EXT – Day – Cargo Bay ramp
Tajemnica hovers above the landing pad on top of Seymore’s office. Lag and the guard stand, motionlessly, facing each other, waiting, Lag with his rifle still held casually. The door to the building slides open, and Helton and Allonia (a modest trickle of blood coming from the cut on her temple) come trotting out and hop aboard the ramp. Lag looks at her, concerned. As they hop on, Tajemnica lifts and starts moving away.
Allonia: It’s nothing. Guy with a knife. Seymore knows where he stands, now. He’ll be calling EVERYONE that’s he’s ever talked t-
She freezes, mid-step and mid-word. A momentarily perplexed look, changing to a look of suspicion flashes onto her face.
Allonia: (more statement than question) Kat. Why did KAT talk to Darch or Seymore?
Helton and Lag raise their eyebrows and look at her, then each other.
Allonia: Taj said she was picking up a useful chain of communication between them. She’s a SPY!
Lag gets a sort of pained look. He glances around to see that no-one else is nearby.
Lag: Sort of. Double-agent, really.
Helton and Allonia both look at him in surprise.
Lag: Let’s get that cut taken care of, then I can fill you in.
INT – DAY – Helton’s cabin
Allonia has a bandage on her cut, the blood is wiped away, but is still wearing armor. Helton sits at his desk, Lag in the spare chair, Allonia on the edge of the bed.
Lag: She’s been feeding a few of the local power-brokers information that is both correct, as far as it goes, and of more use to US to know THEY know it than it is to them. They are willing to pay a premium price to gain supposedly inside data, and Kat has a rare talent for pumping THEM for more than she hands out. When I realized we might be getting set up, our best intel was that at MOST a full air-defense company, more likely a platoon-level detachment, was going to be used. Just about everything else was accounted for. Darch must have pulled in some HUGE favors, and REALLY hate you, to commit treason on that level, unless there is something else big going on we don’t know about. Four ManPADs teams at the RC, a whole battalion in the zone. That’s a SERIOUS commitment.
Helton: So she told them she’d tell US it was clear, and we’d set up the ambush ahead of time?
Lag: Exactly. A few launchers and a score of men would have been a piece of cake. An entire battalion… Not sure WHAT we’d have done if we’d known that. That’s a steep order, even for the First Sergeant, on such short notice and with so few men. If they DID totally reduce it, that’s going to be a HUGE bonus for the Company.
Allonia: How can you talk about profits when Dorek, I mean Kaminski, Harbin and Kaushik might be dead or dieing?
Lag looks apologetically at Allonia.
Lag: Sometimes, when the cause is just, and the buyer poor, we fight for free. We can afford to do that because of money and experience gained working for richer clients, like here. Fighting is never risk-free, but we don’t normally go into battle EXPECTING to die.
Allonia: All those men, suffering and dieing. War is messed up.
Helton: Yes. Yes it is.
Allonia: Why? Why do they…?
Lag: Because wars are started by people, and there are a lot of messed up people in the universe… Sadly, they often seem to float to the top of the political cesspool. Ambitious people chase money and power, and the more they have, the more corruptible they become.
Allonia: So why do YOU fight? You and Dorek seem nice enough.
Lag: Thank you. Because to NOT fight back concedes victory to the worst bastards STARTING the wars. I try to raise the cost of fighting, so they’d rather negotiate in good faith.
Helton: Fight fire with fire, as it were.
Lag: Exactly. Like shooting a would-be rapist; it keeps HIM from ever doing it again, AND makes the next bad guy think twice…
Helton: -and like flattening someone with a missile launcher.
Allonia: Those are different! That was just self-defense!
Helton: Is it so different?
Allonia looks upset and troubled and tired. She breathes deep, holds it, and slowly lets it out through pursed lips.
Allonia: So, what next?
INT – Day – Seymore’s office
He is talking to Darch on the screen. Both are obviously angry and yelling and a little scared, and look like they are pulling at their hair in frustration.
Seymore: You NEED to call them BACK!
Councilor Darch: I CAN’T get hold of them!
Seymore: She’s crazy! They are ALL crazy! And they threatened ME, HERE-
Councilor Darch: I don’t give a DAMN about their threats! If ANY word of this-
Seymore: -and I don’t give a DAMN about your fucking ELECTION, either, but if they LAND-
Councilor Darch: -YOUR ManPADS failed to check in, AND get themselves killed!
Seymore: I just made the connection, YOU hired the morons! They were ON FOOT, GODDAMIT, and they just LANDED on them! She threatened to land on ME! That crew is-
Councilor Darch: I can’t contact the air defense unit until THEY radio ME, so I don’t KNOW WHAT they are doing now!
Seymore: Well you damn sure BETTER find a way to get a line to them, or we are BOTH-
Councilor Darch: FUCK YOU! YOU MUST have a mole that leaked information! I know I’m tight here! YOU have to find out how to get them for what they did to my family!
Seymore: No, FUCK YOU, AND YOUR DEAD ASSHOLE SON! YOU can’t keep a secret to save you LIFE! You are only IN office because of MY support!
Councilor Darch: And YOU only have YOUR job because of MINE!
INT – DAY – Bridge of Tajemnica
Helton, Lag, Allonia, Quiritis, Cooper are at stations.
Over the PA, the voices of Seymore and Councilor Darch are heard.
Lag: I’d say that’s enough to crucify them.
Helton: Quiri, make for the ambush pickup point.
Allonia takes a quick breath. Lag looks critically at him. Cooper raises an eyebrow.
Helton: The battalion is badly shot up. They’d call for support or extraction unless they lost ALL the vehicles, which means WE should be safe. We can let those two argue forever, and record it for later.
Quiritis: Aye aye, captain. Buttoned up. ETA 34 minutes, 26 if we push it.
Helton looks at Allonia.
Helton: Push it.
Quiritis nods understanding, and the sound of the surging drives rises substantially.
Fade to black
EXT – DAY – Fall-back hasty firing position.
The Plataeans and recruits are hunkered down. All are caked in grime and bloody. There are no sounds of war, only the crackling of fire. Smoke swirls by. They look like they’ve been though hell.
Kaushik: Think they finally had enough?
Harbin: (grunts) That, or organizing for a final push.
He drops the magazine from his rifle, and looks at the top – only one more round. As they go around, one at a time drops their mag and checks it, then re-inserts and reports.
Harbin: Ammo check. Two here.
Sabot: Bayonet still mounted.
There is a long pause. There are a couple of glances at Buck. Kaushik reaches over, checks his pulse. He shakes his head.
Kaminski: Either way, shouldn’t be long.
A shadow passes over, and they glance up. Above them, Tajemnica streaks by. It looks like it’s going parallel to the line of the fire. It turns in a long arc, and comes back to them, ramp already partially lowered, with a small crowd of people on it. Allonia, Helton, Lag, recruits, Trask, several medics. They have stretchers. As Tajemnica settles down and lowers the ramp the rest of the way, right on the edge of the firing position, people start jumping off and lending a hand on getting the obviously injured soldier aboard and some medical attention. Kaminski stands up unsteadily, straightens up, and takes a step toward the ramp. He staggers a bit, and is caught solidly by Allonia.
Allonia: Don’t be an idiot! Let us help you!
Kaminski: (through gritted teeth) Told you. Not ON my shield.
Allonia: Good thing we showed up to save your ass!
Kaminski: Call it even. We saved yours this morning.
The rest are either being helped up the ramp, or carried on stretchers. The recruits that had worked aboard with the refugees look shocked at the condition of those that went to fight.
Harbin: (to Lag, who is helping him up the ramp) Sorry for the mess. Bigger party than expected. Should’a been there.
Lag: We saw from the air. You turned a mobile air-defense battalion into a stranded leg infantry company with your little surprise party. May be a new record. Make for a HELL of a bonus.
Harbin: (nodding slightly) The next Kiv staff meeting will be interesting, I’m sure. (points to a trio of bullet furrows in his helmet.) Best not mention details to Mohini, though.
INT- DAY – Sick bay
The injured soldiers lie on beds, being cleaned up and covered with many bandages. A medic is working on each one, and there are blood transfusion bags hanging at each bed. Bipasha stands between Kaushik and Harbin, Allonia between Kaminski and Sabot. The medics are also in attendance with the other injured men, among whom only Sabot isn’t completely sedated. Everyone looks tired and strained.
Kaminski: (to Sabot) Your first battle, and it’s a really good “no shit, there we were” story, complete with cool scars and combat effectiveness bonus. Quite a day’s work.
Allonia: HOW you can be so casual about it! Buck’s dead, and how many men on the other side died because their leaders were stupid?
Harbin: (with a slight shrug and a wry grin to Kaminski with an “I told you” look, then, to Allonia, very mater-of-fact) Soldiers MUST focus on the positive. Keeps you from giving up or going insane.
Sabot: I’m sure my parents would have liked me to finish training before my first combat, but after this…
Harbin: You did well. Kept your head, did what you had to do. Got a good future here if you want it. A first class reference if you don’t.
Bipasha: I’m just glad the two of you, well ALL of you, are back! I don’t know HOW Mohini puts up with knowing you go out and do that all the time!
Harbin: (grins) I leave her at home. And she knows the Colonel doesn’t do stupid things, or take stupid contracts.
Sabot: Do you ALWAYS get into shit like that?
Allonia: Oh, GOD, I HOPE not!
Kaushik: No. That was the worst I’VE ever been in.
Kaminski nods agreement.
Harbin: Trickier than most. But battles like that mean we have to fight LESS, later. People see us coming, and they run, surrender, or negotiate. It’s too bad about Buck- he didn’t do anything stupid, he just got unlucky. Our standing HERE as we did means fewer deaths elsewhere.
Kaminski: And, of course, it means Taj and her lovely crew didn’t get shot down.
Allonia blushes, Harbin and Kaushik nod, Sabot starts to drift off as the meds take effect.
Allonia: (softly, just to Kaminski) I think we need to talk in private somewhere, soon.
He gets a somewhat surprised look, then settles back into his pillow.
Kaminski: Yes, I think I’d like that.
Bipasha: (trying to change the topic a bit) Eight trips, a little over eight thousand refugees. No-one lost in transit. The RC built out pretty well to accommodate them all.
Allonia: (trying to be joking, only partially successful) And we STILL have to figure out how to split it up.
They all look at her a bit questioningly.
Allonia: Troop delivery, recruits, crew, Lag’s company, ships company, a visit to Seymore, refugee contract, special target contract, Penger’s generous payment… Not exactly all spelled out in one contract anywhere.
They all sort of groan at the thought.
Kaminski: What!? YOU went to visit SEYMORE?
Bipasha: Why do you think the Kiv soldiers pulled back? Allonia had a word with him, and by the time we got to you they were in full retreat. She can be QUITE convincing, I hear. Didn’t like it when she’s angry.
Kaminski looks at her with surprise on his face.
Allonia: (with a tired smile) You watch my back. I’ll watch yours. Deal?
INT – Night – Loading ramp
The ramp is up. The cargo bay airlock doors are closed. It’s dim, empty, quiet. From one side, one of the folding arms slowly extends out, and goes up near a top inside corner, where the brass plaque is. On end of the arm is a small tool, a small drill bit with a ball point. It whirs gently. Zoom in on the brass panel and its huge list of names. At the bottom of the right column, JON BUCK is etched, adding to the long list. There is still plenty of room for more.
INT – Night – Sealed off compartment
Quinn crawls though a maze of densely packed machinery. He wears a headband with a small light on each side, and a small camera on it. He carries a screw driver and a small mallet. The compartment looks like it’s filled with a giant set of gears, with chains and some sort of tube-handling equipment. There are several tubes about three meters long, pointy on one end, that look suspiciously missile-like, in several of the holders. It is the inside of a magazine, with automated handling equipment. A damaged and broken piece of metal is jammed into one of the gears. He climbs, monkey-like, though the tubes to the jammed gearing.
Ship AI: (OC, quietly) As I thought. It may be shaken loose enough for you to free, now, after that last impact.
Quinn looks it over, playing the lights and camera on it.
Ship AI: (OC) Hit it gently from the side, low down, so it moves away from the gears.
Quinn hefts the mallet, and gives a gentle tap.
Ship AI: (OC) Yes, just there, but more firmly.
Quinn gives it a whack, then looks it over again. It’s moved a little bit.
Ship AI: (OC) Pry a bit with the screwdriver.
Quinn sticks the screw-driver between the piece of broken equipment and the gear, and starts to pry, pulling gently.
Ship AI: (OC) No, the other way.
Quinn reverses and pushes. The broken piece moves, shifts, then falls free.
Ship AI: (OC) Ah, just so. Just one more fix, and it may be usable again. But I’m afraid you can’t help with that right now. Thank you once again for scratching another hard-to-reach itch, Quinn.
Quinn: Welcome. What next?
Ship AI: (OC) Nothing for now, thank you, except to see if anyone needs a hug or a hand. They usually do after a battle. Do you remember the way out?
Quinn starts crawling back the way he came, carefully carrying the broken piece of equipment.
Everyone except Kaminski and Allonia are sleeping. No medics. Allonia has an apologetic look on her face as she sits next to the well-bandaged corporal. Kaminski has a very unsettled expression, that changes several times as he makes several aborted attempts as starting to say something. Finally a thought solidifies enough to come out.
Kaminski: Huh. THAT’S not what I was expecting. And I thought the battle-field got complicated… Mom always said falling in love was easy, but doing the right thing after that was hard.
Allonia nods slightly in silent agreement.
Kaminski: Got some thinking to do.
Allonia: You understand why I couldn’t tell you before, and why I had to tell you now?
Kaminski: Got some SERIOUS thinking to do.
Fade to black