195 - 1122.
Whilst everything goes to hell in a handbasket on Regina, life in the rest of the universe goes on. Such as it is.
Lt. Commander Maximillian Rhys Fairfax gets to be naval liaison to the ground troops under General Androchev. Max's commander's commander's commander, Admiral Lisa Chang wants information on that "Androchev person". The Admiral has found out that several days ago Max walked in on his fiancée Amanda boinking his CO (Captain Spencer) (Amanda, also in the service, was after some one with more of a future, some one with more ambition, some one with a Naval Academy ring), and the admiral has decided that in order to avoid any 'unpleasantness' at the next dining in, Max will be assigned on to the planet of Vera Cruz. Chang: "Here are your orders. You're to report to Lt. General Viktor Androchev, in charge of the 6th Imperial Marine Corps." Viktor's new enough that he hasn't figured out how to avoid getting saddled with a squid. Yet.
A 'real' pilot takes Max down to the Marine HQ on Vera Cruz (Max is not a ship's pilot). It's dusty and dirty, and they have plastic outhouses and people who are taking showers basically out in the open... Definitely not the nice clean, tidy Navy quarters he's used to. And the Marines don't miss the opportunity to make snide comments to the squid.
Max finds the HQ, which is full of people running around like some one has kicked over an ant hill. He finds a corporal to send him in the right direction, to Captain Vlickelplesterb, who sends him off in a troop grav vehicle to get him out to Viktor. Who of course, is in the field. The grav vehicle is very messy, and then a new shipment of Marines are loaded in, remarkably like sardines. Then a high-powered, fast, very rough ride to the front. There are pretty red lights flashing outside (tracer fire, actually, from the Vargr Corsairs).
Viktor is in the town of San Ignacio, where the skinned remains have been taken down and put into body bags. Every attempt will be made to identify the dead, but that will be later. Patrols have been sent out to look for survivors, as well as any Corsairs still in the area.
Marine Captain Geoff Thompson is out on long-range reconnaissance with Corporal Ezbeki, looking for Corsairs, when he sees the grav vehicle heading in, surrounded by tracer, and smoking. Usually they don't run the ships during the day - too dangerous. Must be a reporter or something coming in.
Geoff and Ezbeki see the ship hit by missiles, and going down. Ezbeki suggests they "go to the crash site and wait for the Vargrs to head in to loot the bodies." Geoff: "It might be an idea to get there before they make bodies." Ezbeki: "Oh, well yeah, that too, Geoffy." Geoff: "And would it kill you to call me 'sir' once in a while? At least in public??" Ezbeki: "No problem, sir." Sigh.
On the grav vehicle, there's a huge explosion, the vehicle shudders violently, and there's a bright light coming from the front. A sergeant runs to the back, yells "Hey Navy! You know how to fly, right?" Max follows him up front, where there is a gaping hole, no pilot, no copilot, a couple of instruments, and a stick. Oh well, it's either try, or crash. Max manages to turn the plummet into a controlled skipping skid throught the trees, rather than a full blown crash, but there's a lemur that will never be the same.
Geoff and Ezbeki head for the downed vehicle, at the same time Viktor is getting a sit-rep, status reports, etc., etc., etc. Water-born illness in one area, another troop carrier lost a couple of minutes ago - probably a total loss, but Viktor wants it checked. Also, General Marx is in system, and will be planetside shortly. And there's a rumor that they may have to pull back, due to some sort of deal involving the Imperial Vargr diplomat sent along. Lovely.
Viktor wants to know why a ship was sent out during the day any how?? The response is that it was "transporting some upper level Navy guy - an admiral or something." What?? Viktor: "So you're telling me the troop carrier that just crashed had an admiral on it?!?" Well, they're not exactly sure. It seems the humidity is wreaking havoc with the equipment, and the messages are getting mixed up. Complaints have been passed on up the chain, resulting in the arrival of two large capacity humidifiers. Viktor tries not to think about it, lest his brain explode.
Corporal Ezbeki passes on the message that the troop carrier they're headed for has an admiral on board, and the Top Kick is on his way. Geoff: "So, do you suppose if we find him first we'll get beer and steak out of it?" Ezbeki: "That's exactly what I was thinking." Off they go.
At the crash site, the back door of the vehicle had popped open during the final spin, spewing Marines around the area. What's left of the cockpit finally comes to a rest. Max is trying to figure out which way is up when the Marine sergeant walks over, looks down at him, and asks "Are you all right?" Ah, that way's up. Max unstraps and stands up, a bit unsteadily but amazingly unscathed.
Geoff and Ezbeki spot seven well camouflaged Vargrs sneaking up on the crash site. They don't have sniper rifles so they can't shoot them from any real distance, but they decide to sneak up and shoot them from up close with the suppressed SMGs. Ezbeki is so good at sneaking that Geoff loses him right away. Geoff almost walks onto his first target in the bushes, but manages to take out the Vargr, and without a sound. This continues.
The survivors of the grav crash are mostly okay, with the exception of a few sprains and a couple of broken limbs. And several of them are unhappy about being in the woods, especially after one of the enemy Vargrs lets out a howl of pain (when shot in the knee by Geoff). There are animals in the woods, and they probably eat people - that sort of thing. One Marine has a broken neck (he's quite dead), and the two pilots were the first casualties. Not too bad though.
Geoff and a Vargr get into it in the woods. The Vargr throws his knife at Geoff, hitting him in the upper leg (a flesh wound), and Geoff returns fires again, missing. Damn. Eventually Geoff gets his man, or Vargr, and Ezbeki appears, remarking that Geoff "sure took his time". Ezbeki has several ears dangling from his belt. Geoff: "Jeeze, Ezbeki, that's disgusting." Ezbeki: "I know sir, but the kids love them. Feel this one, it's really soft." Geoff: "If you're going to collect those, at least put them in your pocket - you're getting your uniform dirty." [Note that this is just joking between them becuse they're not really Vargr ears. Ezbecki bought them in a novelty store. Geoff knows they aren't real because he's mildly allergic to fur, and the real thing would make him wanty to sneeze.] A few nicks and scratches, but Geoff and Ezbeki have taken out all seven Vargrs. Eagerly hoping to get the 'admiral' first, Ezbeki gets on the radio and checks with a friend of his - the army has a couple of snipers out looking too, which ticks Geoff off: "They're after our admiral. He's ours, they can't have him. Let's go."
Max discovers that not only is he the oldest person in the group at 27, but the only sergeant's MOS specialty is hotel management. They do not inform the others that the highest ranking survivors are trained to handle starship tactics and manage hotels, and there is neither a starship nor a hotel in the area.
The army presence is manifested by the appearance of one of the snipers in front of Geoff. And yes, everyone out here is looking for the 'admiral'. Sniper: "The rumor is whoever brings in the admiral gets steak and lobster. Unless you want to lay down a little side action?" Geoff: "I don't know about you, but I didn't get to be captain by being stupid. Whoever brings in the admiral gets steak and lobster, so instead of fighting over it, we can both bring him in, then I can write a letter to your commander on the interagency cooperation, and you can do the same, so we all get steak and lobster, and a little checkmark on our files. What do you say?" This is agreed to, although it's evidently a stretch for the army guy and his partner (who appears by act of magic, just about inside Ezbeki's shorts, startling the bejeezus out of him). They all head for the crash site.
At the crash site, the sergeant has found a pair of recon binocs, and thinks he sees some movement off to the west. He gives Max the binocs, and after fiddling with them for five minutes (they have too many damned buttons, and you don't use binoculars on board a ship - that's what the instrument panels are for), he manages to see that yes, there is a Vargr over that way. Very clear image, and there is smoke wafting out of the barrel of his ri - the binocs explode just as Max is dropping them and himself. He falls, unconscious.
It's a race for the 'admiral' as another unit of marines shows up from a different direction. The Vargr sniper is taken out in mid happy dance by Ezbeki, and then the Navy starts bombing the nearby hillside with all sorts of stuff. Bored up there or what?? They manage to avoid becoming casualties, although the competing unit is pinned down (ahhh), and find the track of the crashing ship, littered with injured and semi-injured Marines. Geoff has Ezbeki direct the walking wounded to the other unit (that will slow them down more), and then continues to the main group of survivors, where he finds a distraught sergeant staring down at Max's body, holding his head and saying "Oh no, oh no", repeatedly. Damn - it looks like a dead admiral. Geoff checks out the not really dead 'admiral', who is definitely in a Navy uniform, but he looks awfully young for an admiral. Geoff checks his papers, and finds Max is not an admiral but at least he's an officer.
Everyone manages to unass the area, once the Top Kick shows up with transport. All the marines, the army guys, etc. get up, and Viktor orders them to come his way. Viktor makes sure that some one is sent to set up the steak and lobster dinner. No one is sure who made this promise, but Viktor figures that if the men are expecting a steak and lobster dinner, then that's what they should get.
Max wakes up, in his underwear basically (they love cutting things off people), with people who refer to him as 'Admiral Fairfax'; this is very confusing, since his grandfather has been dead for several years, and his father is retired. The confusion is eventually mostly sorted out, and Max, after asking after the condition of the Marines on the transport, does finally get to present his papers to Lt. General Androchev, who is somewhat bemused by the situation. And what the hell - maybe the men didn't bring back an admiral, but they did succeed in their mission.
Geoff, Ezbeki, and the two army guys are being treated by the General's cook. Ezbeki has never seen a lobster before, so when the cook picks up a live one and shows it to them ("Look at these beauties!"), Ezbeki knocks it out of his hand, allowing the Jenghe Hissing Lobster to escape into a crack (it's a big crack) in an exterior wall. Geoff informs Ezbeki "that was your lobster buddy." When the other lobsters are prepared, Ezbeki mooches a taste off of Geoff, and discovers it's really tasty, so Ezbeki is soon in pursuit of the escaped lobster, with a sharpened tent pole. The lobster refuses to come close enough to be skewered, and one of the snipers suggests baiting the lobster out of it's hole. Ezbeki thinks this is a good idea, but what to use for bait? The sniper says they should use cheese, because "lobsters love cheese". Everyone else agrees that this is ludicrous, as where would lobsters get cheese in the first place - from the 'cheese reefs'? Or maybe 'cheese fish'? Right. The cook decides to put an end to this by getting some cheese. Ezbeki is soon in front of the wall, dangling a piece of cheese on a string, and baiting out the lobster. And it works.
Viktor decides to take his new naval attaché, Sergeant McLafferty, and himself over to join in the steak and lobster. As they arrive, the lobster is just emerging from it's hole, and McLafferty (evidently not much of a crustacean connoisseur himself) reacts much the same way Ezbeki did originally, stomps on the lobster's head, and announces "Damn, that was a big f...ing bug!" Ezbeki is close to tears, and gently carries the lobster to the cook who looks at it and says "I don't know what you expect me to do son, it's dead." Just joking. The lobster is, in fact salvageable, so a good meal is had by all.
Viktor congratulates his men on their successful mission, and gets the specifics from them. Geoff comments that it would have been easier if the Navy hadn't decided to drop nasty stuff almost on top of them. Viktor explains that "the Navy kind of thinks in grid squares, and nothing smaller", with a glance at Max. Geoff: "It would help if we could get some artillery down here. It's not good when there's two of us and twenty of them." Viktor agrees, but the only artillery they currently have is the ground to air and ground to starship type. But perhaps this can change. As Max is the Naval attaché, and was sent directly by Admiral Chang, this makes him Viktor's pipeline to Admiral Chang for all things Naval. Lucky Max.
Viktor makes sure to introduce Lt. Commander Fairfax to Captain Vlickelplesterb, as they will be working very closely from now on. This should not be too difficult, as both the men have a great deal of admin experience; they can get together and bond over cool pens or something.
Viktor takes the time to ponder the interesting people he has under his command, and around him, and he mentally repeats his mantra: "Grey really hates me."