Joe Brenowski has been working as a belter for the last couple of years, and has just managed to break even. But, things are looking up. There's a government contract in the Gvurrdon subsector that pays well, and should be a piece of cake - disarming and salvaging mines. So it's just like working with asteroids, only they're explosive! Cool.
195 - 1122.
Joe and his partners arrive in system, and start up with the job at hand, getting the cargo hold almost full of mines. They are going for one last mine, and Joe is maneuvering it when he catches a glint in the corner of his eye. He looks that way, and sees a torpedo being launched by some different kind of mine. Joe calls the info in to the ship, and they've already seen it. The crew slams the cargo bay door, slicing through Joe's line, then tries to escape. Joe is left hanging on the side of the last mine they were salvaging, and sees the torpedo hit the ship and explode, which sets off the 50 tons or so of explosives in the mines. Big bright flash, and it's all over.
The emergency reentry kit would come in handy right about now, and it's on...the ship. Joe is left alone in space, with nothing but his mine and the vac suit beacon. The latter is very, very tiny in the vastness above Vera Cruz, and the (relatively) nearby Navy ships don't notice it. Joe decides to open up more of the mine, to see if he can make it more obvious to radar. He finds the small, inactive radar dish inside the mine, and turns it on; maybe if he can get it to track onto a ship, he can catch a ride.
A nearby navy vessel spots Joe's mine, figuring that some bastards have disguised a space mine as a lost sailor, because the radio is at excessive power. The Navy then cleverly broadcasts a warning about the "decoy mine" to Joe's old ship, the one that isn't there anymore. They don't hear Joe's return call, and take off. Sigh.
The steak and lobster dinner continues, but there is no way in hell McLafferty is going to "eat one of those bug things". Geoff Thompson figures that means more for the rest of them, so he doesn't try to convince McLafferty otherwise. And Ezbeki isn't considered a reliable reference.
Above the planet, and a bit later, the mine starts to move. Thanks to Joe's tender ministrations, the mine has locked onto a derelict (10 - 20,000 tons). The explosive has been disarmed, but the crash should take care of Joe. He decides to try the jumping up in the elevator just before it crashes trick, as the mine approaches the oddly shaped ship (definitely not Imperial design). The mine's thrusters start to sputter, then burn. Sort of like an explosive cannelloni hurtling through space, with Joe tied off to it. He has to jump off, and hope his arc doesn't result in his slamming into the ship and then being smashed like a bug by the mine.
Joe jumps for it, and as he's about to slam into the side of the ship, he drops into a hole in the side, and then he sort of 'sticks', like he's hit maple syrup in winter. The mine slams into the ship then, setting it in motion, but not damaging Joe - he just gets sunk further into the syrup. Or honey. Space bees??
Joe turns on his helmet light for a while, which only serves to make the honey/syrup glow diffusely. He makes his way further into and through the ship. It's really slow going, and very weird. It's sort of like there's an outer hull and an inner hull, and he's been making his way through the inner hull (designed to slow or stop high velocity ship rounds. Joe is looking through the odd, lumpy ship (spy ship? warship? both?), avoiding the beef jerky-like remains of the former crew (freeze-dried). They were humanoid, and maybe human, but the writing in the ship is decidedly not Galanglic. The dead people were not wearing vac suits, which is probably why they're dead. Joe finds something that resembles a flashlight, and turns it on. It doesn't put out much light, just a tightly focused beam, and a small disk or bead moves out from the end of the flashlight and 'hovers' out in front of him. How odd. Wherever he points the 'flashlight', the bead moves. He moves the flashlight so that something is between the flashlight and the bead, and slices it rather like a hot knife through butter. Okay, turn that off now.
Joe keeps the device, and explores the ship. A light flashes off and on, then a hatch hesitates, then opens to reveal a rather nasty looking robot. The 'bot takes on an offensive posture, says something in a language Joe doesn't recognize, and the cover flips off it's laser. Joe quickly dives into a room and pulls the handle to shut the door. This triggers the explosive release of the escape pod, sending Joe hurtling off into space.
Planetside, Geoff's battalion commander apologizes to General Androchev for the interruption, but he has a job for Geoff, and it's something that should interest the General. Seems some one has picked up (by accident) the signature of a small vessel entering atmosphere. The Colonel orders Geoff to go see if he can get a hold of any occupants, as it's a chance of gaining intel, and who knows what kind of agents may be on board. Especially since the approximate landing site is near the secondary control of the Navy's phased radar array - coincidence? Yeah, right.
The Colonel tells Geoff to get his gear, as the transport is ready to take him into the area, and "you can take your dog, too" the Colonel says, indicating Ezbeki with a nod. Ezbeki stuffs a few chunks of lobster into his pockets, "for later". Geoff tries to discourage this, as he heads over to get his gear.
Viktor is concerned about the communications problems. The computers his people were sent were rated for arctic conditions, as the original destination of Viktor and his men was the frigid Tulane, and some of the problems are being caused by shorts in the keyboards. It's the humidity. Oh, and they have plenty of heaters. Viktor is asked if he wants "a parka, sir?" They have no summer issue uniforms. And the vehicles have been painted white with a bit of black. The Navy has kindly parted with some primer paint, so now the vehicles can be painted red. And white. Viktor repeats his mantra: "Grey really hates me."
Viktor tells Max to see if he and Captain Vlickelplesterb can do something about the humidifiers. Like changing them into the dehumidifiers they really wanted. Vlickelplesterb gives Max a thorough briefing on Viktor's operation (the who, what, when, where, why, and what's gone wrong so far), so that the General's new Naval attaché will not be uninformed.
Inside the escape pod, Joe is first buffeted really badly, then this is followed by smooth passage through the air, undisturbed by any annoying 'chutes or such. Joe looks around for anything that might be pushed or pulled to activate something to slow the descent. He does find a big blue button, and when he pushes it, he feels a bit of an electrical charge followed by a sense of peacefulness, as all his tension and worries fade away. Ah, the blue "panic button"; he's going to crash, but who cares?
The Marine pilot takes Geoff and Ezbeki out to the site, but the area is considered 'hot', so the pilot will not be setting down. He'll hover a couple of feet off the ground, and they can jump out. They arrive at the drop zone and Geoff discovers some people's idea of "a couple of feet" is more along the line of "a couple of metres". Geoff is going to find the pilot later, and hurt him. Geoff lands really hard on his tailbone, then Ezbeki lands on him.
They have at least been let off right by one of the big antennas, so Ezbeki just looks at the map and knows precisely where they are. They have a good view of the ship coming in at speed, without a chute or anything. Hmm. Not conducive to survivors. Ezbeki comments that "well, at least we may be able to get some DNA samples". They head that way.
Just before the escape pod smashes into the surface of the planet, some sort of breaking thrusters fire, and the pod lands gently. A few moments later, a door opens, and steps sort of extrude out. Bizarre. Joe stands up to leave, then hears more of the language Joe doesn't understand, and a screen deploys that shows all sorts of information. After all the time that Joe spent studying for his high school equivalency degree, and he ends up with a whole bunch of information that he can't read!
Vlickelplesterb is sorting through all the papers with Max, and decides that "this is boring. Can't we do something else?" Max: "Like what?" Vlickelplesterb: "I need to get in some face time with the supply people, make some contacts, you know." Vlickelplesterb reports to Viktor that "we've checked this out sir, and I believe I need to speak directly with some of the supply personnel. I'll take the squid with me." Viktor gives his okay.
Viktor's G2, Major Suzette Dowlin, shows up to give Viktor his daily briefing. She's incredibly bright, very driven, and an academy graduate who was kept behind for two extra years to teach. Viktor is impressed - the girl doesn't look old enough to be a lieutenant, never mind a major, but she definitely knows her stuff. She's trying to bring him up to speed on absolutely everything he needs to know to take over his new command. No fluff. Viktor would prefer a condensed, quick version, but that is not going to happen. Suzette does have many charts, etc., and a summary briefing prepared in writing (THUNK). Viktor listens attentively, and asks to be kept informed of the recovery mission, then gets a cup of coffee and starts to read.
Thirty pages into the report, Viktor is awoken by his orderly. The drool has stuck some of the pages to Viktor's face and he has some words and part of a graph on his cheek, but it's 5:00 p.m. and "the General's wife called to remind you that dinner is at 6:30." Viktor gets cleaned up and heads out.
"...and apparently he walks in when they're right in the act - his CO, and his fiancée!" Viktor interrupts the conversation, and asks if the reports on his new staff have arrived. They have, and they add even more weight to Viktor's overburdened briefcase. He better not fall into the river, or he's a goner. Especially since he has to carry his special commo unit. It's the size of a large, old-fashioned cell phone, and very heavy. It's mil-spec, painted grey, and will survive underwater, in molten lava, hard vacuum - all sorts of things that would kill Viktor deader than hell, but the commo unit would work. It's the only secure way of orders being given other than in person. Viktor sets it to signal him on his mastoid implant when he has a call coming in.
Viktor arrives home; dinner is actually at 8:30, but Katarina wanted to make sure Viktor had time to change. The table is laid out for a small gathering, only sixteen to twenty people. Katarina has invited various important locals who Viktor should meet at least; she always knows who should be invited to these little dinners.
In the woods, Geoff and Ezbeki find the 'ship' - it's a sphere on delicate little legs, and they door opens then flows into stairs. Ezbeki doesn't "like this sir. I say we kill it." Geoff: "Capture, Ezbeki, capture. That's why they sent two of us." The somewhat tattered remains of Joe and his vac suit steps out, and Geoff and Ezbeki see a translucent, bipedal, gelatinous creature emerge. Joe hits the ladder, wondering how to get the goo off himself, and slides off the ladder with a yell, rolling into the leaves. Ezbeki is whelmed, and offers to go get it. He holsters his weapon, picks up a big stick, and starts whacking on Joe, who is blinded by the goop and leaves. Ezbeki accidentally pokes Joe right in the groin, causing the happy blue button effect to wear off right quick. Joe's anger control problem surfaces, he doubles over then leaps up and charges. Ezbeki lets out a yelp and runs for it, with Joe in blind (literally) pursuit. Ezbeki is quick, and Joe runs into a tree and falls over. Not much of a threat here. Joe is trying to rub off the goop with some dirt, to get to the release on his faceplate. Geoff puts a boot onto Joe's chest, tries pouring water onto the gooey person, and it dissolves. The faceplate clears up, to reveal an upset human. Joe looks up at Geoff and asks "Are you the asshole with the stick?" Geoff: "No, that was him." Ezbeki: "What?!?" (Corporal Ezbeki is really not capable of affecting innocence, even if he actually were.)
Suzette notifies Viktor that the last overflight shows increased Vargr activity in the area of the downed craft. They are apparently jamming communications, so the people in the area can't be contacted. Viktor authorizes sending out troops into the area, and Suzette should continue to try to contact Captain Thompson.
Joe gives Geoff and Ezbeki a rundown of what happened and how he came to be in an alien escape pod, covered in syrup. Very interesting. They are worried about leaving the ship open, and Ezbeki finds a lever that does in fact close the pod's door. Then the pod takes off back into space. Oops. Well, maybe the Navy will pick it up.
Ezbeki and Geoff discover that the radio is screwed up, again, and then there is some movement in the bushes. Ezbeki signals just as Geoff's eyes start to tear up (he's allergic to fur). Geoff hits the drug sleeve with antihistamine, and hands Joe a 9mm, telling him "it is a war zone." Ezbeki disappears into the foliage. A few seconds later, Ezbeki explodes from the bushes screaming "Run!!!" as he passes Geoff, and then a flaming metric butt load of Vargrs comes pouring out of cover. Much yelling, shooting, some kind of fusion weapon, and it's dodge and run time. Corporal Ezbeki is sure fast for a small guy, especially when he's being pursued by forty or fifty unhappy Vargrs.
Viktor's phone rings as he's heading down to dinner. Katarina is not pleased. Viktor: "It's an emergency." Katarina: "It's always an emergency." Viktor: "Dear, we're in a war zone." Katarina would still be happier if the Vargrs were more considerate. Suzette is on the line: "We have a minor situation. The Vargr unit was larger than anticipated, and our reconnaissance team is asking for reinforcements." Viktor: "We have to save the array. If we lose that array, the Navy is going to be ticked off with us. How bad is it?" Suzette: "Right now we have a company pinned down." Most of the troops are not in a good position to support, and she wants to know if she should send in the reserves. Viktor gives her the go ahead. This is not looking good.
Major General Polowaczek is on the commo unit the second Suzette is off. His people have been doing counter insurgency, and now all hell is breaking loose - there are troops dropping in, and they are not friendlies. The Navy intel indicated that this area was clear. Evidently they were wrong. Viktor lets Polowaczek know what's going on, and that he needs to hold on until Viktor can send help. Polowaczek's people will hold out as long as necessary. "We will do a D.I.P. [Die In Place] if we need to, sir, but I'd rather not." Viktor will do what he can.
Viktor makes another call - he wants the air support unboxed, set up, and ready to launch, and he wants it five minutes ago. Major General Rhaekyu: "I'll see that it happens sir. Are we going to get some pilots in here?" Apparently, the pilots have been spread all over the place, as they were not yet needed. Viktor makes another call, on the vid-phone this time, to have all the pilots rounded up, and Colonel Mo Petrie at the CP looks out his window, and says "What the hell was that?" He tells Viktor to look outside, and there is bright light and streamers falling from the sky. That was a Naval vessel. An Imperial one.
Viktor gets a priority call from Captain Riddle "from the ISS Fletcher, I just received orders from Admiral Chang - we are going to regroup at a safer location, as we have a major incursion of Vargr ships. We are mostly ground support, and we aren't equipped to take on enemy cruisers. We've already lost one ship. ..." The communication breaks up at this time.
Katarina walks in at this moment, to compliment Viktor on the fireworks, but it's not fireworks - it's incoming fire. And it's merving. (!!) Katarina runs upstairs to get Vasilli. Viktor goes to fetch the guests, who are also admiring the 'fireworks', and are quite oblivious to the danger. One of the guests sees Viktor enter, and approaches him with hand extended. "General Androchev, I'm Paul Thurley, the planetary governor. I've looked forward to meeting you." Viktor eventually manages to get across to Thurley and the other idiots that everyone needs to get down to the damned basement, since they are under attack. The governor takes a while to catch on to the idea that this is not just a stray couple of Vargrs that Viktor can have his men "handle".
On the road with the admin boys. Vlickelplesterb has been schmoozing something fierce. At every stop, some things go out of the grav vehicle, and more things come in. Max is rather amazed at how much stuff is now in the grav vehicle. Vlickelplesterb is intent on making the best deals possible, and he appears to be doing a good job.
Viktor wants to speak with Vlickelplesterb, but the radios aren't working well, and no one knows exactly where he is. Viktor asks the governor for permission to 'take over' the landlines, which is given, and Viktor orders this done. Everyone is in the basement, including Katarina and Vassilli, and they are as safe as any where around here. Viktor makes his apologies, but the Vargrs have chosen an inopportune moment to get organized and attack. Viktor puts on his combat armor and leaves, heading for his command post.
Vlickelplesterb and Max hear booms, and see the fireworks hit the atmosphere. Vlickelplesterb remarks "Meteor shower?" Max has a very cold feeling. Max: "That was a ship. One of ours. I think it was the Ajax." Then the grav vehicle is hit by something. The front section settles without too much damage to the occupants, except for Vlickelplesterb head injury. He is trying to pick up the remains of the trade goods Max gets his attention, and asks what hit the grav car. Vlickelplesterb isn't sure. Max at least understands there's some kind of attack going on. They duck down behind the grav car, and Vlickelplesterb asks Max what his plan is? Max doesn't actually have a plan, but at least he has a gun, even if it is in a full flap holster, which is more than Vlickelplesterb can say. Max unholsters his 9mm, and Vlickelplesterb digs out a gun from the stuff in back of the remains of the grav car and loads it. (It's a pearl handled chromed revolver, and looks like it would be at home in a New Orleans bordello, but at least it's a gun.) Max asks if Vlickelplesterb knows where exactly they are. Vlickelplesterb: "Kind of... Um... I have no idea where we are. We're some where between the last camp and the CP." Vlickelplesterb is no help at all; he doesn't know where they are, or what direction anything is. Max has navigation skill, so once it's completely dark he can at least make an educated guess. Suddenly, a Vargr steps out onto the road, rifle in hand, and draws down on the pair. Max does the first thing that occurs to him when confronted with an armed Vargr not in an Imperial uniform, and shoots him. The Vargr is hit and drops. Lucky shot. Literally. They take off into the woods before more Vargrs show up.
Deep in the woods, Geoff and company have taken refuge down a hole (sort of a small cave), with the remains of the former furry resident. Vargr voices are heard around them for a while, and then there's the glow of a fire. A Vargr stops by the hidie hole and relieves himself into it; fortunately, Ezbeki is near the top. Then the hole gets dark as the latrine is positioned on top of it. How wonderful.
Shortly thereafter, the dead animal is shifted towards the back, and Ezbeki is sent up to dispose of the current occupant of the latrine. A fight ensues, Geoff and Joe tip over the latrine and emerge from the hole into the camp full of surprised Vargrs. All hell breaks loose with Geoff and company shooting at the Vargrs as they run through the middle of the camp. The Vargrs are of course, shooting back. Geoff is shot in the calf, but can still run remarkably fast. Amid the confusion, Geoff, Joe, and Ezbeki manage to get away.
After fleeing the Vargr-infested camp, the trio stops to catch their breath. Ezbeki cut a uniform patch off the Vargr from the latrine, and shows it to Geoff. The writing on it's in Vargr, which no one in the group reads, but it appears to be some kind of unit patch or insignia. At least if they can get it back to the CP, maybe some one can read it. It's very unusual for all the Vargrs to be wearing the same type of uniform and patch - they're normally too independent and fractionalized to do anything in large groups; this could be bad news. Geoff and company head for the array, in the hopes of maybe finding a radio.
Viktor is being driven to the CP when his car almost runs into a vehicle in the middle of the road. The driver yells "Bail!", and does so. Viktor follows suit, so the small tank only shoots the car. Viktor and the driver run off, dodging the bullets, and etc. Viktor goes into passive mode on his armor's command commo. A lot of radio garbage, and the occasional clear section that appears to be at the platoon level. Viktor switches to the command frequency to hear some one at the command centre under heavy attack, and are falling back to position Charlie, which is an old mine, about 15 clicks away. The CP is being hit very hard. Viktor and his driver can see the CP, and it's not good. Buildings on fire, or blowing up, Vargrs everywhere, and humans begin taken captive. Viktor gets on the command frequency, and announces "All units in CP area, fall back to position Charlie." Then he and his driver head off to position Charlie on foot.
After much travelling, Viktor and the driver run into a couple of armed humans, not in any kind of military uniform. One of them pokes at Viktor with his rifle, and Viktor takes advantage of being handed the rifle, knocks it away from his stomach and punches the guy in the jaw, knocking him out cold. The other unknown turns his RAM grenade launcher at Viktor, and Viktor charges him. Viktor takes two steps and is tripped. A voice above him says "Take it easy there General, or you'll end up hurting your own people." It's Colonel Taylor, who helps Viktor up. Taylor has a few of his own people, plus the two yahoos who got the drop on Viktor. Taylor figures the Vargrs have 1,500 to 2,000 troops around the CP area alone. Viktor tells Taylor that they've lost Naval support, at least temporarily. Taylor agrees to head up to the old mine, to meet up with (hopefully) Viktor's troops. Taylor's people know the area really well, so they should make good time.
Viktor is listening to the command frequency, and he hears some unit of the 182nd trying to contact the CP. Viktor contacts them, and is told they have made contact with the enemy: 62 Vargr prisoners, 150 dead, we have 2 dead and 17 walking wounded. They were able to break out the Victor 25, the unit commander ( a clipped, proper sort of accent - it's Brigadier General Lloyd Cheltenham-Smythe III). They took the Vargrs by surprise. Lloyd tells Viktor about the Vargr patch which translates as "oneness" or "togetherness" or something like that. Viktor wants Lloyd to take a position where they can observe checkpoint Charlie. Lloyd's people will go there and fade into the woodwork. Lloyd: "What about our Vargr prisoners? It's going to be a bit sticky herding them along if we're to make the rendezvous point." Viktor: "I'll leave it up to your discretion." "Very good sir." Viktor then remembers the people back at his place, and orders Lloyd to the coordinates of his house, telling him to get the 'friendlies' out. Lloyd: "Very good sir. Out."
Geoff, Joe, and Ezbeki head for the array, since every direction seems to be bad any way. Max is trying to get a fix on where he and Vlickelplesterb are, when the Martel says "Wait. There's something over there. Some kind of animal, I can hear it. Maybe it's a Vargr. I'll cover you, you go take him out." Max stares at Vlickelplesterb like he's lost his mind. Eventually, the idea that the Navy guy is not equipped to be "taking" anyone "out" (without a ship), and Vlickelplesterb goes to try to 'capture' the Vargr. This turns into the disaster Max expects, with the Martel whacking Joe in the kidney, just missing being knocked through the forest in return (Joe was expecting some one taller). Upon hearing non-Vargr voices, the Martel turns on his damned flashlight, which Geoff shoots out of his hand. Well, this alerts the Vargrs. The good news is that the party's together now. The bad news is they're running away again. At least it's something they all seem to be good at.
Eventually the group gets to a safe stopping point. Geoff recognizes "the admiral" from his last rescue mission. Vlickelplesterb announces that since he and Geoff are both Captains, they should determine who's in command by who has the earlier commissioning date. Geoff states that he's in command, not some admin guy. And if that meant "I'd have to simplify our TO and E by getting rid of you, then that's what I'll do." Ezbeki: "He'll do it, too. He's killed lots of officers who got in his way." Things are eventually sorted out, with Geoff in charge (no objections from Ezbeki or Max), and Vlickelplesterb can be in charge of filling out all the paperwork later. They continue toward the array in search of a land line. There are lots of Vargrs in the area around the array, so Geoff lays a number of booby traps for them.
Once they reach the tower proper, Geoff breaks open the locked box on the tower, and picks up a phone handset. After a couple of beeps, he gets: "Command Centre, this is the duty officer, Lt. Commander Rogers." Geoff: "Are you under attack currently?" Rogers: "Who is this?" This is a Marine, and we have a lot of furballs around here, so if you're not under attack yet, you'd better make plans. The duty officer doesn't take the news well, beginning to bluster about proper identification and such, but Geoff's already hung up." The tower area is further booby trapped, then the group heads for the next tower, which has a manned command unit of some kind, and is about 10 kilometers away.
Geoff's allergy goes off as they're approaching the secondary control centre (eyes watering, etc.). Vargrs all over the place (about 30), and they appear to be looking for something. Down the side of the hill from where the Vargrs are, Geoff sees a small light come on then off, then a little tiny orange light comes on and off repeatedly. It's the "hidden" entrance to the control centre, and some idiot's smoking outside. Ezbeki and Geoff stealth that way, and another man joins the first dopestick smoker, asking for a smoke. Argh. Fortunately, a couple of Vargrs are into a dominance fight, and it's getting really noisy up there. Ezbeki, at Geoff's suggestion, hits one of the squids with a rock. "Ow! Who threw that fucking rock?? Damn it, Johnson, is that you? I'll leave you out there you jerk, see how you like it." By the time Geoff and Ezbeki reach the control centre, the squids have gone inside the locked door. Geoff and Ezbeki search the area around the entrance for a buzzer or intercom. The find the phone hand set and announce their presence to the occupants, who are once again somewhat skeptical. Geoff is tiring of unimaginative squids, especially those who threaten to sick their Marine on him if he doesn't go away. He tells them to bring on the Marine.
Moments later, Geoff sees 'their' man come out. Geoff: "Holy shit, that's a big f...ing Marine!" The Sergeant is one large man - he's a couple of inches taller than Geoff, and several inches wider. Perhaps a more diplomatic route is in order. After politely presenting his official identification, Geoff orders the Sergeant to "go inform the squid that there are Vargrs surrounding this facility, and ask him if he wants me to blow up the array or not?"
Finally, the head squid comes out and doesn't want to listen to Geoff. The squid goes to call Geoff's commanding officer, but the communications lines are not working. Geoff finally tires of the BS, so he grabs the squid and drags him up the hill toward the vargrs. They actually stumble upon a Vargr, who has taken cover from the sniper fire that has taken out their two leaders simultaneously (the army sniper team from the last op is also in the area apparently). Gunfire is exchanged, leaving the Vargr dead and Geoff gut shot. The Naval officer has run and rolled down the hillside toward the installation door. Geoff follows in a more controlled fashion. The officer is now convinced of the danger they are in.
Viktor and Taylor arrive at checkpoint Charlie, and it's rather well lit up for a covert rendezvous point. Six big assault boats (non-Imperial), a dozen tanks, jeeps, machine gun placements, 300 to 400 Vargrs, and more evidently below in the mine. There are Imperials outside, behind razor wire. Damn. Viktor agrees with Taylor that this is not the time to try to rescue Viktor's people. They need to try to locate more of Taylor's men and return in a couple of days when the Vargrs are less on their guard.
Viktor calls Smythe, to inform him the fallback position has been overrun, and he's to continue with his mission and await for a new fallback position. Smythe signs off. Viktor would like to get in touch with Polowaczek, but the only way anyone can think of is to get to the landline in the array. It's one hundred clicks away, but there's a hunting lodge where they may be able to get a vehicle.
The party is allowed all the way into the facility, once a few 'secret' control panels are covered up, and Joe medics the squid and Geoff. Max reports to Lt. Commander Thompkins, who is glad to see at least one Naval officer amongst the group. For some reason Thompkins finds the facts easier to believe when coming from another Navy man. Ezbeki shows the uniform patch he picked up. Thompkins happens to speak Vargr, so he can read it. "'Togetherness', isn't that special." Geoff and Max are 'allowed' further entrance into the facility, to see if the primary control centre can be contacted. Max decides to confirm his suspicions, and asks: "Sir, this facility isn't operational yet, is it?" Thompkins: "That's correct. We're waiting for the signal processors." He indicates an empty space. "Once we get those in, we'll be able to detect any ship coming into the system." Pity it wasn't working earlier.
Geoff expresses his concerns to Thompkins about the array falling into Vargr hands. The place is pretty secure, and Thompkins can't make the decision to take drastic measures like blowing it up, as that would have to be done by the Central Control commander. Geoff suggests maybe he should call them then? Thompkins goes to call them when the commo unit goes off - it's Central: "Thompkins, Thompkins, we are under attack. This station is compromised. Go to procedure Beta." Then nothing. Oh-oh. Thompkins gets out the code book, and they follow the procedure that switches central control of the array to this command station.
Geoff: "What are you in control of, if it's not operational yet?" Thompkins: "The communication system." Geoff: "Who can you communicate with?" Thompkins: "The Navy, if they're still in system, all the way out to the cometary belt." Max: "If it were possible, they should still be in system." Thompkins calls for Tony, the technical expert. Thompkins has Tony issue Geoff and Max communication codes for their radios, so they can drop into the command frequency for the array.
Viktor and Taylor, et al reach the lodge, and there is a vehicle there. It's under a tarp, and is an old combustion engine thing, but maybe they can get it to work. Viktor's driver is watching in horrid fascination as the vehicle, a mountain car, backfires and belches to life. It'll work, and they can fit about ten people in it. Viktor is searching for weapons. One of Taylor's people, who used to be a game warden, gets them into the locked gun cabinet, where they find four bolt action hunting rifles, and ammunition. Every little bit helps.
Taylor will take Viktor, his driver, and a couple of Taylor's men to the secondary command centre for the array. The others are given orders as to where to meet up later. Supplies are loaded into the back of the car, and Viktor's driver gets to learn as he goes how to drive this thing. He does pretty well, although he's taking years off the lives of his passengers as he zips around mountain rounds on two or three wheels, and then speed over a rope and plank bridge. Taylor informs the driver "I just want you to know that if we go off the road I'm going to shoot you in the head. We may be grievously injured, but you most certainly will be dead." Good to know.
The only incident occurs when a Vargr steps into the road. The driver instinctively slams on the breaks, and then Viktor steps on the gas, not quite hitting the Vargr hard enough to do permanent damage. The Vargr pops up behind them and shoots at their vehicle. Taylor's men in the back seat, return fire, without bothering to roll down the back window. Well there's the air conditioning for you.
Tony the tech guy goes over to see Geoff, who has been sipping consommé. Tony: "Clear liquids, huh?" He passes a bottle to Geoff; the label reads "ethanol, for medicinal purposes". Geoff feels that he might live now. Thompkins asks Tony if "that thing over there works?" Tony: "I don't know sir, I've never tried it." Thompkins: "Well give it a shot, I want to know if those Vargrs are still up there." Tony fiddles with a bunch of controls, as they apparently have cameras mounted on some of the towers. The Vargrs are still up there, but only about half of them are giving off heat. CES's? Geoff notices a small flash of light, then one of the Vargr heat blooms falls over and heat spreads out around him. It's the Army snipers, taking care of business. Then a vehicle is seen in the nearby woods. Ezbeki and Geoff head out to help dispose of the Vargrs, and this allows enough light to leak out for Viktor and Taylor to see the doorway as they approach the area of the array.
Max asks if there isn't anything they can set up to cover the door as it's being opened and closed, but is told "this hill is not a hill. It's a hundred feet of reinforced concrete, with grass planted on top of it. Anything short of a nuclear bomb should be survivable, but it's not meant to be hidden from the ground, just from space." On the other hand, they can flood the hallway with poison gas, so that's a plus.
Ezbeki takes out a Vargr, there's a bit of a yelp followed by spooked Vargr mutterings. Geoff falls into the foxhole being dug by one of the Vargrs, and they proceed to lay into each other. Geoff gets hit in the spine by the Vargr's entrenching tool and in return shoots him with his SMG. The Vargr then hits Geoff in the forearm with the ETool before Geoff grapples him. Just about this time the Vargr's head explodes, fountaining blood, bits, and fur all over Geoff. Geoff sits down and pours his water canteen over his head and face, attempting to dampen the forthcoming allergic reaction. He then rejoins Ezbeki, who informs him that all the Vargrs are now "accounted for". Those snipers have been busy, haven't they?
Viktor finds the phone on the outside of the command centre and calls in. When Viktor identifies himself, Thompkins responds with a sigh, and "It's been that kind of day." The big Marine comes out and checks Viktor's I.D., and Thompkins comes out to speak with him. The upshot is Taylor and Viktor are also allowed in. Fortunately, the facility was designed to very comfortably house a contingent of 48 and only has a skeleton crew so there is plenty of room and supplies (food, medical stuff, etc.).
Viktor gives Vlickelplesterb an order to which Vlickelplesterb responds: "Shouldn't your G3 be doing that?" "If I knew where my G3 was, yes. Right now you're my G1 through 5." Vlickelplesterb: "Understood sir." Nothing like battlefield conditions to make you develop a more flexible personality.
Viktor requests Max get him in touch with Polowaczek, who is a bit surprised to hear from Viktor. They have no Vargr activity in their area, and have a metric butt load of troops nearby, but no transports, and he's on the other side of the planet form Viktor and his people. They exchange information on what has been going on. Polowaczek is confused about the Vargrs being so organized - Viktor passes on the info on the "togetherness" bit. Viktor orders Polowaczek to leave some personnel, but get most of his people headed this way.
Smythe is still on his way to Viktor's place, and it will probably be tomorrow night before they are able to mount an assault, if that's what they decide to do. Ezbeki approaches Viktor and says "Hey General, feel this, it's really soft." He hands Viktor what appears to be a Vargr ear. Viktor takes it, and sees that it's a fake. Ezbeki says "Fooled you, didn't I sir - you thought it was a real Vargr ear." Viktor, who is not really in the mood for jokes (what with his missing wife and child) informs Ezbeki that he now has latrine duty. This distresses the Navy people, as they don't really want some one like Ezbeki 'cleaning' the head, but oh well.
Smythe: "The Vargrs have taken the old Governor's mansion." Which means Viktor's place. Viktor: "Prisoners?" Smythe: "No one but a couple of guards on site. Several trucks were seen leaving the area earlier, so there could have been prisoners." Viktor is conflicted, and does not really want to give Smythe potentially bad orders, but Viktor really needs to know what happened to Katarina and Vasilli, so he tells Smythe exactly who was in the basement of the mansion. Smythe understands, and will take care of it personally - if Viktor's family is in the mansion, Smythe will get to them.
Geoff and Ezbeki return, a bit worse for wear. Geoff is literally saturated with blood (it looks like a scene from Carrie). Geoff, seeing Viktor there upon his return, salutes, splattering blood over the interior of the room. Victor asks what Geoff has been doing. Geoff: "I did what you ordered, sir, I went out and got him.", pointing at Joe. Viktor: "But who is he?" Geoff doesn't want to go through this again, so he allows Joe to give Viktor the story about the mines, etc. Geoff, at the insistence of the navy guys, goes off to the fresher to clean up, followed by a rather nice steak and more attention from Dr. Joe (well, okay, so he's really just a medic - he's the only 'doctor' available).
Geoff, grateful for the somewhat messy head shot decides to go get the snipers in from the cold so to speak, even if they are army guys. Given prior experience he first obtains the permission of the navy guys operating the array. However, they've let Ezbeki in, so why not let everyone else in? Geoff, knowing that he'd have a devil of a time finding the sniper team in the woods, returns to the clearing filled with dead vargr bodies, dinner plate in hand. Within a few minutes, as he continues his second plate full, a voice behind him says "you should be careful in the woods out here someone might sneak up and shoot you." Geoff replies "Not when it's just you guys. If it were real snipers, they might be able to hit something." Geoff feels something tubular tap him in the back, then the pair of army guys turn off their Chameleon III and materialize out of the dusk. Geoff offers to "bring them in from the cold for a bite to eat", which they accept. Their comments on seeing the accommodations under the hill, are "Gee, we joined the wrong service. These navy guys have it made".
The group is at least temporarily secure, and can discuss the current situation over hot food. Viktor: "Somehow the Vargrs got ultra organized, and managed to take out the Navy cruiser." Joe wonders if the torpedo mines could have done that, but Max says "no. The Ajax was a 30,000 ton cruiser; it would have taken a ship to take her down, at least one." Viktor: "Possibly a heavy cruiser." So, there are organized, well-armed Vargrs, in force, on Vera Cruz, and they've managed to take over Viktor's CP, the primary fallback site for the Imperial forces, and who knows what else since the Vargrs are messing with the communications system. Viktor's first priority (when he's not worrying about Katarina and Vasilli, and driving himself crazy) is to make sure his troops are at least headed toward this area. It's as good a rallying point as any, it's the only reliable source of communications, and the Vargrs are going to eventually wonder what happened to the group the snipers took out and head this way any how. Fortunately, the snipers can help with that little problem, especially with back up intel from the tower cameras.
For now, food, showers, and rest. Later, the hard questions. Like whether Viktor's predecessor is a dead incompetent (in which case it's time to find the grave and desecrate it), or a not really dead traitor? Did the Vargrs hit Vera Cruz when the array was completed but not quite functional by coincidence, or did some one betray the Imperium? Speaking of betrayal, was it also a coincidence that the Vargrs picked the Imperial fallback location for their LZ (landing zone)??