I'd like to thank Mulligan and Steve T for their assistance in turning this into a better story than my initial effort, any errors remaining are of course mine.
British Army lingo for special operations, sneaking about, up to something.
See those blokes over there?
Reeks of sneaky beaky work...
Must be from the Regiment...
Lilian Alford, like most of the inhabitants of Demeter stood two metres tall and had a physique that back on Earth would have required hours of hard work in the gym. Here it was the product of Darjee medical technology and the thousands of nanites that now inhabited her body.
As she moved to open the door before her, you'd never have guessed that before she was extracted she'd made her living as the kitchen manager in the Military College that the Governor had been attending. Now she was one of the drones that belonged to the planet's Governor and spent most of her time as his unofficial personal assistant.
She rapped firmly on the door, an action that drew the plain grey shift she wore tight across her chest and without waiting for a response she pushed the door open and announced almost formally,
"Tribune ap Rhys to see you, Sir."
Again without waiting for a response from the man seated behind the desk she stepped clear of the entrance and waved the grey uniformed man through the door.
Like Lilian, he was two metres tall but he moved as though he was used to the body he was in and was confident that it would do what he wanted, when he wanted it to.
"David," called the Governor as he rose from his desk, "To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?"
Just by looking you couldn't tell that the Governor was barely out of his teens, or that the man who was approaching him was twenty years older. The Darjee medical technology they'd been subjected to since they'd been extracted from Earth had given both men the bodies of athletes and an apparent age to suit their positions.
"Hi, Alex," said David ap Rhys, shaking the proffered hand, "I've come up with an idea and I want to know how you feel about it?"
"Grab a seat," said Alex Flowers, Governor of Demeter before turning to the woman stood in the doorway. "Lilly, could you bring us some drinks and after that try and keep everyone else away while I have a chat with David."
The woman smiled at her owner, "Certainly, Sir," she replied before closing the door softly.
"So, David," asked Alex as he dropped into a chair opposite the head of his planet's Civil Service, "What's this idea you've had?"
"OK, you know how stretched my people are getting?" asked David by way of an introduction.
The Civil Service was the organisation responsible for all the concubines who didn't have an official sponsor; they were the only reason that unattached concubines were not recycled within forty-eight hours of losing their sponsors. They were also the closest that the Confederacy had to a combination of Education Department, Social Services and anything else that wasn't geared to helping the military fight the Sa'arm.
The biggest problem the service had was that they didn't really exist. No one had planned for them and they had no real budget or manpower, anything they achieved was down to the strength of personality of the individual Civil Service representative and the way they worked with the military around them.
When they'd met, Alex had just arrived on Demeter and David was dragging a band of surviving concubines around from the military disaster that had occurred on Neptune. Now they were both working together to look after a planet that was home to nearly seventy thousand people, a mix made up of Marines, Citizens and their families.
Fortunately David had managed to forge a good working relationship with the Governor of this planet and, as the Governor nodded in understanding he was going to make the most of that friendship.
"I've come up with a way to recruit a load of people who would suit the Civil Service and if you agree with me those new people will ease the workload on my people," he said. "The only real problem is that I need to get back to Earth and stage my own pickup."
Alex shook his head in amusement; "Well, you've got me interested," he said, "How about giving me some of the details of this idea."
It was David's turn to chuckle, "Actually," he said, "It's all your own fault."
"Mine!" exclaimed the Governor.
"Yours," replied a nodding David. "Remember when you sent Melanie to me with the idea that she should join the Civil Service?"
Alex nodded slowly, Melanie or to be more precise Sister Melanie had been a nun who'd taught at St. Genevieve School for Young Ladies. She'd been caught up in the extraction that dragged Alex and the rest of the cadets into space alongside the girls from her school and those from the Upper Lea Girls School.
"Go on," said Alex, his eyes narrowing in suspicion.
"I had a chat with her and we discussed her CAP score," said David. "Did you know it was seven point three?"
Alex nodded again so David continued, "According to her, there were several other nuns working with her at the school that had CAP scores high enough to volunteer but wouldn't because of the military nature of the Confederacy."
"Military nature," spluttered Alex, "Don't they know what's happening..." He ground to a halt, "Forget that, of course they don't know what's happening out here, we don't tell them. Go on, carry on with this idea of yours."
"It's like this, I need manpower, or womanpower," said David, "and it appears that the Priory that supports St. Genevieve's is likely to have the sort of numbers that would make an extraction worthwhile. However the Confederacy wouldn't plan an extraction on that place in a million years as none of them have volunteered for service."
"So what exactly do you want from me?" asked Alex.
"I want you to arrange for me to go on the next extraction mission to Earth," declared David. "I'll need to run my own pickup and have sufficient pod space to bring them back here."
"Don't want a lot, do you?" said Alex with a frown. "The pickup crews are working flat out just to get the manpower here that we need for the military side of things. Getting them to agree to pick up civilians for you is going to be a tough task."
David watched as Alex ran through several scenarios in his mind but could tell that he didn't look hopeful. When it seemed that he finally given up David said diffidently, "Well I did have another idea but I'm not sure how practical that is."
Alex looked at David and screwed up his face, "Am I going to like this?" he asked.
David grinned, "That depends on how much of the little boy who likes adventures is left under that enhanced body they've got you dressed in now."
Alex was shaking his head, "I know I shouldn't ask," he said, "but go on, spill the beans."
"I happen to know where there are two assault ships that aren't doing a great deal at the moment," said David before falling silent.
The Governor's eyes opened wide, "We couldn't..." he began and then fell silent. He pondered the matter for some time and David watched in silence.
"You know," said Alex, "It may just be possible." He tapped his fingers on the arm of his chair, "I'll have to check what the actual operating instructions are for the ships but if it's as open as I think it is," he grinned, "then we may just be on to something."
Lilian Alford chose that moment to enter the room with the drinks that had been ordered. Alex sat back in his seat and pursed his lips, his fingers drumming steadily on the arm of his chair.
As Lilian rose from putting the drinks down Alex addressed her, "Lilly, see if you can track down Major Lebedev. If she's got nothing on at the moment, ask her to join us."
"Yes, Sir," replied Lilian and exited the room silently.
"AI," called Alex, "What were the operational orders for the Sir Tristam and the Sir Bedivere?" he asked, referring to the two assault ships that had been attached to the training team operating on Demeter.
"They are to provide training facilities for all units attached to the colony world of Demeter," replied the AI. "Specifically they are to provide pilot training resources and associated tasking requirements."
"What is their operational training area?" asked Alex.
"No area is specified," replied the AI.
"Who is in operational command of the ships?" asked Alex crossing his fingers metaphorically.
"Whilst attached to Demeter they fall under the command of the Governor providing that his instructions do not contravene any Confederacy standing orders," said the AI.
Alex looked at David and smiled, "It's looking good," he said. "All I have to do now is convince Svetlana to go along with us."
David settled back and smiled, it looked like his idea had hooked the Governor, so he was half way back to Earth already.
Major Svetlana Lebedev listened politely as David outlined his plan, her face betraying no emotion at all. When he fell silent she looked from David to Alex and frowned, "You two are like a couple of little boys," she said.
"It is totally ridiculous to expect a military unit to take part in such a hair-brained, ill conceived and illogical mission as this," she continued before her face lit up with a huge grin. "Gunny Archer's going to love it. He's been going up the wall being stuck here now that the training schedule is working like clockwork."
Her comments took a moment to sink in and then David grinned and Alex let out a whoop of joy.
"Seriously, though," said Svetlana, "how are you planning to achieve your aim?"
Svetlana thought back to the orders she'd been given by Boris Johnson when she was posted to Demeter, 'You are to ensure that the colony on Demeter is stable and capable of supporting the sort of operations that we expect it to carry out. Working with Alex Flowers, who is head of the colony you will make this happen and keep it happening until such time as the Sa'arm are defeated.' This idea clearly fell within that remit, now she had to see what she could do to make it happen.
Across from her David settled down and waited for Alex to do the same before he started to speak.
"To be honest I've only got an outline," said David. "I've had a quick look at the information that is available through the AI and apart from a ground plan of the convent there is not a lot else. However I have spoken to Melanie who told me something of the routine that was followed within the Priory."
David shrugged, "This is all subject to change once we get to Earth but basically the nuns all attend prayers at around eighteen hundred, Vespers or something like that. I plan to do a quick circuit of the grounds in an assault shuttle dropping cut-off teams as I do so. Then the shuttle puts down in the outer courtyard and I go and have a quick chat with the Mother Superior."
Svetlana raised an eyebrow in a Spock like manner, "As simple as that?" she asked.
"Pretty much," said David. "I'm not planning on using an interdiction field because it attracts too much attention. Eighteen hundred at this time of the year is pretty dark and if we approach cautiously there's a good chance that no one will even notice we're there."
Svetlana rubbed her brows, "I'm sure we can refine your outline plan as we prepare," she said. "But one thing's for sure, we're going to have to be a bit sneaky beaky about this. If the top brass hear about it before we get there, they are going to pull the plug on us for sure."
David and Alex nodded in agreement before Alex asked, "So where do you think we should start?"
"Decide which ship you're going to use and get the Captain involved," said Svetlana. "They know what they've got and what else they would need to do something like this. Then I'd decide whom you are taking and start running individual training courses for them just so they're at their peak before you leave. Once you're committed there's no turning back."
"Another thing," said Svetlana before either of the men could say anything, "we can't take all of my Marines. Someone has got to mind the shop whilst we're away."
Alex shook his head negatively, "You won't be going Svetlana and neither will I," he said. "This is David's mission and we, unfortunately have duties to carry out here on Demeter."
David and Svetlana stared at Alex who responded with a shrug, "Sorry, but that's the way it's going to be." He turned to David, "Unless you want to forget the whole idea?"
"No way!" responded the Tribune, "I really need those people."
Svetlana turned her full attention on the Governor but before she could say anything Alex laughed. "Don't look at me like that," he said. "I want to go as much as you do but like a Captain can't leave his ship, you and I can't leave this place. We're going to be pushing it sending the people we are."
He looked at the Russian and smiled, "How are you going to cope without half of your people for a couple of months?"
She continued to scowl but it was no longer directed at the Governor. "You're right of course," she admitted, "But I don't have to like it."
"I'm glad you agree," said Alex. "So what we'll do is have David and Gunny Archer get together with Darren Alvares and see what they can come up with. If it looks good then they can go." He pointed at Svetlana, "but if we're not happy with what they come up with then it's back to the drawing board."
Slowly Svetlana nodded.
David looked from one to the other and nodded as well. "I'll put a call in to Darren up on the Sir Bedivere and see if he's free for dinner. Once he's nice and mellow I'll put the plan to him."
"You do that," said Alex. "Now will you two get out of here and let me get some work done."
Major Darren Alvares, Captain of the Sir Bedivere had been surprised when he found he wasn't the only guest for dinner that night at Tribune ap Rhys' pod. The presence of Master Gunnery Sergeant Jacob Archer had come as a bit of a shock but the host had him seated with a drink in his hand before he'd thought to make a comment.
As the evening wore on he found that the non-commissioned Marine's presence didn't impact on his enjoyment of the meal or adversely affect the quality of the conversation. In many ways having an experienced non-officer brought many interesting perspectives to some of the topics.
It was only when David brought up the proposed mission to Earth that the Marine's presence was accounted for.
"Let me get this right," said Darren putting down his whisky tumbler. "You're intending to go to Earth, pickup a bunch of nuns from a convent and bring them back here."
"That's it in a nutshell," agreed David. "All you need to do is agree to carry us there and bring us back after we've done the dirty deed."
Darren was interested; he'd spent the whole time he'd been attached to Demeter acting as an aircraft carrier for the assault shuttles as the former cadets began their training. For the first three months they'd just sat in orbit as the new volunteers underwent basic military training and his own crew were getting bored and in some cases sloppy.
Having something to do that looked like a real mission would bring them back up to the required standards in no time at all.
Would it impact on his career?
Only if it went wrong, but there had to be a good chance that it would, he admitted to himself.
"And Alex and Svetlana agreed to this?" he asked as he ran through the idea again in his mind.
David nodded and beside him Gunny Archer added, "She was just pissed that the Governor wouldn't let her go as well."
"We'd have to leave all but one of the shuttles behind," said Darren as he began to organise his part of the operation."
Gunny grinned at David who responded with a wink.
"We'd thought we'd need some of the portable medical bays," said David. "I want to make this as much like a normal pickup as I can without using a pod ship."
"Indoctrination, medical screening, initial body mods?" asked Darren.
"As much of that as I can manage," said David.
"The medical bay is pretty good," said Darren, "but I'll have to check with the Doc to see if it can do everything you want."
"What about accommodation?" asked Gunny Archer.
"It's an assault ship," said Darren, "not a passenger liner." He thought for a moment, "I suppose we could mount some extruded panels to create something like compartments."
Darren frowned, "There'd be more room if you got Abigail to bring the Sir Tristam along as well."
"That's not going to happen," replied David, "They're needed here to continue the training."
"Shame," was Darren's only comment. "I'll see what I can come up with and we'll begin making the changes."
"So you're in?" asked David just to get confirmation.
"Oh, yes!" responded Darren.
"Good," said David, "Now let's have us a celebration." He raised his voice and called out, "Megan, are you ready?"
"Coming," replied a female voice and moments later a six-foot tall blond slipped through the door. She'd been augmented in line with the Governor's preferences for everyone arriving on Demeter but the way she was dressed proved she was not one of the volunteers.
Her single item of clothing was the uniform grey colour worn by all of the concubines but that was about all it had in common with the normal smock they had to endure. The short pleated skirt was similar in length and flounciness to that in many men's fantasies when worn by a schoolgirl. This then had a simple bib attached to the front that just managed to cover her breasts as she swayed into the room.
Before any of the men could become too distracted by Megan's appearance a similarly attired Katherine followed her through the doorway.
Katherine had also been augmented to Demeter norms and matched the height of her sister in servitude but she'd retained the larger bust she'd had back on Earth. Now the large unfettered mass of her right breast had succeeded in sliding free of its concealment and was waving for all to see.
She slapped her breast, drawing everyone's attention to the errant beastie, "Get back in there," she said, "It's not time yet."
Megan rolled her eyes and David just smiled at the actions of his most outrageous concubine.
Behind her came Jodie and Felicia who managed to enter the room almost unnoticed following Katherine's antics.
Megan stood behind David's chair and the three other concubines lined up alongside him.
"Do either of you gentlemen have any objections to getting these wonderful creatures pregnant?" asked David, his casually waved hand indicating Katherine, Jodie and Felicia.
Gunny Archer knew where David was coming from but his words drew a puzzled look from Darren.
"Sorry," said David. "I'm trying to spread the gene pool of my family, a consequence of my work I suppose. Katherine had three children with her when I picked her up on Earth and has now decided it's time for some more. Jodie unfortunately had a miscarriage the last time she fell pregnant, something to do with an imbalance between our genotypes or something. I'm not prepared to throw her out but if either of you gentleman were to get her pregnant I'm sure things would go much better this time."
"And Felicia there gave birth a month ago and according to her she's now as horny as a sex starved rabbit." David smiled towards the end of the line and Felicia blushed at his words, "so it's likely that I'll need all the help I can get to satisfy her needs."
"We can't leave a lady in need, now can we," said Gunny Archer rising to his feet and offering his hand.
When David nodded, Felicia took the extended hand and was swept into the big Marine's embrace. Within seconds the man had his hands on the naked cheeks of the woman's ass and was squeezing happily. Everyone in the room heard Felicia groan as Gunny lifted her off the floor and carried her back towards his chair which had reconfigured itself as a chaise whilst he was away.
Darren looked on and smiled, "Ladies," he called, "If you'd be so kind."
Jodie stepped forward and was pushed to the side as Katherine charged past her.
"Hey," she called before accelerating her own pace towards the waiting sailor."
Megan slowly moved around David and lowered herself into his lap her eyes never leaving the action that was going on before her.
"Thanks for telling me how Felicia felt," said David into her ear.
"It's what I do best," replied Megan, "keeping my master properly informed so he can have a happy household."
"It's not what you do best," said David as he nibbled at Megan's exposed neck, "but it's a useful skill you've developed."
He worked on her neck for a couple of minutes and once she was purring he lifted his lips and said, "Now why don't you show me another of those skills you've developed."
Without a word Megan slipped off her sponsor's lap and down onto her knees.
"That's the only plan of the Priory we've got, Jacob," said David, "I've marked on it where I think the cut-off teams need to be and the probable ingress and egress routes we'll use."
Gunny Archer looked at the display floating before him and ignored the symbols that David had indicated and figured out where he'd put his people. He was happy to find that he pretty much agreed with those of the Civil Service officer.
"Pairs?" he grunted.
"That's what I thought," said David, "but that is going to raise an interesting point."
"In what way?" asked Jacob.
"Regular or Citizen?" responded David with a grin.
Regular was the term that was used to describe a volunteer within the Confederacy, Citizen was the term that Alex Flowers had coined to describe a former concubine who volunteered for service to the planet of Demeter when they arrived there. Like regulars they gained privileges from that service, the final one being full rights as a citizen of the Confederacy.
Jacob looked at David from under hooded brows, "I, Sir, would be happy to serve with any of the troops I've trained here."
David couldn't keep a straight face and spluttered as he tried to control his reactions.
Jacob Archer just shook his head slowly. When training had first begun he'd been handed his head in a training exercise against the so called inferior 'citizens' because he'd forgotten that prior to their pickup many of the boys in the citizens' militia had been cadets in a military academy, training to lead men in battle. They'd used that knowledge to defeat him and even now he would get reminders of it all the time, it was getting a little old but something would come along sooner or later to replace it as the topic of the day.
"It's probably going to have to be citizens," said David once he'd got control of his emotions. "Svetlana has all the regulars earmarked for training."
Jacob nodded silently; he was taking four of his people with him, so the same numbers from the citizen militia should fill the gaps nicely. This was going to remain a small, neat operation if he had any say in it.
"I'll get the word to Johnny Porter and see what he thinks," said Jacob. He pointed at the projection, "A pair here can cover the whole front side, another pair here covers the East side and a similar pair here takes care of the West. There's no need to put anyone along here because the river covers the whole of that side of the Priory."
His finger traced the route David had proposed and stopped just as it entered the cloister area, "A pair here will provide the cut-off point, after that it's just you and the Mother Superior."
"Apparently I've been wrong, there," said David.
"Wrong?" asked Jacob as his eyes snapped towards David.
"It's not Mother Superior but Prioress," he said, "something to do with religious authority or something. I'll be looking for the Prioress in the Priory, not the Mother Superior in the convent."
"Fine," said Jacob, shaking his head in relief, "I thought it was something serious for a minute."
"How would you feel if someone called you 'Master Chief'?" asked David raising an eyebrow.
Jacob frowned in response.
"The rank is the same," pointed out David whilst buffing his nails.
"I get your point," said Jacob and then shuddered theatrically, "Master Chief indeed." Then he grinned at the Tribune, "Not that it matters any more," he said smugly, "because the Master Chief is now referred to as Gunny."
David acknowledged Gunny Archer's point, "I doubt if everyone has made the change yet."
"True," replied Jacob, "and I can see a lot of people being unhappy at the new rank structure."
"It's not really new, is it," said David, "It's been there for a long time but people have been ignoring it."
"Especially in the Navy," concluded Jacob before lapsing into silence.
"Who are you taking with you?" asked David breaking into the silence after a couple of minutes.
"Emma Fletcher, Isabella Kellogg, Ava Leach and Abigail Proctor," replied Jacob
"All women?" noted David.
"It was suggested that turning up with a bunch of hairy assed apes might be a bit much for women of such a delicate persuasion," said Jacob.
"But you're still going," said David.
"And so are you," reposted Gunny Archer
"Tell Johnny of your thinking when you run the idea by him," said David. "It makes sense."
"I'll see him in the morning," said Jacob casting a final look over the image of the Priory. "You know, this may just work."
"I hope so," said David. "Things are getting just a bit fraught for my girls as it is."
"Back to Earth?"
"That's right, Johnny," said Gunny Archer. "We've got a small job to do and I could do with a few of your people to help."
Johnny Porter looked at the big Marine in wonder before frowning, "How many?" he asked.
"Five," said Gunny Archer, adding, "preferably female."
Johnny's frown deepened, "And you say Alex knows about this?"
Jacob Archer looked at the young man who ran the planetary militia and smiled. He'd liked Johnny since they'd met, especially after he'd lost to him on the training exercise and the one thing he'd found particularly refreshing was the way he looked after his people.
"Don't worry," he said, "you'll be getting them back. Look, let me run you through what is being planned and then you'll see what I need."
It took some time but Gunny Archer explained the whole mission concept to the Militia commander who listened attentively.
As he finished Johnny nodded slowly, "I'll go," he said, "and we'll take Leroy Whitaker." He pondered for a couple of seconds, "And Lydia and Melissa if they're available, along with Erika Mullen."
"Why those people?" asked Gunny Archer.
"Leroy keeps his cool no matter what and he's also a Catholic so he should know how to behave," said Johnny. "Lydia and Melissa were the original stowaways and have proved to be capable of handling anything we've thrown at them."
He grinned at the big Marine, "Erika Mullen is the most Marine-like of the St. Genevieve girls who isn't an actual volunteer and should be able to hold her own regardless of the company."
"OK," said Gunny Archer. "We'll go for Leroy and Abigail Proctor as shuttle guards, Melissa and Ava Leach can cover the East side with Lydia and Isabella Kellogg on the West. That'll put your Erika with Emma Fletcher on the main wall." He flicked a finger towards the Militia commander, "You and I get to cover the inner door whilst David has to do the selling job."
"When do we go?" asked Johnny.
"Too soon," replied the Marine. "Any training we can think of will have to be done on board the Sir Bedivere as we head for Earth."
"What about weapons?"
"My Marines are going to be carrying the heavy stingers," said Gunny Archer. "I'd like it if your people would carry their normal weapons."
The Demeter militia was equipped with the M61 assault rifle, a weapon they'd developed themselves when no comparable weapons were forthcoming from Earth or the Confederacy. It is a bullpup design, gas driven personal defence weapon that fired combustible cased ammunition comprising a three millimetre depleted uranium core with a six and a half millimetre jacketed sabot.
The high burn cartridge propelled the round in such a manner that the sabot stayed attached to the flachette and on striking a 'soft' target the whole mass penetrated the body. If the target was 'hard', like the exoskeleton of the Sa'arm or was wearing body armour, then the sabot detached on impact with a minimal degradation to the flachette velocity. This allowed the DU penetrator to punch holes in most 'hard' targets whilst still giving a round that stopped 'soft' targets, solving one of the problems of earlier flachette ammunition.
The M61 mounted a thermal sight group that included an integral laser range finder and was normally fitted with the M261 grenade launcher.
"Don't you think that's a bit excessive?" asked Johnny.
"Possibly," agreed the Marine, "but pickups have been getting more violent since you guys were extracted and we'll be doing this without an interdiction field." Gunny Archer shrugged, "If the shit hits the fan I'd rather it was dead wannabes rather than dead Marines.
Slowly Johnny nodded, "I'll make sure they have a full load of grenades as well," he said.
"Hopefully we won't need them," said Gunny Archer. "But I'd rather drag them around and not use them than find we haven't got them with us when we're knee deep in crap."
"The shuttle has docked, Captain," reported Scott Thorne, the Executive Officer of the Sir Bedivere.
"Very well, Exec, break orbit and get us on our way," ordered Darren Alvares. "I'll go and greet our guests."
"Aye-aye, Sir," replied the Exec before turning to carry out his orders.
Darren made his way towards the shuttle bay where the combined Marine/Militia team were sorting out their luggage under the eagle eyes of Master Chief McKillion.
"Come on you apes, get your act together," he called after watching them strolling around. "This is a military ship not a pleasure cruise."
"Squids," was the muttered response from somewhere in the middle of the group.
"Attention on deck," called an alert sailor as Captain Alvares entered the boat bay and everyone dropped what he or she was doing and braced up.
"Carry on," called the Captain and activity around the room resumed. "How's it going, Chief?"
"Just waiting for the, uhh, soldiers to sort out their equipment, Sir, then I'll show them to their quarters," said the Master Chief.
David ap Rhys stepped out of the group and approached the Captain sticking out his hand as he did so. "Well, we got here," he said.
Darren grasped the hand, "For some reason I thought there would be more of you," replied Darren as he looked at the slowly organising bunch before him.
"I'd thought the same when we started," admitted David, "but the brains of the operation convinced me that keeping it small gave it a greater chance of success."
"We've got room here in the boat bay for the military people," said Darren waving towards a partitioned area. "And we've put up partitions and made a few other alterations to the normal Marine accommodation through there," another wave towards a large hatch, "for your, uhmm, guests, when they arrive."
"In the meantime," said Darren, "Master Chief McKillion here will be looking after you."
"Master Chief," acknowledged David.
"Tribune," responded the experienced man.
The group had finally got itself organised into three parties, the Marines, the Militia and one lone figure in grey.
"I'll see you later," said Darren Alvares.
"Thanks, Captain," said David before he and the Master Chief turned their attention to the people who'd arrived on the shuttle.
Gunny Archer and his Marines were lined up with their kit, next to them was Johnny Porter and his group. The two groups looked very similar in make up and dress.
The last person was Melanie, the former Sister Melanie whose words had started this whole operation. David had spoken with her a couple of days ago and invited her to join him in convincing the Prioress to join him in the colonies. Melanie had thought long and hard about his request and had agreed to accompany the party.
Now she was stood there in the uniform of a Decurion in the Civil Service looking lost and confused.
"Listen up people," yelled the Master Chief, "We've got eight three-man cells set up along the forward bulkhead. How you organise yourselves is up to you but get your kit stowed and then get back here for a safety brief and more importantly some food."
He turned towards the senior Marine, "Gunny."
"Aye-aye," responded Gunny Archer who, after taking the time to grin at David and tapping his stripes lightly turned to his people. "You know your pairs," he called, "set up in those. I'll take the first cell the rest of you work down from there." He turned back to the Civil Service Officers, "Tribune, I'd suggest that you take the furthest cell as some of these people snore."
David chuckled, "The two of us will do just that," he acknowledged indicating Melanie as the second person.
"OK, move," called Gunny as he reached for his own bergen, a term he'd adopted from associating with too many Brits that described his rucksack. Johnny Porter hefted his bergen onto his back and moved towards the first cell, his M61 assault rifle clasped firmly in his hand. Behind him the rest of the group paired off and headed for their respective cells.
"Come on, Melanie, it's only for two weeks," said David as he led the way towards the last cell.
"I'm still not sure why I agreed to come with you," said the woman as she followed David across the boat bay. "I'm sure I'll be more of a hindrance than an asset."
"Melanie, you've been there and done it," said David, "You'll be able to give the Prioress the unvarnished truth concerning what is really happening out here and she'll be getting the information from someone she knows and hopefully trusts. If you help get her out here, you'll have done more good than anything I can accomplish on my own and that has to be seen as a good thing."
"But is it right to bring nuns out here to act as concubines?" she asked touching on the one thing that really worried her.
"I don't know," admitted David, "That's something that each nun is going to have to decide for themselves," he smiled softly. "Just like you had to decide when you joined us."
The safety brief that was given to the assembled party by Master Chief McKillion was short and to the point and basically boiled down to where the escape pods were and otherwise don't touch anything unless a member of the Navy was there to supervise. The impression that fully trained Marines, let alone half-baked Militia troops couldn't be trusted not to kill themselves came across loud and clear without anything actually being said.
After the briefing the two Civil Service officers and, despite his protests, Johnny Porter were escorted to the Wardroom to join the ships' officers for dinner. The rest of the party was guided through the area that was the normal Marine accommodation and into the large mess hall to get something to eat before settling into the ship's routine for the journey to Earth.
As they passed through the Marine accommodation Gunny Archer looked around and asked about the changes.
"We've removed the central bunks to create this open area," explained Peter McKillion to his Marine counterpart. "Everything on the starboard side has been converted into accommodation blocks, we've got eight clusters of four cells that'll each take four people," he gave a shrug. "The skipper said we'd be picking up volunteers with a couple of concubines each but no children." He raised an eyebrow at Jacob in query.
"I'll check with the boss and if he okays it, I'll tell you all about it," said Jacob his demeanour indicating that that was the best he could offer at this time.
Peter nodded and continued with his explanation, "The port side has been divided up into larger cells that can be used as briefing rooms or just big accommodation areas if they're needed. The three forward cells on the port side have the mobile medical facilities that have been brought up from the planet."
He looked Jacob in the eye, "There are two more medical pods up in the sickbay and we've all been told that they are to be kept free once the operation begins."
Jacob looked apologetic but refused to be drawn on what the mission was.
"Right," acknowledged Peter, "other than that, she's the same assault ship you've always known. I'm going to try to keep things running the same way, with this being Marine country and everything forward of here belonging to the Navy."
It was Jacob's turn to nod, "Sounds sensible," he said. "Is the gym still in operation?"
Peter nodded, "I'll get the hours posted so we don't run the risk of anything happening."
It was traditional for the gymnasium, which was a shared facility on the smaller class of assault ships, to be available to the ships' complement for certain hours of the day with the Marines having different 'opening hours.' This prevented any friction between the two halves of the vessels' personnel from getting out of hand.
The food was plentiful but a little bland and the Marine contingent watched on in amusement as the Militia pushed it around their plates a little before eating it.
"You've become spoilt," said First Sergeant Emma Fletcher as her partner for this operation Erika Mullen stared at what could possibly have been mistaken for a piece of beef.
Erika glanced at the Marine and was greeted by a happy smiling face that proceeded to masticate a lump of the same meat she was staring at.
"I suppose it looks like food," said Erika before she took it into her mouth.
Emma swallowed, "The replicators down on the planet have a subroutine built into them that makes them produce food that looks good as well as being nutritionally good for you. Up here the calorie content is all that's really important." She scooped up another spoonful of the 'food' and held it towards Erika. "This stuff has probably got a twenty percent higher protein content than the stuff you are used to because it's assumed that we will need the energy at some stage."