Jade Imperium - Afghanistan, Pt. 3

punkey 2017-10-24 23:54:55
"So, that's it, then," Garrett says. "One more question left - the sooner we get on this, the better. And since I'm not feeling particularly welcome, I'd like to suggest we finish...our business in Afghanistan tonight, plan tomorrow, get a good night's rest, and hit the eye the day after tomorrow while the Narsai'i are busy with their push through Afghanistan. Any issues with that?"
CrazyIvan 2017-10-25 00:23:20
Angel thinks for a brief moment before shaking his head. "Nope." Glancing at the time readout on his glasses, he sighs. "Going to need a nap."
Gatac 2017-10-25 00:42:03
"Agreed," Hug'sh rumbles. "And I will hold down the fort here throughout. Somebody's got to do it and I'm most...expendable, considering the nature of the mission. Now, if that is all for the moment, I will go fetch Cooper for the Alliance briefing."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2017-10-26 11:48:33
FTE looks at Hug'sh. "Yeah, raiding the Eye sounds way better. Thanks for taking one for the team, Hugs."
Gatac 2017-10-28 08:25:27
"If you blow something up, take a picture," Hug'sh adds.
punkey 2017-11-26 00:24:51
The vox message from Garrett Davis was very straight-forward.
“Hale,” Davis had said.
“Sexton,” his wife corrected him.
“Sexton,” Davis continued. He thought he could hear Davis echoing the wince Hale had upon hearing Davis say his given name. “Ngawai and I want to discuss something with you, in our quarters. Fifteen minutes.”

And thus, 14 minutes later, renegade ex-Rav-Turai Sexton Hale is knocking on Garrett and Ngawai’s hab door. He doesn’t get past the second knock before Ngawai opens the door, Garrett seated at the dining table with his daughter in a sling around his shoulder.
“Come in, Sexton,” Ngawai says, leading him back towards the table and taking a seat. Sexton stops and slides immediately into a respectful at-ease posture.
“Vidas Lam, you’re not in the Turai anymore,” Garrett says with a smirk. “Relax, Hale.”
Sexton shows his relaxation by moving his hands from clasped behind his back to clasped in front of him. “You wanted to speak to me?”
“There’s a mission 815 is going out on tomorrow,” Garrett says. “And we’ve decided to see if you want in on it.”
“The Bashakra’i are all talking about your strike on the Akwhela’s Eye,” Sexton says. “Something about ‘another damn stupid 815 mission’. They’re all jealous they’re not going with you, and honestly, so am I. If you’re offering me a seat, sign me up.”
“There is that,” Ngawai says, “and we do want you on that raid, but this is something else.”
Sexton shifts from one foot to the other. “What else is there?”
“It’s a targeted strike,” Garrett says, waving his holodisplay on to show a projection of a Narsai’i neighborhood resembling those Sexton saw in the city they landed in this part of the planet in. “Unknown number of hostiles, but at least two dozen. One priority target to eliminate, multiple supply caches to destroy. Mission parameters are no one knows it was anyone from off Narsai pulling the trigger and no survivors.”
“That’s a pretty big body count,” Sexton remarks.
“Is that a problem?” Garrett asks.
“No, it’s just...ironic, that’s all,” Sexton replies. “You talked a big game about being the good guys and doing the right thing, and now you’re asking if I want to sign on for a mission that sounds pretty damn illegal to go kill some people without anyone knowing it was us. It’s not what…” Sexton sighs. “It’s not the worst thing I’ve been asked to do, not even close, but it’s not exactly a ‘good guy’ mission, either.”
“Revenge and protecting our own seems like a good enough reason for me,” Ngawai replies, staring daggers at Sexton.
Or,” Garrett says, putting a hand on Ngawai’s shoulder, “or maybe you’re right. It isn’t. Good guys would report the threats to intelligence, and trust that the Narsai’i military would do their jobs. We’d wait for Narsai’i intelligence to vet our story, verify he’s a threat, and then the mission would get tasked to another unit, maybe even let the locals handle it, and try to get him to back off. And if that didn’t work, re-engage, maybe negotiate and find a way to change his mind. And then finally, maybe eventually he’d be hit in a raid if he kept making trouble.” Garrett nods. “That’s what the good guys would do. And most of the time, the 815 are the good guys. But sometimes, being the good guys wouldn’t get the job done. And we’re in the business of getting things done. Do you think the Narsai’i would handle this right?”
Sexton scoffs. “I stopped listening at Narsai’i intelligence.”
“There’s plenty of good guys in the alliance,” Garrett says. “You don’t need to trust me, you’ve seen them by now. And it’s nothing against you if you think we’re playing too rough or loose with the rules. We need both. I’m just asking if you’re willing to get your hands dirty when that’s the best way to get the job done.”
“Of course,” Sexton replies. “I’m not five years old, I know that sometimes the right thing to do isn’t always the best way to get things done.”
Garrett furrows his brow. “Then why -”
“After the shit you put me through on Whirr, you think I would pass up an opportunity to rattle your cage a bit, Davis?” Sexton replies.
“Fair enough,” Garrett says, and stands up, offering his hand. “Welcome to the team, Sexton. Never talk about this with anyone. And it’s Garrett.”
“Not yet, Davis,” Sexton replies. “We’ll see how tonight goes.”
punkey 2017-11-26 00:25:35
It’s barely 9 AM and yet this is already turning into another candidate for The Longest Day; it’s certainly the longest “wait while we check you” for Hug’sh and his escort. And to think, just a few days ago, he used to be able to walk up to General Cooper’s tent and “knock”. Now though, by the time he’s let into that partition of the tent, Cooper’s well aware of just who’s visiting; it’s written all over his face how tired he is, and Hug’sh carefully dials in a neutral color on his fur.

“Guht morrningh,” Hug’sh tries, then falls back on his tried and true notepad.
’I presume this is something that couldn’t wait until the briefing?’” Cooper says, glasses on his nose.
Hug’sh shakes his head. We have just learned some important intel from 815. Garrett Davis will brief the Alliance. Please join the new briefing, too. After a moment’s pause, he underlines “important”. Twice. Then “please”.
Cooper looks up, but it’s clear to Hug’sh that it’s more out of politeness than attention. “’I apologize, Walks-the-Fire, but we are launching our counterattack back towards the ridgeline in less than fourteen hours, and my attention must be devoted to that.’
Hug’sh nods. 815 has discovered the source of the weapons.
That gets Cooper’s attention properly. “’Go on.’
There is more than I can explain quickly, Hug’sh writes. As a member of the Alliance, Narsai has a right to know what is going on. I know I have asked much of you already. I am certain you will want to hear what Davis has to say for yourself. And ask your own questions of him.
Cooper puts his pen down. “’And when is this meeting?’
Imminent, Hug’sh writes. As soon as we can get everybody into the conference on vox.
’I don’t suppose you have one?’” Cooper asks.
Hug’sh nods, then looks around the tent. Did you check this tent after Hilby left?
’For?’” Cooper asks.
Listening devices, Hug’sh specifies.
Cooper gives him a bitter smirk. “’You didn’t notice that the ground stakes are fresh?’[/i” he asks. “’The second after the helo with Hilby lifted off, I had the tent pulled apart and searched top to bottom.’
Hug’sh nods to that.
’I don’t like it when people take me for a ride,’” Cooper adds. “’So, the briefing?’
punkey 2017-11-26 00:26:32
Having located a folding chair, Hug’sh settles into the same and fiddles with his vox to activate the holo over Cooper’s desk. A few moments later, they’re dialed into the conference, where Garrett, Brinai and the Sheen Ambassador are already waiting. Hug’sh fiddles with the vox a bit more.

”Hello, everyone,” he says; a few moments later, a translation appears in English - facing him. With a sheepish smile, he turns the holo around so the subtitles face Cooper. ”I have General Cooper with me for the briefing. Is Director Barnes joining us?”
“I’m here,” Barnes says as her image is added to the screen, tired eyes illuminated by her desk lamp.
”Hello, Samantha,” Hug’sh says, some green rolling through his fur. The color flattens out a bit as he remembers to dial back the friendliness a bit and get down to business. ”Agent Davis, I think we’re all ready for your briefing now.”

Garrett nods. “Good morning, good evening, ladies, gentlemen, Sheen,” he says in Imperial, his words translated for Cooper’s benefit. “After the use of Imperial weaponry during the initial clearance front through this region, Task Force 815 took it upon ourselves to try to find the source of these weapons. We learned of an insurgent group in Kabul rumored to have stockpiles of exotic weapons, and undertook an operation to locate, identify, and retrieve samples of these weapons.”
A array of images appears on the holo, and everyone in turn on the other end from Hug’sh and Cooper reach up to highlight the images in turn - save the Ambassador, of course. “We located a substantial cache of chamakanas, rods, spearbombs, and sunmines in eastern Kabul, obtained samples, then destroyed the cache. The samples have been analyzed by members of Task Force 815 familiar with such things, and they are indeed of Imperial origin - specifically, the Akwhela’s Eye.”
“Vidas Lam,” Brinai curses, having instantly figured out what that means.
“Furthermore, the Narsai’i crates they were shipped in bear official labels and markings from the People’s Republic of China, implying that they were delivered here with the help of the Chinese government,” Garrett says.
“Jesus Christ,” Barnes says.
“Fuck,” Cooper echoes.

Garrett continues, undeterred. “Task Force 815 believes that the Chinese government has struck a deal with the Imperium in secret and is operating at least one dirtside Gateway, accepting arms from the Eye and bringing them to Narsai. Why their moves on Narsai have been limited to giving weapons to insurgents is an open question at this point in time, and we are assembling a mission now to gather more information.” He pauses. “Any questions?”
”I think the most pressing question on everyone’s mind is,” Hug’sh says, “what do you need from us to help you mitigate this threat to Narsai’i security?”
“Intel, at the moment,” Garrett says. “Anything we have on the Eye - on-the-ground experience, contacts, or stolen data. We plan to conduct a recon mission aboard the Eye, and the more information we have, the better.”
Brinai’s eyebrow goes up at that. “Well, that certainly is a Garrett Davis plan.”
“It was Front Toward Enemy’s idea, in fact, but I do like it,” Garrett replies.
“How do you plan on surviving this suicide mission?” Barnes asks.
“We’re working on that part,” Garrett says. “That’s why we need intelligence on the Eye.”
’Excuse me,’” Cooper says, “but we seem to have skipped over a few important details. What is this ‘Eye’?’
”The Imperium’s most significant arsenal, and the seat of their military command, and their fleet HQ,” Hug’sh explains. ”It is...big. I read about the city Los Angeles and the valley it resides in - that is, perhaps, not too far off, in size and population. It is spaceborne, only reachable by gateway, and very, very secure.” He chuckles. ”Attempting a reconnaissance mission at the Eye is...the kind of mission only 815 would attempt.”
punkey 2017-11-26 00:26:47
’And we are sure that this is the Imperium?’” Cooper asks.
“What are you implying?” Brinai asks, crossing her arms.
’There are more than one source of these weapons, I assume?’” Cooper asks. “’Not just your people, but others?’
”While it is possible to nanoforge such equipment, it is my understanding that it is functionally impossible to fake its origin,” Hug’sh weighs in.
“They are imprinted with the forge ID and the IDs are tracked,” the Ambassador chimes in. “And we have the registry.”
”There are certainly still open questions, but I do not see a credible alternative to the mission Agent Davis is proposing,” Hug’sh continues, then turns to General Cooper. ”Do you disagree?”
“I would question the wisdom of attacking the Imperium’s most secure facility, in orbit over their capital world,” the Ambassador says.
”What alternative do we have?” Hug’sh asks. ”If it is as Agent Davis fears and there is a footgate on Narsai built with the secret cooperation of a Narsai’i faction, then we have no means of locating it at this end. What is certain is that we cannot let them continue whatever their scheme is. So as I see it, we can only choose between the very difficult and the impossible.”
“It is still not wise, but the necessity is obvious,” the Ambassador replies. “If the 815 have reached consensus, then the Sheen understands.”

“If I may,” Barnes says. “What is going to be done to secure Narsai? At the very least we could have a Turai army in waiting inside China, and that’s if they haven’t sent a orbital assembler up and are working on bringing a fleet of Needleships here as we speak. We need a plan to defend Narsai against this new threat, and we need it now. Brinai, Walks-the-Fire, Ambassador, we need to reposition alliance personnel on Narsai, advance the plans to bring orbital security in, and move Interceptors and Sheen in as quickly as we can -”
’Now, hold on, Miss Barnes,’” Cooper says. “’No one died and made you President. I will inform the chain of command and these decisions and requests will be made in due time and by the right people.’
Barnes takes in a sharp breath and is about to reply when she stops herself. “Yes, General. I will submit my own advice to the President in the morning.”
punkey 2017-11-26 00:27:36
Hug’sh clears his throat. ”Whatever overt action we take may well be noticed,” he says, ”and complicate 815’s plans. Director Barnes, General Cooper, I wanted you both in this briefing in the hopes that your two...disparate positions among the Narsai’i might lead to more effective action. How that shall look is a decision the Narsai’i must make, but I advise swiftness. And without wishing to rush you, Agent Davis, it seems to me that your mission to Akwhela’s Eye is quite time-sensitive, if not only to mitigate the threat as quickly as possible, but also to maintain your operational security. I would like to stress once more that the resources of the Free Wherren, limited as they might be, are at your disposal.”
“I’m sure we’ll think of something,” Garrett grunts. “We have plans to make. Brinai, Luis and Arketta will be in touch with Bello soon.”
“I’ll let him know what to have ready,” Brinai replies. “Good day, everyone.”
“The Sheen remain equally at your disposal,” the Ambassador says. “It is good that Front Toward Enemy has been treated as an equal by the 815. We look forward to the swift resolution of the current situation.” Both the Ambassador and the Sheen blink out.
“We’ll talk soon, Garrett,” Barnes says, and disconnects with a nod.
”Get some sleep, Walks-the-Fire,” Garrett grunts.
”Circumstances don’t seem to favor it,” Hug’sh replies with a chuckle. ”Thank you for your time, Agent Davis.” Garrett disconnects, and Hug’sh turns to Cooper after the vox holo blinks out. ”I hope you understand why I asked you to hear this. I realized a bit ago that the workings of our Alliance can appear a bit...opaque. That is something I wish to continue working on. And as a military leader of the Narsai’i, I think you should know what is going on. You mentioned your chain of command - I hope this information is of use to you in dealing with them.”

Cooper looks at Hug’sh, both not understanding a word but also having gathered a bit too much respect for Hug’sh to just blithely cut him off. Hug’sh finally realizes that he’s just given a speech in Whirrsign, turns a bit blue, then tries to write it all out again on the notepad. He hands the note to Cooper when he’s finished, earning a half-nod from the Narsai’i general.

’It will be if it’s ever substantiated,’” Cooper says. “’So far, all we have is supposition and a few stolen weapons.’
Hug’sh nods. I understand that the implications of 815’s findings are dire, he writes. Surely they did not find the only such weapons cache in Afghanistan. Perhaps the Narsai’i can locate others and gather more evidence? He pauses for a moment. I have not been a general for a very long time. But it seems men in our position rarely have the luxury of certainty. I can ask only that you listen and come to your own conclusions.
'Fair enough,’” Cooper replies. “'A report will go up tomorrow, as soon as I figure out what will be in it.’” He sighs. “’Now, on to our other set of problems. I will see you in the CiC for the briefing?’
Hug’sh nods. “Yaz,” he says.
punkey 2017-11-27 21:58:20
Zaef hesitates before walking into the provisional lab. It’s not like he doesn’t know Kitty’s here - she told him that she’d be working there, and later than usual - but...well, he’s not sure he can do this. He’s comforted her before, but this...this is part of Kitty’s worldview. Something like that breaks, you can’t just whack it with a wrench until it fixes itself. And there was the worry that Kitty might blame him for that, as well. For not doing enough in the village, or something like that.

Zaef shakes his head, and twists the knob.

It’s a small space, the lab, so Kitty being at the opposite end of the room really only puts him about six feet away from her, at most. She looks up from her work - some high-end science gizmo she was looking at, he should probably ask what they do sometime - and smiles at him. It doesn’t quite reach her eyes. Zaef wonders if she had been expecting him.

“Hey,” he says softly, shutting the door behind him.
“Hey,” she replies, trying to return the smile.
“Let’s talk,” he says, deciding to cut right to it. “About the mission.”
“Mhmm?” Kitty says, her eyes drifting back towards her work.
“Kitty,” Zaef interjects, and reaches to put a hand on her shoulder. “Let’s talk,” he says firmly, followed by a gentler “It’s eating at you, and I want to help.”
“Okay,” Kitty says, letting Zaef pull her in closer. “I...I don’t really know where to start. It was all so different than what I imagined.”
“Start with some of the differences, then. Things that stuck out to you.”
“They were so angry at us!” Kitty says. “We were there to help them, and they acted like we were the enemy. And I understand why now, but...it makes me sad that that’s the case. That there’s nothing we can do for them.”
Zaef chews on that for a bit. “And that’s something that bugs you? That there’s nothing you can do?”
Kitty nods. “Not just that, that I made things worse for them. They said that they would be attacked now, and that’s my fault. I picked that village, I came up with the mission.”
“Why did you pick that village, in particular?” Zaef’s voice holds no judgment, only curiosity.
“It was close, and in what was marked as a safe area,” Kitty replies.
“Then you had no reason to believe it was dangerous. Well, any more dangerous than the rest of the country.”

“That doesn’t make it okay, Zaef!” Kitty shouts, standing up. “It doesn’t make me putting their lives in danger okay! I got people killed! And that - that’s...that’s horrible! How am I supposed to live with that?”
Zaef looks at Kitty for a few moments, then stands up as well, and puts a hand on her shoulder. “You just get through it one day at a time,” he says, voice quivering.
Kitty puts her hand on Zaef’s. “And…” She sighs. “It sounds really bad, but...I freaked out.”
It takes Zaef a few moments to swallow, even after she basically says it sounds worse than it is. “Freak out...how?”
“When things started, I...I just panicked,” Kitty says. “I just froze up.”
“Oh.” Zaef tries not to let his relief be too palpable, but he clearly was imagining some worst-case scenario that hadn’t happened. “Kitty, I know you didn’t want to feel that way again, but when you were attacked on Whiirr, you told me things actually leapt out of the brush and attacked you. I can safely say you were not being threatened directly here.”
“But I...I did all this preparation!” Kitty says. “I went over and over -”
“More to the point, Kitty,” Zaef interjects again. “Changing who you are, even just parts of your personality, is something that happens so slowly you barely realize it! The training regimen is a good start, but you’re not there yet, and -” Zaef cuts himself off, then shakes his head and continues, softly. “And that’s why I didn’t want you out here at first. I didn’t think you were ready yet, certainly not for something like this.”
Kitty folds her arms around herself. “...then why did you let me?”
“Well, I thought I was being too protective, you know? Still might be, really.” Zaef places his hands around hers, and looks sheepish. “I...I’m afraid of losing you, too. And I know I’m not always rational about it, though I try to be, and...” He shakes his head. “I’m sorry, I just...thought I was wrong, and I should trust you more.”
Kitty smiles. “Thanks. But...I listen to you too, you know. You can tell me when you’re worried for me. I won’t be mad.”
“Well, you would be if I said it all the time.”
Kitty shakes her head. “I promise.”

Zaef smiles, even as he lets a sigh out through his nose. “Alright, just kill my joke, then.” He pulls Kitty closer. “I promise, too, to be better about telling you my worries.”
“And I want you to promise to stop trying to save me from...all of this,” Kitty says, taking a deep breath. “We’re going to be living on a spaceship, fighting an evil empire. It’s not always going to be...nice. I have some ideas for what I want to do for myself...but I’m going to need your help for everything else.”
Zaef’s eyebrows go up at that last part - he knows what she’s really getting at. “I promise to give you that life, and not...trying to protect you from it, as I was before,” he says before following it with a more stern “but you’re not taking any more mods until I’ve looked them over and said ‘yes.’ You get carried away with those sometimes.”
Kitty’s smile widens. “I think you’ll...find these interesting.”
“Getting worried, getting very worried now.” Zaef shakes his head. “Well, let’s see ‘em, then.”
When Kitty turns to pull it up on her cogitator, however, Zaef allows himself a tender little smile. Some worries are more real than others.
e of pi 2017-11-30 22:18:28
“Nothing’s ever as easy as the mission briefing,” Luis gripes to Arketta as they work on rounding up what loose ends need to be dealt with around the base before they need to get out of the country overnight. “I have some memory of the briefing for this being something along the lines of one big training exercise with superior technology, and the main issue being keeping a politic face on while dealing with the Narsai’i troops, and hoping some bonding under fire might take place. Now we’ve got hidden caches of offworld guns, and we’re hoping to knock that out before we raid the most secure facility in existence on less notice than some term papers I’ve written.” He tugs out another bag and starts tossing shirts into it with rather more force than is required, then turns to her.
Arketta just keeps on packing her own duffels, and takes a moment to turn around and notice Luis looking up to her eyeline waiting for her to respond. “Hmm? Oh! Yeah, it’s a mess,” she says, a bit distracted.
“I’m just a little worried...if that’s the briefing for this one, what’re we missing this time?” Luis says.
Arketta shrugs as she sucks the air out of another skinsuit vacuum pack. “I don’t think there’s any way to know until it happens,” she says. “It sounds like you’re trying to know what it is we don’t know, and it doesn’t make sense for us to know what we don’t know until we know it. I think.”
Luis stumbles his way through the same logic, and shrugs sheepishly. “I guess. I...guess I just wish I knew if we can really do this, and what damn Narsai’i was stupid enough that this is our best option.”
“Which, raid the Eye, or kill the jerks that threatened Garrett, Ngawai and Naloni?” Arketta asks.
“Raiding the Eye,” Luis says. “Having a mission-critical reason to kill those assholes instead of letting them walk away is the easy part.”
“Oh, you mean who the Imperium talked into working with them?” Arketta asks. “Someone scared, someone greedy. You don’t need to be Narsai’i to fall for that, lahnai.”
Luis shakes his head. “But this time they’ve got a whole planet at stake, and my folks, and maybe your mom and dad, and I’m not totally sure if we can pull off what we need to save all that. And now we’ve got to pull another rabbit out of our hat in a hurry, and...I’m not sure if we’ll be able to.”
“It’s not just on us to save everything, lahnai,” Arketta says. “We have the Bashakra’i, we have Samantha, we have the Wherren, Vidas Lam, we even have the Sheen on our side.” She walks up and puts her hands on Luis’ shoulders, looking down at him. “We are Bashakra’i now. There’ll always be a home for us.” Her eyes look down for a moment. “For all of us. And...and I stand by what I said earlier - if the Imperials really wanted to just glass Narsai, they’d have done it already.” She gives Luis a hug. “It’s not as bad as you think.”
Luis leans into the hug and buries his face for a minute. “I hope so,” he says.
“Maybe killing some very bad people will help you feel better,” Arketta whispers to Luis.
“I hope so, because we’ve certainly got some who need killing,” Luis whispers back. After a minute, he pulls away enough to look up. “Let’s get ready for this.”
Arketta smirks, and turns around to pop open her armor case, sliding an arm into her first gauntlet and feeling it snap into place on her skinsuit. “Ready,” she says, looking over her shoulder and smiling to Luis.
Luis manages a smile himself, and grabs his own case to slide it next to the bags. “Let’s get to this so I can stop worrying, then.”
punkey 2017-12-16 22:38:35
While Hug’sh is making preparations of his own for the briefing - review maps, weather reports and the latest chatter about enemy movements - an incoming message pings on his vox from Sijet. A ripple of yellow goes through Hug’sh’s fur, followed by a bit of blue - he should be dropping everything right now, but he takes a moment to straighten the files in his hands, knowing that he’ll have to pick them up and find his place in them after this call. As his colors calm down, he taps the vox to take the call.

”Hello, Sijet,” Hug’sh says.
”Sorry to interrupt, I know you must be busy,” Sijet whines, holding a squirming Torega in her arms. ”Torega has refused to go to sleep the last two nights, I’ve been bribing her but now she’s refusing even that. She says she won’t go to sleep until you or Rhea tuck her in.”
Hug’sh’s fur fringes purple, but he keeps his voice steady. ”No apology needed, Sijet,” he says. ”Torega? I would like to speak to you.”
”No!” Torega shouts, trying to twist away from the holo. ”You’re not here! This isn’t real talking!”
Hug’sh sighs. ”I can see you’re very upset,” he says, forcing a bit of calm brown into his colors. ”I know it must be very hard for you to be apart from your mother and me...because it is very hard for us to be apart from you, too.” He pauses. ”You don’t have to talk to me if you don’t want to, but I would like it very much if you listened to me for a bit. Can you do that for me?”
Torega stops squirming, but doesn’t look at the holo.
”Okay,” Hug’sh says, with a bit of green on his muzzle. ”Thank you for listening to me, Torega. The last time we spoke, you sang such a pretty song for me. You know, I have kept that conversation recorded. And when I am sad here, or I have trouble sleeping, I listen to you singing. It really helps me a lot to know that you’re there at home and that you’re okay. But now I see that you’re upset, and that makes me sad. I want to try to understand what is happening.” Another breath, then the question he knows the answer to but still needs to ask. ”Can you tell me what is upsetting you?”
”You’re not here,” Torega whines, turning deep purple. ”And momma isn’t here.”
”I understand,” Hug’sh says, and the green drains from his muzzle as the purple takes over the back of his neck. ”We would much rather be home with you, too. There is not a moment when we don’t miss you, Torega. We are here, on Narsai, because our brothers and sisters in battle need us, too. Many are scared; they came here alone, to this foreign planet, and already we have seen much grief and heartbreak here. And when they cry for answers, when they need someone to show the way, they look to me. That is what it means to be a General, Torega.” Breath. A wave of yellow rolls over him. ”You know I would give anything to be with you right now. But to leave our warriors alone now, that is not for me to just give away. I made a promise. I have to keep it. I know that is not what you want to hear, and it is not what I want to do - but it is what I have to do. Do you understand?”
Torega shakes her head. ”No!”
Hug’sh sighs. ”That’s okay,” he says. ”I wish I could explain it better. I wish...I wish this was over already.” He sighs again. ”Your mother is resting right now. I’m sure you saw how sad she was when I wasn’t home. It was so good to see her again. But I can see now that you need her more than I do. I will make sure she’s on the next flight home. I know that doesn’t make up for me being away, but I promise you, Torega, that as soon as I possibly can, I will come home to you, too.” He pauses. ”Can I ask you for a favor, Torega?”
”Maybe,” Torega mutters, still purple but now a bit red, too.
”I would really love it if you would sing a song for me,” Hug’sh says, but he’s more yellow than green. ”Could you sing for me, please?”
”No!” Torega says, the red taking over the purple for a moment.
”Okay,” Hug’sh says, trying to force the yellow down. ”Then I will sing it.”

Abandoning all pretense of decorum, Hug’sh sucks in a bit of air, then begins to softly sing “A place in the forest”. He’s a few thousand lightyears removed from drunk karaoke, but he doesn’t need a bucket to carry a tune and children’s songs aren’t exactly known for their demanding vocal parts. As he sings it, green and purple keep fighting it out in his fur, and he isn’t even through the first verse when Torega’s colors start matching his. When he finishes, he’s out of words for the moment - he just sniffles and wipes his eyes, while Torega’s arms are still too restrained by Sijet to do the same.

”I love you, daughter,” Hug’sh manages to choke out, as his pattern of green and yellow for Torega fights its way through the purple.
”I love you, father,” Torega whispers, her own simple pattern for him coming out.
”Please…” Hug’sh begins to plead. Please understand the vagaries of interstellar politics? Please don’t make me feel like the worst dad in the universe? Please just stop being sad, in general? Hug’sh’s fur chuffs as blue thoughts show on his chest. Deep breaths. ”Please try to be brave for a bit longer, okay?”
”Okay,” Torega whines.

Hug’sh takes another deep breath. It feels like he’s been sucking the tent dry, but it’s not quite helping him get all the feels out of the way. He grasps for every ounce of strength to steady his voice. ”Sijet,” he begins. ”I am sending you some pictures and holos we have taken here on Narsai, of our exercises and our warriors and the lands around us. I think...I think maybe it would be good if you all took a look at them, to see what we’re doing, and...how we’re doing.” He pauses. ”And maybe, if anyone wants to write us a little letter...I think we would really like that.”
Sijet nods - she might not be related, but there’s too much color and emotion flying around to keep blue out of her fur entirely. ”Of course, Hug’sh.”
”Okay,” Hug’sh repeats. ”And Torega...when you’re sad, or worried...you can sing the song. It doesn’t have to be loud. You can just sing it in your heart.” A strong burst of green and yellow fights its way to the top. ”No matter where I am...I’ll hear it, and I’ll think of you. Okay? Now please try to get some sleep...fuzzball. It’s late.”
”Okay,” Torega whines. She squirms again, and this time Sijet lets her go. Torega hops up onto the chair at the table and leans towards the holo. ”I miss you, father.”
”And I miss you so much, too, Torega,” Hug’sh replies. ”But I will be back home soon. I promise.” He chokes back a sob. ”Good night, Torega.”
”Good night,” Torega barks, and climbs off the chair.
”See you soon, Hug’sh,” Sijet says. ”Stay safe.”
”Always,” Hug’sh replies. ”Good night, Sijet.”

Hug’sh sits there as the holo goes dark. Having sucked in all the air in the tent, he sits there for a while, only drawing shallow breaths until the fireworks in his fur settle down. Finally, they do, and the tears seem to dry, and Hug’sh regains a sense of time beyond the moment. Steadying himself on the desk, he gets out of the chair, chuffs one more time, then walks to the bed, where Rhea’s still sleeping off last night’s excitement and the shift in day length. Hug’sh gently lowers himself to sit beside her, then leans down to put his arm around her and grooms the side of her neck.
Rhea’s throat rumbles as she wakes up, and rolls over to look at Hug’sh. ”Hello, bondmate.” She licks him back on the tip of his muzzle.
Hug’sh returns the groom, but it’s cursory, the worry evident in his pattern as he draws Rhea closer to him. ”Hello,” he says quietly. ”Rhea, I...I didn’t get around to asking you before, but how long are you planning to stay here?”
”As long as you are,” Rhea says.
Hug’sh sighs. Tread lightly now. ”I just received a call from Sijet,” he says. ”And I spoke to Torega. She misses us terribly and...and while nothing makes me happier than being with you, I’d rather be alone here if it means that Torega can be with her mother.”
”She refused to go to sleep?” Rhea asks.
Hug’sh nods. ”Both nights,” he says. ”Sijet’s doing her best, of course. But I guess you know better than me that there are only so many tricks for distracting cubs from what they really want.”
”Tomorrow,” Rhea purrs. ”I’ll head back tomorrow. Today, you have your briefing, and all this going on...I don’t want you tearing the arms off of some poor Narsai’i.”
Hug’sh strokes the side of Rhea’s face with the back of his hand. ”Whatever I do, I’ll know you’re thinking of me,” he says. ”I’ll behave myself, for the sake of the Alliance. I’ll just...I have to. I have to finish this.” He grooms her again. ”I’m asking you to please take the next manta to the gateport. Having you here was…is wonderful, but...if you want to be where you are needed more direly, please go home.”
A brief fringe of red appears around Rhea’s muzzle. ”I am tired of being away from you when you’re in danger,” Rhea grunts. ”We are bondmates, and that means what you go through, I should. I am not just here to take care of the cubs.”
Hug’sh can’t entirely keep the red from his fur. ”I’m not saying that!” he barks, but when he sees Rhea flinch, his own fur turns blue on a dime. ”I’m…” he stammers. ”I’m...of course we’re bondmates, and we should face challenges together. Of course, Rhea. But we’re not just bondmates, we’re parents, and...we can’t both be here. Maybe if Torega was older and understood what was happening, but right now she’s a cub who’s missing her parents and that’s just how it is, it’s not...it’s not anyone’s idea of trying to keep us apart, or of keeping you chained to the school while I’m traveling.” He takes another deep breath. ”This mission, and I’m out, Rhea. I’ve taught them, lead them, and found people I trust with the hands-on aspects. We will finish this, and then I will come home and stay home. I can do the administration and the diplomacy from any desk...I’ll stay home, at least until the litter can walk. I will not put you in this position again. We will find a solution for our family.” He gently strokes Rhea’s belly. ”Our cubs, Rhea. Our adventure, together. Okay?”
Rhea grooms Hug’sh’s muzzle. ”Okay.”
Hug’sh draws Rhea into an embrace. ”Thank you, Rhea,” he purrs. ”Thank you, for everything.” He takes a breath. ”Let’s grab some food, and then I will help you pack and see you off. I’ll make sure somebody from the village is with you on the flight. Okay?”
”Okay,” Rhea says. ”And this means that you have to go out on hunts with me. And I will have to get one of your silly clearances.”
Hug’sh chuckles. ”And you have to sit in strategy meetings with me. And I will have to string my own tallbow.” As Rhea squeezes him for that, he quickly adds ”I’m no good with a spear! My sister is the thrower in our family!”
A surprised yellow rolls over Rhea’s fur. ”Ko-rah?”
Hug’sh nods. ”Have I never told you about that?”
Rhea shakes her head.
Hug’sh smirks. ”We’ll have plenty to talk about when I’m home, then,” he says. ”Now, about that meal...we have sesame spink, and Aikoro hot spink, and...well, it’s mostly spink in the rations.”
Rhea grooms Hug’sh one more time. ”Can’t wait.”
punkey 2017-12-16 22:46:18
Despite all that’s gone on - the wall, the checkpoints, the paranoia and the detentions - the FOB command center has been deep enough in the Narsai’i section of the base that it hasn’t been significantly reinforced, at least physically. The squad of Marines “escorting” Iro, Arlana, Gunny, and Hug’sh to the meeting speaks to the degree of mistrust still extant between the two sides of the alliance. The atmosphere doesn’t get much more welcoming on the inside, either - the commanders and staff don’t give the off-worlder leaders much in the way of friendly glances or nods once they’re inside, and the four leaders are placed off to one side of the meeting area, away from the Narsai’i.

“I think they might be mad at us,” Gunny says.
“I’ve had less welcoming talks at the point of a beamer,” Arlana says.
”Let’s hear what they have to say, at least,” Hug’sh says, careful to keep his fur brown.

’All right, let’s get things underway,’” Cooper says. “’We’ve got a lot of ground to cover in the next few days.’” A projector lights up a screen in front of the group - not a holo, a 2D screen on the wall - and a big image of the task force’s logo with “Operation Proud Resolve” in letters with a red and black gradient on top. Hug’sh feels the cold chill of many a previous Death By Powerpoint run down his back, and the memory of not just sitting through them, but giving a few of his own sends a ripple of blue and orange through his fur.
Arlana notices Hug’sh’s colors change. “Is this what I think it is?”
”Breathe, stay strong, and in the name of the honored ancestors do not ask questions,” Hug’sh whispers to her.
“Vidas Lam protect us,” Arlana replies.

Another white man with slightly more hair than Cooper stands up. “Colonel Matthews, sir, I will be presenting the operational plan for Operation Proud Resolve. Now, let me orient you to the map, starting with the north seeking arrow…’

“Hug’sh, you’re crushing my hand,” Iro whispers.
”Sorry!” Hug’sh whisper-yelps.
“It’s a good distraction, at least,” Iro admits.
“It’s not that bad,” Arlana says.
“The ‘World War 2’ was more interesting,” Gunny weighs in. “I’m up to the invasion of Crete, by the way.”
”I won’t spoil the ending, then,” Hug’sh quips.
punkey 2017-12-17 00:12:37
Standing in the middle of his hab and dressed in the standard "khakis and a t-shirt" garb of the military contractor with a duffel bag and his armor crate next to him, Garrett nods to Swims-the-Black. "We'll be back early in the morning."
Swims-the-Black nods back from his seat next to Naloni's crib. "I'll be on the vox net."
Ngawai bends over and kisses her daughter on the forehead. "Mommy's gotta go take care of some bad people, little one." She stands up and hefts her own matching bag and case. "She gets a bottle for lunch, dinner, and before bed."
"Understood," Swims replies, and stands up, wrapping his arms around them both. "Stay safe."


It's not exactly the most clandestine location, the middle of the security area's skimmer pool, but the meeting of the 815 the day before a big assault is unlikely to raise too many eyebrows.
"Thank you all for coming," Garrett says. "This means a lot to both of us."
"And it should be fun, kicking some old bastard's teeth in," Ngawai adds.
e of pi 2017-12-19 22:01:18
Luis looks intent as he stands with Arketta, his worries apparently helped to settled with the imminent action. "Should be indeed," he says. "What's on the hit list?"
punkey 2017-12-22 08:56:26
"We're hitting Wazir and his compound tonight," Garrett says. "Clean sweep." He swipes something from his vox to everyone else. "That's the partial holomap from Ngawai's walk through." Everyone pulls the map up on their respective voxes - clipped, implanted, or integral. It shows two circles of structures surrounding a central market - both a good setup for a community center and a highly defensible position. "They learned from someone - probably the Imperials through China - how to detect cloaked armor, so we'll be rolling a bit harder than normal."
"They had a recording of Garrett and me on our sneak-and-peek, so we'll be taking care of that with an EMP beforehand," Ngawai says. "That going to be a problem, Front Toward Enemy?"
Admiral Duck Sauce 2017-12-22 10:39:43
"Not unless I need to stand in the same room," FTE replies. "I'll curl up and wait for it to pass, I should be okay."