In the time leading up to their meeting with the comptroller, Lilly and Imogen go over their plan of attack. Imogen will do most of the talking, of course, so she prods Lilly ahead of time for relevant details applicable in this foreign military environment. Imogen also checks one last time with Lilly about taking Saffron down to the planet instead of riding in the dropship. Her main concern is with Snowball. Lilly is in favor of using the science vessel. She does not care what Snowball sees down on Tarsonis; it is the platform she wants shielded from him.
Finally, 1700 rolls around, and they meet up with Durian at the comptroller’s office. He is in uniform rather than wearing his bulky power armor. As the three enter the waiting room, the maintenance worker is just leaving. Vaughan sees the new arrivals and speaks into his intercom. “Comptroller Judy, your five o’clock appointment is here. They’re looking very ready.” He finishes up the paperwork he was doing with a few well-placed stamps and then files it in the cabinet behind him. “I hope I’ll see you at six,” he says to Imogen, and then he leaves his post for the day.
Lilly raises her eyebrows and exchanges a look with Durian. “At six?” she mouths.
“Oh, you got a date, Imogen?” Durian asks jovially.
“Seems like,” she responds with indifference.
“Well that’s really good,” he says with a smile. “Maybe you’ll find out if you like the guy. Seems like a decent fellow.” The silence that is Imogen’s reply lingers for a moment, and then Durian fills it. “All right, well, let’s go in!”
The comptroller looks as crisp and tidy as she did a few hours ago, all of her dark hair still pulled back in a tight bun. Imogen unconsciously tucks a few loose strands of her own hair back into place in response. “Now, what is the nature of your appointment? In the entry here it just says PR, which is an unexpanded acronym and could mean many things.” From behind her desk, Comptroller Judy looks at each of the new arrivals one by one through her horn-rimmed glasses with a face as blank as stone. “You’re a bit of a motley crew here,” she continues. “A marine, a foreigner, and… some other person. This can’t possibly be worth my time.”
The older woman across from them is difficult to read and does not show any signs of weariness at the end of a long day. Imogen gets nothing from her body language and so instead opens her additional sense to gain a psionic impression of the woman. What does she desire? Imogen wonders, seeking any leverage at all for manipulating the comptroller. The impression Imogen gets is of ambition; this is a person who craves authority over others. There is no sense of malevolence; she believes she is the only person capable of leading and must succeed at what she does. And anything she does must be done with absolute perfection. There is a lot there that Imogen herself can relate to.
“I’m Imogen Owendoher. You’re correct, ma’am, I’m not military,” Imogen says deferentially. “I’m here with UNN for a news broadcast down below to show the good work that your folks in red are doing.” She gestures at Durian and continues, “Sergeant Durian Breaker here and his troops are going to be providing support during the filming of the work down on Tarsonis. We’re looking to submit them for the PR Special Mission. This is something that was very quickly assigned, so there wasn’t time to get the forms filled out in advance.”
Something like this could look good, but since it is a rush job, it will be hard to get it perfect. Judy frowns. “Look, I understand that you and your crew here probably have the best of intentions, but these kinds of things cannot be rushed. Every single operation that the Dominion puts together must be done to specifications. If it is not, something can go wrong. And when something goes wrong, someone could lose their life. Someone could lose their job. Any number of terrible things can happen. So we have to make sure it is exactly correct. I’m not hearing that you can guarantee that this will be carried out exactly correctly.”
“War is no place for certainty,” Imogen counters. “The fact that Durian is still alive after all the missions he has previously conducted for the Dominion should speak to his capabilities and effectiveness. Following his honorable discharge, he was still providing service to the Dominion. He defended a Dominion research facility from an escaped zerg. There was even media recognition for that.”
“Yeah, he looks good on camera,” Lilly adds. “He’s good-looking, and look at how jacked he is.” Thinking back to the marine doing the PR stint in Augustgrad, she continues, “He’s a good height, and much more striking in battle armor.” Before long, she is gushing. “He’s dutiful. He speaks well. He’s dependable. He’s a model soldier, really.”
“This is the closest to a sure thing as you can get,” Imogen tells the comptroller. “Look at him! Durian, stand up for the woman.”
Not a proud man, Durian shifts a little in his seat, uncomfortable with the close scrutiny from all the women in the room. Reluctantly he complies. He cannot help but stand perfectly straight.
“Will he present the Dominion in a positive light? He was doing that with no reward from the Dominion at all in his post-service civilian life. Will this mission succeed or fail? I can tell you that even though Lilly and I are not soldiers, we’ve worked with Durian before on various contracts and he has kept us alive up to this point. The question of whether the UNN project succeeds or fails is very personal to us; our lives are on the line here. We firmly believe this will succeed, or we wouldn’t be going down on the ground with them. Lilly has no obligation to do this, and she’s going down.”
The comptroller leans forward, tapping her desk for emphasis. “I am not going to put my career on the line for a potential screw-up. If my name is on that form—”
“Then don’t sign it until we get back,” Imogen suggests. “How about we just fill out all the paperwork and leave your signature at the end blank. That way things are more efficient when we return it to you after the mission, and all you have to do is sign that line.”
Judy is familiar with such ploys. What is to stop this lot from forging her signature in that case? “I will retain this form. I will note that you have a proposal for a Special Mission—that is its own form, of course—and we will keep that on file here. If you come back alive and successful—note that both of those must be true—I will complete the form. This is a UNN mission. Your UNN commander,” she flips through her records, “one Ms. Kate Lockwell, she is the one who has the final say on whether this was successful from the UNN perspective.” Judy hands an affidavit form over to the foreigner. “If she feels it was a waste of time or didn’t work out for whatever reason, then I will not be signing anything. So you need her approval that it was a successful mission, and he needs to come back alive.” Judy points at the marine. “And not significantly disfigured, unless it is actually more appealing. Losing a limb is acceptable, arm preferable to leg.”
If he doesn’t come back, this is the least of his problems! Lilly thinks. Although… There is always the backup plan of just smuggling Durian off Tarsonis if things go sideways.
“Great,” Imogen says, hurrying on, “and this Special Mission status will of course also apply to whoever of his squad survives, right?”
“No, I need the whole squad to survive,” the comptroller insists. “Although, there can be one heroic death. As per Dominion Order 996, that would still be suitable. But it must be a heroic death. Examples include jumping on a grenade to save everyone or being eaten by some zerg so that everyone else can get away, preferably while holding up a grenade to blow up said zerg. And again, the designation ‘heroic death’ is up to your UNN commander. It could be his heroic death,” she adds, gesturing to Durian, “although he is, as you described, a perfect specimen.”
“Let’s just go for zero,” Durian suggests, looking even more uncomfortable. “Zero’s good.” He would prefer all three of his reports to survive and himself too, of course.
“That all sounds satisfactory. I honestly hope you succeed. That would be very good for everyone involved. But, it is war, as you said. Nothing is predictable, even if it is the most sure thing, it is not a completely sure thing.” The comptroller fills in the proposal form with details on the mission and personnel involved. Then she places it in a special red filing cabinet in the back corner of her office. Imogen pays close attention to where it is going in case they need to clandestinely access it later. Fortunately, its locks look on par with Vaughan’s standard filing cabinet out in the waiting room. Hopefully, though, it will not come to that.