Later that evening, sirens start blaring, and every broadcast channel announces the triumphant return of the “victorious liberators.” Lilly and Imogen step outside the ship and see fireworks going off. All the big screens on the building fronts display the propaganda broadcast rather than their usual ads. Donny Vermillion’s too large face fills them. “We’ve proven we can strike the zerg, anytime, anywhere! Victory parade tonight!” It switches to footage of the returning battlecruisers above Augustgrad. Imogen notices that there is no mention of Tarsonis itself or that these supposed victorious liberators had to run off with their tails tucked between their legs.
Lilly’s comm rings. “Durian! Are you all right?” she says before he can greet her.
“Little tired,” he replies, sounding a bit out of breath. “We got out of there in a hurry, but my former squad made it out. I made it out. Phew, I’m out again! I need a drink. Are you—”
“Where are you?” Lilly asks. “I’m coming over,” she continues without waiting for a reply. He suggests instead that they meet at a place called the Brewery. Lilly agrees to see him there in half an hour. She puts her comm away and glances at her ID. She gouged it with a razor while working on Frank’s Mervin one, and it is pretty much ruined now. Thirty minutes is not enough time to make a new one, though. This is her own fault for prioritizing cat purchases over forgeries. Hope I don’t get carded, she thinks as she heads to the bar.
Durian arrives at the Brewery about the same time Lilly does. He is dressed far more casually than she is used to seeing him and is clearly happy to see her. He has a day’s growth of facial hair, too, which is also unusual for him. She greets him with a big kiss and then steps back and looks him over, checking that he still has all his limbs. “Are you hurt?” she asks.
“No! No, I’m totally fine,” he assures her.
“I missed you,” Lilly tells him as they head inside.
“I missed you, too.” They settle down at a table, and Durian lets out a long breath. “I am just so glad to be out. You know, I’m glad I’ve done my time. Twice. But thank you so much for helping me get out again. I’ve got too much to live for to keep doing that.” Of course, he will still be in dangerous situations moving forward, once he gets the Endurians back up and running, but at least those will be jobs that he chooses to take.
As they share dinner and drinks, Durian tells Lilly about his plans for his mercenary company. In addition to protection jobs, he is considering gear endorsements or even his own branded line of equipment. The Endurian Seal of Approval, he calls it. He is not looking to get into arms manufacturing, but if there is a knife or combat shield he particularly trusts, he would be happy to help get them in the hands of others who could benefit from them. Lilly digs the idea, and they chat about knives for a while, a topic close to her own heart. He asks about the kind she carries, and they compare knives. Lilly currently carries a sportsman knife from Big Daddy Browder’s Gas & Guns. Durian’s is a Bowie knife with a curved tip sharpened on both sides so that he can catch a target on a backswing as well.
Once dinner has progressed a while and they are both quite relaxed, Durian leans in and says, “You know, your pal Snowball, he was all right. I’m glad that he’s able to be somewhere safe now. Not that you weren’t doing a good job taking care of him, I’m sure. But other folks would have found him, and they probably would have wanted to do something to him.”
“Yeah,” Lilly says. “I don’t know what I was doing raising him,” she reflects. “How do you be a role model?”
“I don’t know,” Durian says. “I’m clearly not a good role model because them Fruit Baskets… I made no progress with them. None whatsoever.”
“You didn’t have as long with them as they had with themselves,” Lilly points out with a laugh. “They’re still alive, aren’t they?”
The Special Mission got all Durian’s fresh recruits out of the military as well as himself. “You know what, that’s true. I’ve done my part. I don’t need to think about them anymore!” He leans back with a broad smile. He would be happy to give those guys references, but there is no way he would hire any of them to join his own mercenary company. Lilly laughs at the thought of Durian foisting those fellows on anyone. “Where I grew up, there were several rival gangs. I’d consider recommending them to the Disenfrancistos,” Durian says. “Even though they’re terrible liars and definitely thieves, they’re not such bad folk. They could use some ‘hard workers.’”
“You’d do that to them?” Lilly asks.
Durian shakes his head ruefully. “No, I wouldn’t actually put them in a gang.”
“No, I meant to the gang!” Lilly clarifies with a laugh.
Durian grows reflective. “I haven’t really thought about them so much since I… you know.” Lilly fiddles with her collar nervously. Talk of Durian’s resocialization hits close to home for her. “I used to have so much hate and anger about it. Now I just don’t care. Probably best just to leave all that behind.” Dealing with gangs would not help the reputation of his fledgling company, anyway. Conversation turns again to knives and other armaments. Lilly gushes about the kit the War Pigs use. Durian’s power armor does not have to be regulation anymore, so mods such as theirs are a possibility for him now.
“To getting out!” Lilly toasts, holding up her glass. Durian clinks his to hers, and then she adds with a chuckle, “Alive.” She shares that her next port of call is Mar Sara, where she has a friend who can help her with her adjutant. Durian asks if she and Imogen have any jobs lined up, and Lilly admits, “We’re in the middle of one, actually.” They still need to get Frank to a safe location, after all. She does not tell Durian that, though. He may be out of the military, but he would not approve of a soldier going AWOL. “We’ve got a few jobs lined up,” she adds, thinking of Malorn. “Imogen usually covers the calendar for us. We get by.”
“That’s good to hear. Running a science vessel can’t be cheap.”
“No. Seems like I’m always breaking it.”
Durian chuckles. “That just means you’re using it, right?”
Although he is eager to resurrect the Endurians, Durian plans to take some time off to relax first. Lilly realizes she does not actually know what Durian does for fun. He shares that he will be spending time at a sports club. He is not much of a gym rat, but he enjoys a good pick-up game of street basketball. He has heard about squash and is hoping to give that a try. “What do you do to relax, Lilly? Besides enjoying a drink.”
Lilly is at a loss for a moment. Does forgery count? “Mostly I work.” Other than combat, she does not really do anything sports-like. “I sharpen my knives,” she finally says. Taking care of her equipment is her main hobby. “And take care of whatever pet I’ve got. But I’m between pets right now.”
“If you’re interested in weird critters, out in the wastes of Korhal there are these scorpion-like things called scantids. They’re big and buglike, but they’re not zerg.”
“Can you fit one in your room?” Lilly asks with interest. Before he answers, she continues with a laugh, “How would you feel if I had one in my room?”
“Uh, I don’t want this to come across the wrong way, but I think that would be an improvement over certain other pets you’ve had. Venomous scorpion, that I can understand. That makes sense.”
“That’s fair,” Lilly says with a laugh.
With dinner over, they leave the Brewery to go knife shopping together. The streets are festive, full of returned troops and falling confetti. Fireworks fill the cloudless sky. Clearly the “victory” celebrations were pre-planned.