2948-03-23 – Tales from the Service: The Defection of Source Yianna 

The F.D.A. garrison at Hamlinson Bay on Håkøya has had its share of interesting incidents since it was established (most notably to this audience, the incident involving Amber Holiday: Tales from the Service: The Gossamer Patron), but most of those incidents were easily tied to existing settler legends such as the Gossamers. For the most part, Hamlinson Bay seemed to be a backwater posting, with most of its issued easily explainable in terms of restless soldiers posted far from the critical battlefields of Margaux with little to do. 

Unfortunately, it seems that this status is likely to be at an end. Naval Intelligence has revealed that in this apparent backwater, an Incarnation agent was captured only two weeks ago. This agent, who Naval Intelligence is calling Source Yianna (and no, this code-name does not come from the agent’s real name), has apparently been convinced to be quite helpful; several other agents disguised as civilians were captured in the Hamlinson Bay area shortly afterward. 

While the nature of this agent is still not clear, it is possible that Source Yianna is of the same general brief and capabilities as the late agent Horus and other Incarnation Immortals dispatched on behind-the-lines espionage duties in the Coreward Frontier. An extensive espionage ring on the world suggests the Incarnation wants to do more there than keep an eye on the cruiser squadrons stationed in-system, and though the Incarnation’s main fleet seems still tied up at Margaux, a heightened state of alert has been issued in Håkøya and nearby systems as a precaution. 

Yianna waited until the normally blue-white stellar primary had dipped low enough toward the horizon that its harsh rays, diffused by Håkøya’s thick atmosphere, slanted low across the hills in a warm yellow-orange. Sunsets at Hamlinson Bay were always a beautiful affair, even more so than those of bucolic Prospero where she had grown up. In another life, she might have yearned to do as many over-pampered Confederated spacers had already done – stake a claim for a stretch of the brilliant white-sand beach far below, build a bungalow, and live out the rest of her days, with her only company being the hiss of the eternally gentle surf and the four-winged Hamlinson Terns wheeling overhead. 

Unfortunately, for all the beauty of the landscape, Yianna had not come to settle down on the land, and could not do so by choice. As the evening shadows lengthened, she got up from her hiding-place and held her hand up in front of her face, concentrating on the control interface for the nanomachinery teeming in her blood. She grimaced through the agony of the machines’ ministrations as they altered her appearance, her posture, even the texture of her skin.  

Yianna hated the doddering old woman disguise, but she had to admit, as the nanomachines twisted her technologically-reinforced spine into a noticeable hump, that it made her a sympathetic and all-but-invisible figure in the little town of Hamlinson Point. The town, one of the earliest settlements on the planet, had prospered from the appearance of nearly ten thousand Frontier Defense Army soldiers on its doorstep a year previously – the Lookout, a tiny watering-hole perched at the cliff’s very edge, seemed always packed with off-duty F.D.A. men, and every spare room in the town’s cluster of weathered-wood domiciles had been rented by one of the many civilian contractors who were still expanding the garrison’s fortress, and a number of newer buildings now stood on the lee side of the ridge, downhill from the town proper. 

Other, less official personages had also followed the military presence – those selling luxuries most desirable to bored military personnel. Yianna had been advised by her masters to insinuate herself in one of the three burgeoning brothels in the new part of the town, but she had ignored this insulting suggestion. In fact, this first bruise to her high-flying pride as a newly-minted Immortal had started her down a trail whose terminus she now swiftly approached. 

As Yianna’s transformation completed, she scanned the ether for a few moments before shutting down all radio traffic generated by her implants. The firmament still muttered and bickered with the usual digital traffic of a Confederated world, but she was confident that, at least as far as Hamlinson Point was concerned, she was alone inside her own head, and could do what she intended without fear of immediate reprisal, or of her actions being carried up the long and terrible chain to the Incarnation Himself, who would surely mete out dire punishment on her family on Prospero. 

Taking up the tall walking-stick she used in her guise as an old woman – she had carved it herself with a knife when first concocting the disguise, since her nanomachines, though capable of rendering her will in metal, could do nothing with the local wood-analogues – Yianna emerged from the bushes and headed up the winding path to the Lookout, the tiny bar packed with Confederated volunteer soldiers enjoying an evening off-duty. She had watched Colonel Bennington, the local garrison’s commander, walk up that path from his base’s perimeter an hour before, and knew it was time to do what she had been contemplating for many weeks. 

Passing locals and uniformed F.D.A. personnel on the path, Yianna smiled at everyone, and most of them smiled back. She had been in the area for months, and many had seen her around many times before. So few of the local Håkøyan settlers, many of them retired spacers, carried personal digital devices that her lack of wrist computer or other technological accessories raised no eyebrows. 

Long before she approached the Lookout’s heavy double doors, Yianna could hear singing and laughter from within. The babble of such human activity had confused and overwhelmed her for several days when she’d first arrived on Håkøya - the sound seemed vastly chaotic and primeval, compared to the orderly, austere atmosphere of a dispensary in Incarnation territory. The implants that almost everyone carried allowed most communication to be carried on silently and invisibly, and automatically counteracted the volume-raising effects of alcohol and other intoxicants. The Confederated humans lacked this technological improvement, and so had to shout over each other in crowded spaces. 

A pair of soldiers, already quite drunk despite the early hour, burst out of the Lookout, leaning on each other and laughing about some nonsense. One of them waved at Yianna as they staggered by, and she waved one artificially-gnarled hand in return. She’d come to the Lookout in this guise every few nights for several months, and most of the regulars no longer questioned her presence. The soldiers had not hidden anything from her, and what they knew of the Hamlinson Bay fortress, she had picked up by overhearing and by asking a few questions, carefully phrased to be consistent with her role as a curious old woman. 

Tonight, though, Yianna would not be playing her usual part. The Incarnation had inculcated her well with its doctrine, but in her mission to Hamlinson Bay, she had spent too much time alone inside her head, far from any other Incarnation person whose implants might spy her heretical thoughts. When her fellows were near, she acted and even thought like a perfect true believer, but with such a small team spread out across hundreds of square kilometers of terrain, Yianna encountered the other Immortals sent to Håkøya only rarely. In the solitude, that initial bruised ego had festered and grown into a seeping psychic wound – the increasingly dread certainty that the infallible Incarnation had erred in the ancient quest to stave off extinction. 

That alone might have earned her death on an Inquisitor’s blade back on Prospero, even if Yianna was happy to follow a flawed but still virtuous leader of a pure mission. The festering wound might have made her bitter, but not a traitor. Treason – against her fellows and, as the Incarnation declared, against the fate of humanity itself – had an altogether different origin, one born in a long, pleasant conversation with the F.D.A. colonel dispatched to the thankless Hamlinson Bay outpost. What they had talked about, she dared not think about when she believed herself alone in her own head. Her reasons for betraying the cause she had been born to defend were the only thing about her that she could be sure was hers and hers alone; not even the man who’d sown the seeds could know what had sprouted there. 

Yianna paused at the double doors, taking a deep breath and glancing behind her to verify that the two inebriated men were not doubling back. This was the last chance to turn away from her chosen course of action and continue to do her duty to the Incarnation on Håkøya. Grimacing once more in anticipation, she set her nanomachines to begin reversed the disguise which had allowed her to approach this far unmolested, and similarly ordered her smart-fabric clothing to revert to its true form. 

Before the pain had begun in earnest, Yianna pushed open the doors of the Lookout and staggered inside. A few heads turned at first, seeing only a familiar crone, but soon the agony of the nanomachines chewing on her flesh rose, and those cursory glances became wide-eyed stares, and hands darted for the side-arms many of the F.D.A. soldiers wore. Colonel Bennington, in his usual seat at the leftmost end of the bar, was one of the last to take interest, and then only when the female lieutenant he’d been chatting with noticed first and drew his eye. 

Straightening her newly-restored back and rolling her shoulders, Yianna tapped the cane on the wood-plank floor to get the attention of those few who’d not yet noticed her. They saw her now as she truly was, as true as any appearance could be for one such as her. Tall and long-limbed, dressed in form-hugging Incarnation combat fatigues that put every slight curve and angle of her body on display for all to see, she raised her eyes to the uncertain crowd, all of whom certainly knew what they were looking at, and that if she desired, she could kill them all before a single gun left its holster. 

Yianna locked eyes with the garrison commander across the small space. “Colonel Rhys Bennington?” 

The man stood, jaw clenched, as if expecting that answering would mean death. In other circumstances, Yianna knew, it might have done just that. “That’s me.” 

“I request asylum and the protective custody of your brig, Colonel.” Yianna saluted smartly in the incarnation fashion. “I think there is much we have to discuss.” 

2949-03-16 – Tales from the Service: Arowana’s First Contact

The pair of blips representing the unknown ships seemed to crawl across the display, but Walker Gorman knew the vastness of even interplanetary space was deceiving. For his cutter Arowana to gain as much delta-vee as they had in the hour since they’d come into spatial-stress detector range, it would have had to run its gravitic drive above maximum for more than six hours – and from the steadiness of their drive signature, the vessels were cruising at twenty or thirty percent of their maximum drive power at the most. 

The potential speed of the vessels had frightened Walker when they’d first appeared, but that reaction had long since faded, to be replaced by simple curiosity. Why would any sapient, rational or otherwise, construct a vessel with such performance characteristics, when distances wider than a single star’s orbital plane could be covered by a star drive hop that no light-speed-limited gravitic drive could outpace? Nobody was in enough of a hurry to cross a single star system that they accepted the consequences of major time dilation, except apparently these three ships. He might have taken one such vessel for a research ship or high-speed courier despite their size, but two of the same configuration suggested serial production. Most likely, these were warships launched from the same shipyard. 

A few kilometers off the starboard bow, a few of Walker’s crewmen sent back regular updates about the progress of their salvage mission. He let the other bridge crew monitor that situation, preferring to tackle the puzzle of the unknown ships himself in silence. Someone would shout his name if the volunteer scrappers ran into any real trouble. 

On several occasions, Walker had approached a conclusion about the trio of ships, but had shied away from it each time. If he accepted that conclusion, it necessitated a course of action that, should he be wrong, would doom his Arowana and its entire crew – and robbed the Lost Squadrons of any salvaged parts and resources that might be recovered from the dead colony world below and its shattered space dock. 

Third Lieutenant Kuijpers was evidently as distracted by the blips on the plot as his skipper. “That’s way too much engine for travel.” 

This being one of the axioms of the conclusion Walker had been dancing with, he turned in his chair to face the young sensor officer. “What else do you use gravitic drives for, Mr. Kuijpers?” 

“Acrobatics, maybe.” Kuijpers dismissed this almost as soon as he’d said it, realizing as Walker already had that no A-grav system could keep such a ship from pulping its crew or flying apart at the seams under a full-power gravitic drive reversal at that scale. “I don’t know. Matching velocities, overcompensating for a really tiny-” 

“Matching velocities, exactly.” Walker pointed to the plot. “There’s nothing here going fast enough to justify that. Find me something in Sagittarius that is.” 

Kuijpers blinked slowly, likely thinking that Walker was handing him make-work to keep his mind off the peril swiftly nearing closest approach. Still, he bent over his console and began a navcomputer search. 

Unfortunately, the boy had come up with precisely the same reason Walker himself had, and this only put another feather in the cap of the conclusion he was avoiding. The only reason to need serially produced ships which could easily attain relativistic velocities in a short period of time was that they needed to visit a destination that was in itself moving at relativistic velocities relative to other destinations. 

Every spacer knew that a star drive moved the ship in space, but the velocity with which it arrived was essentially the velocity with which it initiated the jump, in relation not to the positions of the stars, but the cosmic fabric itself. Each star system moved at slightly different speed and direction around the galactic core, so the first step in reaching any destination was burning the gravitic drive until the ship’s velocity and the destination star system’s velocity were nearly matched, less a component that propelled the ship in-system toward its intended port of call. Only then could the ship begin accelerating in-system at cruise power. 

Evidently, the search didn’t take Kuijpers very long. With a startled expression, he looked up. “The Tumbleweed, Skipper.” 

The what?” Walker didn’t recognize the name. 

“It’s an open cluster, redshifted to all Hells.” A false-color image of a group of perhaps a dozen stars appeared on one of Walker’s secondary displays. “It's moving almost straight toward the galactic center, and going so fast that must experience time dilation.” 

This was exactly the sort of thing Walker needed to make his decision. The Tumbleweed, according to the data on the screen, was near the far edge of the official boundaries of the Sagittarius Frontier, though outside the densest part of the Galactic Disk, where its pell-mell course was unlikely to result in close encounters with any of the local stars. “Something must have kicked it out of its orbit.” 

“Datasphere says it might have been exogalactic.” 

The word, mind-boggling in scale as it was, made everyone on the bridge look up. Most of them had probably been half-listening, and as that word produced an uncomfortable silence, Walker could see bits and pieces of his conclusion falling into place in each pair of eyes.  

Walker stood up. He knew what he needed to do, and he also knew nobody on the command deck would like it. “That would have been what, a hundred thousand years ago? Longer?” 

“Four hundred thousand. Skipper, do you really think those Nate ships visited the Tumbleweed?” 

“Not precisely, Mr. Kuijpers.” Walker turned back to his chair to lean over the console and tap into the ship’s intercom. “All hands, stand down from Condition Two. Re-engage running lights and IFF transponder.” He then gestured to the other equally-young officer at the comms station. “Prepare the standard first-contact protocols, Ms. Wojda.” 

“What?” Wojda shook her head. “First contact? But these are-” 

“Not Nates.” Walker hoped he sounded more confident than he felt. It would have been safer to avoid the ships altogether, but if the two ships weren’t Incarnation ships, there were only two explanations for the identical drive technology. From what he’d seen of Incarnation foreign policy, he doubted the mad Ladeonist chipheads were the type to negotiate licensed manufacturing. “I think we’re about to meet the people Nate stole his tech from.” 

Mr. Gorman guessed correctly, and this explains why the Reachers referred to Incarnation warships as Grand Journey ships crewed by humans. Though the details of the actual event remain unclear, it seems that the marvelous drive systems of the Tyrant-type heavy cruisers are scaled-down powerplants stolen from this odd faction, which seems to send its ships out from the Tumbleweed stellar cluster to wander and explore Sagittarius much as the Reachers are known to wander the Orion Arm. 

That being said, the Reachers’ stated prior experience with these sapients suggest they are capable of crossing the Gap, and there is still no evidence of a Reacher home world, even a mobile one like the Tumbleweed cluster. The relationship between these two apparently nomadic cultures, though of certain interest to this audience, is still not known. 

Unfortunately, the actual details of the first contact event with these Grand Journey vessels has been placed under Naval Intelligence lock and key. Some time in the future, perhaps, I will be allowed to share the rest of this story with this audience. 

2949-03-09 – Tales from the Service: Arowana’s Encounter 

As further information has been released about the movements and adventures of the Lost Squadrons in their fifteen months cut off from friendly forces, a number of members of the audience have requested – demanded, really – an interview with Captain Samuel Bosch. While this publication interviewed the man before the war, and would very much appreciate a chance to do so again, I must remind you all that this embed team is aboard the Fifth Fleet battleship Saint-Lô, which is still undergoing repairs in the Maribel system. Bosch is still aboard his now-well-known flagship Arrowhawk, which is currently on the other side of the Gap at Sagittarius Gate. Even if it were on its way back toward Core Worlds yards for a refit – which to my knowledge it is not – there is no reason it should stop here at Maribel. I fear these requests are not likely to be fulfilled. 

Though I cannot bring you the words of Bosch himself, this week Naval Intelligence has cleared us to share an account from Walker Gorman, skipper of a picket cutter among the Lost Squadrons. His account, which we will continue next week, seems to partially explain the relationship between the Incarnation and the Grand Journey (mentioned to Mus’ad Balos in Tales from the Service: A Reacher's Request), but to understand how it does that, you will need to wait until next week's entry. To my knowledge, this feed has an exclusive on Mr. Gorman's account - it won't be available elsewhere on the datasphere before then.

The Lost Squadrons, in their wandering through the Sagittarius Frontier, seem to have run into this Grand Journey – or at least, some of its warships. 

Lieutenant Walker Gorman barely glanced over at the situation plot as the EVA team’s utility sled dart out from the open hatch below Arowana’s bow. He couldn’t take his eyes off the green world below, where twilight marched across a vast, branching mega-continent. The system deep within the Sagittarius Frontier had no formal name, only an anonymous catalog number, and it contained a world that he could already tell rivalled Maribel in terms of habitability and natural beauty. 

Before the war, Walker had been planning to leave the Navy. He loved the spacers’ life, but there hadn’t seemed much hope of advancement in the peacetime officer corps. He’d been a lieutenant for eleven years, passed up for promotion twice, and even the shuffling after the Great Purge hadn’t opened up any windows through which he could rise beyond command of a lowly picket cutter. Unglamorous as civilian service was, it would give him a chance to run his own ship and his own life, and maybe leave room in that life for a family. He’d grown up in just such a spacer family, after all. 

All those dreams had been put on hold when his little Arowana and the whole scouting group it was assigned to had been sent across the Gap. They hadn't known then what they were getting into – nobody did. The flag cruiser of their group, swift and elegant Mistralion, had perished within weeks of the cutting of the HyperComm relay chain, lost with all hands under the cannons of a pair of those damnable Tyrant cruisers, and Arowana had done what the rest of its force had done – scattered and fled. 

Arowana had linked up with the Arrowhawk scouting group, along with the other survivors of Mystralion’s squadron. There, in the dubious shelter of Sam Bosch’s wings, his little crew had come to terms with the reality that, at least in the short term, the cavalry wasn’t coming. There would be no rescue they couldn’t make themselves. 

Making a rescue was of course why his cruiser sat in orbit over a nameless green world. The system had been the location of a privately held colony of about fifteen hundred Confederated humans before the Incarnation’s swift cruisers had swept hopeful Confederated colonists from its side of the Gap. Walker and his ship had come to check if this tiny outpost had survived, and had been entirely unsurprised to find silent radio bands and a scorched crater where the settlement had once been. 

The Incarnation, however, had not been completely thorough; the colony’s modest orbital dock had been haphazardly lacerated by energy beams, but it remained stubbornly in orbit, a disemboweled hulk. Two of the crew had volunteered to go over to the wreck to scavenge for usable equipment, and he had allowed it. He hoped picking the bones of a dead colony would permit some of the Lost Squadrons’ ships and personnel to live a little longer. 

“Skipper, I’m picking up new drive signatures headed in-system, two of them!” 

Walker whirled away from the display to young third-lieutenant Kuijpers on the sensor station. “Incarnation?” 

“Computer’s working on it, sir.” 

“Go to condition two and take the ship dark.” Deep in a stellar gravity well as it was, even abandoning the spacers and their utility sled and running for the jump limit wouldn’t save Arowana if the incoming ships were Incarnation cruisers. Thankfully, the ship had been in a stable orbit for two hours, its easily detectable gravitic drive disengaged – if the ships were hostile, they might not have seen the miniscule cutter burning its way into the system to the habitable world. Though not designed for stealth, Arowana could do a creditable impression of a chunk of debris if nobody put a visual-light telescope on it, and the ship didn’t need to move under its own power. 

In moments, the condition two alert blared through the intercom, and the dozen-odd crew still on the ship scrambled to prepare for action. The ship’s running lights died, and the inner lights dimmed as all nonessential power usage was curtailed. 

Vasyl Zini, one of the volunteers clinging to the utility sled, noticed that something was happening right away. “Skipper, the ship just went dark.” 

“Unknown ships in-system, Mr. Zini. We’re going to lie low until they’re gone. Continue the salvage operation.” He couldn’t tell the tech that there was nothing anyone on Arowana could do but hope to evade notice; it helped morale if Walker always emphasized what he and his subordinates could do, rather than what was out of their control. 

“Ah... Understood, sir. Let us know if-” 

Whatever else Zini said, Walker didn’t hear it. “Unknown drive signatures are a partial match for Incarnation cruisers, sir.” Kuijpers half stood up from her station, as if to bolt off the command deck to abandon ship. 

“Steady.” Walker waved her back down. “We’ve only seen one kind of Incarnation warship out here. What does a partial match mean?” 

The young woman eased back into her seat, hands dancing over the console. “In this case, sir... Their drive signatures are nearly identical. It’s the same hardware, sir, these ships just have more of them and they’re running each one at fairly low power.” 

“More drive units?”  

“The standard Tyrant-type has twin gravitic drives. These ships have five each, sir.” 

Walker took a moment to do the math, then shook his head in amazement. Incarnation cruisers, despite their size, were extremely fast vessels, capable of acceleration which would outpace every Confederated Worlds battleship, carrier, and cruiser currently in service. Only destroyers and the fastest models of cutters had a chance of outrunning the huge Incarnation warships in a footrace, but Arowana was not of this swift variety. Why would anyone need two and a half Tyrants of drive power, especially if they were only running them at very low power settings? 

“Stay dark and continue to monitor.” It was the only order he could give; going unnoticed was his ship’s only hope to survive to return to the bulk of Bosch’s scratch force, with or without a few salvaged parts from the orbital dock. 

2949-03-02 – Tales from the Service: The Changing of the Guard 

As the medical orderlies wheeled Colonel Pokorni out to the balcony beside her, Glorinda Eccleston tore her eyes away from the three burning spires of Mount Ishkawa on the southeastern horizon to look at her commander – or rather, what was left of him. She’d been there on the slopes of that mountain right beside him when the 12th Marines’ regimental command post had been hit. Pokorni’s armor-suit had saved his life from the storm of shrapnel and rock-splinters which had turned a trio of F.D.A officers into a rain of unrecognizable meat, but he’d still lost his right leg and hand. 

Glorinda, wearing similar armor and standing less than three meters from Pokorni, had barely missed joining the unfortunate volunteer-soldiers in death; a jagged piece of rock had struck her in the side of the helmet and caved it in. A few more grams of mass, and the rock might have had the force necessary to crush her head, but she escaped the disaster at Ishkawa with only a concussion and a blown eardrum. 

“Eccleston.” Pokorni’s voice, previously strong, calm, and commanding, seemed thin and weak, just like the man. He’d lost weight in the two weeks since his injury, and his broad-shouldered bone-structure seemed too big for the flesh stretched over it.  

No, she realized, that wasn’t quite right – he'd been losing weight steadily long before they’d been airlifted off Mount Ishkawa with thirteen other wounded Marines. It seemed that every one of his men mangled or killed in the savage fighting on the mountain’s sloped had aged Pokorni a few more years. The Twelfth Marines had lost dozens of men up on those blazing heights, and Pokorni seemed to have lost something up there with them even before his own horrific injuries. 

“Colonel.” Glorinda nodded. Fellow officers didn’t salute each other in the medical ward. A convalescent’s simple shift lacked rank markings, making each Marine in the overcrowded hospital complex the equal of his fellows. Glorinda, not quite a Marine, felt the need to defer to her commanding officer, even if it was only a matter of time before he was relieved of command of the Twelfth, his injuries making him incapable of operating an armor-suit. 

“It’s still burning.” Pokorni gestured at the distant mountain with the stub at the end of his right arm, then stared down at the bandages where his hand should have been, as if still surprised to find the appendage missing. “That means we're still holding it.” 

“Far as I know, we are, sir. But the Twelfth isn’t up there anymore.” The Twelfth Marines, or what was left of it, had been pulled out of the Mount Ishkawa encirclement four days after Glorinda and Pokorni had been wounded. The Sixteenth Marines – in little better shape but at least somewhat rested – had taken their place shoring up the vast F.D.A. force holding the mountain. 

The colonel shook his head. “The Twelfth will be up there until the stars go out.” 

Glorinda winced, remembering the faces of the Marines she’d gotten to know as Intelligence Liaison to the Twelfth’s commander who had perished on Ishkawa. She had been a relatively recent addition to the regiment – many of the officers and enlisted men had been with the Twelfth for five years or longer, since Pokorni took it over. Five years seemed so many lifetimes to Glorinda, who’d gone from Naval Intelligence attaché on a sleepy Frontier world to F.D.A. volunteer to Marine intelligence liaison in half that time, and who had her first taste of combat on Mereena barely six months earlier, but to the surviving men of the Twelfth, each of the dead lying in a broken suit among the rocks and hardy toxic lichens on that mountain was as close as a brother. 

General Bell came to see me today.” Pokorni shifted in his wheelchair, turning to look up at Glorinda. “He mentioned something, and I was hoping you could tell me about it.” 

Glorinda nodded, waking her wrist computer and entering her Naval Intelligence codes. Despite being off the duty roles, her access to Intelligence subnets in the Margaux datasphere seemed to be intact. “I’ve got access. What is it he mentioned?” 

“Something called Juno. He didn’t say, but I got the sense it was something your department cooked up.” 

Glorinda tapped the four-letter name into a general datasphere search and scrolled through the results. Most were the names of people in the Intelligence database, and a few referenced locations named Juno on various Frontier worlds. “Sorry, Colonel. I’m not seeing anything. Are you sure that was the name?" 

Pokorni nodded, then shrugged. “Must be above our pay grade.” 

Glorinda doubted there were many secrets that were beyond the pay grade of a Marine regimental command post. Thinking that perhaps Juno was a person leading an initiative rather than the name of a weapon or project, she did a few more searches, and still came up with nothing. 

Pokorni let the silence stretch, content to watch the flaming mountain in the distance. A fresh explosion bloomed on its near face, and the rumble of the blast, like distant thunder, took many seconds to arrive. Eventually, though, he spoke again. “Have they reassigned you?” 

“No, sir. I’m cleared to return to duty with the Twelfth in five days.” She had recovered her hearing well enough, but the freshly healed eardrum wasn’t ready for the clamor inside an armor-suit in combat quite yet. An intelligence liaison who lost her hearing in battle and couldn’t hear commands or queries wouldn’t be much good to anyone. 

“Hmm.” Pokorni kept his tone and expression neutral, leaving no indication whether he approved or not. “I told Bell to promote Singh. I think he’s ready.” 

Glorinda had her reservations about the boisterous officer who’d replaced the deceased Captain Low in the regiment’s second-in-command position, but she knew no better officer was available. “The men like Singh, sir.” 

“You don’t.” 

Glorinda didn’t bother denying the allegation; she didn’t like him at all. She did however recognize the man’s competence and indomitable optimism; these were things the surviving Twelfth Marines would need very badly. Everyone could see that a final decision on Margaux would be coming soon – and unless the Navy arrived for one more battle in the sky above, that decision would not be in the favor of the besieged Confederated troops. “I will try to see things his way.” 

“As you tried to see things mine?” Louis Pokorni chuckled quietly, pressing a button on his chair to summon the orderlies who would return him to his room. “I do think I’ve had quite enough of that mountain for one lifetime.” 

Glorinda almost – almost – extended her right hand for a handshake but remembered just in time that Pokorni couldn’t take it. Something told her she wouldn’t see the man again before she returned to the Twelfth – his Twelfth, no matter who else was promoted to replace him. “It’s been an honor, Colonel.” 

Pokorni, sensing her hesitation, merely nodded as the orderlies approached. “Good luck, Lieutenant, and godspeed.” 

Colonel Louis Pokorni left Margaux on one of the small ferry operations (such as the one described in Tales from the Service: A Departure from Margaux) which move wounded troops out from the shrinking Confederated perimeter in the Causey Plana and bring in small-tonnage, high-demand supplies. The Navy spacers operating these runs take their lives into their hands every time they enter the besieged system, and while the Navy has not lost a major ship in this manner yet, several have been forced to abort and flee the system. 

I was hoping to engage him in an interview when he reached the medical facility here at Maribel, but if he ever arrived here, there is no record of it. All my datasphere messages have gone unanswered. Unfortunately, this stalwart veteran of Mereena and Margaux seems to have unplugged from the datasphere. Wherever he’s been taken to recover from his wounds, I pray he finds peace for the ghosts which his close associate Ms. Eccleston is sure haunt him still.