"I am not an adventurer by choice, but by fate." -- Vincent Van Gogh

195 - 1122.

Viktor, Geoff, Ezbeki, Max, Vlickelplesterb, and Joe are in the backup command center - now the main command center - for the radar array, along with the army snipers, the Marines, and the Navy guys. Everyone is tired, Geoff is still pretty beat up, and Viktor is worried sick. Everyone sleeps. Viktor is finding sleep elusive. He does however, finally fall asleep leaning on the console.

196 - 1122.

Viktor wakes up, with kinks in parts of his body he'd forgotten he had. He gets up and goes to stretch. Geoff and Max are feeling better after a good night's sleep, although Geoff is still not in great shape. However, it is kind of pleasant to wake up to the smell of bacon and sausage sizzling in the pan, and fresh coffee roasting, even if the Navy people (they've been here a while) are bitching. "I'm sick and tired of this French Roast. Don't we have anything else?"

Viktor gets the Navy to get him some satellite photos of the mining area at least. They will do this, but it's going to take some time, as they are trying to keep the satellite from being detected and blown up. This also means they can't just reposition it repeatedly to other locations.

At breakfast, Viktor asks the big sergeant, Erikson (but known as Swede), what his position is at this installation. Swede: "I'm part of the security detail for the facility, sir." Viktor: "I haven't seen any other Marines." Swede: "That's because they went into town before everything went to hell." Swede is with the 861st Lift Regiment (they're stretched out all over the place). Viktor has nothing really to do until he hears from Cheltenham-Smythe, so he eats breakfast and goes over the stuff in his briefcase that he still has with him. (The intel briefing, and the new personnel files.)

Geoff chats up Vlickelplesterb, asking if he knows anything about investment law? No, Vlickelplesterb was actually in family law. Geoff: "Do you have a portfolio?" Vlickelplesterb: "You mean stocks?" Geoff: "Yes." Vlickelplesterb: "No, why do you think I'm in the Marines?" Geoff <thinking to himself>: "I've found the only Martel on the planet, probably the only one in known space, who isn't good in the stock market."

Cheltenham-Smythe checks in at about 11:00 a.m., and there is a lot of firing going on in the background. Cheltenham-Smythe: "We've encountered some resistance, sir. There's a shit load of Vargrs here. We're estimating that we are encountering brigade strength, at least." Viktor: "How long can you stay there?" Cheltenham-Smythe: "We're down to about two magazines per man sir." Viktor: "Get out." Cheltenham-Smythe: "Working on that sir." They are in a draw, where they can overlook the valley, so it's a good position, but they are subject to flanking and it's just a matter of time before the enemy does just that.

Viktor asks Taylor if he can acquire a vehicle. Taylor: "Maybe. Riding beasts, at least." Viktor: " If it's riding beasts, we're going to need pack animals as well." Taylor: "I'll move faster on my own." Viktor acknowledges that, and arranges recognition codes. Then he goes to find Geoff.

Geoff is with Vlickelplesterb, who does have some good advice: "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And if the control of the accounts is in the hands of a family member, and they start to talk about hearing voices? Don't' let it slide." Ah. Vlickelplesterb gets off this topic by offering to check out Geoff's injured arm. Vlickelplesterb isn't able to do a lot of good, but he does a splendid job of putting on fresh bandages.

Viktor comes over to the table. Viktor: "Captains." Vlickelplesterb and Geoff: "Sir!" Viktor: "Captain Thompson, we need to relieve the 182". [Cheltenhan-Smythe's Unit] Geoff: "Who do you mean by 'we' sir?" Viktor: "Us". Geoff: "Who do you mean by 'us'? The Naval personnel? "Viktor: "No. I mean the Marines." Geoff: "And the Army guys?" Viktor: "I don't know, I haven't spoken with them yet." Geoff: "Sir, there are three of us, sir. The 182nd is a tough unit sir..." Viktor: "I know that." Geoff: "...I doubt that the three of us could make a difference. If the 182nd can't handle it, what difference will we make? Sir, for all intents and purposes, this planet is behind enemy lines now." Victor:" I know that. What's your point?" Tech: "Sorry to interrupt, but you might want to hear this."

[From the radio on speaker] "Hello, Imperial GI's. Why do you keep on fighting when your navy has abandoned you? Listen to your fellow troopers who have seen the light." There follows several 'testimonials' from supposed captives. Oh look, it's the Vera Cruz equivalent of Tokyo Rose. Music follows, mostly the "wife left me and took the Winnebago..."

Geoff: "What did you have in mind, sir?" Viktor: "Right now, the largest available fighting force I have available right now is the 182nd." Geoff: "No, the largest is the group on the far side of the planet." Viktor: "But they're not here." Geoff: "Yes sir, but you are responsible for the whole planet, sir." Viktor: "We need to resupply the 182nd." Geoff: "We don't have the supplies to do that, sir." Viktor: "Then we need to get supplies." Geoff: " Sir, the number one military target is this facility. Even if the Vargrs took it right now, it's not fully operational, so we aren't obligated to destroy it to keep it out of enemy hands. The number two target is your person, sir. You going out to single handedly rescue a very kick ass unit. We don't have supplies. We only have three men. If you go there you will only get yourself captured. Which will do the Vargr's work for them, sir. I think you need to get your body to the far side of the planet where you can directly command your largest contingent of troops effectively. Tell the 182nd to run for it with whatever troops they've got left."

Navy tech: "Hey, Max. You've been hanging out with these guys, what's going on?" Max: "I don't know. It's been a disaster right from the start. Everything went to hell pretty much right away, and I don't think anyone was ready for it."

Viktor: "Okay, you say you can get me to the other side of the planet. If we're going to get a ship, here's the problem." He shows Geoff the aerial maps showing the Vargr camp with several assault boats. Viktor: "We don't have air cover." Geoff: "We never had air cover, sir. It's all been in boxes." Viktor: "How do you know that?" Geoff: "I was out in the field here, calling for air cover when it was in the boxes, sir." There follows a discussion of what is needed, with Geoff suggesting acquiring a civilian ship of some sort to use, since it would be less conspicuous, and less fatal to acquire. When Col. Taylor gets back, he may be able to help find some smuggler's ship, at the very least. Viktor orders the Marines to get ready to move, once they can find a ship.

Viktor calls the 182nd again. It's getting worse, now they're down to bayonets, mostly. Cheltenham-Smythe: "We're down to our last few rounds sir. We've done our best. The men were wondering if you could pass on some transmissions?" Viktor: "Of course." Cheltenham-Smythe: "Very well, sir. I will end my broadcast with those transmissions." A data dump follows, then the camera goes down (evidently the cameraman was hit).

Viktor: "I would like to request your help." Max: "In what way, sir?" Viktor: "If we can get a hold of a ship's boat, or a ship, I would like you to assist Captain Thompson." Max: "Of course, sir." Lt. Commander Thompkins: "Excuse me sir, but wouldn't our best bet be to stay hunkered down here until the Navy returns?" Geoff points out the Vargrs will find this place eventually - they've been going through the other bunkers one at a time. Thompkins: "That may be true, but my first responsibility is to protect this facility." Geoff: "The fact that they can flood the corridors with nerve gas will probably allow the Navy guys to stay put." Viktor wants to contact Polowaczek, with the 122nd, but the Navy techs suggest waiting until later in the day, to avoid detection. Viktor is hoping that some members of the 182nd are still on the loose, and could perhaps link up with the 122nd.

Max asks Thompkins if they have any intel from the time the Vargrs first hit the system. Thompkins: "Sure. We haven't downloaded it yet, but there's no reason not to now." There's a lot of data, and will take about an hour, so that will be done. Max: "If we can at least get a look at the area where Ajax was hit, we might be able to see what happened." Tech: "Yeah, it would be nice to know what took out the cruiser." Viktor: "Was the Ajax transmitting telemetry at that time?" Tech: "No sir." Thompkins: "Well, they couldn't have anyway. We were calibrating the station, and their system would have been swamped." Max: "How regularly did you run the calibration?" Thompkins: "Every 86 hours. We've done five cycles since they completed the array. Whenever the planet was facing the right direction." Max: "Shit. The Ajax didn't see them coming." Viktor: "They knew exactly when to hit." Geoff points out that this just means they had good intel. Really, really good intel.

After a number of hours of the techies going over the oddly configured information, some fascinating facts develop. It appears the Vargrs didn't use a ship, per se, but what at first appears to be a large asteroid. Upon further study, it turns out to have been a buffered planetoid, bristling with weapons, that was moved into place at exactly the right time to take advantage of the Ajax's 'blindness'. Judging from the pattern of the debris, it looks like a catastrophic drive failure, caused by missile damage. Tech: "We have 175 tracks coming in. They would have been able to take out maybe 24. Bastards." Max asks about the other Imperial Naval vessels in system, and most of them were acting as tenders for the Ajax. When the Ajax went, four other ships went with it. Something Max would rather not think about right now.

Tech: "According to the data we have, the planetoid is still in geosynchronous orbit over their base at the mine. That's good news and bad news. The good news it's not in position to bomb us. The bad news is their base has the ultimate in 'air coverage'." Geoff to Viktor after viewing the information on the buffered planetoid: " Sir, another option is to find a starship, put you on it, and run like hell out of system so you can get the information out before the Navy jumps back into system, and runs into this again." Viktor: "I'm not leaving while I have men here". (Especially since he would be leaving his wife and son behind as well.) Geoff does try to point out that whether or not Viktor leaves, his safety is too important to risk unnecessarily. Besides - some one has to get the word out.

Since it's getting dark, the snipers get going. They will come back if they can. For those left inside the bunker, it's time to try to contact Polowaczek, now that it's evening. Viktor has been trying to figure out a good rendezvous point along Polowaczek's general route, but Viktor isn't sure how long it will take to get there. Geoff suggests that they arrange a route, rather than a point, and Viktor and his group will meet up along the route whenever they can. The good news is that the 122nd haven't encountered any Vargrs, so they've been left alone. Geoff: "Well, there has to be some bright spot."

Thompkins: "Do you want to run up the periscope?" Viktor: "Might as well." Thompkins just barely raises the periscope and takes a look around. He gives it to Viktor, who wipes off the eyepiece after seeing the raccoon circles on Thompkins. Viktor: "You might want to clean up a bit, Commander." Thompkins doesn't see the humor in Ezbeki's little prank. They do see Vargrs out there, on patrol, and they are apparently using some sort of detectors. Probably trying to find the command center. They aren't originally in the command center's area, but they do eventually find all the Vargr bodies that Geoff, Ezbeki, and the snipers left. Thompkins puts up the periscope, just barely above the ground, takes a look, and then asks if anyone else speaks Vargr. Geoff does, and hears the Vargrs say: "Oh this is bad shit, man, this is really bad." "You always say that. Give me the radio." The second A Vargr calls in to report a bunch of bodies, taken out by what must have been "about a hundred Imperials, maybe more." They decide to bug out of the area for now, since there is a large force out here, apparently. Of course, this means that the Vargrs will probably be sending a larger force of their own. Viktor: "So, when they bug out, we leave." Geoff: "Are we not going to wait for Taylor, sir?" Viktor: "I don't think we can." Geoff: "There's just the three of us, sir, so slipping through enemy lines shouldn't be difficult." However the party is considerably enlarged beyond the three Marines by the time they actually leave the base.

Thompkins: "So what are you going to do, General?" Viktor: <sarcastically> "We're just going to nick over to the Vargr camp, steal an assault boat, and go warn the Navy." Thompkins: "Okay. You're the Marines." Viktor takes a look through the periscope, and sees movement. But it's not Taylor, it's several tracked vehicles, and a whole lot of Vargrs. Damn. Time to go. Thompkins sends the Swede with Viktor, as they won't have much use for their token Marine while they're battened down. Thompkins gives Viktor a frequency to use to transmit info to the center (useful intel updates for the navy when they come back), although it won't be two way. Viktor asks for a backup of the info on the planetoid. (just in case) A couple of hours in red light, then out (so they have night vision). Before they leave, Thompkins tells Max to "take care of yourself, out there with the GI-rines." He presses something into Max's hand - it's a bottle.

Viktor's group leaves, with Geoff taking point. Ezbeki is right behind him, all paranoid, sure they're being watched, since his butt is itching, and that means trouble. Geoff: "That's the fiberglass in the toilet paper. Payback's a bitch." [note: Geoff did not do this, it's just his best guess of what the navy guys did to the well deserving Corporal. Geoff wouldn't do something that would degrade his partner's combat effectiveness before a "behind the lines" mission. That can wait until afterwards.] And off they go tromping through the woods. Max isn't perfectly outfitted for this kind of thing, but he's in reasonably comfortable boots, and a dark blue jumpsuit with lots of pockets. And it's very clean, thanks to TL15 Scotchguard. (Max is sort of the antithesis of Ezbeki).

Along the way, they hear a hideous, high-pitched scream in the distance. Maybe a woman. Or an animal. A while later, there's a very unpleasant smell, Geoff's eyes start to water, and Ezbeki takes out his knife and starts messing with it. They stop, and Geoff and Ezbeki head that way. Vlickelplesterb motions to Max, and says "Some one needs to tell the Captain to lay off the broccoli. Whew!" Max, who has been in unpleasant situations involving dead bodies, stares briefly at the Martel. Max: "That's not broccoli. Whatever is making that smell is not alive." Vlickelplesterb is confused. Max: "You'll find out eventually." They find a Vargr, stuck to a tree, by a piece of wood with sharpened stakes on it. Geoff: "Nice booby trap." They find another Vargr body, in a pit up to his waist, with downward angled punji sticks; he's been gnawed on by animals. There are some weapons to salvage, though. Which the party does.

Geoff carefully brings up the rest of the party, to show them the traps. Vlickelplesterb's eyes get very big. Vlickelplesterb thinks whoever set up these traps should be sued for negligence, but Max points out that "they worked the way they were supposed to." The group continues, with Ezbeki making a little side trip to kill a bunny (later food), which he puts on a long stick, and hangs over his back. They continue on, find a few more traps which they avoid (the traps are of varying ages - some fairly recent, some months or more old), but they leave them set.

197, 1122.

The night passes without casualties, and the group settles down for the day to rest, at the woodline. A small, clean fire is made to cook the rabbit (Ezbeki is allowed to clean the rabbit, but not to touch and cook it). After a few minutes, it is discovered that some of the firewood is giving off smoke that would constitute a recreational pharmaceutical (i.e., hyper cannabis). Geoff and Viktor put the fire out after everyone except Max (who had gotten out of the way of the smoke) inhaled some. Vlickelplesterb inhaled quite a bit, and gets giggly. Since he's staggering, it's time to settle in anyway. Geoff sees Ezbeki stuff a bunch of the 'herb' into his gas mask, but Geoff doesn't say anything. If he catches Ezbeki actually smoking that stuff while it's just the few of them versus all the Vargrs, things will change rather quickly.

Vlickelplesterb snickers for a while and then falls asleep. Ezbeki takes the time to clean his 'stash', which he figures they might be able to use as barter. Ezbeki doesn't use the stuff, as "it's bad for the brain cells, and bad for the sinuses". A rotating watch is set up, one person at a time, with Vlickelplesterb at the bottom of the rotation.

Before the watches start, during breakfast, Geoff and Viktor are checking out the area with their recon binocs and spot some Vargrs. The younger ones start to pick up some of the 'weed', but there's an older Vargr tells them to drop it, as there could be "stinking Imperials around here. Do you want to die?" Geoff and Viktor both think: Shoot him first. The younger ones do still pick up some leaves before continuing on their patrol. Geoff and Viktor think it's just a regular patrol, and are going to let them move on, but one of the Vargrs sniffs the air, and says something like "Let's go cook some one." (Geoff sort of speaks Vargr) The Vargrs head right for the camp. Geoff sets up an ambush around the camp, leaving Vlickelplesterb asleep by the fire, as some one should be there, and besides, it's not like he'll be much help.

The Vargrs close, and carefully approach, one alone, first. Geoff waits as the Vargr draws down on Vlickelplesterb, who half opens one eye and then nods off again. The Vargr removes Vlickelplesterb's gun, and then starts to pick at the remains of the rabbit, but then he looks down at all the tracks around the fire and starts to get up verrry slowly. Ezbeki suddenly appears (from thin air) behind the Vargr, taking him down, and garroting him. The other Vargrs start to stand up to see what's going on. Viktor takes a shot at the older Vargr first, hitting him in the throat. Max, who has been set up in an appropriate position (this is not his kind of action, but at least he has a gun and knows how to use it), sees a Vargr pop up with his back turned, and fires, hitting him in the spine; that Vargr drops too. Geoff exchanges gunfire with the nearest young Vargr, and they shoot each other simultaneously, as Geoff has hit the Vargr in the heart, but the Vargr doesn't realize he's dead yet and charges Geoff, firing full auto. The Vargr manages to injure Viktor as well as he sprays the area, hitting him in the leg. The Vargr does finally fall over, at Geoff's feet, with an empty gun. The Swede takes out the next Vargr, leaving one, who decides to get the hell out of the area. Not fast enough though, and he's hit repeatedly. Geoff goes over to check the body, and the not quite dead yet Vargr lets the grenade fall out of his hand. Geoff tries to evade as the grenade hits the ground, bounces up, and explodes. Immediately Geoff trips as he tries to run, but is almost entirely unhurt by the blast. Now that's impressive.

Ezbeki has finally finished throttling his Vargr, and is cleaning his knife. Geoff checks the Vargr bodies for unused grenades, leaving the ones that are on the Vargr where the grenade just exploded. Geoff sets up the potentially damaged grenades, pins out, under the dead Vargr, as a surprise. The other bodies yield 16 grenades, and 16 magazines for Vargr ACRs. The magazines will fit the ACRs from the earlier Vargr bodies, and the ones from the Vargrs in this last group, so they have six. Ezbeki will cut down one of the ACRs for Vlickelplesterb.

Speaking of Vlickelplesterb, he's woken up, as he's the only one with medical. Vlickelplesterb is still pretty mellow, and hungry. Geoff gives him some of the Vargrs' rations. A recoil pad for the cut down stock is adapted from Vargr armor, and Ezbeki does a pretty good job with the rifle. Vlickelplesterb is able to medic Geoff to his advantage, but he can only bandage and stop Viktor from bleeding.

The Vargr squad leader's body yields up a small spread-spectrum radio. The encrypt channels have been cleared, and Geoff doesn't want to take it along in case it can be tracked, but the squad leader did have some local maps, and some pictures - of Viktor, most of his generals, the governor, Taylor, and other key personnel. And an overlay for the map, with tick marks on it; the Vargr was good enough to not leave any marks on the overlay to indicate how to position it on the map, but they are good maps. The radio starts to vibrate, which means the jig is up. Time to go.

They are jogging along when they hear the sound of a shotgun action being cycled. Geoff: "Scatter." Voice: "Ah wouldn't do that if I were y'all." Everyone freezes, and turns slowly. It's a big human, of the hillbilly ilk, in a Terrainasaurus cap and Rabid Sphincter shirt, and a shotgun and another taller thin man (of about 40) with a double-barreled shotgun. Tall man: "Well, well, what do we have here?" Geoff attempts to explain that no harm was meant, but a 'toll' will have to be paid. Geoff: "What do you want?" Tall man: "Those are nice boots you have there." Geoff doesn't want to give up his boots, but they do have some Vargr guns to trade. Now that's all right! Geoff tells the men that the Vargrs have "taken over the planet". The party is invited to the house, where there are a bunch of small, grubby kids in the yard, and a drab-looking female comes out. Rose is told to rustle up some grub, which allows the group to get under cover, and fed, so that's a bonus.

The family grows weed, and sells it to some people from off-planet. Geoff: "Are any of them due back any time soon?" One of them in a couple of weeks maybe, but the Vargr situation may scare him off. Drinks are doled out, from the jar. 'Pa': "Here's to the Emperor." Great, now they have to drink. News is traded, especially about the Vargrs. Pa: "Yeah, them Vargrs have been trouble ever since the first one showed up." He glances at a pelt on the far wall. That would probably be bad for one of the Vargrs to see. Geoff points this out to his host. Geoff also finds out where the smuggler would land if he does come in, just in case.

The group is given places to sleep while Clem and his pop see if they can get "Betsy" running. The lady of the house decides to tuck Max in personally. She brings in a bottle of mostly even recognizable alcohol to share, and she's unbuttoned several buttons. Rose: "You know, Clem and Pa will be out there for hours and hours. And we'll be here all alone..." She's a lonely woman, and offers to clean his clothing (which he'd have to get out of, of course). Rose: "I'll bet you've been all kind of places, seen all kinds of things. I'll bet you've been with all kinds of women, in all those ports." Max: "Uh, yes, and no. Really." The conversation heads downhill rather rapidly, with Rose going on about what a lonely woman she is, and how she finds Max attractive, as is demonstrated by her shedding of clothing. (She may be on the plain side, but very nicely built.) Max: "But, you're married! What if your husband should - " Rose: "Oh, don't worry about him, he'll be at least an hour, and he won't hear us. Unless I should happen to scream, of course. Now you just let me handle everything..." Max struggles valiantly, but Rose is a very determined woman. Max's spirit is unwilling, but the flesh has a mind of it's own. Rose is obviously rather pent up, and once things get started, there's no going back (which literally doubles the number of women Max has 'known', biblically speaking).

By the time Rose is through with him, Max is ready to beg for mercy. After several times in a row, repeatedly, and loudly, Max's blood runs cold when he hears the front door slam and Pa's voice yell "Rose?". Rose throws on her dress, and kicks her undergarment under the bed while Max pulls the blankets up over his naked body in the bed. Now nothing is obvious but the scent. Pa enters the bedroom and says, looking at Max: "Son, you better get some sleep, you look tuckered out." Rose: "Yeah, we've just been talking." The room reeks of sex, but Pa is obviously very dense. Thank God. He leaves, with Rose (who pauses at the door to blow Max a kiss). Max goes to sleep, exhausted. And perhaps thankful to still be alive.

A few hours later, everyone is woken up. They've gotten 'Betsy' functional enough to get the group to the next town, with luck. It's basically a few scraps of metal, held together by a matrix of rust. Think of an antique Ford stationwagon. There's a meal before they go, so everyone gathers around the table to eat.

Pa: "I was noticing your stars. You really a general?" Viktor: "I am." Pa: "You get a lot of poontang, bein' a general?" Viktor: "Just from my wife." Pa: "You're lucky. <looks at Rose> Damn woman's frigid." Max inhales his drink, almost choking to death. Geoff notices Rose's little smile, and later takes Pa aside for some romance advice. "Have her read you some of her romance novels, that will make her hot for sure. [Geoff thinks its unlikely that Pa has the skill to read these to himself]." The party trades Pa and Clem 5 Vargr ACR's and 10 mags of ammo for "Betsy".

Vlickelplesterb: "Hey, Max, you all right? You're walking kind of funny. Did you catch one?" Max: "Uh, no...I'm not used to all this walking through the woods stuff." Yeah, that sounds good. Some food has been packed, and Rose comes out to wish everyone luck. She gives all the 'boys' a peck on the cheek; Max gets a tongue in the ear, and a grope. "Ya'll come back." The vehicle is eventually loaded and after a struggle with the aged vehicle, the party takes off.

Vlickelplesterb: "So, anything interesting happen? That lady sure was friendly." Max: "Uh, yeah. Nice people." Ezbeki: "Friendly, that's the understatement of the year. I'm amazed you can walk this morning." Ezbeki discreetly (well, for him) begins passing out multiple copies of photos of Rose and Max in action, first to Geoff, while making rude comments. Geoff: "No gunfire in the vehicle, please!" Geoff quickly puts in hearing protection, just in case, since Ezbeki isn't shutting up, and the squid doesn't seem amused.

Ezbeki: "I wonder why she asked for your name, and ship and all that. Probably so she can write you with news of your son. Or maybe it's for the paternity lawsuit..." A near brawl erupts in the back seat between Max and Ezbeki, over the top of the Martel, who is between them, trying to get in a few words about legal council and paternity suits. Viktor: "I was saving this for my son, but if you don't behave, we're stopping the car!"

Max draws his gun (from the requisite full-flap holster), but doesn't bring it up. Viktor tells Ezbeki and Vlickelplesterb to "knock it off", and they do, but Ezbeki sulks. Max: "Corporal, you've had your 'fun', now I want the pictures. The lady is married." Ezbeki reluctantly hands over some pictures. Max: "All of them." Ezbeki hands over the rest of the pictures even more reluctantly. Viktor <extending his hand>: "And the camera." Ezbeki: 'That's my personal property, sir." Viktor: "I just want to look at it, Corporal." Ezbeki hands the camera to Viktor, who takes it and pushes the erase button. Then he hands it back to Ezbeki.

Ezbeki <still sulking>: "It was just some fun. I was only trying to do my part for maintaining morale and camaraderie between services." Viktor: "I understand, Corporal, but I don't think the Lt. Commander does." Ezbeki: "Right, sir." Max: "I understand how the Marine Corps gained the reputation it has, sir." Max reholsters his weapon, openly. Ezbeki reaches over Vlickelplesterb and hands Max the magazine from his gun. Then he hands him the bullets. This could have been rather dangerous if the party had encountered trouble.

They arrive near the outskirts of town, without further incident (i.e., no one kicks the seatbacks or complains that 'he's touching me!'). There's a really big house on the hill overlooking the town, with several vehicles parked outside it, and a lot of lights. Viktor decides that it's as good a place to start as any, since Betsy is going to need replacing.

As the party driving is down the road in Betsy, surveying their possible destinations, a car comes out of nowhere, driving with no lights, on the wrong side of the road straight at them. Geoff tries to avoid it, but it doesn't work, and there is a big crash. Both cars are totaled, and everyone in Betsy except Viktor is badly bruised.

A man staggers out of the other car. He's wearing what used to be a white dinner jacket, that still has a red carnation in the buttonhole, and is holding a martini glass. It was a nice Daimler. A woman emerges, to find out what "Bertie" is up to. Dorie emerges, and tells Bertie to "give them what for". Geoff is very polite, and tells Bertie that he didn't see them with their lights out. Bertie: "I was driving with my lights out? Bugger. No wonder I couldn't see worth a damn." Geoff does have charm when he wants to use it. They bond, and Bertie simply must help the lovely bunch.

They all walk up the hill to the house, where there's a large cocktail party going on. Evidently the idle rich have not received the memo about the Vargr invasion. Either that or they never cancel parties unless the actual venue is hit by a nuke. Invading forces? Just have more olives brought in!

As the group enters, Bertie introduces them to the party, "I met these lovely people...well actually, I smashed their car up." Everyone is greeted very effusively (with the exception of Ezbeki, who has already been directed to the servant's entrance at the rear. But he is well treated by the household staff once he arrives there), and they are shown to where they can get medical help from Mildred (a no-nonsense kind of woman, who is not impressed with their injuries). Thank God she really has medical as a skill. The butler, Samuel, brings up clothing for the new 'guests' - tuxes. He had to guess on the sizes, but he did a damned fine job. Oh, and Geoff's manservant [Ezbeki ] is being fed in the kitchen. They go back downstairs to meet the full crowd at the party. This is apparently Dickie's little hunting lodge, where everyone is well-to-do, completely out of touch, and three sheeps to the wind. But they are very friendly. Dickie is fascinated, as he is a writer. Max gets a lot of attention from some of the ladies, who have "always fancied Naval men". Geoff is also a focal point for the females; he doesn't have that deer in the headlights look, but my, isn't he buff!

They are invited to stay, at least for the night. They can get a proper sleep, after a real shower or bath. This planet does have an interesting variety of hospitality. Viktor doesn't feel right being comfortable when he doesn't know how his wife and son are. He paces on the balcony most of the night.