Down on the surface of Korhal, Snowball is granted the freedom to explore Augustgrad to his heart’s content. From a strategic perspective, it is a useless place for the Queen of Blades to get intel on. Snowball is not going to learn anything wandering its streets that she does not already know. He does not seem mad at Lilly for locking him up so much, but he did recently tear through the underside of her bed for some reason. She is actually quite impressed that he managed to knock the mattress off its frame. He must have crawled under it as a blob and then transformed into a taller shape to push it over. Now, though, Snowball assumes his terran form for his outing. Lilly gives him a pager so that he can signal for help if he gets in trouble. She hopes he understands that. “Have fun and stay out of trouble,” she tells him, then locks the ship up behind her and Imogen.
Snowball follows Lilly for a little bit, but there is a lot going on in Augustgrad for a young changeling to take in. Soon he wanders off, looking at whatever catches his interest. Lilly continues on toward Local Beer Shop. The thought now occurs to her that she should have put some sort of locator on Snowball. Worst case, she might be able to pick up the pager with some effort. Ah well, too late now. She notices that there are a surprising number of marines around. Though they do not have weapons, they are in their sweet power armor, decked all out in red Dominion colors. Seems like a lot of people are out on shore leave right now, not just Durian. When she reaches Local Beer Shop, Lilly finds it packed. Durian is already there, in red power armor like the younger marines having a drinking contest at the next table over from him. He waves to catch her attention. “Durian!” she calls out cheerfully.
“Hey, Lilly, how you doing? Glad you could make it!”
Lilly looks him over, trying to assess how he is standing up under the current trying conditions. She can only see his face, of course. He looks happy to see her and like he is in decent shape. No hits to the head, at any rate. He does look kind of nervous, though, like he will be broaching an uncomfortable topic. In response to her pleasantries, he says things are going all right and paints it as the company restructuring a little bit. “I sort of run a different company now, if you know what I mean. We’re gearing up for some big moves. We’ve gotta take back Tarsonis.”
“Is that where you’re stationed?” Lilly asks.
“Well, that’s where we’re going to be part of the invasion—er, part of the liberation, excuse me. We gotta free it from the zerg, show them that humanity is tougher. And I don’t like to brag, but I know I’m a good soldier; I can really help them out. Some of these recruits…” Durian looks over at the guys at the next table, “they need some guidance, you know? They haven’t been through that kind of grinder before.” Lilly has been nodding along, prompting his story with appropriate sounds that she is listening, and he realizes he is running off at the mouth. “What have you been up to? I haven’t seen you around Korhal in quite a while.”
Wait, what can I say we’ve done? Durian is far more on the straight and narrow than she and Imogen are. But only some of what they did needs to stay secret, not where they went. “We went to Umoja!”
“Oh yeah? I hear they have some crazy stuff. What’d you see? What’d you do?” Lilly tells him that she met some of Imogen’s family. “What? Really? That’s cool. Is the rest of her family just like her?”
“No,” Lilly says. “I met her cousin, her parents, her uncle. Her brother got into a bit of trouble, so we had to get him out of it.”
“Yeah, bailing out a sibling is an important thing,” Durian says. He takes a sip of his beer and sets it back on the table, then spins it a bit, somewhat nervously. “What are you up to now? You keeping busy? How’s your company going? Getting a lot of work?”
Lilly tells him Lost & Found is going well enough that they were just able to get an upgrade for their ship. “I’ve only crashed it once,” she jokes. “Oh, we did go to Antiga Prime, and we saw Shreev. Boy, she does not like us!”
“Oooh, yes. She’s still pretty upset. She’s still working for Grom, but she got shifted around to a different department.”
“She remembers, that one,” Lilly observes philosophically, taking a sip of her beer.
“Yeah, she does. She takes a lot of pride in what she does, and if it doesn’t work out she holds a grudge. She definitely does. But she’s good at what she does; she’s a pretty good pilot,” Durian says, not liking to hear anyone be put down. Lilly makes a non-committal noise, and Durian switches topics. “Hey, you used to be in the military… Have you ever thought about reenlisting?”
“No, not really. Why do you ask?”
“It’s just… The Dominion needs every soldier we can get right now, and it would really help out,” he says a little awkwardly. He glances down, and Lilly realizes he is referring to a tucked away note card. “We can use every good soldier out there, and I know you’re one of the best.”
Is he actually recruiting me? “Well, thanks, Durian, but are you for real?” She leans in a little closer and drops her voice. “Do you have numbers you have to make or what? What’s going on?”
It is a little bit of both. He does have recruitment goals he needs to meet, but he also knows Lilly is a really good soldier. “If you don’t choose to enlist… Every veteran is on the list that they might call back up.” He tilts his beer toward himself. “Case in point.” Durian glances over at the table next to them, where the drinking contest has progressed to an ill-advised game of darts. “And I’d rather have you at my back. If you enlist, you have a lot more choice. If you get re-conscripted, you ain’t got no choice. I don’t want that to happen to you, Lilly.”
The last time Lilly got out of military service, it was by forging honorable discharge papers. That is unlikely to protect her from getting called back in. Sure, she might have a case against conscription, but she would likely be shipped off while it was in adjudication. “Thanks for looking out for me,” she tells Durian sincerely.
He shrugs humbly. “Hey, we’ve got to do that for each other. You look out for me, I look out for you.”
“I’ll think about it,” Lilly tells him. She is sure she can figure something out if and when she needs to. And if it comes down to it, she can just forge new documents for herself. “How long is your shore leave?”
“We’re shipping out real soon.”
“You can’t tell me or you don’t know?”
“I don’t know exactly. A lot of these guys, they’re living every night like it’s their last night in civilization for a while.” He nods his head over at the marines making fools of themselves. “Not leaving tonight, though. It’s too late in the day for that.”
Lilly sees no point in broaching the topic of a Special Mission without concrete details to back it up, but she can at least feel him out. “Well, how’s it treating you?”
“Oh, uh, it’s military life, you know. It’s all right. I don’t have quite the same flexibility as when I ran my own company or even when I was with Grom. But, you know, the pay is real steady, and it’s good to have a little bit of structure.”
Durian is such a glass-half-full guy that it can be hard to know how he really feels. “Are you going to go back to your business when your service is done?” Lilly asks.
“Oh, yeah! Definitely, definitely,” Durian says with real enthusiasm. “I’ll have even more credibility, and I’ll have been able to save up some.”
Lilly wonders how responsible Durian feels for these younger recruits. “Didn’t you say you’re a sergeant now or something?”
“Yeah! I’m officially a sergeant; I have to run a platoon. But they’re good guys,” he says, again looking over the other table. He echoes his own words, perhaps trying to convince himself. “They’re good guys. They just need some more guidance and… they’re a lot to handle.”
“Extremely,” Durian says, letting out a long exhale. “I don’t think they’ve seen a fight before. With all the wars recently, a lot of the fighting age population has gotten depleted. These two are from the Kel-Morian Combine, the mining guilds.”
“Is there even a boot camp? Are they just pushing them through quickly, or what?” Lilly asks, trying to get a feel for what Durian is dealing with. Maybe she and Imogen can work out a Special Mission that can apply to both Durian and his platoon; then he would not be able to object on those grounds.
“Uh, I mean, yeah, they did a boot camp. It’s thirty days of intense training, but you can only get so much done in that time. Most of these guys have never seen a zerg. So I’ve got to do what I can to make sure they come out okay on the other end.”
I wish Imogen was here, Lilly thinks. Her friend would be able to read between the lines of what Durian is saying and judge his positions far better than Lilly can. She could also probably talk him into just about anything. Lilly does the best she can, which is buy him a beer, a solid Kick in the Face to take his mind off matters. They have a pleasant dinner together, and she assures him she will think about what he has said. Durian cuts himself off before too many drinks, since he does need to ensure his platoon gets safely back to their barracks.
Dear, sweet, good Durian, Lilly reflects a little tipsily as she starts heading back to Saffron. He doesn’t make dumb decisions, and here he’s conscripted. I make dumb decisions all the time, and look at me. That’s just the way of things.