“Yes Corporal.” She replied.
“Hmmm.” Said an impressed Penny as she turned and made her way up the next flight of steps. Even the PFC spoke perfect English. Being Recon Marines this squad could all speak at least one language beyond their planetary standard. Pity the same couldn’t be said for the rest of the Jarheads.
The Marines lead Penny up two more flights and across several tight corridors until they reached the General’s office. Like ocean-based naval craft of old this ship had no turbolifts or broad walking areas. Hand-holds spaced at regular intervals ensured that the crew could continue their duties in the event of an artificial gravity failure and the corridors were sectioned into five metre segments, each bordered with an open pressure door. Wu felt a little better when he noticed this. In the event of a pressure loss the bulkhead doors would shut and localise the damage only to the section hit.
The General’s office was situated on the Bridge deck just down the hall from the office of the Jagganath‘s Captain. LC Amrah left Wu outside with the rest of the Marines and accompanied Penny inside.
General Ram leaned back in his chair like a school principle about to dress down a delinquent. No AR rank insignia floated beside his head and unlike every other marine on board he wore no combat armour. His rank and as his campaign ribbons were plain to see on his uniform shirt.
Only two kinds of commanders flaunted combat regulations when it came to 24/7 pressure suit duties: ‘Down with my ship’ types and arrogant bullies for whom the rules applied to everyone else.
The General’s office was mostly spartan save for three flags across the back wall. Penny only recognised the Terran Federation flag on the far right, the one on the far left matched the shoulder decals of the Marine’s combat armour, so she guessed that flag was for Vishnu, but the one in the middle with the green, white and orange stripes she had no idea.
In the meantime Penny strode in and threw a smart salute. “Rangers lead the way sir.”
LC Amrah hesitated before translating. General Ram snorted like a cartoon bull and fired off a quick response.
Amrah turned back to Penny. “The General says. ‘All the way’.” He looked puzzled for a moment. “What does that mean?”
Penny lowered her hand. “It’s how Rangers addressed our superiors during the war. Even though we’re glorified cops now we still salute that way when we gotta mix with regular forces. Reminds you Jarheads and Voiders that we didn’t always wear a badge.”
General Ram snapped his fingers and barked again. The only word Penny caught was ‘Corporal.’ Then another staccato of words shot from his mouth. When he was finished, he crossed his arms and waited.
LC Amrah apologised quickly. Penny could only tell from his body language. Though it was interesting to see him with a facial expression other than ‘smirk’.
“The General asks what your business on Aloysius is? He wants to know if you’re here to break up a narcotics racket or some kind of smuggling operation amongst the troops?”
Penny smirked. “I had a feeling your boss had dealt with us before. Tell him I have good news: I’m after this man.” Penny sent Amrah a photograph over her PAN.
“Whoa.” Amrah said. His eyes widening. “Going straight for the big man.”
Amrah passed the image to General Ram’s PAN. The General looked at the invisible image floating in his augmented vision and shrugged before replying.
Amrah popped up his eyebrows at the General’s words. “He says he’s got forty-thousand troops trying to catch the Masked Ranger. What difference does one more make?”
“The Masked Ranger?” Penny said. “Really flexing the ol’ creativity muscles there ain’t cha?”
Amrah shrugged. “Marines tell it like it is.”
General Ram fired off another vocal volley and made a brushing away gesture with his right hand.
Penny sighed. “I take it I’m dismissed?”
“He says if you’re just here to shave rocks on a grindstone, it’s no concern of his. But he’s told me to take you down to the briefing room where my C.O. will fit you in on the situation planet-side.”
“Thank you kindly.” Penny said. She threw General Ram another sharp salute, which he returned, and they filed out of the room.
As they collected Wu and headed towards the briefing room Penny perked up with. “Care to settle a curiosity of mine Corporal?”
LC Amrah grinned at her again. “I’m sorry to inform you that I am happily married Ranger.” He puffed out his chest and flashed his pearly teeth at her.
Penny smirked. “Don’t flatter yourself honey.”
“That won’t stop him.” PFC Verma butted in. “Commending himself is his favourite thing in the world.”
“It’s not my favourite…”
“Favourite thing you can do outside your rack then?” Penny suggested.
One of the bigger Marines laughed. “She’s got you there Corp.”
LC Amrah crossed his arms and turned his nose up indignantly. “Hmmmpf. You’re all just jealous of my Lucy and the love we share.”
“Lucy’s his dog right?” Wu asked the big man. “No wait, you’re Marines, it’s his rifle.”
LC Amrah unfolded his arms and pouted. “Don’t want to talk to you no more.”
“That won’t last.” Penny smiled at him. “So about my question…”
“Yeah, go ahead.” LC Amrah grumbled.
“Those flags in the General’s office…”
“Ah. The green, white and orange one is the Indian flag back on Earth. The one with the orange and white striped tiger on the green background is the flag of Vishnu.”
Penny nodded. “So he’s trying to say he’s proud of his heritage, loyal to his home world and a patriot of the Federation.”
Amrah shrugged. “He’d phrase it differently… and for a lot longer, but basically yeah.”