When her head has cleared from the terrazine, Lilly asks Imogen, “So, is it a Special Mission?”
“It’s paid for by the Dominion to make everything look all wonderful and show… “ Imogen’s tone adjusts to match her rolling eyes, “pan-terran support for the war effort. Where pan-terran means Dominion people and a token Umojan.” She shrugs. “It will clear my debt to the Dominion. I don’t know if it’s any special military type thing. That’s way out of my experience. Maybe it can be parlayed into that.”
“But you got Durian assigned?”
“Lockwell said she would attempt to get his unit. Maybe you should tell Durian not to turn down any offers of this sort that come to him. Let him know that you and I will be there.”
“Okay, yeah, sure. ‘Cause Durian—nevermind, I’ll tell you later.” Lilly pulls out her phone and gives him a call.
“This is Sergeant Breaker, Five Hundred and Sixty-Fourth,” Durian answers automatically. Then it sinks in whose voice just greeted him. “Hey, Lilly!” he says, far more relaxed.
“Hey, have you been contacted by UNN?” she asks.
That question comes out of left field, as far as Durian is concerned. “What, like for an interview?”
“Imogen got conscripted for I think a Special Mission,” Lilly tells him. “She put in a word for you and your unit to get assigned.”
“Wait, what kind of Special Mission? Doing what with UNN?”
“Something with a reporter. I don’t know the details, but it’s on Tarsonis. I think you should accept it.”
“I don’t know… Those reporters…”
“I think it would be safer for you and your boys,” Lilly tells him, tugging on those cords of responsibility he feels for the people under him.
“I don’t know, those kinds of missions can go sideways,” Durian says. The bad blood between reporters and the military is hard to overcome. “You’re not with a regular unit, you don’t have backup…”
“Me and Imogen will be there,” Lilly tells him.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, what—” The rest of Durian’s words are lost because Lilly is shoving her phone at Imogen. I should have just had Imogen do the talking right from the start! She’ll wear him down.
“What do you mean you’re going to be there?” Imogen hears as she brings the device up to her ear.
“Durian!” Imogen greets him.
“What? Oh, Imogen…,” Durian sounds a little disappointed. “I was just talking with Lilly. Is she okay?” Once she assures him Lilly is fine, he asks, “What’s this I hear about you two taking part in the liberation?”
“I got conscripted, same as you. I was reactivated to finish out my term of service.”
“Well, it’s good you’ll have a chance to finish it off, then, right?” Durian says, ever the optimist. “You don’t want to have that hanging over your head. Hey, Lilly was saying that we should sign up with this. I’m not sure that’s the safest thing. What’s this about?”
“They’re doing a whole special news thing to make the Dominion’s military look great,” Imogen tells him.
“I mean, the Dominion’s military is pretty good,” Durian says. “We beat the UED.”
“Did you? Did you really? I heard that someone else beat them. But that’s besides the point right now. I’m going to be on Tarsonis, and Lilly is taking me there.”
“Listen, really, you should get as far away from Tarsonis as possible,” Durian urges her, though Imogen doubts it is she herself that he is most concerned about.
“Well, we can’t. So wouldn’t it be better for everyone if you were there as well?” she asks archly. When Durian continues to hem and haw, Imogen lays it out more bluntly. “We’re all going to Tarsonis. You’re going to Tarsonis. Your men are going to Tarsonis. Lilly and I are going to Tarsonis. Do you really want to be on the frontline? Do you really want to put your men’s lives there when you have the opportunity to put them somewhere safer? You think having a bunch of reporters around is going to be more dangerous than having floods of zerg around?”
When it is put that way, Durian has no good arguments to make. “Ugh! Someone’s going to have to take the heat when it goes south with the orders, but—” Into the silence of Durian mulling things over intrudes the background sounds of his troops, untested youth arguing over who is a bigger idiot amid the clattering of things falling over. Durian groans. “If it’ll keep these guys safe… And you two are going to be there… Oh, gosh. All right, all right. Who’s this UNN reporter?”
Durian’s voice brightens. “The lady on the news?!” Apparently being able to put a face to the fearsome role of reporter has made this operation more palatable. “I didn’t know it was that big a deal.”
“It is,” Imogen assures him.
“Oh, but she does a lot of reports on Raynor’s Raiders, too.” Durian grows glum again.
“Look, the Dominion specifically requested this special type of report. You’ll be doing them a service,” Imogen tells him.
“You’re right, you’re right,” Durian agrees. “I gotta do this. It’ll be good. And did you say this was a Special Mission, with a capital S?”
“I have no idea how it’s spelled,” Imogen says, not understanding the significance.
“Put Lilly back on,” Durian requests.
Imogen holds the phone back out to her partner. “He wants to talk to you,” she says in a teasing sing-song.
Lilly takes the handset back. “So you going to do it?” she asks eagerly.
“Yeah, I definitely am,” he tells her, and repeats his Special question. Lilly tells him she thinks so, though she is not sure. “That would be good, not just for me, but for my squad. They are not going to survive long,” he tells her frankly. “The sooner they get out of here, the better. Maybe they could make it as janitors…” he mutters.
At this point, Lilly is hopeful that the reporting gig will qualify, as long as the right paperwork gets filed. Probably the reporter will have to sign off that the soldiers did a good job, and some brass will have to agree that it was meaningful enough for Special Mission credit. The assault platform should have plenty of officers who could do that. Lilly is confident that Kate Lockwell will love Durian for this show; he is surprisingly media-genic and will optimistically toe the party line, perfect for propaganda. “I don’t know if a Special Mission is guaranteed,” she tells him, “but I think we can make it happen. We’ll probably have to file some paperwork and make sure she signs off on it, but yeah, that’s the goal.” Worst case scenario, Lilly figures, is she forges some of those signatures herself.
“That would be really swell, Lilly. I don’t know how I could pay you back for getting me that kind of an assignment. I could get out then, be totally clear.”
“Yeah,” Lilly says with a smile. “You could owe me a beer.”
“I think I’d owe you more than a beer,” Durian says seriously.
“Two beers!” Lilly suggests, and this time Durian laughs.
“We’ll see. Hey, I gotta go take care of this squad. I’ll see you on the platform!”
“All right. I look forward to working with you again, Durian,” Lilly tells him.
“I look forward to seeing you,” he replies.
Lilly hangs up and turns to her partner, all smiles. “I’m relieved we don’t have to break anyone’s knees. Yet.”