eponymous_rose: (ME | Victus)
eponymous_rose ([personal profile] eponymous_rose) wrote2012-11-04 02:30 pm

[Mass Effect] Home Fires Burning (6/8)

Title: Home Fires Burning (6/8)
Word Count: 5,300 (this chapter)
Characters: Hilary Moreau, Aeian T'Goni, Solana Vakarian, Lantar Sidonis, Garrus Vakarian, Liara T'Soni, Donnel Udina, Dehkarr, Jeff "Joker" Moreau
Rating: T
Warnings: Canon character death, violence
Spoilers: ME3, from start to finish.

Summary: Khar'shan, Tiptree, Citadel, Palaven, Earth. Five tales from the Reaper War. This is the way the worlds end.

Steel and Shadows: 2. Present Tense

The resistance camp at Galatan Capital was surprisingly well-appointed and Reaper-free. Solana wasn't entirely sure what she was expecting – more fire and death and Reapers, probably, and fewer graceful spires and precise infantry formations and is that a food cart down there? The fizzing of the radio made them both nearly jump out of their scales, but it only heralded the voice of a bored-sounding air control officer directing them to a berth.

"Well," Lantar said, as they came in for a perfectly bland and boring landing. "This is weird as hell." Glancing over at him, Solana had to remind herself of her bruised ribs to keep from bursting out laughing. Without medigel on hand, they'd had to fashion a bandage for his head out of an old shirt, which made him look like he'd just escaped from a pile of particularly deadly laundry.

"I know what you mean," she said, when she'd successfully swallowed her giggles. "Shouldn't there be more people dying horribly... is not a sentence I ever thought I'd be saying. Right." She straightened up, glanced around for her belongings, realized she didn't really have any, and got to her feet. "Ready?"

Lantar looked around a bit helplessly at the mess, picked up a ration bar wrapper, stared at it, then let it drop again. "Uh. Sure. You're going out there first, right?"

"Your bravery is a tribute to the turian spirit."

"I've bravely got your back. Besides, you said you're with the intelligence service. That makes you a badass spy, right?"

Solana couldn't quite tamp down a grin. "Oh, on a good day I do some badass paperwork, collate some badass reports. Occasionally I go to the restaurant down the street and buy some badass Tupari Sports Drink, which I then drink. Badassfully."

"My hero," Lantar said, solemnly.

Solana took a deep breath, then opened the shuttle's hatch. A couple of young soldiers were already jogging up to meet them, and one offered her a confused, half-hearted salute as he skidded to a halt. "Ma'am. We received your recognition code and we, er, weren't aware that the intelligence service had any agents in the vicinity. Are you in need of assistance?"

"I think we're okay," Solana said.

Lantar cleared his throat. "Uh, hi, my head is bleeding quite a lot. And I think there are at least three bones in my arm that aren't where they're supposed to be. Just wanted to throw that out there."

Solana glanced back at him with an apologetic wince. "Oh, right. Sorry. Um, we'll probably need a medic, then."

When she turned back to face the soldiers, a third man was standing with them, tall and commanding. "Oh," she said, weakly. "Hi, Dad."

It had always been a bit awkward, seeing her father again after she'd moved out. The past few months in particular, since Mom had died, it seemed like he'd aged considerably every time she saw him, his face-plates a little more weathered, his gaze a little foggier, his back a little less straight. And every time they met, she knew that she, in turn, was a little more of a stranger to him.

Now she met his gaze, searching it for... for what? For signs that he'd become a traitor, that he was colluding with a puppet of the Reapers? That he was a puppet himself? All she'd ever seen in those eyes were her own successes and failures reflected back, her own sorrows and joys distilled, transformed.

He was wearing a faint smile, confused and relieved and a little frightened, and she smiled back. "We probably should've called first, huh?"

He brushed aside the implied apology, straightening his posture, clasping his hands behind his back. "I assume there's a fascinating story behind all this. Who's the one bleeding in the corner?"

Solana wondered if it might be more prudent to make up a cover-story, but that felt like admitting defeat, that felt like acknowledging the fact that the man in front of her might not be her father. She mentally closed the file marked 'reasons-this-is-a-terrible-idea' and straightened. "This is Lantar Sidonis, Dad. We-"

She cut herself off.

Her father's face just... went slack, mandibles flared, brow-plate raised, mouth wide. And then, like he'd donned a mask, the expression disappeared, leaving only a strange, cold fire in his eyes, and for the first time, Solana started to wonder, really started to wonder-

"Sidonis. Good to meet you. Do you need a doctor? I made sure there was a medic on call when we saw the state of your, ah, transportation."

Lantar cast a glance at Solana that was, frankly, terrified. He'd caught the look on her father's face as well. She steeled herself and nodded at him, trying to communicate the need for caution. "Go ahead, Lantar. I'll catch up with you later."

He looked like he was going to protest. She raised a browplate. He shut up and left with the medic.

Her father watched the exchange without comment, then rested a hand on her shoulder, his voice a little softer than usual. "I'm glad you're safe, Solana. It's been a hectic few days. I apologize if I'm not myself."

Solana barely managed to suppress the urge to jolt away from him. Just a figure of speech, Sol, calm down. "So I gather. It looks awfully calm around here, though. Wasn't expecting I'd be the one seeing action."

"Neither was I." His hand tightened briefly on her shoulder. "As soon as we got your clearance request, I was trying to open some old channels, see if I could get more intel on why exactly you were in the thick of things. Reapers, I presume?"

Ah. Now this was starting to get into information that could get dangerous if he really was… compromised. But hey, her instructors had always told her that lying was easy. Don't venture too much information, and people will very considerately start lying to themselves to fill in the gaps. "It's an op, Dad. You know I can't talk about it," she said, and hated just how simple it was.

"All right," he said. "And you're working with this, ah, Sidonis, was it? Tell me, Sol, do you trust him?"

She knew she hadn't mistaken the earlier look of recognition on his face. Why the hell would he be pretending now that he didn't know Lantar's name? "I don't think he's a danger, Dad. I think he wants to do the right thing." And why the hell did that get another flicker of surprise out of him? "I need him," she said. And I need you to trust that I know what's best.

"Good enough for me," he said.

"And, uh, how's General Sarus?" she asked, and kicked herself for the wonderfully subtle way she'd raised the subject, there.

Her father just blinked at her, but she could imagine the cogs turning. "Better," he said. "His appetite's back, with a vengeance. He really seems to have taken to the new cook on base – strange fellow, but Sarus won't stop singing his praises. But Sol, I didn't think you remembered him. Something I should know about?"

"Nope," Solana said, cringing inwardly at her current streak of brilliant displays of subtlety. "Nothing at all."

He stared at her for a moment, then shrugged. "Good enough for me," he said, and extended an arm. After a moment's hesitation, she looped hers through his, and they stepped out of the room and into a corridor together. "You look a little shaky. Do you need a medic, too?"

"Just some bruised ribs," Solana said. "I'll be fine."

He shot her a severe look, which she expertly mimicked until he glanced away with a snort. "All right. I'll limit myself to worrying about you from the privacy of my own head."

"See that you do," she said, and the lighter mood finally prompted her to relax a little, loosening the tension that had been building at the base of her skull. "Dad, what exactly is going on here? I was expecting a war zone."

Her father exhaled slowly. "It's a long story, Sol. I think we're safe here for now, though that might change by tomorrow. Why don't you get some rest? I can set you up with a room in the barracks."

"How about Lantar? Assuming they ever let him out of medical."

"We should be able to set something up."

"Great." Her smile faded, and her gaze flickered to the ground. "Dad? There was a Captain Harpok at the front. I think she and her unit were killed. She did a lot to help me out."

His face shuttered. "I'll make sure she's properly honored," he said. "We're losing a lot of good people."

She glanced up at him. "Yeah," she said. "I guess we are."

"Listen, Sol, I-" He paused, as though weighing his words, then sighed again. "It's a relief to see you here, but I have a meeting. We can talk this evening at dinner."

"Uh," said Solana, and looked down at her filthy armor. "Yeah. A change of clothes and a shower wouldn't go amiss. What time is dinner here?"

"Let's say three hours, if you can wait that long." He stopped, released her arm with a faint smile. "I'll see you tonight, then. Get some rest, Sol. You may need it."

She watched him walk away. "You may need it," she echoed, under her breath. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

After the much-needed shower and change of clothes, nearly all vestiges of Solana's headache were gone. She'd spent most of her time under the warm water going over imaginary arguments in her head, playing through enough possibilities to put asari futurists to shame, trying to put the puzzle together. What if her father really was indoctrinated? What if General Sarus was indoctrinated and had him fooled? What if neither of them was indoctrinated, Lantar was just an idiot, and her blundering served to tear down the last vestiges of trust in their screwed-up little family?

And what if, she remembered Mom saying, the sun turned into a Cartha monster and ate the moon? Worrying about what-ifs doesn't get you anywhere, Sol.

Solana paused in the doorway of her cozy little room – her father's definition of 'barracks' apparently extended to quarters that were nicer than her last apartment – and just breathed for a while, centering herself. "Sure, Mom," she said aloud, and sighed. "Don't worry. Great advice."

There was about an hour before she was due for dinner, so she figured it was worth stopping to check in on Lantar. Maybe he'd have some grand scheme in mind, they could wrap this all up, and she could go back to hiding under her desk. Always a good sign, trusting in the guy who can't land a shuttle to come up with a plan.

She'd never been to Galatan Capital before, and the base turned out to be a positive warren of brightly lit corridors. After a few minutes of wandering around and getting snatches of rushed directions from passing noncoms, she rounded a corner and walked straight into Lantar, on his way out of the medical wing.

She was halfway through offering him a friendly smile when she recognized the look on his face as one of sheer panic. He started to turn away, and she instinctively reached for him, catching him by the new immobilizer encasing his left arm. With a yelp, he stumbled back a step, drawing curious glances from passersby.

"Sorry," she said, quickly, and took him by the shoulder, drawing him into an empty conference room just off the corridor. She took a moment to activate the standard-issue intelligence frequency scramblers on her omnitool on the off-chance they were being recorded, waited for the door to hiss shut, then rounded on Lantar. "Are you running away?"

He was breathing hard, practically hyperventilating, and it took her a second to realize he was terrified. It took another second to realize he was terrified of her. "I- I wasn't expecting you to come back. Not after- I mean, your father clearly knows who I am. You must, too. I just don't understand why you'd pretend to go along with-"

"Slow down," she said, holding up a hand. He snapped his mouth shut, though he was practically shaking with nervous energy. "Okay. How exactly do you know my father? He obviously knew your name."

Lantar blinked at her, then shook his head. "I- I have to get out of here. Just get me a shuttle and a head start, that's all I'm asking."

Solana leaned against the conference table, rubbing her temples. The headache was back, with a vengeance. "Lantar, I don't know what this is, but I think you're misreading the situation."

"You brought me here to kill me!" Lantar blurted.

Solana turned that one over in her head a few times, tried opening a mental file labeled 'what'. It didn't make sense from any angle. "Uh, no," she said. "I really didn't. Besides, if I'd had my way, you'd be on your own with all this and I'd be back under my desk, cowering."

His voice cracked. "But you aren't! You could've left me in that shuttle, but you came here even though your own father might be indoctrinated, even though things are falling apart. You came back here. Why would you do that? Why would you-" He paused, sucked in a deep breath. "I have to get out of here. I knew coming to Palaven was a mistake. I knew-"

Solana cut in, keeping her voice low and calm and reasonable, though her heart was pounding. "This is familiar territory for you, isn't it? You walked away once when you shouldn't have." He flinched at that, a whole-body shudder. "Look, Lantar, I don't know what your story is. I really don't. I figure I owe it to you to let you tell that story when you're ready. If you're ready. Right now, though, I need you to trust me. I'm worried about this whole indoctrination thing, and I don't want you running off and leaving me here with no proof."

He stared at her, past her, for a few moments, then exhaled heavily and slid down the wall until he was sitting on the floor, his face buried in his hands. After a moment's hesitation, Solana sat down beside him, patted his knee awkwardly. "You don't have to trust me, but if it's redemption you're after, now's your chance."

He gave a muffled sound that was almost a laugh. "I'm sorry. I guess I just panicked. I'm really, really good at fucking things up."

"I'd noticed," Solana said, deadpan, and he did laugh at that. Her racing heart was slowing to a more reasonable pace as she got to her feet, pulled him up beside her.

"Fuck," he said. "You really are related to Garrus."

Solana stared at him. "I don't really know what that means."

"Trust me, it's a compliment." He scratched the back of his neck. "So you really don't know about me and Garrus?"

"I really, really don't."

He exhaled, stared at the floor, nodded slowly. "Okay. I can work with that. I think. Well, uh, where do we go from here?"

Solana double-checked that her scramblers were operational, then slumped into one of the chairs around the conference table. "We need a strategy. Your intel – the evidence of Sarus's men's doubts. The way I see it, there are three ways we can go with it. We can make it public – and trust me when I say that'll spark a panic. Maybe if it was coming straight from Sarus's men, but now? A whole series of murky accusations can't possibly be good for the chain of command. We can tell my father, which means we're running the risk of being assassinated if it turns out he's also indoctrinated. And we can confront General Sarus directly."

Lantar winced. "I don't like that one."

"I don't like any of them. Dad's going to be meeting me for dinner soon, and I think he might have some explanations up his sleeve. Maybe-" She paused, considered. Drafted a surprisingly short document in her head entitled 'things-that-could-go-terribly-wrong-with-this-plan'. "You know, the best way to get a read on him would be to provoke an emotional reaction."

"Why do I get the feeling I'm not going to like this plan?"

She smiled. "How do you feel about dinner parties?"

As it turned out, the reaction was somewhat less spectacular than she'd been anticipating.

When she reintroduced Lantar, who'd hastily showered and made himself at least partway presentable, her father merely nodded politely and offered him a chair, as though he'd been expecting the late addition all along. And now I'm paranoid all over again about those frequency scramblers. They sat in silence for a few moments while Solana frantically tried to think of something to say that wasn't, "Hey Dad, we've got a bet going – are you nothing but a tool for a giant killer machine race?"

Then the door opened again, and a tall, distinguished figure in an instantly recognizable uniform strode in. Solana managed to keep her reaction to a startled inhale, but Lantar choked on his wine and had to go stand in a corner of the room for a few moments while he hacked up a lung.

"I think you remember General Sarus," her father said. His voice was smooth, calm, betraying nothing.

She gaped at him, then managed, "Good to see you again, General. It's been a very long time."

Sarus beamed, mandibles flaring out comically. "I should say! Last I saw you, young Solana, you were much shorter and considerably louder. When your father issued me an invitation to join you for dinner, I couldn't say no, could I?" He seated himself to her left – her father's right – and launched into a rapturous description of the talents of the base's new cook, pausing only to exchange introductions with Lantar, who'd finally stopped choking and rejoined the group.

Okay, Solana was thinking, her voice high and frantic even in her own mind, okay, this isn't a complete disaster yet. You might learn a lot this way. Yeah. She glanced across the table at her father, and found him staring back at her with piercing, searching eyes. Her heart was racing. This was going very wrong very quickly.

Sarus, meanwhile, had clearly found his favorite topic and was expanding on it. "I swear, the man's a genius. Bit odd, always muttering, stares a lot, but positively a genius with talanga fruit. He served it stuffed in a roast kara bird the other night! On a military base, that kind of cooking! Can you imagine? Brilliant medley of flavors, I tell you." Sarus sank back in his chair with a satisfied smile. "We're certainly in for a treat tonight."

"I'll bet we are," Lantar mumbled, and Solana kicked him under the table.

"And you, my boy," Sarus said, and Lantar's spine went ramrod-straight. "I apologize, I don't know the first thing about you. Whereabouts do you hail from? Are you some childhood friend of Solana's? A beau, perhaps?"

Solana winced. The hide on the back of Lantar's neck took on a darker hue. "Uh," he said, and she knew before he spoke that he would be far too flustered to give anything but a straight answer. Chalk one up for the old general. "Um. Invictus, actually. I grew up on Invictus."

Sarus's eyes widened. "Spirits. That's not a very easy place to grow up."

"It was okay."

"You're a better man than I if you made if off that rock," Sarus said. Lantar flinched as if struck, and the general added, "Oh, I'm terribly sorry, you must think I'm a complete Palaven-dwelling prude. I will confess that my experience of the colonies hasn't been the most favorable, but I'm certain they have much to recommend them."

"Not… not really," Lantar said, and took a determined swig of wine. They'd agreed beforehand to go easy on the drinks, but Solana wasn't going to begrudge him that one.

"General," she said, drawing his attention. "I was just talking to my father about how quiet it is here, considering much of the rest of the planet is a warzone." She paused for a moment, then made her voice deliberately light. "What's your secret?"

From the corner of her eye, she saw her father's jaw tighten. Sarus, however, merely shrugged. "That's how it goes in war. Some places are hubs of activity, others are neglected. We're not a particularly strategic position, and we've taken great pains to ensure traffic in the area is limited – your little crash landing caused quite a stir, by the way – and so far the Reapers seem to think that warrants leaving us alone for now. We've either pulled one over on them, or we really are as useless as they think."

"I'm certain that's not the case," her father said softly.

Sarus sighed. "Be that as it may, I understand your concerns, Solana. Reaper forces were occupying this city until fairly recently, in fact, but they pulled out to strengthen the attack on juicier targets. They can very confidently make this a war of attrition if they so desire, you know, chipping away at the larger targets and leaving the smaller ones to starve themselves out of a siege. They have all the time and resources they need. We, on the other hand-" He exhaled again, stared mournfully into his wine glass. "These are dark days indeed, my friends."

They were all silent for a long moment. Damn, Solana thought, I wish indoctrinated servants had a big, flashing light over their head or something. This guy seems sincere. And she was trying to picture him heartlessly ordering his troops out to be slaughtered, but she could barely imagine him raising his voice in anger. Her mental file marked 'suspicious-things' was coming up empty – no micro-expressions, no nervous tics, no suspicious syntax. Her father was being far more suspicious. Hell, she was being far more suspicious, if it came to that.

She opened her mouth to say something, but was interrupted when her father stood up so suddenly he nearly knocked his chair over. "Sidonis," he said, in a tight, cool voice, a smooth cap barely concealing something that bubbled and spat beneath the surface. "I have a small matter to discuss with you. Will you come with me back to the kitchen?"

Lantar nearly choked on his drink again, and sat frozen for a long moment. Solana stopped breathing. "Uh," he said, and stood up clumsily, rubbing at the immobilizer on his arm. He glanced to Solana, glanced back at her father. "Um, sure, just for a minute."

Solana was pretty sure that was the worst possible thing for him to do just now, but the mental file she'd dubbed 'solutions-to-this-particular-problem' was full of nonsense. Jump on the table and yell fire? Throw wine in Lantar's face and call him a cad and race off into the sunset, never to be seen again? Point a talon at Sarus and accuse him of treason in her most dramatic voice?

Her father had left the room while these scenarios were playing themselves out in her mind, Lantar lagging at his heels. She was breathing way too fast, practically hyperventilating. She was acutely aware of the seventeen blades she'd managed to hide within her civilian clothing.

Sarus cast her a pitying glance. "Ah, that's always a difficult conversation. I was so looking forward to terrorizing my daughter's potential suitors, but she never did bring any home, just up and married one day."

"What? No. What? We're not-" Solana stood up. "Excuse me, general. I really, really have to, er. Go." With that, she bolted for the door, barely hearing his call of, "That's the price you pay for truly great cuisine, I'm afraid!"

Every plan she'd half-formulated fled her mind entirely at the crack of a gunshot. She slammed into the kitchen at a sprint, then stumbled to a stop.

The first person she saw was the cook, who looked to be in a state of shock, muttering to himself and staring blankly across the room. She followed his gaze.

Lantar was sprawled on the floor, staring in bewildered awe at a thin gash of blood along the side of his arm, shockingly blue against his light tunic. Her father was standing over him, pistol in hand, and he was shaking violently, stumbling back, and then he was looking up, his eyes wide.


"He deserves it, Sol. He deserves worse. I don't know what you think you're playing at, but he deserves so much worse." She'd never heard her father's voice so low, so angry, so desperately hurting.

Solana raised her hands. "What is this, Dad? What-"

"This bastard betrayed Garrus," he spat. "Ten people died just so he could keep his worthless hide intact. Garrus would have been the eleventh. Almost was. You saw the scars, Sol. I only got the whole story from him when he came home. He nearly bled out in that hellhole, alone and forgotten, and this little shit is the one who made it happen."

Lantar, apparently snapping out of his earlier catatonia, curled in on himself, hunched over the fresh wound. "I tried," he said, and his voice was low and tired. "I keep trying."

Solana felt a cold, determined calm stealing over her. She'd always been the type to sit down and puzzle something out rather than blowing it out of proportion, and now she was slipping pieces together, the little bits that hadn't quite fit before. New information made a new picture.

"Dad," Solana said, and strode forward, snatched the gun from her father's shaking hand. "This isn't you. All those years lecturing us to do the right thing. To do right by the law. This isn't you."

His eyes were fixed on Lantar. "I was wrong."

"No." She gave him a little shove, which startled him into meeting her gaze. "And you know it."

He made a brief attempt at staring her down - don't give me that, Dad, you haven't managed it since I was four - then blinked once, twice, his features twisting into confusion. "You didn't know, did you? Why- why would you bring him here? I thought maybe you had some elaborate revenge planned, I thought maybe-"

Solana took a deep breath, glanced up at the ceiling, trying to run through a mental tally of all the little moments that just hadn't quite added up since she'd arrived, all the suspicious glances, the wrong words, the wrong actions. Spirits. She had to risk it. She had to.

"Dad," she said, "Lantar has evidence of an indoctrinated agent operating at a high level within the Hierarchy."

He blinked at her again, then a slow, horrified understanding dawned over his features. "And you thought I-?"

"Not really," Solana said, quickly. After all, lying is easy when you let the other guy fill in the blanks. "Actually, the evidence implicates General Sarus."

Her father's eyes went wide, and then his brow ridge slid down in thought. He glanced back to Lantar, who met his gaze with a steadiness that surprised Solana. "Sarus? I never-"

"Uh," said a voice behind her, somewhat less jovial now. "I apologize for eavesdropping, but I can't help feeling this conversation should probably include me."

They all turned. General Sarus was standing in the kitchen's doorway, clutching it for support, his face gone ashen.

Hey, chirped a far-too-cheerful voice in Solana's head, this is going well.

"You have evidence of… of what, exactly?" Sarus said, weakly. "Me? Indoctrinated? I don't-"

Lantar was pulling himself to his feet. "Your troops tried to send a report back after your orders started becoming suspicious," he said, and his voice was stronger, more confident, but he wouldn't meet Solana's eyes. "It was intercepted, but I have a copy of it."

Sarus blinked at him, then sank into a nearby chair. "Spirits," he said. "Is this- is this the sort of thing that can happen without one knowing? I can't recall, I was so ill, I can't recall sending an order that would have changed things, I can't-"

Her father rounded on him, raising his pistol again. "Sarus, what the hell did you do?"

"I never, I wouldn't-"

The final piece slipped into place. Solana reached out to steady herself against a wall. "You were ill," she said, and her breathless words broke over the raised voices with ease. "I remember that. You were on medical leave right after you sent your men what became their final orders."

"The new cook here is truly wonderful, but my old constitution can't quite handle his gourmet fare," Sarus said, a little dazedly. "Got too used to field rations, I imagine. Spent most of that week in a fever and, well, in the facilities."

Solana looked to her father. He was staring at her like she'd grown another head. Lantar, on the other hand, was getting it, judging by the way his jaw had dropped. "It'd be easy," she said. "So easy, in the middle of all this. Send out incomplete orders, dangerous orders, let the others fill in the blanks. If you have to tell a lie, you might as well let someone else do most of the lying for you."

Sarus lapsed into a baffled silence. "Wait, are you trying to tell me that you're indoctrinated?"

Her father took a step forward. "I wouldn't repeat that accusation, if I were you."

Helplessly, Sarus threw up his hands. "So is he indoctrinated?"

"Do you think this misdirection is fooling anyone?"

Lantar bounded forward, raised his hands. "Okay, everyone, just shut the fuck up." Three pairs of eyes turned to him. He lowered his hands. "Uh. Sorry. I just wanted to get in on all the yelling."

"It's the cook," Solana said, weakly. "I can't believe I'm saying this. General, I think your cook has been poisoning you and giving you false orders to send to your troops."

Lantar finally met her eyes. She had to stifle a nervous laugh at his wide-eyed expression, saw him do the same. Sarus and her father stared at each other, then at her.

Her father was the first to speak. "What," he said.

"He did show up from nowhere," Sarus said, softly. "Wanted to help with the war effort any way he could, we figured. Strange fellow, very quiet, always muttering to himself."

"No wonder the Reapers have been staying away," Solana said. "You're a convenient puppet they haven't had to indoctrinate – I mean, protocols have been in place since day one ensuring that commanding officers are kept out of situations where indoctrination is likely. It's not a perfect science, but it's certainly seemed to be a decent approach to the problem. Now, indoctrinating a cook is a bit of an easier business."

"Um," Lantar said, "this is very nice and all, but am I the only one who realizes we're currently standing in the kitchen? Aren't cooks typically found in kitchens?"

They stood in silence for a few moments, just letting that sink in.

"Oh," said Solana, at last. "That... that can't be good."

The ceiling exploded.

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