Lilly feels the eyes of everyone in the comptroller’s waiting room on her, whether that is really the case or not. She adjusts her collar, pulling it up higher in case one of her tattoos is peeking out. Without a word to Imogen, she leaves the room. In the hallways, at least, not everyone will know she is a resoc. The quartermaster has turned left, so Lilly turns right. Wanting to keep an eye on the door, she does not go too far. She stops a dozen meters down the corridor and stares at the wall. Punching neosteel will do nothing other than bust up her hand. Instead, she leans her back against it and then pulls out her knife to sharpen it. The slow, methodical rhythm of the whetstone against the metal edge soothes some of the turmoil she is feeling.
That is how Imogen finds her. “I’ve got an appointment for two hours from now,” she tells Lilly. Imogen takes in her silent, almost non-responsive, partner’s body language for a moment and then adds, “No one in there thinks any less of you, Lilly. That fella was already raving. No one’s going to put any weight to his words.” Lilly just nods and puts her knife away. “So, did you ever serve on one of these giant platform things? Do you know how we’d even start to look for if Durian’s group is here yet?” Durian is a super-cheerful person; Imogen is certain that hanging out with him will improve Lilly’s mood.
I don’t remember! I’m a resoc! Lilly thinks, but her only outward response is a shrug. She recalls fighting on a lot of planets and some science vessel work but not a lot of actual space combat. Other than on a pirate ship, that is.
“Does the platform have relays for our phones to work?” Imogen wonders aloud. Lilly nods at that, and Imogen suggests, “Well maybe you can just call him, and if he’s here…”
Lilly nods and starts toward the stairs, putting more distance between her and the office full of people she has been exposed to. Imogen follows, but she intentionally lags a little behind to give her partner some space to recover her equilibrium and make a call.
“Hey, hey! Lilly! How you doing?” Durian answers happily. His voice grows a little distant, and Lilly hears him shout to someone else, “Hey! Put that down!” He apologizes to her for being distracted.
“Are you here yet?” Lilly asks.
“Where is here?”
“On this big, upside-down platform.”
“Yeah, the Upside-Down, that’s what we’ve been starting to call it. This place is weird. I heard it was a command decision to make it this way,” he shares. “Some senior officer thought it would be a great idea. But, hey, I don’t want to be spreading rumors. What floor are you on, anyway? I’m having a tough time with them.”
Lilly exits the stairwell onto the level with their hangar. “We’re on Floor Eagle.”
“Oh, that’s super cool—I said put that down!—I’m on Floor Imperial.”
Lilly turns to Imogen, who is just exiting the stairwell behind her. “Do we have forms? Do we have an appointment?”
“We have an appointment in two hours, and if Durian can come along, that would be good.”
Lilly begins to relay the information to Durian, and he interrupts her. “Wait, appointment for what?”
“With the comptroller.”
“Whoa, whoa. What do I need to talk to the comptroller for? I don’t owe any money.”
“We want to lock in the Special Mission,” Lilly tells him. “Did UNN talk to you?” Durian explains that he saw that he got a message, but he has not gotten around to checking it out yet. His squad has been keeping him busy, as Lilly can well tell from the periodic shouting Durian interjects into their conversation.
“These new guys, they need a little guidance. They’re a lot to handle. But wow, an appointment with the comptroller to get approval! You didn’t have to do that for me,” Durian says, a little bashful.
“Yeah, we did,” Lilly shoots right back. “This needs to be a Special Mission.”
“No, no, it doesn’t have to be. I’m cool doing my service, keeping the Dominion safe. I shouldn’t try to get out of that, right? Even if it would be personally beneficial… I don’t want to ask for special treatment, that’s all I’m saying.”
“You served your time already, Durian,” Lilly insists. “You have a business to run. It’s what you’re good at.”
“It’s that important to y—” Durian cuts himself off. He sighs.
“Don’t make me find another way to get you out of this,” Lilly tells him.
“No, you don’t have to do that! All right, I’ll go to this appointment,” he agrees. There is still the matter of his squad though. He is reluctant to leave them unsupervised with free time.
“How about Operation Emperor’s New Clothes?” Lilly suggests. Marines are required to have dress uniforms, but they hardly ever use them. The creases need to be pressed sharp, the metals and shoes need to be shined—it’s a big hassle that involves going to a number of workstations. Getting the whole thing done was a common form of hazing back in Lilly’s marine days.
“That sounds kind of harsh, don’t you think?” Lilly just laughs, and Durian decides this is better than sending them off to do firearms training. “All right, squad, line up!” he shouts away from his comm. Turning his attention back to Lilly, he agrees to meet her at the comptroller’s office at the appointed time. “Thank you again so much for this, Lilly. I really appreciate this.”
* * *
Hoping to get some information that can help with the Special Mission forms, Imogen makes a call of her own, dialing Kate Lockwell of UNN. “Imogen! I’m a little busy right now. Are you on the Imperative?”
“Aye. Are you?” Imogen asks back.
Kate confirms that they have recently arrived and are getting equipment prepped. She shouts some instructions about where to put various crates and then returns her attention to this call. “Are you going to be ready to go down tomorrow morning?”
“Aye, but I had a few questions about the project.”
“Oh!” Kate’s tone changes from harried to pleased. “I’m glad you’re taking a stronger interest in it.” Imogen asks about the military escort, and Kate confirms that she put in a request for the squad Imogen recommended. “I looked up their record. They seemed fine. At least, their commander does. There weren’t many records for the other fellows. But I’m sure they’ll be good.”
“Since this piece you’re working on is so important, do you think this would qualify as one of those PR missions?” Imogen assumes that Kate knows about military PR tours from her long years working in media herself. “These fellas are going out of their way to keep us safe while we do this, and the product will be an important piece for the Dominion.”
“Ah, maybe,” Kate says. “I’m familiar with those kinds of PR stunts. Those are usually back on Korhal or some other core world where they parade around. They’re not normally in the field. I don’t often deploy to the front lines, though. Usually I deploy after the action, so this is a little different. But I’m not a military expert. I have done interviews with some of the Special Mission marines a couple times. They’re always in really good spirits. They’re a symbol of the Dominon standing up for all the people in the sector.” Imogen commits those sound bites to memory. They seem like great copy to her, perfect for a box on a form. “I’m not sure this would qualify, though,” Kate finally says.
It does not help the journalist in any way professionally, so she will take no action at this point to push such a thing through. Imogen accepts that, for now, it is up to just her and Lilly. Since she will be going down to the surface in her own ship, not Kate’s dropship, she gets the coordinates and arrival time to give to Lilly. Kate requests that Imogen use Saffron’s sensors to record the landing of the dropship that transports Kate and the marines. Imogen herself will join them for a reenactment of disembarking from the craft once everyone is all on the ground. Imogen makes an attempt to get her hands on one of Kate’s fancy cameras, but the reporter insists they are experimental Dominion technology and claims the advanced camera would pale in comparison to anything from Umoja. Giving up on that, Imogen says in farewell, “All right. Good luck with your boxes.”
“Thanks. I’ve got to run. I have an interview with an officer later tonight. See you tomorrow morning.”