Jade Imperium - Afghanistan, Pt. 3

punkey 2016-08-07 06:57:40
When Angel Kesh packs, he packs light, but brings the essentials. In this case, that means a mix of his personal gear, all chosen from the highest end combat and Expansion outfitters on Hedion, and a few outfits of local garb to blend in better - and if that fails or he needs to disappear entirely, his carapace is in its case as well. The holodisc with Garrett and Ngawai’s dossier on Wazir is in his hand, a hand-written post-it stuck to it saying “Good luck - save some for us” in Ngawai’s messy glyphs.

Angel looks at the holodisc and shakes his head. “No way Ngawai. You had a kid, and everyone knows new parents aren’t allowed to have any fun. Besides, you had your chance, and it ended in jail time.”

Hefting his pack over his shoulder, he heads out of the base, and in the opposite direction of his intended destination for a few blocks, before double-backing around. Kabul is, for better or worse, still populated with a fair number of Western faces, from the military presence, NGOs, etc. It’s easy enough to not stand out particularly just by looking like you’re tired, underpaid, and would really rather be somewhere else. A short walk leads him to what he’s looking for - an apartment block without much in the way of security, not quite having fallen into outright decay but not terribly far from it. What residents are still there after one group of GIs or another swept the place seem mostly content to keep their heads down, and he eventually finds an abandoned apartment with a functioning door and the right facing. Leaving his back in a corner, he sits down against a far wall out of view of the compound and starts playing the holodisc.
Angel’s vox instantly downloads a dossier made up of what little intelligence Garrett could scrape together from the sources and databases he had access to - which is still fairly extensive, if labeled with GRHDI fingerprints. Faqir Khan Wazir is a pretty smart man - which is to say, his appearance in anything officially recorded by US intelligence is spotty at best. He was big in the 1980s, leading what would have been nearly five-hundred men against the Soviet occupation. Since then, though, he’s seemed to mostly focus on carving out a little slice of Kabul for himself and his merry band of mujahideen, with only occasional acts of jihadism on the side, mostly to further other relationships as far as Garrett can figure out. His name pops up in connection with a few bombings and attacks on US and coalition personnel, and one particularly ugly green-on-blue incident was conducted by someone with ties to him, but this seems to be his first step back into the big leagues since the days of Brezhnev. Estimates of strength are mostly focused on how much area in Kabul he controls - about a square mile or so, centered around the market which he now overlooks (which puts him square in enemy territory, he notes with a grimace), but as someone who rates very low on the asshole scale as far as Coalition forces are concerned, he hasn’t rated more than just a cursory observation.

Angel’s pretty sure the current state of affairs is the doing of one Terran group or another, and if he were going to do something like this, this Wazir fellow is just the kind of guy he would pick. Smart enough not to get dead by either the Soviets or those that followed them, content to ride whatever tide was rising. He could almost picture him, sitting in his compound, drinking tea and quietly getting rich. The kind of rich that translated into apartment blocks owned, and favors owed. The dangerous kind of rich. And comfortably neutral. Going with one the the American-aligned warlords would have been risky - a chance of discovery, someone growing a conscience, or trying to hit up Uncle Sam for a right of first refusal bid. And an actual dyed-in-the-wool jihadi? Too unstable. Apt to decide there were more important targets for your fancy new tech.

Definitely a man worth watching. Unpacking, Angel slips a small camera under a crack in the door, setting up a screen facing him - it’ll provide at least a little bit of warning if someone decides to wander down the hallway. As for the compound itself...finding a nice, quiet patch of shadow to watch from, Angel hunkers down, favoring the detritus of abandoned urban life as his camouflage-du-jour. Rifle braced and calibrated, he lays down to wait.

Morning turns into midday. Shoppers visit the market, and buy fruit, vegetables, cloth, and more finished products - ironically enough, a good few of them imported from those evil Western nations. It looks like any other market in Kabul - except for the replacement of the occasional police patrol with men in local garb carrying AKs. In fact, Angel hasn’t seen a single ANP officer all day. Local arrangement to self-police, bribes, or simple threats of violence - either way, Wazir’s men have this area all to themselves.

Midday turns into evening. With the shoppers mostly gone, Angel’s able to notice more - like the weapons hidden around most stalls. Wazir isn’t content to just own the market, he runs the shops too, and they’re all working for him. Money is handed off to a rather rotund bearded man, who takes it...somewhere, out the back of the market. There’s a cash stash somewhere in the district, and where there’s cash, there’s usually other things of value.

Evening turns into night. The stalls are all closed up, people are in their homes, and all that’s left out on the streets are the occasional citizen making some nighttime run, and the guards patrolling the streets. Angel’s vox is busy (and in low-light mode) marking up the patterns of travel for the on-foot and technical guards, and already a few points of interest are emerging - places where the guard circuits are particularly quick, and where his count of haircuts and hats gives more than the expected amount of patrols. It’s nothing definitive, but this third of the district is pretty well mapped out by the time midnight rolls around.

All interesting things. The police having decided that this market was taken care of made sense - no bribes to be taken, a well-armed force to keep the peace, and someone other than their superiors who crimes would be reported to. The police had better places to be in Kabul. Guards were interesting as well - a mental maps of patrols would come in handy later for when this inevitably turned to violence. He didn’t know if Davis was still pretending it was going to head somewhere other than that, but he wasn’t. Spooks had been scheming in Afghanistan since before...well, he was pretty sure Alexander had someone whose name in Greek translated as ‘Garret Davis’. It still always came down to violence. Pity, it was a pretty country when you gave it the chance. Good people too, just trod on by the world until there wasn’t anything left.

Money though - if Angel was right about how things were shaping up, before the violence it would come down to money. Angel wanted to know how much - just in case he should be offended that he didn’t get to tender a counter-offer out of petty cash - and more importantly from whom. Packing up his equipment, Angel heads out to get a better vantage point on the cash drop during a lull in the patrols.
punkey 2016-08-07 06:58:04
The cash man’s afternoon schedule affords Angel a chance to sleep, and noon the next day sees him parked up outside a cafe near the exit to the market - the same exit the cash collector took out of the market. Sipping on a cup of tea, he waits for the fat money deliverer to wander his way out of the market.

2d10.hi = 1; 2d8.hi = 7

And indeed he does - and takes a seat at Angel’s table, setting a sachel on the table between them. “As-salaamu-alaikum,” the man intones to Angel.

Angel arches an eyebrow before nodding slightly. “Waʿalaykumu s-salām”. He raises his cup to the man, switching to English. “Tea?”
The man looks surprised for a moment, then smiles. “Yes!” he says. “Tea! Uhh...good tea!”
An attendant appears out of nowhere, and in a big hurry. “Apologies, sir,” he gushes in Arabic despite having missed the fat man’s arrival by seconds. “Your tea will be here any moment, five sugars as always.
Relax!” he says. “It is a beautiful day, and we are making great strides for the cause - I do not mind waiting - this time.” The addition at the end implies that there are other times when even this miniscule delay would be perceived...poorly. He looks back at Angel as the attendant scurries off. “...American?”
Angel nods once, but keeps his reply somewhat non-committal. “As a start.”
The fat man has to think for a moment on how to parse that. “Ah! Yes! You fight, yes! With us! Not America! No more American, yes?”

Angel takes a long sip of tea, nodding. “America and I are...starting to part ways.” He looks around the market. “Things look good here. They run smoothly, yes?”
“Yes, yes, very good,” the man says. “We have…” The man shuts up. “We are doing well.”

Angel nods, trying to look eager and...interested. Recruitable. His gestures become slightly more eager, not touching the bag, but occasionally using his movements to draw the man’s eyes in the right direction. “Good good. Donors from abroad?...” his voice drops a little lower, inviting the man toward a ‘shared secret’.

2d8.hi = 6; 1d6 = 2

The fat man smiles. “Yes. Far away. Very far away. Good weapons.”
Angel gives the man an interested grin - the kind of grin he at least imagines some wanna-be jihadi raised on a combination of questionable Twitter followers and video games would have. “Can I see one?”

2d8.hi = 5; 1d8 = 4

The fat man snorts. “No.” His tea comes - along with another flood of apologies - and he takes a sip of it, but his eyes never leave Angel. “No,” he says again. Angel’s eyebrows raise once more, and the fat man smirks and leans in. “Yes.”
punkey 2016-08-07 06:58:40
Hunter wakes early, with the same sense of unease he’s been carrying the past few days. Weeks, even, if I’m being honest. PT doesn’t help. Neither does breakfast. Finally after morning messages, he takes a second to stop, and listen to the twisted-up feeling in his gut.

Alright. It’s not about family. It’s not about Honima. Okay, yeah, there it is.

The realization steals over him slowly, but once there it takes on iron resolution, a fixed idea in the firmament of his thought. Yes, that’s what I have to do. No lack of trigger-pullers out here, that isn’t the shortage.I know where I’m needed.

He pulls up the vox and puts in the call request. It’s late evening in DC, but soon the tired, animated face of Samantha Barnes appears on his screen.

“I need to be back in D.C.”
“Hmm?” Barnes asks, but then her attention finally turns Hunter’s way. “Well, it’s not that we wouldn’t appreciate someone with your experience back here, but this operation is important too.”

“It’s important for getting us to work as a team, and now it’s important because imperial-made weapons are making it to Earth, but I’ve had doubts about the broader strategic impact beyond bouncing rubble and mowing the grass. I can do more good kicking in doors in Arlington.”
Barnes pauses for a second. “I’ll bring Garrett in on this.”
A moment later, Garrett’s face slides into view in some Kabul apartment. “What’s up?” he asks.

“You hired me to figure out how to get past the level of the personal and the idiosyncratic,” Hunter says. “Well, here I am, doing my job, thinking about the big picture. I’m not going to lie, it felt damn good to be out in the field, directing fire and keeping people alive. But there’s not a lot out here I can do that can’t be done by any reasonably talented officer half my age. The collective ultimatum has got DC shitting bricks, someone needs to keep a lid on what could very easily feel like a power grab. I’m one of the last people you have with in-field experience, who can still move between both worlds.”
Barnes nods. “He has a point, Garrett.”
“He’s the only one I trust to beat some sense into the Narsai’i leaders,” Ngawai comments from off-holo. “No offense Samantha, but you're too nice with those idiots.”
Garrett smirks. “Well, vote of confidence there. What about Hale?”
“Hale’s best in the field, and he’s still got a lot to learn. It’s a hard decision to figure out. We’ve gotten to a certain level of rapport, and I don’t want him to feel like he’s getting dropped. We’d need to figure out a way to manage the handoff carefully. Match him with Angel, or maybe Hug’sh. Not gonna lie, that’s the part of it I had the most trouble walking away from.”
Garrett nods. “Angel could use the backup, perhaps. Hug’sh might not mind another set of hands, either.”
“Well then, Major, you know what the next question is,” Barnes says. “What's your plan of action? How do you plan to contribute and turn heads our way in this?”
“So much of our ability to work with Naranai’i allies comes from trust in relationships, where we can stick our necks out for each other because we’ve proven ourselves time and again. Those relationships don’t really exist, and we need to figure out the people they possibly could exist with. Good men died,” Hunter says, “because people at the top don’t get it. More of them do than when we went into Botane, but it’s still not enough. I need to make contact with the layer below them, the staff and command for the wars to come, the ones who aren’t so old their permanently frozen in their patterns of thought and action. I need to cultivate the young turks, give them information and understanding to make the cases, to fight all the small-scale interpersonal arguments that none of us could do by ourselves. We need to change how we’re training and educating officers, we need to carve a vast swath through the bullshit of procurement and contracting, we need a deep re-engagement with reality from lawmakers. We need to show them the big picture; grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.' I need to do this, because otherwise all we’ve got is tactics without strategy. I can call in the best fire missions, I can run sweep-and-clear all day long, but if we’re not aimed at the right targets, if we’re not all completely aligned on how we’re going to devour the whale, we don’t have a chance.

“The leading figures in GRHDI, aside from director Barnes, feel most comfortable out in the field, on the front. I understand that, I respect it. It creates the reputation that helps everyone. But someone has to be responsible to make sure that your support staff, your understudies-- your eventual replacements, when it comes down to it-- can carry on the fight. You can’t keep this up for thirty years. And even if you do, let’s say your kids want to join the fight. What kind of support system do they get? What kind of training? What command structure will they fit into, when we’re so old they only wheel us out for ceremonial dedications to the untold dead? 815 can move fast and break things as much as you want. But someone needs to be doing the building and tending and training and mending. I turned it over and over in my head, and I think it has to be me, at least for the next 18 months.”

Barnes nods. “I don't think Garrett or I can say much in opposition.”
“We could still use you in the field, but...the political landscape just got blown up underneath us,” Garrett says. “Still need to ask Hug’sh what he was thinking with that. But that's the way things are now, so...yeah, go do your thing, Hunter. We'll keep winning the battles and you let us keep fighting them. I just have one question.” He pauses. “I can't speak for Samantha, but you know that I think our best chance long term is integration with the galaxy - and that, really, is what our opponents in Congress, the executive, and the military are fighting against. Cultural integration with the rest of the galaxy. I don't think we need to wash what we have away, but...there's more that's worth keeping out there than there is down here, I think. And if you're going to be arguing on my behalf, I'd like to know where you stand on the best way forward for Narsai and the Narsai'i.”

Hunter takes a long breath, and throws in a bit of a whistle. “You know all those cowboy movies, all those silhouettes of Native Americans on horseback, shooting rifles? That might be us. Descendants of a broken world, making use of the technologies of their conquerors, the people who stole their world, to fight back against them. Even if we win, even if we become part of some sort of reformed Imperium, you gotta be careful about clear-cutting a cultural landscape. You ever spent time on a reservation? It’s not a happy place. We could win the war and lose our souls, get tied up so far in debt we’re virtually enslaved, end up quaint tourist attractions with a drinking problem.

“The sweet and bitter truth is that while many of these changes could be for the better, a lot of people won’t be able to handle doing it fast. You can’t make everyone drink from the firehose, to just say ‘adapt or die.’ One, not everyone is going to be able to move at that pace. If you’re 70 years old, the odds you’re going to up and learn Imperial are pretty low. We’re going to see generational gaps, we’re going to see elders not respected by the youth, we’re going to see massive uprooting and dislocation. Bad things usually happen when you rip out a lot of culture in a very short time. Suicide goes through the roof, for one. People need a sense of connection, a sense of purpose, a sense that the things they’ve believed in, worked for, sweated for, bled for, still matter. If they don’t, you see a lot of ‘fuck this, I’ma get mine’ behavior, or escapism, or any number of maladaptive responses. Anomie is a bitch on wheels, and what works for you isn’t what works for the population at large.

With a sigh, the colonel continues. “For the last several thousand years, we’ve been an island. Not quite Australia, but we have a lot of biodiversity, a lot of fragile, precious constructs that don’t exist anywhere else. To throw all of that out is worrisome, but it’s also a crime against future generations. Languages are dying already, all over the world. We need a framework to move into new ways of living without completely destroying the values systems that exist here, without veering headlong into monoculture.”

Hunter purses his lips. “Are the Earth Firsters a bunch of assholes? Yes, yes they are, and I hope they rot in hell. Do I understand what they’re motivated by? Absolutely. They’re afraid that everything they know and love is going to be swept away with the tide. To resist that tide, to bid the sea not touch you, it’s tragic and doomed and it’s probably the least objectionable part of their motivations.”

Shrugging, he goes on. “Are we obliged, for the sake of survival, to uproot ourselves? Yes, of course. But there are different ways to pull up a plant that make it more likely to survive when you’ve put it down in new soil. My official position is that it’s a change that has to happen, but it’s worth being careful about how we do it.”

Garrett’s quiet for a moment, and Ngawai comes into frame for a moment. “Don’t totally agree, but that sounds all right to me,” she says.
Garrett nods. “Same here. Well, good luck, Hunter. We’ll have to have lunch and talk when we’re back in DC.”
“That we will,” Hunter replies. “Stay safe out there. I’ll try not to get in any gun battles inside the Beltway this time.”
“Sidearms are part of the GRHDI dress code for a reason,” Barnes replies. “I’ll get in touch in an hour or so for the paperwork.”
Hunter nods, disconnects, and lets out a mighty breath. That went better than expected. Now for one last call...

The holodisplay is blank for a moment, showing just the living room of the plus-sized-but-not family habs on Atea. “One second!” Honima’s voice chimes in from off-display. “Sorry, just grabbing something from the chiller.” She comes back on screen, cup of some kind of red juice in her hand, and smiles when she sees Hunter’s face on the screen. “Hey, lahna. How are you? It’s great to see you again.”

Hunter smiles, and the anxiety of the last call washes away. “Hey darlin’, I”m doing well. Actually, I have news.”
“Oh?” Honima asks.
“I’m rotating out from the field. The joint announcement has shaken everything up, so I’m going back to DC.” Hunter states, trying to not to seem too excited about leaving the field. “Trading one snakepit for another, but at least this one is closer.”
Honima’s smile grows instantly, but she still plays coy with Hunter. “Closer to what?” she asks innocently.
“Closer to home, family...and you. There are a lot of reasons that it would make sense to have a commute to and from Atea, particularly if I need backchannels. But I’d also get to see you more. Now, we haven’t talked much about cohabitation, but you did ask before, sooo,” Hunter asks, with a bit of nervousness, “what do you think?”
Honima’s smile grows even wider. “I think that’s perfect. This family hab is pretty empty without someone else to share it with. I’ll let my ward administrator know today - and I’ll see you soon, lahna.” Her smile turns coquettish. “I’ll make sure it’s a memorable reunion.”
Hunter flashes the pearly whites with a slightly wolfish grin. “I’ll be looking forward to it. Until then, ah, I’ll be in my bunk.”
Honima kisses her hand and holds it up for Hunter to do the same to his holographic image of her. “See you soon. Love you.”
Hunter returns the gesture, disconnects the call, and sits back. The last eighteen months have felt like being tied to a rocketship (or, to be more accurate, walking through a vomit-inducing interstellar gate.) Everything felt upside down at times, but at the end of the day certain things held true: that power rests on contradictions, that institutions are complex and slow-moving beasts (but never monolithic entities); that it feels better to blow things up than gently take care, that men (and other beings) are creatures of folly; that good things happen only through sustained effort; that it takes more communication than one might think necessary. He’s had to look hard at his identity, his relationship with his family, his way of looking at the world, and felt validated.
All the same, they’re still riding a tiger, and he has to wake up every day knowing that he could do everything perfectly, and still lose everything. It’s hard to feel this small while working this hard on something this big.
Hunter pulls up the best-quality live satellite view of the earth, and puts it up as large on the holodisplay as possible. He stares at the pale blue sphere for a long while. He leaves it on as he pulls out his moleskine, looks over some notes, and starts writing.
punkey 2016-08-08 08:53:08
The announcement of Hug’sh’s press conference catches Luis and Arketta more than a little by surprise--the assemblage of Naran’ai brass behind him is startling considering Luis hadn’t heard in advance, and the content of the conference leaves Luis shocked to silence as Hug’sh, the Sheen Ambassador, and Brinai speak. It takes a long moment to start arranging his thoughts, but Arketta doesn’t require nearly so much time.

“Vidas fucking Lam,” she says. “That’s...going to make things interesting.”
“No kidding,” Luis says. “I’m….is it bad part of me wants to not care if they change anything or not?”
“I’d like to not be banned from Narsai,” Arketta points out.
“That’s true,” Luis says. “But it sort of would be nice to not give a shit about what small-minded Narsai’i think, and it would be a safer spot for us. And for…” He chuckles. “For our kid. I guess I’m just really hopeful that we can actually get them to straighten up, or get their attention. It feels like we’ve tried everything else.”
“It does,” Arketta says, putting an arm around his shoulder. “Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. If they do, then we can stay. If not…”
Luis nods as she trails off. “If not, I’ve had about enough of trying to work around them to do what we need done. And I don’t know what that means, for the village or for the war, but...I wish they’d told us in advance, but it would be nice to be done dealing with this one way or another.”
“I agree,” Arketta says. “But I think moving to Atea was how we decided to deal with it.”
“I know that’s how we dealt with it, but I meant us more generally. The other Bashakra’i, the Sheen, the Wherren...it’d be a lot to untangle. I guess one way or another we’re in for a ride.”
Arketta laughs. “And we aren’t already?”
Luis laughs at that. “True.”
Arketta gives Luis a squeeze. “We’ll face it together - the three of us.”
Luis squeezes back. “Then I know it’ll work out for the best one way or another.” He smiles back at her and turns off the vox projector while they leave the talking heads to sort out their own reactions.
punkey 2016-08-08 08:53:28
Angel has gotten used to coming back from “field excursions” to find one or more messages waiting for him from Ericka. What he doesn’t usually get is a dozen of them, comprising a frantic, live tweeting-esq reaction to Hug’sh’s press conference, asking him to call her, regardless of what time it is. The last message is from Barnes, a much shorter message simply reading “"Let me know when you've decided what you're doing next".

“Swear to god...I go scout out one terrorist cell lurking in the heart of Kabul, just for a few hours, and everything goes to shit. What I’m going to do next? Retire, with my literally trillions of dollars on some tropical asteroid, grilling and watching...I don’t know. Something fun.”

Instead of that, he calls Ericka, who picks up on the first ring. “So, what’s the plan, boss?” she asks. “I’ve got a dozen news channels from Earth going, and they’re all losing their minds about it - including what we’re going to do next. I had to turn my phone off before the calls from the Assistant Cabal killed the battery.”

“First up, please send a memo to Hug’sh, reminding him that, when he decides to upend the card table, he owes me a little bit of warning first.” Angel sighs, finding what passes for a comfortable chair. “As for the actual content of his press conference, he is, at least ideologically, right on the money. This bullshit is getting good people killed, and it’s pathetic that this is what’s needed to try and stop it. But from the corporate side of things?” Ericka can almost hear him shrug. “I’d like to hear your take first. That is, after all, why I pay you the big bucks.”
Erika sighs herself. “I had a boss that saw himself as some big general type? And he was always quoting some old general - ‘war is the continuation of politics by other means’? He was wrong a lot, but I think that means something here. Business-wise, we can just keep on going with Earth. They have their own Gateways, it’s something we can do. But...the Bashakra’i and Wherren are sixty percent of our revenue. And Earth...they’re not going anywhere. They need us. If we try to play both sides, it’ll just let this keep going, and maybe gives Earth the justification they need to let the Bashakra’i, Wherren and Sheen loose. I think that maybe, we tell the business to take a bit of a running jump, take the hit for the quarter, but win the war.”

“Beyond that, isn’t something like three-quarters of our engineering staff Bashakra’i? I’d imagine they’re not going to be thrilled if we try to cut their friends and neighbors loose. And like I said, he is right, and this is bullshit.” Angel’s tone gets a little more direct, as he apparently comes to a decision.

“The Sheen and Bashakra’i are both hard-power plays. The Wherren, much as I love them, make for good TV but don’t carry a whole lot of weight. So let’s try upping the soft-power side of things with Kesh Industries. Let Barnes know we’ll back her play. Get in touch with some of our industry partners - preferably ones who have tee times with their congressperson. Let them know that, given the recent political volatility, we’re evaluating some of our positions. Don’t ring any bells that can’t be un-rung, but feel free to make some noise about it. If you need me to speak directly with someone, let me know and I’ll make the time. If you need me to fly back and get photographed getting off a plane in Dulles with a dour look on my face, I’ll do that too.”
“I think Kesh Industries starting to retract its positions on Earth will cause enough panic,” Erika says. “I’ll get make the calls right away - and connect you to Samantha. She’s done everything but send a GRHDI agent squad here to make sure she gets a call.”

“Thanks Ericka. And I’m serious about that memo to Hug’sh. Spent hours laying on a dirty apartment floor with nothing but time on my hands. He could have called. But go ahead and patch me through to Barnes.”
“One moment,” Erika says, and there’s a slight click.
Barnes doesn’t even wait for the first ring before picking up. “Angel,” she says. “How are you?”

“Dirty, mostly. A little tired too. Word has it you’ve been trying to reach me. I presume about the ah...local news?”
“There’s a lot of very concerned people in Washington,” Barnes says. “Half of the calls are about the Bashakra’i, Sheen, the Wherren - but half of them are about you.” There’s a pause. “So, what do you plan to do?”

“They’d be a lot less concerned if they bothered to listen before they decided to back the wookie up against a wall. But if you’re asking me if you should short everything in your IRA...well, there’s a question I need to ask you first Samantha. It won’t change the answer, but it will change how I feel about it. Was this your idea or his?”
“It was theirs, not just Hug’sh,” Barnes replies. “But they knew about our...plans, regarding leadership of the war and Narsai’i affairs. Obviously. This is not how I wanted it, but it is an advantageous position.”

“Just had to check. If this breaks the way we all hope it does...that puts you in a very powerful position. And you know how he is...put on a particularly stirring CD in the background and I think you could get him to do pretty much anything as long as he thought it was ‘The Right Thing’. Like I said, it doesn’t change the answer...we’ll back you up. Nothing drastic, we’re not going to pull the rug out from under the S&P 500 or anything, but I’ve got Ericka making unhappy, ‘re-evaluating some of our ongoing projects’ related noises.”
“Good,” Barnes says. “A little instability in the markets will help drive people to make the right choice. Let me know if there’s anything you need from my side.”

“There is one thing Samantha. Those very concerned people - please do remind them that this was entirely avoidable. And if you can make it clear to those who might be inclined to go that route that if they try and make this about patriotism or love of Earth that...will not go well for them.” He leaves the precise details of that statement up to the imagination. “And let me or Ericka know if you need us to do something more direct.”
“Strictly economic, or will you be sending personnel?” Barnes asks.

“Whichever you need. Up to and including me. Not going to be breaking anyone’s knees, but if you need a sound and light show of important and intimidating looking people with either Bashakra’i accents or Yale law degrees to knock on doors, I happen to employ both.”
“Some of the defense contractors are already pushing to cut ties, and half of the government wants us to cut you loose - so keep them both on standby,” Barnes replies. “I’ll let you know which needs which when the time comes. Happy hunting, Angel.”

“You too Samantha.”

Angel cuts the connection and stretches. “Every goddamned time. Between him and Garrett, one of them is going to be the death of me.” He cracks his shoulder and heads to the shower. “Get clear, get a burger...then get to work Kesh.”
punkey 2016-08-22 10:36:41
It has been a good day for Hug’sh, because his vox finally shut up sometime this morning. In the before-time, from his speech all through the night, there had come many such alerts, for Hug’sh had said some things many people did not want to hear, and had done so on an open broadcast, and accordingly all those people felt the need to tell him how much they did not like what he had done. (Seriously, when had the Council on Foreign Relations gotten his vox address?) But today there is blessed silence, and the kiir leaves he’s chewing add a little pep to his step as he wanders the base this way and that way, checking off items on his to-do list. Oversee medical treatment of Kararr, check. Coordinate troops, check. Catch up on intel about insurgent movements, check. When he wanders past the tent that holds General Cooper’s “office”, Hug’sh stops, chews a bit more and thinks. Good time? Bad time? Well, better get it done anyway, who knows when the next fire’s gonna break out. Hug’sh removes a mostly-empty plastic water bottle from his satchel, unscrews the top and discreetly spits out the kiir leaves into it, then screws the top back on and dumps the bottle into the satchel. Then, he retrieves his notepad and pen and bows his head to climb into the lion’s den.

”General Cooper?” he calls outside the office. Difficult to knock on fabric, and after last time, Hug’sh is trying not to break anything else in there.
’Come in, Walks-the-Fire,’” Cooper calls out after a pause.
Hug’sh carefully draws back the fabric covering the doorway and enters the office, a bit of green in his otherwise neutral fur. “’Hello!’ he barks, then quickly scratches out a message on his notepad. Your government received our warning. They are not happy, but it had to be done.
’Yes, so you said,’” Cooper says from behind his laptop on his new makeshift desk - a double stack of plywood with a tablecloth cover. “’And I hope things work out for the best. Have you seen General Briwama, by any chance?’
I have not, Hug’sh writes out. Many things to do. Meant to talk to you sooner, too.
’The Sheen Ambassador perhaps?’” Cooper asks. “’Been getting calls from Washington for conference time with them all day.’
Hug’sh harrumphs at that. Is Washington too good to call them directly?
’I’ve been made to understand that they have been speaking the White House and our allies, and I don’t know how it is with the Wherren, but generals do not like to wait in line for anyone,’” Cooper replies.
I think I’m patient, Hug’sh writes. Perhaps I have not spent enough time as a General. What do you think?
’Perhaps,’” Cooper says. “’Well, if you see General Briwama or the Ambassador, please remind them that the Pentagon wants a chance to talk.’” He looks up. “’Is there anything that you need, General Walks-the-Fire?’
Just checking on you, Hug’sh scribbles. When do we move on the insurgents?
’Captain Radler and Quis are working on a plan,’” Cooper replies. “’They SP in two hours.’
Hug’sh nods to that. Good. I will speak to them. After a moment’s pause, he keeps scribbling. Your terrorists will curse the day they killed our brothers and sisters. Another pause, another look at Cooper. Hug’sh circles “our brothers and sisters”, then points to himself and then to Cooper. Finally, he starts a new page. We are both still in this fight?
’Of course, General,’” Cooper replies.
When do you have time? Hug’sh scribbles.
A pained look moves over Cooper’s expression. “’...unfortunately, Washington has put a priority on speaking to General Briwama and the Ambassador. If you could help me find them…’” Cooper looks about as unhappy to be delivering that news as Hug’sh is hearing it.

Hug’sh harrumphs. Then he taps his vox and opens the interface, scrolling past yesterday’s “We Do Not Appreciate Your Approach” messages to his contact list. With a tap on the holo, he places a call to the Ambassador.
”Yes -” there’s a barely perceptible pause as the Ambassador seems to realize where the call is taking place, ”Walks-the-Fire? How can I be of assistance?”
”Hello, Ambassador,” Hug’sh says. ”I was wondering if you could spare a few minutes and join a conversation I am having with General Cooper here. You would be doing us both a favor.”
”Of course,” the Ambassador replies, then switches to English for Cooper’s benefit. “’Of course, I will not be committing to further positions than those presented in the previous conference without further consensus, and consultation with our allies. Your Congressional and Executive representatives have made their positions very clear, but the Sheen have been plain as well.’
After a bit of fiddling, Hug’sh flips the display holo towards Cooper and starts typing out his message on the vox’s interface so that both Cooper and the Ambassador can follow his side of the conversation. Well, as soon as he figures out how to switch the input from runes to the Latin alphabet. I think our position is clear, too. But this may be a chance to clarify. General Cooper, do you have questions?
Cooper again looks uncomfortable. It’s obviously not a natural state for the man. “’...not as such. If that is the Sheen position, I will relay that.’
Hug’sh types again. If any further questions do develop, I will be available to answer them. If neither of you has anything else to say?
’No, if that is the Sheen position, then that is all I have been instructed in this regard,’” Cooper replies.
Thank you, Hug’sh types, the nods to the bobbing representation of the Sheen Ambassador.
”Please contact me when you are finally available for a more in-depth conversation, Walks-the-Fire,” the Ambassador says. ”We have much to discuss.”
”Indeed,” Hug’sh barks, not bothering to write that out for Cooper. The red seeping into his fur says enough.
”What is wrong?” the Ambassador asks, noting the color change.
”It is not your fault,” Hug’sh says. ”I just realized I have been waiting for a call that is not coming.”
”Which message is that?” the Ambassador asks. ”I have been contacted by 23 different Narsai’i representatives today, surely they must have sent messages of their own.”
”They expressed their regret over our actions to me,” Hug’sh says. ”They left it at that. They have no desire to speak to me or Hiigra, it seems.” Hug’sh sighs. ”My problem, Ambassador. I will deal with it.”
”Hmph.” It is unnecessary for the Ambassador to make such a sound in a manner similar to a Wherren, but it does anyway. ”Still. This is not the proper way to negotiate with an alliance. I shall notify Mr. Briwama of this at once, and the Sheen will take this new tactic into our efforts to form a consensus. All dialog with the Narsai’i will cease from the Sheen until such a time as the Wherren are included at the table.”
”Please do not endanger any negotiations on our behalf, Ambassador,” Hug’sh says with another sigh. ”We will make our dissatisfaction with this state of affairs known to the Narsai’i ourselves. We of course appreciate your continued support of our common cause in this.”
”Nonsense,” the Ambassador replies. ”The Narsai’i are trying to divide us, Walks-the-Fire. The Sheen will not allow anyone to drive us from our allies in our fight for freedom - not even our other allies.”
”Respectfully,” Hug’sh says, ”I believe that with our diplomatic caché with the Narsai’i apparently already at a low, it needs to fall to us to deliver this message.” Hug’sh takes a few breaths before he leans way the fuck out the window. ”Ambassador...as diplomatic representative of the Free Wherren, I wish to officially request that you cease dialog with the Narsai’i until we are included. If they question this move, would you kindly tell them that your actions follow your agreement with the Free Wherren made at this moment. They will be receiving official communication from us to this effect as soon as I have a moment to pen the letter. Is this acceptable to you?”
”Of course,” the Ambassador replies. ”A quorum has reached assent - 100%, as a matter of fact. We will defer to your request, Walks-the-Fire. I presume you will be requesting something similar from Mr. Briwama?”
”Naturally,” Hug’sh says. ”This alliance needs to meet the Narsai’i with one voice, Ambassador. The Free Wherren thank you for your consideration. Until the next time.”
”Soon, Walks-the-Fire,” the Ambassador replies, then disconnects.

Cooper looks up from his desk. “’Anything else I can help you with, General?’
Hug’sh closes the vox holo and picks up his notepad again. You would be doing me a large favor if you tell your leaders to call us. He underlines us. We do not appreciate negotiations behind our backs.
Cooper sighs. “’Yes, not a problem,’” he says. “’I’ll do what I can.’
Also, generals should be generals, not diplomats, Hug’sh writes. Or messengers. You have battles to lead. Your leaders should understand this.
’You would think that,’” Cooper replies. “’Good luck, Walks-the-Fire. I mean that.’
We will both need plenty of luck in the days ahead, Hug’sh scribbles. Good luck, General Cooper.

With a final curt nod, Hug’sh gingerly climbs out as he climbed in, then makes his way outside, where he hopes the sunlight will bleach the rest of the red from his fur. Two more items on his list: get the Bashakra’i in on the diplomatic embargo, and then call the Narsai’i out. Easy peasy. Not like he has anything else to worry about. Right?
punkey 2016-08-22 10:37:07
“...and it then transpired that this winsome lady - who, I might remind everyone, was quite voluptuous indeed - saw fit to attempt to renegotiate our agreement,” Caleb the Loudmouth says. Well, continues to say, really; he’s been at this story for five minutes with no end in sight, and yes, watches have been checked to confirm that it really was just five minutes. Fortunately, Kitty and her team are far more focused on their preparation for sampling the DNA and immune systems of their intended village. Unfortunately, Zaef and Caleb’s trin-mates have no such occupation and Caleb’s voice is just loud enough to drown out the rest of the noise in the MRAP.

“And me, being inebriated yet not disabled by drink, had enough of my wits about me to see through such a ploy. I squared up to her and said, Madam, we have shaken on an honorable agreement; it is quite unbecoming that you should now bolster your demands. Upon this, she resorted to calling me names which need not be repeated in polite company, but suffice it to say I was quite cross with her at this point.” He takes a breath, as Jimmy tries very hard to refocus his attention on his beamer’s diagnostics, and Marta maintains her look of stunned horror.

“Now, I consider myself, if not precisely a gentleman of noble birth, then at least a man of serviceable moral character. As such, I insisted on the original parameters of our agreement once more, only to find her assailing me. Again, my moral character I must stress here; I had not laid hand upon her nor threatened her in a verbal manner, and despite her aggression I felt conflicted about defending myself. But it was clear to me that she would not desist, and with great reluctance I committed myself to the brawl. I brushed aside her attack and, in the manner I had been trained, brought my forehead down on the bridge of her nose. The effect was nigh-immediate! I grasped her by the shoulders and transmigrated her onto the nearby couch, whereupon - bar any intent of mine - her mass proved deleterious to her modesty, and her grand globes sought their freedom from the restrictive clothing.” Caleb laughs. “At this point, I resigned myself to this view being all my previous bargain was still worth, and took my leave of the situation, never to encounter the lady again. I still miss those hundred pounds quite dearly, I must say.”
“Oh, thank God,” Marta gushes, but quickly catches herself. “I mean, that...it didn’t get any more violent. And that...you were both all right?”
“It is the light in which I hope to one day view this,” Caleb replies. “As it is, I feel consigned to rather a great deal of bitterness that I was denied the prize of my endeavours.”
“Right,” Jimmy replies.


Luis and Arketta are woken up by a knocking at their door. “Luis! Arketta! The patrol leaves in two hours!” Arlana’s voice sounds from outside. “You have a half-hour to report for pre-combat checks at the skimmer pool!”


Angel’s barely out of his early-morning shower before there’s a knock at his door. The Faxom-Io sconce system he had a helpful Bashakra’i mount to his door flashes up a holo on his side - Garrett and Ngawai, daughter in tow. “Time to compare notes,” Ngawai says.
punkey 2016-08-22 10:37:27
Hug’sh sees a very welcome sight outside of the TOC waiting for him - Swims-the-Black. ”I heard you are Chief Walks-the-Fire now,” Swims grunts with a pleased green fringe and an overly-elaborate bow. ”Also, that you have sent the Narsai’i scrambling to do whatever they can to help us out, now that they think we are abandoning them - which is nice, but doesn’t exactly sound like the Narsai’i.”
Hug’sh mirrors Swims’s green and nods. ”Let us not praise the hunt before the feast,” Hug’sh says. ”What brings you here, Swims-the-Black?”
”I am waiting out the Narsai’i government’s annoyance at Naloni and me spoiling their hiding spot for stolen Bashakra’i tech,” Swims responds, his fur turning another shade greener. ”Bello and Paul had their suspicions, asked me to check it out. Turns out, the Narsai’i need to hire more circumspect guards, I could have smelled the hiding spot even without their guidance.”
Hug’sh chuckles. ”That does sound exactly like the Narsai’i,” he says. The smile and green fur fade. ”They’re certainly testing our patience these days.”
”And they will for some time to come - even if cooler heads win out,” Swims-the-Black responds. ”Do you think that the Narsai’i will suddenly become perfectly cooperative and in line with what the Wherren want when Samantha takes over? Or will they still have their own agenda, their own needs, that will sometimes conflict with ours?” He raises a hand before Hug’sh replies. ”Yes, things will get better once Samantha is Steward, but I am just being realistic - the Narsai’i will take decades, generations to get over not being the only planet in the galaxy, demanding everything they want while not being able to give anything in return.”
”I’ve stopped hoping for miracles,” Hug’sh says. ”But I would greatly appreciate if they could find it in themselves to be...less tiresome.” Hug’sh sighs. ”Which is the exact message my next communique to them will try to convey.” Absent-mindedly, he reaches back and rubs his hump. ”Well, I have nobody to blame but myself. How is Naloni? I imagine she does not care for the heat here.”
”Not so much, but her parents spared no expense in clothes and carriers for her,” Swims replies. ”She is as happy as I have ever seen a human cub.” He pauses. ”I have heard you are having a hard time being away from Rhea.”
Hug’sh nods. ”And I’ve been doing a terrible job of hiding it,” he says, then sighs. ”It can’t be helped right now. There’s too much to do and our relationship with the Narsai’i is more volatile than ever. I have to do everything I can to make this work, Swims-the-Black. I couldn’t look her in the eyes if I gave up and just went home.”
Swims rolls a riot of green, yellow, and blue for a moment, then huffs a laugh, settling on green. ”This is the first moment I truly do not see any hint of the human you used to be. Hugh Verrill would have run from this like he was on fire.”
Hug’sh’s fur roils through a variety of colors before settling on a light green tinge. ”Perhaps,” Hug’sh says. ”Speaking of running...I hate to cut this short, but there are many things I need to get done. If that is all for now, I should get going.” He gives a hopeful smiles. ”Maybe we can catch up a bit more over dinner?”
”That is why I am here, as a matter of fact,” Swims replies. ”If I cannot be of aid to our friends in Kabul, I will be an aid to my Chief here.”
A slow pulse of yellow runs down Hug’sh’s sides. Your Chief?” he asks. ”Thank you for the flattery, but you...you did not strike me as the type of person who would seek out a Chief for himself.”
”You claimed to speak for all free Wherren,” Swims-the-Black replies. ”And did so very well. I might not have gone looking for a Chief, but I have no problem with you speaking on my behalf - on our species’ behalf.” He bows again, less formally, but still with respect on his colors. ”So, until Garrett or Ngawai or the Bashakra’i have need of an old smuggler shipmaster, I am yours, Chief.”
Hug’sh smiles at that. ”Thank you for your kind offer - I am honored to accept it.” He returns Swims’s bow. ”Tell me, Captain, how good are you at drafting diplomatic letters?”
”About as good as you are, Chief,” Swims replies.
”Then let us pool our talents,” Hug’sh says, ”and see how much we can fluster the Narsai’i in 300 words.”
”There’s almost certainly no chance we start a war,” Swims replies with another chuff.
”Do you feel it is not a worthy challenge, then?” Hug’sh replies with a chuckle. ”You are free to work on the provisional constitution instead.”
”Certainly a job for a Chief, and I am a mere Shipmaster,” Swims replies with yet another bow, this one less sincere and more parody. ”I tell you what, I start the wars, you write the structure of our government on the back of a napkin.”
”It is a fine napkin and there’s nothing wrong with it,” Hug’sh says, mock-insulted. ”Come now, before we scare the Narsai’i with our laughter.”
Swims curtsies - itself a humorous visual - and gestures towards the Wherren habs. ”Lead the way, Chief.”
e of pi 2016-08-23 23:50:18
Luis jerks awake, flailing slightly in the tangle of limbs and blankets. A certain terrified voice in the back of his brain reports he didn't lock the door, forgot an exam, and is missing his pants. Another close on its heels corrects that list down to only the last. He pulls himself out of the pile enough to avoid shouting directly in Arketta's ear."Coming, Samal!"

That done, he takes another moment to free his other arm, and starts checking his vox while he rounds up his uniform.

"I know we didn't have a patrol scheduled last night," he says to Arketta. "What the heck happened last night? I'd say remind me to kill your mother, but I think she could take me."
punkey 2016-08-24 10:21:38
Arketta doesn't reply - she just sits up, hair wild, slides on one of Luis' t-shirts, and stomps grumbling to the door, sliding it slightly open. "...what are you talking about, mother?"
"The Bashakra'i are leading the first patrol to recapture the mountain ridge where the sunmines were set off," Arlana says. "And you two should join me at the tip of the sword."
"...and you could not have told us this earlier?" Arketta asks.
"Just found out a few hours ago, wanted to let you both sleep," Arlana replies. "Now you have slept." She lifts her helm's face plate, leans in on her tip toes and gives Arketta a kiss on the cheek. "Come on, come on, you can both shower together, get in your carapaces and get ready to roll out."
e of pi 2016-08-24 19:58:37
Luis pulls a face as he pulls together his gear. "We're on it, Samal. We'll be out at the skimmer pool shortly. Can you forward me the mission outline?" This is far too much Arlana for no coffee, he muses.
punkey 2016-08-25 04:38:04
"Already done!" Arlana replies, and turns back down the hall. "See you both in 29 minutes!"
Arketta slides the door shut, then turns around and leans against it. "I'm sorry Luis," Arketta says. "Vidas Lam, it's like the first day of primary instruction. And secondary instruction. And pre-Turai training."

True to her word, Luis' vox inbox has a message from Arlana sitting in it. The operation is brutally simple - a combined patrol of two Narsai'i platoons and three Bashakra'i, Sheen, and Wherren combined quads will advance up the shortest route back to the mountain ridgeline, straight towards the lowest pass through it, and bust through to the other side, establishing a secure landing zone for further reinforcements. To Luis' eyes, it's all very...Marines.
e of pi 2016-08-25 22:34:25

"Already done!" Arlana replies, and turns back down the hall. "See you both in 29 minutes!"
Arketta slides the door shut, then turns around and leans against it. "I'm sorry Luis," Arketta says. "Vidas Lam, it's like the first day of primary instruction. And secondary instruction. And pre-Turai training."

"Think she'll be this bad when the attention gets spread to grandkids?" Luis offers as they get cleaned.

True to her word, Luis' vox inbox has a message from Arlana sitting in it. The operation is brutally simple - a combined patrol of two Narsai'i platoons and three Bashakra'i, Sheen, and Wherren combined quads will advance up the shortest route back to the mountain ridgeline, straight towards the lowest pass through it, and bust through to the other side, establishing a secure landing zone for further reinforcements. To Luis' eyes, it's all very...Marines.

"Listen to this," he says, and reads the short version to Arketta. "Very 'hey diddle diddle'," he says. "Simple, which is nice for nothing to go wrong if we have the strength to push through whatever's waiting in the most obvious point to attack, but...I just hope we've got the strength for it."
CrazyIvan 2016-08-27 02:44:49
punkey wrote:

Angel’s barely out of his early-morning shower before there’s a knock at his door. The Faxom-Io sconce system he had a helpful Bashakra’i mount to his door flashes up a holo on his side - Garrett and Ngawai, daughter in tow. “Time to compare notes,” Ngawai says.

Before he stepped in the shower that morning, Angel fired off another note to Ericka.

Things a little tense around here. Garret losing the distinction between driven and scary. Need you to overnight me some things. A ten pack of Men's Underarmor underwear. Size medium. And a teddy bear, one with a cloyingly irritating sound effect. But before you do, have the R&D boys rig up a secondary power source. Well hidden. Charge it to my personal account.


Pulling a shirt over his head, he opened the door, letting Garrett and Ngawai into his quarters. "Morning you two..."
skullandscythe 2016-08-28 21:53:53
Zaef looks up from his vox - currently running a thesaurus, of all things, so he can figure out what the hell Loudmouth is saying - as he believes the story winds down. It started out amusing, telling a ribald tale with sophisticated language you'd never hear out of a spacer, but the novelty of it wore off faster than it took for Loudmouth to finish most of his sentences. "Caleb, before you start another charming tale, send me your Imperial language primer. I'm concerned it might be defective. Or worse, written by a ravilar."

Zaef hopes this will have the side benefit of shutting Caleb up for a bit. If he starts another story like that, Marta will either pass out or deck him.
punkey 2016-08-30 05:11:59
"Well, if my mother is leading it, you can bet that she and her quad will be at the front," Arketta says. "Which...well, it's probably all right. The trap at the ridge would have taken days to put together." She hangs her towel up and grabs her skinsuit to start pulling it on. "I think it'll be exciting."


"Morning, Angel," Garrett says. "How was your recon?"
"We've made progress on the ANP support for Wazir," Ngawai adds. "Well, making it less of a problem. He had four ANP officers in his pocket, they're out of the picture."
Naloni, for her part, looks around Angel's room with the same wide-eyed sense of wonder that newborns look at most things.


"Insofar as my Imperial might be substandard, I must place the blame squarely on the instructors provided for the purpose," Caleb replies, then switches back to English. "'And while we're shooting the bull, mate, you know you can just ask me to please shut my trap, yah'?"
e of pi 2016-08-30 20:45:30
punkey wrote:

"Well, if my mother is leading it, you can bet that she and her quad will be at the front," Arketta says. "Which...well, it's probably all right. The trap at the ridge would have taken days to put together." She hangs her towel up and grabs her skinsuit to start pulling it on. "I think it'll be exciting."

Luis chuckles and grabs a towel for himself. "Exciting is a pretty good bet."
CrazyIvan 2016-09-01 03:24:05
punkey wrote:

"Morning, Angel," Garrett says. "How was your recon?"
"We've made progress on the ANP support for Wazir," Ngawai adds. "Well, making it less of a problem. He had four ANP officers in his pocket, they're out of the picture."
Naloni, for her part, looks around Angel's room with the same wide-eyed sense of wonder that newborns look at most things.

"Out of the picture." Angel raises an eyebrow. "Meaning the next time I get a call about you two in prison, there might be legitimate charges?"

He shrugs, offering them both a seat. "My night was a little more boring. Got their money guy to admit that the party line at least is the usual 'down with America' stuff, and basically to outright admit their getting their weapons from an external backer. Not, you know, a surprise, but it's confirmation."
punkey 2016-09-01 05:23:01
"No one's going to miss these guys, and we set it up right," Garrett replies.
"Fratricide over money, cleaned up with one of their hand grenades," Ngawai says.
"Did you get any leads on where their big stash might be?" Garrett asks.
skullandscythe 2016-09-05 17:55:51
Zaef sighs. "Caleb, you speak Imperial fine, but it's the stuffy, wordy kind of Imperial you hear from ravilar widecasts. I tell you this because your story would've gotten you some laughs with people I know - people you'd be working with on the other side of the gate, people you'd want to make friends with. People who might think you're talking down to them because of the way you talk right now. At best, you'd get thrown out. So, no, don't shut up. But tone it down with all the big words. If you need some help with that, I'll try to coach you through it."