Jade Imperium - Afghanistan, Pt. 3

punkey 2019-09-09 19:45:52
Brinai looks to Paul and Onas and raises an eyebrow.
"Well, I'd...I'd have to talk with Bello," Paul says.
"And this is all kind of short notice, there's a lot of different planets that could use some attention -" Onas adds, covering for his husband.
"Yes, but, I think that..." Paul huffs a quick breath. "Ibash has a ring of corrupt administrata that have turned the planet's industria into their own little corrupt cabals. There's a few border worlds that we've been trying to influence that the local Oduns have become oppressive and violent in attempts to keep us out. Imperial strip mining on Aikoro has stepped up in the wake of consolidated Imperial control after your last visit there, and the locals aren't happy about their mountains having their tops chopped off. Any of those would be a good place for a few strategic assassinations, or all of them, if you feel up to the task."

Garrett nods his head. "I mean, we have this team for a reason..."
Ngawai smirks. "Since when has biting off more than we can chew backfired on us?"
e of pi 2019-09-10 01:36:50
"Sometimes it's been quite the opposite, really," Luis says. "I'd be down for reminding the Imperium that they're not safe and keep them worried about what's lurking in the hall closet even if they have a foothold here, and those sound like prime targets."
Gatac 2019-09-14 18:06:01
Hug'sh's fur turns purple at the thought of committing to leaving his family behind once again, but then red enters the fight and seems to win after a brief struggle. What the Imperium has done...he watched it all on his holos, helpless to stop anything, and he's had to keep it together and be the adult in the tent for entirely too long.

"We may not get justice," Hug'sh comments. "But I'll settle for satisfaction. Let's remind them why they fear us. I'm in."
punkey 2019-09-16 11:06:14
Zaef nods. "And nothing is as satisfying as a bit of revenge."
Brinai smirks. "I remember a time not too long ago where you upbraided me for meting out justice to the oppressors, Garrett. My, how times change."
"Times haven't changed, but tactics have," Garrett says. "Above all else, this needs to be clean. The message needs to be clear. Setbacks will not stop the 815 and the Bashakra'i from protecting those that need it and delivering the harshest possible punishment to those that deserve it - and that we can tell the difference between the two. Only the targets die, no one else."
Ngawai looks Hale's way. "You've been awfully quiet. Does that satisfy your sense of...sympathy?"

Hale glowers at Ngawai. "I do not feel bad for these...these people -"
"Really?" Ngawai asks.
Hale opens his mouth, then closes it and takes a deep breath. "Perhaps I do, but...I still remember thinking that what we were doing was right and necessary. It's not a bad thing to want to give people a chance."
"I think the ones we'll be going after will be well past that," Garrett says.
"Indeed," Brinai says with a nod.'
"You want some real bastards to kill, there's plenty out there," Paul says. "I'll get with Bello to finalize the list, and Onas and I will put together sitreps. Give us a few hours?"
Garrett nods. "I think we can all find things to do."
punkey 2019-09-18 20:44:13
It’s not a long walk from the docks to the 815 annex, but that doesn’t stop Garrett and Ngawai from taking it at a brisk pace. After all, there’s a few extremely important things waiting there for them.

”Wave hello to your mother and father,” Swims-the-Black purrs to Naloni, gently waving her hand at Garrett and Ngawai as they walk into the briefing room.
“Hey there,” Garrett says as he picks up Naloni in his gauntleted arms. “How are you? Were you good?”
”She slept most of the way here,” Swims replies. ”I am out of milk for her, though, and she will probably want to eat soon.”
“Well, mommy is here now,” Ngawai says, and gives Swims a hug. ”Thanks for looking out for her.”
”It was my pleasure, I assure you,” Swims says, his fur rolling a pleased green. ”She is very cute, and one cub is much easier to care for than three.”
”I know that you were sidelined for a lot of Afghanistan, and I’m sorry about that,” Garrett says.
”Please, I owe you thanks for keeping me out of that Narsai’i pile of scrofa dung,” Swims says. His red and orange fur says the rest. ”Banishing me to spend time with your daughter and avoiding the brunt of the Narsai’i paranoia and stupidity is no punishment, trust me.”
”Still, we’re looking to do some precision kill work coming up, and I figured you’d want in on that,” Garrett says as Ngawai picks up Naloni and gets her started on her finger.
”Anyone in particular?” Swims-the-Black asks.
”Paul and Bello are drawing up target lists and putting together a briefing, but...we were thinking of making a big splash,” Garrett says. ”We need to make a big statement about what the 815 and the rest of this alliance stand for and are capable of. So, probably a dozen targets, simultaneous execution, and...I was thinking, maybe even make a holo to widecast afterwards. Put out there exactly how bad these people were and show us stopping them cold.”
”We never do dream small,” Swims chuffs. ”I’m in, of course.” Swims nods to Naloni, who’s currently trying her best to track the conversation with her eyes as she sucks on Ngawai’s finger. ”And who will be staying back to take care of Naloni?”
“Well, I was thinking I would stay -” Ngawai starts.
“I thought I could coordinate from here -” Garrett says simultaneously.
Swims chuckles. ”It sounds like you should have talked about this beforehand.”

Garrett and Ngawai look at each other for a moment. “There’s no way I could ask you to go out there if you don’t want to,” Garrett says.
“I know you’ve been worried about not being there enough for her, I won’t make you feel like that,” Ngawai adds. “But...one of us needs to go.”
“You stayed behind for Hedion, it’s only fair that I stay back -” Garrett starts.
“Forget that, I didn’t have a choice in the matter,” Ngawai says. “They need you out there running the show.”
“I could do it from here,” Garrett says.
“Only for 5 minutes at a time,” Ngawai counters.
Garrett sighs, and they both look at each other for a moment. “Are we really arguing about who doesn’t get to go out there and kill some really bad people?”
”And they say parenthood doesn’t change people,” Swims-the-Black says.
“I’m not...afraid to go out there,” Ngawai says.
“Neither am I,” Garrett replies. “I just...I missed her. When we were on the route to and from the Eye, I couldn’t stop thinking about finally getting to spend time with her.”
“Same,” Ngawai says. “But with all these targets in the air…”
“Tell you what,” Garrett says, digging in a gear pouch on his armor. “I’ll flip you for it. Call it in the air. Winner stays behind and runs coordination from here.”
Ngawai smirks. “Fine. Next one is on the loser, then.”
Garrett smiles back and gives Ngawai a peck on the cheek. “Sounds fair to me.” He balances the lat coin on his hand. “Call it.”
“Tops,” Ngawai says.

(1d2 = 2, Ngawai wins)

The coin rings loudly as Garrett’s armored thumb flips it into the air. He catches it one-handed and slaps it on the table, revealing the head of Vidas Lam.

“Tops it is,” Garrett says, and sighs. “I can’t believe I’m actually sad about having to go out into the field.”
”Just means you’re a good father,” Swims-the-Black replies, wrapping an arm around Garrett’s shoulders.
“If that’s the case…I think some family time is in order before I have to head out,” Garrett says. “Paul said they’d need a few hours, and I’d rather spend that time with my family.” Swims-the-Black starts to let go of Garrett, but he holds onto the Wherren’s back. ”You too, big guy.”
Swims is awash in green and yellow for a moment before he can calm his fur back down. ”...well then. I suppose debriefing Paul can wait.”
“It definitely can,” Ngawai says, shifting Naloni so she and Garrett can both hold their daughter.
punkey 2019-09-21 20:15:45
Brinai doesn’t technically need permission to enter Zaef’s berth on Atea, but out of politeness and habit she taps the panel next to the door. Zaef seemed oddly quiet and taciturn, even for him, and, well, it’s not that she is checking up on him, but more that she needs to make sure that the 815 are all running at their best.

“Hello?” Kitty’s voice sounds from the panel.
“It’s Brinai,” Brinai says.
“Oh! Yes, just one second -” The door slides open and Brinai steps in, only to see Kitty sitting at the entertainment area, her sleeves rolled up and an IV bag hanging off a pole and running orange fluid into her arm.
Brinai isn’t surprised by much, but this one does earn a raised eyebrow. “Are you well?”
“Oh, I’m fine,” Kitty says with a smile. She waves at the IV. “This is just the latest round of growth stims I’ve put together.”
“You are doing your own treatments?” Brinai asks. “And before it was just a syringe, not an infusion.”
“Well, after Afghanistan…” Kitty frowned, her eyes focusing on something else for a moment. “After Afghanistan, I decided that I need to do more.”
“You were already doing quite a lot,” Brinai says.
“Well, if I’m going to keep up with Zaef -” Kitty starts.
“You don’t need to ‘keep up’ with him, dear,” Brinai says. “Vidas Lam, not even Zaef wants to keep up with Zaef most of the time.”
“It’s more than just that,” Kitty says. “I’m...I’m tired of being useless.”
Brinai shakes her head. “Zaef would say you are far from that, and I would agree.”
“When we were in Afghanistan, there was...a fight,” Kitty says, taking a deep breath. “And just like Whiirr, I just...panicked. I froze up, and I didn’t know what to do, and I always know what to do. I hate feeling like that, feeling useless, that I don’t know what to do or how to help. And I’m never going to let that happen again.”

Brinai listens to Kitty’s outburst, and nods. “Very well. But you do know that there is strength, and there is what you do with it, yes? You are a bright young woman, but what that stim can do for you is not the same as what you say you want.”
“Well,” Kitty starts, then pauses. “Yes, of course, but I can then learn -”
“You can do that without doing this to yourself,” Brinai points out.
“But I’ll be better, stronger,” Kitty protests. “Like Zaef.”
“Like Zaef,” Brinai says. She shakes her head. “Do you know much about Arena fighters, Kitty?”
Kitty pauses again. “I haven’t asked Zaef much about that. He doesn’t like talking about it.”
“They are beasts,” Brinai says. “They are owned and treated no better than a prize scrofa, pumped full of every stim and genemod that the Arena rules allow. Zaef did not become like he is now through his own choice, and it was neither safe nor without pain.” She sits down across from Kitty. “I guarantee you, Zaef would not want you put through what happened to him. Especially if it’s by your own hand.”
Kitty goes silent once more. “Okay, well, then I think that what I have now is about right, maybe a little more.” Brinai sighs at that. “No, I’ve looked into what I can find about Arena treatments for my own studies, and this is...less. Not by much, but it is less.”

Brinai gives Kitty a sympathetic but withering look. “Tell me that this is for you. Tell the truth, Kitty, you just want to not feel weak anymore.”
Kitty tries to respond, attempts to argue, but then just nods. “Yes,” she says. She sniffles and wipes at her eyes. “I’m tired of feeling weak and useless.”
“And this will help with that?” Brinai asks.
Kitty nods. “Yes.”
“Then you have my support,” Brinai says. “I can offer you training, but Zaef and his friends certainly can do that as well. But you be careful. I cannot have you hurting yourself, and if you take things too far, I can cut you off. Understood?”
Kitty nods again. “Yes, I understand.” She sniffles again. “Thank you, Brinai.”
“It is not just for Zaef,” Brinai admits, shuffling the tails of her shawl up onto her lap. “I have grown fond of you as well, and it would be a shame for you to give yourself an aneurysm.”

The berth door slides open and Zaef comes in, case for his armor on one shoulder and gear duffel on the other. “Sorry, I stopped by the annex to drop some things off, and -” Zaef turns around and sees both Brinai sitting there and Kitty with a big IV in her arm, and freezes. “...more treatments?” he asks Kitty.
“Yes, I’ve decided to...be more aggressive,” Kitty says. “It’s all safe. Brinai just finished warning me about what...what was done to you, and she made some good points, so...I’ll be a bit more careful.”
“Careful, as in more?” Zaef asks. “It was just a syringe every few days before.”
“Yes, but...carefully,” Kitty says. She stands up and wraps her arms around Zaef. “I just want to be...be capable. And this is my way of doing it.”
Zaef hugs her back. It’s still odd for him to feel any sort of tone at all on her back, let alone the firmness there now. “And Brinai says it’s all right.”
“She did,” Kitty says.
Zaef looks over to Brinai, who looks up from her seat right back. “Well.” He pauses. “It is none of her business, but -”
“Since when have I let that stop me before?” Brinai shoots back.
“Never,” Zaef says. There’s no ‘thank you’ said, but a nod is exchanged. “Well, since you’re here, I suppose you’d expect something to eat, dear leader mine.”
“I’ve had your cooking, Zaef,” Brinai says. “I was just here to see how you were doing.”
“Tired, Brinai,” Zaef says. “I’m tired.”
“Then let me cook,” Kitty says, letting go of Zaef and dragging her IV line into the kitchenette with her. “Brinai hasn’t had my cooking yet, and since we are getting married, it’d be good for her to know what to expect.”

Zaef smirks. “That would be great.” He looks back to Brinai as he takes Kitty’s seat. “She’s much better than I ever was, autochef or not.”
Brinai nods. “She’d have to be, otherwise you’d both starve.” Her glare softens a bit. “You said you’re tired, my boy. How tired?”
Zaef sighs. “Very. About a lot of things.”
“Well, there’s nothing wrong with taking a break,” Brinai says.
Zaef raises an eyebrow. Neither one will admit it, but he looks a lot like Brinai in that moment. “There’s a lot of...responsibility I’d be walking out on.”
“They’ll be fine,” Brinai says. “Before this, you were my bodyguard, and before that you were a warrior in the Arena. It’s been a long time since your life has been about you. You’re about to be married, Zaef. I’d say now is a perfect time to take some time off for yourself and Kitty.”
Zaef nods. “I’ll think about it. After this.”
Brinai nods. Again, there’s more than a bit of resemblance there. “Good. You think about that. And think about her.”
Zaef looks over his shoulder at Kitty, whose started chopping up vegetable greens and has a pan already heating. “I am, Brinai. Always.”
Gatac 2019-09-21 20:20:22
After things quiet down again, Hug'sh seeks out a quiet corner of the briefing room, snatching a few pillows from chairs as he passes. Planning to be in the field again is...exhilarating for sure, and Hug'sh feels flushed with adrenaline just thinking about it. But it doesn't take long before he sighs and plops himself down in a corner to think. Another adventure...and more dangerous, too. This is not what he promised his family. Just a quick trip to Atea to welcome the others back and debrief. Be home soon.

Quote-unquote 'soon'.

His vox vibrates quietly with the gateway window to Whirr opening again. If all had gone well, he'd be at the gateport already. But it's also his chance to call home, and there's no sense putting it off any longer. He touches his vox and puts the call through to Rhea.

"How are your teammates, bondmate?" Rhea asks over the connection.
"They are...physically, they are well," he says. "Their mission went smoothly. But they saw the aftermath of the invasion with their own eyes, and they are full of anger." He sighs. "I am angry alongside them. Already we are making plans to retaliate and sour the Imperium's victory as best we can."
Rhea doesn't miss a beat. "When will you be back?" she asks.
"About a week," Hug'sh answers. "Less, I hope, but we have much planning ahead of us still. You will be the first to know when I can tell with confidence." He pauses. "I would like to tell Torega myself."
"Of course," Rhea says, turning around. "Torega? Your father wants to tell you something." Pause, then a not-so-little green furball climbs up into Rhea's lap. She's starting to come into her growth spurts, and seems to have hit one over the last six months, growing at least an inch.
"Hi, father," Torega grunts, wrapping a nervous finger around her tusk. Not too little for that, though.
"Heya, fuzzball," Hug'sh says gently. Even if he did try to put on a smile, the purple fringe around his eyes would give the game away. "I'm calling to say I can't come home tonight, Torega. My friends and I need to go on a mission and it can't wait. I'll...I'll be a few more days. I'm sorry."
There's a bit of purple on the fringes of Torega's fur, but it really just mutes her green a bit. "Okay. I love you, father." Rhea grooms Torega's head a bit. "Can I go back to Piugash and school?" Torega asks Rhea.
"Of course," Rhea says, and lets Torega go with one last lick.
"I'll see you soon! Goodbye, Torega!" Hug'sh calls after the fleeting image on the vox, but it's already gone. "...love you, daughter."

Soon, Hug'sh flashes enough purple for their whole family. Deep breaths. Deep, slow breaths. The vox vibrates. Gateway window is closing soon. Damn it all. So much to say, so much to...so much of his daughter and his bondmate that he still wants to see, wants to touch...

You're a General now, Hug'sh. People need you. Get it together.

"I...I need to brief Rodirr," he says, his calm voice completely at odds with the riot of colors on his face. "Talk to you soon, bondmate. Love you."
"Hug'sh," Rhea says. "It is easy for me to say, here, surrounded by family, but you will survive this. You will be back here with us before you know it. I know the hunt. If you do not put your mind to the hunt and let it stay here with us? That is when you will not come back." She licks the sconce. "Be strong, bondmate."
"I will call when I know more," Hug'sh says. He disconnects the line. Another deep breath. He looks at his free hand - his claws are sunk deep into one of the pillows. Let's hope they're not heirlooms. With due haste, he calls up Rodirr's vox, the purple reluctantly leaving his fur.
"Chief," Rodirr answers.
"Change of plans," Hug'sh says. The clipped, professional tone comes easier now, by reflex. "I won't be around to handle the drawdown with you. I need you to execute the plans we made for that by yourself. Do what you have to do, requisition whatever and whoever you need, and if you have to pull somebody's fur, tell them it's on my authority."
"Can do," Rodirr says. "Are you on Atea?"
"Not for long," Hug'sh says.
"I am as well, we should meet to discuss final details while you are away," Rodirr says.
"...right," Hug'sh says, the vox vibrating to let him know the window to Whirr is closed now. "Lunch in thirty at the Spink Spit Grill'n'Bar?" He looks at the torn pillow. And after lunch, a stop at the home decoration store.
"I am nearby your sector," Rodirr says. "We can meet at your office in the 815 annex."
"Should I ask why you're nearby?" Hug'sh muses.
"I was...in the area, checking on material trans-shipment," Rodirr says, something that's only a half-lie.
"Mh-hmm," Hug'sh goes. "Were you...satisfied with the quality?"
"Everything seems to be in one piece," Rodirr says. "Anyway, I will be there momentarily."

Just a scant few minutes later, Hug'sh sways a bit from foot to foot at the nearest Atea transit station, waiting for Rodirr's arrival. The evidence of his emotional outburst has been fed to a garbage chute, save for a quick picture Hug'sh snapped for reference. It is hoped that he can find a replacement pillow in the same style and replace it. Brinai will probably still know - one does not hide such things from the galaxy's intelligence experts - but should hopefully let the matter go if it is handled discreetly enough.

Rodirr steps off the tram and bursts into a surprised yellow that quickly fades into yellow and green. "Hug'sh! I did not expect you to meet me, I was coming to meet you."
"Yes!" Hug'sh manages, walking up briskly and half-embracing, half-pushing Rodirr along with him, back onto the tram. "I am very hungry! Did not want to waste time on the way to the restaurant." His arm doesn't leave Rodirr's shoulder inside the tram, either, and a few annoyed humans make room for two big Wherren squeezing through side by side.
"How are you doing?" Rodirr asks. Hug'sh can tell that Rodirr can tell, but the elder mercenary still felt it necessary to ask before pushing his muzzle into the nape of Hug'sh's neck.
"Well," Hug'sh begins. "Just cancelled my plans to finally go home and pick the rest of the sand out of my fur. Called my family to tell them I'd go out and risk my hump with my friends one more time. And I ate the entire satchel of leaf wraps I made for my friends and I'm still hungry and you're following me." He looks side-eyed at Rodirr. "How are you doing?"
Rodirr leans back a bit. "It's to the point where the demobilization handles itself, mostly. Preparations for inspections and accountability are rolling, I've picked a few dozen Wherren that seemed responsible enough to entrust with counts for now. The kaukas have healed those they can, and we have borrowed a Bashakra'i field medicae center for those that need it."
Hug'sh nods. "There will be more work for you," he says. "Honors for the distinguished. Mourning for the fallen. And we must sift every lesson from the sand that the blood of our sisters and brothers paid for." He lets it hang for a moment. "...thank you," Hug'sh says. "For being here with me."
Rodirr nods, and rests his muzzle against Hug'sh's shoulder as they both try to take up as little space as possible on the train. "It seemed like something you would need."
Hug'sh leans over and grooms the side of Rodirr's face. "And what do you need?" he asks.
Rodirr is quiet for a moment, but Hug'sh can feel the ruffling of his fur. "Aren't you hungry?"
"We talked enough about me," Hug'sh says. "What about you?"
Rodirr purrs and wraps an arm around Hug'sh, licking behind his ear. "I want what we had in Afghanistan."
"So do I," Hug'sh replies. "But...you know you will have to share. My bondmate will always be first. Is that...okay with you?"
"Sometimes I forget how new you are to being Wherren," Rodirr purrs. "This is not an uncommon arrangement. Trust me, I know what I am getting into."
"Well, one of us should, I guess," Hug'sh says. "A mate in every shadowport?" he asks with a grin.
Rodirr grooms Hug'sh again. "When I was young, but now? I think one is enough."
e of pi 2019-09-21 23:59:19
Unlike some of the others, Luis and Arketta don't need to head to the 815 annex. Instead, they just make their way out into Atea proper and then back home to their berth. After being out in the field, it's good to be home.

Arketta immediately hits the toggle for her chestplate, letting the two halves hang from her shoulders by the internal strapping. "Vidas Lam, this feels good," she says, stretching her arms up into the air.
Luis pauses in the middle of stripping off his own armor to appreciate the sight, and grins. "It's really nice to be back someplace I'm pretty sure no one's shooting at us."
Arketta continues shedding parts of her armor as she makes her way through the berth back to the bedroom, leaving a trail of carapace parts before finally falling over onto their bed, down to just her skinsuit. "I need to call my watch commander and let him know to put me back in the patrol schedule," she says from her back, staring at the ceiling as she stretches, her hands touching the shelving behind the bed while her feet hang well off the edge. "And you need to talk to Yisai about wing assignment. And we need to talk to Brinai about a family berth. And we need to stop by requisitions for neonatal issue. And we need to schedule medicae visits for me. And...and a whole bunch of other stuff."
Luis sighs, adding it all to a list in his vox. "And we need to get something fresh in the galley, and a lot more. Who knew coming home was this much work?" He sorts through the list further, then sits up. "We never told my folks."
"Told them?" Arketta asks.
"Before we left, I was making sure they knew about evac strategies if we didn't come back, I didn't tell them we're having a baby," Luis says. "I didn't want them to worry about being in the field."
Arketta props herself up on her elbows. "You mean told them told them. Well, is the gateway open?"
Luis checks, his vox pulling it off the public schedule. "Not for another half hour or so," he says. "I'm sort of glad...gives me some time to think about how to tell them. They're going to worry."
"Worry about?" Arketta asks.
"About you and I going back into the field, even more than they already do," Luis says.
"My mother was in the field until she couldn't fit in her carapace anymore," Arketta says. "And we are taking a pause after this, so I'll just be on Kansatai duty. Nothing to worry about."
"True, that's just not how they do it on Narsai'i," Luis says. "They're going to want to wrap you up in bubble wrap. Hell, maybe we can use it to finally get them to come visit more."
"To have them fuss over me?" Arketta asks, wrinkling her nose. "...maybe we can convince them that we have a terrifying gang problem."
"You can just say you're too busy chasing them through the streets in your maternity carapace," Luis chuckles.
Arketta falls back onto the bed. "As long as they come after we get a break. And a real one. You, me, and one of the personal care annexes for a whole day."
"Sounds like a plan," Luis says.
Arketta props herself back up. "How long do I have to lay here in my skinsuit until you lay down here with me?" she asks with a smile.
Luis chuckles, and sets an alarm for the Gate window before flopping down onto the bed. "Long enough for me to stop being dazzled by the view and remember how my boots work," he says.

By the time the alarm chimes on his vox, Luis' boots have managed to make their way into an untidy pile near the bed, along with the rest of his carapace. "Gate's open," he mumbles into the rumpled covers.
"Mhmm," Arketta mutters as she rubs her hand on Luis' behind. "Make the connection."
Luis pulls up his vox, and punches in the connections to his parent's phone.
There's a miniscule pause - entirely on the Narsai'i end and just enough that Luis' vox makes it impossible for him not to notice - as the bridging system decodes the vox connection prefix and dials a Narsai'i phone number. There's a bit of a ring, and then the other end connects. "'Hello, Stanhill residence,'" Martha Stanhill says.
"'Hi Mom,'" Luis says. "'Do you have a few minutes?'"
"'Luis!'" Martha says. "'Always for you.'"
"'Thanks,'" Luis says. "'Arketta and I had some news we wanted to tell you, but last time we talked just wasn't the right time. Is Dad around too? It might be easier to tell you both.'"
"'Of course,'" Martha says. "'Don, come here! Luis is on the phone!'" There's a pause, then a click. "'Okay, Luis, we're both here now.'"
"'Hey Dad,'" Luis says. "'Arketta and I just wanted to let you both know that...well you're going to be grandparents!'"
There's a pause. "'Oh my god, Luis!'" Martha squeals.
"'Congratulations, son,'" Don says.
"'Thanks, Dad,'" Luis says. "'Arketta's here with me if you'd like to talk to her. Everything seems fine so far, there's a lot we're still getting worked out, but so far they both seem fine. We're really happy, and we wanted to make sure you knew.'"
"'Oh, how are you doing, dear?'" Martha asks.
"'I am fine, Mrs. Stanhill,'" Arketta says. "'Just very excited to be back.'"
"'Well, we will have to make time to come and see you,'" Martha says. "'It'll be so nice, having Arketta stay home.'"
Arketta raises her eyebrows but says nothing.
Luis shrugs a told you so in response before continuing. "'We're going to be between missions for a little while, so we'd love to see you,'" Luis says. "'We're going to be applying for a larger berth, so maybe you can help us take a look at them.'"
"'Oh, that would be great!'" Martha says.
"'Martha, we're going to be late,'" Don says. "'Son, before we go, I'm proud of you both.'"
"'You'll both make such great parents,'" Martha says. "'We'll talk again soon. Love you, Luis and Arketta.'"
"'Love you, Mr. and Mrs. Stanhill,'" Arketta says.
"'Love you Mom and Dad,'" Luis says.
"'We'll see you soon, son,'" Don says, and the line goes dead.

"You do know that all the family berths are the same," Arketta says.
"They don't," Luis says. "And there's still the location to consider. Besides, with more room, maybe we can actually think about some furniture that doesn't come bolted to the walls."
"Maybe," Arketta says. She gives Luis a kiss. "How much time until we need to be back at the briefing room?"
Luis smiles. "An hour or so," he says, then smiles. "You have plans?"
"Well, there's one more thing we haven't been able to do while we've been gone," Arketta whispers with a smile of her own. "And I think it's very important we take care of it as soon as possible."
"Sounds like a plan to me," Luis says.

edited by punkey on 2019-09-22 00:09:06
punkey 2019-10-17 07:23:25
There will always be noodles. At the end of everything, as the universe blinks out of existence, there will be two stands - one of them selling noodles, and one of them selling grilled meat on a stick.

Damn I’m hungry.

It’s only a couple extra stops down the local transit line to the 815’s favored noodle shop from the docks, and so Angel takes advantage and heads down there, carapace and all. The man behind the counter - does he ever go home? Does he live above the shop? - smiles as he sees Angel walk up, helm snapped to his hip and beamer on his back.

“Mr. Kesh! Good to see you today,” he says. “The usual?”
Angel smiled back, fishing a few Lat coins out of his pocket he kept for those occasions - there was something that felt wrong about paying for a bowl of noodles out of an effectively infinite account. “Yep. How’s business?”
“Oh, same old same old,” the man said, pulling some drying noodles off of a rack behind him and tossing them into a basket in hot water. He gives the basket a bit of a shake before peeling off some scrofa flank and green vegetables and tossing them with a splash of red oil into something that looks remarkably like but is not called a wok. “Coming back from somewhere or going to somewhere?”

Angel shrugs, a combination of operational security and genuine lack of certainty regarding the actual answer to that question. “In transit.” He takes the resulting bowl, admitting to himself that he’s glad that while the wok is a universal construct that chopsticks aren’t, raising it slightly in acknowledgement. “Thanks.”
“Enjoy, Mr. Kesh,” the man says, returning to his prep work.

Right on time as the first mouthful of spicy noodles and scrofa enters Angel’s mouth, the vox clipped to his ear chimes gently. “Connection from Erika.”
Angel rolls his eyes, letting out a muffled “Connect” as he swallows a slightly too-hot mouthful. “Erika. Been meaning to call you. There are no tacos on Atea. This is a major failing on humanity’s part. This is why we’re losing the war.”
“Franchise tacos to Bashakra’i,” Erika notes down. “Everything went well on your end, boss?”
“You mean besides the whole ‘The Imperium just handed China a bunch of rail guns, they went power mad, slaughtered thousands of people, and the best the Turai can muster is ‘gauche’?”
“But you’ve got a way to kick them out, right?” Erika asks.
Angel looks around for a moment to make sure he’s not being watched too closely. “Remember what I said about losing the war? We’re trying to put something together, but it’ll be a bit, and it’ll be dicey.”
There’s a long pause on the other end of the line. “’Jesus Christ,’” Erika swears. “Okay, okay. That’s...that’s something. What are we going to do in the meantime? What’s the plan? This whole ultimatum from the Sheen and Wherren and Bashakra’i turns into a pumpkin in two days, and after what you sent back about the NSA and all of that, not to mention the rest of the world, it’s sounding like things are getting a bit hot here, boss.” Erika sighs. “What do you want to do?”

“What I want to do is the part of your bosses life that involves a lot of firearms and blood and you thinking hard about whether or not you want the answers to questions.” Angel sighs slightly, using the pause to take another bite of his meal. “But from a corporate perspective? I know I’ve been leaning on your heavily, and the bad news is that isn’t going to stop. The two most pressing things seem to be here on Earth stepping up and doing what we can to make up for the sudden shortfall in manufacturing capability that’s going to come from China cutting itself off. There’s a void there, and I want people remembering that we stepped into fill it on reasonable terms.”

The second thing takes a little longer to voice. “We also need to get with the Bashakra’i. See about getting some space on Atea. If not, at least on Whirr. We need to start thinking about what happens if this goes south, and people like...well...you...suddenly need to very much not be on Earth.”
“Uhh, right,” Erika says. “We’ll...you’ll need to talk to your brother about getting a lot more nanoforges to Narsai if we’re going to replace…China. And we’ll need to hire people to run them, probably Bashakra’i. That’ll make Brinai happy, and she’ll probably be more willing to give us space on her ship if we’re going to be using it to help her people become more self-sufficient.” She takes a deep breath. “All right. And...the rest of it?”
“The rest of it is you’re not going to be hearing from me for awhile in all likelihood,” Angel says. “Right now the Imperium is content to use this as a propaganda victory by the looks of it - a toe-hold on the homeworld, a compliant regime that happens to be bloodthirsty enough that they can be used as an illustration of why this whole war is justified in the first place. We...need to counter that. And that means killing important people, publically, in places where they’re supposed to feel safe.” He pauses again, thinking. “Hire as many Bashakra’i as you need, but if it’s optional, see if you can hire a fair number of Terrans as well. Stupid as this is when you’re talking about battleships potentially orbiting Earth, ‘new nanomanufacturing jobs for American workers’ plays well with people we need to play well with.”

“And Erika? I’m going to need to talk to my brother.”
“Well, you have his code,” Erika says. “I’ll talk to Brinai, start the ball rolling there.”
“Thanks. Call me if you hit any speed bumps I can help smooth over.”

Angel pauses for a moment. “One more thing. Start putting together a list of every plane, tank and weapon’s manufacturer that it won’t be politically impossible to work with, and see what you can do about getting them in a room face to face. Earth’s going to need an entirely new suite of weapons systems, and as much as I’d like to sell them all, I think that’ll freak some folks out. But if nothing else, they’re going to need a wakeup call about how Abrams tanks aren’t nearly as impressive as they were before we walked through the Gate.”

"Will do, boss," Erika says, and breaks the connection.


The call with Erika out of the way - and noodles consumed - Angel makes his way back to the 815 Annex and punches in Gorlan’s code, waiting for the few moments while several layers of Sheen-designed encryption and obfuscation algorithms obscure where the call is originating from - as well as from who.

He can’t help but smile slightly when Gorlan’s face appears - in his office. Shows how well the “take things easier” efforts are going; at least it’s at home. “Brother. It’s good to see you. It’s been too long. How much have you heard about what’s happening here?”
“Maq has kept me up to date as best he can through his couriers,” Gorlan says. “What is going on...it is horrible. Tell me you and your friends have a plan.”
“We do. Well...we have the beginning of one. But part of that is opening up a new front, not letting Earth politics dictate the tempo of what’s going on. Which is why I’m calling. I’m thinking about relocating to Hedion. Permanently.” Angel holds up his hand. “But I want you to think about that first. It’ll mean more risk for you. For everyone.”
“Brother, the Ethics Gradient and Wandering Gallows hanging over our home were not enough to scare me off,” Gorlan says. “The staff misses having you around, and I’m sure your paramour wouldn’t mind seeing more of you either.” He smirks at that, a smile that turns wistful.
“Having you finally living here, with me, in our house...it’s what I’ve wanted for months.” He pauses. “It’s what Tora wanted. Us, together.”

“Fair. It’s what she wanted. It’s what I want. But I wanted to give you the chance. And I won’t lie, I’m looking forward to seeing everyone. The last few months have been...frustrating.” Angel didn’t want to particularly admit that his mood had turned actively murderous. “A change of scenery and good company will do me good. Erika will probably be in touch about transferring some things, but I’ll make the arrangements. There’s something Garrett and I have to take care of before hand but...I’ll be home soon.”
Gorlan smiles. "I'll have Zarohan start stockpiling your favorites and let the staff know to freshen up your part of the house. And I’ll bring on some extra help to finish your training area in the basement.” He pauses. “Anything else you need or want me to handle?”
“Knowing Faxom-Io they’re going to get wind of this about five minutes after we get done speaking,” Angel remarks dryly. “If you could handle the fallout from that if there is any so I don’t throttle a bureaucrat on your side of the Gate that would probably go well. That and set aside a night in your calendar for polishing off several bottles of very nice Terran alcohol?”

“They’ve been wanting an update on Kesh Holdings, anyway,” Gorlan says. “They’re happy with the infrastructure purchases for now, but the real lats are all in the manufacturing partnerships, so they want to know when Kesh Holdings will be making arrangements with Narsai’i companies. Your work getting Boronai moved off of Haar’aiesh and bringing the Bashakra’i on board has bought you a lot of time, but there’s a lot of interest in getting Narsai really up and running. I’ve tried to make the point that this isn’t just another Imperium world with a ready industrium base, but…”
“I’ve got some plans in that direction,” Angel replies. “A little bit awkward, because we can’t flood the market, and some of those ideas involve blowing up Mantas, but we’re reaching the point where Narsai pretending it’s industrial base matters is untenable. Grim as it is, this fiasco in China’s probably pushed that up.”
“Well, it’s not like we need to worry about the Imperium confiscating Kesh Holdings for illegal trans-Gateway coordination,” Gorlan remarks grimly. “We just need to find someone local to hand off to, if we’re to avoid owning the whole First-damned planet.”
“Yeah,” Angel says. “Trying to build more industrial partnerships. You might also have to sit through some tech demos to convince the folks who make airplanes and tanks that they’re hopelessly outclassed. I apologize in advance.”
Gorlan nods. “Full pressure, got it. It was going to come to this eventually, better do it now while we both have the time. What are you thinking we prop up first?”

“After I indulge in a small amount of shockingly graphic violence to distract the ravilars...” Angel shrugs. “Honestly, it’ll probably be infantry small-arms first. Pilots and tank drivers are specialists, it’ll take them time to retrain. But as you’ve seen, higher tech versions of ‘Shooty End Towards Enemy’ are pretty easy to adapt.”
“Not enough widespread adoption for consumer lines?” Gorlan asks.
Angel smiles. “I’ll admit that’s not where my bias lies. But we’ve made some progress there too. There’s sort of an eloquent urgency to ‘The planet’s about to be invaded’ that I’m hoping pushes past some barriers. But I think Kesh Pharmaceuticals is going to be able to make some inroads with a lot of local partners. Erika tells me the ‘small company develops it, sells the patent, someone else makes it’ model is already pretty much how things run, so it won’t be much of a shift for that small company to be...well...a really big company.”
Gorlan sighs. “I told the Board that trying to push voxes on a planet hundreds of years behind the curve in telecom was a poor goal, but…” He shakes his head. “Arms, biomedical, infrastructure and construction will make them happy enough, but just be ready to be asked when we can expect the Narsai’i to be wearing the latest generation of our vox hardware.”
“It’ll come,” Angel sighs. “Some Marine coming home will be wondering why that cool headset isn’t available on the civilian market, and we’re not so far behind that we won’t be able to figure out how to put Candy Crush on it. It’s mostly a political thing - change is scary, on Narsai or the Imperium - and it’s important we look like we’re playing nicely with the local kids. It’s important to me that we are playing nicely with the local kids. But this China thing will help there too - in addition to massacring a bunch of innocent people, they’ve also gone from the world’s largest electronics manufacturer to some sort of Alien-aligned rogue state.” Angel nods apologetically. “No offense.”
“Considering you are one of those Aliens now, none taken,” Gorlan replies with a smirk.

“So I’ve got Erika working on how we can step in there to help,” Angel says. “But that’s going to be a hard transition. You’re going to have people who on Narsai are highly educated specialists doing things that feel an awful lot like semi-skilled labor. But we’ll figure it out. We have to. Me and the Killbots can only hold off the Imperium for so long.”
Gorlan nods. “At least you figured out a way to make it work. How long do you figure before we can have the first nanoforge facility up and running?”
“Based on some reports I’ve seen, probably less than half a year,” Angel replies. “The land’s bought, the local government’s objections have been eased by some goodwill investment in schools and the like, it’s just a matter of getting them up, and getting our people training local specialists.”
“Then I know what you and I are doing for the next six months,” Gorlan says. “Come back safe from whatever it is you won’t tell me about, brother. It’ll be nice to work alongside you.”
“It’ll be nice to actually get a chance to work with you. This is...not my area of expertise,” Angel says.
“Considering you’ve brought two different worlds into our orbit and are making headway on the most reticent planet I’ve ever seen, I might be learning a thing or two from you,” Gorlan says with a smile. “You should give your assistant a raise, as well, and bring her with you when you return home. Asking for some instruction on how business really works here will also calm a few people down.”
“I’ll extend the invitation, and let her know that the pay bump is courtesy of my brother,” Angel says.
“Then I will see you both in…” Gorlan asks, trying to weasel a bit more info out of Angel.
Angel chuckles, shaking his head. “That’s classified.”
“Damn,” Gorlan says, laughing himself. “Well, your half of the house will be ready in a week, and the rest a week or so after that. Will that be quick enough?”
“That’ll be fine. I’m fast, but I’m not that fast.” Angel winks. “Be well brother.”
“Stay safe, brother,” Gorlan says, and disconnects.

Angel gives himself a couple minutes after the connection goes dark to sends a quick message to Erika.

Have a bag packed for when I get back, Gorlan’s invited you to Hedion and it’s probably time for you to meet the...other side of things...face to face. I’d suggest a good balance of business and evening wear. Also give yourself a 10% raise. He says I’m not paying you enough, and given your IRA is probably going to go weird for the next few years, I agree. ~ A.

Time for a nap before Garrett gets me entangled in...whatever it is he’s planning.