FRAWD Investigators: (Re)Socializing | Scene 14

While Imogen is on her way back toward the Ruck Sack to track down Frank at dinner, her comm goes off. She sees that it is Vaughan calling and spends a moment considering whether or not to answer. Best not to burn any bridges, she decides. Might need to forge some other documents. Maybe I can even work out with Frank what we need before seeing Vaughan.

“Hey, Imogen!” he greets her enthusiastically. “I always set a reminder for appointments, so I just wanted to check in. I’m looking forward to seeing you. You know how to get to the mess hall?” 

Imogen verifies which one he means, and thankfully, it is the same she is already headed to, adjacent to the Ruck Sack. She checks her watch, relieved to see she still has plenty of time to locate Frank before meeting with Vaughan. However, when she enters the mess hall, the assistant to the comptroller is already there and waves at her excitedly from his table stacked with papers. Imogen checks her watch again and throws him a confused look.

“Oh, I know our appointment doesn’t officially start just yet, so we can’t start our official business, but how are all your forms going?”

Imogen gives her head a shake. “I respect your time way too much to occupy any amount outside what is allotted to me,” she tells him. “I’ll be back in fifteen minutes.”

“Oh, you respect the process. You know what, you’re absolutely right. We set our appointment for four-fifteen, and it is only four. I will absolutely see you then. I appreciate that. There is some work I should do,” he adds, picking up one of his papers.

Imogen begins circulating through the mess hall, trying to find a person she only ever saw once through a thin slit in a dim room. In all the noise and hubbub of the room, something strikes her as off about one table. No conversation is happening there at all. More details stand out to her: everyone is freshly shaved bald with no facial hair and has an inflamed tattoo peaking out at the collar line. With Captain Hawke, the likely ghost, down on the planet now, Imogen risks taking a psionic read of the table as she makes her way toward it. She gets a very flat vibe, much like she sometimes picks up from Lilly, of a stone in a river with everything just washing over and around it. In some ways, this is even more extreme, with very little independent thought at all. The few specific thoughts she picks up are mostly observational. This food is cold. This room is crowded. That’s okay.

Imogen casually walks back and forth past the table, taking a closer look at the people and trying to see their names. A nicked eyebrow catches her notice on one man with light brown skin. When he lowers his soup spoon, Imogen sees Tankard printed on his uniform. Imogen checks her watch. Only one minute until Vaughan expects her. She strides up to Frank. “Excuse me,” she begins.

“You’re excused,” he says levelly, taking another sip of soup.

Imogen shifts gears. That was too tentative an approach for a freshly resocialized grunt; he needs orders. “You have an appointment with me after dinner. Don’t leave the mess hall before it happens,” she tells him.

“I will stay here to meet with you for an appointment after dinner,” he echoes. The next spoonful of soup comes up right on schedule.

Having done as much as she can with Frank right now, Imogen returns to Vaughan’s table. “Hang on,” Vaughan says, not glancing up from the form he is filling out. “Fifteen more seconds.” Imogen tucks some loose strands back into her braid while she waits. Vaughan slaps the paper down on the stack next to him and invites her to take a seat. “We can relax here,” he says.

“For fifteen minutes,” Imogen agrees, sliding onto the bench across from him.

“We’re working, of course, but work can be fun too, right?” he says with a smile. “So, did you get everything you needed with those forms? You asked for a bunch of different ones!”

“Well, I wanted to be sure to cover all of my bases,” Imogen says.

“Are you worried about possibly getting dismembered or dying in Dominion service?”

Of course he would remember what forms he gave me, Imogen groans internally. “You are aware of what’s going on down on that planet, right? There are zerg, and there’s fighting. Not all of us sit behind a desk; some of us are frontline.”

“I did not think you were a frontline soldier. Do you have your own power armor?”

“I’m not a soldier so much as a scout, sort of.”

“Is there a difference?” he asks.

“The science vessel. It makes all the difference,” Imogen says proudly.

“Phew, a science vessel. I hear getting those things certified is extremely difficult.”

“Well, this one is Umojan-quality,” Imogen brags. At least the filters are.

Vaughan tries to engage Imogen more about filing on Umoja. She fends those questions off, steering the conversation towards information that could help her settle on the best approach for getting Frank out of here. Vaughan happily shares statistics about how frequent certain types of discharges are and how bodies are repatriated following death in places such as this. He shares that recovering the power armor is the real priority, since it is so expensive. The medical discharge, KIA, and honorable discharge ratio is 45-45-10.

Based on that, Imogen thinks a plausible approach might be to somehow get Frank assigned to return to the planet with her and Lily. They can just leave his blown up power armor somewhere and hopefully not raise any flags. “And what about AWOL? How often do people do that?” Imogen asks.

Vaughan’s eyebrows go up. “Off an assault platform? There’s nowhere to go! Or what, you’re going to go AWOL down on the planet and get eaten by zerg? When your alternative is worse than staying in the Dominion military, that’s a pretty strong incentive just to stay. People might try to go AWOL if they’re stationed on Korhal, I guess, but I imagine they put tighter controls in place there. And if they catch you, whoa, that’s like instant resocialization.” He tilts his head, looking at Imogen curiously. “Are you thinking about signing up longer term as a scout?”

Aye, there’s no way to go AWOL… unless you own your own ship and can take people away on it, Imogen thinks. Attempting to cover her tracks, she tells Vaughan that she is not looking to extend her service, but rather the news report Kate Lockwell is filing needs to be as accurate as possible. “There might be some places for inserting statistics blocks during the broadcast,” she suggests.

“Oh! Does she need to interview someone from our office?” he asks eagerly. 

“I don’t know if she’ll want anything like that on tape. Are you willing for these to be attributed statements that you’ve made here?”

That is pretty good as far as Vaughan is concerned, though getting interviewed by Kate Lockwell herself would be amazing. “Kate Lockwell is, well, she’s like what the Dominion stands for, you know?”

“And what would you say the Dominion stands for?” Imogen asks, honestly curious. “Asking as an Umojan, I am.”

“I mean, they stand for humanity, right? Making the sector safe for terrans everywhere, including Umoja, right? We understand that Umoja doesn’t have the necessary military to protect themselves from threats like the zerg or the United Earth Directorate or who knows what else. The protoss, or even just raiders.”

The Dominion, Imogen mentally tacks on. 

“It’s the Dominion’s responsibility to protect our weaker neighbors, whether they even realize that or not,” Vaughan concludes.

That’s what the blockade is doing? Imogen thinks sourly, but she keeps her mouth shut. The allotted meeting time is almost up, and this has actually been a useful brainstorming session. She offers Vaughan a friendly handshake as she gets up from his table. This catches him a little off guard, but he collects himself, and as he returns the business-like gesture he makes one last pitch for getting an interview with Kate Lockwell. “I’ll see what I can do,” Imogen tells him.