"Amidst the Ranks of War" -- Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay

198, 1122.

At the old homestead, Jimi Ray and Joe are having a fine breakfast. Rose is making sure that Jimi Ray gets a nice look at her, um, assets, as she pours the water. It's been suggested that Joe and Jimi Ray rest during the day and leave at nightfall. Jimi Ray asks if they have a map of the area, and they don't. They are near a city, but Pa doesn't suggest Joe and Jimi Ray go there, as it's "a sinful place - they do unnatural things there." Evidently, Pa is under the impression that sex is for procreation only, or so he says. Pity his wife disagrees.

The nearby city may be Sodom and Gomorra, but Joe needs to catch up with his friends (Viktor's party), so he has to go there. Unfortunately, the first group took the only available vehicle. Joe: "Is there a shortcut?" Pa: "You mean if you don't take the road? Well, yes there is. It's pretty rough country, but it's only half the distance." This is the area Pa goes coon hunting in. Joe: "Are you up to going over hill and down dale, Captain?" Jimi Ray: "Yeah. If it means connecting with a better armed group." Jimi Ray then remembers the monocycle in the woods nearby - all it needs is some petrol, which they do have here. Joe: "Can you drive one of those things?" Jimi Ray: "Well I rode it here. I don't have a lot of experience with it, but it's a vehicle. Unless it's got a tracking device on it...Oh damn, I didn't think about that." They can at least get it out of the area.

They head out to the monocycle, pour in some gas (after removing the cat), and start her up. It's a bit interesting with two large men riding it, but once they get going it's pretty stable. Jimi Ray is on the padded, springloaded seat, but Joe isn't, and with that much weight on the cycle it hits the rim occasionally. Ouch. Jimi Ray: "Sorry!"

After a while, it's very relaxing, at least for Jimi Ray. "Sorry!" The sun is shining, they've both eaten a good breakfast, and eventually they run into a proper road. It's not paved, but it's graded, packed, and oiled recently, so the drive gets much better, especially for Joe.

At Dickie's place, Geoff wakes up feeling much better! Geoff asks to see Mildred again, for some additional medical help. And since she's also a massage therapist (it's a rough life out in the wilderness), he wouldn't say no to a massage. He's the first person up, of the non-guests, so Geoff goes downstairs to the kitchen, and the cook whips him up something. Geoff chats with her as she cooks. Viktor appears soon thereafter, and joins Geoff.

The coffee is put on at about 10:00 a.m., and some of the guests do stagger out and drive off in their cars. Speaking of driving, Jimi Ray is tooling along the road when some one drives through a hedge directly in front of the monocycle. Jimi Ray manages to hang on to the handlebars, so he's flung forward, onto the hood of the car, with Joe on top of him. Finally Joe gets even. The Daimler now has a big dent in it's side, and oddly enough it has a really big dent on the opposite side and front (from where the now partially repaired Daimler collided with Betsy last night). Bertie gets out of the car, Bloody Mary in hand, and says "I say, I'm terribly sorry! Are you hurt?" Since Jimi Ray came pre-beaten up, Bertie panics and decides he needs to get a doctor, so he jumps back in the car, and starts to back up through the hedge again. Jimi Ray: "Stop!!" Bertie slams on the brakes, causing Jimi Ray and Joe to slide up onto the windshield, then roll off. Bertie gets out, leaving the car running, and it starts rolling towards Jimi Ray and Joe. There next follows some leaping and dodging, and Jimi Ray gets the car stopped (using the hand brake, since he couldn't find the normal brake in this antique). It's decided that everyone will get into the car, and Bertie can drive them to a doctor. Joe manages to find a lapbelt, and Jimi Ray holds on for dear life as Bertie tears along the road and screeches up the driveway.

Everyone else in the house is awoken by Bertie running into the house yelling for a doctor. Jimi Ray has managed to get the car stopped, and he and Joe have gotten out (after turning off the car), leaving a still unconscious Dorie in the back. Viktor goes out front, figuring Bertie has hit some one else, and sees several familiar faces. Viktor: "Hello Captain Malary." Jimi Ray: "General Androchev. There's a damned lot of Vargrs out there." Viktor: "And not enough Marines." Jimi Ray: "And there's not as many coming as you thought sir." Joe: "And we'll need more squids, sir. The array control is gone." Viktor: "Gone?" Joe: "Several hundred pounds of explosives, and a contractor who skimped on the armorcrete." Viktor: "And I take it you're the only who got out?" Joe: "Vertically, yes sir." Viktor, who came out with two cups of coffee, gives one to Jimi Ray, who looks like he really needs it.

Bertie is still running around the house, gesturing madly with his Bloody Mary and splattering red liquid around. When Dickie comes downstairs to see what's wrong, he sees the red liquid splattered on the walls and faints. Fine crime writer he is, it's only the Bloody Mary. Subadai has come downstairs, and offers to render medical aid, once he can find the patient.

Viktor introduces Subadai to Jimi Ray, explaining that they both sort of fell from the sky. Jimi Ray tells Viktor about his adventures above and on the lovely planet of Vera Cruz. Jimi Ray: "Only about five of us made the landing due to various incidents, and unfortunately the remaining men were not in any condition to run when the Vargrs showed up, so I left to get help. " Jimi Ray and Joe fill Viktor in on what has happened in their lives.

Jimi Ray: "I'd rather be with military folk, than with people who run me over while drinking Bloody Mary's." Viktor: "Do you want to remain active, or go civilian?" Jimi Ray: "I'd rather remain active, sir. That way I can shoot at other people." Subadai is able to treat Jimi Ray's injuries, but they are mostly superficial and painful. Jimi Ray: "So we've wandered into the magnetic bad spot of the universe?" Viktor: "Until about four days ago, we were dealing mostly with unorganized Vargr insurgents." Subadai: "And how long have you been here, sir?" Viktor: "Five days." Subadai: "Can I have my non-military equipment back now?" Viktor is about to tell Subadai to see Lt. Commander Fairfax about that when Max walks in to the kitchen. Viktor: "Ah. Could you see that he gets his non-military equipment back?" Max: "Yes sir." He goes up, gets Subadai's stuff, and gives it to him (minus the firearms). A discussion ensues about just exactly what the situation is. What is where, what happened, etc. Jimi Ray: "I don't know if the Ajax was able to get a message out in time, or how many other ships were hit." Max: "The Ajax was in a communications blackout when she was hit. And four other vessels went up in the blast. The other ships may still be in system, in the cometary belt; we don't know for sure."

Viktor takes Jimi Ray to one side, and tells him about Katarina. Jimi Ray: "She's here on the planet, sir?" Viktor: "When we came out here, it was supposed to be a non-volatile situation." Jimi Ray is told about the situation with Katarina and Vasilli. Subadai comes back down and ends up taking Geoff into the massage room to medic him. Viktor has Jimi Ray round up everyone in preparation for departure.

One of the women, in the front room, looks out the window and says "Hurray! The cavalry is here!!" Viktor takes a look, and it's not the cavalry - it's an armored column of Vargrs, and their advance scouts have found the wrecked monocycle. Bugger. Geoff tells the guests they need to leave right away. Dickie wants the military people to "do something! I pay my taxes." Geoff: "I am doing something, I'm telling you to get your ass down to the town." Dickie gets all indignant, since "you can't talk to me like that, I'm a baronet!" Viktor: "I can talk to you like that. Get your ass down there." The dilettantes will have to get themselves out of trouble. Perhaps they will make out OK because they have household staff with common sense to keep them alive.

Jimi Ray gets the cook to help supply the group, and Geoff has already snagged the only two doses of Regen® 1 from the medkit in the massage room. Viktor <to Subadai and Joe>: "You've got a choice: you can go to the town with those people, or you can come with us." Quite the choice. Subadai and Joe will go with the bright, armed men who are supplying themselves. Joe finds a wide brimmed hat, that is very, very bright, and leaves it out for a distraction. Viktor takes a moment to inform Subadai, the only doctor, where he keeps his dose of Regen®B.

As they leave, Subadai will be picking up as many of the body pistols, fishie crackers, and tinned beets as possible. Max takes a look at what Ezbeki's taking, and it's predictably valuable from a different point of view - old brandy, and the house silver. Max <to Geoff>: "Far be it from me to interfere, but shouldn't your corporal be taking things that are more useful than the silverware?" Geoff: "Ezbeki, put down the loot, and pick up something useful!" Ezbeki reluctantly puts down the silver (the brandy he can keep), and selects several really sharp kitchen knives. Ezbeki has a shotgun, so Joe (who's taking the rear cover position) can use his rifle; Geoff will be on point. Everyone else is carrying all they can in the way of supplies and / or weapons, and it's out the back door and into the woods once Geoff has warned the servants (with luck, they can get Dickie and the others out of immediate danger), before the Vargrs make it up to the house. Joe scatters cinnamon behind them, just to confuse things a bit, and he also picks up a meat tenderizer mallet. It really irks Viktor to have to run without leaving so much as a scratch on the Vargrs.

The group is just leaving as a Scorpion class sized tank reaches the top of the driveway by the house. The group does not hang around to see if they want to chat. There's shouting behind them, but there's nothing more to be done without risking everyone's lives, and the General can't be allowed to fall into enemy hands.

The members of the household are in the process of escaping over the back lawn themselves, in their cars. Machinegun fire, followed by the tank firing through a window of the house. The rest of the column is apparently heading on to town. Sgt. Erikson (Swede) and Ezbeki are towards the center of the group as it moves away from the house and into the woods. Geoff makes sure to angle both away from the house and away from the town (to avoid the column). And then the machinegun fire starts sweeping through the woods, headed for the party. The tank has driven away from the house, up the hill, and is firing into the treeline (towards the party). The trees above are hit by a mortar round, sending splinters showering onto everyone. They continue on, keeping low. The tank, with an infantry squad under cover behind it, heads towards the woods (it's fairly sparsely wooded in this area).

Geoff climbs a tree and sets up a tripwired grenade (he does this in several locations, both above and at ground level). Viktor takes a shot at the driver, but misses. The driver now knows he's mortal though, so he ducks back down and calls for air support. Much fleeing ensues, until the wind starts to really pick up as evening falls. It's going to be a major windstorm from the looks of things, so it's time to seek shelter. The good news is that visibility sucks, the bad news is the same thing. Geoff finds military boot prints ahead on the trail. The prints are Imperial, and mixed with civilian prints, and other types, and.... they're really familiar...looking...footprints...Oh. They've been walking in circles, as the tower they had picked for a landmark is only one of three on nearby hills. Damn. Now it's starting to rain/snow/hail, so they look for shelter.

The rain goes from just starting, to pouring sideways for several minutes. Then it becomes rain mixed with hail (pea to marble sized). The trees break up the downpour a bit, but they really need shelter. Geoff spots a dark shape ahead, and light - it's a large cabin, and there's smoke coming out of the chimney. Geoff has Ezbeki sneak up and recon the cabin, but the dog alerts the person inside who emerges with a shotgun. The bark had been cut off with a short whimper, so naturally people think Ezbeki may have done the wrong thing. Then the man with the shotgun is leapt upon, the shotgun is fired several times, a second man comes out, calls for "Charlie", and then he fires into the darkness. Geoff tries to get the situation under control by telling the man that he's meant no harm, but the man fires into the trees, hitting Viktor, who is fortunately wearing combat armor, but is now really pissed off. Using his machine gun, Swede fires all around the man in the doorway (without hitting him), who drops.

Ezbeki reappears, and takes Geoff over to see the dead dog, which has been shot in the head (so, not by Ezbeki). Then Ezbeki shows Geoff the three dead Vargrs - two have been stabbed in the back, one had his throat slit. Ezbeki strikes again. The first man from the cabin is dead, he was shot by his partner with the shotgun. He shows Geoff the Unity patch, and the red triangle with a black wolf's head on it (like the Vargr column had) on the Vargr bodies. The bodies are disarmed, and stripped for anything useful. Geoff finds several compasses. One of the bodies has a laminated CO&E around it's neck, but no one in the group can read Vargr.

Geoff is trying to get something useful out of the surviving moonshiner, but he's gone into anti-government mode, and much unpleasantness follows. Geoff is going to take the guy out and show him the dead Vargrs, but Viktor stops him. Viktor drags one of the dead Vargrs in, drops it at the man's feet, and says: "Sympathizer, huh? You know what happens to traitors?" Geoff: "Do you know what a war is?" Ezbeki: "Hey Geoff, I can take care of him. Just give me about five minutes out back with him." Geoff: "No, just leave him for the Vargrs." Ezbeki: "You want I should skin them?" Geoff: "And nail them to the door?" Ezbeki: "Don't I get to talk to him first?" Moonshiner: "Keep him away from me!" Ezbeki does the slathering maniac routine, and Geoff promises to not let him have the man if he talks. Geoff: "You have any vehicles?" Man: "I have a couple of mules."

Geoff suggests they have some one keep watch, and Max volunteers, just to get away from the deranged people (although they're his deranged people), so he goes outside into the barn. Geoff cleans up the bedding, smoking out the inhabitants with the fire. The Vargr bodies are dumped into the outhouse pit, so they won't be found by subsequent patrols. There was stew on the stove, so people eat and sleep in shifts.

The Swede has been sent out to the barn to stand watch with Max. The two mules have decided that Max is a threat to their territory or something, and decide to try to shove him around. Swede is amused by this. Max shoves one of the mules, and then sees movement outside, towards the cabin. He tries to tell Swede, but Swede figures Max is imagining things, and won't do anything.

Meanwhile there's a knock at the front door. An oddly accented voice says: "Frank, Charlie? Are you in there?" Geoff has Frank answer the door, and two Vargrs saunter in like they belong there. Geoff grabs one, and Joe punches the other one in the head (he drops like a rock). Viktor follows through with Geoff's target, hitting him hard in the knee with the butt of the rifle. At this point, the realization dawns that the two Vargrs that they've drug inside are in Imperial Marine uniforms. Whoops! A sergeant (very unconscious), and a buck corporal. Viktor: "What's your unit?" The corporal gives his name, rank, and serial number only, since he doesn't know for sure who anyone is. Viktor gives him his ID to check. Turns out the corporal and the sergeant were assigned to a Force Recon Unit out on a training exercise when everything went bad. Viktor: "How many are there in your unit, and where are the rest?" Corporal: "Back up the way, we've got a squad." Viktor: "What unit?" Corporal: "72 Force Recon, assigned to the Excalibur." [The Excalibur is a light cruiser.] The unit's pick up didn't come, so they eventually decided to try to find some hot food (after an unpleasant Vargr encounter), and the two of them decided to check out this place, since they've come here before to get uh, supplies." They didn't have much in the way of supplies, since they were out on training, but, it's more men!

Max has been sent off to the cabin, since Swede feels he'll do a better job providing covering fire. And the squid's more expendable (Swede doesn't actually say that). Max carefully goes in to the cabin, looks down at the damaged Vargrs, and says "Aren't these on our side, sir?" Geoff: "You know, it might be a good idea to let us know when people are approaching when you're on watch." Max: "I would have, Captain, but the sergeant insisted I was hallucinating." Geoff: "It sounds like you're the one who should have stayed on watch." Max: "This was the sergeant's idea, sir. Not mine."

Geoff goes off to have a conversation with the Swede about this little incident. Geoff is not happy. Swede: "I figured the squid was just jumpy." Geoff: "Right now, the squid is more useful than you are." Swede: "I'll put myself on report, sir." Geoff: "You know, it doesn't matter what uniform you're wearing, Marine or Navy. If you're captured, you're likely to be killed on sight." Geoff gives Erikson a proper dressing down, and then goes back to the cabin.

Corporal: "Sir, someone ought to know - we've been listening in on the Vargrs. They're got a list of enemy command personnel, and they're stopping cars and searching houses." Viktor: "I know corporal. They've got pictures as well." When Geoff returns, it's decided that some one needs to go out and get the rest of the recon group, especially since some of them are injured from their encounter with the Vargrs. Geoff <to Ezbeki>: "You're looking too dry, private. You'll go with me." Ezbeki: "Yes sir." Geoff and Ezbeki go out after the men, equipped with directions and the proper codes.

On the way through the woods, Ezbeki and Geoff both stop suddenly, as they've seen what might be Vargr ears up ahead. Unfortunately, the ears belong to a really big bear, who is upset. Ezbeki proves he doesn't have to outrun the bear, just Geoff. The bear and Geoff get way too close, Geoff shoots it with the suppressed SMG, which really pisses off the bear, who tosses Geoff across the clearing by his neck. After several rounds of bear chews Geoff- Geoff shoots bear to no effect, Ezbeki does decide to come back and help, leaping onto the back of the bear and stabbing it, even though Geoff is yelling "Use the shotgun, use the shotgun!!" This does serve to distract the bear, who goes into 'get it off! get it off!' mode, so Geoff can get to his rifle. He yells to Ezbeki to drop. Ezbecki is thrown off and lands on a rather jagged branch. Geoff shoots the bear with the rifle, and the top half of the bear explodes. Whoa. Geoff, knowing that the rifle did not do that, looks around for who did, and sees a Marine with a rifle, who fired the RAM grenade. Make a note: RAM grenades are much more effective against bears. Geoff has the correct recognition code for the sentry (provided by the Corporal back at the cabin), so they are taken to the rest of the group, and get to meet Lt. Powitowski, Jenny. She's about 5'2", cute as a button, and looks about 15 years old. Bear meat is gathered up, and they all return to the cabin, after convincing Ezbeki to not just yank out the section of tree branch imbedded in his side. They then head the very cold and wet, party through the slush to the cabin.

While the injured people are medicked (including Ezbeki - despite his protestations), and everyone is fed and dried off, Geoff shows the Lieutenant (who speaks Vargr) the card with the CO&E on it, and it does have the communications info, but without the key, it's pretty useless. Jenny bums some cigarettes off Geoff, and she starts to shake a bit when she's out of sight of her men. But she's holding up pretty well for someone fresh out of the academy. Two of the squad have been seriously injured in their prior action against the Vargrs and their medic was killed.

Subadai is thrilled to see that the medium med kit the recon people brought with him is pretty much full, and has extra stuff in it too. The late doctor deserves a medal, and Subadai tells Viktor that. There's even some Regen®, a large bottle of panamyacin, and other nice surprises. That, in addition to the Therian artifact that allows Subadai to see exactly what is wrong with a patient (not that he advertises that), means the patients will get incredibly good care.

Now that the group is up to seventeen, the supplies can be divided up more evenly. And there are more people to carry anything useful found in the cabin. The Lt. goes through and makes sure the ammo is distributed as evenly as possible. One of the guns found in the cabin, a rifle, is given to the recon unit's gun nut (this is the same guy who blew up the bear - he's alone a lot) because they say he'd be the best shot with it.

199, 1122.

Max has been making sure the moonshiner, Frank, is fed and watered. Ezbeki is still going out of his way to make sure Frank sees him tear into his meat with his knife. Geoff eventually makes Ezbeki stop, so the other Marines don't decide to put Ezbeki down. Geoff informs Frank that they are going to just leave him behind, which is fine with Frank, although Geoff recommends he not hang about, lest he be found by unhappy Vargyrs.

Everyone is definitely feeling better in the morning. One of the men makes cornbread, there's bacon, and coffee. Morale is high, and there's much towel snapping. Ezbeki is the principal target, until Geoff takes one of the snappers to one side, and tells him: "You know, I could take you outside and show you the three dead Vargrs that man killed with a knife last night. And that was before he jumped onto the bear. But, I'll just let it go with a word to the wise. I wouldn't mess with him if I were you." Good advice, since Ezbeki does not look right.

The Lt. and her men would really like to go after the Vargrs, but Geoff points out that they're current mission is to keep the General alive, and get him to the rendezvous with the largest contingent of Marines on the planet. Even Viktor agrees that they can't afford to go after the Vargrs right now, although he would really, really like to.

After breakfast and cleaning up, it's time to pack up and get ready to go. Max takes Geoff off to one side, to express some concern about Frank, since he has seen the General, heard people's names, and knows a lot of potentially damning information about the group (how many people, how many injured, how well armed they are, which direction they might be heading, etc.). Max is concerned that if Frank just stays at his cabin, and is captured, the Vargrs could get some very damaging information. He is not suggesting they just kill Frank, he just wanted to make sure someone had taken this into consideration; maybe Frank could be taken along and dropped off away from his home turf?

Geoff takes the General aside, and tells him about the Lt. Commander's concerns. It might be enough that Ezbeki has cut out three vaguely Vargr-shaped sections of bearskin and hung them up on the barn, and this reinforces the idea that Frank should get the hell out of the area and away from the Vargrs. Viktor decides to try something - he has a little conversation with Subadai, who agrees to hang behind a bit, inject Frank with enough moonshine to almost give him alcohol poisoning, and leave him one of the body pistols. This way, nothing Frank says will be taken at face value, and if the body pistol is brandished, maybe the Vargrs will just shoot him.

Off they go. Subadai notices Rifleman Jones(gun nut) reading a little book, 'How to Kill, volume 4', and goes over to talk to him. Subadai: "So, do you have volumes one to three with you?" Jones: "No, I've already read those." Jones is willing to share the books he does have, like Nietzche, poisons and antidotes, and other such tomes. Subadai will take him up on the offer to read the poisons and antidotes book. Geoff takes the opportunity to share the Vargr grenades ("Bark24's"?) and another magazine of gauss ammo with each of the new Marines.

The day passes, and the trip is pretty good. The sun is shining, and it's certainly less stressful than the last few days. When they stop to rest and eat, Ezbeki comes back with three rabbits. Well, two rabbits and a cat, but what the hell. Most of the people in the group probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference any way, and Ezbeki did try to disguise the animal (he cut off the tail, and pre-skinned them). The secret doesn't stay secret for long, and people start making meowing noises. During lunch, Viktor messes with the map overlay, trying to find a landmark or something that would make it work, but no such luck. They finish lunch and move out.

As it's getting towards evening, and they're heading into a valley, the point man stops the group to inform Viktor and Geoff about campfires and vehicles over the ridge. Geoff and Viktor go up with the point man, to observe. There are several trucks, an armored vehicle, twenty to twenty-five Vargrs, and some humans in the back of two of the trucks. One of the trucks is being worked on (not one with prisoners), and food is being made. There are four guards on each truck with prisoners. The point man is left to observe, while Geoff and Viktor fall back. Viktor: "Time for some payback?" Geoff: "Might be a thought. And it would give us some vehicles."

Viktor brings Jenny into the planning, and they sit down to map out the plan of attack. The location of the Vargr camp used to be a park service campground. They check the maps, and the satellite photos, and figure things out. Geoff: "We need to set up a sniper to make sure no one gets to the armored vehicle." Viktor: "Exactly. I can back up Jones, and that will take care of your obligation to keep me out of the line of fire." Jenny suggests setting up people for grazing fire. Jenny: "It would be better if we had a machinegun." Viktor: "We do have a machinegun." True - the Swede has his machinegun with him, and he loves it. One of the big problems is not hitting the civilians, but since they're really low on ammo, they need to use aimed fire any way. Jenny: "Well, this is either going to work, or we're dead, so it's going to work."

Joe is concerned that this may be an ambush on the part of the Vargrs, but there are no signs of that. Also, if it's an ambush, the man working on the damaged truck is a method actor - his swearing sounds pretty real. Geoff organizes people in pairs, designating specific targets. So, it will be low crawl down the hill, then fire. The machinegun will be set up to block so no one gets out - giving him grazing fire down the valley. Erikson is also to try to take out anyone who tries to get to the humans in the trucks. Swede: "No problem, sir. Those trucks are pretty high up - I'll just aim low."

Jenny <to Geoff>: "You know sir, I've never actually been in a real ambush before." Geoff: "Well, there's no time like the present." Vlickelplesterb is pretty excited - he's never been in any kind of combat position before. He's assigned to shoot at anyone who tries to get to the armored car.

The signal to start the ambush will be when the Swede opens fire. Geoff is in position by Erikson, and gives him the tap. Then all hell breaks loose. The Vargrs fare very badly, but the mechanic under the truck is still alive. but the big problem is that there was already someone in the armored car, and he starts firing the 50 cal into the hill. Geoff is hit, but it's a flesh wound to his leg. Max is hit in the center of mass, and is out. Viktor fires a RAM grenade into the engine compartment of the armored car, and smoke starts billowing out. Vlickelplesterb has gone right off, firing at the armored car like a crazy person.

Geoff orders Jones to fire on the armored car too, and he also hits with a grenade. Then the Vargr in the armored car figures out that the grenades are coming from up the hill, so he targets that area, and hits Viktor in the left elbow. Joe has been crawling towards the armored vehicle. He runs for the vehicle, rebar in hand, hoping to jam the turret mechanism as it starts to rotate towards the trucks (containing the prisoners in Imperial uniforms). Geoff orders people to move in towards the vehicle while it's jammed. Joe ends up on top of the vehicle when the driver drops out a grenade. The rebar breaks, and the turret starts to move again, fast, to try to get Joe off.

Viktor has Subadai tourniquet his arm, and help reload his weapon. Meanwhile, on the top of the armored car, Joe grabs the barrel of the gun, then realizes this is not a good idea, as the barrel is hot and his hands have been burned. Marines are charging in, the turret is whipping around, Joe has covered up as many viewports and targeting devices on it as he can, and then he's flung off.

The Marines are charging into the camp, taking out any Vargrs offering resistance. The 50 cal's next target is a truck, but fortunately, it's the broken truck. Jones' grenade hits the armored car's turret, and the gun flips straight up. Geoff orders the prisoners gotten out of the trucks, but they're chained down, so the order is altered to get the trucks out. Erikson drives one of the trucks, and Jimi Ray takes the other one. As Erikson is pulling past the armored vehicle, it explodes. Geoff leaps out of the cab, and tries to get the prisoners loose. Joe, figuring he's already burned, also leaps in, and is able to break the floorboard holding the chains. Most of the prisoners in the burning truck were killed by metal shrapnel, but there are a couple to pull out. Jimi Ray's truck is intact, and is moved further away. The Marines, and the doctor move into the camp. The injured Vargrs, who have surrendered by now, will be given at least preliminary first aid.

Casualties. From Jenny's unit: one Marine dead (one of the previously injured two), and four other Marines injured. Eleven prisoners were rescued (only three were burned), and all but one were apparently members of the Marine band. The non-musician is an unconscious female, with a badly burned uniform, so it's hard to tell what unit she was with; she's unconscious, so asking her will have to wait.

As much equipment, ammo, weapons, supplies, etc. as possible is gathered up. Subadai medics like a crazy man. Max was lucky enough to have the 50 cal round go straight through, not hitting any bones, so he'll actually recover. Subadai notices that the uniform of the burned female has a really wide stripe on it... General Officer or Drum Major? The conscious band members tell Viktor that they don't know exactly who the officer was. She gave them a first name of Francine, and she wasn't wearing dog tags; when they were captured, she told the band people "I'm with the band", with a wink. The pone thing they do know is that she's not a band member. Viktor checks out the woman, but he's only seen the one official photo of his CO, so he can't tell if it's her.

The dead are buried, after Vlickelplesterb recovers their dog tags. Viktor wants the dead men all put up for SEH's; they'll probably end up with MCG's, except for Swede (being on fire counts extra). Vlickelplesterb, who wants more ammo (he gets quite excited when they let him shoot things), keeps track of all the new equipment. Only one truck is left operational after the assault, for everyone to fit into. A second 'level' is added to the back of the truck bed, using slung tents - this gives more room to stash equipment on top of the space where injured people are riding. Men are roped off so they can ride on the tailgate, and on the running boards (these guys are in slings). There will still be some men rotated through running along by the truck though.

Along the way, someone has a radio turned on. It's Vera Cruz Vera: "...Yes, and General Androchev continues his escape, having abandoned his troops, but it's only a matter of time." They have captured General Cheltenham-Smythe, so at least he's not dead. According to the radio, Viktor is running around with a bunch of effete nobles, sipping champagne, and running around with loose women. Right. At least there was no mention of Katarina and Vasilli yet.

They take extended meal breaks, and as many rest stops as possible. This allows Subadai to keep checking his patients. He does lose one of the burn victims, a male, from shock. The other two should survive. The unconscious female isn't too badly burned, just lightly singed. Her hair is badly damaged, so Subadai just cuts it right off. She does regain consciousness during a rest break. "Where am I?" Subadai: "You're in the back of a deuce and a half, ma'am." Subadai doesn't want to tell her too much, she only remembers being with a bunch of Vargrs, and then a really bright light. He bangs on the window of the cab, where Viktor is, and motions him back. Viktor gets into the back of the truck, and goes over to where the female is. Female: "You're Androchev, aren't you?" Viktor: "That's right." Female: "They got you too." Viktor: "No, it's more the other way around." Female: "What the hell is going on here?" Viktor gives her the condensed version of the rescue. Female: "I see. Well, we finally meet. I'm Francesca Marx. Where's my uniform?" Subadai: "You were burned, ma'am." Viktor: "We had a number of casualties; your uniform was one of them." People dig around, and replacement clothing is found for General Marx, who is just shy of 6' tall, and very willowy. The situation is discussed, and it's not good. Viktor apologizes for the mess, but Marx tells him that it's not the time to try to figure out who's to blame. Jimi Ray <who disagrees>: "The Navy! They're the ones who let all their ships be blown up!!" Marx: "And your name, Captain?" Jimi Ray: "Jimi Ray Malary, ma'am." Max does not comment on the Navy crack, but it's getting tiresome.

Viktor gives General Marx as much information as he has about the current situation. Including the position of the 122nd, and the destruction of the array command centers. There really is no good news. Marx: "We need to make contact with as many troops as possible, set up a central command, and make a plan. We can't go running around like chickens with our heads cut off." Viktor: "We haven't been, ma'am." Marx: "I didn't mean to imply anything, General."

Geoff: "They took the central command center, they blew up the secondary command center. They don't have the parts necessary to make it work." Marx: "We can't assume they won't get them. Especially after what they did to the Ajax. What other commanders are in the field?" Viktor: "Unconfirmed reports are that Smythe has been captured; he was surrounded and under heavy assault during our last radio transmission. Polowaczek is in command of the 122nd, and he's on his way here. Kalareiku was in HQ when it was overrun. The only division who was at full strength when this started is the 122nd." Marx: "Polowaczek is a good commander, but his troops are green." Geoff: "They won't be when they get here, ma'am." Viktor: "Anything else ma'am?" Marx: "I'd like to see a report of what our equipment looks like, but ..." Viktor: "Vlickelplesterb!" Marx is provided with a detailed list. It's a short list, unfortunately.

The smell of bacon gets people's attention, so Ezbeki and a couple of the Forced Recon team go out to check it out. Geoff isn't able to go with them, due to his leg injury. Marx notices Max, and since he's the nearest thing she has for a Naval liaison, she wants a report. He gives her a run down on everything he knows about the Ajax, the buffered planetoid, the other four ships destroyed, and anything else that might be useful. Marx: "Well, for the time being, you're an honorary Marine, since we do not have a ship for you to command. I don't know about the extent of your... training, so you're with me."

Ezbeki comes back and tells Geoff "you have got to see this." Geoff limps off slowly with them, and sees an elegant camp, sort of in the roughing it mega-safari style. Geoff observes several servants, as well as Dickie, Bertie and Dorrie. Assessing the situation Geoff chooses his weapon carefully; he opts for charm. "I'm here to register my apologies for speaking so harshly to you." Dickie: "Oh, not to worry. The stress of the moment and all that. It's not your fault.." Geoff is offered breakfast, which he initially declines citing the presence of ranking officers nearby, who should more correctly be joining the party for breakfast.

Geoff returns to the Marine camp to relay the invitation. "Would you and the General care for eggs, bacon, kippers, and champagne? Marine Forced Recon scavenges better than anyone on the planet." Marx declines, unless food can be obtained for all her people. Geoff: "Ma'am, your men would rather eat dirt themselves than have you pass up this invitation." She reluctantly agrees and orders Viktor and Max to join her. At the safari camp, Dickie says: "Frannie?? Marx: "Dickie. I see." Kiss-kiss. Marx: "What brings you to this lovely spot?" Dickie: "Father. He thought I should get away for a while. He's financing this trip. Please, sit down. Champagne?"

Meanwhile Geoff is talking to the butler to try and arrange breakfast for everyone. When learning that there are 25 mouths for breakfast, the butler emerges from his tent rifle in hand and heads for the woods. A short time later a shot is heard. The butler returns and announces "I shall require the assistance of two strong men." Viktor radios Jimi Ray, and asks for a couple of strong men. They go off, come back, and ask for two more men. They and the butler go off into the woods, to get whatever the hell it is the butler shot. It turns out to be a huge elk-like creature (that's a Boone and Crockett for sure) with an enormous rack. Marx orders the meat to be distributed evenly, and any excess is to be cut up into strips and smoked, since we don't know when we'll be able to re-equip. <Marx to Viktor> "General, see to it that any useful equipment in the possession of these people is requisitioned, including the vehicles. And have your G1 make sure they get a proper receipt." Dickie is incensed, of course. Marx: "Dickie, if it weren't for the fact that I know you'd be absolutely useless, I'd have you conscripted under the Emergency Conscription Act of 617." She checks out a map, and makes sure that they can safely reach another town on foot within a day or two. She leaves them with 3 days supplies and in the competent care of their servants.

Marx lays out their new priorities: "Our mission is to take the fight to the enemy. Every minute we give them gives them time to fortify their emplacement and rest their troops. Even if it means just setting off explosives in their camps and keeping them at a heightened state of readiness, this will wear them down." She asks for a brief history of the officers among the party. Jimi Ray: "I can blow things up, and play a mean piano, ma'am." Marx: "Perfect." Jimi Ray: "And I know unarmed combat."

Marx to Viktor: Marx wants to beef up her forces using the prisoners. "General, time for you to earn your pay here too... The first thing we're going to do is get a closer recon of the site where our people are being held. Our band members may not be very highly trained, but they should be able to create a diversion." The plan is to get in, check out the place, create a diversion, and break out the Imperial forces being held captive at the mines. Marx: "You've done well. We have to take advantage of that. Morale is a fragile thing. We can't let our own troops be inactive long enough to think about what's going to happen to them. We also need to establish the chain of command. This Brenowski person, and the doctor; General, read them the Emergency Conscription Act of 617." Viktor: "I think I can just reactivate Brenowski." Geoff: "If what you want is a reconnaissance, ma'am, that is our job." Geoff volunteers to go out with his partner Ezbeki, to do the recon. Viktor can attest to their ability. Marx: "That wouldn't happen to be that unpleasant looking individual would it?" Geoff: "That would be Ezbeki, ma'am, yes." Viktor has Vlickelplesterb write up the proper paperwork for everything.

The discussion turns to where to rendezvous, and General Marx points out the Osborne Caverns on the civilian map. It's about 5 clicks from the mine, so that's where they'll meet. Viktor wonders if the caverns connect to the mines, but they'd need to find some kind of park ranger or something to know that.

The main group gets to Osborne Caverns in one piece. No one has been there for a while. Viktor finds a sealed copy of the map on a signpost, but it's not actually of the interior of the caverns. It does allow them to find the entrance to the caverns at least. And the souvenir kiosk, and the restrooms, etc. The entrance has been boarded up, but that is easily remedied. The caverns have been sort of abandoned for about 50 years, possibly because of instability due to mining?

Viktor wants the Forced Recon unit to check out the caverns. Jenny: "Uh, sir, it's dark in there." They find a camp lantern among Dickie's stuff, so they can check out the first section of the caves at least. Well, the vehicles and all the people can certainly fit inside the cavern, as it's huge.

Subadai checks out his patients again. Joe's hands are now pink and tender, but much better. Viktor's elbow is also much better, thanks to Subadai. Damn, he's a fine doctor.

As they wait for Geoff and Ezbeki to do the recon of the mine area, underground there's a distant thump, and shortly thereafter, a waft of warm air. Viktor: "The mine shaft. That's what they're after." Jimi Ray: "General, what are they mining for?" Marx: "How would I know? I'm not a geologist. I'm sorry, that was a legitimate question. I don't know." Jimi Ray: "You mean they sent you here to protect this place, and they didn't tell you why?" Marx: "We're here, because this is an Imperial client state within Vargr space. It has strategic value." As far as what is being mined there, Viktor's security reports (which he still hasn't read all of), shed some light. It's transunranics (fuel, uranium, lanthanum possibly). If a person were to modify a ship's fusion plant, and expose the uranium to the beam of protons, they could make plutonium. And a very dirty bomb, and a low-tech nuke. That could be the reason.