PHD #184: Hearts and Minds
Hearts and Minds
Summary: In which Cidra and Sitka hash out details regarding their pull-out from the Jharkhand Basin, the pronounced lack of flowers in the streets for the Colonials on Sagittaron, and some other old business.
Date: 29 Aug 2041 AE
Related Logs: The Sag logs, most directly A Spirited Tactical Debate; oblique Carrier Landings reference
Cidra Sitka 
Sagittaron - The Farmstead
This is a sad and squalid patch of loamy earth, the blackness of which is broken up every few meters by rotting bits of green. Located on some of the highest ground near the Jharkand Delta, the farm went to seed a while before Warday — making it good only for growing weeds. An old farmhouse is the plot's most notable feature, perched as it is at the very summit of the hill — beside the charred walls of a barn quite recently set aflame. Those rickety structures aside, only two other hints of civilization remain. A poor excuse for a road winds its way down the slopes, its grey-white gravel partially obscured by encroaching dirt, while a small broken-down water pump creaks idly in the breeze, its handle worn by decades of use. The fields themselves have the undisturbed look of once-flooded ground — before the intrusion of men. The remains of broken tractors, plows, and various other farm implements have been carried by rising waters to their final resting place by the base of the farmhouse. Just enough barbed wire fences have survived to mark the edges of the twenty-acre property.
Post-Holocaust Day: #184

Cidra has spent the morning in their camp on Sagittaron, and a good part of the previous evening, ensconced in a Raptor. She was on the search run in which they recovered a handful of survivors the previous night, of course, but she's spent a good deal of time in the bird since returning to camp as well. Supposedly on the wireless with or trying /get/ on the wireless with Colonel Pewter back up on Cerberus. She's just emerging from the bird now. Looking pensive as she hops back onto the basin turf. She's wearing a green Navy cap, in addition to her fatigues and sidearm. She got quite a bit of sun during her first days on planet, and learned the lesson about the importance of sunblock and a hat a little too late. At least her nose is done peeling.

The camp is quite generally a bustling place, with crew either rotating on, rotating off, or — in Ibrahim's case — headed off to patrol. Thus, he is suited up in full flight gear with a helmet tucked under his arm, and a pair of mock aviator's shades, of all things, perched on his beak of a nose. The gods only know where he found those things. He happens to be trudging right past the raptor as Cidra disembarks, and does a brief doubletake before halting some steps away. "Hey there," he offers with a somewhat sheepish grin. "Uh. Sir." He studies her nose, for some reason, rather than make eye contact; his own slightly swarthy complexion seems to have tanned instantly, and skipped the sunburn step entirely.

Cidra may get off this planet with a tan, but it'll be after she's de-reddened. She's fair naturally, and had acquired that extra layer of pallor that comes with long-term space service with little real contact with sunlight. "Shiv. Hello." She pauses her rather marching pace when she spots him. Fingertips idly reaching up to brush her nose, when she catches him studying it. It, and the tips of her ears, were particularly reddened. Hands promptly drop to her side when she catches herself doing it. "How goes the day? As I understand it, the XO has made a little visit to camp. Do not fret if you have not spotted him. He is keeping a low profile. I do not think he quite expected me to catch him so soon after I returned from Cerberus last eve." She was up dropping off the survivors to Medical. And, rumor has it, chatting with the colonel some more.

Sitka shakes his head when Tillman's mentioned, and hefts the helmet under his arm as it starts to slip. "I can't say I have, sir." The grin makes a brief re-appearance, mostly at the corners of his eyes— just barely visible at the edges of those damnable shades. Well, who knows really what he's looking at behind those things. He could well be checking Cidra out. And not just her nose. "It's been, uh, pretty quiet." He hitches his head in the direction of the makeshift tarmac yonder, where a handful of raptors and vipers sit inert. "I was about to head off on patrol. But I've got a few minutes if you want to.." Talk? He falls just short of saying it.

"Yes, actually. Walk with me, please," Cidra says. Continuing her stroll, albeit near the area where the planes are housed. And her pace is a little less rigid than it was when she flitted out of the Raptor. "I have been meaning to get a moment with you for days yet, but matters have been…moving. Some of it beyond my control. First and foremost. I meant to send a runner to both yourself and Lieutenant Trask on this last night but I have no idea if they managed to find you. We shall be pulling out of the Jharkhand Basin. My intention is to move the camp to the outskirts of one of the southern cities." She talks like she isn't even sure precisely /where/ they're moving yet. Just…away.

Judging by how unsurprised the Captain appears at being informed of Cidra's plans for moving out, it's likely a good bet that runner found him. He shoots a brief glance over his shoulder, nods to the woman, and falls into step easily alongside her. She may be taller, but he seems able to cover ground quite efficiently when he wants to. His voice is slightly taut when he speaks next, "Did you have a place in mind? Or did you want my suggestions, sir?" And if she doesn't know where they're headed, he's perfectly content to pick a destination: the perimeter of the camp, where they can follow the fence around the compound.

Cidra wanders where Sitka will take her. She's not walking with so much a destination in mind at the moment as doing a sort of free-range version of pacing. Expending energy and gathering her thoughts. "I will need suggestions," she replies. "You know this area better than most. Though in speaking with the Marines I know roughly *what* we need. Sergeant Constin recommended certain buildings that naturally lend themselves to defensibility, and would have a large enough yard to land our planes." A pause and she adds, "Prisons. It may not be comfortable but it makes good sense to me from a tactical point of view."

It's a little warmer in a flight suit than it is in fatigues, so Shiv takes the opportunity to yank the zipper down a short way while they walk, and Cidra gathers her thoughts. He glances up when she mentions prisons, and for a moment looks completely baffled at the suggestion. His mouth opens, closes, and he trudges on for a few steps, contemplative. Finally, "I guess there's some wisdom to that. How we'd get in is another matter, but I certainly wouldn't consider it unfeasible. Uh.." He rifles his grimy fingers through equally grimy hair, courtesy of the amount of dirt kicked up by the frequent winds here. "Tihar penitentiary is probably our best bet, if you're serious about this, though. It's.." A soft breath is blown out his nose. Trudge, trudge. "..just north of Aera Yazd. They'd send buses out there twice a week.."

"Tihar." Cidra repeats the word, only mispronouncing it slightly, short as it is. Her accent does even stranger things to Sagittaron words than it musses with Standard ones. A side look at him when he mentions Aera Yazd. Still hard to read, but blue eyes are a little soft. All she does for the moment is give a simple nod, though. "Sounds like a place to look at, at least. What sort of facility was it? Local government? Federal Colonial? Cerberus *may* have more information on the latter, though our library has some holes it in that often irk me."

"Local," Sitka murmurs, casting his eyes out across the makeshift camp once they reach the barbed wire fence that shakily marks the perimeter of the farm. He continues along the edge of it, eyes squinted slightly even behind the shades as the sun hits them full-on. "Well, supposedly, anyway. The feds sometimes used it as a holding ground for insurgents, until they could be shipped out to Picon or Virgon or something." His voice is difficult to read. Cautious, like he's skirting around some old wound or another. "Doubt you'll find it in the databases."

Cidra's long stride slows a little as she watches him, sidelong. Squinting some in the sunlight, though her eyes are somewhat shaded under the brim of her hat. A small nod. "I have learned since the attacks there were a good many things our databases did not like to keep careful track of," she responds wryly. She clears her throat, fishing in her pockets for her cigarettes. "I suspect it shall suit our purposes well enough if it has been abandoned, however. I would like a pair of Vipers to scout it and the region around it in the morning. Look for any signs of activity. If it appears deserted, I shall dispatch a Raptor with a Marine search time to clear it properly. If there is an open yard we can likely set down there and…take getting in from there."

Sitka's eyes flick over at the sound of Cidra's smokes coming out, then drag away again as she speaks. A brief, humourless smile twists at his lips. "Sure, you want me to take care of that?" The viper sweep, presumably. "I can have it done by, uh.." Scratch, scratch at his nose. "..tomorrow evening?"

Cidra wordlessly offers him the pack after she's lit up one for herself. "See to it, please. I would like to start striking us from our facilities here within two days at the outside. I do not want to linger in case something terribly stupid occurs." Tone a little terse at that last. She smokes, deeply, before elaborating. "Major Tillman and I had a rather…spirited discussion concerning our situation here." It sounds like a vast understatement. Some might find it difficult to imagine having a spirited discussion with the CAG. Sitka is probably among the people who would *not* find imagining such a thing difficult, however.

The pack is accepted, and a solitary cigarette tapped out, and tucked between his lips. There's a bit of juggling to be done, considering one arm's occupied with his helmet. But the Captain's an accomplished smoker, apparently. "You mind elaborating for me, sir?" is mumbled around the cig while he begins hunting down his lighter. Not only is he not shocked at hearing about this spirited discussion, he's even smiling a touch. As much as he can, anyway, with his mouth otherwise occupied. After two tries, he finally gets it lit and takes a long pull from the stick. Nothing like a pre-flight smoke to steady the hands.

Cidra smirks. Ever so faintly around her smoke. The expression is rueful. "Major Tillman told me that, after the attempted suicide bombing, if we incurred another casualty he would begin ordering artillery strikes against the SSLF." It is said in a clipped tone that isn't nearly as neutral as she means it to be. "I told him I thought this would only be a waste of our resources that would inflame the situation here. He 'noted' my opinion but did not actually concur with it. It is not within my power to stop him from doing this. It *is* within my power as the ranking officer on the ground to move us to an area where the radiation is thick enough to make encountering hostiles regularly…unlikely. So that is what is being done."

Sitka ashes his cigarette out as they walk, careful to do so on the side Cidra isn't. His head jerks around sharply, though, when she speaks of the artillery strikes, and he doesn't merely slow his stride— he stops abruptly. "Are you frakking kidding me?" comes out somewhat more sharply than is characteristic for him. He fumbles the aviators off with his cigarette-holding hand, blue eyes crinkling up at the corners in a webwork of fine lines as the rapidly setting sun strikes him crosswise. "I mean, I sort of figured the guy might have a screw or two loose, but I've tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. But this is frakking ridiculous." His lips twitch slightly. Not to smile; it's almost a baring of teeth. "It's bullshit, sir. These may be the scum at the bottom of the barrel, but when humanity could number in the thousands right now.."

"I wish I was," Cidra replies, stopping as he does, facing him gravely. "And I know. And it is." No actual disagreement with his outburst. She doesn't even defend the XO, and Cid is usually in front of her people a good company woman. Whatever spirited discussions might be taking place higher up. "This could get very stupid very quickly. I am trying to get…control of the situation. I told Colonel Pewter it was my intention to surrender the basin to the SSLF and get us out of here promptly before…gods knows what happened." Let the terrorists win. She seems almost proud of this idea. Though not happy about any of it. A deep breath, followed by long sigh. "I did not come here to kill human beings, Ibrahim. I do not care who they are. This is not the war I am fighting."

Sunglasses off, Sitka makes a point now of meeting Cidra's gaze— and holding it while she speaks. Blue eyes that have seen roughly as many years as hers, though perhaps not borne them so well. It's hard to say. The cigarette, nearly forgotten, burns away between two fingers while he tries to grasp the reality of what she's telling him; emotion is not something generally so profoundly obvious on his staid features, but it is at this moment. "I suggest.. I suggest evacuating anyone not, uh, not involved in the viper or raptor recon," he offers, a little haltingly. That odd sort of quasi-stammer of his tends to traipse through at the least opportune moments. "Uh.." He tears his eyes away from hers, and glances out over the camp again while tucking the aviators away. More quietly, "I don't even think this is a war, anymore."

Cidra reaches her left hand (her dominant right is wielding her cig) to touch his arm. A half-comforting gesture, and an unconscious one. She doesn't seem to realize she's doing it until it's done. "Not everyone we found has been a terrorist. The people I encountered last night were just ordinary men and woman. Desperate, but nothing beyond that. And those people you and the others met in the mountains. Money Shot told me a little of them. The…cultists…" There are so many questions about that she clearly wants to ask. But they're tabled. She clears her throat. "And it is not. It is not a war. You know, I would have thought that with everything destroyed…I did not think they would welcome us here with flowers in the streets…" It's said derisively, yet in a self-mocking sort of way. She might have *hoped* they would. "…but I thought that with everything gone the old arguments would not matter so much anymore."

He may be beyond noticing that touch to his arm, or he may not. There's only a slight twinge at the corners of his mouth to register it at all. Mention of the cultists, however, does gain his attention briefly— and he seems about to speak on it, when she moves back to the subject at hand. It is, for now, dutifully dropped. "If you want to know what I think, sir," he replies, leaning back against one of the fenceposts with a dull creak as it shifts under his bulk, "I think it's because this is all these people know. You ever hear of that, uh, that story.. fable, I guess, about the fox and the scorpion?" A drag, finally, off his cigarette. Eyes on Cidra's once more.

Cidra looks down at said hand and lets it fall back to her side in as subtle a manner as possible. Stopping to rest as he does. "It does not come to mind," she admits soft, head tilted to one side a little and falling quiet. Waiting for the story if he'll tell it.

Sitka doesn't seem to have been bothered by the contact, unexpected as it may have been. He watches her back for a few moments after it's been relinquished, then glances down at his cigarette while trying to bring the tale to mind. After clearing his throat, he begins slowly, "It's an old story parents used to tell their children down here. I guess it might've taken place somewhere around here, now that I think about it. There's this vast, deep river that carves across the desert, see, and a scorpion who wants to cross but is too small to swim. So he spots this fox who's also approaching the river, and he tells him:" A pause, and another clearing of his throat. "'as I was walking along the river bank looking for food I noticed a particularily easy place to cross the river where the water is not so deep and not so swift. As it is I would like to cross over myself also but as I am so small it would be impossible. Would you be willing to take me across if I show you this place to cross the river?' Well, the fox is pretty skeptical he won't be stung, so he says 'how could I possibly trust you will not sting me on the way across as we have been life long enemies?'" Here, he smiles somewhat ruefully. "Well, the scorpion points out that if he stung him, the fox would drown and they'd both die. Well, the fox gives this some thought and eventually agrees. He lets the scorpion climb onto his back.." He makes a little motion with his hand, cigarette wobbling wisps of smoke. "And they start across the river. About halfway along, the fox feels a sharp sting in his back, and cries out, 'what have you done? Now we both shall drown!'. And the scorpion answers, 'I could not help it. It's in my nature'." And there, he's simply quiet.

Cidra keeps her eyes on him throughout the story. Nothing particularly intent about her gaze just now, but she's an attentive audience and she soaks it up in silence. Lips twist a little at the end of it. "Grim little object lesson for parents to want to impart," she says, a little dry. Not that she can argue with the wisdom of it, as they are now. She does some more thoughtful smoking, turning that over before saying anything more. "Major Tillman seemed…angry at them. The SSLF. Or incredulous, maybe, is the word. He said he has expected them to be interested in our 'humanitarian' mission. Well. Maybe I did, too. I do not think artillery a good way to change hearts and minds, however. Money Shot said the terrorists might even kill some of the others left on the planet to 'spare' them from being taken by us. Up into tin cans with artificial air and 'medicators' as she calls them. Do you think they would, really? See that as a mercy to their own people."

"They might well," Ibrahim agrees quietly, flicking a little more ash from his cigarette. Another drag, smoke sifted out his nose in a practiced exhale. "As far as them being interested in our mission.." He leaves off the word 'humanitarian', for whatever reason. "They are what they are. You might be able to change individual minds, but.. this is what they know, Cidra." Maybe he doesn't even realise he's slipped up with her name. He's looking awfully thoughtful, eyes squinted off toward the farmhouse as the sun slides beneath the horizon and bleeds profusely in its wake.

If Cidra notices the slip to her given name she doesn't mind it. She doesn't insist on constant sir'ing, really, though the way she carries herself doesn't exactly encourage informality most of the time. "I just…I felt as if, when we learned there were people alive back on the colonies, I thought we could *do* something. Since the attacks I often have not felt…" She trails off. Stopping herself from pursuing that line of thought. "…I thought this was a mission I could believe in, at least. And I do. It has just…Major Tillman is not the only one who this has not gone as he had hoped, I will admit." A shrug. "They are what they are. We are what we are. If that is all there is to it, then I shall leave them to it. But not all we have encountered here have been violent." She's clinging to that just now. "Those people you all met at those caves. Money Shot said they seemed at least courteous. If…odd."

His gaze returns to the CAG at that abandoned line of thought. A slight shift where he leans against the fence, though no effort to straighten out of his slouch. It forces him to lift his chin a fraction in order to regard her— not that he tends to give the impression of looking up to people, in general. "That's what brought the CMC here, in the first place," he offers. There's a distant, somewhat unspoken thought lurking there. Not quite an accusation, and not quite leveled at Cidra. "Good intentions." The cigarette's brought to his lips again, disguising a flicker of tension in his jaw. There and gone again. "They were, uh, cultists I guess. I know there used to be a few druidic ones around here. I think these were more.. more interested in the dead. There's an offshoot on Gemenon, I think. Hades worshippers."

"Road the all hells are paved with them," Cidra tacks that on to his 'good intentions' bit. With no humor. "Not that any of it matters anymore." A little nod to what he says about the cultists. "I have heard of them a little. Apostolos said they believed they were…guarding the River Styx. Keeping the gateway for the spirits. I…umm…I know little of their practices, even the Hades cults on Gemenon." A pause and she admits, "Their rituals and practices call for one to be attuned to things which I…am not." Is there a touch of bitterness in her tone as she admits that last? Perhaps.

"Hey, well, that makes two of us," murmurs the Captain with a quick flash of a grin. One shoulder hitches up in a shrug, and as the wind begins to kick dust about them, he hikes the zipper on his flight suit back up to his throat. "I guess you could go talk to them, if you liked. Might want to bring Apostolos or someone along, though." He doesn't mention why, and he doesn't volunteer himself. "Was, uh, was there anything else? You got my report on that patrol, yeah?" The one he actually bothered to get sent over in a timely fashion.

Cidra eyes him a beat longer. Like she's going to press him more on those worshippers of Hades. But she does not. "Concerning the drones? Yes. Most of the areas we need to be concerned about with those drones lie in this basin. Take as much care as you can to avoid them. We shall be gone from here soon and I want no accidents prompting…stupidity. I am told any artillery strike will have to get Colonel Pewter's O-K as well as Major Tillman's." Not hers, though. Perhaps a byproduct of that 'spirited' discussion she referenced earlier, that. "I believe the Colonel has a steadier head. Though I am never *quite* sure what that man is thinking." She actually sounds ever-so-slightly annoyed. And any irony is obviously lost on her. "Anyhow. You are dismissed." Such as dismissal from this is required. "Get a couple of Vipers around that prison tomorrow for a fly-over of it and the city around it. If the area truly is deserted, as I suspect it shall be, we can move swiftly into a more secure situation." Such as sky-high radiation levels and a high-security prison on the edge of an irradiated cityscape can be called an improvement.

Nothing more than a slight, acquiescing nod to the first portion of what Cidra says. It probably goes without saying that he'll be adjusting patrols well clear of the area; the Captain's generally a fairly cautious — and obedient — sort. Secret, stolen drug stashes notwithstanding. He doesn't yet take his leave, however, when he's dismissed. Though he does look distinctly amused at the annoyed tone that enters her voice when speaking of Pewter. "You aren't the easiest to read, yourself, sir," he points out gently. "And, sure. You got it." Regarding the vipers. He scratches dirt-smudged fingers through his beardscruff, and asks after a few moments, "Why didn't you tell anyone it was your birthday, by the way? I've just.. I've just wondered, you know?"

Cidra blinks when he does indeed point out the irony of her Pewter annoyance to her. "That is entirely different." She does not explain how it is different, mind you. She's about to go, but his last question stops her. And catches her a little off-guard. "You remember that, do you?" A soft, wry chuckle, accompanied by a shrug. "One should not trust a confidence to a reporter. Particularly Sawyer Averies." Though she does not sound un-fond of the journalist. "I just…I did not want anyone to feel obligated to do…whatever." Possibly do something nice for her? Who knows. "You all serve me most well, and your off-duty time is your own. I did not want to make anyone…uncomfortable."

"Particularly Sawyer Averies," Sitka concurs with a wry smile. It, too, does not sound un-fond, though there's a touch of something once more unspoken there. He drags once more off the cigarette, drops it into the dirt, and grinds it out with the toe of his boot while Cidra continues. She's barely had the chance to reach the portion of her explanation concerning obligations, when he hands something over that was pilfered from a pocket of his flight gear. Something small and wooden — the size of a charm — and fairly.. crudely carved. Yet the likeness of Athena's symbol — an owl — is unmistakeable. It looks intended to be threaded onto a loop of prayer beads. "You know that's also bullshit, Cidra, right?" is mentioned quietly.

"I know I am not precisely beloved on a personal level by many, Shiv. That is fine. One does not need to be liked to be well-served. At times it makes things…" Cidra just kind of plows ahead, as she often does when something is difficult for her. It's slightly /less/ jarring when she's ordering people to do deadly things than when she does it in her personal dealings. She's so dedicated to it it takes her a minute to actually stop and notice he's said something else. She blinks. Honestly surprised. And speechless. She stares down at the charm, then up at him. "I…" Still noting. She just smiles. It's not the least bit inscrutable. Just surprised, and honestly touched. "…thank you."

"More complicated?" he supplies on the end of that first trailed-off sentence, cocking an eyebrow not so much in question, as daring her to shoot it down. His hand is still held out, until Cidra either accepts the gift or turns it away. And then it's his turn to smile, though there's something faintly shy about it. "You're.. you're welcome. I used to, uh.." That thought doesn't get finished, though he does clear the roughness from his throat quietly. "You're welcome." A little wiggle of fingers to encourage her to take it.

"Oh, yes," Cidra says, snatching the charm from him and holding it delicately between her longer fingertips. As if just realizing she'd left him hanging with it there. "This is lovely. You did not have…" This time she actively shuts herself up. As that is, after all, complete bullshit. "It should fit my chain perfectly."

The smile shifts to a grin when Cidra plucks the charm from his hand, and Sitka finally pushes off the fencepost he'd been leaning against. His helmet's switched to the right hand, so he can touch her arm with the knuckles of his left in passing. "I hope so. I'll see you later, yeah? And.. happy birthday, Cidra." His expression sobers with those last words, though retains its warmth.

"Good hunting, Ibrahim," Cidra sends him off simply, clasping her present in her right hand. Left is raised to offer him something of a wave when his knuckles touch her arm. "I shall see you later. Much to do." She'll linger by the fence for a little longer for her part. Probably have another smoke, put off going back to the farmhouse proper.

The wave is returned with a brief lift of fingers that doesn't quite become a salute. Two steps away, and he's already looking thoughtful again. Or, perhaps, troubled. The captain's bulky frame takes some time to vanish into the mid-evening gloom.

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