Scalice said his goodbye’s to Mary in their room. She gave him one last squeeze and waved to him until he turned down a joining corridor. Parting was always hard. And he hated having a fink in his squad. At least Maris couldn’t read most of the minds on the trip. Scalice was worried about Jorja though, which is why he picked both Pretty Max and Tya to accompany them. Two marines to buffer the fink from Jorja. Despite the problems, it was so good to get away for a break. Luckily for him the humans didn’t consider the orux a real battalion. Even though their numbers alone formed almost three battalions within the Xenica II he and Jorja had worked long and hard making a place for him and his men with less structure and more freedom. It had been Jorja who suggested to him that he not force the issue. Now he was happy. No other general went out on missions. He had been on a few and had a very clever private soldier write up all his reports. Even Jorja had a fit when she found that out, but the private was a particularly bright Skelf. Her other main worry was that the Alderians never saluted or addressed rank correctly but she needn’t have worried. While they never addressed rank within their three battalions they were meticulous about using it when necessary. The Alderian undesirables had other ways to detect rank and respect such things as subtle body posturing.
When the skills of his men had been tested, the League of Galaxies reassigned half of the population of the Xenica II to another smaller support ship. It meant the Xenica II was upgraded to a fully armed Regimental War Craft, made up of six battalions, but would still work independent of the main battle group.
Scalice met up with Zeft, Drax, Krud and Margel who were armed to the teeth. Skink joined them and they headed down to the shuttle bay. Tya and Pretty Max were waiting outside the shuttle. Jorja was off to the left on a high ramp peering into the pilots’ cockpit. She was handing over some computer work.
Maris was the last to appear and seemed annoyed. Krud backed into him accidently and Maris was about to complain but the muscular black form turned around and growled. Scalice grinned and caught Jorja’s amused look. Nobody liked the finks much. And the finks didn’t like any mind they couldn’t read.
They made themselves comfortable in the interior and unlike the troop carriers the shuttle had two aisles of forward angled facing seats. Margel got his puke bag ready and smiled as Jorja sat beside him. ‘Ready?’
Margel nodded, ‘As I’ll ever be. Glad to be avoiding those bloody etiquette classes though. They’re a real drag’ He changed the pitch of his voice, ‘Don’t use the napkin to blow your nose. Don’t use the knife to pick at your teeth…’ I’ve failed twice you know.’
Jorja grinned, ‘Never mind, at least you don’t have to go to all those torturous dinner and dances, hey Scalice?’
At a groan behind them Margel laughed and said, ‘The adventures of Scalice aren’t all what they’re cracked up to be.’
‘At least I get to go away now and then. I’ve had enough bloody adventures.’
As Jorja and Margel chatted, Scalice turned to Pretty Max. ‘What about you? Glad to get away?’
‘You bet. My squad was about to enter into another training cycle. This one was a two year cycle going right up to Company Level. We’re gone long enough on this mission that I can’t join in when we get back. I think Tya was half way through a year-long training cycle. How’d you free us?’
‘My smile.’ He showed off his sharp pointed teeth in a wide grin. ‘If this works out do you want a permanent position? I’ve got a few places to fill and Jorja said I’ll get you this time.’
‘I’m in man.’ Pretty Max whooped. He’d applied originally but hadn’t been released because he was ‘too valuable’ where he was.
A voice from their left and back piped in, ‘How about me?’
That surprised Scalice. He twisted his torso to look at Tya, ‘Sure, I’m not fussy.’
Tya gave him a funny look and then caught the expression on Jorja’s profile. ‘You’ve been hanging out with Jorja for too long.’
Scalice just grinned. While he was pleased Tya had asked he knew the marine had an odd mixture of overconfidence and self doubt. Thankfully, the two contradictory quirks kicked in at the right time during missions. Tya would fit in well. Scalice hated some of the marines and their overworked disciplinary attitudes. You didn’t need to be a stiff and say ‘yes sir’ to be a deadly killer or efficient soldier. You just had to do as you were told, and if you didn’t, you had to be prepared to accept capital punishment or have succeeded in what you were doing or have a bloody good excuse. It was the orux way and apparently it was Jorja’s way. She hadn’t been shy of letting her fists do the talking. There was more than one way to get the respect from your inferiors and it didn’t mean instilling fear.
‘So, have you heard from Tila’s writer again?’ Pretty Max asked Scalice.
The intrepid orux closed his eyes, ‘Not yet, but I didn’t have any of your perfume…’
‘Whatever. Get me some for my birthday.’
The orux decided they wanted birthdays so dates were assigned to them. Scalice’s was a few weeks off and Mary was organizing a big party.
As the shuttle entered Esan’s atmosphere the craft vibrated. Conversations continued on the inane. And Scalice was relieved that Jorja and Margel were still chatting away. If anyone could ease Jorja’s distress Margel, the only shy but still lethal orux Scalice knew, was the one to do it.
The screen, situated at the back of Jorja’s seat, in front of Scalice turned on. The shuttle pilot’s image appeared, ‘Patching through a message from General Rist.’
The screen image changed to that of the general’s. ‘Scalice, I’m sure you’ve been making final preparations on the way down and I just wanted to….’ After a few minutes Scalice lost interest after the general stressed the first sentence. He knew that the entire conversation between his people had been recorded and with some relief the screen turned off.
‘Does everyone know what to do?’ He yelled out.
A chorus of ‘yes’s’ and one ‘no’ came back. Scalice looked at Pretty Max. ‘Drax.’ They rolled their eyes, ‘Good enough.’
When General Rist had argued against taking Drax, Scalice looked him up and down. ‘You always keep the weakest ones with you. Keep an eye on them.’
The officers in the room had stood there with their mouths gaping. General Rist appeared astounded, ‘But umm, we always say that you’re as fast as the slowest man and this mission is crucial.’
Scalice had scoffed, ‘What sort of crap is that? You make the weakest the strongest, and then none of ‘em are ever the slowest or weakest.’ He leaned in close to make his point. ‘It’s an easy mission and Drax comes with me.’