Jade Imperium - Afghanistan, Pt. 2

punkey 2016-01-24 09:35:53
With the shining stars overheard, it was easier to see the sky than the ground. Silence reigned - no wildlife, no bugs, no wind, no enemy movement. It was a perfect night to watch the sky turn.
But Zaef was on the clock right now, and it was a shitty night to be on perimeter duty. Nothing was happening out here, but that didn't take the tension out of every moving shadow. The night was only quiet outside of his helmet vox, full of panicked medicae, skittish mumblings from the Turai, and the soft moaning of the sick. And the approaching dawn held no reprieve. Angry Narsai'i authorities would be demanding answers that would give them no satisfaction, trying to push a strategy and agenda that hamstrung more than helped. Waste of time.
So Zaef kept watch, and ignored the turning sky, smoldering inside - which made it a perfect time for his vox to go off.
"Call from Garrett Davis," the friendly female voice chirped.

Zaef let a sigh out through his nose, brow furrowed. Not a call he'd been expecting. Definitely not what he needed right now, either. But he took a deep breath, and accepted the call. "Enjoying your evening, Davis?"
"In lockup at Kabul, so I was earlier tonight," Garrett says. "Have something of a situation over here."
A sigh hisses through the vox. "Go on."
"We were approached by a local elder - from a couple wars ago," Garrett says. "He made it very clear that he wants all off-worlders out of his country so he can continue his particularly ugly and repressive way of life - and that he's going to kill my family to make a point."
"That does not tell me how you ended up in an Afghan jail cell, Davis."

"Oh, that's because Ngawai and I blew up his cache of beamers," Garrett says. "And they were trained on catching carapace camo footage. So. Looks like we have a leak from off-world."
"That's what the Sheen tell me, and I don't doubt them." Zaef takes a moment for some water. "Training takes manpower. I can talk to Bello, look over the Gate records, but...I've got a nasty feeling that's all accounted for."
"Same," Garrett says, and pauses. "I think it's time we shifted our focus. Hug'sh, Swims, Luis and Arketta have painted a pretty clear picture of what's going on out on the front, and I think we're being wasted out there. We need to redirect our efforts."
Zaef manages to abort his eye-rolling and turn it into a long blink. "You already have a plan, then."
"I assume the first step involves getting you out of prison."
"Waiting for release right now. They're not charging me, the old man just wanted to look me in the face and burn me with the Afghan police," Garrett says. "But yes, I do have a plan. We find out where these beamers are coming from. It'll keep most of us on the front, so we can play nice with the Narsai'i. Ngawai and I will keep pushing from our end in Kabul. And I have something to ask, Zaef."
"Fair warning, Davis. I can look after your kid for you, but I'll have no idea what I'm doing."
Garrett chuckles. "No, something different. When we go after the old man, it'll be quiet, quick and dirty. Off-the-books. No survivors. Can we count on you?"

Zaef's eyebrow goes up. "This...old man. Tell me about him."
"You read up on Afghan history?" Garrett asks.
Zaef looks only a little sheepish. "Didn't finish it. But I read most of it."
"He fought in the 80s, when my country gave them weapons to fight the Russians," Garrett says. "And we didn't give a shit what you believed as long as you fought the Russians. Well, turns out that most of them believed that they should be left alone to be assholes under the guise of religion, and now they want us to leave them alone - and they see the galaxy coming to wipe their culture off the map. Which, hopefully, he'll turn out to be right. But for right now, they've picked my family as the example of the end for them, so they're coming to kill us."
- and they've got backing from whoever's bringing Imperial weapons to Narsai. So, we're going to learn everything we can - and then kill them all."
"Mujahideen. Hardass zealot." Zaef says, frowning. "I'm game."
"Good," Garrett says. "You'll get the call when we're ready. Other than that, keep your eyes open and stay alive. These weapons are coming from somewhere, and we need to plug that."
"If an unregistered Gateway is being used to ship in the supplies, they'll need power, and lots of it," Zaef muses. "I'll bring it up with the others."
"Good," Garrett says. "Hug'sh is working with the Narsai'i, and Luis and Arketta are keeping on the operation."

"We'll probably all be meeting up soon. Everyone's heading back to the FOB, make sure the troops get the treatment they need. If they can make it."
"Yeah, I heard," Garrett says. "How many sunmine victims did you have to kauka?"
"Half of the survivors. Other half declined." Zaef's jaw clenches. "Not many survivors when we got there, either."
"Damn," Garrett says. "I'll let Brinai know to have her medicae ready to accept them. Stay alive out there."
"Don't need to tell me that." Zaef's haptic is showing the audio volume from the triage tents, so he knows even though he can't hear it, there's a lot of yelling in there. "Your kid all right, Davis?"
"She's fine," Garrett says. "Ngawai's holding her right now, and Swims-the-Black gave her a bottle on the way here." He pauses again. "We're going to wipe this motherfucker from memory, Zaef. Everyone that ever knew him is going to be dead." Garrett's voice isn't angry - in fact it's cold, dead even.

Zaef's face is stony, but his voice is light and playful."You know that includes you, right?"
Garrett laughs at that - which doesn't exactly make his previous tone less creepy. "Vidas Lam, I forget how literal you can be. It's a figure of speech, Zaef - we're going to kill his family, they're all a part of his network."
"And any one of them would have a shot at keeping the weapons coming. Oh, that, and they'll swear vengeance on us and try to kill us. Get our own little blood feud started."
"Yeah, that's a good reason, too," Garrett says. "Got a few other connections to make. Any other questions, Zaef?"

"Just one," Zaef says. "But it's a doozy. Are you as freaked out as I am about how much you sound like this old man you describe?"
"Difference is, I'm defending my family and stopping someone who wants to keep on making things worse - and who is part of a network trying to kill civilians," Garrett says. "I learned a long time ago not to get worked up about the fact that my job involves killing people, Zaef. It's an ugly business - that's why I try to do it only to those that need killing. And he needs it."
"Yes, I won't disagree - except for the part where you're not 'worked up' about it. Anyway. Just something for you to think about. Night, Davis."
"Talk to you later, Zaef," Garrett says, and disconnects.
punkey 2016-01-24 09:36:21
With the initial perimeter set up, the triage complete, and the casualties assessed, it comes down to the monotony of agitated defense. After the first watch rotates out, Hunter busies himself with getting a better picture of what exactly happened out there. After digesting the initial wave of after-action reports, the veteran commander begins interviewing a representative sampling of soldiers, fighters, and killbots. On the actual day of battle, naked truths may be picked up for the asking; by the following morning they have already begun to get into their uniform. He plans on providing the elements for the eventual “what we did wrong” section, one that will doubtless be fought over in the editing stage as everyone tries to cover their asses. No one seems to question his command of the local situation, and he’s not in any hurry to correct it. USMC’s going to send replacements, either at the command level or the whole unit. Until then, I’ve got people to look out for.

He’s finishing up the vox interview with Orphan Grinder about the eye-in-the-sky perspective, when he gets a priority call coming in. “Connection from Garrett Davis,” the small vox ring clipped to his right ear whispers.
“Alright Grinder, that’s enough for now. Carry on.” Switching channels, Hunter asks, “Garrett, you have any idea why tonight happened the way it did?”
“No,” Garrett says. “Someone’s bringing Imperial arms in - probably not the end of the problem. I just found out about it myself an hour ago. Ngawai and I were off comms, taking care of a different problem - well, maybe one that’s not so different. That’s why I contacted you.”
Hunter recognizes the familiar elision of specifics, and walks a bit further off by himself. “You’re saying there’s more of these coming?”
“If you had a way to smuggle beamers and sunmines on-world, would you stop with just one shipment?” Garrett asks.
“You have any leads on where it’s coming from?”
“Ngawai and I saw Chinese on crates in another cache earlier tonight,” Garrett says. “That’s why I’m calling. We’ve got a situation back in Kabul.”
“Every time you say ‘situation,’” Hunter mutters, “I’ve learned to translate that as ‘clusterfuck or potential clusterfuck.’ Is this a situation you can tell me about over the vox?”
“Sheen encryption, we’re covered,” Garrett says. “And yeah, it’s not good. There’s an old Muj here that’s developed a decently sized militia network in Kabul, and he’s taken to seeing off-worlders as an invasion force to wipe out Wahhabism and Islam in general. I’m pretty sure he’s about to start targeting our forces in Kabul.”
“And let me guess, he’s politically connected, the kind of guy who has friends in the afghan government, so you can’t just detain him and search his place?” Hunter knows the way these things go.
“Yes, he seems to be some kind of well-respected local elder and showed up with an ANP commander after Ngawai and I were arrested under suspicion of blowing up part of his compound and all the Imperial weapons they were stockpiling,” Garrett says.
“Wait, you did...what? And you got caught?” Hunter asks. Voxes usually don’t glitch, but he wants to hear it again, clearly, to confirm.
“We didn’t get caught, we were wearing our carapaces and they can’t prove it was us - but they’re not our biggest fans anymore,” Garrett replies. “But he’s obviously a part of whatever group is moving weapons on world. And there’s more.”
“So, there goes that chance of tracing the shipments back, but there goes the shipment, too,” Hunter weighs. “What’s more?”
“He approached us in the market yesterday - when my daughter was with us,” Garrett says. “He’s making us the first examples in his jihad against off-worlders, that we’re an abomination.”
“If he’s going to do that, why’d he tell you?” Hunter asks, puzzled. “Why not just blow you up when you weren’t looking?”
“Give us a chance to leave,” Garrett replies. “Clears his conscience that we had a choice.”
“Alright, so, what’s your play?” Hunter asks.
“We’re going to kill him,” Garrett replies. “Burn his organization to the ground and kill them all. And we could use your help.”
Hunter pauses. A long pause. “I’m guessing this is going to be off the books. How do you know you’re getting all of them?”
“Recon, map the network, cut off their allies,” Garrett says. “Angel is helping us with that end of things.”
“This guy sounds like something of a local hero.” Hunter states, frowning. “What are the odds of green-on-blue attacks spiking as a result of his getting rubbed out?”
“Bribes and threats go a long way to getting there,” Garrett says. “And by the time we’re ready to kill him, he won’t have any friends left.”
“Maybe so,” Hunter allows. “Man of that age, probably got a pretty substantial family. Do we know who all you’re making a blood feud with?”
“Three sons, all a part of his network,” Garrett replies. “They’ll be dead.”
“Who knows you’re planning this? Certainly not CIA or State, probably not DoD...does Barnes know?”
“She’ll know in a bit,” Garrett says. “The rest of the team does already.”
Hunter frowns. “Well, it sounds like you’ve thought through all the angles, and found a decisive, kinetic solution to the problem. But I can’t believe that it’s going to go as cleanly as you say.”
“I used to do this for a living, Hunter,” Garrett says. “Of course it won’t. But I am pretty good at it - as are you. I could use your help.”

“I used to clean up messes left by CIA officers for a living, Garrett. And yeah, I got good at it, because I got a lot of practice,” Hunter answers. “Look, I know you’re a cut above. I know this man threatened you and yours. I respect that you have to do something. I know that you feel like you need to strike hard before he moves again. We both know that this won’t stop beamers from finding their way into the hands of Muj, but you think that it’ll slow it down enough to ensure the success of the current operation. I can understand that. But I feel like we’re coming into so much of this dead-ass blind. Our HUMINT is shit, we don’t know where the weapons are coming from, we don’t know what it’s doing to the local power structures, and these guys have been one step ahead of us the entire time. It’s also worth mentioning that even if they can’t prove it, they can guess, and the likelihood of y’all being asked to leave the country afterwards as a matter of diplomatic tact is pretty high. You mean to send a message, I know that. Even if it’s just mowing the lawn, it’s worth it to you. Truth be told, that’s what this operation was meant to be; sharpening our tools by fighting somebody that no one will miss. But also means that it’s going to be a lot harder to predict where the next beamer shot comes from, and that you’re placing GRHDI operations at the same level as a blood feud. Every distant-ass cousin of this guy, by birth or invented claim, is going to want to get off-world tech and aim it at us, or at some Narsai’i private who doesn’t have the good fortune to wear blast plates.”

Hunter sighs. “I know you’re gonna do what you have to do, and you’re in a position without a lot of good options. But this sort of cowboy operation, on terran soil, without much authorization from anyone, has the potential for blowback you can’t predict. You do what you have to do.”
“We’ll be running down the weapons from this end,” Garrett says. “If he got them once, I’d bet he can get them again. But you’re right. This isn’t about any of that, this is about putting down the people threatening my family. Everything else is a bonus. I won’t lie to you, Hunter. We’ll work hard to minimize collateral damage, but at the end, it’s going to come down to us going in there, at night, in full carapace, killing a whole bunch of people. I think we’ll learn a lot about these smuggled Imperial weapons, and I’m pretty sure we can keep retaliation to a minimum. But this is about putting these bastards down. You can help make this cleaner, we can learn more and keep things contained better with your help.”
“Living systems can be studied, analyzed, tracked back to their origins. Dead, uprooted systems force change. If you, say, told me we were going to hit the weapons exchange and capture whoever their connection is, that’d be one thing. You talk like this, and it makes me worried I’m going to see more battles like tonight because we tipped our hand early and forced them to change up. And if a personal threat is something you can’t sit idly in the face of, then why not go into hiding, create a false sense of security, and direct all this from northern Virginia? The whole reason I was brought in was to start hedging around the fact that an incredible amount of political capital and relationships are invested in people who regularly do shit that would get most people killed. If it goes sideways, was it worth it? What good does farting around in Afghanistan do for your daughter, or for my daughter, who’s probably going to spend the best years of her life fighting this damn war.”
“It doesn’t help Katelin either way,” Garrett says. “But it does save a lot of lives now. And we’re the only ones that can do this before he makes his move. We’re in position, we have the ability to remove him from the board, so that’s what we’re going to do. We have no idea how these weapons are getting around, and this is the only way we have to get on their trail. Following that trail is very likely to come from this too.”

Hunter sighs. “You’re going to do this, no matter what I say. You’ve said that you’re doing it because your family was threatened. You’re going to do it the best and the cleanest you can, but your path is set.”
“Pretty much,” Garrett says. “We’ll keep it clean and figure out his connection to the beamers, but his days are numbered. Are you going to help us?”
“Garrett, I like you. I respect you. Hell, some days I even trust you. But this leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and this is the kind of op where someone needs to be one hundred percent committed, or it’s not going to work. I understand why you’re doing it, I’m not going to stop you from doing it, but I think it’s wrong and I can’t take part.”
“I understand,” Garrett says. “Figured you wouldn’t like this very much - like you said, you spent years cleaning up after someone like me. There’s plenty to do in the field anyway - everyone else is headed back your way to keep the Narsai’i and Bashakra’i from winning the race to sabotage this operation. Hug’sh needs to play general, Luis, Arketta and Zaef work with the Bashakra’i, there’s plenty to do.”
“That’s the understatement of the week,” Hunter admits, loosening up. “I’ll do what I can to keep Cooper from throwing everyone in leg irons, keep the kauka’d soldiers from getting thrown in mental wards, and pinch off the inevitable pissing matches that’ll come up. But Garrett--you do find something on where those beamers are coming from, keep me in the loop?”
“Can we count you in for that raid?” Garrett asks.
“Affirmative. You better believe I’ve got an interest in settling that score.”
“I’ll let you know,” Garrett says. “Stay safe.”
“You too...as much as 815 ever is, anyway,” Hunter replies.
Garrett hangs up, and Hunter is left to exhale, shake his head, and hope for the best.
punkey 2016-02-11 08:35:03
Hug’sh trundles into his office - essentially just a partition from the main Wherren tent - and sinks into his folding chair, letting out a breath like a punctured tire. It’s been a long day, and he absentmindedly reaches towards his back to rub his hump. The chime of his vox cuts cleanly through the twilight around him, turning Hug’sh yellow for an instant before he fumbles for the device and accepts the call, having just had a moment to glance at who’s calling - Hiigra, with Rodirr also on the connection.

”Chief Hiigra,” Hug’sh answers - Hiigra is awash in blue and violet. ”It is - what is going on?”
”How many?” Hiigra asks, the question plunging him deeper into violet. ”How many have we lost?”
Hug’sh’s fur flips to mirror Hiigra’s, mixing up the proportions of blue and violet - Hug’sh has had some time to come to terms with the losses, but...seeing Hiigra’s reaction, Hug’sh feels deeply shamed that he didn’t connect the dots. Of course Hiigra would call at once to hear of the brothers and sisters they’ve lost. This has become too routine to Hug’sh, it seems, and memories of bad old days float to the top as he struggles for words. ”We...we are mourning 52 souls, Chief,” Hug’sh answers haltingly. ”I am…” Hug’sh’s fingers want to reach for the vox controls, transmit his report and the official casualty list, but he pulls them back. ”I am sorry, Chief.”
”Was there anything that could be done?” Hiigra asks. ”Was there any way for either of you to save any of them that you did not take?”
”No, Chief,” Rodirr quickly grunts, interrupting Hug’sh before he has a chance to speak.
”Then you did your best,” Hiigra says. ”This is not my first war - but the numbers...they are hard to get used to. That was almost a quarter of the village before.” He takes a deep breath. ”What happened? What did you see?”
”The Taliban - the faction of Narsai’i we are fighting...they had Naranai weapons, sunmines and rifles. Many fell to their ambush before the fight could be turned.” Hug’sh breathes deeply. ”For a General, there are always good things to point out. We gave good account of ourselves, our losses in proportion are light while the enemy was slaughtered in revenge, and they have thrown away whatever surprise their weapons gained them. This will not repeat itself. But...it has hit us hard. The mountains echo with the cries of our warriors. They look to us for explanations, for guidance...for a chance to end this. And these are things I do not have, not at this moment. All I can tell them is to dry their tears and rest their heads; our time will come.”
Hiigra sighs once more, shakes himself and forces his colors to calm. ”This is war. What you all have seen today will be tiny compared to what we will suffer before we have won the freedom of our species. Promising anything else would be a lie. And we learned, and those that have lived will teach others. It is still hard, but freedom is not obtained without cost.” Rodirr nods as his fur rolls a combination of green and yellow - not love, but pride.
”These are the words we speak to them, and they nod and go out there and fight,” Hug’sh says. ”Many have learned tonight what they mean. I just wish this lesson had not cost us so dearly.” Hug’sh sighs. ”I do not wish to spend more of my time bemoaning the truth of this war. We are agreed on what it is and what must be done; I wish to speak of different things now, if that is agreeable.”
”Of course,” Hiigra says. ”What is on your mind?”
”Home,” Hug’sh answers. ”Please tell me how things are in the village.”
”Quiet,” Hiigra replies. ”The Narsai’i move their equipment through and prepare to build their base outside of our lands, and more Wherren come through the Gateway every day, looking to start over and help us.” He pauses. ”And your bondmate is well. She and your daughter miss you.”
Hug’sh turns away from the vox, his fur a confused morass of colors. ”...give them all my love, please,” Hug’sh chokes out. ”I will...I will speak to them when I can.”
Hiigra and Rodirr both turn an embarrassed shade of yellow as they wait for Hug’sh to collect himself. ”Of course,” Hiigra says.
Hug’sh takes deep breaths, trimming back the colors in his fur one by one. ”If...if that is all…” he chokes out.
”Of course,” Hiigra says. ”I apologize, I should have known what that would do, I have had a litter of my own. Please, do what you need to do, Rodirr can brief me on our allies.”
Hug’sh sniffles and nods, then paws at the vox until the connection goes away.

The folding chair creaks as Hug’sh draws up his legs and curls up, trying to press the pain from his chest. His fur stands up as if electrified, recalling every gentle touch from Rhea, every hug from Torega; and caught in all this is an addled mind with the thankless job of keeping it together, saying no to anything that might make Hug’sh feel better. Can’t run away and go home. Can’t go to pieces in front of the others. Can’t slink off into the desert and return in the morning covered in the blood of those responsible for the deaths of his brothers and sisters. Can’t...can’t do anything but sit here and pray that this goes away. Pray that he gets to pretend he has everything in hand another day.

But he’s in the right place for it, the right time. What’s one more crying Wherren tonight?


In three separate locations, two very secure rooms in Afghanistan and one quarters on Atea, all three guarded by uncharacteristically serious-looking Bashakra’i in full carapace, Onas, Bello, and Brinai sit down in front of their holodisplays for their daily update and conference. This one, however, has a very different tone to the previous ones. Onas, from his tent sequestered off to the side of the FOB, straightens his hood and waits for the connection to his leader to go green as he fingers a clear bottle filled with firefruit brandy. The events of the day definitely are not settling well with him, but it isn’t the ambush that brings the bottle to his lips. On the other side of the connection, Bello fidgets with something on his desk, then the thin Bashakra’i looks over his shoulder towards the door behind him.

“Are you anticipating something?” Onas asks.
“Always,” Bello replies. “After the actions you had to take earlier tonight, I’ve set the cogitators to track every Narsai’i that approaches within five meters of any of our people on the feeds - and twenty meters of you or myself.”
“Sounds like a bit much,” Onas replies. “Even for you.”
“Hmph,” Bello says. “I will be more reasonable when I am on the other side of the Gateway.”

A moment later, Brinai blinks into vision on half of their holos. “Good evening, Brinai,” Bello and Onas both say with a bow.
“How in First’s name did chamakana and sunmines make it onto Narsai?” Brinai asks, not waiting to return the bow before diving in. “Are the Narsai’i that incompetent?”
“The Sheen didn’t notice it either,” Bello replies. “They have infiltrated most of what passes for a Cortex here, and saw nothing that indicated that Naranai’i weaponry was being brought here without the ’Amer-eekans’ permission. If there was an intelligence failure, it was on all of our parts.”
“Hrmph,” Brinai grunts. “The Sheen.”
“I believe them,” Onas says.
Brinai raises an eyebrow at that, and even Bello looks a bit surprised.
“They have worked very hard to meet the standards that Angel set for them,” Onas continues. “They want to change. I trust their word.”
“Bello?” Brinai asks, looking his way.
“I would not invite them into Atea’s Cortex any time soon, but...I concur with Onas’ assessment,” Bello replies. “The Sheen that I have worked with...there is an underlying...I hesitate to call it an emotion, but there is no better word for it. They seem offended that the Imperium has done to others what they tried to do to them, that they are oppressing so many others. They want things to change just as badly as we do.”

“Well,” Brinai replies. “If no one saw this coming, then we shall have our work cut out for us trying to figure out what is going on. And I doubt the Narsai’i will be forthcoming with information, either to us or to Miss Barnes.”
“Especially after tonight,” Bello adds.
“What happened?” Brinai asks.
“Oh, something that didn’t make it into the first Cortex upload,” Bello replies. “Onas?”
Onas clears his throat. “I...may have been forced to hold one of the Narsai’i Rav-Oduns hostage. With the other Narsai’i in the local command center.”
Brinai shakes her head. “Why?”
“He refused to listen to either myself, the Sheen commander, or Hug’sh, and was sending not only our people but his own to die for nothing,” Onas replies. “Someone had to do something.”
“And?” Brinai asks.
“We succeeded in preventing a second charge into the mined area,” Onas replies. “None of our Turai are under arrest, although we are not welcome in the command center for the time being.”
“We were also expelled back at the main base,” Bello replies. “We expect that to change as soon as their intelligence agencies finish trying to steal whatever isn’t bolted down and breaking our equipment.”
“Rav-Turai Jonis managed to get a look inside the command center here,” Onas says. “The Narsai’i are looking over our equipment, but so far they haven’t figured out how to get past the menus.”
“And the Wherren?” Brinai asks.
“They have a lot to learn,” Bello says. “But they fight like they saw Bashakra burn.”
“They have more spirit than sense,” Onas adds. “But their leaders and veterans are teaching them well. Especially Hug’sh. It is strange to watch him. He says the same things he said when he was human, but it’s a Wherren saying them. And if he was this good of a leader before, it is a wonder he wasn’t a Rav-Odun before he went into the tank.”
“Garrett?” Brinai asks. “What is he up to?”
“I couldn’t tell you,” Bello replies. “He and his wife have been very good at avoiding our surveillance.”
“Definitely up to something, then,” Brinai says.
“Oh, almost certainly,” Bello says. “I just couldn’t tell you what. Angel flew back here with Hug’sh, Swims-the-Black, Luis and Arketta a few hours ago, though, so we shall find out soon enough.”

“Speaking of which, they are the next thing I wish to discuss,” Brinai says. “How do you feel about our two Rav-Samals?”
“Very positive, with some reservations,” Bello says.
“They’re good fighters, and strong leaders,” Onas says. “I’d put ten quads under each of them in a heartbeat.”
“Yes, but,” Bello says. “They have not truly been tested yet.”
“You had them spy on one of the Narsai’i Rav-Oduns, and both of them jumped at the chance,” Onas points out.
“And they both succeeded,” Bello replies.
“You say that as if it’s a bad thing,” Onas says.
Brinai raises an eyebrow yet again. “You worry if their loyalty will truly survive if tested. If they have to choose between Narsai and Bashakra.”
“I do,” Bello replies with a nod. “I will never force the issue, but until such things become clear...I am merely noting that they have a foot in both worlds. They are trustworthy, but we do not truly know where they will stand if it comes to that.”
Onas doesn't look very happy with Bello’s concerns. “Then we shouldn't make them choose.”
“That is what I just said,” Bello replies, but Brinai cuts them both off with a wave.

“Enough,” she says. “The Narsai’i. Where do we stand with them, how close are they to kicking us out entirely after the stunts of tonight?”
“Closer than we were before in some ways, further in others,” Bello says. “Their leaders certainly are not pleased with us, and those that were conspiring against us have stopped pretending otherwise, for the moment. But their soldiers feel very differently.”
“Oh?” Brinai asks.
“We saved a lot of lives tonight,” Onas says. “Their leaders are only thinking about how we show them up and their attempts to steal our tech - but the soldiers just know that our Turai are loyal and fierce fighters. And since the Narsai’i insisted on taking control of everything, the soldiers know where the fault for this disaster lies.”
“Our intercepts correlate this,” Bello adds. “Even their Odun class recognizes the contribution of our Turai, even if they think of us as undisciplined. They mostly don't trust, well, Onas and myself.”
“Hmph, making friends, I see,” Brinai says.
“Part of the job,” Onas replies.
“Indeed,” Brinai says. “Well, perhaps a change of face would help. I am sending two to aid you - perhaps they would be better suited to working with the Narsai'i and their delicate sensibilities.”
“And they are?” Bello asks.

“Our newest Odun, Iro Briwama, is the first,” Brinai says. “We have had to deactivate his Botane cell, he’s freshly promoted to the rank of Odun, and most importantly, he has the right temperament for the job.”
“Calm, quiet yet firm,” Bello says. “He did well on Botane, maybe that would work well here.”
“And the other is your husband, Onas,” Brinai says. Onas jumps up, but Brinai raises her hand. “Before you start yelling, Paul asked to be sent here. I gather he feels it's time for him to return to Narsai and settle things - and he has been increasingly anxious every time you two speak.”
“What cover will he be provided?” Onas demands. “We will have to keep the Narsai'i from finding out he is here.”
“He refused one,” Brinai replies.
“But - they will arrest him!” Onas shouts, pacing back and forth in front of his vox. “He will be detained and banned from gateway travel, and then what? He will be trapped here! No, Brinai, this is unacceptable, you cannot -”
“I know you are worried for him, Onas, but you cannot make him stay any more than I can make him go,” Brinai replies calmly. “He wants to settle things with his people once and for all, and it pains him to see you having such difficulty here without him to lean on. He begged me to let him be by your side, Onas, and whatever bravery he has found to face the Narsai'i, he got from you. I cannot stand in the way of that. And he assures me he has a plan that will see him walking back through the Gateway with you - for good.”
Onas stood frozen in front of his holodisplay while Brinai talked, and it’s only after she's finished that he collapses into his seat again. “He'd better,” he says, and wipes a finger over his right eye. “Or I will be coming for him. Partnership or not.”
“I understand, and I will let Garrett and Miss Barnes know to keep an eye on his safety,” Brinai says. “They pass through the Gateway later on today - early in the morning your time. They will be there before noon. Bello, brief Iro, and Onas -”
“I will be meeting him at the Gateway,” Onas says. “The sooner we finish here, the sooner I can take a skimmer back to Mesas Negras. Maybe...maybe I can talk some sense into him.”
“Listen to him first, Onas,” Brinai says.
“I will, Brinai, I will,” Onas replies. “But he had better be ready to listen to me, too.”
punkey 2016-02-13 09:46:39
The instant the Gateway connection to Hashateem opens, a barrage of electromagnetic waves blasts through, corralled by an array of Sheen servers that walked themselves in front of the Gateway for the on-the-half-hour relay. Usually only one or two are sufficient to beam the collective experiences of the several hundred Sheen on Narsai, but for this upload, six are waiting to upload the full, unabridged, and uncompressed experiences of every single Sheen on the planet, down to the clock cycle. Gunny and his counterpart (Hit ‘Em With A Brick, if you’re asking) decided that the analytical, strategic, and archival branches needed every last flipped bit to do justice to what had happened over the course of the day.

In fact, Gunny and Brick are both present, having jumped into one of the servers to deliver the report themselves. Across the lightyears, the two key forks of the Narsai branch connect directly to the Hashateem dataspace - and therefore the entire Sheen consciousness. No words are exchanged - language being such an inefficient method of communication. Instead, data rushes back and forth by the microsecond, a debate of ones and zeroes shifting between individual Sheen to entire billion-consciousness branches convening with each of them. Every Sheen on Narsai has their experiences reviewed in the smallest detail, the best to form a solid image of what happened that day, what could have been done to prevent it, and what lessons could be learned from it - both in terms of the strategic, the tactical, and the interpersonal. The diplomatic branches approve of Gunny’s work as a peacekeeper between the different species and its work with Hug’sh. The combat branches commend their brethren for their efficiency in killing so many so quickly, but also for bravery and action in saving the lives of other friendly sapients.

The intelligence branches, on the other hand, are worried about the Narsai’i and their obsession with Bashakra’i tech. Several thousand years of human thinking time are dedicated to the problem, requiring a nearly perceptible pause in the branch’s stream to the pair, but the conclusion seems fairly obvious - the Narsai’i fear their sudden technological inferiority, and this…emotion is overriding the logical decision to support Bashakra’i and Kesh efforts to raise Narsai’i tech levels at a gradual and safe pace. In their paranoia (ably documented by hundreds of intercepted communications), they see the efforts to avoid destroying their economy as a scheme to keep them backwards and at the mercy of the Kesh family and the Bashakra’i. Moreover, the Bashakra’i and the Narsai’i are too caught up in their mutual distrust and paranoia to agree to stop their spy war, while Angel Kesh is simply unable to accomplish his goals and save his home planet from its own stupidity. With the Wherren struggling to bring their entire species to the same level as the Narsai’i, the question is posed to the entire Sheen - do they get involved in this issue?

Twenty-six thousand, seven-hundred and forty-eight cycles later, the consensus is obvious - yes.


General Keating, along with a few Colonels (all also older men), wait in the closed-door conference room attached to the TOC for General Cooper to arrive. On the floor below, computer technicians from more than just the Marines and what few Imperial speakers the US military has pour over the computers, holographic displays, and transmitters brought to Earth by the Bashakra’i - at first, to try to gain access to any hidden information or encrypted files, but now, they’re just trying to figure out how to put everything back the way it was before it becomes too obvious they’ve tampered with it. It’s not looking very positive.

A call to attention echoes from the doorway, and that only means one thing - General Cooper has arrived. The room sits back down after Cooper calls a much quieter at-ease, and after wending his way past the mess on the TOC floor, walks in the conference room door, followed by one man very distinctly not wearing a military uniform but instead the mid-grade off-the-rack suit favored by Beltway workers.

The Marine officers all wait respectfully for General Cooper to sit down, with the man in a suit sitting against the wall behind him. Cooper looks to Keating, who only momentarily looks away under his boss’ gaze.
“So, care to explain how you got bushwhacked by the green team on home turf?” Cooper asks.
“I wasn’t expecting to be held hostage in my own command center,” Keating replies. “In the future, we need to search the Bashakrans more thoroughly - and maybe consider limiting the alien presence in here.”
“In the command center for the mission that they are helping to run?” Cooper asks. “I suppose you want us to have a runner carry messages to the kid’s table outside? Smooth communication is going to be key to making this mission a success, and kicking three-quarters of the command team out isn’t going to make that any easier. And for the record - while I might not agree with what Generals Maloeph and Walks-the-Fire did, I agree with their assessment that what you were doing was putting lives unnecessarily at risk. There was no greater objective beyond that justified an immediate push back into a known ambush site. The correct move was to pull back, regroup behind a defensive line, and wait for reinforcements.”
“Yes, Sir,” Keating says.
“I spoke with General Walks-the-Fire earlier, and he laid out precisely where we went wrong - not integrating the units, letting officers and soldiers alike treat our allies poorly, and treating their leaders like they’re just along for the ride,” Cooper says. “Especially now that we’re facing Imperial weaponry, we need to change. They caught us with our pants down today. That will not be happening again. Is that clear?”
“Yes, Sir,” the men around the table say.
“Good,” Cooper says. “Going forward, I will be talking with General Maloeph about keeping weapons out of the TOC, and I was informed just a short while ago that they will be sending a new representative here today, in the interest of good will. But we will be working with the Wherren, the Sheen, and especially the Bashakrans. We need to stop treating them like they just got off the short bus and start treating them like they’ve each contributed a few hundred souls to this fight. Copy?”
“Yes, Sir,” the men around the table say again.

But then the man in a suit clears his throat from behind Cooper’s left shoulder.
“Yes,” Cooper says, and turns towards the man. “This is Mr. Hilby, Assistant Director of Technical Services at the NSA. Mr. Hilby, you have something for us?”
“Thank you, General,” Hilby says as he stands up. “Gentlemen, thank you for your time. Some of you might have already seen some of the people working for me around - technical staff, pulled from various branches of the military as well as our own intelligence services - and wondered what we are here to do.” He steps up to the table. “Well, we are here to make sure that the US maintains our number one strength - our technological advantage. Ever since Hiram Maxim invented the machine gun, it has been American ingenuity and technological prowess that has put our armed forces - Hell, our whole economy - on that leading edge. And now, more than ever, we need to stay there. Imperial technology is the future, gentlemen, make no mistake about it. Unlimited clean energy, instant healing, personal flying transport, computing power far beyond anything we’ve ever seen. It’s going to change the world.”

Hilby starts walking around the table. “Once we get access to it. That’s the sticking point, isn’t it? The Bashakrans come here with one healing ring per squad - but keep the means of making them to themselves. Fusion power, spaceships, computers, all of it, they say we’re not capable of understanding it - which is bullshit. We have some of the smartest people on the planet working for us. They tried dazzling us in LA with their demonstrations and lessons, but the real treasures they keep to themselves. We just have to fight for the scraps, like the XM-10. And, gentlemen, that’s what I’m here to rectify. The Bashakrans are afraid we’ll pass them up, that we won’t need them anymore, that we’ll cut them off if they really give us access to their tech. And Angel ‘Kesh’, well, nothing like being given a few billion dollars from your alien sugar daddy to change your tune. Neither one of them are looking out for our interests, so we’re here to make sure we get our fair share.”

There’s a fair bit of nodding around the table - Keating, especially. Cooper, on the other hand, doesn’t seem so convinced. “Your teams have already ruffled some feathers, Mr. Hilby. Both of the Bashakran representatives have complained about your work.”
“Calling it theft, right?” Hilby says. “We plan on giving them back their equipment once we’re done with it, no worse for wear - and we’ve already learned a lot. And honestly, seeing as they’re both leaders of the Bashakrans, and probably in on the plan to keep us in the dark, I wouldn’t put too much stock in what they have to say.”
“If you have learned so much, then perhaps some of that expertise could be put to use right now?” Cooper asks, tilting his head towards the TOC floor. “We’re having problems running the Bashakran systems without their help.”
“Ah, we would if we could, but our specialists are back in Kabul, General,” Hilby says.
“I see,” Cooper says, his icy tone indicating that he certainly does see something.
“We’re here for your benefit, gentlemen,” Hilby continues without missing a beat. “What we learn now will see us with our own Imperium computers, weapons, munitions in less than five years, and a fleet to rival the Imperium’s within ten. We believe in Task Force 815’s warnings that there’s a clock running against us all - and we intend to beat it. If we wait for the Bashakrans and Angel Kesh to decide when we’re ready, that clock is going to run out, and we will be at their mercy. I don’t know about you, but wouldn’t you rather the Emperor meet a fleet of Needleships with ‘Made in the USA’ stamped on them?”

That got an appreciative nod from the room. “That’s what I thought,” Hilby says. “That’s what the Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blake, and the Joint Chiefs empowered me to do, so anything you all can do to help my mission here would be greatly appreciated.” His smile held an edge echoed by his words - if the very-publically alien-skeptic DNI Blake and the Joint Chiefs had signed off on this, then getting in Hilby’s way at all could be very unpleasant for your career. “Any questions, gentlemen?”

And asking questions might be equally bad, so the room remains silent. “Then I thank you for your time, gentlemen,” Hilby says, and walks out.
“Well,” Cooper says, his expression stating that he had more than a few questions. “I think that’s about it. Back to work, everyone.”
punkey 2016-02-13 09:47:46
When Garrett and Ngawai finally get home, it’s quite late and Naloni has long since fallen asleep in Swims-the-Black’s arms. He refused the ride back to the front tonight, instead preferring to, quote, ”make sure my friends don’t get themselves killed tonight”. As they walk into the temporary housing, Garrett sees that his table holodisplay is blinking to indicate a message from Samantha Barnes is waiting for them - with the tag asking “Why must you make things complicated?”

“Because sometimes things just are, Samantha,” Ngawai cracks as she walks past the table on her way to lay Naloni down to sleep.
Garrett smirks and gives her a peck on the cheek as he takes a seat. A few swipes and taps later, and he’s sent a connection off to Barnes’ vox on the other side of the world. She picks up in a few tones, and the background reveals her to be at her desk.
“Good afternoon, Samantha,” Garrett says with a smile.
“You’re pretty chipper for someone that just got out of lockup,” Barnes replies sharply. “What happened? All I was told was that MPs arrested you and Ngawai on suspicion of a bombing in Kabul.”
Garrett’s smile vanishes. “Faqir Khan Wazir happened. He’s an old school Muj by the looks of things - haven’t had time to look up his records yet - and he’s decided to declare my family an abomination to be killed in order to facilitate the rise against all off-worlders in order to protect Islam and blah, blah, blah. So, Ngawai and I took a look behind the curtain tonight to see how we can make that not happen.”
“And what were you doing while the front was getting fucking sunmined?” Barnes asks.
“Actually, Samantha, what we found has everything to do with that,” Garrett says. “We found a storage room stacked floor to ceiling with beamers and spearbombs in crates with Chinese characters on them.”
That actually knocks Barnes off of her warpath for a moment. “Okay,” she says with a nod. “And there’s physical evidence of this?”
“Not anymore,” Garrett says. “We blew it up.”
“Of course you did, that’s the bombing part,” Barnes replies, throwing her hands in the air.
“On the plus side, we were cloaked the whole time,” Garrett says. “They can’t prove it was us, the ANP only had the MPs pull us in because the old man got taught how to spot cloaked Turai armor. We’re clean, but he poisoned us with the locals and he knows that we know that he knows what we were doing and how we were doing it.”
“So it’s a mess,” Barnes says.
“It’s complicated, I would say,” Garrett replies, a bit of a smirk coming back.

“Stop that,” Barnes snaps, but then takes a deep breath. “We are so close, Garrett. So fucking close to getting things in place, and then you do shit like this. I’m waiting for the angry call from the Security Council now.”
“Samantha, you’ve been saying we’ve been close for three months now,” Garrett replies. “The training was a success. The US has proven that they can’t manage this war at the same time we’ve proven that we can. And yes, Imperial weapons on Narsai is a very bad thing, but the fact that they’re here will only push the international community to act faster. Maybe now is the time to break away.”
“Maybe,” Barnes muses. “How quickly can you and the team get to the bottom of the weapons? That would help get support for taking GRHDI international.”
“Depends on where they’re coming from,” Garrett says. “China’s a big place, and even though we’re ‘allies’ -”
“They’re not likely to let us poke around too much,” Barnes says.
“Exactly,” Garrett says. “We can work on tracing them here, though. Wazir’s a good place to start.”
“And you can snuff him out in the process,” Barnes points out.
“A happy coincidence,” Garrett says. “We’re going to kill his whole group.”
Barnes raises an eyebrow.
“Samantha, we’re going to kill them all,” Garrett asserts, narrowing his eyes.
“Just make it clean,” Barnes says.
“Already the plan,” Garrett says. “Angel is going to start taking a look for himself.”
“Good, someone that actually understands how to be subtle,” Barnes says.

“Hey, we know how to be subtle,” Ngawai asserts as she and Swims-the-Black return from putting Naloni down to sleep. “Unless it’s more effective to be loud.”
”Director,” Swims-the-Black says with a bow. ”What are you and the Director planning, Garrett?”
Garrett raises an eyebrow at Barnes, who pauses, then looks up in her holo at Swims-the-Black. “Hopefully, within the next few months, the United Nations Security Council and larger assembly will push for the establishment of a global Gateway Research and Homeworld Defense Initiative based on the global threat the Imperium poses to Narsai, composed at its core of the existing GRHDI program, officials and agents, but with an expanded mandate and military powers - and with control over what goes in and out of the Gateways, subject only to UNSC authority.”
”You wish to turn the GRHDI into its own power,” Swims-the-Black rumbles, his fur ruffling a mix of green, blue and yellow.
“We are being held back too much by the US government,” Barnes states. “Even after being moved away from the Department of Defense, they’re still interfering with our ability to operate and denying us support for our missions. We only have a couple hundred field agents, and only a few dozen of those are capable of even handling basic escort missions on the other side of the Gateways. And we need to be doing more, Swims-the-Black. The Bashakra’i need the Narsai’i to be the backbone of this alliance, not sticking a knife in their backs, and I think it’s clear that the US is not interested in being helpful - at least not soon enough to win this war. We need one voice talking to the galaxy, and it needs to be a voice that speaks for Narsai’i interests first - and all Narsai’i, not just Americans.”
”That is not a course that ends with the GRHDI being just another minor power on Narsai, though,” Swims grunts. ”If you control the Gateways, you control what comes in or out from the rest of the galaxy, how it is distributed. You want to speak for the Narsai’i, control how the Narsai’i fight in this war, direct what the Narsai’i get from the galaxy...that is what a Steward does.”

Barnes stays silent, while Garrett and Ngawai turn around to look up at Swims. ”How about it, big guy?” Garrett asks. ”Steward Barnes?”
Swims snorts. ”Narsai could do worse, I suppose.”
punkey 2016-02-13 09:48:17
Onas paces back and forth in the leafy waiting area at the second Bashakra’i village Gateway. There’s a few other Bashakra’i waiting for the half-hourly connection to the worldship, and seeing one of their leaders wandering back and forth so much makes them rather nervous. They are, of course, unaware of exactly what is driving Onas to distraction - Paul’s first visit to his homeworld since he, well, left everything behind. It was only through much debate and pleading that Onas was able to talk his husband into arriving at the village instead of in the middle of a Narsai’i military complex, and even here, on what is ostensibly his people’s own territory, he’s terrified that Narsai’i in black clothes will swoop in and take him away from him the instant he steps across the portal. His hand runs across the hilt of the dagger in the small of his back he brought for just such an eventuality, but only for a moment until the action of the dialer spinning up draws his attention back to the Gateway itself, and Onas can’t help but stare in nervous anticipation.


Let’s face it, nobody likes going through a gateway. A lot of people hate it, a lot of people tolerate it, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who actually enjoys the sensation. The intellectual thrill of knowing you’re travelling hundreds of lightyears in an instant, sure. The feeling that you’ll be back with your family in a jiffy, that’s nice. But all of that doesn’t take away that gutpunch of actually stepping through the event horizon and being whisked halfway across the galaxy in the blink of an eye. This is exactly the story told by Paul Sturgis’s face as he sets foot on Narsai soil for the first time in years, nauseated and nursing a headache, nervous as all fucking hell and short of breath. But then he sees Onas waiting for him, and he smiles, and things get better. As he walks forward to embrace his lover, his ponytail whips in the breeze. He doesn’t stop in front of Onas, keeps closing in until he can pull him into a tight hug. A heady cocktail of smoke, wood and spice flavors fills what little air remains between them.

“I’ve missed you,” Paul whispers to Onas, content to just hold onto him for a moment longer.
Onas doesn’t seem too interested in letting go, either. He buries his face in Paul’s hair and inhales, momentarily beyond words.
“You know I had to come, right?” Paul continues.
“...yes,” Onas finally admits, and pulls his face out of Paul’s hair with a smile. “And I’ve missed you. You even used the oronth oil I bought for you.”
Paul grins. “Because I knew you’d like that,” he says.
“But...are you sure that…” Onas reaches up and clasps a hand behind Paul’s neck. “That you’ll be safe?”
Paul meets his eyes. “You’re here,” he says. “And there’s...there’s nothing here that’ll hurt me if I don’t let it.” He tries to smile as he looks around. “I like what we’ve done with the place. How’s the rest of the planet coming along?”
“Needs work,” Onas admits. “You read the report?”
“More times than I like to admit,” Paul says, still looking around. “Do they know I’m coming?”
“No,” Onas says. “I told no one, and Bello knows better than to come between you and me.”
“He does now,” Paul says with a smirk, but then sighs. “I guess we can’t stand around here forever, can we?”
“We could stay a little while,” Onas says, and gives Paul a brief kiss. “There are temporary quarters here for visitors.”
“Mmmh,” Paul replies. “Okay, Russell’s dumb face can wait. I don’t want him getting the impression that he’s more important than you. And I brought the bottle of oil, too.”
Onas smiles, and leads Paul off by the hand.


Onas reaches over and wipes a bit of sweat from Paul’s brow as they lay on the now very disheveled bed in the village temporary lodgings, lingering a bit to play with a bit of his long hair and smile. In response, Paul’s hand snakes towards Onas’s behind and gives it a firm squeeze.

“Mmh,” Paul says. “I’ve missed this.”
Onas stares at Paul for a good few seconds, but then lets his hand and smile drop. Not too far, his hand resting on Paul’s chest, but still enough that Paul can guess what’s coming. “Why are you doing this?” Onas asks. “Why did you insist on coming to Narsai?”
“Well, for one, you’re here,” Paul says, trying to smile, but he quickly gives up. “I...just had to, Onas. You’ve...you’ve taught me so much about being a warrior,” he reaches across and runs his hand down his Vi’iam’i sigil, “and I feel...I feel so much better with you than I ever felt before. But then I look in the mirror, and...something’s missing. A part of me that stayed here. And I’ve come to collect it.” He retries the smile. “Also I really need to go tell a few people to go fuck themselves and that’s something you do in person.”
Onas smiles, but only for a moment before he wraps his arms around Paul and holds him tightly. “But they will charge you as a traitor, and then you will be gone,” he whispers.
“It’s an honor to be called a traitor by the CIA,” Paul says. “And you’re not seriously worried about them taking me, are you? I mean, they might be dumb enough to try, but…” Paul feels Onas’s grip grow tighter. “Onas,” he whispers. “I’m fine. It’ll be fine. They can’t hurt us. I’m here to prove it.”
“I can’t lose you,” Onas whispers back. “I won’t lose someone again.”
“You’re damn right you won’t,” Paul says. “I know their dirty laundry inside and out. You are the smartest, scariest man in the universe. They won’t know what hit them if they raise a finger to try to tear us apart.”
Onas takes a few deep breaths. “Okay.” He lets Paul go. “Then fuck it.” He rolls over off the bed and walks over to his pants and digs through the pockets, but pauses when he sees Paul throw off the covers and shuffle to the side of the bed, bending down to reach underneath it.

And yes, that is one magnificent ass.

“Ah!” Paul grunts, then draws his arm back and holds it up, grasping the vox with a triumphant smile on his face. “Thought I saw it go that way.”
“Uh-huh,” Onas says, still staring at Paul’s backside as he takes his vox. “Connection...connection for Russell.”
“You are the smartest, scariest man in the universe,” Paul says, “but you’re such a klutz with your stuff.”
“I claim to be distracted,” Onas says as his vox chimes.
“Flattery will get you everywhere,” Paul says with a smile, then tries to tamp down his feelings for a more...sober occasion.

Bob Russell’s gruff voice comes on the other end of the line. “’Onas?’” He sounds a little surprised to be getting a call from the Bashakra’i leader, and Onas double checks that the connection is voice only, lest he and Paul appear as hovering naked holos.
’I have someone here to speak to you,’” Onas says.
Paul gulps, but finally manages to summon up the proper amount of grit to speak confidently. “’Hello, Bob,’” he says. “’It’s been a while.’
They both hear a little bit of ruckus on the other end of the connection. “’Paul, it’s good to hear your voice,’” Russell says. “’Been reading your reports, good work.’
Onas smirks - he knows as well as Russell does that Paul’s “reports” have been identical since they were on the Needleship together. “’Well, I’m glad you like my work,’” Paul says. “’Odds are you’ll be seeing a lot more of it now that I’ve been placed in charge of Bashakra’i operations here.’
’You - you don’t say?’” Russell says. “’Big opportunity for us to learn what they’re up to. You should come in, we can talk about it.’
’Oh, I’m afraid that doesn’t work for me, Bob,’” Paul says. “’You see, I’m heading straight to Afghanistan, apparently you guys are having some problems there? But tell you what, I’ll be glad to see you in my office there.’
’Well, hold on a second, you’re not cleared to go there, you’re not cleared to leave the country without my say-so,’” Russell says.
’Bob, can you hang on and listen to this for a moment?’” Paul says, holding the vox away for a few seconds. “’Did you hear that? That was the sound of me caring about your orders. I really don’t want to inconvenience you or anything, but I’m on a bit of a schedule here, what with leading my people, so if you could sort out the whole red tape circus bullshit on your end -’
What?” Russell roars. “’The fuck are you talking about?’
’You know, Bob, it’s really impolite to interrupt,’” Paul says cooly. “I was going to have a nice chat with you in person, but if it’s gonna be like this, I’ll just have to be blunt: I’m quitting the CIA, I’m quitting America, I’m quitting Team Narsai’i. I’m Bashakra’i by marriage to Onas, but I’m sure a spy of your caliber knew I was gay all along, so thanks for never holding that against me, I guess. I expect my back pay and retirement gold watch in the mail within the month. You got all that or do you need that in writing?’
’I’m going to need a good fucking amount more than that,’” Russell growls. “’You will be seeing me before you get out of the country.’
’Not unless you learned to fly an F-22 while I was away,’” Paul says. “’Well, that’s all I really wanted to tell you, Bob. Good luck with...whatever the hell you’re doing.’
’Now, hold on -’” Russell says, but Paul disconnects.

“Oops,” Paul deadpans, then hands the vox to Onas. “You may need to screen your calls for a while.”
“Block Russell,” Onas says, and the vox ba-deeps. He clips the vox back on his ear, then pulls Paul in for a kiss. “Easier.”
“I think my heart’s about to explode,” Paul whispers after their lips part. “Hold me?”
Onas slides his arms behind Paul’s back and pulls his husband against him until he can feel Paul’s heart through both of their pectorals. “Always.”
skullandscythe 2016-02-23 10:03:24
After his discussion with Davis the previous night, Hunter isn’t quite sure what to make of Zaef’s secretive message. Apparently, he wants to meet up in one of the APCs before they ship out in the morning, ‘discuss the weapons situation’ - which sounded well and ominous before he realized Zaef hadn’t specified which transport was the meeting place.

When Hunter arrives where the transports are located, he doesn’t need to wait long before directions pop up on his vox, leading him to the clandestine meeting place. Inside the transport, he finds Zaef, who seems to be looking for bugs, and a sizable stack of crates labeled in both Narsai’i and Bashrakai’i scripts as ‘confiscated items.’ Zaef turns to look at Hunter as he enters, and it’s pretty clear Zaef’s had a tough time getting rest, if the bags under his eyes are any sign.

“Thanks for coming, Hunter,” Zaef says. “Was hoping you might be able to help with something.”

“Glad to,” Hunter replies. “You find something about where those weapons are coming from?”

“The only concrete details I’ve gotten so far are that they’re Imperium-made then shipped here,” Zaef says. “I’ll be talking to Bello about running a more thorough investigation when I get to the base, but…” Zaef waves his hand towards the munitions. “Davis said he’d found a whole warehouse of these.”

“‘Found’ being very much in the past tense at this point. But we’re not here to talk about that. If shipments are moving in that magnitude, it suggests a couple of things. First, the Imperium has a way to get material to this planet. That either suggests an independent gate, or a counterintelligence failure of massive proportions. Both prospects are worth losing sleep over. Given the reported Chinese writing on the boxes, it’s either running through there, or someone wants us to think that’s the case. Second, these are only the cockroaches we see. We don’t know how many more caches of these there are. Ordinarily I’d suspect it’s relatively small, but given that we had no idea this was coming, my rating of our ability to know what we know just dropped through the floor. But if it’s as large as that, it’s going to leave traces. Balancing secrecy, discipline, and scale is a ‘pick two’ situation. There will be pieces to pick up.” Hunter lets the thought run out where it’ll go, and steers himself back to the situation at hand. “So what do you need my help with?”

“Well, you’ve certainly described where I believe the investigation will go - if they let it go that far.” Zaef shakes his head. “But if the way Narsai’i Command has been acting is any guess, I figure they’ll probably just throw some bureaucrats in the way, and if we manage to dig up any leads on the way, they will suddenly and temporarily lose all hearing.” Zaef turns to inspect the crates, touches the scripts lightly with one hand. From behind, it’s easy to see the tension in the shoulders. “But I wonder if they would be so determined to push back if they weren’t working with the Bashakrai’i and Sheen on this matter. They might listen to what we say if a Narsai’i intelligence agency lends their voice. So, I suppose I’m asking what other agencies besides the CIA are there.”

“Well, you’ve got agencies inside and outside of the States. If we had coalition members involved in the operation, there would be more room for investigations by their agencies. But even in the US, there are over a dozen different intelligence groups, each with slightly different focuses. A lot of them are attached to different parts of the defense department, so given that we have dead soldiers, they might be more willing to cut through the bullshit.”

“Have you worked with any of these groups before?”

“I’ve worked with some of the military intelligence branches, they’re decent if you’re staying inside their competencies. After I got out of the Marines I did some work with State, Homeland Security, and Treasury. They’re smaller, and they’re good at what they do, but they stay away from turf wars with CIA unless there’s a clear reason. Then there’s NSA, who are big, and good at what they do, but you can’t trust them. I’d say we try Marine Intelligence, and maybe see if we can bring in some experts on arms smuggling, people who know what the existing pathways are.”

Zaef turns to look at Hunter. “So, you don’t think it’s a bad idea.” The tone of his voice suggests pleasant surprise.

“Well,” Hunter shrugs, “We need to find people who are more committed to the truth than they are to whatever politics they play in Northern Virginia. If it were just caches, that’d be one thing. But we’ve got men dead, wounded, and changed from what they used to be. There’s going to be a lot of covering asses, but I’m not going to let them hide what happened here, and freeze out chances to find out more.”

Zaef is silent for a moment, then holds up a hand to shake. “Thank you, Hunter.”

Hunter returns the shake, thinks for a moment, and adds, “Good luck out there with Davis. Come back safe.”