"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear." -- Ambrose Redmoon

205 - 1122.

After much-needed medical assistance, everyone is feeling a lot better. And once Viktor takes a bath, shaves, and burns his old clothes, he can get close to his wife. But dinner first. Vasilli, who is asleep, will be 'baby-sat' by some of the medical staff. Since technically speaking, Katarina's family, the Dragomillovs, have their own Imperial Army regiment, a colonel's tunic will be found for her to wear.

The Androchevs are settled in among the Army people at the "picnic", and are made to feel at home. Viktor makes sure his men get 'liberty'. Oh, and the Navy guy too. The Army has set up their own little city under the rock overhang. They have an officers' bar, and a separate one for the enlisted. They have a swimming pond, too. And more ammo than one would expect. Cav guys tend to have high morale, and be a bit 'wacky' - spurs, yellow scarves, lots of handguns. Geoff should fit right in.

Viktor inquires as to the availability of a spare handgun to replace the one he left with one of General Marx's men. McGonnigal: "Get Captain Peabody up here." The XO returns with Captain Peabody, who is in tall boots, a Stetson, a wildly striped shirt, and a big hog leg revolver. Behind him is a man named Rosco, carrying a large bag. Peabody is the unit's ordinance man, and he has "a certain affinity for firearms". The big bag is full of gun rugs. The weapon Viktor left with Mallory was a 12mm auto. Peabody knows just the thing. A box with what looks like Zhodani writing on it is brought out. Peabody: "This was for a general, so it ought to do nicely for you, sir." Inside the box is a gold-chased, heavily engraved Colt. With gold-plated bullets (he'll get some normal bullets later). Viktor may not be the gun aficionado Peabody is, but he does know guns. Peabody shows off his personal sidearm. Viktor: "I've never seen anything like it." Peabody: "It's a 575 Bowen, five shot. I had it made custom on Regina." The gun has ivory grips, is deeply blued, and lightly engraved. Very nice.

McGonnigal: "In case you're interested, we recovered a downed Imperial transport, and found some mail." Anyone who wants to, can go see the man in charge of the mail. Geoff heads over, and it turns out he does in fact have mail. He may already be a winner! And his old dead dog has been sent a pre-approved credit card. He did get a real letter from a school boy, as part of a morale-boosting 'letter to the troops' campaign. "I hope you kill many Vargrs...Please send me a Vargr ear for my collection." Geoff will have to put him in touch with Ezbeki.

Turns out there's mail for some "Maximillian character". Geoff will send for him. And there's something for a "Colonel Ferdinand Ezbeki". 'Ferdinand'? 'Colonel'?? Ezbeki, confused, reads the letter. Ezbeki: "Hey, Geoff. What does this mean?" Geoff takes a look and informs Ezbeki that he's been made a full colonel. Ezbeki: "This must be some kind of joke." Geoff: "You mean the Imperial Marine Corps made a mistake? I don't think so. You know what this means, don't you? No dating the bar maid at the NCO club, and you'll have to pay more for your beer at the officers' club." Ezbeki: "Yeah, but on the other hand..." He leers at Jenny. Geoff: "You touch her, and I break you, Corporal" Ezbeki: "That's Colonel, to you Captain." Geoff: "Only until we get out into the bush, then it's just you and me." Ezbeki: "Don't be jealous. You know you're my one true.." Ezbeki cuddles up to Geoff, who pushes him away. Some of the Army guys are watching. Well, you know these Marines...

McGonnigal approaches Viktor with some satellite photos they just received. McGonnigal: "It's the 122nd." Viktor: "What's left of the 122nd." McGonnigal: "Looks like they got pasted pretty good." The pictures are not that great, so Viktor wants to round up Geoff and Max to see what they can make of it. McGonnigal doesn't want to show the pictures to the men yet though; they need the R and R.

Geoff tells Max that he's got mail. Max fetches the letter, and it's from his ex-fiancée Amanda. She's sorry about what happened with Captain Spencer, and she really regrets it. She knows Max may not be able to forgive her, but she wants him to know how sorry she is, and that she knows how foolish she was. It's a long letter, very well written, and there are some stains on the paper - water? Tears? Vodka? (Okay, probably not vodka.) Max is off by himself with the letter, and yes, he does still love her, he never stopped. [The other players will please refrain from yelling "No, don't be an idiot! She's not worth it!!".] Now Max is left not knowing whether or not Amanda's ship, the Fletcher, was one of the tenders destroyed with the Ajax.

Geoff takes the opportunity to spend time with Jenny. She's had a few beers, and is very willing to dance real close, and let off some steam. Jenny: "Thank you for listening. It's like your my big brother." Ouch!! Now Geoff really wants to beat up Ezbeki. Speaking of the 'Colonel', he takes off his shirt and is pounced upon by a group of Army cav enlisted who cart him off to the swimming pond and forcibly scrub him up. En route he yells for help. Geoff smiles and waves. Jenny tells Geoff she's heard some things about General Androchev. Apparently, the Army guys have been talking about how the General "really screwed the pooch on this one, and they wouldn't be surprised if it ends up in a court martial." Geoff: "Well, just between you and I, what we found out before the array was bombed was that the Vargrs would have had to have this planned well in advance, so Androchev's predecessor would have been the one to blame. And the Vargrs had some mighty, powerful intelligence." Jenny: "I wouldn't know. I try to stay out of the spook and politics stuff." Geoff: "Not knowing that kind of intel can get you killed." Ezbeki walks by and glares at Geoff, who waves. Ezbeki is all pink and scrubbed. Geoff: "Have a nice swim?" Ezbeki grumbles as he passes.

Katarina has been chatting with the Army officers, and she's picked up on the scuttlebutt too. She's concerned that they need to do something to make Viktor "court-martial proof, since General Marx is very well connected. You rescued the prisoners, so that might count for something." Viktor: "I rescued General Marx." Katarina: "True, true. I'll have to think about it." Viktor: "I'll think about it too." Katarina: "I didn't mean to ruin your evening, but that's the reality of our situation. Any way, why don't we go to bed. I'm tired...But not too tired." They go off arm and arm.

Peabody goes over to Geoff, since the General has gone to bed. Peabody: "We're goin' off to shoot some Vargrs. Want to come?" They're using "squirrel guns", and potting Vargr patrols. Peabody: "Now Kevin here got sixteen last night, so now I'm down a few." Geoff's up for it, but Ezbeki is still off sulking. Or re-oiling himself or something. Max is spotted, and he's cajoled into going, since it's easier than arguing. Geoff needs to get the receiver on his rifle fixed, and that's doable. There's a brief pause when they consider needing to make sure the paperwork doesn't get screwed up. Peabody: "Wait a second... Yeah, I can do it." Their admin guy is someone they'd like to mess with, so no prob.

Geoff is able to provide some moonshine in return for the repair work, since Peabody has a "powerful thirst", and Geoff acquires three RAM grenades, of unknown type. The damaged receiver is replaced, and will be given to the admin guy, who will have to figure out what kind of paperwork it will need. Off they go, through the woods, with John Plexo (the sniper) along for the fun of it too.

206 - 1122.

The little party makes it way to the 'hide', and weapons are lovely unsheathed and readied. Peabody: "Okay, remember, shoot for the front or for the back, not for the middle." Geoff: "Until you guys put the fear of God into them, then I'll take out the middle." Peabody: "Just like shootin' marmots back home." The ballistic crack is the only thing that gives away the fact that some one is shooting. That and the falling Vargrs. They're in a valley, there's no where to go, it's in the open - just not a good place to be. John takes a couple of shots, then puts his gun away. It's just not right. Geoff: "Our job is to take out as many of the enemy as possible. It might be an idea if you tried to take out the tank." The small tank, or RV as the boys called it.

Geoff bags four Vargrs, Peabody gets eleven, and Kevin bags nine. Then it's time to leave, since it's very late, so Peabody calls in artillery, and the laser-painted tank gets taken out completely. The Wild Turkey comes out as they make their way back towards the camp. Geoff gets the impression the others joined the Army because it's fun.

The hunting party makes it back in one piece, and everyone crashes. Geoff gets into bed, and is joined in the dark by a female who places her fingers over his lips in the traditional "Shhh" mode. It's probably Jenny, since this would not exactly be kosher, considering the situation (rules regarding fraternization). Even if it isn't Jenny, a good time is had by those involved.

Somebody is blowing a horn. A bugle-like horn. Geoff wakes up alone in his bed, for a moment thinking "Gosh that was a realistic dream", but there is a certain scent in the air... After falling in, and accounting for all the men, everyone falls in for breakfast. Colonel Ezbeki is present at the officers' mess, having acquired the appropriate insignia (Geoff does not ask from whence).

McGonnigal and his people "have a plan". But they'll discuss it later. Jenny comes in and sits at a table by herself, but is soon joined by some Army men. She doesn't look at Geoff, but he does say hello on his way back for seconds. Everyone gets to experience the joy of grits. Hot food and plenty of it, and it's much better than anything Geoff has had recently.

After breakfast, McGonnigal brings his XO, Viktor, Geoff, and Max into his office to discuss something. McGonnigal: "Well, we know a few things. We know the Vargrs have been transporting high ranking prisoners to the planetoid. We know the location of several Vargr transports. We have several qualified pilots, we have Vargrs, and we have a nuclear weapon. And we think we have a valid CEOI. [Note: Code book with commo identifiers.] We won't know until we use it, but it's only two days old. We've heard the Vargrs talking, and they're real keen on getting their hands on you, General. I figure we make 'em think we're one of their people bringing you in, place the nukes, set the timers, get off and save the day." Viktor: "Do you have a Vargr pilot?" McGonnigal: "No, but a Vargr can be on board to handle the radio calls." Viktor: "What shape is your ship in?" Geoff: "It would probably be okay to transport Army Cav people on it, but valuable Marines? No way Vern." Viktor: "What's the assessment of the chance for success on this?" McGonnigal: "Hell, I don't know. I'd just be guessing. As far as completing the mission and getting off in one piece, maybe 80 to 90%." Viktor: "A 90% chance of success?" McGonnigal: "No, a 10 to 20% of success. There are a lot of variables that we won't know about ahead of time. Will the code work? When you dock, how big of a party will you be met by? Will you be able to set the bombs? I don't think it's going to be too hard to get to that point, I think your odds are 50-50 for that." Geoff doesn't want Viktor to actually go along on the mission. Geoff: "We can send digital images from the ground, to confirm that we have the man they're after, then he gets off, and we take off. We can just fly directly into their engine." This is discussed for some length, including the possibility of the pilot getting out alive, and what happens if the planetoid fires up it's drives. McGonnigal: "You're right, this is pretty risky. We'll hold off until we have time to come up with a better plan." The ship and the nukes are pretty much ready to go, but "the Captain's right - it's too risky." Geoff: "No, it's not that, there's just no reason to risk the General on a job a squad can do." McGonnigal can't make the decision, as the ranking officer, Viktor will have to decide if the mission is a go or not. Viktor: "Get everything ready."

Max, as the only one present with ship's and fleet tactics is a concerned about the 'plan'. Max: "Flying up the drives is something you see on the tri-dee." Geoff: "I didn't say anything about flying up the engines." He's hoping the drives are 'strapped on', rather than internal. Geoff asks if the information from the Naval array indicates the type of engines, and from what Max can tell, it is probably a strap on unit. Max: "But an exterior contact nuclear blast may not even damage the planetoid. The most logical choice would be to fly the ship into the bay, and detonate from within. It depends on how the planetoid's interior is set up, but that's our best bet." Viktor: "Well, whoever pulls this off, if he survives, will be a hero." Geoff: "If he pulls it off." Viktor: "If it doesn't work, he'll be dead." Max: "If it does work, whoever pulls it off will probably be dead any way, sir." Geoff <to Viktor>: "I realize that you're considering your career and military future here, but you have a wife and child, sir. If something happens to you, your family will be alone on a hostile planet in the middle of a war zone with no one to take care of them. This one slim chance we have of taking out the planetoid is also the only chance your family has to get off this rock. The decision is yours sir, and whatever you decide, I'll back you up."

Viktor goes back to his wife, and gives her an honest run-down of what they're considering. Katarina: "It sounds risky." Viktor: "It sounds suicidal." Katarina: "I know I can depend on you to do what you feel is best." Viktor: "I don't like this mission. I don't think it will succeed. I think we need a different approach." Katarina: "When I married you, I knew you were a Marine. Do what you need to do, and don't worry about us." Viktor goes back to see McGonnigal. Viktor: "What are the chances, of... <pause> Here's what I'm thinking. If we could figure out a way to get our hands on one of their shuttles, we could send Max up in the Far Trader to whatever point in system he thinks is best, to wait to make contact with the Navy, and take the nukes on the Vargr transport." Much discussion follows about how to get the nukes into the planetoid. Either one of the good guys flies (that means Max or Geoff) into the planetoid, or the nukes have to be planted on one of the Vargr transports, then set things up so that the nukes are detonated either on a timer, or (Max's suggestion) with a continuous signal detonated when the ship docks inside the planetoid. McGonnigal leaves Viktor and the others to decide what they want to do - since this is going to involve Viktor's men, and not Army personnel, it's really up to Viktor.

The theoretical planning continues until an officer bangs on the door and announces that a major Vargr offensive is being mounted, and the Cav unit is mobilizing. Viktor grabs one of the ground troops, trying to find McGonnigal, but no luck. Viktor heads for Peabody, since he's the ordinance officer. He finds Peabody on his tank. Peabody: "What can I do for you there, General?" Viktor: "I need you to sign off on those two nukes. And I know it's a bit much, but if possible, we need you to take down one of those transports in a way that doesn't make it irreparable." Oh, no problem. The nukes are in an underground bunker, about two clicks away; Peabody gives Viktor the coordinates for the bunker. It takes either McGonnigal or Peabody to open the bunker, as it uses a retinal reader for access. Given the current situation, this could make things a bit complicated if neither McGonnigal nor Peabody is available, so that's a very good argument for Viktor to accept a 'lift' from Peabody. But there's a small bit of business to attend to first.

Viktor <to Max>: "Get the ship, and my wife, and my son, out of here. We're going to be heading about two clicks from here to the bunker, you find some place just beyond that to land, and then let me know where you are." He gives Max the coordinates for the bunker. Max: "Yes sir." Sergeant Udokso and a copy of the code book are sent with Max, in case a Vargr's voice is needed over the commo. Jenny, Ezbeki, and the rest of the Marines go with Viktor.

Max rounds up Katarina and Vasilli, while Geoff, Viktor, et al join the cav people on the move. Much bonding and arm punching. Very high morale. Going to war inside an armored fighting vehicle is sort of like being in a drop capsule, only more social. Viktor rides with Peabody in his proper tank, while the other Marines go in an APC.

Katarina starts issuing orders as soon as she gets on board the Far Trader. Max leaves Sergeant Udokso to take care of cleaning up a place for the baby, as he needs to get the ship up and moving. Udokso will make sure Katarina and the toddler Vasilli are securely strapped in for the trip.

Back with the ground troops. "Sweet Jesus!" There is a flaming metric buttload of Vargrs out here. The Cav unit numbers 671, and there are literally thousands of Vargrs. There's dust and smoke, noise, and after a few minutes there's no way to see anything without instruments. Geoff, on the inside where he can't see anything, and doesn't have any job currently, wedges himself in and takes a nap. Viktor, on the other hand, can see, and it's quite exciting (or terrifying, depending on your current state of mind). Then they're in amongst the Vargrs. Viktor goes to full auto when an antitank gun is aimed at him, firing his ACR. This disturbs the shooter's aim, which means Viktor's vehicle isn't hit, but the one with Geoff and Ezbeki is. There's a large bang, and the vehicle is filled with fire. Everyone who is able to, bails. Ezbeki gets the now unconscious and crisped Geoff out of the vehicle, but it does not look good.

Back with Viktor and Peabody, the a.p. (antipersonnel) plates fire, then the tank is hit and loses a tread, so it's not going any further. Viktor and Peabody help provide covering fire for the rest of the crew as they get out of the vehicle. It's pretty much chaos outside, with Vargrs all over, tanks whizzing by at high speeds - it's like a demolition derby in a heavy fog, with the participants firing on each other.

Peabody radios for help, and hits the dirt. Viktor, not being an idiot, follows suit, and after yellow smoke pops above the Vargrs, artillery fire hits. Then it's back up and try to figure out who's where, and what to do now. One of the tankers tells Viktor "Sorry sir, Captain Thompson bought it." Viktor: "Where's the body?" He's pointed in the right direction, over by several crisped bodies, and the hulk of a flaming APC, where a distressed Ezbeki is standing over Geoff's 'body'. Viktor calls Jenny and Corporal Dzough over to meet him. Viktor tries to check Geoff's pulse, but a chunk of meat comes off. Medics come over and start bagging the bodies, and it takes Viktor almost getting violent to make them check. "We've got a live one!" Viktor and the others go with Geoff.

Katarina: "Well, are you going to fly this thing or am I?" Max: "If you'd prefer, ma'am?" Katarina: "No thank you, you're the Navy. I get the feeling things aren't going well. We may have to rescue my husband." Max is lifting when Katarina asks "what do those lights mean?" It's the radar, and it's showing meteors or something coming in. No, not meteors. Missiles or some kind of deadfall munitions. Katarina: "Oh, it's going to be okay. It looks like the meteors are breaking up in the atmosphere." Max: "Those aren't meteors, Countess. They're merving." Udokso: "Jesus Christ, their own people are going to be right in the beaten zone. Don't they care?" Max: "I guess not." Max has Katarina get into the back and strap down; there's not a thing they can do, so he's going to get to where he's supposed to go, out of the fighting. Fast and low, but even so, the ship gets hit by some of what looks like grey sleet - deadfall munitions, metal rods about a centimeter in diameter, and about half a meters long.

Viktor, Jenny, Ezbeki, and Dzough take cover in one of the hulks from the steel rain. Viktor takes some spallation damage to the left eye (fortunately he was wearing combat armor with a face shield, but his eye has been heavily damaged), Jenny is unscathed, Dzough is killed (staked to the ground, so to speak, through the head), and Ezbeki is hit in the head and ends up with what looks like a giant nail right through his skull. But he's is alive and conscious, and wants to know "how bad is it?" There are only a few people, human and Vargrs alike, actually getting up from the battlefield. There are bodies everywhere. An unmanned (or at least un-live-manned) tank goes by, one of the Cav unit's, and Viktor manages to get on board. (Okay, he's a crazy man.) Now he just needs to get the dead bodies out of the way. No easy task, especially with the driver. Eventually, Viktor is able to ascertain that the tank is too badly damaged, so he jumps off and lets it go. Then he has to backtrack to meet back up with Jenny. Ezbeki can't be moved, so he is left behind, to "stay with Geoff" (evidently the metal rod missed anything vital when it hit Ezbeki in the head). Jenny and Viktor head out for the location of the weapons bunker. They get to the site, and eventually are able to find it under the camouflage of plants. Excellent job of hiding the site.

The ship manages to survive the 'rain of death', and makes it to the edge of the beaten zone. It's not a pleasant sight. Katarina: "What's happening? I can't see anything back here." Max calls Sergeant Udokso up to the cockpit. Udokso: "Christ, what a mess." Max: "I don't think there's anything we can do here..." Udokso: "Pardon me for saying so sir, but this is one of those times that I'm happy I'm not an officer." Katarina <from the back>: "What's going on?" Udokso: "Nothing to worry about ma'am. We're just heading for the rendezvous point to meet up with the General." No one in the cockpit adds the unspoken "assuming he's alive".

At the bunker, Jenny uncovers the door to the bunker. Viktor: "It's a retina scanner." Jenny: "So, whose retina do we need?" Viktor: "Peabody's or McGonnigal's." Jenny: "Great." Viktor: "Unless you know how to spoof it? Jenny: "I majored in history sir. <sigh> I don't think things could get any worse." [Oh no! Never say that!!] Clack-clack! Vargr: "Oh, I don't know about that. Don't move." Viktor and Jenny are taken captive by about a dozen Vargrs, led by a silver Vargr officer. Their ID is checked, and the officer checks a couple of pictures and says "Ah, the famous General Androchev. Quite the prize. Unfortunately, we have a long walk, but I'm sure my commander will want to meet the legendary General. This is you aid? Or perhaps your amusement? Rank has it's privileges, has it not?" Viktor: "She's an officer on my staff." Vargr: "What were you doing here?" Jenny: "I was looking for a place to go to the bathroom." Vargr <to Viktor>: "I asked you a question." Viktor: "We were looking to rejoin some of our troops." Vargr: "Why don't I believe you." Viktor: "We were on our way to meet some of our troops." Vargr officer: "I believe the General needs to be taught that we are serious." Jenny is shot in the stomach, and falls to the ground. Officer: "Now why were you here?" Viktor: "Get her medical attention, and I'll tell you." Officer: "Tell me what you were doing here, and maybe I'll get her medical attention." Viktor shows them the door. Officer: "Ah, so that's where that is. We'd been looking for this; pity we don't have time for it right now." Viktor: "Now, get her medical attention." Vargr officer <to one of his men>: "See to it that she's no longer in pain." The Vargr shoots Jenny in the head. Viktor lunges for the officer, but is restrained. Officer: "How unfortunate for your lieutenant. She was, how do you say... Shot down like a dog? <laughs> Fortunately for you, you have a certain value right now. Don't give me any cause, however. I can see to it that you suffer." Viktor is led off.

Not too far from the bunker, Max has found the perfect place to land - a small lake in the woods. It's not very deep, but by retracting the landing gear, the ship is covered by the surface - making it very hard to spot from above. Max has Udokso come up front while Katarina is feeding Vasilli. They try contacting Viktor over the radio, but get no response. They do hear some kind of transmission, sort of moans, then it cuts off; some one who's injured? This means some one will have to go out and attempt to locate the other members of the party (i.e., Viktor, Geoff, et al). Udokso gets very nervous at being under the water, and starts to hyperventilate. Max shuts the shields on the cockpit, which helps, and Udokso has some medication that helps. Udokso: "I'm sorry about that sir. You won't say anything to anyone, sir?" Max: "No. Don't worry about it." Udokso explains that he was involved in an incident where the tunnel he was moving through collapsed, trapping him in rising water for hours; not a pleasant experience, and it makes him less than thrilled about swimming to the surface. Udokso: "I haven't had a problem in months. I thought I was over it. I can try if you like...." Max: "No. I'll go." Udokso: "Right, sir. I'll stay here with the General's lady." Thanks to Katarina's bright suggestion, Max puts his clothing, etc. into the EEPLEs ball so he has dry clothing. He swims up to the surface, and some one reaches a branch and a furry arm out to him as he nears the shore. Oh-oh.

Oh, wait, it's a captive Vargr, with Peabody and some of his men, along with the sniper, Plexo. Peabody: "So, how's the water, Navy? Looks cold." Max: "It is cold, sir", as he gets out. Peabody: "Where's the ship?" Max: "In the water, sir." Peabody: "How'd it end up there?" Max: "We landed and refueled." Peabody: "You sunk the ship?" Max <somewhat confused>: "No sir...I landed the ship." Peabody: "Son, this here is a lake." Max: "Yes, I know it is." Peabody turns Max around so he faces the lake. Peabody: "Son, do you see any ship out there?" Max: "It's in the lake, sir. Under the water?" The light eventually does come on. Peabody: "I've got to hand it to you Navy, you're real clever. Course, could be more clever. See these vines all around you, that you've been swimming through? Recognize the red edged leaves and white berries?" Max: "No sir." Peabody: "Ever hear of poison ivy, son?" Max: "Yes sir." Argh. Peabody: "Well, you'll figure it out quick enough." Max throws his jumpsuit on, and they head towards the bunker to meet with Viktor. As they cautiously approach the location, they spot a figure on the ground. The sniper takes a long range look. Plexo: "Oh, shit. It's that Marine LT. What's her name?" Max: "Jenny...God."

On the road with Viktor and the Vargrs. Vargr officer: "Tell me General, how's your lovely wife?" Viktor doesn't answer. Officer: "I understand that you haven't seen her in a while. Not to worry, I hear she's in good hands." Viktor, thinking, 'boy is this guy behind the times', says: "Oh, you mean the late Commandant?" Officer: "You are lying, General. I don't like lying." He hits Viktor in the stomach. Viktor plays it up, rolling with the punch. Officer: "Ah, the vaunted General Androchev. If you're the 'bulldog', I can't wait to meet the rank and file. You soft monkey boys don't know what you are in for. Get him up. We have a long way to go." Viktor, trying to do anything he can to delay the group, refuses to get up on his own, so the Vargrs are ordered to tie his hands to a rope and drag him along. Officer: "My orders are to bring you in alive. There is nothing about disfigured. Oh, do be careful of the fire ants, won't you? Their bite is very unpleasant, and I understand they rarely attack alone. " Viktor takes the opportunity to grab what he can as he's dragged along, slowing them down as much as possible. Eventually, when the officer gets annoyed, the men complain and the officer knocks Viktor unconscious with his rifle butt.

Back at the bunker. Jenny is, amazingly, still alive. The bullet grazed her head, and she still has a serious abdominal wound, but she's not dead. Peabody sends Max off with 'Fido', the Vargr captive, to get something to use for poles for a litter. Peabody: "I apologize, lieutenant-commander, but you're not really a combat effective..." Not entirely true, but... Max: "Not a problem, sir." Max goes to get branches for the litter. Meanwhile, Skeeter tends to Jenny's wounds as best he can. What she really needs is a doctor, but there isn't one handy at the moment.

Max and the Vargr return with branches. Peabody: "Good. I see he didn't give you any trouble. Fido here is a draftee. He's a farmer. He just wants to go home, isn't that right, Fido?" Fido: "Yes, boss. Just want to go home alive." A sentiment everyone can appreciate right now. A litter is made, using the branches and a poncho, then Peabody's group follows the Vargrs, and they can see by the tracks that Viktor is with them (or at least a fair-sized human in combat armor, so it's a fair guess).

Viktor meanwhile, wakes up in the traditional 'white bwana being carted off by the natives while hanging from a pole position'. He feels worse than when he went unconscious for some reason. Could be the fact that he was beaten on repeatedly while he was out. Viktor ponders spacing the lovely silver Vargr, and other pleasant thoughts. Eventually, the Vargrs stop. Vargr officer: "We rest for the night. Tie him to that tree, securely. Take no care for his comfort." The Vargrs very efficiently position Viktor and tie him to a small tree. He is offered water, however it's the sergeant who shot Jenny, and he unzips his fly... Officer: "That's enough, sergeant." The sergeant leaves. Officer: "I'm sorry about your lady friend, but I had to demonstrate that I was serious. She'll be a hero at home, died in the line of duty and all that. Doubtless you think I'm some sort of monster. Well, if I am, then you Imperials made me so. For hundreds of years you've been chipping away at our planets, fostering mistrust between the various Vargr races. That one thing that kept us down was our fractionalization. But now we've found a rallying point. Soon the Imperium will know a single, unified Vargr state. We will take our place in the sun, we will achieve our destiny. You monkey boys have had your run, it's time for a new species to take center stage. I know it's hard to hear, but everything must come to an end. For those of you who are useful, places will be found. Well, General, I'm going to have something to eat and get some sleep." Viktor, now bored to tears, will try to sleep as well.

Little do the Vargrs know, but they're being observed. Peabody: "Well Skeeter, what do you think?" Skeeter: "I figger about ten or twelve Vargrs, plus an officer." Peabody: "Well, shit Jimmy, I say we just shoot 'em all right now. There's five of us... Well, not counting Fido or the lieutenant, that's four of us... How about it, Navy, you know your way around a rifle? <Max, pistol in hand, shakes his head.> Right, well, there's three of us." Some discussion goes on about whether or not to wait until the group is on the move, but this is too good an opportunity. Max: "Won't some of them be sleeping soon?" Plexo: "Good point." Since Max's single non-shipboard combat skill is handgun, it's decided to switch to handguns, wait until some of the Vargrs are sleeping, and sneak in as close as possible, while the sniper covers from a distance. They literally get right into the camp. One of the sentries is asleep, and the other is merrily relieving himself near Max. Skeeter shoots the one who's occupied, spinning him around in mid-spray. A few seconds later, and all of the Vargrs except the silver one are dead. The Vargr officer, unable to extricate himself enough from his sleeping bag (rank, privileges...) to draw his weapon, is covered by Max.

Peabody goes over to where Viktor is tied up. Peabody: "Hey, general. Nice tree you have there." Viktor: "I've had better. Get me out of here." The blood flow returning to his legs is not a pleasant experience, and Viktor's mostly deaf, but happy to see the good guys for a change. They get the silver Vargr out of the sleeping bag, and restrain him. He's ranting in Vargr, and when Fido is brought over to translate, he snarls at him. Peabody: "Well, I don't think he likes you too much Fido, what's he saying?" Fido: "He says I am a traitor, and bad things will happen to me." Viktor: "I don't think he's going to live long enough to see anything happen to anyone." Peabody: "What do you mean by that, General? This here's my prisoner." Viktor: "He's your prisoner." Peabody: "So Fido, who is this guy?" Fido: "He's an over-captain. As you would say, a colonel." Peabody: "Sounds to me like you're one big ole fuck up. I hear you Unity boys, your boss doesn't much like screw ups. He's not gonna be happy with you." Viktor: "I don't know if they give them to the lower ranks, but I know they give self-determination capsules to the upper ones." Peabody: "Check it out, Skeeter." The Vargr's jaw is pried open, and they do find a loose tooth, which they remove. Peabody tosses it to Viktor. Peabody: "There you go, General. We can't have anything happening to our friend here until our intel person has a chance to chat with him." Viktor: "Thanks. I owe you my life." Peabody: "You know, in some tribes, that means your life belongs to me. But what would I do with some stinky old Marine?"

Viktor is a very unhappy man, and wants to continue on to wherever the Vargrs were taking him. Peabody: "Well, you know General, the only Imperial contingent I know of is standing right here. Fido here has gone over to our side, Skeeter, a half-crazed Navy man - no offense son, but you have to be to be travelling with us, and he was running around naked when we found him." Max: "I beg to differ sir, I was swimming around naked." Viktor is quite sure he doesn't want to ask for clarification on that. Peabody: "And we've got our sniper here, and that's about it for the able-bodied." Max <to Viktor>: "We found Jenny sir. She's hurt, but she's alive." Viktor: "Thank God for that."

The party, and their new Vargr prisoner, return to the bunker to get the nukes. Peabody takes care of the retinal scanner, and the voice recognition issue - Peabody: "Yo' momma fat." Identity confirmed. Peabody asks Viktor if he knew what happened to any of the other Marines. Viktor: "I don't know their status. Ezbeki was still alive, and last I knew Geoff was still alive but badly burned." Peabody: "Well, sir, we walked out of that shit storm, but I wouldn't hold much hope for anyone else." They check out the bunker, which contains the Cav units 'mobile cache' - mobile meaning can be transferred between planets easily. There's some TAC missiles (anti-armor, anti-air), lots of ammo, some heavy weapons, and some lighter stuff. It's a warehouse sized bunker that is 90% full. It even has a forklift.

The nukes are packed up, some other miscellaneous resupplying takes place, then it's off again, after re-camoflaging the bunker. Viktor figures if they take the same heading as the Vargrs were on when they were going to take him in, they should find a ship or transport of some type. Peabody: "Hell, the lieutenant-commander here should be able to fly anything the Vargrs have got. <to Max> I figure you're shitty as hell at everything else, so you must be a great pilot." Max declines to comment. The silver Vargr pipes up with "You'll never find the ship. You're miserable little group is no match for us." Viktor: "The Captain here figures it's important to keep you in one piece, but I might be able to convince him otherwise if you don't watch yourself." Peabody <to Max>: "He takes this awfully personal doesn't he?" Max: "Yes, he does." Peabody: "Well what about it Navy? Think you can find yourself another ship lying around here?" Max: "I can certainly try." Peabody: "Well, get that ship up, and we'll get going. I'm sure as hell not gonna go swimming in that lake, not after what we've pulled out of it on our lines. Sweet Jesus, eels this big <indicating several feet long>, suckers a foot across." Max <to himself>: "Oh thank you, so much..." Max goes back down to the ship. Katarina: "Any news?" Max: "Yes ma'am. We've located your husband. He's topside, and we'll just go get him." Udokso is more or less okay, but he had to take another pill, and he's shedding rather seriously. Max gets him out of the cockpit before he gets it covered in Vargr fur, then they go up to pick up the rest of the group. Max fortunately does not see all the interesting things falling off the ship as it surfaces. Everyone goes on board, and Katarina makes Viktor go use the fresher, since her eyes are watering. He protests, but eventually takes himself and his armor to get cleaned up.

Viktor gives Max a directional heading, and they head out in search of the Vargrs ship. Udokso chats with Fido. Udokso is fine now that they're not in the water; the cold vacuum of space is fine, but water? Uh-uh. After a few minutes, Udokso reports to Viktor about Fido. Udokso: "He's really not much of a threat to anyone. I mean his bread's not quite done, sir. You know how certain Vargrs have charisma? Well, his charisma is so low, he basically follows the orders of the last person he spoke to. He went on for fifteen minutes about his hoe, and his rake." Fido is apparently not at all bright.

After a bit of searching with the ship's instruments along the heading Viktor gave him, Max finds no ship, but a ship-shaped hard echo. All he can see is trees and rocks, but since they know the Vargrs have Chameleon netting, this is not much of a surprise. Since he's the only one who can sneak worth a damn, John Plexo volunteers to go check it out. Max finds a place to set down. John will return in about an hour.

Now the others just have to wait. Viktor <entering the cockpit>: "Max." Max: "Yes sir." Viktor: "I can't take my wife along with us. And I have a real problem leaving her stranded here if I don't come back. I need some kind of alternative to taking up both ships." Max: "Unless I'm mistaken sir, I'm the only pilot you've got." Viktor: "You're not mistaken. Is there some kind of remote control or autopilot that can be programmed?" Max: "Yes and no. What did you have in mind? I wouldn't advise using it for takeoff or landing. What do you want to accomplish right now sir?" Viktor: "I want to get those nukes on board that planetoid, and I want to get this ship out some place where it can wait for the Navy to show up. The only other alternative I can think of is to get Katarina somewhere in this ship, like underwater, and leave some one with her. You're going to have to fly the ship, the Sergeant is going to have to go along to provide us with the codes, and I may have to come along to give us a reason to go to the planetoid." There's no one in the current group who is able to do anything to allow the nukes to be detonated by remote, except by timer, for up to one hour. Viktor: "How long will it take to get from here to the planetoid?" Timing is discussed, and aside from the little issue of escaping after placing the nukes, the timers should work just fine.

Max: "Sir, I'd like to try speaking with the prisoner, see if I can find out anything useful." Viktor: "He's Captain Peabody's prisoner, you'll have to ask him." Peabody comes over to the cockpit, on hearing his name. Peabody: "I don't want to have to explain any damage done to that Vargr, son." Max: "I have no intention of beating the prisoner, sir - uh, Jimmy." Peabody: "Well, then. Sure, have at it." Viktor: "Is there an intercom in that room?" Max: "Yes. I'll turn it on from here." Peabody: "Wait a minute. I just thought of something - he's our only pilot. What happens if the Vargr chews him up? Maybe Skeeter should go in with him." Skeeter will watch from the doorway, and Max doesn't take a weapon in with him (never take a weapon in near a prisoner).

Max takes in some rations to the Vargr. Vargr: "Is it time for my airlock accident?" Max: "Well, we're in atmosphere, so that would be kind of stupid." Vargr: "And what do you think you're going to get out of me with the 'nice Imperial' routine?" Max: "Not a thing." Vargr: "Let me guess, you're an animal lover. Or is it my soft blue eyes? What's in it for me?" Max: "To start with, food and water." Vargr: "Okay, keep going." Max: "If we wanted to kill you, don't you think you'd already be dead?" Vargr: "What is it you're after." Max: "Look, we've got two sides on board, Army and Marines, and there's some disagreement over what to do with you. Do you want to take part in this or not?" Vargr: "Okay, I'm game." [Note: both Max and the Vargr, evidently, have interrogation, so neither side has much of an advantage.] Max: "Like I said, we've got two sides arguing over you. I don't like being in the middle of this." Vargr: "I wouldn't put much stock in the behavior of any of you Imperials, Army or Marines. Although in this case, I do believe your General is a bit high strung." Max: "You could say that." Vargr: "Of course you realize that my associates would pay very handsomely if I were returned to them? If this were handled properly, you could head back to Imperial space a fairly wealthy person." Max <starting to look uncomfortable>: "I'd need to know who to call." Vargr: "That shouldn't be hard for the pilot." Max: "First I'd need a number." Vargr: "That can be arranged, if you really are interested?" Max: "I'm interested in staying alive. So far it's been sheer bloody luck." Vargr: "I can certainly cement that guarantee of your safety, if I can make contact with my superiors. Say $10,000,000 for the Androchevs, in Dakars." Max: "Just the General." Vargr: "Just the General! I'm sure if you asked the lady she would much rather stay at her husband's side...But you have plans, perhaps, for the lovely Mrs. Androchev?" Max looks away and recalls the incident with Rose, to try to produce a blush reflex, if nothing else. (It works.) Vargr: "Ah, now it becomes clear. I can understand your interest. For a human... she's not bad if you like that kind of thing. So, we can come to an agreement?" Max: "Yes. Although what we're going to do with the rest of the party..." Vargr: "We can dock, and I can arrange to have something, say tranq, introduced into the ship's air circulation system. You just need to make that you and I have re-breathers. Then we'd remove the General, and leave the rest of your friends unharmed. I'm sure that you can come up with a plausible story. Perhaps the General made his own deal. He is after all, something of a social climber after all." Max: "I think there have been enough witnesses to the General's behavior of late to back up any story about his actions." The Vargr wants Max to give him something as a 'good faith gesture', a knife or some kind of weapon, "in case one of the others decides to pay me a visit in the dark of the night. I assure you, with a small knife I'm not about take over the ship." Max passes the Vargr a small pocket knife under the ration tray, then leaves.

Max joins Viktor, who has been listening (he's not sure about the bit about his wife), in the cockpit. Viktor: "I think I can arrange for you to have some privacy on board, if you trust him." Max: "I don't trust him at all, unless I have something he thinks I can provide. Which I do, at least for now." Plexo comes back. Viktor: "How'd it go?" John: "There were two guards, probably crew, judging from the jumpsuits." Viktor: "Are they still there?" John: "Yes." (Technically speaking, the two Vargrs are still, physically, there.) They will move the nukes to the other ship, and set them to detonate 20 minutes after activation, so they're armed and ready to go. Before anything more happens though, people are going to need some rest.

Max gets his hands on some paper and a pen, and writes two letters - one to his parents, one to his fiancée Amanda. He asks Katarina is she would do him the favor of holding onto something for him. Katarina: "Certainly Commander. What is it?" Max: "It's just a couple of letters." Katarina: "And why would you want to give these to me? What makes you think I'll be able to take care of them? Am I to be taken off somewhere safe while you and my husband go off on some sort of dangerous mission?" Max: "I don't know, but I think we will be in a situation soon where the General might prefer to not have you and your child there to worry about. Besides, I'm fairly sure that no matter what happens, you will be one of the last people still standing." Katarina: "What is it about men that they think they always know what's best for their wives?" Max: "I don't know Countess, you'll have to ask your husband about that one." He gives Katarina the letters, telling her who they're for. Max: "The one to my fiancée, Amanda...there might not be anyone to deliver it to. She was stationed on board one of the Ajax's tenders, and I don't know if her ship was one of the four destroyed with it." Katarina takes Max's hand, and is in the process of giving him a bit of a comfort hug when her husband comes in and raises an eyebrow. Viktor: "I hope I'm not interrupting anything." Katarina: "That's all right dear, the lieutenant-commander and I were just finishing our talk." Max leaves to give them privacy.

Katarina: "So, what, you thought that you'd just go off on some kind of suicide mission without me? Do you think I'd want to go on without you after you get yourself killed on whatever harebrained scheme you've cooked up this time? Besides if there is any chance whatsoever of survival, you're, how shall I put it? You're so very Russian. I think you'd do something noble and stupid if I let you off by yourself. It's one thing if you're off by yourself and I'm safe at home with friends and family. You're not leaving me alone, not here. I'd rather die with you than be left here alone. Now that that's all settled, I'll attend to our son." And she stalks off, leaving Viktor with the realization that it's all been decided, and he has no input any more. He outranks everyone in the area except his wife. New plan - the attack on the planetoid is still a go, only this time everyone has to survive.

The other ship is a seized Imperial assault boat, so Max won't have any trouble flying it. It's in great shape, and looks like it's been newly uncrated. It has been repainted though, and has the wolfs' heads insignia. Max familiarizes himself with the ship before getting some rest. Viktor and Katarina get some sleep, after they do some bonding of a conjugal nature. And the rest of the party gets packed up before they too, in shifts, get sleep.