. Barnes on a proper course of action.
Ngawai passes Swims the list. “Thanks. We will see you when we meet for dinner, Swims-the-Black.
As always, Ngawai.” Swims walks back to the bathroom and knocks on the door before opening it a crack so Davis can see Swims’ signs on the mirror. “See you later on tonight, Garrett. We shall have to go out on the lagoon again sometime.
And you keep your eyes open for that ship,” Davis signs, leaning out of the shower door. “See you at dinner, Swims-the-Black.
I shall.” Swims closes the bathroom door, and nods again to Ngawai as he walks past her, then closes the front door behind him, the afternoon heat bringing out a lighter shade of his fur as he walks off.

Ngawai takes a seat on the more comfortable chairs in the living room. She starts thumbing through the news when Davis calls out from the shower. “I’ll be ready to go over the intel again once I’m out of the shower and dressed,” Davis shouts. Ngawai and Davis have been using Imperial almost entirely with each other since months before Whiirr.
“Take your time,” Ngawai calls back. “The plane isn’t going to be here until well after dark.”
“All right,” Davis responds, and the door to the bathroom clicks shut.

With Ngawai left by herself, she opens a video file of a police reality show and starts reading through her information feeds. News from both Narsai and the Imperium at large comes through; it seems that the situation about the Hedion blackout on Napai and further afield is beginning to come to some sort of head. Thrax Vikethan, the Speaker of the People, the head of the Court of Worlds, the Imperial body appointed to represent the interest of the different worlds under the Imperium’s rule, has taken up the banner of those blaming Sun Shenmai for the success of the Narsai’i campaign on Whiirr and now for allowing the Hedion Blackout to happen. A great many of his colleagues in the Court are joining his cause, and calls for Shenmai’s replacement are beginning to be heard from official Imperial bodies on several worlds.

The news on Narsai is relatively tranquil, by comparison: with the vast majority of the world kept in the dark as to the latest happenings off-world, the news of the latest mission is completely absent, and instead is the usual noise of events on this rather tumultuous world flipping from one side to the other. Pressure in the government of the United States and elsewhere on Narsai about relations with off-world groups and what needs to be done to limit their influence on Narsai is coming in from some of the more odious groups (at least to Ngawai’s eyes), but mostly she sees the panic of people confronted with something completely outside their experience and comprehension. Some want to ban it, some want to embrace it, most simply want to know what is going on before making a decision.

A new message pings on her vox, and Ngawai recognizes the alert message immediately: it’s an alert generated by her vox, triggered by any information on a certain former team member sent over unsecured military channels. When she opens the message, she feels a spike of pure cold shoot through her body. It’s an alert that Sgt. Semo Putupu will be gating back to Diego Garcia in a week’s time to escort a new group of instructors for the Wherren schools that are being slowly established on the planet.

Ngawai’s heart grows cold and her head starts to spin as she thinks about Semo. She gets up and walks into the kitchen for a glass of water. She leans against the counter and moves to support Naloni with her off hand, gently rubbing her bulge. The sensation and contact begins to calm her down, but then she hears a voice whisper in her ear that snatches it all away from her in an instant.

The bastard’s going to be here in a week, Ngawai. Plenty of time to do the groundwork and scout a good spot for the kill.
Ngawai quickly moves away from the counter and spins around. There, next to where she just was resting, stands Harlon’s body, still in his shredded custom Imperial armor, the left side of his body pockmarked and torn from shrapnel. Her legs go weak and she leans against the counter as she muffles her fearful sobs with her hands. He doesn’t speak or move, but she hears his voice just the same, that smooth charm he always seemed to effortlessly have. His body just stares at her with dead eyes, one cut open by shrapnel and the other clouded over.
“No...” Ngawai stares at the floor, trying to will Harlon away again.
It’ll be easy. You play up the pregnant angle, maybe wear something low-cut to flash a bit of your new plus-sized distractions at guards, and you’ll get in wherever you want on base.

“No...no, I can’t, I have Naloni to think about now,” she whispers, cradling Naloni with her hands. “I can’t put her in danger. I won’t...”
Harlon’s eyes shift down to her stomach. Ah, yeah, the baby. Okay, that’s fine. You love Garrett and Naloni, you don’t want to hurt either of them. He slowly shifts his gaze back up to her face. But what about after she’s born? Think of the example you’ll set for Naloni. If you do that, then she’ll be able to say that her mother did the right thing and got revenge for the people she loved and the people who loved her, just like her father did. She’ll be better off, no matter what happens after that.

Ngawai breaks down into sobs again, nodding at Harlon’s words. She takes one more deep breath, then pulls herself back to her feet. Her lip is still trembling, but she nods again, this time stronger. “Yes, you’re right.”
Garrett will understand, and he’ll be able to be proud of you after that. Naloni will be able to hold her head high. That’s what you want for them, right, babe?
Ngawai nods again.
That’s my girl. Ngawai can almost feel the grope for her ass that proceeded that phrase from Harlon. Do what’s right, Ngawai. For everyone. Get the kill.
“I will, I promise.” Ngawai closes her eyes, a final few tears rolling down her cheeks, and when she opens them again, Harlon is gone.

Davis walks out of the bathroom into the kitchen, towel wrapped around his waist. “I’ll be dressed in a second, I know, but we’re out of -” He sees the red, bloodshot eyes framed by damp trails down Ngawai’s dark cheeks and stops cold. “Are you okay?”
Ngawai waves her hand and reaches for a strip of disposable towel. “I’m fine, Garrett.”
“The woman I love more than Narsai itself and mother of our child is crying by herself in our kitchen. Do you think I’d ever take ‘everything’s fine’ for an answer?” Davis says. He takes her hand in his and kisses her knuckles, the dark brown skin broken in places by old fight scars, and Ngawai smiles at his rhetorical question and gesture. “Tell me, Ngawai. Please.”

She hesitates for a moment. “Just...I don’t know if I’m ready to be a mom. I’ve done a lot of bad things, and I don’t know if I even deserve all of this.”
Davis nods, and wraps his arms around her, Ngawai returning the embrace. “More than any woman I know, you deserve this, Ngawai.” He kisses her on the head. “After all the sadness that you’ve seen and the hard life you’ve had, you, more than anyone, deserve a bit of happiness. Okay?”
She nods, laying her head down on Davis’ shoulder. Out of the corner of her eye, she can see Harlon’s mangled shoulder standing half out of the hall closet. “Okay.”
e of pi 2011-04-05 05:18:53
After Hedion and the party the night before, the heat of Diego leaves Luis and Arketta feeling languid. Luis is lying half-awake, contemplating the ceiling when Arketta rolls over next to him and bumps his shoulder. "It's hot," she says."I thought we left Hedion to get away from the heat."
"Out of the frying pan and into the fire seems to be the order of the day around here," Luis says, and switches his gaze to the TV across from the bed. "I'm thinking get something cold to drink, trying again to get the AC working when I only have 10 fingers instead of 20, and then catching up on some movies. You?"
Arketta rolls over and sits up, peels her sweat-soaked t-shirt off and lays back down on the bed. "We have a rare day off, Luis. I plan on doing as little as possible." She turns her head to the side and looks up at Luis, a grin on her face. "You are more than invited to do that with me, right here."
Luis takes in the scenery for a moment, then looks back at the TV. "I'll get the drinks. You want any lemonade?"
"Sure," Arketta says, sitting up and propping herself up against the wall with a pillow behind her back. "I'll be here."

A few minutes later, he returns with two glasses of lemonade, and a few DVD cases tucked under his arm. Setting the glasses down on the bedside table, he holds up the DVD cases. "Got a few new things from while we've been gone," he says, "Any preference?"
"Oh, the one with the explosions on the box, please." Arketta takes a sip from her glass, and slides down the wall.
"A-Team it is, then," Luis says. He turns on the TV and DVD player, and slides the DVD into the machine. As Luis climbs back into bed next to Arketta, she leans over against his shoulder and rests her head against his.
"What is this movie about?" Arketta asks.
"It's based on this old TV series about a special forces team who are falsely accused of crimes, and have to go on the run and do good deeds as they try and clear their name," Luis says. He blinks. "So, it's kinda us, I guess. With fewer lasers."
Arketta smiles. "But we are not falsely accused of anything, yet." She takes Luis' hand and settles into a comfortable position. "I've seen holos based on serials before. They usually weren't very good."

An hour or so later, Luis feels something damp on his shoulder. He looks down and notices that despite the promised explosions, Arketta has dozed off against his shoulder, a small trail of saliva running out of her mouth and onto his shirt. He considers the still-running movie, the still-busted AC, and Arketta's head on his shoulder for a few moments, then gently moves Arketta's unconscious body off of his shoulder and onto her back on the bed, powers off the TV and leans back against the headboard of the bed himself. Sometimes, the fire isn't so bad, I guess, he thinks as he lets himself doze off again.
punkey 2011-04-06 10:28:52
Late that night, the whole team finds themselves waiting outside the Diego Garcia airstrip terminal, an artifact left over from when the island’s residents were evacuated to make room for the military base. Everyone but Zaef and Arketta, who spent most of the day off asleep, are yawning with the late hour and boredom from waiting outside in the warm tropical night for the Gulfstream to arrive. Gorlan Kesh is standing with the team, the small bag of luggage he managed to bring with him from Hedion sitting upright next to him as he impatiently checking his vox yet again. The man already seems to dislike Earth’s method of long-distance travel, and he couldn’t stop staring at Swims-the-Black’s tusks and canine teeth the last time he yawned.

“Are all methods of travel on Narsai this slow?” Gorlan asks after closing his vox interface for the tenth time.
“Only when they’re late,” Davis replies. “And it depends on the time of day, our individual surface transportation roads sometimes barely move at all.”
"On the other hand, we are highly advanced in the respected scientific field of barbecue sauces," Hugh throws in.
Gorlan nods. "Yes, the meat that was served at that restaraunt was very good, as were those small vegetables in sauce."
"Baked beans," Davis adds.
"Yes, that was it," Gorlan says. "If that's what food on Narsai that's cooked by an inebriated soldier on an island in the middle of the ocean tastes like, I am very interested to eat at a proper establishment."

Davis pulls up another yellowed plastic chair from the pilots' smoking area outside the terminal and sits down next to Ngawai, who is already seated in her own chair. Davis seems more clingy than usual with his wife, but only Angel knows why.

One of the staff at the terminal leans out of the door. "The tower just cleared your plane to land, it should be here in a few minutes," he shouts.
Zaef looks up from his game of solitaire-or rather, solitaire plus backseat driver/rules-monkey, as Luis and occasionally Angel try to walk him through the game. "Bout damn time," he growls.

The private jet touches down a few minutes later, the screeching whine of the jet engines surprising Gorlan. “So, more hydrocarbon based fuels?” he shouts over the noise.
“Yeah, we pretty much run on the stuff, for the moment at least," Luis shouts back.
"Interesting!" Gorlan taps the vox controls on his sleeve, triggering his bag’s wheels into life. The bag rolls itself around to just behind and to the left of the noble, waggling back and forth on its gyro-stabilized wheels as it waits for its master to move. For his part, the Kesh noble looks over the military-issue Gulfstream, with its blue and white two-tone paint, USAF symbol on the engine nacelles, and American flag on the tail.

Once the engines are shut down and the fuel truck parked on the far side of the plane, the front door for the jet folds down. A young Navy officer in dress whites stands at the top of the stairs as you walk towards the plane with your luggage.
Davis reflexively reaches for Ngawai's bags, but then thinks better of it after she quickly grabs for her own bags, and lets his wife carry her bags to the airplane while he handles his own.

The officer salutes the team as you climb the stairs. “We’ll be fueled and ready to take off in ten minutes, sirs,” he says as the team climbs aboard, then repeats himself in patchy Imperial for Gorlan’s sake. “We’ll be stopping at Los Angeles Air Force Base to refuel and to pick up an additional passenger. After that, we’ll be flying directly to Andrews AFB.”
“Good,” Davis says, taking a seat after waiting for Ngawai to settle herself in. “Do you have the updates?”
“Miss Barnes forwarded the reports before we left, sir.”
“Even better. It’ll be nice to finally catch up with what’s going on on Narsai.” The officer takes a moment to parse Davis’ use of the Imperial word for Earth in his English, then moves around the cabin, handing out copies of the couple-dozen pages thick report on Earth news and events over the last few months, public and otherwise, and asking if the rest of the group has anything else that they need.

Gorlan's seated himself with the team, but noticeably away from Angel and Swims-the-Black. “Servant, what do you recommend to drink?” Gorlan asks.
“Uh,” the officer replies, “We have a bar, and some 'sodas', master.” The poor officer’s Imperial is being taxed enough trying to parse his sentences, and the fine distinction in Imperial pronouns between “subordinate” and “indentured servant” and "sir" and "master" is completely beyond him, although all of the team hears it immediately. “I can get a..’whiskey’...or other alcohol beverage, if you want.”
Gatac 2011-04-06 18:17:05
Hugh reacts with visible annoyance to Gorlan addressing the Lieutenant as "servant" - he may be the military leader of the most elite unit in Earth history half-running an interstellar war, and an Army Officer to boot, but in his own estimation, Hugh's as blue collar as a Bruce Springsteen album.

"He's not a servant, Mr. Kesh," Hugh says. "You should try to forget that word."
punkey 2011-04-06 18:59:27
Gorlan looks over at Hugh in surprise. "Oh, he's not? I just assumed, because of the white uniform and the -" He turns back to the officer. "I'm sorry, uh..." He looks back at Hugh. "What do I call him, then?"
Gatac 2011-04-06 19:08:40
"It's appropriate to address him as Lieutenant," Hugh says. "That's his military rank, like Captain is mine. And the whites are his dress uniform, to be worn for representative duties and ceremonies. I've got one, too, but it looks different because I'm in the Army. I'll be wearing that when we're in Washington."
punkey 2011-04-06 19:17:50
"He's in your military?" Gorlan looks the poor Lieutenant over again, then addresses Hugh. He looks rather flustered by his inadvertent faux pas. "I'm very sorry. It's just that he offered me a drink, and that white uniform looks awfully like an indentured servant's uniform..."

He looks back to the Lieutenant. "I'm sorry. I'll have one of these 'w-his-keys' you offered, thank you, 'Lieuchenanch'." Having never spoken English before, it sounds like the W in whiskey was being forcibly dragged out of the back of his throat, and he far over-emphasized the S and the K, but the Lieutenant gets the message. When he's brought his drink, he makes the sign of the akwhela on his chest and bows slightly to the Lieutenant, who doesn't really know what to do about that.
Gatac 2011-04-06 19:19:32
"Thank you, Lieutenant, we appreciate the hospitality," Hugh says in English.