PHD #363: Last Pieces
Last Pieces
Summary: With a team in place and ready, Vandenberg just needs an ECO.
Date: 24 Feb 2042 AE
Related Logs: Anything with Vandenberg's recruiting binge.
Marko Vandenberg 
Map Room
Thurr be maps here.
Post-Holocaust Day: #363

Marko is using what passes for down-time with double CAPs going to continue to do a soft-prep for a mission he and Leyla have been cooking. Judging by the images and maps, the big Ark wasn't the only ship they found on their little quest. And it would appear he's doing his damndest to figure out if she'll still fly.

The hatch opens and Vandenberg steps inside. She's in her combat pants, complete with thigh rig sidearm but the shirt is just held by her side so she's otherwise in tanktops. "Heard I could hunt you down here," she greets easily. The hatch is locked behind her before she steps across the room. Her chin lifts to him, motioning towards the work with her overshirt. "Can I steal you for a few minutes? I got something I want to go over with you." There's an undercurrent of tension to her. Whatever she's here about is serious.

"Yeah, sure thing, LT." Marko replies, looking up from the papers he'd been scribbling on. "What can I do for you?" he asks curiously. If it looks like Marko hasn't slept in a while, it's only because he hasn't.

Vandenberg tosses the shirt onto the map table and shakes her head. "I ain't a Lieutenant right now, Marko. I'm here person to person. Let's keep this informal so we aren't BS'ing each other." Despite her accent, her words are clipped. She cocks her hip out to lean it against the table. There's a long breath from her. "I wanted to talk to you about that investigation I've been looking into. The one that you and your pilot went over with me in the mess? I was curious how you felt about the conclusions and lines we were drawing."

"Investigation?" Marko asks, blinking confusedly. "Eh…can you refresh my memory some?" he asks. "That was kind of a few weeks ago, and, eh…..we have been kind of busy since then." he points out simply. Witness the fact Marko has hardly been seen, even at Midrats, since the Swarms began attacking.

"Hey, no problemo." She leans her elbow on the table to rest more over it to face the man beside her. "I've been looking into the operational issues involved with Cylon intentions related to that knife we recovered on Tauron. I've got orders from Pewter to talk to anyone I need to or chase any leads so that I might get to the bottom of it. The conclusions, when we spoke, were that the Cylons we looking to collect artifacts from Kobol so that they could use them as a means towards an end. We discussed a Cylon migration and where they might be going, the connections to the Ark you and Aydin discovered, and a few other things. There were quite a few religious implications involved. Essentially the evidence I've been presented with leads to a few distinct conclusions: First, that the Gods are real. Second, that the Cylons intend to kill our Gods and wipe our souls clean. This would clear a path for them to create their own all-powerful single God. Third, they are getting quite close to accomplishing this." She says it all matter of factly, lifting a hand gently. "Before you tell me I'm crazy, bear in mind that these are conclusions drawn from six weeks of investigation and that the Cylons are machines. Highly logical in how they operate. All the evidence tells us that they are attempting to do exactly what I'm telling you. And I'm not the only one who believes this, either. Everyone who has seen this evidence and done their own research is reaching the same conclusions."

"Well, I can't speak for intel. But I can speak for those who I have shown my evidence to. Marines. A civilian," she adds.

"Well, that sounds about as reasonable as anything else." Marko replies, shrugging a little as bits and pieces of that conversation start to drift back to him. "My only question to all of that would be this. You don't just _create_ Gods." Marko says, frowning thoughtfully. "At least, we don't, and since we're the ones who initially programmed the Cylons, it stands to reason they would think the same. What if they already really do believe in one God?" he asks quietly. "And if the Gods are real….." he says, letting his voice trial off.

Vandenberg lets Marko finish while all that sinks in. She knows its a lot to take in all at once. "There is a basis for what they are attempting to do in an obscure cult. There is also the theological requirement of erasing the God or Gods before a new deity can be created. Its easy to argue that the Cylons were created by us and thus viewed us as their Gods of a sort. They wiped our race from the stars almost completely and now are attempting to wipe the Gods from existence." She takes a breath, her voice as factual as can be. "Now, this is all semantics until you come back to the point of the Gods being real beings, not analogies to our existence. They've made their presence known to this fleet in subtle ways, but they have. I've got a whole file on it and trying to explain all the odd things that has happened aboard since Warday and even before is something that I cannot even come close to doing without coming back to that point."

"There's been paranormal activity?" Marko asks, cocking his head to peer at the Marine curiously, perhaps even disbelievingly. "What kind? I mean, I heard the scuttlebutt when I came aboard about the fire and what not, but I chalked all that up to the usual bullshit that goes when you're putting a ship this big and this complex together."

Vandenberg dips her head. "At the very least there was a shared hallucination by a group of people on this ship - about a dozen as best I can figure - that they thought was a dream. I talked to two of them. Both gave witness statements rather than reports of what happened. The difference is that witness statements differ to individuals depending on what an individual saw and felt about a situation or experience. A report is similar to how you might tell a friend about a TV show you watched. We also have countless other small things. The more I have dug, the more I have learned. I suspect there is a lot more going on than people are reporting, as well." Natalie swallows, wetting her lips. She waits to see how he responds. That underlying tension is still there. Whatever she is here about, this isn't it.

"Huh…well…" Marko begins, then falls silent for a few very _long_ moments. "If I tell you something, can you promise me it stays _out_ of your reports?" he asks at length, voice sounding very quiet indeed.

Vandenberg dips her head. "Everything we are talking about is completely off the record, Marko, and you'll understand why when I'm done." She gestures to him. "Please, I'd love to hear what you have."

"I dunno if you've read my personnel file or not." Marko begins quietly. "But my Mom was a priestess at the Temple of Aphrodite in Delphi." he says. "She was also, well, kind of….insane." he says, smiling fondly despite the seriousness of his tone. "I don't mean 'Oh, my Mom was _insane_." he says, waving his hand in a mock teasing way. "But as in 'we the jury, find the defendant'." he says, chuckling very softly. "All of the Khamala she was smoking didn't help matters much. She'd get into arguments with parked cars, accuse trees of trying to trip her….in short, as much as I love the woman, she was not playing on a regulation Pyramid court." he says flatly.

"The only time I've accessed your file was to update your clearance information in regards to this case I've been working. I don't get any joy of reading about other people's personal information." Natalie keeps it short, watching Marko as he speaks. There's a bit of sympathy creeping onto her face. Family. That had to be tough.

It's about to get even worse. "When I was eighteen, she killed herself." Marko says simply. "Cut her own throat with Dad's straight razor in their shower." he adds. "She videotaped the whole thing. Said she was sacrificing herself to the Gods in order to quote, 'offer up her life in exchange for that of her family'. She said she had foreseen a great calamity looming in the near future, and that she hoped her death would be enough to appease the Gods' wrath and shelter us from it." he sighs, frowning a little. "Now, I know what you're probably thinking, 'cause I was thinking the same thing. She was bat-frak crazy and freaked out from smoking too many psychotropic drugs." he says. "And then Warday came….."

"Aww Marko," she sighs, head tilting. She tries to smile but its a sad expression. There's a long series of breaths from the Marine as she looks to the ground. "I don't think anything. I promise. But.." Her eyes finally lift. "Maybe what she saw was this. Warday. Maybe she did sacrifice herself so you could live. I've.. Well let me just say that I wouldn't be surprised."

"The reason I'm mentioning this is to let you know that, ever since then, I've learned to keep a pretty open mind." Marko says simply, seeming to shrug off Vandenburg's overtures of sympathy with the well-rehearsed ease of someone who's been doing that for a while now. He appreciates it, but he no longer needs it. Not with so much more blood having been spilled in the interim. "That, and to lead you to telling me why you're really here."

"Good. Because an open mind is what this might require from you." Getting to why she is here, she reaches into her pocket and produces a small music player. She lifts it so he might see it before she turns on the ditigal music. It starts churning out old arena rock and she sets it on the table. Its just loud enough to spread throughout the room. "There is a reason for that so just trust me. The Marines are trying to nail someone to the wall and we need to keep some conversations as secure as possible." Her voice drops lower and she moves closer. "Marko, the Marines have a code that guides our behavior and defines our lives. It helps us make decisions when things are murky. Its an order of service. Gods, Colonies, Corps. That means that we serve the Gods first, then the Colonies, then the military. Everything else is a personal pile after that. Its important for you to understand that because its going to define the 'why' of what I'm going to present to you. When you use our prior discussion as context, what I'm going to say is going to become immediately clear." She swallows, getting to the meat. That tension is back. "In the course of my investigation I have come across Lampridis Falls, Gemenon, numerous times. And not just in odd, random mentions. That shared vision included references to it heavily and that vision is what lead directly to our people going to Knossos and finding that knife. It was the Gods giving us a signpost. Something they needed us to do in order to help protect them. Since then there have been more and more references to Lampridis. Its one of the reasons the CAG has had it reconned though she may not admit to it openly. Just a suspicion of mine."

Marko cocks his head a little to peer at Vandenburg with a marked amount of suspicion. "Gods, Colonies, Corps…yeah, I saw that movie." he says simply, voice carefully neutral. "Lampridis Falls has been the big question mark in all of this. Of all the places the Cylons _didn't_ hit on Gemenon, why that one?" he asks conversationally. "There's not much there from what I know of the place. They went to great pains to annihilate every religious center on Gemenon." he adds. "Why are they occupying Lampridids Falls?"

Vandenberg makes a face, but its not directed towards the ECO. "People use our code as a punchline to jokes. We live and die by it." She sighs and crosses her arms. "We know its important, Marko. We don't know why. The Gods have been trying to shove us there from the start. Whatever they are doing there, it is vital that we get there as well. We don't have the same roadmap the Cylons do. But we know they are digging at a few sites on Gemenon. The fact that they are digging there and the Gods are nudging us there cannot be a coincidence. The fact is that we have no idea whats going on there but I can tell you with every ounce of my being that we need to get there. And we can't afford to wait around or take our time." The tension in her voice is rising.

"So go to the CAG with all of this." Marko replies wearily. "I know what she'll probably tell you, but go to her." he adds. "We're being hit by raid after raid after raid. And it all started when we brought that frakking Ark on board." he says, a little bit of heat coming into his tone. "That seems like one hell of a coincidence to me. The three-stripers we're fighting aren't anywhere near as good as the others. But somehow, they find us again, and again, and again." he sighs. "Maybe Sweet Pea's right and it's something we brought back from the Foundry, I dunno…But that's not my point…My point is, we gotta figure out what to do with the threats we _know_ before we can start thinking about going back to Gemenon. If we've got an Air Wing left to do it with."

"I've talked to the CAG. The last time I saw her she was talking about a recon and that was -weeks- ago, Marko. Besides, its irrelevant." She lets him finish and waves a hand. "No interference from me with these Raider assaults. But we can't afford to sit on our hands. If these swarms stop, I have reason to believe we're going to be denied." She's coming to it right now. The intensity in her eyes couldn't be missed. "The command structure isn't viable in this, Marko. Myself and the Master at Arms believe we have a traitor in our midst and it is someone who has the ability to block and stop all operations. All good sense and evidence tells us we need to get to Gemenon and put boots on the ground as soon as we possibly can. I've been stonedwalled and shut down by this person, despite all of the overwhelming evidence, but my orders from Pewter still stand. I have a team of Marines who believe so wholeheartedly in this that we are willing to bet our lives on how important Lampridis is. We can get all of the supplies we need. But we need an ECO who is willing to take those bets with us." They want to steal a Raptor and get a ride to Gemenon. This cannot possibly be something that a career Marine who lives, eats, and breathes 'Marine Corps' considered lightly. While illegal, this is something she deems important to risk everything on. And apparently other Marines do, too.

Marko just goes _still_ and turns to give Vandenburg the kind of long, slow hairy eyeball that makes it very clear he's starting to think she's implicating someone. "Go on, Lieutenant." he says simply. "Name names." he adds simply. "I can keep my mouth shut. Most of my life's been about keeping my mouth shut. Who is it you think's the problem here?" he continues. "Major Hahn?"

Vandenberg shakes her head. "I'm sorry, Marko, but I can't. Naming names could compromise the ongoing investigation. It could also complicate a bad situation if it turns out this party is innocent. But no, absolutely not Major Hahn. She has my implicit trust in her position. Nothing I have seen would even lead me to consider her a suspect - nor do I think anyone else even considers her suspect in any way. She's in too perfect a position to kill this fleet if she wanted to, anyway. If she wanted to do that, this battlegroup would never have lasted past week one and you'd be dead."

"_Good_" Marko says firmly, eyes flashing somewhat. "Because if you'd said anything else, I would've personally kicked your ass right out of the compartment." he adds, then smirks at the likelihood of that working out as intended. "So, you wanna go to the Falls, then?" he asks simply. "That's all well and good. It's very do-able." he nods. "We've got the co-ordinates, got the Raptors, got the pilots and even the Marines….What we _don't_ have, is the time." he says. "I hate to keep harping on this, but I can't help it stays relevant. I haven't been to War College, or even taken any advance Tactical training, and I''m smart enough to know that we can't task a pair of Raptors off to Gemenon on by guess and by golly when we're being attacked as heavily and as frequently as we are right now. Without the Raptors for SAR and countermeasures, we'll start going through Vipers like toothpicks."

Vandenberg might like to see him try that, but she lets the edge of a smile creep on to her face. Barely. Its obvious the Lieutenant has a great deal of respect for the CAG. "No. Not a bunch of us." She holds up a finger for the next tw words. "One Raptor. Five HALO jumpers. You and a pilot design the approach profile and just kick us out as close as you can to Lampridis. After that, we're the concern of the Gods, ourselves, and the Cylons. You guys come back here right away. When I saw that this mission is to be conducted outside the scope of command authority, I want you to understand what I mean: This Raptor would be repurposed for our needs against orders or directives from the fleet. You're married. You have ties. Consider this all. My Marines and I have no ties and are fully prepared to give our lives. We want to do this because if we don't, myself and my people believe that we won't just be looking at more casualties in the wing. We might be risking -everything- by not going." That intensity never leaves. "I want to do the drop as soon as these Raiders leave us alone. Not before. I won't jeopardize this fleet by removing a Raptor from the line until this is resolved. We do this for humanity, not to cause problems for it." She seems to be waiting on an answer but will answer any comments or questions as best she can.

Marko takes that in and sits in near stony silence for what seems a very, very long time indeed. Whatever it is he's thinking, his coal-dark eyes reveal _nothing_. as if Sweet Pea's influence has started rubbing off on him just a little. That, or he's more used to keeping secrets and thinking dark thoughts on matters of life and death than some would guess. "How many jumpers, and how would you kit them?" he asks finally, cocking his head curiously. His tone is non-committal, but definitely interested.

"Five HALO jumpers. I can't identify them for reasons of security. Just like they don't know who our crew would be. Jumpers and Aircrew are ignorant of each other until we step into the Raptor. But I can tell you that my volunteers are some of the most senior and experienced people this ship has." Vandenberg has put some thought into this. She's assembled a team of ass-kickers, probably. "Kit? One of my NCO's is handling weapons. We'll be taking anti-rads, food, and ammunition. I'll be taking an encrypted burst-wave radio that operates on triple two-fifty-six bit crypto. Voice and data transfer. If this goes through, I will have a memo delivered to the Marine XO after we have landed with instructions on how and on what frequencies to contact us and at what times. When I say that we are going to find out what is going on and act if necessary, I mean it. This entire mission is a waste if either we are too late or we can't transmit back what we know." There is very distinctly no rescue plan. She knows it.

Marko takes all that in, nodding slowly as Vandenburg begins to lay out the plan. "Shitcan the crypto gear. There's not an encrypt in this Fleet the Cylons can't make into hash and spread on toast." he notes. "What you'll need is an agile frequency set so you can keep them guessing, but you won't get more than a few transmissions before they figure out how to track in on you. Best way, I would say, is to have a voice-code." he advises, starting to scribble notes in the margins of his other mission plans. "If the Cylons catch you, they may make you play radio games…If they kill you, they may try and pose as you." he adds. "You'll need a set of code words…" he says, closing his eyes as he reviews the six weeks he spent sweating and steaming in the marshlands of Picon during Escape and Avoidance training.

Vandenberg listens, her face slowly turning towards a smile. Its dark, though. "Noted. I'll dump the crypto. But I know how to work coded systems. When we did deep recon into the mountains we had similar issues. I can create daywords and challenge phrases. Thanks for the advice." Vandenberg studies him a moment longer. "So you think you're willing to risk it, Marko? Take a leap of faith in the Gods?" He can't see her crossing her fingers under her crossed arms. Make or break.

"I am, but I'm not the only one you'll need to talk to." Marko replies simply. "If we're going to do something this crazy, there's only one person I want in the pilot's seat." he adds in a tone that brooks no argument or cajoling. Gotta love that Pilot / ECO dynamic. "If Sweet Pea signs on, then yes, I'm in." he says at length. "I dunno about the Gods, but since you seem damned bound and determined to do this anyway, you might as well have a Raptor team that can pull it off." he says with the barest trace of a smirk.

Vandenberg's face matches his, letting his words hang. "You know, I was never sure that team attitudes and dynamics like we have in the Corps existed outside of our combat teams. Its damend good to know that they really do." There's visible relief on her. Its like watching weight just shed right off her shoulders. "But that means we're a go." Her arms drop and slip into her pockets. "I didn't want to influence your decision, Marko. Not with so much at stake. I spoke with Lieutenant Aydin last night. She said that she would fly but only if you agreed to ECO the mission. I gave her my word I would let you make the decision on the merits of it alone."

"I should've seen that coming." Marko replies, chuckling softly. "I really should have. Okay, so, enough happy fun laughing time. We're gonna have to start putting a mission together." he says firmly. "And by _we_, I mean your team and ours." Marko holds up a hand to forestall arguments until he's made his case. "It's not so simple as just kicking you out in the general direction of Lampridis, LT. You're gonna have to know your drop zones, we're gonna have to know our vectors and approaches and the two are related fairly closely." he points out simply. "Also, we gotta start making weight calculations so we can have enough fuel for the jumps, as in multiple, as well as any combat maneuvers we're bound to have to make. If we want to do this _right_. it's gotta be all hands on deck. Your team needs to be involved to explain your needs, my team needs to be involved to explain our capabilities."

"I've already start looking at recon photos from the first pass. They're dated and potentially worthless. What we've got is a couple good spots but I don't have any specific places selected yet. Its going ot be a big-assed gamble, Marko. We won't even have weather projections. It'll be like this fleet's Anadyomene jump all over again." The Marine has her game face on once more. "Weight calculations are easy: My team will weigh one thousand, five hundred pounds. All five of us will be lugging three hundred pounds each, running at the limit of our chutes. But I'm sorry, I can't introduce you to my team. You tell me what you need and I will get it for you. That how this has to work." She flashes a quick smile. "By the way.. Welcome to Operation Cowboy."

"Operation Cowboy…I like this already." Marko chuckles softly. "And fair enough, if operational security means not meeting your team, it means not meeting them. I can live with that, just so long as we've got you for a liaison and we don't play silly buggers about the important bits." he adds, nodding slowly, thoughtfully. "As to the weather and landing projections, give me what you've got." he says. "I'll try to crank it through the simulators and see what I can come up with." he adds, starting to scribble madly in blue ink over weeks-old notations in blue.

"Yeah, one of the Sergeants came up with that name. I figured it was worth sticking to." Vandenberg leans against the table again. "Nah, I won't frak around with details. This is my op. Everything is my responsibility. If something goes wrong there is nobody else to blame. The buck stops with me." She looks to his notes. Her voice has never risen louder than the music playing on the device beside them. "We're dependent on you, Marko. You and Sweet Pea will have to tell us when and where we go. I'd prefer a daylight insertion if possible. But how we do this will be tricky. I'd suggest we leave late at night from here. I don't know how you can work that. But nobody is going to miss five people in HALO gear waddling across the hangar deck during the middle of a busy day. Minimal people. How this all translates to our operation is beyond me. We don't even have a leave day since I want to run this as soon as the swarms stop. The soonest we could go would be five days. We need to quietly assemble the gear and I need to train a civilian in how to HALO." The Marine S3 is trucking a -civilian- on this.

"How busy are the Marines these days?" Marko asks, pursing his lips a little. "I mean, your team, you think you could smuggle them in dribs and drabs onto Elpis?" he muses. "There's enough traffic back and forth to cover the movements, probably…You're right, trying to get a HALO team across the hangar would never fly. But from a bay on the Eidolon….that might be more doable….

"We ain't too bad. Got a few investigations going but we've got time on our hands. Certainly more than you all have. Why?" Vandenberg scratches at the corner of her mouth while Marko explains the idea. In the end her hand freezes in place before dropping about five seconds later. "Marko, you are a frakking genius. We -could- smuggle the HALO gear over to the Elpis. We could probably get most of it over there easily enough. The only things we couldn't grab until take-off would be the weapons and munitions. Myself and the Sergeant could do that, though. Hot damn, that's a bloody brilliant idea."

"I dunno about weapons and ammo." Marko replies, nodding slowly. "You're in a better position than me to make that call, but, if it was me, I'd start ferreting stuff away right _now_." he advises quietly. "Figure out how much ammo you're going to want to pack and start, I dunno, futzing records to stash a few bullets here and there until you've got enough.

"I _could_ try and write you a program….but you'd have to trust me way beyond both our pay grades to get it put into the inventory." he notes. "Misdirection's easier than theft."

Vandenberg shakes her head. "Negative. I appreciate the offer and forethought, but we aren't going to fudge records. I want the military know exactly what was taken and in what quantity. The last thing I want is for us to screw things up in the future through misdirection for an op that's likely going to kill us anyway. I can't risk that." She shakes her head and sticks her thumbs through beltloops. "Everything goes that night. I'm the Marine S-Three. I have the authority to get anything I need out of those lockers."

"Fair enough." Marko replies, nodding, though his tone sounds slightly disappointed at the loss of the chance to play his old game once more. "Get me as much data as you can about Lampridis, LT." he says, frowning once more in his peculiar, thoughtful way. "I'll go through our own records. Any luck, I can cook up a simulation that'll be close enough to what we might face when your guys go 'feet-dry'." he says. "And figures, we're gonna need everything you've got on weight." he adds once more, sounding concerned about that particular aspect. And correctly so, Tylium doesn't exactly grow on trees anymore. "We _can_ do this, but." he says, holding up a hand, tone sounding like he just _has_ to ask, one last time. "Are you sure about all of this?" he inquires simply. "Even if everything goes to plan, and we get you to a safe LZ, there's no telling what you'll find or when anyone'll be able to come and get you even _if_ you stay out of trouble." he points out. "Sometimes you have to roll the hard six doesn't exactly cut it in this instance, LT. You could be going on a suicide mission. If you're lucky."

Vandenberg listens to all the requests and seems to be taking mental notes. Intel delivery. "Just be careful who see's that simulation. If you got your asses busted before we go I won't be able to help you." To the rest, her face takes a decidedly dark and harder edge. "I will tell you what I told Aydin: We're not doing this because we think it needs to be done. We're doing this because we -know- it has to be done. If we die down there, we die as Marines. We die knowing that we took a mission on our fidelity to humanity and the Gods. We go to Gemenon knowing that we may very well never see this fleet or our friends again. We die as a unit upholding the traditions and values the Marine Corps was founded on. Fleet might piss on our memory for what we did - specifically me. Fine. That's their right. But I know that what we're doing is right." She pauses. "We have plans in place to prevent our own capture. I'll be saying goodbyes before we leave. My people will be doing the same."

Marko's hand reaches out, not in salute, but in a gesture of friendship. reading to clasp Vandenberg's should she offer it. "So say we all/" he says quietly, his expression deadly serious.

Vandenberg takes a steadying breath and lifts her chin in defiance to the fear that might try and rise inside. Stand tall, Marine. She moves in for the clasp of friendship. "So say we all, Marko. Thank you. When its all said and done, you will not regret this." She swallows and steps back. Her hand then reaches out to take up the music player slowly. A finger taps a button and its suddenly very quiet in here. Only the hum of projectors can be heard for a long few seconds. "Don't speak with anyone in front of cameras or in places like this that may be quiet and easily bugged. Watch your corners, Lieutenant. You'd make a good Marine. Semper Fidelis." She moves to take up her overshirt. "I'll be in touch."

Marko coughs loudly, almost theatrically even while his hand returns Vandenburg's clasp with all the firmness he can muster. "Anyway…that's the status of the recovery mission." he says, letting his expression tell Vandenberg exactly how crazy he thinks she is and just how much respect he has for her because. "Her reactor's still hot and there doesn't seem to be any more than superficial damage." he says. "We might need maybe two Marines, just to be on the safe side." Never know when Big Brother might be listening…

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