As the others left to "go shopping", a trio of marines dressed in conventional clothes called Christopher over to them, then progressed down the well-maintained streets of Los Andares--for way too long. Before they had even got there, Christopher had begun to worry if they were about to assault him, as they were entering less and less populated neighborhoods of the city, just as the place began to look less and less up-to-date, and became rather shambly and dirt-laden. What kind of neighborhood is this? wondered Christopher, looking around him with the feeling that he wasn't in Los Andares anymore, though he knew he was. "I'm starting to not like this place," he said.
"Don't worry, it gets worse," one of the three marines that were bringing him there replied with a severity that revealed sincerity. But it was not at all soothing to hear for Christopher. Darn! I was expecting 'don't worry, it'll get better soon'! So, mildly dissuaded from whatever he had been hoping for, he drooped his head and sighed.
At long last they turned to enter a decidedly most shanty of the buildings in the neighborhood. The door was locked--Christopher went up to and tested it with his own hands--and there was no window, though the building was rather large. "Well, we obviously can't get in there," he said, though he knew very well that the others who had brought him here had a plan.
"Don't worry, platoon leader," said one of the marines looking at the solitary bar on his shoulder, before abruptly punching the door. Then he proceeded to shout rather loudly and clearly, without regard to anyone else who may be in the room: "Hey! This door's unlocked!" Huh? Are you kidding me?? thought Christopher, but as he watched, it turned out to be true--the marine opened the door without incident.
The marine motioned an upright finger to his lips. Keep quiet, it meant. Didn't you just make such a loud noise--?!? Oh, I get it... So Christopher, surprised at this place, decided to keep quiet.
It was the regular atrium they entered into. They stepped into the living room, then the bedroom, an ordinary one with a full-sized bed with nightstand--and the marines got down to their knees, and climbed under the admittedly unusually high bed. Daniel peered down. The marines were gone. In their place, was a trap door with the cover out of place. "Psst, Sarge, get in here!" Christopher looked clandestinely from side to side. This place is anything but ordinary, he remarked to himself. He subconsciously nodded, not knowing if he should, and simply did as they told him to. He grappled around in the darkness for a ladder, and found one, easing himself down the twenty feet or so into the basement--it took like an eternity--and he was surprised at the effectiveness of twenty feet of soil and several trap doors in succession as a sound barrier.
For in the basement, were all sorts of rowdy activities going on in about half a dozen different rooms. The basement was possibly two to three times as large as the house above it, and there was definitely something happening--
"Why did you bring me here?" Christopher asked the three marines, amid the bustle of action and dialogue in this dimly lit but rather noisy room, and looking wide-eyed at the casually dressed groups who reminded him way too much of a perverted refugee camp.
"Don't worry, just hurry," said the same marine. Christopher paused, then whistled: Wow, nice rhyme there, but--
So they went past the various rooms--each with a door open. It seemed that each of the rooms held trafficking in another illegit activity, complete with advertisements, sellers, wares, and plenty of buyers. "What is it they brought me here for?" Christopher wondered, but he had no further time to think, as the nearby marine suddenly grabbed his hand and pulled him along with enough strength that Christopher knew it was futile to resist. But meanwhile, he looked through the open doors--a split second each--to see what was going on...
Room one. Piles of illegal weaponry, plenty of ammunition, and even sets of armor that Christopher believed, without concrete proof, to be superior to the standard issue for marines.
Room two. A pimp was calling out various lascivious descriptions of the prostitutes--he called them "comfort women"--that he was offering. (Censored), (censored), and more of the (censored). Christopher decided to close his eyes as they passed the open door.
Room three. Several grimacing prisoners with fettered hands and feet awaited their overseer to sell them to wealthy crime-lords at several thousand Confederate credits apiece. Human merchandise, he thought. Why does humanity even bother to fight the lisks, with criminals running things like this, things that were supposed to be long gone centuries ago? Christopher had to practically tear his eyes away from looking at and sympathizing with the forlorn slaves.
Room four. Several computers and monitors, and piles of data discs. On one of them, a client experimented clicking on a standard word processor, and the computer crashed, the picture of a worm crawling around the screen. "Ha! I'll buy that hack, thank you," said another with a gleeful smile...
Room five. Christopher wondered what sin this room contained, with its assortment of drinks, fruits, and pastries... Until he heard the owner feed a few crumbs to a chicken and it died, instantly.
Room six. The other three marines headed into this one, with piles of kits that said "warning: biohazard" on them, and spoke in whispers. Before Christopher had come close enough to hear them, the transaction had been accomplished, and the marines unbashfully deposited two heavy reddish plastic kits into Daniel's hands, before each taking two additional kits.
Christopher roughly tapped the marine on his shoulder, causing him to whirl around. "Okay, I understand that this is a lucrative occupation, all this, but why now? Why, when the lisks are about to come and invade?"
The man was serious, and intoned: "Look. We ALL know that the lisks are coming. In fact, this place didn't bustle with so much activity prior to the first sightings of the aliens. But now, considering how everyone is in a mad dash to get off planet, you can count on the Confederates to Not Care A WHIT about any CRIMES that are being committed in their jurisdiction. That's why everyone here is in a scramble to get whatever they want, if they have a gang dropship, or to sell whatever they want, if they bought a government-issued ticket to Antiga." Just as the man was about to finish his short explanation, Christopher's eyes opened wide with the insight of 'so that was why...'
"How much was that?" asked Daniel as they carried their luggage out of the basement.
The don't-worry marine replied, "Don't worry, they're only a hundred and forty five credits in total. Not much, but of course to be billed to your account."
"WHAT??? I don't even know what these things are!"
"Why, they're drugs, of course. Neural stimulants, to be precise."
"And why do you think I'd want to pay for them?" Christopher asked incredulously. "Why do you think I'd want them?"
The marines looked at each other with the overt expression that this staff sergeant knew nothing about warfare. "Well, never mind that they're illegal, but they're stim-packs! They're sure as hel* good for keeping injured marines up and running, for improving accuracy, and for boosting our overall conduct in the battlefield. You're the platoon leader. You have us use this, and we'll perform better than you may think is possible."
Christopher's eyes narrowed, and he vowed, "Well, I don't plan to be using drugs at all in the coming conflict. I'm going to be fighting this the RIGHT way, with brains and brawl."
"Sergeant. If you don't want to use these, well that's okay, but if your Stupid Plan causes more people die than is necessary, then I"LL HAVE NO END WITH YOU!"
Christopher backed down at the unexpected confrontation. "Well then, you'd better make sure these work, because if they don't it's the military that are going to get killed by the lisks, and You're military." Christopher gave them a serious look, pointing his index finger at their chests.
"Don't worry, we're up to it. Anything to save our peoples." The marines saluted, serious expressions on their face. They meant it.
Christopher looked at the eight kits laden with thin syringes. Enough for an army's single use. Could it be? Could it be, that from the depths of the illegal trade could come something that would definitively turn the tide of battle? If it was so, then he had definitely been in error in his indictment of crime ever since he was a boy.
The four-some deposited the kits at the various headquarters of the squadrons, handing them to the soldiers without their commanding officers ever knowing of what had transpired. Then, with a single nod of acknowledgment of their efforts, he left them.
Daniel approached the large command center in the middle of the city, a massive hemispherical building. At the entrance were four marines in the new CLCS-410 and wielding what seemed to be the newer Impaler Rifles. They snapped to attention as soon as they spotted him, and asked for his name. "Captain Daniel Travincal," he shot back, becoming impatient mighty fast while the guards radioed HQ and got the okay. He never had this impatience complex going when he was a corporal... Maybe it's just that things are getting more urgent by the minute, he reminded himself.
Daniel sighed as he walked past them. He remembered what the prison guard had told him: the planetary government was not stable, for some people wanted to save the civilians and thus break Confederate edicts, while others wanted various militia forces to join in the battle.
He passed through the doorway, for he had earned it. There were only a few other captains on Mar Sara, together forming the "cabinet" of the colonial administration's military leadership, under none other than the colonial Magistrate Collins, who ranked as a Commander under General Duke.
The command center was ornately decorated, with eight massive marble columns supporting the center, a splendid chandelier hanging from the ceiling, red regal carpetry, and dark red-painted mahogany wood floors. There were several inner compartments around the main chamber, as well as sofas and a supercomputer near the middle. In the inner ring were the other captains, together with the magistrate.
Just as he was looking at his surroundings, he heard the voice of a young man saying, "All right--I'm in." A debate?
With a start, he realized that he was the only one there not wearing the moderately fancy uniform of sergeant first class, but sat down nevertheless. "Yeah, sorry, I'm late," Daniel noted, but in a way that made it seem to be as insignificant as an ant.
A slightly cold, masculine voice. "Good then, let the new sergeant hear the transmission." The speaker seemed under pressure to prove himself.
The nearby adjutant, a bald-headed lady, spoke in a clear and soothing voice: "Replaying transmission."
The viewing screen of the supercomputer whirred to life: the image of a man in his fifties. The portrait began to speak in a smooth, hypnotic intonement:
(*) "Good day, Magistrate. My name is Arcturus Mengsk, and I represent the Sons of Korhal. You're familiar with the Confederate propaganda surrounding my group, but your reputation suggests you'll see past it. It's never been our practice to operate in any place for long, but *heh* these ZERG don't look like they're going to wait.
"I'm going to make you an offer, Magistrate. I'd like to help you out by sending down a number of transports to your colony and evacuating any survivors.
"You know, of course, that my organization operates beyond the confines of Confederate law. That's why they spread their lies and misinformation. If you decide to accept our help, you'll be branded as an outlaw too. But it's a Chance to Save Those People. Time to make a stand, Magistrate."
The screen flickered away into blackness, and the adjutant concluded, "end of transmission."
"Well, captain Travincal, we've seen your string of successes, and currently we are divided on the issue of whether we shall accept their aid, four to four, leaving you to be the tie-breaker. We are not going to tell you what we voted for, to keep from biasing you. Like he said, what shall it be?"
The magistrate had quite a formidable voice indeed, though not quite as strong as that rhetorician Mengsk, thought Daniel.
"They sound like they can actually make a difference in a battle. What do we know about their military capabilities?"
"They are a pirate organization that have for a while been able to fend off any Confederate attempts to eradicate them. We don't know their true strengths, but do know that they could give Mar Sara serious trouble if they were to attack. That's what those Stations scattered across the planet are for - to make sure they don't manage to sneak in on us and launch a land attack. They probably have at least a regiment, as well as quite a few transport frigates."
"Well-------em, I'd suggest we ally with the Sons of Korhal. It's a desperate alliance, that's all--and he's right, there's no other way off this planet for the hundred thousand civilians still stranded on this rock. I've learned quite a bit about the aliens, as you're likely to suspect. And I can tell you that it has a strong and intelligent hive mind-"
"WHAT!!" said three of the captains in unison. The magistrate just gave them a look of denigration at the others, as if saying, didn't you figure that out earlier?
"...and I can tell you much about their ferocity and coordination. We also don't know how they're producing so many beasts so fast, so that there is absolutely no chance that our current defenses will be sufficient for the long term. I foresee that within days, Los Andares will be overrun by their swarms of monsters."
"Then the matter is settled," concluded the magistrate. "Adjutant, you can ansible him now."
Daniel had always wondered how those ansibles worked, how they could reach across the folds of time instantaneously, but no matter: it got the job done. He made a mental note to ask Christopher later on about its inside workings. The lady brought up Mengsk on the supercomputer again. "Well, this can only mean that you have decided to accept our offer," the rebel leader announced rather prematurely, yet correctly.
"Indeed, that is the case, for we have voted it so," Daniel said.
"You've made the right choice," replied Mengsk, picking his words carefully, "I'll consider you Mar Sarans as allies, all, and I'm dispatching the transport frigates. Since they're coming from different planets, the first will arrive in two days, another in fifteen, and the last batch, in twenty. Good luck until then."
As the portrait disappeared, ten of the staff sergeants burst into protest, but resigned to the fate of their planet, knowing they had lost the vote and realizing that what they were supporting would lead to their inevitable deaths. "Well, can I attend to my work?" Daniel asked.
"You've not yet asked about your additional troops," wistfully replied the magistrate. "You know, the ones to replace those who died defending New Haven."
"That's what I meant by 'MY WORK," Daniel hit back.
"Well then, they are all waiting in barracks two. Would my adjutant please bring them to the square immediately in front of the command center? Thank you." The adjutant obediantly phoned the barracks and pressed in a code, while the magistrate turned back to Daniel with an appreciative face that made it very obvious the magistrate had sided with him about the Sons of Korhal matter.
"You are dismissed."
Daniel stood up and walked out of the command center in the prideful steps that he realized that he ought to be learning about now, before I get promoted further up and get laughed back down, he thought to himself.
Outside, the cloudless skies were extraordinarily bright, and the sun fiery hot. Daniel was dripping in sweat just sitting in the shade of a rare imported tree waiting for his new contingent to march up.
Wow, these guys actually march, he thought to himself, quite impressed with the exactness with which the soldiers approached. Expertly trained.
Just then, the magistrate himself came out, along with a platoon leader. "We two wish to give you thanks for supporting our side of the debate," the platoon leader said, while the magistrate only beamed at his troops.
"Thus, those soldiers are a gift to you; use them wisely," finished the magistrate, patting Daniel on the back with a fatherly gesture before returning to the command center to oversee some possibly important business. The other one stayed behind.
"Wonder how gifts come your way, doesn't it?" Daniel remarked wryly.
"Call me Daniel. What's your name?"
"Call me Jimmy, then." Turning his head as if pointing at the newly arriving contingent, he said, "That platoon has forty soldiers, of which ten are vulture speed-bike drivers, four are firebats, six are SCV drivers, and the rest are marines."
Daniel turned to the platoon and brought his arm up in a classical salute, and his newest soldiers did the same, all at once with surprising reflexiveness. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Jimmy grin with satisfaction. Too noticeably. "What, did you train these units?"
"No, I didn't," he responded with a tinge of pink on his cheeks. "No, they belong to the local marshal."
Daniel suspected a ruse. "Who's the local marshal?"
"He's James Raynor."
"Okay then, I believe I shall be seeing you soon, Very Soon, Jim Raynor." Daniel gave him a wink. Aha! You can't trick me with that! Turning to the soldiers, he announced: "All right, all of you input your ID tags to mine, which is A734-G83Z-1IO-03VD," taking pains to not make a mistake. "And don't forget to input my ID into your own suits," so that you don't shoot me unawares, he added on. He took a deep breath, taking in all the view of his hundred fresh soldiers. "Dismissed."
He was soon shown to his temporary quarters--and as soon as he turned on a government-issued computer, saw with grim surprise a cluster of tanks lobbing massive shells into the distance. They fired very slowly, their eruptions smashing enemy lings to bits. Soon, however, they had come into the view--several veritable streams of both forms of alien. They washed over the immobile tanks, blue sparks and streaks of electric discharge rippling through the air, while greenish bursts blasted apart chunks of armor. Before long, the tanks were no more.
These hounds and hydras had managed to obliterate even heavy metal, Daniel thought worriedly. He had a bad feeling about this...