On board the Chauchat, the ship's medic sat and meditated on the floor of the cabin she shared with Dana Wolfsburg. Her name was Eir Vorsdottir, everyone aboard called her Doc.
In addition to being the ship's medic, she was Ditzie's tutor in all subjects other than high energy physics and personal violence. Doc was also responsible for giving Ditzie her special medication. The composition of those drugs was known only to Doc, the surviving members of the genetic engineering team that created Ditzie, and possibly God him/her/itself.
Resting on the floor before her was her deck of Tarot cards. The practice of psionics was banned in the Third Imperium. The mere possession of a Tarot deck, which some believed was a focus for psi-powers, was treated as a serious criminal offense on many worlds of the Imperium. Punishment in some jurisdictions was often by lobotomy or some cases execution.
Apart from Ditzie and Dana, no one knew that Doc possessed her own personal Tarot deck.
Doc continued to sit and with a dark sense of foreboding continued to stare at the Tarot deck on the floor.
The mob of the Orthodox followers of the Prophet Barger was now passing the spot where the gig from the Chauchat was parked. Sitting at a card table with Don the Khan and two other crew members in the shadow of the gig, Dana spotted within the mob a woman who appeared a bit too waif-like to be a proper Barger-babe. The shade of the woman's hair virtually matched that of the Captain's niece.
No, Dana wished, let it not be the Captain's ex-wife, that arrogant bitch Helen Spofulam.
Dennis, Ditzie, and Lieutenant Commander Daevagh stepped out of the lift onto the observation lounge deck of the INS Splendid. They were met at the lift by His Grace, Duke Norris of Regina and his little daughter Seldrian. To Dennis, apart from the standard girl's haircut and the dress with imitated the style of an Imperial Naval rating uniform, Seldrian could have passed for her father when he was at her present age.
Dennis presented his niece to the Duke, and then he added, "His Grace and I went to school together."
"You went to Rim-Job High?" Ditzie asked the Duke.
This piqued Seldrian's curiosity.
"Daddy, what's a rim-job?"
Rim-Job High was the unofficial name given by students and alumni to the Regina Imperial Military Institute, a military-style boarding school used primarily by the families of Imperial and planetary naval personnel on Regina.
Norris looked like he would rather own and operate an Astroburgers or a Carl's Restaurant franchise in the empire of the genocidally vegetarian K'Kree than to answer his daughter's question. Dennis took the opportunity to lead his niece away from their host and over to the large viewport.
Dennis noticed that apart from Lieutenant Commander Daevagh, Ditzie, Seldrian, and the Captain of INS Splendid, everyone on the observation lounge deck was an alumnus of Rim-Job High.
At the viewport, which provided an overview of most of the ships parked on the landing field, two naval officers were grousing about the arrogance of Delphine, the Imperial Duchess and Planetary Matriarch of Mora. One of the officers was Commander Eneri Achter-Altermann, known to his classmates as Eneri the Eighth. The other officer was the Captain of the Splendid, Freya Ilinamirrun, she was a well-constructed blonde who could still be the natural center of attention at the age of fifty.
"I can understand," Captain Ilinamirrun said as she pointed to the garish ducal transport that marred the view of the landing field, "if that silly old bat had named it for a pre-starflight Solomani monarch such as Elizabeth, Victoria, or even Cleopatra. But Rodham? Wasn't she a democratically elected socialist?"
"Well Captain," said Eneri, "Delphine probably isn't as well versed on Pre-starflight Solomani history as you are, or any other Imperial officer for that matter."
"If I recall correctly," he continued, "Hilary Rodham was the first woman to be elected to the office of President of the United States of America, her political faction at the time treated this event as a major achievement even though there were verifiable irregularities in the polling process. Hilary Rodham also had the dubious distinction of being the only American President to have been overthrown in a coup-d'etat and killed by members of the national armed forces."
"There are definite limits," Norris cut in, "even to the deliberate abuse of power."
"And speaking of the abuse of power," said Dennis, "how is that walking piece of excrement, Admiral Santanocheev?"
As an active member of the Imperial armed forces he could never have spoken of a superior officer in such terms, even if the characterization was absolutely correct.
There are times such as this, he thought, that it was good to be a civilian.
Unfortunately, the dark-haired waif among the Bargerites was the Captain's former wife. She looked over to the card table and recognized Dana and Don the Khan, she then suddenly started running away from the mob.
"Dana! Donnie! Help me!" Helen cried out as one of the Bargerites followed her in hot pursuit.
The crew of the Chauchat uttered a number of unprintable expletives as they turned over the card table and grabbed the 7mm Advanced Combat Rifles hidden beneath. The mob pulled out their own personal weapons, a variety of chains, knives, pistols, and shotguns. Civilians within sight of the confrontation ran for cover or pulled out their cell-phones.
Dana handed Helen one of her 11.4 mm automatic pistols.
"Why Dana, you're still a gentleman." Said Helen.
"Smile when you say that, Madame." Dana replied.
The crew of the Chauchat and the Bargerites were now staring at each other in a virtual Vargr standoff.
His Grace, the Duke of Regina asked the Captain of INS Splendid to give his daughter and Ditzie a tour of the ship.
Standing near the lift, Dennis sternly spoke to his niece. "Ditzie, promise me that you will not touch any of the weapons or other systems on this ship without the Captain's explicit permission."
"I promise Uncle Dennis." She said with one hand out of the line sight as if to hide the crossed fingers. She then followed Seldrian and Captain Ilinamirrun off of the lounge deck.
"Was that really necessary?" Norris asked Dennis.
"Your Grace, there are some things which should not be done to the human genome." Dennis picked up a glass of beer and took a sip from it and continued his answer.
"The family did many of those things to Ditzie and her twin sister." Dennis took another sip from the beer glass.
"The twins are super-geniuses in the field of the application of high energy physics to weapons design. In all other respects they appear to be and they act like eight-year-old girls."
Norris was a bit puzzled. "They appear to be?"
"They don't age as quickly as you and I do." Dennis answered. "Ditzie was designing and testing man portable fusion guns back when our grandparents were still in diapers. I fully expect to be dead and scattered before Ditzie hits puberty."
Norris was silent for a moment, and then he asked Dennis another question.
"Aren't twin sisters usually brought up together?"
"Tell me Your Grace, would you casually bring together two identical sub-critical masses of weapons grade plutonium into a critical mass?"
Norris gently shook his head in a reply, and then spoke.
"We'll begin the briefing when our last guest arrives."
"Another one of our classmates?" Dennis asked.
"Yes," Norris replied. "She is."
At that moment the lift doors opened and Lieutenant Colonel Lisa Holland of the Imperial Marine Corps stepped onto observation lounge deck of the Imperial Navy Ship Splendid. The ribbons representing service decorations that she wore, commonly called fruit salad, included three covert naval intelligence campaign ribbons.
Dennis lost his grip on the half full glass of beer. The glass bounced once on the deck and splashed some of its contents on his feet.
How was I to know, Dennis thought to himself, that she was a spook in the Imperial Marines?
And what in the unholy name of Hell was she doing running a flower and gift shop up on the High Port? Curious as he was, it would be a violation of the rules of tradecraft for Dennis to ask her or anyone else that question.
Dennis was somewhat relieved to see that Lisa wasn't going to be sitting next to him at the table for the briefing.
Duke Norris of Regina took his place at the head of the table and proceeded to speak.
"Ladies and gentlemen, some time between three-hundred and four-hundred days from now, the armed forces of the Zhodani Consulate will launch a full scale assault on the coreward subsectors of the Spinward Marches..."
The Vargr standoff was interrupted by the resonant sound of a CRRACK!
Both the landing party from the Chauchat and the mob of Bargerists turned to see a lone human figure perched approximately halfway up a nearby navigation light tower.
The Lone Sniper looked down at the shattered remains of his Laser rifle on the concrete below. At least he didn't have to drop with it.
One of the universal constants amongst the bilateral bipedal sentient species was that their military drill instructors would always punitively order their trainees to perform a set number of push ups (or any similar form of exercise) whenever a weapon was dropped. The semi-humourous implication being that if a personal weapon was dropped from a flying vehicle, the trainee would be shoved out after the weapon while the vehicle was still in flight.
The Lone Sniper now had no choice but to execute his carefully devised escape plan. He would switch on his G-chute, step away from the tower and float gently to the ground.
As he turned around to step off the tower, a four round burst of 7-mm rifle bullets impacted on the G-chute, shattering the grav-module as well as imparting forward momentum to the Lone Sniper.
"NOOOOOOOOOOO!" The Lone Sniper screamed in shatneresque fashion as he plummeted to the ground below.
After the end of the intelligence briefing aboard the Splendid, Seldrian popped back into the observation lounge followed by Ditzie and a very tired Captain Ilinamirrun.
"Daddy," Seldrian said, "can I have an elephant-mounted particle accelerator cannon?"
Fortunately for Dennis it was at this time that his personal com-unit beeped, he answered it. The four other members of his landing party and his ex-wife were sitting in the local jail. And he now had the task of bailing them out.
Swell, he thought, really and truly swell.
In full powered armor, Gunnery Sergeant Lance Couronne and three other soldiers of the 4518th Lift Infantry Regiment stepped out of the rear hatch of their G-carrier and dropped through the iridescent surface of the contaminated waters of Lake Cygnus on Regina. Dead fish, insects, and other animals were clumped together in patches all over the lake. RMNR-Rangers and other infantrymen from the 4518th LIR formed a perimeter around the now poisoned lake. The infantry team descended through the water to the resting place of the twenty D-ton gig that once served as a landing craft for a Cobra-class close escort. With a gauss pistol at the ready Sergeant Couronne, followed by the other team members, dropped through the open ventral hatch of the apparently abandoned gig.
The infantry team quickly discovered the source of the contaminating chemicals. It was a small crate marked "DFG." It contained several plug in binary fuel packs for a Famille Spofulam Jet Bike. Several of the fuel packs were leaking.
Cleaning up this mess was a task that would be left to the HAZMAT units.