Hidden 1 yr ago 1 yr ago Post by Vilageidiotx
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Vilageidiotx Jacobin of All Trades

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Early September: Gota de Guerra, La Mancha, Spain
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A person used to activity, to moving forward with their life and its purpose, begins to fray from the pressure of pent up anxiety and angst when they are stuck doing nothing for too long. Taytu had this problem, and she knew why. But what she wasn't sure about was the truth of the anxiety she sensed in the country surrounding her. Spain seemed anxious and seething with angst. But was that her projecting her feelings onto an innocent people? This question for a normal person would be trivia. But for Taytu, who latched her identity on her ability to read a society, this uncertainty nibbled at her soul.

She had other reasons to doubt herself. For most of the time she'd lived in America, she'd envied it. Its polish, its strength, its unmatched modernity. But Las Vegas changed that. She now pitied America, and feared it. She hadn't read it correctly until it tried to kill her. Spain was just alien. How poorly might she misread it? What might be the consequences?

Who was she now?

She simmered in these feelings, on top of a hill, in a modest mansion surrounded by vineyards. The property was owned by Spain's new Viceroy, the perilous Delgado, but he never visited it. Taytu took it he owned the property for its produce and not for the quaint white estate perched overlooking it all.

La Mancha reminded her of the American Great Plains. It was a vast stretch of uninspiring nothing, broken up by fields and villages. It was a place where it was hard to imagine lives being lived. Taytu hadn't spoken much with the people who called this land home, but she imagined their lives taking on more the quality of rotting than anything she called life. She lived on wine, cheese, and worry. Noh lived there too, but he'd befriended the caretaker, and the two of them went partridge hunting several times a week.

So was that national anxiety real? She read ominous signs in little things. More military aircraft flew over the plains than commercial. There was activity for them in Morocco. She read the newspapers. There were always lines between the lines, unspoken truths, obvious in the things left unsaid. In the few people she did meet, mostly just servants and those working on the estate, they left more things unsaid than the papers could.

It took her longer to heal than she'd wanted. The gunshot itself hadn't been so bad, but the infection was hard to shake. Even now, two months later, the flesh on her side was tender, and the scarified tissue unseemly. But it was not dangerous any more. She could have left. Should have left. And would have, if her homeland hadn't erupted in a war of its own.

The unease sometimes came up in conversation. You could tell it was there where so many words caused tension.

"It was this time of year forty six years ago that the Great War began." the old ponderous voice of Dejazmach Wendem Cherkos said like a warning from beyond the grave. Wendem was Ethiopia's Ambassador to Spain, who came to check on Taytu often enough to be her caretaker. It'd been him that brought Benyam Felege's suggestion she stay in Spain until circumstances become easier to understand.

"Forty six years is a meaningless number." Taytu said, "And that war started in August. It is September." She said these words, but any rationality in them fell dead, victim to the feeling of the times.

"Maybe the omens that worry me are not in the years. Instability and war is normal now. Nothing feels permanent anymore."

"Nothing is permanent." Taytu grumbled.

"What things are often means less than what things feel like. Sometimes stability is a self fulfilling prophecy. So is instability."

She could not answer that. "What am I here for?" she asked bluntly.

"Not to be home and in danger." Wendem said.

Taytu perched on her chair like she was ready for action, to jump up at any moment and fight, or argue, with the first person to come through the door. Wendem didn't reflect her stance in any way. In his old age he gladly surrendered support of his body to the leather sofa. An existential discomfort seemed to possess Taytu's muscles. She sighed and recrossed her legs. "I have to do something."

"I have been discussing the possibility of Spanish support for the crown in the war. They aren't interested. Understandable. I don't know that you can help, but that is the only diplomatic goal we are pursuing right now."

"Would it be better if I relocated to Madrid?" Taytu asked.

"I don't think so. You were placed out here for a reason. The political atmosphere in this country is still very tense. You would be endangering yourself."

"I can't do anything in the middle of nowhere." Taytu pouted. They were quiet for a stretch, listening to the house settle, the clocks tick. The restlessness in Taytu's soul welled up so that it needed an outlet of some kind. She reached to pour herself a glass of wine though she was not thirsty.

"You could speak to members of the Cortes. You still have the honor of being royalty, in a country that respects that honor. Deputies of the Cortes would be pleased to make your acquaintance."

Taytu stood and thought for a moment, wine glass in her hand. "Schedule a meeting. Here, I suppose."

"That would be best."

"Are you making progress in any of your goals? Arms, whatever?"

"I am afraid not."

"Well." Taytu looked out the window, sunlight making the dry hills glow. "I'll see what I can do."

"Good." Wendem did his best to smile, his face-muscles lifting his jowls in much the same way a child picks up a heavy sack of grain. Then his eyes lit up. "One more thing!" he pulled a bundle of papers from his robe and put them on the table. "Newspapers from home. The latest."

Taytu looked at them. "Thank you." she said, expressionless.

--

In La Mancha you can see all around for miles. There are no trees, and few hills to block the horizon. The sky is as blue as blue, and the plains golden.

Taytu stood in the shade of the eves and looked out over the white plaster walls, across the vineyard, toward the small village in the valley. From this place, you couldn't tell Spain was undergoing political crisis. What could a crisis be in such a landscape? A busted cart? There were people who dreamed of living in a place like this. Taytu wasn't one of them. What she saw was perfectly pointless desolation. She'd come out to feel the sun on her skin, one of the few joys in this pastoral wilderness.

Noh arrived, riding on horseback, accompanied by Francisco, the caretaker, an old man who wore a straw hat to protect his bald head. Birds hung from their saddles like grape clusters. Three slim dogs kept pace.

Noh dismounted quickly. Francisco took a moment. He looked up at Taytu. "Señora." he greeted respectfully, untying his birds.

Taytu smiled coldly and said nothing.

"I will take these and clean them." Francisco said, taking Noh's birds with big rough hands.

"Thanks Pancho." Noh replied. The old man went around the house in the direction of the out-building he called home.

"We saw three bombers heading south." Noh told her. He approached, shotgun slung over his shoulder, looking as if he'd almost gone native.

"Changing bases." Taytu said.

"I've never seen one before we came here." Noh was next to her in front of the door now. "They don't sound like other planes. They are like big eagles, there is something ominous about them."

"It's the bombs. You know they are there."

"They are darker though. And their hum is lower."

"I haven't notice." Taytu was not looking at him. He stared at her a moment, and went inside. She looked out, over the fields, watching the workers at their vines. She went inside soon afterwards.

Noh had picked up one of the newspapers from the tousled pile she'd left.

"What is this one?"

She peered over his arm. "I asked for that one specially. It's the Anglo-Abyssinian. Printed in New York."

"Why would you want it?" he said. He read over it, and she could see the subtle hints of distress playing on his face.

"They like the Begmeder rebels."

He held it up. It showed a picture of her brother, crowned, standing near a white woman. "Is this true?" he pointed to the headline. Emperor's Foreign Girl."

"Undoubtedly." she scoffed.

He held it in his hand, staring.

"You knew he was like that. You've heard the stories."

"I have heard rumors, but I did not hold stock in them. It is not important, maybe. It is the modern world."

"You make it sound like he has chosen a good wife." she said. Her heart was beating faster now. She felt like a hunting dog, having caught the scent for the first time in a long time, was hot on the trail like it was the only thing in the world. "That is his whore. My brother's whore. That is who he is."

"I don't know..."

"I know! I lived with him! He was like a monkey, running wild! There was no controlling him! I have cultivated myself, but what has he done?"

"He is the country."

"Then God help us all!"

There was a pause. The profound rural silence filled the void. She was angry, but her anger was an ecstasy of a kind too. A real feeling. Something she could grab onto in the desolation she was stuck in.

He broke the pause. "You make it sound like there is no hope. Like this war is over."

Did she make it sound like that? Instead of answering, she smouldered. Was it over? That didn't seem right. In the mind of her countrymen, Sahle was the Emperor. He was the nation in a sense. In her mind, he was her brother. Did she not understand her own country? She understood the power of the monarchy. She understood it more than Sahle. But she didn't feel it. Did that matter?

"I can..." she was going to complete that sentence with do my part, but her mouth dried up, and she didn't feel like finishing the words.

The pause. The silence.

She didn't like him anymore. Noh seemed like a golem, a being without its own soul. Had she ever liked him, or had he just been there? In America, he had been her golem. Now he was just another of her brother's.
It was just her. It had always been just her.

--

A day passed. Nothing happened but existence. The expanse surrounding them on all sides seemed to grow.

A car puttered down the dusty road. It was an overly polished thing, slick lines and ostentatious ornaments, a sort of modern aristocratic coach. The man who stepped out of the back had the body of a military man gone old. Strong jawed and muscular, but in a way that harshly defined wiry muscles and the features of his skull. He was grey haired, clean shaven, and wore the tight suit of a Spanish gentleman, along with a tilted sombrero cordobés. As far as politicians went, he was quite attractive, but he was a attractive in the sense a magazine model is attractive. She didn't intend to do anything but look.

"Good morning, your majesty." he greeted her, smiling.

"Deputy Conde." she held out her hand. He kissed it. They went inside.

There was cheese, wine, and ham. Both of them had wine.

"This is your place?" he asked, looking around.

"Viceroy Delgado's" she replied. He said nothing, and inspecting the room as if he had not heard her. "Sit down, Señor" she offered.

"After you." he insisted, motioning toward a richly upholstered arm chair. She obliged and sat down. He sat across from her.

"What do I owe this invitation?" he asked sweetly.

She sipped. "I wanted to get in contact with the important people in this part of the country. The Embassy put your name at the top."

"Well, I don't pretend to such importance, but we all have roles to play."

"Yours is an elected official? That is very interesting to me. In Ethiopia, we do not have elected officials. Is it like in America?"

"We do not rule the country, we only advise his majesty." Conde was looking uncomfortable. That annoyed Taytu. Wasn't it already trouble enough that her homeland was embroiled? Did she have to balance the trouble of this place too?

"That is admirable." Taytu replied, "Do not think I am a Republican. I mean, what would I be in a Republic? I am a stranger in a strange land. I only want to understand what I am talking about."

Conde looked more and more out of place. "What can I clear up?" he asked.

She sipped. "You are an advisor by trade? Well, I could use advice. You know my country has broken down into civil war? You have heard this?"

He nodded.

"Yes." she said solemnly, "That puts me in a strange position. I am a servant to my country. What can I do for it when I am so far away? I wish to serve my country."

Conde relaxed some, and took a sip. His jaw, which had looked painfully welded to his face, seemed to loosen. "You want to ask for help, your majesty? In your war?"

"That would be a service." Taytu replied. She'd underestimated him. She always underestimated the ones she found attractive. Old fat men had to be wily. The attractive ones only needed to look strong and let the rest fall into place. "Your country has some of the crusader spirit now, under Delgado..."

Conde raised a hand. "I am not in a place to raise a crusader standard. Do you think there is a place for an advisor like that? There is one advisor in this country. Just the one man. If I stick up my head for something so irrelevant, do I not look like competition? Or maybe another party? I am not an ambitious man. Let me sit in my office and drink wine. Delgado and his friends can have the government."

"I expected more spirit." she said blandly.

"Well, it is not there." Conde replied. "I am honored to have met you, your majesty, but if you are looking for friends in the government, I am afraid I cannot be useful to you."

There was that profound silence. Rural oblivion.
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Hidden 1 yr ago 1 yr ago Post by The Wyrm
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The Wyrm

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Cicera, Spain - September 1960
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The first thing one tended to notice about Cicera was the cats, hundreds of them easily out numbering the sixty some residents of the village that lay huddled in the bosom of the Cantabrian mountains. Rolling green fields bordered by waist high stone walls rolled gently upward until they gave way to rounded granite peaks that ran from Portugal to France. The ceramic red tiled rooves sheltered cream coloured homes so very different from the white washed peasant villages of Andalusia.

Time seemed to have stood still here. There wasn't a single automobile to be found in the village and the blacksmith still did a brisk trade in horseshoes. A single pub served as the focal point of village life every night, except Sundays when everyone filed into the small church that sat on the edge of town, surrounded by its dense garden of blackberry bushes that hid ancient stone walls built by the Romans a thousand years before.

Young people were few and far between, most moving away as soon as they could to the bustle of the cities, the promise of jobs, and the glamour that came with modern life. Only one young man of eighteen had remained in the village after he finished high school, Paco, son of Paco, son of Paco, and so, a dynasty of Paco's who owned the only pub in town. The building itself was by far the largest in the village and bore the same name as a testament to its history.

Paco the younger, his father was plain Paco Junior, stood behind the simple tile topped bar, dolling out small tapas and beers to the farmers fresh in from the fields. The room smelled pleasantly of woodsmoke, manure, and clean tilled earth. The nights were already getting chilly in the mountains and a fire crackled in a stone fireplace flanked by empty ale casks that served as tables. Pacos sister, Camila, waited behind a curtained off kitchen to prepare one of the six items available on the menu. Women in rural Spain they did not enjoy the same liberated life their city counterparts did and were forbidden to leave home without a chaperone. Had Camila known might have complained, but her knowledge of Spain did not extend past the next village down the road. If tradition held strong she would eventually marry, have children, and stay in the valley. Most women did. Only the boys left, usually to military service, few ever chose to return.

On that evening the door was propped open to allow some fresh air into the place, a heavy haze of blue woodsmoke beginning to fade at last. Paco the Younger had lit the first without first opening the damper, must to his embarrassment, and had almost smoked everyone out. Paco Junior had enjoyed the result immensely and was loudly telling the rest of the assembled male population the story for the third time when a low rumble interrupted him mid story. One of the other farmers, a square faced man who fancied Camila, stuck his head out the door, gave an exclamation of surprise, and then vanished into the night. A rush of feet followed him until the entire group, beers in hand, were standing on the side of the well worn cart track that served as a main street, watching as headlights bounced towards them.

The appearance of a vehicle in Cicera was cause enough for conversation. It happened once or twice a year, though even the local Policeman rode a horse on his rounds of the villages. The last car they had seen belonged to some American tourist who got stuck in the mud and had to be pulled free by a pair of stoic draft horses. This vehicle however was no tourist car. It had a large square body, big tires, boasted large windows and was painted a burnt orange. The engine, an unusual noise to the locals, sounded like the growl of some huge beast as it drew closer to the village. For one horrid moment the assembled watchers thought the driver was going to enter the town, there as no way the large vehicle would be able to navigate the small streets. The thought of its huge shining bumper pushing down walls and crushing neatly sculpted patios, almost sent them running toward the vehicle arms waving. Before they could more the vehicle came to a halt and the engine died, the headlights snapped off and an instant silence descended over the stunned villagers.

The driver side door opened and a man stepped into the fading light. He wore a long black coat, common short cap, and heavy duty riding boots. He stretched his arms out wide and even at a distance they could hear him take a huge deep breath. He paused, taking a moment to look about him and a small played across his face, a genuine look of joy that one sees on a man who had finished a long journey. A cat wove its way around his boot and he crouched to fondle tis ears before turning and heading for the assembled crowd.

The feeble light cast by the lantern above the door couldn't hide the curious and somewhat hostile looks of the villagers as he approached. The farmers were big men, but this stranger was as broad in the shoulders as any of them. He had a ramrod straightness to him and a spring in his step that hinted at military service. Not a word had yet been exchanged but the stranger radiated an authority that served to part the group with a glance. He did nod amicably to them and then moved through them with a pleasant "Excuse me".

There was a stunned silence and then a rush as the villagers crowded the small stone doorway, trying to be the first inside The stranger had already stepped up to the bar and was speaking with Paco the Younger.

"A beer, please. And an egg and bacon tapa if you have it." He had pulled off his jacket and hung it on a peg near the door, the Old King smiling down from his place of honour above it. The hat had followed next and the villagers could see the short cut hair and chiseled jaw that had eluded them in the gathering darkness.

"Right away!" Paco the Younger bustled about, puffed up with self importance that this stranger had chosen his family establishment to visit on such a night. The fact that it was the only option didn't matter.

"I'll say, you look a bit familiar." The bravest of the farmers, also the loudest if, had taken the stool next to the stranger.

"I reckon you're right." Replied the other man. He held out a hand. "Francisco."

"Adoni." The farmer took the offered hand and a brief trial of strength took place as he squeezed the others hand, a grip that was returned with equal pressure until he let go. "I own the sheep yards on the Western edge of town."

"I know." Francisco replied. He nodded his thanks to Paco the Younger as his beer and tapa arrived. The reply stumped Andoni and he was watched in silence as the new arrival consumed his tapa in a single mouthful. Francisco chewed for a moment and then swallowed. "You knew my father."

"Your father?" Adoni's eyes narrowed as he looked the man over. There was something familiar about the facial features, but he couldn't place it. Not a lot of people came and went from town that he didn't know and it irked him he couldn't solve this particular puzzle immediately.

"Yes, Nekane de la cal Delgado."

"You're Nekane's boy!" Andoni fairly exploded with excitement, turning to the rest of the onlookers and repeating it as though they too hadn't lived their whole lives in Cicera. "I'll be damned. I thought he was dead."

"He is." The two words brought the mood in the room crashing back down as Francisco sipped at his beer. He looked around at the gathering and then waved a hand at them. "I'm not here to be sad, or to caused you good fellows an unpleasant evening. Paco, a round of drinks on me please."

A generous amount of good natured hubbub filled the space for a minute as farmers pressed forward to order their drink. No one was going to turn down a brew, no matter who paid for it. Once everyone had settled in their battered mis-matched Francisco turned to face them. Every man in the room could see him clearly now and all of them swore they knew him from somewhere, but none could quite say where.

"My father left when mother died. I came home to visit her. I haven't been back in nearly twenty years." A round of sympathetic nods greeted this statement. "You may recall he moved the family to Toledo?" More nods.

"Well, he didn't last long there. Drank himself to death, filled with guilt and remorse over mothers death. My brother was killed in an automobile accident a few years later and, just like that, I was the last of the Delgados." The mention of an automobile crash brought tut's from the crowd and a few muttered comments about how dangerous the things were.

"You seem to be doing well despite that." One of the farmers piped up. "That's a fancy machine you've got out there and them boots are worth more than my house." He gestured to the finely crafted and tailored leather boots Francisco was wearing. The fine leather was simply designed but expertly made.

"That's because he's the Viceroy." A quiet female voice cut through the babble of males voices and brought an instant silence to the room. Camila had come from behind her curtain, quiet unnoticed until this moment and was now standing just behind her brother. In her right hand she held a yellow National Geographic, the cover showing Delgado's face with the words A New Spain?.

Her words hit the assembled crowd like a freight train and not a man among them failed to turn as white as a ghost. They all saw it in that instant, the face that had graced a thousand newspapers, and even hung in their one room schoolhouse.

"You... Nekane's boy... You're the Viceroy? Of Spain?" Andoni finally managed to find his voice. Delgado had remained silent throughout the revelation, a strange, maybe even sad, smile on his face.

"Yes." It was all Delgado said as he tipped back his beer and drained it. "I am."

"Mary, Mother of God..." Muttered one of the gathered, his dog collar marking him out as the local priest.

"If we had known..." Started a third man.

Delgado held up a hand and it brought instant silence to the room. Again the almost sad smile flitted across his face. "For this evening I would prefer to be Fransisco, if you don't mind. I did come home to visit after all."

It took some time but eventually, as the beer flowed, the conversation became more natural and, at least for a time, Delgado become one of the people.

* * * * *


"Why did you come home?" Camila asked quietly, her head resting on Delgado's shoulder. The two were sitting on a small ledge several hundred feet above the village and she could see her father storming about the streets, no doubt looking for her. Several village cats scattered in front of him and though she could not hear it, she could tell he was shouting. She resisted the urge to giggle. An offended rooster scurried away, clearly baffled why people were awake before it could alert them to the suns arrival.

"It is good to remind yourself where you come from." Delgado's arm was about her shoulders, his heavy jacket protecting her from the early morning air. "I have found that my life in the Army kept me grounded. But now..." He paused and took a deep breath of the fresh mountain air and let it out with a sigh. "Ah... Now I find myself surrounded by people who will tell me whatever I wish to hear, in palaces that would hold this entire valley."

Camila had no concept of something so large. The largest building she had ever seen was Adoni's sheep barn on the edge of the village. The red shingles were visible from where the two sat and, as they watched, Paco the Younger appeared in the upper loft window and shouted down to his father who made a frustrated gesture.

"Isn't it nice?" She asked at length. A small Alpine Swift had fluttered down and was perched on the edge of the wicker picnic basket Delgado had brought up with them. The bird cocked its head and regarded them with one sharp beady eye before snatching a crust of bread and winging away.

"Sometimes." Delgado shifted to ease some of the ache in his back. He was leaning against a tall oak tree, one of the thousands that clung to the edges of the mountains and, at the moment, served to shield the two from the eyes of Paco Junior.

"The problem with some things in life, is that when you get them they are not all you thought they would be." He sounded tired and she squeezed his calloused right hand with her own. She did not know how long this short time would last and found she had enjoyed it far more than expected. Delgado had been gentle with her when she came to him in the night, waking him from his sleep curled up in the front of his truck, seat reclined.

"I have always sought to serve Spain and her people. I did not have any delusions of grandeur or desire for Government, but that was why I was chosen. A British historian, Lord Acton, once said: Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely. I try to be a good man but there are factions at every level who would have me make them rich and fat."

"Is that why you asked father and the others what they wanted from the Government?"

"Yes. I think the Spanish people have been forgotten for to long by their rulers. The people of Portugal as well. Every ruler seems to believe the people exist to provide them with their position. I believe we are in our positions to provide the people with good government."

She felt a hearty chuckle well in his chest as he held up a finger.

"Having said that, let us not pretend that the average Spaniard has any idea what is good for them. Most want a warm bed, a roof, a wife or husband, and a place to call their own. That's about as far as they can think. I reckon I can make that happen but it will not make me popular."

"Well it sounds lovely to me." Camila said with a contented sigh as she snuggled closer to him. She was naked beneath the heavy jacket but it didn't bother her. Virtually everything Delgado had said went clear over her head. It was fortunate that her father had even permitted her to learn to read and write.

Delgado, glancing down at silky black fan of hair that spread across his chest, was thinking the same thing. To much of Spain was like Camila, barely educated without any true idea of how the greater world worked. If Spain were to reclaim her greatness he would have to begin at the base, with people like Camila.

When she had tapped on his window that morning his initial reaction had been to send her away. But, looking at her fine features in the morning sunlight, he had realized he had not been with a woman since before the coup. He had shrugged on his coat, grabbed the picnic dinner he had brought with him, took her hand, and the two had headed up the mountainside.

It was the first time in a long time he had been alone with one person. Though the villagers did not know it, he had truly come to Cicera alone. His bodyguard waited at the foot of the mountains, no doubt very nervous and concerned but he had wanted to make this trip without watching eyes. Coming from humble beginnings had made Delgado a man who appreciated the little things in life. As a soldier he had served with honour, as an officer he had led by example, and as a Dictator he had tried to rule with intelligence.

Now the question of what to do lay open before him. The Army, always a troublesome mess of loyalties, was safely packed off to Algeria with a war to fight. The commanders chosen for the campaign were all committed Royalists or Church stooges, and putting them on the other side of the Mediterranean had worked out nicely, it made them feel useful. Those who had remained inside Spain included his Cazadores, and army units commanded by his conspirators. Most important among them was Admiral-General Navarette and the Navy. Though not large, the Navy was arguably the most technologically advanced of the Spanish armed forces and boasted an elite Marine corps. It was enough to hold Spain in thrall for the moment.

The Police at every level seemed to more or less uninterested in what happened in Government as long as they were paid on time and Delgado had gone to great pains to ensure they received their money, and a small raise, courtesy of his own office of course. It was a small gesture but it had not gone unnoticed by the rank and file.

His thoughts were abruptly interrupted as Camila slid a hand between his legs and gently began to stroke his cock. He could feel himself harden at once beneath her touch. Without saying a word she swung her hips over him so that she was straddling him. In one quick movement she impaled herself with a moan and heat flushed through his body at once as she began to rock her hips back and forth, hands on his shoulders. For a moment the troubles of Spain were quite forgotten.
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Hidden 1 yr ago Post by Vilageidiotx
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Early September, Addis Ababa
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The bathroom smelled like soap and bitter smoke. They were beneath the foam, Livy's body slick and soft laying against his. Her portable record player rendered a slow instrumental. Sahle smiled wide as he watched her, her head barely above the foam, sucking on the joint like it were a nipple. This was exactly where he wanted to be.

"I can't believe you've never smoked." Sahle said.

She coughed and passed it to him. "I really haven't. The... musicians, they smoke. Their kind do. But... you shouldn't be smoking this stuff, actually." she slapped him playfully, "You're the elected of Jesus!" She giggled.

Sahle looked wistfully ahead, through the smoke and at the fogged mirror. "I've heard the prophets used hashish. I think that is true. They were wise men. I should follow their wisdom."

Livy giggled.

The record player skipped. They both giggled.

It was perfect. So absolutely perfect. The marble bathroom felt like a womb, holding in his world and everything he wanted in it, safe from his advisors and their politics. Safe from Ras Hassan's war.

"I don't know that I want to get married." she said causally.

"That is a problem for another time." he said. He pulled her closer. The water sloshed. He felt her head against his shoulder, her body moving steadily with her breathing. He closed his eyes. The future could wait.

But the future wouldn't wait. It knocked on the door.

"Your Imperial Majesty." called a voice from the other side.

Sahle exhaled, holding his lungs deflated, feeling deflated, hoping whoever wanted him would go away.

"Your Imperial Majesty! There is news from the front."

There was no avoiding it. He stood up. Water and foam dripped from him. He stepped onto the slick floor and went for the door. When he opened it, the air chilled his skin.

The Paige looked surprised and worried.

"Your Imperial majesty." he said, bowing. "The Meridazmach begs the honor of..."

"I'll be there." Sahle waved. The Paige left the room at a trot. Sahle looked back in, at Livy's pale head and shoulders above the foam, auburn hair soaked so it was now brown, a look like disappointment or concern on her face. The warmth of the bathroom hugged and beckoned him back in. He wanted to return, but his high was gone, and he had to do his duty. "I cannot avoid this one. But I want to see you tonight."

She nodded. He dried off, put on robes, and left.

The entire palace was cold to him. Paiges and guards watched stonily, statues without personalities. He hadn't put shoes on, and his bare feet felt like they were walking on ice. Only the sunlight, coming through windows in some places, seemed to bring any warmth. He was stuck. Was there any worse prison than royalty? Sometimes he dreamed of traveling like a gypsy. He could make music. He'd practice the Krar off and on, like he were working on his impossible dream. But it would never happen. He was stuck.

He met them in the velvet trappings of the throne room. It seemed like most of his cabinet was there. Even chubby Bejirond Medebew Fek-Yebelu, the Minister of Finance, wore a crisp white general's uniform like he were about to command troops any minute.

"Your majesty." they all greeted. He waved his hand and walked silently across the room. They all surrounded a table covered in maps and charts. Sahle thought they looked like grown men playing a game in a coffeehouse.

"We know where Ras Hassan plans to strike." said Meridazmach Zekiros Argaw. He was a little thin man, but he seemed to puff up with confidence when he said this. Sahle didn't look him in the eye. He begrudged these men his lost comfort. "Where?" he said in a low tone.

"Here." Zekiros pointed at the map, "He has amassed the bulk of his forces in Jijiga. I believe he plans to move on Dire Dawa."

"It makes sense." Aleme Menigedi broke in. The Minister of Transportation was excited to be relevant in the war room. "Dire Dawa is the rail-hub that connects us to the coast. In many ways it is more important than the capital."

A voice from across the room spoke up. "We are not forgetting the rest of the country, are we?" It was Desta. He walked in with the Queen Mother at his side. "If we send everything to the north, we will lose the south. Muslims in that area are already siding with the enemy."

"We are sending Aleme with the Army of Transportation and Public Works." Zekiros said. Aleme made himself look particularly important. "Lawgaw and the Army of the Posts, Telegraphs, and Telephones are already there, organizing the local militias."

"Lawgaw is not a military man, is he?" Desta insisted. "Ministry Employees versus a native rebellion and Somali warriors? Losing the south will lose the war."

"We cannot defend everything at once." Zekiros replied. Desta bristled. Zekiros continued, "He who defends everything defends nothing. Hassan has massed his forces in the north. We will fight him there."

"On ground he wants to fight on? Hassan is a clever warrior. Isn't it better to act..."

"I know what you are going to say, Desta. No no. Do we bring the battle to him, across the Ogaden? Hundreds of miles of empty desert? I will put it in terms you understand. Your business will be damaged just as much if we lose connection to the sea."

Desta said nothing. Sahle took sick pleasure in watching his ministers fight. Everyone else looked nervous. Desta finally spoke. "I do not think your tone is..."

"This is war. It is my business. I will talk in whatever way gets my point across."

Zekiros turned back to the map. "The terrain will protect us. I have gathered the professional army and they are coming, bit by bit, to defend those places. We have the air power too. Hector is putting his Airmen on a war footing. They will not be ready for the first battle, but they will be ready soon after, and we will bring power against the enemy they cannot contest."

It was so neat and tidy. What was there to worry about? Sahle felt safe. "I approve this plan." he said.

Zekiros looked up at him. "Do you want to lead this army, my Emperor?"

"No!" Eleni spoke up, "My son is not a warrior. It will not be good for him."

"Seeing him will be good for the soldiers. They want to know who they fight for."

"They don't have to see him to do that! He does not have to stand in front of a machine gun..."

"I did not suggest..."

"It does not matter." Sahle interrupted. His frustration was bubbling into anger. Everyone looked at him with anxious eyes, except for Desta, smouldering on his own. Sahle spoke. "I will not go. I do not plan on playing little soldiers with you. I know my abilities and that is not one of them." Eleni looked thankful.

"It is no matter." Zekiros replied "We have the things we need to win. I am bringing the great weapons of modern war to the field."

--

Sahle did not want to see them. He did not care. But the rest of his cabinet insisted. They went out to the yard, to the edge of the fence beneath the whispering eucalyptuses where they could see down the hill. Big motorized beasts rumbled down the paved streets, bewildering the people of Addis Ababa. They did not come all at once, or in a steady line, but piece meal in little groups, accompanied by soldiers. No two of the armored tanks looked alike, so many bought from different places or at different times, and modified by their proud operators. Men streamed in groups equally haphazard. Most carried guns. Some were barefoot. A few had swords or spears.

"There are proud professional soldiers marching with them." Zekiros announced. "Those men you see down there are mostly retainers sent by the northern Makwanent, or shiftas coming out of the hills to fight infidels."

"Daniel Gablogian lent me a book on military doctrine." Desta said creamily, "I didn't know war was so complicated. I wonder, do the shiftas understand modern warfare? Do they know how to fight alongside tanks?"

"Doctrine is good." Zekiros said, "I have read up on it. I keep up on all modern doctrine. No, it is not perfectly implemented, but why should it be? Do you think a Somali fisherman swinging a sword above his head will know what to do when faced with a tank? I would like to better prepare our armies, but it is not such a simple thing. War will prepare them."

Another tank rolled by. Extra pieces of scrap metal were welded to it, making it look like it had been built in a garbage heap. But it was absolutely monstrous. Seeing it convinced Sahle of Zekiros' argument. Who could face down such a thing?

Zekiros leaned in. "You will not command the armies, my Emperor?" he whispered.

"No." Sahle replied bluntly. A column of soldiers walked by, wearing metal helmets with wide brims like steel pith helms. They all had shoes, held their guns correctly, and looked absolutely wonderful. Zekiros motioned to them like a proud father. Nobody said a thing.
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Hidden 1 yr ago Post by The Wyrm
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The Wyrm

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Cicera, Spain - September 1960
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Camila sighed as she pushed an inquisitive cat out of the way and drew the full milk pail from beneath a bored look heifer. The three legged stool beneath her creaked warningly, the strong smell of cow shit stung her nostrils, dogs barked, she needed to mend her dress, her boots were falling apart, and it was only seven in the morning.

For a moment she leaned her head against the heifers flank and closed her eyes. She could still feel Francisco's strong grip about her shoulders as they sat on the hillside above the village, staring out over the green landscape, tendrils of morning mist still clinging to the tops of trees. Had it been a dream?

She doubted it. The men of the village were still talking about the visit, filled with pride that someone from their little corner of the world could become ruler of all Spain. It had kindled a secret hope in her that she might also be able to escape what seemed inevitable, life beneath a sweating, grunting, older man as he tried to give her babies in their tiny stone house in the middle of the mountains. A lifetime of raising children, milking cows, shovelling shit, and forever looking back on Francisco's visit with the sincere wish it had never ended.

With one hand on the cows hip she stood, lifting the milk pail and grabbing her small stool before walking toward the family home. Several cats meowed as they hurried after her and a crow gave a cackling laugh from a nearby tree. The village was all a bustle already, the baker on his rounds with a small cart, a fisherman from a nearby village had made the trek with a collection of fresh catch, and children laughed and giggled as they ran through the streets kicking a football ahead of them. It looked all very idyllic but Camila knew better.

There was her sister waving from a nearby window, scarf wrapped about her throat to hide the bruises from her husband who was a vicious drunk. The unconcealed leering gazes of the village men as they saw Camila approaching. She was not ignorant to her attractive features, she was a jewel among rocks in rural Spain. The only reason she had avoided being married off was her father's desire to see a match made that would benefit him, possibly even to a neighbouring town. Suitors presented themselves at the house once a week or more and, only if her father thought they could afford her dowry, was she allowed to meet them. So far the only decent option had been a miller who was eleven years her senior.

Again her mind drifted back to Francisco's visit. He had stayed three days and she had gone to him every night, the two of them stealing away into the darkness. She was certain that the village knew but no one would have dared say a thing to the Viceroy. Francisco has been so different. Clean, well groomed, and with a sense of worldly knowledge that she had envied.

"Camila!" Her father, Paco the Younger, was waving at her from the barn and she sighed, pushing the happy memories away and ploding toward him. She passed the little pond they kept, its surface as still as glass, and caught sight of herself in the reflection. High cheekbones, long black hair, narrow face and slim waist, she was pretty in a country sort of way.

"Yes, father?" She set the pail down by her feet and the cats hurriedly took advantage of the situation.

"Father Alvito asked to see you." Paco raised an eyebrow questioningly at her but all she could was look surprised and shrug. "Run along then and I'll take the pail." He said after a moment, unable to keep the suspicion from his voice.

She hesitated, why did the village priest want to see her? But a request from the Priest was tantamount to an order in these parts. Father Alvito was the new priest, having arrived to study under the old priest, Father Marti. Father Alvito was a young man, strong and hardy, unlike anything she had expected. If she was honest, she had been attracted to him but he showed very little interest in her. Even a man of the cloth would be a better choice than the farmers who wanted to between her legs. Maybe that was why he wanted to speak to her, the sin of having lain with Francisco out of wedlock.

The Church was at the edge of town behind its Roman walls and blackberry bushes. The old metal gate that led to the yard hung slightly askew and had been that way as long as she could remember. Father Alvito had at least cleaned out the yard, repaired the shutters, and retiled the roof since he arrived. He had proved to be a very industrious young man.

She knocked carefully on the wooden door that opened into the Church interior. Six pews to either side could hold the entire village and the Virgin Mary smiled down from her place above the altar. Small beams of sunlight shot through floating dust particles from the narrow windows and a lark fluttered into the rafters.

"Ah, Camila!" Father Alvito appeared at her side with a sudden stealth that made her jump. From guilt or surprise? She would have to confess. Maybe Alvito was better at keeping his flocks secrets than Marti who always shared them at Pacos in the evening. Her father would beat her senseless.

"Hello Father. You wanted me to come see you?"

"I did indeed. I have something for you." He began to reach into her robes and for one horrid moment she thought he was going to pull out his cock and force himself on her. Rumours of Father Marti doing the same sort of thing to other village girls were not unheard of. To her relief however, after glancing at the door, he pulled out a letter and handed it to her. It was a heavy but plain envelope with no name on the front.

"I will leave you to read it. Just let me know what your reply is." Alvito smiled and vanished out the door, closing it gently behind him. She was alone in the church.

She stared at the envelope, mystified. Taking a seat on the edge of a rough wooden pew she used one finger to break the seal. Inside was a folded sheet of paper. She pulled it out and flipped it open to read the words that had been scrawled in a hurried but neat hand.

Camila,

I am dashing this letter off before I return to Madrid. I will admit you intrigued me and I would like to see more of you. I will not be returning to Cicera however so you must come to me. If you wish to do so, please inform Alvito.

With affection,
Francisco


Whatever Camila had been expecting when she arrived in Cicera's little Church, a letter from Francisco was not it. Surely a Priest would not condone something like this. She sat up a little straighter as she thought about it. It was possible Alvito was no priest. He had tidied the grounds, worn the robes, and been at mass, but she realized now he had never led mass and on more than one occasion she was certain he was just mouthing the words to songs but not singing. His strong build, square shoulders, short hair, it suddenly made her think of Francisco. Alvito was a soldier? A policeman?

As the thought ran through her head the door opened and a man in uniform stepped into the room. He was tall, well built....

"Father Alvito...?" She asked. The face was familiar but gone was the brown robe and humble expression, replaced instead by a grim smile and grey tailored uniform complete with pistol. The smile grew as he laughed slightly.

"Lieutenant Alvito, of the Cazadores." He said, heels snapping together as he bowed slightly to her. "Have you had time to read the letter? I am afraid my ride will be arriving shortly and I am ordered to take you with me if you would like to go."

All of Camila's doubts and worries flashed through her mind and, in an instant, she made her decision.

"I will come." She said it with more conviction than she had expected but stood so she could face the soldier. "I will come." She said again.

"Excellent." Alvito paused and cocked his head for an instant before grinning. "Not a moment to soon, here is our ride."

As he spoke the Church seemed to shake as something rumbled overhead, a high pitched sound like thunder almost sent her diving for cover. The Cazadore steadied her arm as dust drifted down in increasing clouds and the little lark flapped about in terrified circles.

"No need to worry, it is only a helicopter."

"A what?" She asked. The word meant nothing to her.

"Ah, come, I will show you." Alvito led her into the churchyard and pointed upward to where a large black shape was circling the village. It looked like an automobile but with a long tail and something whirling about its roof. "That, Camila, is a helicopter. Watch."

As she stood spellbound the aircraft became stationary and then, unbelievably, dropped straight down to the earth at the edge of town, sending cows and sheep running in all directions while every dog in the village set up a piteous howling. The engine slowed, quieted, and then fell silent. The whirling shape above the roof slowed and she could make out individual long blades that spun slowly to a stop.

Two men, uniformed like Alvito, climbed from the aircraft even as villagers hurried toward them. Alvito took Camila's hand. "Do you need a anything from home? Do not worry about clothing, I mean personal effects. I can assure you the Viceroy will see you are well looked after."

Camila thought back to the room she shared with brother, the bunkbeds, little desk, her collection of magazines. She was certain Paco Junior had been selling her underwear to the other village boys. There was nothing she wanted that could not be replaced.

"No, nothing."

"Then let us be off." Alvito said, steering her toward the helicopter. The majority of the village was already clustered around it, driven forth by their curiosity but held at a distance by their fear of the two armed men who stood outside the glass cockpit.

"Camila? Father Alvito?" Andoni was the first to see the approaching couple and confusion was stamped on his face as he looked at the two.

"Lieutenant Alvito, of the Cazadores." Alvito corrected him without malice. He didn't bother offering any explanation for his impersonation of a priest but Camila conceded it had been a clever way to take a look at the village without arousing suspicion.

The villagers parted in front of Alvito and no one said a word as they walked past rows of stunned faces. It was only when it became obvious that Camila was bound for the helicopter that her father, standing nearest to the aircraft, seemed to snap out of it.

"Camila! Where are you going?!"

She turned to look at him, at the little gaggle of villagers whose lives would go on as they always had, this visit nothing but a story to tell their grandchildren. She felt more certain in that moment that she never wanted her children to live in such a place.

"I am going to Madrid, to see Francisco."

She turned away and walked toward the helicopter. She felt and heard rather than saw her father try to come after her but one of the Cazadores blocked his way. The metal door of the helicopter was dragged open and she carefully climbed inside, her boots smearing cow shit on the aircraft frame. Four hard canvas seats were fitted to the rear bulkhead and Alvito directed her to a seat nearest the far window. He helped her strap into the aircraft, pulling things tight so that she thought she might not be able to breath, before taking his own seat.

The two Cazadores who had got out returned to the aircraft even as the pilot started the engine. The din was incredible until Alvito handed her a pair of foam ear muffs. He donned his own to show her how it was done and then settled back into his seat. She pulled the strange things on and marvelled at how the sound was cut down. Then the aircraft lurched and she snatched at Alvito's hand as the ground suddenly shot away below them.

The helicopter circled the village once, her window banking toward the ground so that she could see the disbelieving faces of the villagers before it made a sharp turn and raced off down the valley.
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Hidden 1 yr ago Post by Vilageidiotx
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Vilageidiotx Jacobin of All Trades

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September 11th: Jijiga, Adal Province, Ethiopia
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She'd never seen a town so alive as sleepy Jijiga. The people hid, but the streets hummed with soldiers, desert warriors, and the cities worth of people they brought with them. Warriors came with their wives, their children, and their servants. Every manner of nomadic convenience appeared in the dusty camps east of town.

Jijiga was a large village, but not unlike the others that dotted Somalia. It was in a bowl of granite mountains, trees rare, the desert covered in thirsty thorn bushes and dead grass. The drabness of stone and adobe was not enough for people who lived here their entire lives. They white-washed the buildings, painting doors and windows bright colors, and they brought the town to life by their work. The center of Jijiga was an orderly grid. All of the roads were dirt.

Azima watched from in front of her tent as a horde of black-robed cavalry rode past, ululating and shouting praises to Allah, some holding glinting sabers aloft like they were charging to battle. One of them held the red banner of Oman.

The Sultan of Muscat rode past, followed by the beautiful young men of his guard. He saw her and hooted a war cry. "We will have tea in Harar!" he said, his eyes burning like those of a Jinn. There was no place for her to respond. He rode toward the lead of the thundering Omani. His robes billowed behind him. They were storm clouds on horseback, their swords flashing like lightning.

Those men were going north, to the village of Chinaksen, fifteen miles up the spine of mountains that protected the ascent toward Harar like a wall in the desert. Chinaksen pass, and the nearby Marda pass just west of Jijiga, were the only real gates in that wall. She knew all of this, the whole layout of the Somali war effort, because her father had brought her in to every meeting. She knew how their forces were dug in on the plains between the pass and the town. She knew the first trench was a half mile in front of the second, providing an open space. Hassan had meant that place to be dry. An unseasonal monsoon blew in from the northeast and drenched the desert so that the river bed between the trenches now trickled with a shallow stream pulling dust with it like syrup. She could see it all, the layout of the land, like she were a General in the field. She could imagine it all. And, though she hated to admit it, she loved it all.

When she was a child, she'd beaten a servant boy with a stick until he bled. Neither had been older than six, but she still remembered it vividly, and she could remember exactly how she felt. Her blood had been up. And though she'd felt bad for him afterwards, her father hadn't let her show it. He was proud. She had his blood. His warrior blood.

She felt like that now. The glint of steel, the sight of the dust and the guns, the knowledge that something great was going to happen here, she could feel it all. It was the feeling of being entirely alive, her heart beating with the heart of the universe. Her entire body reacted. She wanted to murder. She wanted to smell the flowers. She wanted to fuck in the open air. But it was all wrong. She could feel a part of herself fighting this feeling, a part like a child trying to hold onto leashed dogs. This wasn't her, was it, this feeling pulsing through her flesh? It was him.

Far to the west she could hear gunfire. It sent chills down her spine every time. There hadn't been a true battle yet, but the war bubbled out in places, like it was a force erupting from the earth. Men shot at each other in the hills. Nobody took land. The lines were not so obvious yet, because religion was playing a roll. Her father presented his war in the name of the faith. The Muslims of Ethiopia were put in a strange place, instantly suspected, having to uproot their lives and gamble on who would win. Some rebelled or came over to the Somali army and fought for the faith. Others stayed in their suspicious land and fought for their country.

The recent storm had brought life back to the desert. The acacias and thorny myrrh bloomed green and obscured the countryside. She walked toward the command tent, a long staff in hand as if she were training, her robes girded around her loins and a turban around her hair so she looked like a skinny goatherd boy. The men knew her, showed signs of respect, and tried to ignore her. Doorfarkas passed by, machine guns rattling on their mounts, loose chains hanging from support beams by big steel hooks.

She reached her Father's tent. Hassan's physical presence dominated everything around him. He was a block of a man, not unusually fat but none the less heavy, his body a lump beneath baggy fatigues.

"Do not engage the armor." he told an officer she did not recognize, though she knew he was an officer by his fatigues, standing out from the Bedouin-like dress of the common soldiers. Hassan did not notice her. He continued. "Tell your men to hide. Your trenches are skinny. They will pass right over them. Only come up again to hold back the enemy on foot."

The officer nodded. His eyes betrayed Azima's entrance. Hassan turned to her and greeted her with unusual warmth. "My daughter." he said, "I am told they are coming. This man is going back to report to his superiors." Hassan paused. The unfamiliar officer turned and left.

"They are coming." Azima repeated. Her heart thumped harder. "Where am I supposed to be?"

Hassan picked up a coiled hook and chain, like something made to fish leviathans out of the sea. He put it over his shoulder liked it weighed nothing. "You will command the reserves. That is your place. When I call for them, you will send them."

"I have no place in the battle?" she felt both relieved and disappointed. Her mind and her feelings pulled in separate directions.

"The reserves is a place. Not everybody brings out their swords. The washer women and doctors are warriors of a kind."

"Not the kind I practice to be."

"I will be on the battlefield." Hassan said. They were walking toward a doofarka now, men already sitting inside. Soldiers saluted as they passed. Hassan ignored them. His attention was for her alone. "Being in the field means I might die. And if I die, what then? My struggle becomes yours. We are making a home for our people and a legacy for our names, my daughter. You are the promise that my legacy can continue. If I die, you need to live."

"If you die the struggle is lost."

Some light went out of his eyes. Hassan lost his warmth then. "That's not true." he said, voice wavering "Tell me this is not true. You will always struggle."

She felt he'd said more truth than he realized. "I will."

He smiled and patted her cheek. Doorfarka engines rattled. The air smelled of dust and gasoline. She saw horsemen riding out, armed with swords and hook-chains. "Today is the beginning of greatness. You will see." He climbed in the back of the sputtering buggy. It took off, speeding in the direction the horsemen had went. She went the other way.

Gunfire was picking up. She heard big booms that sounded like holes being made in the universe. The ground shook. There were slimy sand-laced puddles in places, and she could see the water ripple.

It was the Ethiopian New Year: Enkutatash. A year of shattering promises gave way to a year of blood. Hassan picked this day because he thought the enemy might be drunk. She thought about these things. About the forward trench. About the Omani in the north. All these things woven together. It was beautiful, and her mind wanted to stay there, to forget about her fears and disappointments.

She found where the reserves were camping. Guards and officers came to her like flies on camel dung. Soldiers sat in the dust and mingled. There were few dervishes here, but most of these men were conscripts, called from their villages to serve in the war, not adjusted to such things. Hassan required all men to undertake a certain amount of drilling, but that only went so far. These peasant men, hard-faced and anxious, were no true warriors.

The smell of smoke filled the air. Machine guns rattled in the distance. She listened and time passed. The first wounded came on patchy trucks, old things made of spare parts and thrown together by men who specialized in makeshift automobile construction. Azima went to attend to them. Women surrounded the trucks, making it difficult for the orderlies to unload them. A Red Crescent station, lonely and understaffed, tried their best to cope. Azima helped to clear a path as wounded men were unloaded, her entourage making themselves useful. Flies buzzed. The crowding women shouted at the men, asking about their own. The wounded and dying were brought into the safety of the field hospital. Azima helped stand guard. A white-robed soldier was put on a cot next to the door. His chest was bloody. He looked horrified, his eyes bugged out, his hands shaking unnaturally. The doctors were alarmed at his heart beat. All that from a wound? Azima felt sick. The smell of blood grew overpowering.

Time rolled on. Men died or were moved. A second ambulance came up. Azima made herself known to the driver.

"What is the battle like?" she asked.

"Their armored attack was broken. Our warriors have made off with many of their tanks. But our first line has broken, and the enemy is trying to overtake the second." he reported, taking on the countenance of a man being held for questioning by a magistrate.

"You know all this?"

"I have heard it."

"What have you seen?"

"Haze. It is hard to see in the places where the gunfire is."

When would she get the call? That was the way she would see it. Night was coming. Had they thrown the enemy back? There was no news, even as more wounded poured in. Night came, the desert cold crept in, and she was forced to find a warm place to sleep. There would be no call. She went to her tent. Her entourage stayed outside, but now she was in the company of her handmaids. They dressed her for sleep.

She tried to sleep for a long time but struggled to keep her eyes closed. When they were open, she would see the fabric of her tent, the moonlight creeping through, the universe of battle still echoing somewhere far away.

But she did, eventually, sleep.

She woke before sunrise, the desert still cold, the first pale crown of sunlight appearing in the east. She dressed in the same uniform before, though her clothes had been washed. Outside, A man came to her with a message from the north. Battle was met at Chinaksen. The Omani met stiffer resistance than anticipated. They could not take the pass.

Fears crept into Azima's thinking. "Forward this message to the Emir. You'll find him on the front." she ordered. The messenger scurried off.

Hassan went into this war thinking himself invincible. He didn't say it, but she could feel it all around him when he spoke. They were going after a better armed foe. A modern military, essentially. They went after it with armies unchanged since the colonial wars of the Mad Mullah and her grandfather Khalid al-Himyari. The stars were just starting to fade when a lone bi-plane passed over, its wings colored like desert dust and painted with the flag of Oman. It puttered. She could still hear the nearest fighting.

Tanks rolled through. They were scraped and battered. She saw Ethiopian flags painted on them and grew alarmed, but her fears were negated when she saw who manned them. Dervishes sat all around their surfaces. They seemed to have trouble, the machines starting and stopping awkwardly, the dervishes holding like men on bucking horses. But these were her men. The machines were taken from the enemy.

Praise Allah it worked. She couldn't believe it. If her father could pull that off, what other miracles might come of this day?

She walked to the north of the camp and looked across the plains. If the Omani were beaten, would the enemy come across this field? If she needed to mount a defense, where would it be? A single line of shallow trenches defended the camp from this direction.

It was not enough. She ordered more.

Men of the reserves went to work with spades. They dug overlooking a river bed already drying up, no longer flowing, holding only puddles now which would be gone in the summer light.

She hadn't eaten. That hadn't crossed her mind until now. She hadn't eaten in a day. But she didn't feel hungry. Still, she forced herself to have a bite of hard flat-bread.

At noon, the call came.

Had things went wrong? She kept part of the reserves in their newly forming trenches. The rest would come with her. She knew she wasn't supposed to go; Hassan didn't want her at the front. But she would go, she would see it, and maybe she would fight.

The regiments came together haphazard and marched in rough columns. Hassan had, over the years, turned the Somali army into an heir of Prussian efficiency. They entered Jijiga. The white-washed walls were chipped with stray bullets and marred by the rare stray artillery crater. The Ethiopians had brought artillery, but they did not sound to Azima like the stories of Verdun, or even the long guns over Paris near the end of that war before Europe burned. Too scarce.

The people hid, and were replaced by stragglers and the wounded. Azima brought a pistol, but besides that, all she had was her staff. A half-dozen dervishes had joined her when she gave orders, becoming her personal body guard, and now they followed her silently, all big men who dwarfed her. She gave her orders silently, self conscious of her shrill womanly voice when she yelled. Hand gestures was enough. The men around her would make sure they were carried out.

They came closer. There were manned barricades in the town. Men ululated as they passed, but there was no sign anybody had fought here.

The dead began to appear. A bled-out body was slumped in a doorway. Had the man fled to this spot like a wounded animal, or had he been dumped?

Five tanks passed, jolting forward as awkwardly as the first she'd seen that day. They had Ethiopian flags painted on them, but they were scratched out. She heard the men in the barricade ululate the coming of the captured tanks behind them. Azima's men marched steady toward the doom. Her heart beat faster. The sound of battle was closer.

The trenches spread out like a disaster had been visited upon the earth. They moved according to the terrain, zigging and zagging in both directions. The buildings directly behind were shot away. Everything looked like it was subjected to a wind of knives. And they'd only fought for one day.

Azima watched her soldiers march, standing stoic. Their orderly lines had mostly fallen apart. The parapets were made from random things, bricks and bags and scrap. There was a car scoured to shiny steel, and a dead camel flayed to the bone. It smelled like smoke and body odor... and guts. Guts had a smell. More than just blood. It was blood that'd went to rot.

Axmed Haji Siad commanded here, a native Somali rather than one of the al-Himyari clique. He had a pointed tuft of hair on his chin, but he kept his hair clipped short in the way Hassan preferred. He met Azima like a grave-digger returning to his shovel.

"These are the men he sent for?" Axmed asked.

"Where is he?"

"I am not sure. He wants them in the forward trench. We have no fighting for them here."

"I see. Is there fighting there?"

"We have taken it, but there is still fighting."

She turned to her Aides. "We are advancing." she motioned with her staff over the top. They nodded and turned to rely the orders. Was this a time for a speech? She saw the men holding this trench, their faces and clothes the color of the dirt, their eyes peering out like haunted jewels. It didn't feel right. She climbed over the parapet, her hand grasping what felt like a piece of fence. A voice in her head told her to hide. Her blood told her to go on.

The first layer of soil was scraped from no-mans land. They'd only fought for one day. There were bodies, bloodied and ruined. At first glance dead horses looked more numerous than the people. What ridiculous thing had happened here? Was this how battle looked? It looked like a military disaster, a bloody folly that'd ruin the war for somebody. There were blackened tanks and Doofarkas like tangled piles of wire. She heard sobbing. But she could only move, ignoring the smell, leading her solemn army through the haze.

There was gunfire. Flashes of red, but no bullets. They approached the forward trench. The gunfire intensified. She jogged forward, and her soldiers followed. They flung themselves in.

It was a different kind of trench, barely wider than a standing man, so that it was hard to move through. The firesteps, though present, were only enough for a man to stand on his toes. There were bodies buried in dust. Living soldiers looked at her with relief, and pointed her way. She went.

She did not meet Ras Hassan, but the Arab Shakir bin Musa. He was young for his position commanding men on the front. She knew him, like all her father's top officers, and he recognized her on sight. His eyes widened and he pointed. "What is this!?"

"What?"

He smacked her staff. "This! This!"

"It's my staff."

"Are you training children? Are we dancing? There is fighting. You will die with that thing!"

"I have a pistol!"

"No!" Shakir pulled his sword. "This! Use this! Take it from me!"

"And what will happen to you?"

"I will live if Allah wills it. You need this! Things are not done!"

He told what had happened. In the beginning, it was how Hassan had planned. The tanks came. Hassan's Dervishes came to meet them. The forward trench held back the Ethiopian infantry, but the Ethiopian armor charged forward, greedy to destroy the bigger prey they saw in Hassan's Doofarkas and cavalry. And then Hassan took their tanks. But the Ethiopians did not give up. They launched assault after assault, bloody and destructive, until Shakir and his men were forced across the field. Many died. They'd only recently taken by the Forward trench, but the Ethiopians were still trying. They'd been fighting all night with the help of the chemicals Hassan had distributed to them.

"They won't accept they have lost?" she summed it up for him.

"Or they know something we do not know. This will be a horrible thing if it is always like this."

"Why did we not use the tanks?"

"We don't have men who know how to use them!" Shakir laughed as he said this. That made her feel better somehow.

There was gunfire. It picked up like a light shower becoming a monsoon. Shakir held tightly to her staff. She pulled the sword and felt unbalanced by the weight in her hand.

"Allahu ackbar!" she heard men shouting all around. But she heard something else too.

God commands thy strength,
Strengthen, O God, what you wrought,


It was in Amharic, the language of the Ethiopians, coming ghost-like from in front of them. The Somalians tried to shout over them, "Allahu ackbar! Allahu ackbar!". Guns barked.

At Jerusalem shall kings bring presents unto thee

It was a hymn. The cacophony grew madder. It was digging into her brain. Why was she here? Why was she here!

Rebuke the company of spearmen,
The multitude of the bulls


And then it stopped. The Ethiopians poured into the trench, and she met combat in the face for the first time.

There was hardly room to fight in the trench. Men sprang up on the parapets and fought there. She was in a battle, and men were dying. She held tightly to her sword. All she could feel was her hand gripping the hilt, her pounding heart, and a numbness where her mind should be. A man jumped in, wearing a European style uniform no Somali soldier wore, along with a pot-like helmet. She swung her sword and took off his fingers. He dropped the rifle. That's when she first noticed he had the rifle. He drew back, his hand red with blood. She swung again and opened his neck. The warmth went out of his eyes and flowed as blood.

She'd killed. He died. She didn't think she could kill again. She'd spent herself. It was her turn.

But it was over. There was ululating and praises to Allah. Blood dripped from her sword like oil. She wanted to vomit, or hide, or cease to exist. But as she woke up to who she was and what she'd done, her feelings changed. She felt powerful. Had any woman felt this powerful before?

This fight was over. She'd conquered the world.
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Hidden 1 yr ago Post by Dinh AaronMk
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Dinh AaronMk #FreeGorgenmast

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Hong Kong

Kowloon


The neon lights as they shone in the puddles and rain moistened cobble streets of inner Kowloon reminded Lo Bai Shun of oily rainbows. Less the slick chemical sheen that came out from leaking cars or trans and left their slick trail along the black top and between the cracks in the paving stones as they sped along in darkened lamp-lit streets. But the rainbow sheen of a hundred obstinate and stubborn neon lights was much more vivid. Had much more contrast. He squatted down along the side of the road while no cars were coming and took a serious of quick snaps with the communal camera, that had then found its way back to him. Maybe he'd find a purpose for them.

“Blockhead, you're going to get that thing wet.” said a man above him. A light drizzle of rain fell down on their heads and shoulders as they stepped out of the small hole in the wall noodle cafe. He, tall and dark was a friend of his and he had managed to drag him out for the evening.

“It'll be fine.” Bai Shun remarked as he rose. He looked up at the scene around him. Here was a part of Hong Kong that was haunted the most by the west. As with Hong Kong Island, here was the major hub of the old British development and it shown. The buildings on either side of the road rose several stories high in the European style. And at the center of Hong Kong and Kowloon the air above was a spider's web of cables of tram line wire, electrical cables, telegraph and telephone. Above and below this network there hung and flew a menagerie of sites: red flags and banners flying high over the street, silhouetted against the darkened gray clouds of the rainstorm over head. And lower neon signs that hummed and burned defiantly the names of cafes, restaurants, bars, and other localities. It even seemed that the municipal authorities simply surrendered, at a nearby corner a red and blue glowed with a constant holy fire for the local police outpost.

“How long have you been working on that?” Bai Shun's friend asked as they resumed their walk down the street, “Down that movie, I guess. A month, two months?”

“Six.” Bai Shun said.

“Fucking hell, and you're not any closer to seeing it finished?”

“Script's done.” Bai Shun said simply.

“Well isn't that just great. How long until the rest of it though? Until you can get out more. I had to call you five times before you answered. What was up, you sleeping?”

“Maybe.” Bai Shun shrugged.

“Or maybe you were working too much.” his friend laughed. As they passed a long window he looked over waywardly. In their reflections both of them stared back before the faint image of a display of medicines. The stark differences in appearance couldn't be more contrasting. Lo Bai Shun, short hunched over with a long detached and depressed gaze, carried down by more than his own weight. And his friend, Liu Chu-Wa a tall and towering figure, dark and lean and confident; round and handsome with his hair kept neat.

Again, he shrugged and Liu Chu-Wa laughed. “Well listen, this is going to sound last minute but you doing anything later tonight?” he asked. It was already late in the evening and the question struck Lo Bai Shun by surprise.

“I need an extra hand tonight if you're interested.” Liu Chu-Wai said, stopping under a canopy of an apartment building behind him. Bai Shun lingered half in the rain, the steady drips falling from the canopy tapping down on the shoulder of his jacket and rolling off down his arm, “One of my regular guys is indisposed and I could use someone that can do some lifting.”

Lo Bai Shun shook his head, “Listen, I'm not as strong so don't...” he started, trailing off quietly.

“It's not that heavy. If anything I can get anything big that comes along. But you can pick up a few light cases, right?”

“Cases of what?”

“Bottles. Nothing more, maybe less. It's not terrible work, rain coats will be provided. Just a couple hours, in and out. I'll throw something your way. For that girl of yours. What does she drink? Bourbon? Wine? Rum?”

“What if I said I want to think about it?” he asked him.

“I need an affirmative now. You can think about it to the station if you want.” Chu-Wai invited, walking again.

“Well, maybe.” Bai Shun said quietly.

“That's a start.” Chu-Wai remarked in a rolling laugh.

The two walked along, the focus of their conversation drifting. Overhead they passed under street light speakers, issuing out their hourly news in a dry monotone that droned on. “How's that girl you're seeing by the way, Han Shu?” asked Chu-Wai as they walked.

“She's good.” Bai Shun said, smiling lightly as he watched the sidewalks for puddles.

“Just 'good'?” Chu-Wai asked laughing, “I don't think I've heard anyone say so little about a girl. How is she, I heard she's a fire-starter.” he added, laughing.

“Where'd you hear that?”

“Oh you know, the usual people.” Chu-Wai responded coyly, “We run in the same groups you, she, and I, so I hear things.” he laughed, “She's one of those feminist types isn't she?” he added.

“Well, yes. I guess.”

“That I suppose answers why you're with her. Shūdāizi!” he teased, laughing.

“Bì zuǐ!” Bai Shun responded with a chuckle and knocked into the side of Chu-Wai.

“Oh, I know what you are! You're hǎ bā gǒu!” Chu-Wai chided, knocking gently into his friend, “You follow that tigress.”

“No, she's more nán rén pó. More so than you are.” Bai Shun laughed.

“Well hell, I think you got me.” laughed Chu-Wai, “Though, if she is more man than me: are you gay?”

“Not at all.”

“Good, settled that mystery.” they walked along in silence longer, and Chu-Wai spoke up again, “But seriously, how are you doing?”

“Well.”

“With her?”

“I like her, she's good.”

“Good to see you getting out then. I'd like to see you get better.”

Bai Shun nodded. They stopped at a covered station under the light of a sulfuric yellow lamp. Joining Bai Shun inside Chu-Wai sat next to him on the bench. “What about that answer?” he asked.

“I suppose I'll go.” he answered him, “Where do we meet?”

“I'll send someone by to pick you up. Expect him about ten.”

“Alright. I will.”

“Thanks.” Chu-Wai said, patting him on the shoulder as he stood up. Looking both ways down the street he said as he crossed, “I think your trolley is coming.”




Later that night Lo Bai Shun sat at the window of his apartment. He sat atop a stack of cardboard boxes, loaded with papers. He hung one arm out the window, feeling the cool damp air gust breezily into his apartment. It carried on it a mix of smells. The soft saltiness of the sea, the woody aroma of plants, the earthly scent of a fresh rain. Dappling the country side there sat restfully a number of small lights, or drifted along through distant roads. The moonlight shone off of the distant ocean, miles away and only faintly visible from his high window. He could hear the crickets, their soft chirping making a soft song in the light rustling of trees and grass. As distant to them as he was there also sang the repressed and mixed sounds of a radio playing somewhere in the building. Not anywhere close to him. Perhaps down on the ground floor, or some far corner someone had their window open and they too were seated looking out, or just had them open to invite him in the cool damp air to freshen a warm apartment from an afternoon of heat and humidity. Most days it was like that, and summer was ending soon.

He rubbed at his chin and breathed in all the scents. He looked over at his clock, the light shone off its face. Leaning back he could watch the second hand slowly creep across the dial. It was sometime short of ten in the evening. Soon. His heart weigh heavy in his chest out of anticipation. A stone of anxiety that had crystallized there. He had come home and worked only for a couple hours. Drawing frame and frame of characters, squinting through overlapped sheets at the previous incarnation, the previous step, or the first and maybe last step in the whole arc. He had gotten tired of that as the hours rolled on and retreated to the window. He had tried to read a book, but knowing what was going to happen and when meant that his anticipation cut short any inclination of becoming engrossed. So here he waited.

He watched the lights. The lights of farm houses. The lights of traffic on the distant roads as people went along. A train in the night coming over from the mainland and into the center of the city, its single incandescent eye glowing a bright yellow in the darkness. Its passenger cars bringing with them their own soft golden light that blurred together.

Then he saw it, or what he assumed would be it. A dark shape moving along the back road up to the isolated apartment. Two bricks of light ahead of it, throwing down a cone of illumination on the gravel road before it. At a distance it was quiet, a mere whisper passed the bushes. The low rumble of its motor becoming more pronounced as it pulled into the sparse yard and pulled over. The driver killed its engine, and so too did the lights go out. What was left was the black shape of the car, and the additional shapes that emerged in the moonlit night below him. He looked down, leaning out the window as the figures that came out of the car made their approach, and disappeared into the building before its lights could fully illuminate them to him.

He shifted in his seat and turned to the door. He shut the window as he rose, and went over to the coat rack. He pulled down a coat and stood waiting, leaning against the wall. He tucked his hands into his pockets as he looked down at his feet. Listening. Soon he would be hearing the sounds of their feet beating down the linoleum tile of the hallway. A second. A minute. He heard a door and the sound of feet, he looked up at the door as slow measured steps came close and then knocked on the door. He opened.

On the other side two men in dark overcoats stood. The jumped in surprise that the door opened so fast, and collected themselves. “Lo Bai Shun?” asked one. He nodded.

“Alright, come on. We're ready.” he said, leading Bai Shun out down the hall. He closed the door behind him, and it shut locked as he headed down the hall.

Jogging down stairs they moved quickly and quietly through the lobby. Not a word was spoken as they slipped out the doors and into the cool wet night and into the car. Bai Shun slid into the back seat, and they pulled out.

Hong Kong was different at night. Empty. The rickshaws and farmer's carts were retired at this hour. And even much of the industrial work was through, the factory and shoremen having retreated to their apartments or their bars. Driving along the streets, splashing through puddles a few busses and street trolleys passed them by. They passed ignored by a police patrolmen in the cover of a gazebo in the street, a motorbike parked nearby. As the crawled deeper into the city the heights of Kowloon grew up around them, and they made their way to the port. The narrow industrial streets were silent and dark, everyone having gone home. But ahead was a light.

A man holding a torch flicked the light on and off in their direction. There was a chicken wire gate, lengths of driftwood impaled through the interwoven cables. As the car came close the gate was opened and closed rapidly behind them as they drove out into the dockyard and parked the car in the shadow of warehouse with others. Stepping out, Bai Shun was enveloped into the absolute darkness. Rare few lights shone and where they did only made the darkness deeper.

Getting out of the car no one spoke. It took a moment for Bai Shun's eyes to adjust as he followed the faint spectral forms of the two men around a corner. Faint city light and moon light shone off of the water as they walked out onto a pier. Many of the boats moored there were silent and still. At a distant the harsh white lights of the main port shone against the waves, lighting everything in a silvery backdrop. There, freight coming in throughout the night would still be arriving. But here, things were still and silent. No one had reason to move between the islands at night.

At the end of the concrete pier a long disheveled junk sat moored to the dock. Lamp light lit the men on the deck in a faint orange glow. They silently hailed the three newcomers as they approached. Several of them sat on the deck railing, their legs hanging off the side as they smoked cigarettes. The air smelled of salt, tobacco, and diesel fuel.

“We ready?” one of the men who had brought Bai Shun said. Neither of them had talked on the way here.

“When you're on deck.” a voice said, stepping into the light. It was Liu Chu-Wai, he smiled in the faint and sharply contrasted lighting. His rain and water slicked hair highlighted by the harsh oranges of the lanterns and the distant silver-white lights of the port.

“So who is this guy?” someone said as Bai Shun stepped on deck, “He isn't some kind of rat is he?”

“Why would we. We already have our rat.” Chu-Wai laughed, “We're protected. Alright, release the line we're headed out.”

The men did as he said, and released the boat from its moorings. Free of its ties it bobbed away from the current as the motor purred to life then roared with a sudden cough. Chugging away from land the small boat peeled through the inky darkness of the ocean's water. It sailed out mid-way between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island before turning itself south, and completely darkened headed out into the night time sea.

Chu-Wai stepped to the railing and leaning against it looked out back to the city. The rocking of the waves was gentle, but it was unsettling. He felt the contents of his stomach moved and he wondered if he would be sick.

Hong Kong itself, as the star that was Hong Kong island loomed into and merged in with the rest was a nexus of dim light in the dark night. The junk chugged along, straight out to the midnight sea and before long the city itself was glowing haze like a candle's tongue. Joined in camaraderie by Macau. Two nodes of incandescent yellow and orange along a long dark coast. Soon however, hours later both of these disappeared and they were deep in the darkness of the mid-ocean.

Chu-Wai began to feel nervous in the impenetrable darkness of the night. Clouds obscured the stars overhead and the gentle lapping of ocean waves obscured even the reflections. If not for the illuminated peaks of waves from the lantern light being re-ignited it would be as if they were in a great nothing. The spectacle played and tormented Chu-Wai who stepped as far back from the edge he could, least he fall into the seeming nothing beyond it. The rest of the crew worked on.

Far from the city and in the bleak emptiness of open sea the men on deck began to work their hands in the orange light of burning lanterns. From crates along the edge new lanterns were produced, and long poles nearby readied. Chu-Wai watched and was stunned and horrified as the lanterns were lit and an eerie white light sparked to life. Raised on their poles the white lanterns bobbed in the eerie darkness and took up positions up over the corners of the junk and over the dark waters. At the stern and bow they flew, and one was hoisted up the naked mast while others extended out over the edges of the ship. Soon they were surrounded in a ring of ghostly white lanterns, dim and cold, ethereal and haunting. It was not harsh like industrial lights. But soft and waning like escaped souls.

With them up, the other lights were dimmed, and they made their way through the bleak darkness, still moving. The ship under him throbbing with each rotation of the motor. All else was quiet.

“There he is!” someone finally yelled, after a time. The shout startled Bai Shun, he spun to his feet and staggered. The boat's engine was cut off, and searching around him for orientation Bai Shun found none. What he found instead was another boat approaching them, under its red lights. He went to the railing and leaned over, watching the distant craft make its slow approach. The men on deck were moving quickly to prepare, grabbing ropes and clearing things aside.

As he watched someone clapped him on the shoulder. Bai Shun turned around with a speeding heart to see Chu-Wai, his face white and lifeless like a ghost in the shade's light thrown by the lanterns. “Let me do the talking.” he said, “Just grab boxes as they're handed to you. Don't drop them.” his voice was level, without joy or excitement. He nodded and watched the foreign water craft approach the ship.

Shouts rang out in intermingling languages. He could not understand the conversation, but he understood something was said in Japanese. He felt a grave lump rise in his throat as he went to the side. Chu-Wai was already speaking loudly, directing bits and parcels of information from the foreign ship at their side and the Chinese crew. The first crate was lifted, Bai Shun grabbed it. Already there was a stream of workers transferring cargo.

As he shuffled to the hull, he saw men come out with bundles of tea and cartons marked cigarettes go to the side of the boat and offloaded into foreign hands. There were other things, but things he did not recognize as he went down into the dimly lit space below deck. Before he could go up, a cardboard package was thrust into his hands and he rotated back up onto the deck. Following the examples of the others he deposited the box into the waiting arms of a squat man in the other boat, before he himself took another piece of cargo, its contents jingling glass bottles.

On his return to the hold he noticed a man he had not seen on the boat before. He must of crawled out of some dark space. In the faint light he wore a completely black coat that hung low to his boots. A black cap crowned his head, and Bai Shun noticed the glint of a brass button on the color of his shirt. The man watched him go, and the others. His face obscured by the light and darkness.

The party went on like this for some time, until the cargo of both boats had been rotated thoroughly. As the work settled to a stop, the man in the black coat stepped forward, and reaching out to the other ship was handed a heavy, thick envelope. With his prize in hand, the man tipped his hat and stepped back. Without ceremony, the other ship peeled away and itself made its way back into the blackest night. They themselves turned around and headed for home.
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Hidden 1 yr ago Post by Shyri
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Shyri Some nerd

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Moscow

Dark clouds loomed on the horizon as a storm prepared to batter Russia. New men had arrived all along Moscow's border with the remnants of the Russian Empire, finally giving them the strength to consider a move on their strongest enemy. Further East in the capital city itself, machines of war that had not been touched in years were being prepared for the move North, while citizens were being gathered in droves, and men and women alike were being prepared for the possibility of having to fight for their Tsar. At the heart of all of this, Tsar Wrangel sat drawing up battle plans with her best generals, for all possibilities. Whether Moscow sat triumphant, or was reduced to rubble, this would be the war to settle everything in Russia. Whoever won this war would win the right to call themselves Tsar of all of Russia, and Wrangel was determined to take it.

However, not everyone was in a frenzy at the prospect of “settling everything.” In a small camp along the Imperial border, one soldier was expecting the worst, and had no intention of sticking around for it.

“Shit shit shit!” muttered a short soldier bearing the Muscovite crest on his jacket. “Where the hell did I put it? I can't leave without it.”

The soldier began to dig through a trunk at the end of a small, ratty cot, with a look of fear on his face so intense, you'd think the entire camp was about to be bombed.

“There it is!” He shouted a bit too loud, as he grabbed a framed photo and stuffed it into a knapsack at his feet. “Now all I need is my gun.” he said as he turned for the entrance to the tent, only to see another soldier staring in at him. He froze, like a deer in the headlights, as the other soldier eyed him up and down, before finally opening his mouth to speak.

“Vasily... What are you doing? Going for a hike?” he asked, crossing his arms and moving to block the exit entirely.

“Shut up, Adrian. Now's not the time, so can you please go be a dick to somebody else?” pleaded Vasily, sounding exhausted. “I really need to get going.”

Adrian frowned, his heavy brow furrowing at his comrade's words. “Where are you going, Vasily. We're not supposed to go anywhere, until we get new orders. You know that.”

“Yes, yes! I know. I...” Vasily looked around, staring at a pair of shadows moving along the side of the tent, beofre continuing in a hushed voice. “I'm getting out of here, Adrian. I only took this stupid job because it paid well, and I was told I'd be stationed in the city to help with relief efforts. I never wanted to head to the front lines, let alone fight! If it were Austrians, sure, those bastards killed my grandpa, but Russians? Something about it doesn't sit right with me... Me and Niko were going to steal a car... Head down South to Rostov. Word is the people there are just riding this whole thing out, so we wanted to go there and do the same.”

The following silence was long and tense, and Vasily couldn't bring himself to look up at Adrian the entire time. When his friend finally inhaled to speak, he flinched, expecting the worst. “Vasily...” Adrian said in a hushed tone. “Help me pack my bag. I want in.”

Yaroslavl

“Welcome, welcome, friends of Moscow! Haha! Come, come!” a man shouted from a market stall as the first of the vehicles from Arkhangelsk made their way into Moscuvite territory from the now-open border, for the first time in years. “Please! All the foods you've missed! All the latest fashions! Whatever you are looking for, Viktor has it! Come, come!”

All along the main road, the scene was the same. People from Yaroslavl welcoming old friends and ally's into the nation. Families reuniting for the first time in years. People waving flags, whether it be Archangelsk's, Moscow's, or even the old Russian flag. Soldiers from both sides talking like old friends catching up at the border checkpoint, while music filled the air for miles, some would swear.

“Uncle? Uncle Andrei, is that you?” a woman with a mess of curly hair said, tapping the back of an older man who was looking lost. “Oh, Uncle Andrei, it is you! Come with me, mama will be so excited to see you again!” Clasping the old man's hand, the woman began to scurry off, accidentally stepping on the foot of somebody who was leaning against a nearby building, smoking. “Oh, sorry, sir.”

“No, no, it's fine. Go, enjoy your day. Do not worry about it.” the man said, putting the cigarette out, and watching the woman disappear into the crowds. He then turned, walking inside of the building, letting out a sigh of relief as the outside sounds faded with the closing door. Looking around, he spotted three other men sitting at a table, playing cards. When they noticed him walking over, one of them shouted out to him.

“Lev! How are the festivities? Are you going to go jump around like a little girl?” laughed a man who looked like he had been hit with a train, bombed, and then struck by lighting, and survived.

“Shut it, Igor. I just needed some fresh air. I really don't care about the festivities. In fact... Going out there ruined my shoe.” replied Lev, an annoyed twitch showing in his left eye. “So, shall we continue?” he said pulling up a seat and dropping into it.

“Yes, let's.” said a greying man with shaggy hair and a pointed beard. “Oh, and, eat it, Igor.” he said displaying a Royal Flush, and pulling a pile of money towards himself.

“Fuck!” shouted Igor, hands clawing at what hair he had left. “I'll get you next time Pyotr, you bastard!”

“Yes, yes, I'm sure you will Igor. Now, can you calm down so we can talk?” Pyotr said calmly, though the smug smile said something else entirely. Once Igor had finally ended his fit, Pyotr put a hand on the arm of the large, bald man who had been quiet the entire time. “Go ahead, Sergei. Let them in on the plan.”

With a loud screech, Sergei pushed back on his chair, and stood up, papers in hand, like a gradeschooler prepared to give a book report. “Hello gentlemen. As you know, things have been hard for us lately. We lost our route from Smolensk, and Nizhny has their border locked down tight. With no way to export or import, we have been preparing for the worst, but no more! The Tsar has done good for us with this deal! With access to Arkhangelsk comes access to ports! Because of this, Pyotr has scraped together all of our remaining funds, so that we can buy a boat, and sail for better shores.”

“No, no!” cut in Pyotr. “That is not what we are doing! I bought us a smuggler, who owns a boat, so that we have a new way to smuggle into and out of Moscow! All we have to do is give them a fair cut, and they will set us up to start making big money again. Especially with war on the horizon, people will pay big to get those foreign foods, and especially for those Western drugs. There have been so many complaints lately about quality that I was beginning to think people were realizing how little they were actually getting. Well, not anymore! This is going to have us swimming in money boys. Even if Moscow burns, we'll be sitting pretty.”

With a maniacal chuckle, Igor rubbed his hands together like a rat, nearly slobbering at the prospect. “Oh Pyotr, I could kiss you right now. This is fantastic! No, this is beyond fantastic! How soon until we get our first payment, huh?”

“Not for a couple months.” Pyotr replied calmly, which was quickly contrasted by the tantrum Igor erupted into.

“A couple months? Are you fucking kidding me, Pyotr?!? The money I have left won't last me a couple weeks! Are you trying to kill me, is that it???” Igor shouted, throwing himself from his chair and stomping off into an adjacent room. “Why do we follow you, when you are so dumb! His voice echoed from a distant location.

Stifling a laugh, Lev looked to Pyotr, who leaned in, and in a hushed tone said “His share, at least. We'll see ours within a fortnight. I know the rat has been taking a cut of the top of all of his sales. He's lucky he's a good salesmen, or I'd have big Sergei drown him in a well, or... Or cut off his squirmy little hands.”

“You could always set him on fire, see if he survives that, too. Maybe he's actually a cockroach disguised as a rat. You have to have survived some crazy shit to end up looking like him.” Lev replied with a chuckle.

“Okay, Pyotr!.” came Igor's voice as he reentered the room. “Okay. I get it. You're holding onto the money, waiting for a big payoff, right? You want to treat us good, give us a nice paycheck first thing, right? I get it! So let me say, thank you. I won't disappoint you. In fact, I'll go get you some money right now. If you would give me some of the product, I'll head out this moment.”

“Well, Igor, there is no product. That's why we have to wait.” Pyotr said, and watched with glee as the large vein in Igor's forehead nearly burst, before the little ratty man stormed out of the building, muttering profanities. Once he was gone, Pyotr looked to Lev once more. “Meet me in Moscow in three days. I have a job for you and Segei to do in the meantime. Oh and, here.” he said, digging into his coat and pulling out some money. “Buy yourself some new shoes.”
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Hidden 1 yr ago Post by Jestocost
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Jestocost Lord of the Instrumentality

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Булус, Якутская область, Сиби́рь
(Bulus, Yakutsk Oblast, Siberia)
04:30, 12 September 1960


The sky burned over the foothills to the east of the monastery when he awoke. Quickly, he sat up, stretched, and got out of bed. He looked out of his chamber’s lone window at the horizon and mentally estimated how much time he had before sunrise. By his reckoning, he had about two minutes before his morning devotions. Moving rapidly yet methodically, with the ease that comes of many years’ repetition, the old monk washed his face, dressed and unrolled a small mat in front of the window.

He crossed himself and kneeled on it, facing the coming dawn. He closed his eyes, mentally bracing himself, and, when he felt the first rays of direct sunlight on his face, opened them and began to pray.

A few minutes later, Father Anatoliy stood in front of his mirror, blinking the afterimages away. It seemed that the more times he performed the ritual, the worse it hurt. The схимонах had told him when he was a послушникъ that it was because he was not yet pure, that the pain was God’s anger with his failure to fully devote himself. Clearly, he still had some distance to go before he was worthy of his Схима.

The morning bells rang out, calling the faithful to the morning services, and rousing him from his introspective trance. He looked again out the window, across the golden minarets of the monastery, gleaming in the early morning light. In the distance, a bird lazily circled, riding the thermals high over the sprawling compound. He stood, leaning on the windowsill, taking in the glory of what God had helped them to build out in this frozen hell. He savored the moment. There would not be many more mornings like these for a while. Winter was coming.

After he had taken his breakfast and performed his role in the morning devotions came the monumental daily task of managing the network of hundreds of traveling priests that ranged the order’s territories to the far north. As the head monk of the traveling corps, he was tasked with reading the reports of the dozen-odd priests that returned each day, tasking out assignments to those heading out and keeping track of all the current routes that had been assigned, so that no village in the oblast, no matter how small, went without the Lord’s presence. Even with the five assistants that were tasked to his office, it was a job that consumed most of his waking hours each day. He would resent it, were it not for the satisfaction of bringing the light to so many people.

He flipped through the stack of reports on his desk, all of them hand-written in the neat block letters of the scribes on paper made in one of the villages just to the south. Most of it was just statistics. Baptisms, marriages & sermons performed, routes covered, names of people in attendance, offerings taken back to the monastery. His assistants tracked all of that information for him, though. What he was interested in was the news that filtered in from the furthest villages. Murmurs of Chinese troop movements far to the south, sightings of the cossacks that usually didn’t venture this far north, scraps of news from the broader world outside what used to be Russia. Though his office’s primary role was managing the oblast’s access to religion, his day-to-day job was more one of an intelligence officer.

There was nothing of interest in the first few papers, which was to be expected of the northern routes. The priest tasked with finding the old monk Kirill hadn’t returned yet, but was due within the week. One report mentioned weird patterns in the movements of Caribou herds, which Anatoliy didn’t know what to do about other than tell someone to pray about it at the next service. The interesting stuff was always what came in from the west and south. Getting to the bottom of the stack revealed snippets about villages just outside their territory that had been visited by cossacks for recruits and rations. This wouldn’t be out of the ordinary, but for the number of times it had happened in recent months. Something was pressing them for resources, but he didn’t have enough evidence to bring to the elders his suspicions of what was happening.

It was towards the bottom of the pile that he found something that, for a moment, made his blood run cold. He set it aside and quickly flipped through the rest of the pages for anything related. Two other documents substantiated the news in the first. He called in one of his assistants, asked for the names of the priests who had turned in the news and where they were quartered. When he received his answer, he took all three pages and headed for the door.

———
The same day, somewhere in Siberia

Father Grigoriy was bent over at the waist, resting his hands on his knees and gasping for air. He coughed a few times, spat mucus and craned his neck to look forward. The monk with the golden eyes was stopped a few paces in front of him, looking at him expectantly.

“Do we need to stop, рясофор?” he asked flatly.

“No, Kirill,” he weakly replied.

The monk grunted, turned, and continued uphill. He had drank little and eaten less, at least as far as Grigoriy could see, yet walked in a way almost like he was floating over the terrain, neither stopping nor slowing down for hills or streams or fallen trees. How he could even detect these obstacles, much less navigate them so quickly, was beyond him.

He stood up fully again and started stepping, determined to not let the monk humiliate him like this for the entire trip south. If he could just make it over this ridge, he knew it would be downhill for a few miles, so he could recover. If he could make it. They had been walking since sunrise without stopping, and his strength was fading.

So focused was he on catching up to Kirill that Father Grigoriy had stopped paying attention to the trail. He was a mere ten paces behind when his foot caught on something, and he went down hard on his stomach, knocking the wind out of him. Cursing heavily, he started to pick himself up again.

“We’re taking a break,” Kirill announced. He was standing over Father Grigoriy with his arms crossed.

“I said I was-“ Grigoriy began, trying to salvage something of his pride, but Kirill cut him off:

“We’re taking a break.”

He muttered something resembling a grudging assent, and switched from trying to stand to maneuvering himself into a sitting position, sliding his body away from the center of the track where he’d fallen to rest his back against a fir. Kirill sat down opposite him, crossing his legs and leaning against nothing. The monk turned his head towards him for a long few moments, as if silently studying him, in spite of the impossibility of such a thing. Grigoriy suddenly felt very annoyed.

“How do you do it? You walk even faster than I do, yet you don’t get tired, hungry or thirsty,” he asked, trying to keep his exasperation from creeping into his voice. Frustrated as he was with his own ability to keep up, he still had the sense to not want the elder monk to think him disrespectful.

“Why do you stop when you are tired? Why do you slow down when you are thirsty? You are traveling for a great purpose, so why do you listen to your discomforts?” the monk asked back.

He looked at the old monk for a few moments, saying nothing. Kirill almost seemed to look back through his pupil-less golden eyes, his mouth curled ever so slightly at the corners. Wordlessly, Father Grigoriy shook his head, turned away and started digging though his backpack for something to eat. He sincerely hoped this journey would be worth it in the end.
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Hidden 1 yr ago 1 yr ago Post by The Wyrm
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The Wyrm

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-----------------
Cuenca, Spain
-----------------

She sat next to the window, the sole occupant in her small but comfortable cabin two carriages back from the engine, dressed in a dark brown sweater and tall knee high leather boots. A small duffle bag was across her knee. The sway of the train set the small loose hairs about her face moving gently but she paid them no mind. The broken clouds were red and pink the blue of the sky as the sun began dip below the horizon.

The brown sweater was warm against her throat, her black overcoat already unbuttoned, her hat crumpled in one hand as she idly tapped a foot on the floor of the carriage. Beyond the windows the Spanish landscape was slowly taking on the soft golden glow of the days’ final light.

She could feel the train begin to slow as it curled around the base of the cliffs that held the town of Cuenca. By pressing her face to the glass she could just see to the top of the cliffs where a tall curtain wall of stone enclosed the ancient Moorish fortress and town

“Cuenca Station! All passengers for Cuenca Station!” A conductor, his red and white pillbox hat thrust sharply forward over a fantastic moustache, was making his way through the carriage sliding open compartment doors as he went. He spared her a brief smile as he passed.

She jammed her short cap onto her head, swung her duffle bag onto her shoulder, and stepped into the passage. Several other people appeared in the corridor, their feet muffled by the green carpet. They formed a small cluster at the door behind the conductor. She ignored the quiet stares she received from several of the other passengers. Black people where still pretty thin on the ground in Spain and she tended to attract looks wherever she went.

The conductor paused, opened the door, and stepped onto the cobblestone platform. She followed behind him, her boots making a “tock” sound as she stepped a modern platform. Heavy duty concrete had been poured to replace the ancient cobblestone station that was now abandoned just north of them, covered in graffiti and already being reclaimed by nature. A sturdy metal roof covered the platform and the tracks on both sides, protection from the small rocks that came loose from the cliffs above.

She thanked the conductor, handed him a twenty peseta note, waved away his thanks and hurried toward the platform exit. It was simple enough, a flight of concrete stairs down to a covered driveway where a long row of taxis waited, their multicolour sides muted in the dying light. She stepped into the first one, closed the rear door and sat back in a torn and pitted leather seat that smelled strongly of cigarettes and cologne.

“Where to senorita?” The driver glanced at her, or she thought he did, from eyes almost hidden beneath bushy eyebrows a massive black beard that almost appeared to run together. His tone was friendly but resigned, the tone of a man who drove folk about every single day.

She pulled the small envelope from inside her jacket and passed it across to him. He took it, glanced it over, nodded, and then shifted the old taxi into gear. It coughed, sputtered, and then they were lurching along the recently laid concrete roadway.

Cuenca was only an hour by train from Madrid and improvements had begun several years ago to make it more accessible to tourists. The railway, train station, and most of the motorways had been repaved. Only in the town itself had little been changed so that the cobblestone streets and brick buildings might maintain their historic roots.

The road the driver took did not climb into the town however but rather passed into the countryside. The darkness here became more pronounced as they left behind the bright lights of civilization. She cranked down the window and rested her head on her arm, allowing the fresh night air to play across her face, escaping the stench of the taxi.

The drive was less than ten minutes, the landscape sinking into blackness so that she could only see the verges of the motorway as the headlights played over them. She saw the startled faces of sheep, the guilty glances of young lovers beneath a tree, and occasionally the flash of passing lights as an automobile whisked past them in the opposite direction.

“Here we are.” The driver sounded unsure as he began to slow, turning into a car park just in front of a small white clad church. A single light burned on the front step. There was no on else around. A small barn was the only other building. A wall of olive trees hemmed it all in on three sides. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, thank you.” She paid the fare, adding an extra bill for which the man thanked her profusely before he started up the taxi and turned back onto the motorway toward Cuenca. It was none of his business if his passenger wanted to be left in the middle of nowhere.

As the red taillights faded into the distance she became aware of how vast the silence around her seemed. She could make out the distant glow of light where Cuenca perched on its rocky hilltops, and the odd glimmer here and there told her of farmers cottages. High above her an aircraft droned steadily toward Madrid. A horse whinnied somewhere in the darkness as she sat on the stairs and stretched her long legs out in front of her to wait.

She did not wait long. She had mentally counted to one hundred and twenty when two men appeared from the shadows. They wore simply farmers garb but had the lean muscled size you rarely saw in farmers, but was common among soldiers. One held an image in his hand that he held up and compared it to her as he shone a torch on her. She blinked in the bright light but didn’t look away.

“Senorita Letizia.” The man said her name without question but she nodded anyway. Behind him an engine rumbled to life and the doors of the small barn opened to allow an immaculate black car to creep out onto the gravel. “This way.” The man gestured to the car.

She climbed into the back seat and found herself alone save for the driver who offered her a smile and nod from the front seat. The other two men faded back into the darkness and in a moment the little churchyard was empty again.

“Welcome to Cuenca, Senorita.” The driver was not much older than she was and clearly did not mind chatting to this woman he had waited in the dark for. “How was your journey?”

“Well, thank you.” She leaned forward slightly to better hear him, the cars engine was as loud as it was powerful it seemed. “How far is it? I have been needing to take a pee since halfway here on the train.”

The driver laughed, a flash of white teeth in the blue light, then pointed toward a small hilltop where she could see soft yellow lights glowing through the trees. “Just there. Only a few minutes.”

She could wait a few minutes. She settled back into her seat and felt the knot in her belly growing slightly. For the past month she had sat in Madrid, wandering the ancient streets, pretending to be a British university student, living in cheap lodgings, waiting for something to happen. When she had come to Spain from Rhodesia, at the discreet invitation of Delgado himself, she had expected action right away. There had been only silence until two days ago when she was sitting down to a dinner of oxtail soup and stuffed mushrooms.

A pretty Spanish girl with long black hair had sat down next to her and casually inquired if she had ever been to the Tower of London. It was a casual enough question but it was also part of Delgado’s prearranged code. The two women had flirted lightly and then Spanish girl laughing passed her a card with her telephone number. When Sara had dialed the number a voice on the other end had given her the address of the little church.

The car climbed the small hill through a grove of Spanish oaks, the headlights playing off the heavy branches thick with leaves and huge wooden trunks. Small animals, deer mostly, vanished in fright into the darkness, their white tails bobbing ludicrously until the forest swallowed them.

A gate and wall, topped with sharpened black spikes, loomed suddenly out of the forest and two men with machine guns slung across their chests stepped into the headlights, hands raised to stop the car. They spared a nod for the driver and then a bright torch snapped on as another picture was compared to her face. Despite the light she caught sight of a pair of floppy ears and great drooling jowls at the edge of the light. Security was tight.

“Bienvenidos a la casa del silencio.” Said the soldier as he stepped back and waved the driver onward. The gate in front of them slowly began to open at a shouted order and the car drew through. The concrete roadway continued toward the distant light and she found herself whistling quietly as they drew closer.

There were any number of old and ancient villas throughout Spain that would have cost a fortune to buy or restore. It seemed that Delgado had decided to build one from scratch and she found herself gaping at the clean lines and masonry of a modern two story villa.

The car stopped at the edge of the drive and her driver leapt out, popped open her door and gestured toward the villa.

“You’re to go right up. They’re expecting you, but don’t ask me where you’ll find them.”

She turned in surprise at the last statement but the driver was already back in the car and shifting into gear to head back down the driveway. As the heavy engine faded into the distance she looked over the villa. She was clearly at the side of the building since no door opened out to greet her but a staircase of fitted blue, white, and yellow tile marched up and away around the corner of the house.

Hefting her duffle bag, half expecting another soldier to appear from the brush, she began to walk up the stairs. Her shoes clicked pleasantly on the tile as she went, a marble balustrade on her left, a wall of falling ivy on her right, turning and rising until she stepped onto a patio that took her breath away.

In front of her, pouring over the edge, was a large pool that glimmered with a deep blue colour. Soft lights glowed everywhere here, highlighting tall strong columns that supported a roof of dark brown tile. The pool was the focal point though and she admired the small fountain that fed it before it emptied at the far end, the water falling into another pool several feet below. It would give any swimmer the impression of a never ending swim into the darkness.

A strong breeze hinted that the trees had been cleared here and she was able to make out an expanse of lawn that carried into the darkness. Everywhere she looked there was well fitted stone and marble trimmed with dark wood. Huge windows, like she had never dreamed of, rose from floor to ceiling to show the inside of the house and she felt her heart skip a beat. Never in her wildest dreams had she expected to see such luxury.

Directly across the pool from her a large room dominated by a semi-circular bench covered in red cushions played host to three men, all of them white, and she was suddenly very conscious of her black skin. She brushed some wrinkles out of her jacket and made her way, now soundless, around the pool until she could easily see the sitting area, lit pleasantly by three electric lamps. She raised a hand and knocked on the wooden frame where windows could be fitted for the window.

“Ah, Senorita Reicker, welcome. Please come in.” Delgado stood as he spoke, a warm smile on his face. He did not wait for her to come to him but rather he took two strides and embraced her in the Spanish fashion with a kiss on either cheek. “Please, be seated.” He gestured to his own place as he took her jacket and placed it across the back of the red cushions before pouring her a small glass of wine from the decanter on the table.

“Thank you, Viceroy. This is a lovely home you have.” She could barely tear her eyes away from the interior of the house now that she could see it. It was nothing like the gaping 18th Century Palaces of Madrid, or the “new” buildings of her native Rhodesia.

“I would like to take credit, but all I did was pay for it.” He replied with a smile, and then indicated the other two men, both of whom likewise stood to greet her. “General Marc Marginedas of the Cazadores, and Manuel Casal of the Servicio Nacional de Investigación. Gentlemen, this is Sara Reicker of whom I have told you.”

“You are as dangerous as you are beautiful the Viceroy tells us, Senorita.” Said Casal with a small bow.

“Thank you.” The compliment had been well given without being to forward. This was perhaps the reason she had liked Delgado so much the first time she met him, that fact that she was a woman, and a black one at that, did not appear to bother him at all.

“Wine.” It wasn’t a question as Delgado passed her a small glass of the red liquid. She had no palate for wine and would not have known a good one if it slapped her in the face, but she sipped it anyway, nodding her thanks.

“To business then.” Delgado continued as he carried a chair into the room from the nearby dining area, placing it so he could face the other three. She noted that there were no papers on the heavy wooden table in front of them and, as far as she could tell, no one else anywhere nearby.

“You three have been gathered here to help me with a delicate problem, shall we say. Spain is an Empire that is perched on a dangerous precipice. Spain herself, Portugal, and the Midi-Pyrenees are firmly in the control of officers and men loyal to me. The bulk of the army posted to Africa and charged with subduing Algeria, however, is not. We took great care to ship most of the Royalist officers loyal to our young King over with the invasion force to keep them occupied.”

He glanced up at the others to see if they were following. Sara was privately wondering what on earth this had to do with her but she was starting to get some inkling as Delgado continued.

“With most of Algeria under our control those officers are going to be looking to come home, and their men with them. That potentially places a well armed and experienced fighting force in a position to destabilize the country.”

“Señor Casal, who has been keeping an eye on the mutterings for me, has informed me that our much beloved Head of the Inquisition has been in touch with these enterprising officers and suggested that they might do Spain a great favour by removing me. I do not have to tell you how a civil war would devastate this country. The Old King did a fine thing keeping us out of the Great War and look how we have prospered. But now we are faced with the possibility of ending up like Ethiopia with a young idiot in charge backed by very enthusiastic supporters who see their own means easily brought to fruition by propping up that same weak leader and using him to their own end.”

Delgado turned his deep green eyes on Sara and she felt the power of his personality bear down on her. The man was charismatic as anyone she had ever met, and his handsome Spanish features did a lot for her.

“This is where you come in Senorita. The Royalists are planning to have a victory parade in Algiers in two weeks’ time, and it is well deserved. However, there is also a planned staff meeting the day before with the majority of the Royalist officers invited.” Casal has easily taken up the thread of conversation. “Your mission, Sara, will be to ensure that those who attend that meeting do not survive.”

That was a lot to think about all of sudden and Sara stared at the three men in silence for a moment. She had certainly killed before, but never multiple men, and never military ones, at the same time. “Did you have a plan in mind?”

“No.” Delgado answered simply. “I will admit I had suggested we just drop a bomb on them but that might just give the Royalists more ammunition to say I am not to be trusted.” He shrugged at her bemused smile.

“You will have a free hand, an unlimited budget, and all the resources of the Cazadores and the SNI at your disposal. This is our top priority at the moment, including even the problems in Portugal.” Casal was speaking again.

“You will allow me to do this however I want?” Sara was acutely aware of the tremendous amount of power that was being placed in her hand, and the ramifications if she failed.

“Yes.” Delgado smiled. “And I don’t need to say something as cliché as “Tell anyone and we kill you”. Instead I will offer you this. When you succeed you will be paid a sum of one million pesetas and, if you wish to, a top role in the SNI.”

For an orphan from the depths of Africa, the sum of money Delgado had just offered Sara was staggering. She could a city in Rhodesia for that kind of money. She blinked a couple of times as her mind began to race. Money and a desk job, she wouldn’t have to risk her life in the field anymore. It was an offer that no sane person in her position could refuse. She leaned forward and raised her glass.

“We had best begin working on a plan.”
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Hidden 1 yr ago Post by Dinh AaronMk
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Dinh AaronMk #FreeGorgenmast

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Siberia

Yerofeysky


How long had they been there? By now the warmth of the sun was beginning to fade and a faint chill nipped the air. It was September but Wu Hong was starting to feel as it were time to count down to the first snow. He could feel it, a chill wind was blowing in from the north. But it did little to quell the simmering tension that lay beneath their feet. Time and time again they were beginning to worm their way further out into the forests around the village, probing out along the train tracks that ran just outside of town. Searching and securing but accomplishing little. The attack that had been... How long was it, a week ago? Two? Hong had lost track. Others had too.

But when there wasn't patrol there was nothing else to do in the small Russian village that would occupy them. Some of the men took to drinking, or playing games. When the weather was comfortable some would take their clothes off and swim in the creak, wading off somewhere down stream where the water was deeper. The water was like ice. But now it was getting colder and the thought was a lot less enticing. There were still games to play, women to try and swoon. But there were so few for so many soldiers and competition was as fierce as it was oppressive to the girls of the village and the attentions they received was becoming too oppressive. The sergeants were beginning to crack down. Wong had been tempted, but the relationships were growing cold when he had thought about it for once.

And he had taken up walking. He spent much of his time walking on patrol only to come back and walk some more. Taking off his boots and strolling barefoot along footpaths between the empty or ramshackle houses, alongside the sad church at the center of the village, and out to pastures and through orchards. When he ventured too far one of his comrades from his squad would join him and they'd slip into conversation. They would talk about home, feel homesick. Talk about what was next, and become afraid of what was to come. There was no new orders coming in. No commands to move out.

The survey teams had reached them a few days previous and they told them about how the men that were clearing the way to carve a road from there and into China were behind them. But it would take months for them to reach their position. The snow would be on the ground. They were behind schedule. They wondered if things were going according to plan. Something felt wrong, and that tense fear that boiled beneath their feet became hotter.

He sat now, having walked straight for ten hours. Logs had been laid out along the edge of the village center as benches and their moss covered bark turned up like cushions. To a weary Wu Hong it was a respite for his feet as he sat rubbing them. They were black with dirt and other filth and they throbbed dully and ached under him. Pressing his fingers into the bottom of his foot he looked around, watching the still unmoving scene of the village square. Small groups of people stood around, mostly soldiers, their rifles hanging from their backs. They watched small groups of villagers move about, and they them.

As he sat, someone spoke up behind him. Hong jumped. “You doing anything, soldier?” said a dry voice. He looked up and behind, standing over him was one of the company medics, broad shouldered and dour.

“No.” Hong answered.

“Good, I need you. Come with me.” he motioned, walking away. Hong immediately shot up and scrambled after him.

“Where are your boots?” the medic asked.

“At my bunk.”

“Why are they there?”

“My feet were getting sweaty.”

“How are your feet now?”

“Fine.”

The medic nodded. He lead him up the steps of a faded gray house and opened the doors for him. “Can you wash your hands before we do anything?” he asked.

“Sure, but- what are we doing?” Hong asked hesitantly.

“Need your help on a patient. There's a pot of warm water over there.” the medic motioned, pointing him towards a pot over a stove. Faint ropy strands of steam lazily rose from the water. The stove itself was dead.

Pensively, Hong watched the medic walk off into another room. The doorway was a simple sheet nailed on the frame. With tentative nervous steps he went to the stove and dunked his hands in the water. It was scalding and he recoiled back and rubbed his arms. The skin glowing red well passed the wrists. Cringing, he braced to plunge his arms in again, and vigorously rubbed his hands together as he splashed his arms into the water again.

Before he could boil his arms he pulled them out and shook off the hot droplets. The sensitive skin burned as the cold air touched it, and the wash evaporated from his skin. Both hot and cold. From the backroom came the medic again who followed suit in plunging his hands in. “Make sure to keep them up, don't touch anything.” he told Hong as he was about to lower them down to his legs. He froze and held them up and the medic finished.

“Follow me.” the medic said in a flat tone, and led him into the backroom. Arms raised. Hong mimicking him as he walked with his hands raised and as he walked through the curtain, bowing low backwards so the fabric did not touch his hands.

In the room beyond a wide number of lanterns had been positioned about, filling it with a warm orange light. The windows were thrown open and on a table that must have been salvaged from the kitchen lay a young man, his head resting on a pillow. His face was pale and sickly, and there was a greenish tint to his complexion. Two other men stood in the room, another medic and a soldier who stood next to the table speaking in hushed Russian to the villager on the table. He looked to be passing in and out of consciousness.

A set of surgical instruments lay on an end table pulled up nearby with the steel of the tools wrapped up inside shining in the warm and cool light of lantern and late summer sun. The other medic noticed Hong and his fellow doctor step in and he began speaking, “We're low on sedatives and could not appropriate anything extra.” he said, “The man here has a swollen gallbladder which we need to remove. Glad you could help us.”

Hong felt his face go pale, finally realizing what he was here to do. “I was never told.”

“Never the less you're here.” the other medic said, “We got the patient drunk on vodka, or as much as we feel is going to be safe. It's the least we can do to try and dull the pain but we need someone to help hold him down. Grab his feet, please.”

Hong looked about. The other man there was taking up a position at the patient's head and grabbing his arms held them back against his brow and put his weight down, wrapping his fingers up with his. Hesitantly, Hong went to the feet and held tight.

With a nod the two medics looked at each other and began. Using a stick they pulled up the patient's shirt, revealing his bare stomach. There was a sickly bulge on his side. The man groaned as they swabbed alcohol against his skin. In anticipation the patient began to squirm and Hong had to tighten his grip against his legs. The other medic himself put his weight down on his torso and hip and helped hold him steady.

Before the scalpel could be put to the skin he spoke up, his voice slurred. “Wait- wait.” said the soldier at his head, “He wants something to bite down on.”

“Right.” said the medic, scalpel in hand and about to cut the side of his stomach open. His partner looked around, and producing a small steel hook from his pocket leaned over to a bed in the corner of the room and picked up a leather belt that had been thrown on the foot. He held it over the intoxicated Russian, who already sweating took it and bit down. He nodded to continue, and Hong saw his eyes for the first time. They were blue, and afraid. Very afraid. Very much in pain.

Satisfied, the medics began their work. Without hesitation the scalpel dove in and at the first contact the Russian's body writhed against their grip. Everyone fought to hold him still as the first incision was made. Blood flowed out of the wound, frothy and wet. “Shit, I told you we gave him too much vodka.” the other medic said.

“Nothing we can do now.” replied the other, making his second cut around the knob in the side of his patient's body.

The patient's screams and cries were muffled by the leather belt as he fought against the men holding him down. He squirmed in pain as he sobbed. Hong looked up and saw his head glowing a hot read. His face boiled with the heat of coals and tears poured from clenched eyes. “Quickly, quickly. We can't let him pop it this way.” said the other medic, holding him down against the table with all of his weight.

The stomach was opened, and the skin pulled back. The operating doctor looked in and swore, “Shit, I don't have the light.”

“Fuck it, find it and cut it. We can't stop.”

He began to search. The blood flowing free and loose from the wound. Hong felt sick to his stomach and looked away. He was afraid he would lose consciousness, and free the man to begin kicking away. He fought himself the way he fought the patient's lively throws.

“Found it.”

“Got it?”

“Cutting it.”

There was a moment of silence from either of them. A snip, and something wet being thrown on the floor. The patient stilled, and Hong wondered if he had died. He looked up as the dark bloody hole was being folded closed. The chest rising and falling slowly in short breaths. The man at his head looked over and down, the medic who was holding him down checked his pulse. “He must have passed out.” he observed.

“Makes it all the easier.” said the other as he began sewing the wound closed. It was only a small cut, a few inches longer. “Made the incision longer than it needed to be thought.”

“Best we can do.” said the other, “Comrades, thank you. You helped us out.”

“It was no problem.” said the other soldier, releasing the man's head from his hands. Hong felt too light headed to answer, and he nodded only weakly as he kept his eyes low, cast to the side at the base of a wooden chest behind the second medic.

“So what are you going to do now?” the other soldier asked.

“Wait for him to wake up. We're going to clean up. But you two did enough. We're going to need to make sure he'll live. I'm not sure we should move him yet. So maybe he'll sleep on the table for a bit.”

“But it's covered in blood.”

“We'll worry about that. But it's his at least. Not ours. I'll send word along, see you two get something. What your names?”

“Xiao Deng” said the other.

“Wu Hong.” said Hong weakly.

China

Heilongjiang

Harbin


The foggy, ash coated windows of the train car reminded him very much of the rice paper windows of his old home. Aiwen Wu sat resting his arms crossed against the table in front of him. It was early morning, and a cold mist had fell over the city of Harbin. Shadows of buildings and shapes streaked passed by the window as the car lumbered its way through the city at a brisk twenty miles and hour. Streaked across the hazy pains of glass that rattled in their frames streaks of rain crawled horizontally. It was beginning to rain outside.

Barely early morning, the sun having not yet peaked. The city still slept and the general and his staff rode south. To Beijing they would change lines, and head north into Mongolia. Stacks of preliminary information sat on the table alongside him for the upcoming inspection of the Chinese forces to launch from Mongolia there. In Ulaanbatar they would also meet with Nestor Yanikovich and Radek's staff.

The meeting to come weighed heavily on general Wu's mind as he traveled. He would have to account for what was becoming a lack of apparent progress in Russia. The fear was that if he could not satisfy them they may complain to Congress, and if the declaration of war was any sign of an alliance they could build the pressure to replace him. The stakes were there, and he still had not proved himself, so he thought.

He jumped when someone took a seat across from him. Seated across from his sat a plain officer. Her eyes a dull brown-gray and her hair tied up behind her cap. “You're uneasy.” she said brusquely.

The general did not answer her immediately, and instead turned to look back out the windows. “You read the briefs yet?” she asked.

“No, Ting.” he answered honestly, “I'm just thinking.”

“About what?” Ting asked.

“Operations.” he answered, “By this point I would have hoped there would have been an effort to resist us. But there hasn't been any real sign of movement by the enemy. They skirmished once with the First Group. What do you think? You think they're too afraid, or cautious?”

“I'm not intelligence.” Ting reminded him, “I'm only your security.” in disinterest she reached out to the stacked binders and began to thumb through one by random browsing the pages, “You really expected to read all of these?” she asked in a conversational tone.

“No one's ever asked.” Aiwen Wu told her, “I think at a certain point they simply believe you if you say yes.”

She nodded and turned to look out the window. “You want anything to drink? To eat?” she asked, “I see the others aren't here yet so there won't be any briefings.”

“If you would kindly.” Wu answered in resignation, reaching out with a heavy hand to the papers and opened them, “I'll get started on these.”

She nodded and rose from her seat. Again Wu was left alone in the train. The clacking of the wheels muffled underneath the floor boards and the car rocking gently as it went along. Thumbing though the files he went over the overview of conditions on the ground.

Conditions had not changed. This frustrated him. He had hoped for a rapid response from the Cossacks but they seem to be keeping their distance. Army intelligence hasn't worked out a reason why, and coordination with the Intelligence Bureau was impossible since they hadn't begun missions, or any significant missions. He felt the fog of war on him, realizing coldly that all they had to go on was what Radek and his men knew, which wasn't where or how the Cossacks moved in Siberia, and where from they operated.

He was under the assurances that they regularly raided and extracted tithes from the scattered and isolated communities in the Russian wilderness, and at times the cities. However tight a grip they had there was in question, and it was suggested that the mayors and local governments were part of Mafiya syndicates that arose in the power vacuum after the czar was killed. That these more urban and more developed organizations answered to the Cossacks.

To complicate matters there was still the matter of the Japanese pilot. The remains of his airplane sitting somewhere in a warehouse being torn apart and inspected. No report had come in on classification or evidence on what his mission was. His appearance on the scene raised doubts and he had been warned by command to not yet engage in the Japanese.

They had used 'yet'. It wasn't off the table. But it wasn't the current mission. He rubbed his temples, feeling sleepy.

It had to have been up to an hour. They were in the country now, the sun up and heating the windows and the dew and streaks of condensed fog and rain droplets on the windows had rolled off clean and the forested hills of Heilongjiang province rolled out around them, breaking occasionally for the odd vineyard or farm field and scattered small towns. But at the end of the hour or so the rumble of a food cart broke Aiwen Wu's concentration and he looked up to see a rail attendee pushing a covered cart his way. He bowed respectfully to the general, and he returned the favor best he could sitting down.

Setting aside his paperwork the general was served plates of steamed buns stuffed with meats and cheeses, wheat noodles and a rice pudding. He was given a cup and a pot of hot tea. The two talked genially for a moment, before the attendee, a curious young man, left.

As he helped himself, the rest of his staff trickled in. Ting was the first one back, with the broad shouldered and diminutive Zoeng Kwok-Keung. The two of them idly talking about a movie either of them must have seen before setting out on the train. Kwok-Keung greeted Wu, bowing and request a seat. He was granted that, and began serving himself from the breakfast served.

“I know this is the last thing you need to think about,” Kwok-Keung said stately, in a high voice, “But I got the letters to be sent to the families of those last slain soldiers. We managed to get them out of the woods and to the base. You can sign them and get them mailed out when we arrive in Beijing.” he was the chief of the general's communication. Wu nodded understandingly as he chewed on a dumpling.

A dark, bird of a man walked in a gangly stride in. His dour face scanning the room as he brushed a hand through short black hair before hiding it again under his face. He made no comment as he stepped in, finding a seat across the aisle from his commander. “Chuyen, here.” Ting said, handing out a cup of tea across the aisle. He smiled and bowed his head, muttering a thank you.

“Perhaps the problem is that we're not being loud enough.” Kwok-Keung said over a bowl of noodles, “If the Russians are not hitting us they may not be taking us seriously. We have to go deeper.”

“First group can't go in any deeper, they're unsupported as it is.” Aiwen Wu pointed out as they went over the impromptu discussion on their operations, “I'm beginning to think we'll have to deploy the second group. I'm under the impression they can get to the river. In any case they're a few hours from the border, we share a city on the border with the Russians, it's been an easy crossing point if dangerous to go further.”

“We're going to need to secure... what was the town's name? Kyakhta?” Ting said, “I know since the czar died their police have been operating with their neighbors, as the reports go. The two administrations are acting as much as one as legally permitted. We could even leave a platoon behind to act as cross-border security as we move ahead.”

“The passing of the 2nd Group in through there would be a quick alert to the enemy if they have communications that far south.” Chuyen mused in a distant tone, he was half looking at the group at the table and half gazing out into the rural distance between them. He looked pondering and hazy, “That may be the noise you need to confirm they're coming east to deal with you.”

“I'd call that the plan, but we should wait for the others.” Wu said, taking a sip of tea.

Two more officers came in later. One was a larger man, with a bulldog face. His companion, a woman had the air of a model, handsome and reserved but with a warning fire kept in her eyes. Hui Jiao-Long and Fu Nuo respectively, operations and the Aiwen Wu's commanding quartermaster.

“Did we miss anything?” Fu Nuo asked as she took a seat across from Chuyen

“Talking about things going ahead.” Aiwen Wu said, “Glad you two are here, we can start.”

“Indeed.” Fu Nuo said, “What's the plan?”

“I think we're going to need to deploy the Second Group in. We're going to push to occupy Kyakhta and push north. What's your opinion?”

“Confirm the order and I can have the unit moved out within the day.” Nuo smiled, “They're getting anxious. Are we sticking to the original plan?”

Aiwen Wu nodded. “From there to Chita.” and let the two armies meat. Determine where the rest of the Cossacks are, push them towards Europe and pin them. That's the battle plan.

“A lot of ground to cover. But we can work with it.”

The train attendant came in again, with a fresh cart of breakfast. The commanders there were served again.

“Radek and Nestor are going to need to know what's happening. I've got notice Nestor himself wants to inspect our cavalry. Are they ready, can they be made ready?” Wu asked, looking over to Nuo.

“Again, I can give the call and we'll know their readiness. Give a time and date.”

“Then let's discuss that.”
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Hidden 1 yr ago Post by TheEvanCat
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Armenian-Georgian Border

The nature of planning in a Napoleonic staff system often took days for major operations. From the minute the Georgia Plan passed its way through the legislative gears of parliament, the military staff produced their grand plans for the first foreign military action since the Artsakh War. The regular Army, currently on their way via rail and road to the Georgian border, was to march on Tbilisi while the Poti Garrison’s officers and its contingent of trained Georgian nationals would meet them there as they approached from the West. These Georgians, loyal to a new government that was already being put together by a diverse staff of government, military, and intelligence officials, would form the nucleus of the Georgian Republic’s new military. Armed resistance would be fierce in some of the urban areas, where the Army was expected to travel through to pacify warlords and militia strongmen. The plan was for them to use their fierce firepower to destroy opposition, liberating the Georgian people and bringing law and order back to the country.

The Border Service, on the other hand, had a different approach. While the Army’s brute force tactics were supposed to scare warlords into surrendering before death, the Border Service’s job was far more subtle. Like a scalpel, they were to go through the towns and villages to recruit friendly militias, destroy hostile actors, and gain the peoples’ trust. Their cultural familiarity, large proportion of Georgian language speakers, and knowledge of the land would let them do that far better than soldiers traveling all the way from garrisons across Armenia. These plans were formulated for a few days, in echelons far above and in offices far away, as the Border Service troops waited, readying to head into the country. What their company was doing and where they were going remained a mystery to Corporal Yaglian and the rest of his platoon until they were assembled in formation in front of the blockhouse at midday after lunch. The sections fell into orderly lines, but they were far from the rigidly disciplined formations of basic training. Troops talked amongst each other, hands in their pockets or lazily behind their backs in what could only be a poor impression of parade rest.

Yaglian’s lieutenant, jaded and cynical man in his mid-twenties from a Georgian village, looked seriously at a piece of paper in his hands as he did most days. Beside him, Platoon Sergeant Ozanian eyed the formation of troops suspiciously but remained quiet. His grizzled face bent into a frown, he crossed his arms in front of him and let the platoon leader do the talking. Nearby, a model of the countryside constructed from mounds of dirt, sticks, rocks, and other random objects had been sketched into the ground. Several towns were represented along with a circle of blue string representing their company’s area of responsibility.

“The Georgia Plan passed through Parliament last week, so we all knew this was coming,” the lieutenant drawled in his backwoods, rural Georgian accent. “The new mission has been put out by higher. The Border Service as a whole is going to spread out into the countryside, and this is dangerous countryside. Most people here are Muslims.”

The lieutenant gestured to the terrain model, tapping at the different villages with a stick he used as a pointer. “We’ve already had dealings with our friends, the Mountain Wolves. Great people. This is their stronghold. Patara Darbazi last month was just a little warm-up action, so we’ve already got one group of people on our shit-list.”

A series of red icons marked where bandit camps had been scouted out by intelligence assets and reported in. The ones that had been raided remained empty, but the Muslims were bound to begin popping up as the Christian Armenian military started pushing further into their territory. The Georgian Muslims were already a minority with a checkered relationship to the former government and people. After the fall of the Ottomans, it got worse for them: persecution, discrimination, forced land redistribution, and arrests or killings rocked communities and forced them further away from the rest of the country. The Mountain Wolves formed as an insurgency against the Georgian government in the Shia parts of southeast Georgia. They had been at war with the Georgians before their government shriveled into a shell of its former self, taking refuge in Azerbaijan when they could. Now that they were pushed out of Azerbaijan by the Persian occupation army, southeast Georgia was their last stand. Armenia’s encroachment into this territory along with a new Georgian government would not go over well.

“We’ve already found key allies for us. Basically, the plan for our company is we take over this area and split the platoons up between towns. We’re going to camp nearby, live there with the people, and help fold the Christian militias into the government while we hunt the Mountain Wolves.”

Ostensibly, the Border Service was supposed to be more equipped for this. They received rudimentary training on law enforcement for smugglers and customs operations, and were trained to operate lighter and more unconventionally than the Army. With a heavy makeup of reservists, many platoons brought civilian skills to the table. One of Yaglian’s riflemen was an electrician: a valuable skill that could bring them closer to the average person if they were trying to build faith in an untrustworthy, unproven government. The Army, heavier and often operating with more equipment and mounted on armored vehicles, had a presence not unlike a sledgehammer’s.

“Do I have any questions from you all?” asked the lieutenant, looking back up at the platoon. He scanned the blank faces and waited a few moments. He looked over to Platoon Sergeant Ozanian, passing the briefing to him. The NCO curtly ran through the details of supply and logistics, routes and packing lists for rucksacks. The platoon radioman’s frequencies and procedures capped off the brief, and he sent them all back to the barracks to prepare their equipment. Yaglian’s bed, in the back, was already covered in his things. A green, threadbare load-bearing vest in a crumpled pile sat next to his taraz cap and scarf. A rucksack, worn down with sweat stains underneath the shoulder straps and on the waistpad, lay at the foot of the bed, top unbuckled and open with a few spare uniforms and sleeping bag all the way at the bottom. Like so many patrols before, he menially loaded equipment and ammunition into his kit. Bullets snapped into the metal magazine, which was then fit snugly into a pouch on the harness. He worked in exhausted silence, eyes closed like it was a substitute for sleep: the last few days had not been kind to him. Guard shifts, patrols, and increased readiness had dropped all their sleep hours. And the invasion hadn’t even started yet.

The next few days were spent waiting. Word came down that the operation was to be postponed for another few days. Something about a train derailment delaying some supply lines. More troops came to the border, offloading from a railhead or the main road at the local town. Tanks, old landships manned by Reservists, formed up in neat rows in cleared dirt motor pools. One of the stipulations was that the heavy armor would remain on the border with Turkey, leaving just older equipment to fill in the combined arms gap in Georgia. After all, antitank weapons would be less advanced if they even existed in significant numbers at all. Trucks with boxes of supplies lined up behind them. Regular soldiers stood and smoked, did their calisthenics in the fields, and drank at the bars in town while the force assembled. Yaglian kept his distance if he was on pass, but otherwise saw nothing more at his border outpost. They ran drills and practiced combat rehearsals, waiting for the order to move out. Boredom quickly set in as it always did, but after all: what else was new? But after all the waiting, the company commander finally received his orders. It was time to go.

Yaglian and his team heard it first from the platoon leader, who roused them up and out of bed at sundown of a late summer’s day. Excitement in his young voice, Yaglian shouted for his troops and got them dressed in a hurry. He shouldered his ruck and almost sprinted to the waiting jeeps outside, hopping into the side seat while a rifleman turned the keys on the ignition. “Are you ready?” he asked, a wide grin on his face. “Let’s go!”

The jeep’s engine roared up and the car hurtled forward out of its parking space under a metal awning. It turned into the dirt clearing in front of the barracks where the company was assembling in the dusk. Men were whooping and hollering to each other, racking their weapons and shouting towards the border. Flags waved from the back of the truck beds, others were draped over the hoods. The drivers lined their vehicles up by section and platoon, in ordered lines awaiting the arrival of the commander. Yaglian’s team took up a position behind his platoon leader, who sat with goggles and scarf on underneath a helmet: an uncommon issue for the Border Service. The commander drove past, rallying his men with cheers and shouts. The platoons fell in behind him, one by one, in a long line of jeeps heading down the road to the border. A guardsman had opened the gate, cheering them on as they drove through. The jeeps crossed in to Georgia yet again, loaded down with men and equipment, ready to stay. In over dozen other crossings all across the north, other companies crossed over at the same time.

The night was quiet across the country as the Border Service moved into their camp sites. The company’s vehicles circled up at the camp site like wagons in the desert, and troops immediately began working from the outside in establishing their fortifications. Fighting positions were dug, weapons were emplaced in a circular security screen with interlocking sectors of fire. The mounts of excavated dirt were used to further reinforce covered positions. These initial positions were all that would be slept in until the camp would be fortified over the next few days and replaced with tents, sandbag walls with wire perimeters, and other amenities. When the sun rose in the morning, Georgian farmers out in their fields would discover a new army of foreigners on their soil. Yaglian and his team had barely gotten three hours of sleep before the daily patrols were to begin. First up on the list: the lieutenant had announced that their platoon had gotten the village they knew well already. It was time to return to Patara Darbazi.
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Hidden 1 yr ago Post by The Wyrm
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The Loire Valley - September 1960
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Gently, ever so gently, he probed the edge of the road with his bayonet. Sweat was rolling down his spine despite wearing little more than shorts, combat boots, a t-shirt, and a broad brimmed bush hat. It was hardly full uniform but regulations tended to be fairly lax when it came to mine clearance teams. You tended to want such people in a comfortable and positive frame of mind when they were doing their job.

"Bayonets. Why is it bayonets? You'd think with all the fucking technology we have running around in the fucking desert right now they'd have some useless fucking way of finding fucking mines that don't involve us fucking poking them. Fuck!"

The tirade came from further down the road and, though it was a common refrain, no one rose to the bait of once again debating the merits of other types of mine clearing tools. They were of course the heavily armoured tanks with chain flails on the front, but those blew the mines up, meaning the road would then have to be repaired. Metal detectors worked great for metal mines, but this region of France had been sown with plastic mines near the end of the war. Fucking great.

The tip of his bayonet struck something solid and he froze. Nothing clicked or whirred. Stupid really, of course nothing did, but one always expected it to. The only sounds were the slow scrapping of other bayonets, the continued grumbling of a soldier here or there, the buzz of the cicadas in the heat. He breathed a small sigh of relief as nothing happened and then began to slowly dig out around the object.

The roadway verge was all gravel and shot through with short spikey grass that had to be carefully dug away. If the mine was an anti-personnel one he would set a small charge, clear everyone away and blow it. They didn't make much of a hole and could quickly be repaired with a basket of gravel from a nearby dump truck. If it was an anti-tank mine... Well, they would have to dig it out by hand and then carefully move it off into the dith before blowing it up. Not a fun task, but one that should be perfectly safe for a man to do, unless of course there was an anti-personnel mine buried beneath that mine, in which case, you wouldn't even know you'd died, and probably killed a half dozen buddies as well. It was a thankless job, but it paid well enough and the French countryside was beautiful this time of year. There were worse places to die. Algeria for example.

More scrapping revealed a curved plastic casing painted a drab green colour. He breathed a little easier when he saw a yellow tab appear. It was an anti-tank mine. At least it wouldn't just explode from him moving the dirt off it. He began to work a little faster, clearing away rubble before remembering to set his flag. He paused, pulling a small yellow flag from his rucksack where it sat nearby, a dragonfly zipping away as he disturbed its rest. He planted the flag next to the mine.

"Anti-tank!"

A chorus of acknowledgements came from around him. Already a small forest of flags were scattered along the roadway behind his platoon. Their job was to find the mines and mark them. The platoon coming behind would have to remove them. No one could agree on which job was worse.

Nearby, boot heels propped on the flipped down windshield of his Viasa, the dishevelled looking company officer looked up from his lunch. He was as dirty and bearded as the rest of his company but none of them begrudged him taking a break. He was one of the "good ones". He worked hard, he dug for mines, and he never asked them to do something he would not. He was the last man to eat that day so they would save some good natured ribbing for another time.

The sound of an approaching engine brought the hundred or so heads up quickly as hands reached for weapons. Nominally they were in Spanish territory but the Warlords who inhabited parts of France there days didn't necessarily see it that way.

They relaxed as another Spanish Viasa roared into view, two men inside. The driver was clean shaven, his uniform neatly pressed, and his beret perfectly formed, but he was nothing compared to the vision who rode next to him in immaculate dress uniform and rakishly cocked hat.

"Fuck..." They all heard the company commander swear as he swung his tired feet down from the hood of his vehicle to watch the new arrival. The young soldiers in his company had quickly learnt that there were two basic types of officers in the Spanish army. The first, and their favourite, were those who had worked their way up through the ranks and so been promoted since Delgado seized power. Men who knew their trade and were damn good at it.

The second, and far less popular group, where the young men who had gone through the Military Academy under the King and thought they had a right to lead men. Some certainly made good officers, but enough of them were so useless as you'd notice.

The Viasa came to a halt, a dust cloud drifting over the silently watching Engineers as they glowered at the newcomers. The newly arrived officer sprang from his vehicle and walked purposely toward the small cluster of vehicles that served as the companies moving headquarters. They could see from the silver on his cuffs that he was a Captain, and a very junior one judging by his age. Granted the men who watched him from the ditch were not much older, but they had seen combat and looked like it.

"I'm looking for Captain Valentina." Even the mans tone was cultured. Probably from Madrid. Fuck.

"That would be me." Valentina, still sitting on the edge of his Viasa raised a hand slightly without bothering to get up.

"Captain Diego." The new arrival extended his hand and, after a pause, Valentina shook it.

"My fellows will be coming up to relieve you in a day or two and I thought I ought to take a look around."

"Hope in," Valentina jerked his head at the other side of his jeep. "I'll give you the grand tour."

He didn't bother to issue any orders to his men as the Viasa rumbled to life. The Sergeants knew how to do their jobs and the men wouldn't begrudge him taking a drive.

The immaculate Captain Diego didn't hesitate as he sat in the dust covered seat. He glanced at Valentina, eyeing his dishevelled appearance then a sly grin crossed his face. He quickly stripped off his cap and jacket, tossing them into the back of the vehicle before rolling up his sleeves.

"Godamn I love the Engineers."

Valentina laughed, shifted the Viasa into gear and turned the vehicle back down the road.
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"Have you been to La Zona Roja before?" Valentina asked. He was sitting on the hood of the Viasa, a bottle of beer held loosely between two fingers as he stared out over the countryside.

"Nope. Never been out of Spain before." Diego took a drink of his own beer. His shirt was soaked with sweat and he had lost his tie and rolled up his pant legs.

"It's a weird damn place. Warlords, Communists, Anarchists, Republicans, Nationalists, Bonapartists, the Junta, and us. Everyone trying to carve out their piece. Language is an issue, Italian, Spanish, French obviously, German, English, and so on. What a cluster fuck."

"And yet here we are..."

"Yea, here we are. Slowly clearing years of unexploded ordnance, clearing mines, and getting into running gun battles with warlords and standard bandits because the Junta government are to fucked up to sort their own shit out.

"Bandits?"

"Yes, no shortage of them. We are well protected enough being an army unit. The main railway is running well into Bordeaux and Marseille at the moment. There are some smaller regional ones working as well but nothing north of the Loire River. At the moment, it's pure chaos. The Junta is useless. The old King set it up so it didn't look like he took over. French police, French uniforms, French government, etc. I don't see Delgado putting up with it very long, he seems short on patience for bullshit." Valentina drained his beer and reached for another.

"Sounds promising..." Diego muttered. He too finished his beer and took the last from the case, looking at it ruefully for a moment before removing the cap with his knife. "It looks strange to me. The blue roofed houses, the very very French Chateaus."

"Funny you mention that, we're billeted in that one down there." Valentina pointed down into a nearby valley where a pair of blue roofed turrets flew a Spanish flag. "It's comfortable, even with a hundred or so of us. You'll have your own room. I took a small one and the lads are sharing the larger rooms."

"I like it." Diego was nodding slowly. It was vastly different than Spain. The heavy lush forest still rich with old growth trees was like nowhere in their homeland.

"Well, make sure you watch your step when you wander into the woods. Much of the unexploded shit around here is ours from The Intervention back in the day."

Diego nodded. His father had been serving with the Royal Dragoons when France collapsed and the Spanish government had been "invited" to send troops north of the Pyrenees to crush help Communist forces. It was like a reversal of the 18th Century. The Spanish found France weak and helpless, so they had stayed.

A local saying was commonly heard, "The Spanish came for the Communists and stayed for the food." Intense fighting had taught the Spanish military some hard lessons already learnt by other nations who had a stake in the Great War. Several thousand war dead had been a bitter pill to swallow for a country that never officially went to war.

"Reap what you sow eh?" Diego said with a sigh as he drained his beer.

"Heh. Yes, exactly." The two men lapsed into silence again as the sun began to touch the distant horizon. The great tree's turned a deep green and the air took on that sharp cool smell that always came with the end of the day. It went unsaid, but both men were very glad they had not been shipped to Algeria.

Down below them a long line of grey painted trucks rumbled toward the Chateau. The rest of the platoon was coming in for the night. The roadway they had cleared so far would be carefully watched by the Military Police to ensure no one snuck back in to rebury anything. A helicopter had even clattered its way overhead an hour before, forever looking like it was about to drop out of the sky.

"Well, we'd best get in for the night. The locals hereabouts aren't always friendly. I would say we should be alright but believe me, when we're on our way, you don't trust the Frenchies at all. The local police are corrupt as all hell. They'll steal your Visasa themselves if you leave it unattended." Valentina sighed as he stood and stretched his arms above his head.

"Sounds like a great place to work." Replied Diego with a trace of sarcasm.

"Buddy, believe me, we both know there are far worse places to be."
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Hidden 1 yr ago Post by Dinh AaronMk
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Kazakhstan


The early morning sunrise back lit the mountains, standing dark against the lemon yellow and grapefruit red sky of the distance. Standing among the goats, Guo and Chao leaned on sticks. They had traveled far, and often not in straight lines. Across the expanse of Kazakhstan and back again, over rivers and through its great plains. They felt its lush grasses go cold and hard as a brisk frozen wind blew from the north. They could feel it dig into them, deep into their flesh. Dressed in furs and thick coats they could both look at one another and agree: they no longer appeared Chinese. They looked like the Kazakhs. Their faces may not be as blunt, but their faces were darkened by a sun whose rays were growing colder and their hands dirtied with dirt and blood and grease and shit.

Chao sighed, leaning forward. Guo looked aside at him. “Thinking about home?” he asked.

“When was the last time you had morning tea?” he asked, his voice distant.

Guo thought for a while. When was the last time he had tea? He ran his fingers through his course beard and shrugged. “I don't fault these people. Fermented milk is fine and all. What do you think?” said Chao.

“It makes me sick.”

Chao laughed, “I know. It makes me feel ill too.”

“What do you suppose they do with it?” Guo asked.

It was Chao's turn to shrug now. “I can't stop thinking about it though, Guo. The fresh smell of a cup of dark oolong. Served with rice porridge. Shit, friend; I never thought of rice porridge so well.”

“I understand you.” Guo added, “After so long out here, I don't know if I can eat any more dried meat.”

“I want to hear birds again too.” Chao continued, “I haven't heard birds in so long. Here, it's been the wind and the crickets. A crow sometimes. But where are the songbirds? The goose? The duck?”

“No one thought to bring them here, I suppose.”

“A canary song would be nice.”

There was a sound from behind them, a shout. The two turned to see who it was and saw the old patriarch of the group they were traveling with. He looked out over the herd of sheep and goats at them from darkened eyes in a sun and wind beaten face. His balding head was covered in a cap, and his beard was heavy and silver on his face. With a dry voice he spoke at them, trying to navigate the language gap with the few words both parties knew. “I think we have this finished.” he said in grunting tones as they two waded through the animals to him.

As they made their approach, the old man reached into his coat and produced two small green books. Each of them took one and looked down at it. As well as could be, the emblem of Kazakhstan, or something was printed on them. “Passes.” the old man said, “No real, yes-no work.”

The two looked at each other and down again at their books. The opened them up and realized they resembled passports, sans photo ID. In it was written information, by hand in the Russian script. Looking at them the old man reached for Guo's passport and looked at it. “You, Nogai.” he said with a firm smile, and to Chao, “Oleg.”

Guo and Chao both nodded. “Where?” asked Chao.

“Away!” the old man declared, smiling and laughing. “Er-ah... Awğanstan, Parsi. Er- no Parsi. Yes-no good Parsi.” he added thoughtfully.

“Maybe?” Guo asked Chao, a ponderous look on his face. Chao shrugged.

“Go Parsi.” the old man said, definitively, “No good.”

The two looked puzzled at the old man, and he looked at them screwing up his face. He took the passports from them quickly and briefly checked, then handed them back real quick. He looked at them for a long moment as they processed it, and he repeated the process. A flash of illumination lit up the back of their minds, and they realized what he was saying. “Good, good.” Chao bowed.

“Yes, yes!” the old man said, laughing, “Good be, er- ah, Mafiya aq.”

“Mafiya? Who?” asked Chao.

He could see the old man's expression darkened. Mumbling, he rose his arms like he was holding a good and pantomimed shooting them. Then shot forward with sudden speed and began sticking his hands into their pockets.

“Mafiya? Like highway bandits?” Chao asked.

The old man didn't understand what he was saying, and looked at him flatly, holding out his hands in a confused expression. Thinking quickly, Chao held out his hands in the shape of a gun and in a demanding tone asked for money, “Aqsa! Aqsa!

He came to clarity, and nodded grimly. “Yes. Yes.” he said.

“What is it?” Guo asked.

“I guess we need to keep an eye out for this Mafiya. Sounds like they're highway men.”

“I see, I see.”

Turning away from them, he said something in Kazakh. He looked back at the pair as he hobbled away, waving a hand to encourage them to follow.

Through the camp they went, and to the flap on a yurt in the middle. Inside, a warm fire crackled and the smell of the burning dung filled the air. An old woman sat to one side, spinning wool. She looked up as she worked. With her were some younger girls who tiredly went about helping the slow task. They looked over but otherwise kept their eyes low. The old man, crouching low lead the two Chinese youths to a wooden chest on one side and he began to look through it. The two squatted down besides him as he went, and he pulled out a folded map. In the soft light of the fire he showed them the map of the country, it was decades old and covered in faded Russian.

With a finger he pointed to a rough spot somewhere to the right of the middle of the country, southward. “Here.” he said bruskly. He moved his finger east-ward, until it landed on a city closer to the border with China. “Almaty. Poezd. Err, choo-choo.” he ran his finger south into Afghanistan. “Kabul.”

“So we have to go to Astana, and take a train to Kabul.” Chao said, “And then what?”

He was mostly talking to himself as he reached for the map. The old man let him take it, and carefully he laid it on the fur carpeted rug and looked over it. What made it worse for him was that he knew no Russian. He narrowed his eyes, studying the lines on the map. “I suppose into Pakistan, and... a boat?” he mused.

Guo leaned over and looked down at the chart of central Asia, “We might have to. But how?” he asked.

“Aqsa?” Chao asked the old man carefully as he looked up at him, handing over the map.

The old man looked thoughtful and looked over to his wife spinning on the far side. She returned to him a blank if unhappy look. He spoke low to himself, running his fingers through his beard. Chao and Guo both could feel the tension in their chest build.

With a low sigh, the tension was released as the man reached into the chest and produced a handful of rubles. He looked doubtful if they'd even work as currency. But all of them looking over at the woman at the spinning world as she made a soft tsk-tsk noise told them that's what they'd have to accept. Chao took the money and pocketing it, thanking the old man profusely for his gift and his help.

The two were about to say their good byes before the old man stopped them. His dire expression told of an urge for caution. “Sarbazdar,” he said, again mocking holding a rifle, “er, soldaty.” he corrected in Russian. He looked at them, hoping they would understand.

They didn't.

Fixing his face he straightened his back and his shoulders and began to briefly sing a verse from some marching song, while still pretending to hold a rifle to his chest. “Sarbazdar, soldaty.” he repeared.

“He must be talking about soldiers.” Guo said in a low voice.

“I think so too.” Chao responded, and turning to the old man said in their adhoc pidgin, “Thank you.”

The Dragon Diaries


Li Chao

September 12th, 1960. Sunday. Year of the Metal Rat

It's been over a month now and I'm feeling restless. In this time we've tried to build some kind of communication with the people here. Our abilities to do that much are feeling sorely lacking and every moment we take trying is a feat of mental gymnastics. All the same, some of them are willing to meet in the middle and both they and we have learned a smattering of words. At this moment writing this, I think we can do it.

But I'm feeling restless. My back aches. I've seen enough of this country, I want to leave it. I feel if I were to remain for long then I would be inclined to go home. But I still want to press on. It's one or the other. So I asked who I think is this band's leader, I suppose. The older man, the grandfather perhaps or some older patriarch. He took to trying to learn a few words well. He's not perfect, but it's doable. It's a shame neither of us know enough because I would surely like to speak more. There's an air about him, and a way he holds himself that leads me to believe he's done much more than herd goats and sheep around the steppe. I think it'll take him a few days, but he seems to know what to do to move us along. The time we spent working here I think we both know is more than payment enough for whatever he can do to send us along.

But what do I think of these people? This country? It feels so far behind the world. Like crossing into the steppes let us out into an ancient world. That going down that river took us back in time. It is still fortunate we did, because we may have never crossed it. But the starkness these people live in, it's amazing. There is not so much a radio among them. I doubt they have seen an automobile in decades. There's an awareness of civilization with them, but I'm still surprised, even living among them for as long as we have been that anyone could be so detached.

But I can't say anything for the developed parts of the country here. I have not seen it.

Yet, besides the harshness and the ancient barbarity of these people there's a solidarity between them. No one man could live in this country on their own. The strength of these people as a group is inspiring. It reminds me of home, and leaves me with guilt that I am so outside of it. Maybe someday.
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OOC: With European history recently rewritten, this is a new Spanish history as a number of existing Spanish posts and storylines have been drastically affected by the new "Red Zone".

This post has been reviewed and approved by @Dinh AaronMk

The Spanish Empire - History Reimagined


The First World War was the catalyst for the rebirth of the Spanish Empire. Balancing a precarious diplomatic tightrope, they promised everything and yet delivered nothing, in finest Spanish style. Industry flourished as both sides sought Spanish goods and materials to fuel their own war machines.

When the the Great War finally came to a close Spain emerged from the cloud of war staunchly neutral and the most powerful nation in Europe. As the only major surviving European economy still intact, Spain soon saw massive economic success. Perhaps not surprisingly this brought unrest among the peasants in the countryside as they demanded their share of the new prosperity. Prosperity that had somehow made its way into the coffers of the wealthy landowners and failed to trickle down to those who had actually done the work.

Violence broke out in several regions, notably Catalan and Andalusia. The Conservative Government ordered troops deployed to quell the uprisings when local police forces refused to engage with the protestors which only served to fuel their determination to get what was owed to them. Soldiers deployed across the country as the Government screamed for drastic measures to be taken. It looked as though Spain would follow in the steps of other post-war European powers and shed the blood of its own people.

In a move that stunned the nation, the current King, His Majesty Alfonso XIII, left his crown in Madrid, walked out of the city, passed through the line of soldiers and linked arms with the angry mob marching on the city. On that day, he won the undying love of the common Spaniard, and the soldiers refused to fire on their King, instead turning on their officers and, in some cases, shooting them on the spot.

The King immediately ordered the military leadership, and the Government, arrested for trying to destabilize the regime. Some shots were fired between the Guardia Civil and Royalist army units loyal to the King as soldiers stormed Parliament and military headquarters. Two Guardsmen were killed and the rest surrendered when the Royalist forces brought up artillery.

Hundreds of millions of peseta were "donated" by wealthy landowners when given the choice between making the donations, or losing everything. The money was poured back into the country by the King, who quickly became the most popular leader in the last century. So popular in fact that he dissolved the Parliament and few said a word, he replaced military leaders with those loyal to him and nary a peep was heard, he crushed the Moroccan revolt and the country cheered him.

When Communist forces seemed to be gaining the upper hand in France, now a shell of its former self, he offered Spanish assistance to bedraggled government forces. Desperate for any help they could get, the French Government hurriedly accepted the Spanish intervention. Tens of thousands of Spanish troops poured across the border and occupied much of the southern half of the country. The French realized far to late that the Spanish saying, "Revenge is a dish best served cold", was not empty words. Spanish forces quickly annihilated Communist, Anarchist and Royalist forces alike.

The French people, starving, decimated, and bleeding, surrendered with only a few gasps of resistance as the Spanish flag broke out over the south. Further north the massive devastation, the scattered mines, unexploded shells, and so much more, had turned what remained of France into a series of smaller warring city states reminiscent of Russia.

Buoyed by the success of their French campaign, the Spanish turned south. A British Government, faced with another major war, quietly sold Gibraltar the the Spanish Crown. Italian forces, trying to claim their own piece of France, ran full tilt into the Spanish army and a short battle later the Spanish were advancing into Italy. Rather than losing their northern territories, the Italians ceded all control of Corsica and Sardinia to the Spanish.

Then, tragically, in 1948, the King was killed while learning how to fly. His plane plunging into the Sierra Nevada, the body recovered after a frantic six day search. His throne passed to his ten year old son son, Juan Carlos I.

Juan Carlos I inherited a Spanish state that was economically powerful, boasted a massive modern military, and had peace within her borders. As is often the case with young regents however, new forces with their own interests at heart began to try and sway the young royal one way or the other. Royalists, supported by the Catholic Church, sought to retain their current power, Nobles and Land Owners to regain some of their lost wealth, and the middle and lower class were quietly being infiltrated by Communist and Democratic forces.

For the next twelve years these various forces gently pushed, then began to shove, at the young King. Unable to completely trust anyone around him, he withdrew into his own household, leaving the day to day operation of the country to his advisors, the majority of whom were Royalist supporters. Tax reform slowly began to favour the wealthy once again, peasants began to see their rights being chipped away at, and a slow return to feudal ways began.

In 1960 everything changed once again as a coup d'État, led by Colonel De La Cal Delgado of the Elite Cazadores and supported by the Navy, ousted the young King and saw the execution of many of his supporters. A short but vicious war followed with Portugal that saw the use of a new type of warfare that combined the speed of motorized vehicles and fighter bombers.

Then came the Algerian Campaign as Delgado sought to secure a permanent oil supply for the growing Spanish Empire. The Muslims of Algeria, much as the French had before them, learnt of the long Spanish memory as the ghost of the Reconquista reared its head. Muslims were slaughtered in their thousands as deadly poison gas was unleashed indiscriminately against civilian populations and military targets alike. When Algeria eventually surrendered it was little more than a shell of a nation.

Spanish gold is reappearing in former colonies as pro-Spanish factions at long last find themselves a financial backer with deep pockets. While the great guns have fallen silent in Algeria, the intrigues that surround the Spanish leadership continue unabated and a reckoning is coming with various factions seeking to make their final play for control.
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Hidden 11 mos ago Post by Dinh AaronMk
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Capital moves through the world as if it were a living thing. A thing which in consumed by only a single passion: to devour. Its capacity to seek out new opportunities implies within its nature the perpetual emptiness of its soul. That like a hungry ghost, it is on the search for its next meal. And while the men who ride capital might hold themselves as the finest gentlemen of their time and communities they ride upon a rapacious beast whose sole interest is to gouge upon ever greater material and labor wealth. Through the past several centuries the great roiling beast of capitalism has pulled itself out from Europe to seek out its next meal somewhere else, and in the process engorge itself and grow as a mighty, fat wolf; that in partnership with the sly fox seeks to raid the soul.

The will of Capital, thus in its historical process chases, the people of the world through the march of modern history as the chariots of the nobility pulled history at the influence of the divine spirit. Which inspired feudal nobility to grasp for bold enrichment of its kings and emperors. And like those times, a cut of wealth taken and the workers of the world is appropriated to feed the wolf. Since freeing itself from the bondage of monarchy, Europe speedily rose through the force of the new consuming monster and on its back developed an industry to feed it, for on the refuse it leaves in its wake the bourgeoisie take its shit as gold, as wealth. Never mind the destruction of the people it leaves behind in its wake, and the unabashed overturning of the liberties these very same bourgeoisie heralded so proudly in the course of their revolutions.

This wolf of capital, ferocious and ravaging, can be understood as a historical force, even multiple forces. That as a part of its process we can be lead to put into perspective the fate and conditions of China and of elsewhere in the world that came to be table mates to the great cannibal wolf. That in the exploitation of China in the 19th century, the race to colonize Africa in the same century and on into the present, and to the circumstances and the rationale for the Great War, we may see the presence of the wolf, and the reason for its stalking, gnarling, and circling.

For at the end of the day, wealth is not a dispersed thing. It is a concentrating force. The wolf that is capital is hardly a singular beast, but a wild beasts blinded by its own self interest, that in its own ferocity, would soon eat itself. The world and the entire population of the Earth are their unwitting victims. As a statement of mercy even, it might be pointed out that even the bourgeoisie who claim to own the wolves are the wolves own victims because, as they turn it upon the world in search of capital and production for the sake there of they destroy themselves bit by bit. The effect of capital as a whole can not be viewed even as a system by which the sum of all people who control it make themselves universally better, but that those who control it are occasionally cast off from its back and their own wealth taken up by the beast. The competitive spirit of the self interested wolf does not end at taking from those who would be slaves under different historical circumstances but from others beyond that. Whether the form of this taking comes from contractual exchange or bomb, it matters little.

The latest war in particular is not an isolated occasion. The patterns of history which is cut into the fabric of the human experience by the wolf of capital is so often repeated. In the way that America was divided up and congealed initially into an ever shrinking number of colonial parties, so too was this performed in China and in Africa at the behest of European colonial administrators and land owners. So they did, as they did to one another in the Great War to acquire another's profits, and to stake claim. To make annexations for the purpose of finance capital and its spheres of influence. That in this we can find the war's own class characteristic.

It is through an analysis of the global network of capital, in the political partitioning of the world, or the railroads built, that we can understand the super structure of the bourgeoisie-democratic state. That in this relationship, complicated with simple things, the pattern can emerge from the shadows, Becoming illuminated among its context in private property, free competition, and bourgeoisie democracy. From America, to Europe, to Japan, and how they sought to draw the world to their own desires.

It is in hope, that in so far as this can reach, that a realization is had among the tens and hundreds of millions lives lost, ruined, and oppressed people who have fallen under bloodied boots at the expenses incurred upon their own society that the bourgeoisie and aristocracy designed with their barely written and unforgivable treaties, that like the people of France this entire condition can be seen for the farce that it is. That in knowing this, we may look ahead and see at the end the final hunt of the wolf of capitalism.

The Wolf of Capital, preface

Hou Tsai Tang, Wen Chu Ming, 1933


Gently holding the bird in his hands, he took it out of its cage. It chirped contended as it was gentle placed on the top of the cage where it hopped between the bars. Its feet striking notes on the wire bars as it hoped around in the open space outside of the cage. After a moment, it took to the air and lit to a nearby tree where it hopped between the branches and chirped contentedly among the turning leaves. There was a chill wind blowing from the sea, but Hou Tsai Tang paid it little heed as he turned to his garden.

Laying out a straw mat he went to his work cleaning out the flowers. The pedals had long fallen off and the seed long scattered. Now the dying stems of many of the old flowers were a dry gray shriveled husk that needed to be clipped. With a steady hand and a clear mind he went to work as he listened to the distant humming of the cold gray sea. Behind him from the house a radio was on, playing some classical music, something from the new Chinese style; orchestrated in half a western way but with Chinese instruments. It sounded like an old tune, some long ago ballet dance song or something of the folk variety. The long high strings rose the old peasant's song from rural simplicity to a state of rich complexity.

Cutting the old dead shoots and dropping them into a nearby basket he went about the work, as the small canary sang in the trees, taking in the crisp air. Somewhere passed the roofed pergola that surrounded the garden he heard the sound of a car driving up to the house. He did not stop to look up, and kept at work.

He was still kneeling when he heard footsteps approach. He looked up when he heard the familiar tap of dress shoes on stone tile to see a demure look bureaucrat standing in the shade of the pergola, his thin mousy hair combed in a part down the middle of his head. Nervously, the impish man bowed, holding tight a briefcase and correct his rimless glasses as he rose.

“Comrade.” he began, “Do you need- ah, help?”

Tsai Tang looked up at him, and brushing off his hands shook his head, “I'm fine.” he said. He leaned back, and taking a pose like that of the Buddhist monks adjusted himself, “You here to talk about Ethiopia?”

“I am.” the bureaucrat said, walking forward to one of the tables. He paused as he passed the bird cage and looked over at the open door. “It would seem your bird has... escaped.” he pointed out hesitantly. His words moved carefully, tight with nervous contention.

“It didn't, I just let it out. It's in the tree.” Hou pointed to the tree as he rose. Bright flashes of yellow feathers and chirping bird song sang from the rusty boughs of the tree at the heart of the garden.

The man however was visibly unsure what to make of it, and mumbling quietly to himself put the briefcase down on the table and took a seat. He looked back as Hou was rising, moaning uncomfortably from his stiff joints. The bureaucrat found himself fighting back the urge to ask if he was alright, if the grand secretary of the party and the helmsman of the politburo should be working like this. But he held his tongue.

“Your date to meet with the embassy – for Ethiopia - for formal policy talks is in place. And with the opening of relations with the Empire of Ethiopia, and the presence of the imperial prince Yaqob of Ethiopia,” the man decided to began timidly as Hou walked over, “We've been discussing, us and members of Congress – us as in the Foreign Department - what course of relationship our revolution is to have with the monarchy.”

“Shou Shan has said as much.” Hou said, stopping over the table, “I agree, while this is a positive direction we're at a political cross roads. Even if we don't say so directly, our normalization with the government of Sahle Yohannes represents a question of ideological intent. Concerns have been brought up to me by various members of congress after the fact, I've been kept appraised that there's discontentment with the move, or questions regarding Politburo intent for Ethiopia. They want to know what we may pass along before Congress as legislation surrounding Ethiopian relationships.” It felt like old sock to the chairman. But it was something he felt needed to be aired as he squared the bureaucrat in his gaze.

“And that's why I'm here.” the bureaucrat answered with a thin smile. He showed uneven teeth, “Though I realize this is your house, why don't you ah- sit, I feel... a little uncomfortable like this.”

“I've been sitting most of the day reading letters from Beijing and across the country.” said Hou, making his excuse, “So what do I need to know ahead of time?”

“That first of all, Emperor Sahle is a womanizer and decadent hedonist? That seems to be the general character about him in the back channels. The ambassador will up front say he's a gentle and kind character and I won't disbelieve that personally. But his unofficial activities say he's far more than that. His ministers in turn seem to be more in control of the country than he is. Any sort of future partnerships with Ethiopia should in turn be directed first and foremost towards the key ministers to deal with before anything is passed along to Sahle, I doubt he would care for any details. There's no doubt ceremony involved.” turning his attention from Hou to his notes, the man from the Foreign Department's demeanor became less nervous and more dry, as if reciting a school presentation.

“Recently however there had been a, ah- a murder among the foreign delegations in the capital, at the Rhodesian embassy I believe; a couple months ago. This may have frosted relationships with them. With Rhodesia, I mean. To the emperor's capacity he took interest, but for all that we've been made aware of that sort of interest was short lived.”

“What happened with the murder?” Hou asked, “Is the case closed?”

“No idea.” answered the bureaucrat. “It might stand to reason perhaps Yaqob has been kept appraised. He is the prince, after all. Prince Yaqob.”

“I know.” Hou responded to him dryly, walking slowly about the table, “But I don't think this would be nearly as important as one might think. It'll be a boost to embassy security if anything. Though... how many people would be so bold as to kill an ambassador?”

“In their own embassy.” the bureaucrat stated.

“What else, what other news of Ethiopia?”

“Well, the past summer the Philippine embassy announced a deal between them and the Emperor for economic aid, or assistance, or something. It's been described as a sale or a negotiated deal for the export of coffee cuttings and animal stock. It's perhaps even less important in light of all other things the Philippines have been implicated in. The trade in agricultural stock is hardly going to be effective in their endeavors in Vietnam, their war there; you know.”

“Maybe. But has there been any announcements on their intent to sell? It might be funding.”

The bureaucrat shook his head, “No, comrade. It was a very brief public statement made by the Philippine embassy and that was that. They'd be purchasing several cuttings or seeds from coffee trees from the plantations close to the imperial seat. It could just be for their own use, as far as I know western capitalist markets may be trying to predate them out of existence still so this may be a desperate bid to keep their coffee plantations growing. Perhaps they're not getting the same options elsewhere?”

Hou didn't care. “So, what else. I know Ethiopia was over the summer a supporter for Rhodesia's bid for joining the broader African Congress. How did that fare?”

“Not well at all. I'd hazard the emperor lost a little esteem with the rest of Africa by being the guardian for a colonial state to join their larger political body. Sahle, it might be said is no enemy to colonialism.”

How thought on this. Sahle's likelihood of being a colonial sponsor may give the Chinese leverage against him if they were to play the game, a coup or revolution supported by diplomatic Chinese resources on the grounds of building an anti-colonial coalition? “How is Sahle's support?” he asked.

“It's hit rough winds.”

“In what way?” inquired Hou.

“In Ethiopian backed Swahililand Anarchist militants have recently risen up against the local People's Republic. Jame Lutalo, the chairman of the-”

“Yes, I remember Lutalo.” Hou said brusquely.

“Well, after laying waste to Mombassa he's attracted ire from Communists in the jungle. There's news and stories coming out of Swahililand as well of a Christian militant group, lead by a former American. But details are scarce. It's hard to know what's going in most of Africa. It's a land of darkness... Like, like it's people.” he tried to make a joke. Hou wasn't buying it.

“In any case, Sahle we imagine isn't capable of dealing with the problem either because his court hasn't been made aware of it, or he's tied up with other issues. As of recently the Emperor has run afoul of his vassal in Somalia as the story goes. The Emir of Somalia, Hassan al-Himyari has just recently opened a civil war against the Emperor and they've gone into open battle near to the city of Jijiga in the border area between... Somalia and Ethiopia.

“This is also not overlooking the smaller rebellions that have bloomed elsewhere in Ethiopia and were shut down. But the believe among the Department is that Sahle's control of Ethiopia is tenuous at best.”

“What do we know about the Anarchists?”

The Beaurecrat sat silenced, stunned and in a shaky voice read from his small portfolio on them: “Their party is called Watu wa Uhuru, the Free People. They're localized somewhere in the far, far south. In and around the jungles of I guess some town named Kampala, which is near a lake called Victoria. Sometime over the passed summer the Free People were notable for having rid through the cities on horses and bombed the city.”

“Bombed it? With what?”

“Lit dynamite.”

Like Europe of old. “So do we know their demands?”

“For Lutalo to leave?” we don't know because I doubt anyone in the Ethiopian diplomatic corp or papers knows anything. For what it's worth, the Addis Ababa print is critical.”

“Well, we'll have to do with what we have is best. Do you off hand know if there's anyways to launch our own mission into the area?”

“Diplomatic? I think they'd be seen as trespassing.”

“Doesn't have to formal.”

The man shrugged, “Ask Yaqob.”

“So back to their fighting with Somalia, who's Hassan?”

“Hassan's the son of Hassan al-Himyari, a Somalian freedom fighter that fought with the Ethiopians on the side of the Germans. For his credit in fighting the Italians in Somalia he and his family were given title to the Somali lands. He's credited for a great many battles and lead from a very young age. Legendary even today as a dervish warrior.

“His son, today's Hassan hasn't had the test of any major war as far as we can find out. This is perhaps his first major command, though he hasn't been far from the warrior life. Perhaps a member of modern Somalia's Dervish societies, he's considered a strong man and a capable warrior. If perhaps seen standing.

“He beat Ethiopian squarely in their first battle, but that was the first battle of many and there's an entire war ahead of him. We have yet to see if the Ethiopian military will hold and put up a challenge to him. But for now, they just mobilized and may not be fully organized to deal with it.”

“So why are they fighting?” Hou asked.

“Some personal conflict. Probably an insult.”

Hou nodded, stopping by the drying up remains of some orchid as it slowly turned to give way to the coming winter. Its broad leaves were still green, but they were losing their luster to a temperate gray and the flowers had long fell away. Feeling a rumble in his stomach Hou realized he had not eaten in several hours and thought, it's time for lunch, or almost time for dinner. Perhaps dim sum, something.

“Have you had anything to eat?” he asked the man.

“No, I have not.”

“Do you have dinner plans?” he asked.

“No, I haven't made any.”

“Then step inside. I'll see if the wife will prepare some dumplings and we'll go over details. I have some things I need to talk about to, see what you know and pass along some messages for me about Russia and Vietnam.”

“Wh- oh, ah- why thank you for the invite.” the bureaucrat said rather stunned, disarmed at the thought. “But I couldn't, I'd be imposing.”

“Please, do. I need to eat and I can't stand the thought of a guest not eating too.”

“I can't, I really can't.” the man said out of politeness.

“Please do.”

“Fine, I suppose I'll stay for a few cups of tea and a bowl of rice.”
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---------------------------------
Salisbury - September 1960
---------------------------------

Anna Politkovskaya strolled through the streets of Salisbury, her eyes devouring the items for sale in the windows of the stores that lined either side of the main boulevard. It was nothing like what she had seen back home, no stores with great fur jackets, no cobbler offering custom winter boots, no barred windows boasting cheap gun sales. It couldn't have been more alien to her and the last two months had done very little to lessen her amazement.

The streets were remarkably clean. The Rhodesians took such things quite seriously and waste bins sat on every corner to be emptied regularly by city workers. Potholes were filled with black asphalt and she recalled a conversation with one of the government officials she had met. "Tidiness breeds happiness and productivity. Let no one say Rhodesia is a bad place to live."

The words were echoing in her head as she stopped in front of one tall window that displayed a series of dresses known locally as a "sonrok", which literally translated to "sun dress" in english. They were knee length, always colourful, and very popular among the younger generation no matter their skin colour. She had been eyeing a particular yellow one for the better part of a month now and with her first pay cheque in her pocket she was going to purchase it. It would be her first luxury purchase since she had arrived and she was very excited.

"Anna!" The shout came from across the street and she turned to see Natalya Esterniova, her best friend and fellow Russian immigrant, waving at her. Natalya carefully looked both ways before hurrying across the street. Automobiles were common enough to make walking out into the street without looking quite hazardous. The two women embraced and exchanged greetings.

"Finally going to do it?" Natalya's eyes gleamed with excitement. She to had just gotten her first government pay cheque as well, spending a portion of it on a new sun hat to try and ward off the sunburn she seemed to suffer from every day.

"Yes! I want to look like I belong here!"

"Then what are we waiting for?" Natalya laughed and took Anna by the hand, leading her into the store. A small bell tinkled as they stepped through the door. Bolts of cloth covered one wall, completed product the other, the middle of the floor was open with small stools for customers to be fitted. Tall mirrors stood everywhere so that Anna found herself staring at a dozen of herself.

"Welcome to Salisbury Tailors, ladies." A friendly voice spoke from behind a nearby screen and a tall thin black man stepped into view. Anna felt a flash of recognition as the man smiled at her. "Doctor Politkovskaya! Welcome to my humble shop!"

In an instant he was around the counter and shaking her heartily by the hand. His grip was firm, his gaze frank, and his welcome genuine. She felt a flush in her face as she realized she could not remember his name. He sensed her hesitation and smiled even more broadly.

"I am Aneni. You saved the feet of my daughter, Wataida. She was blown up by the terrorists in August and brought to you for care. She is learning to walk again. I thank you." He pressed his forehead to her hand and in a moment it all came rushing back to her.

The Peoples Army of Zimbabwe had stuck a bomb onto a commuter bus in Salisbury a few weeks after she had arrived in the city. The blast had killed sixteen people and wounded thirty more, including six year old Wataida. The young girl had been rushed to the hospital where the emergency room doctor had stated he could not save her damaged feet and he would have to amputate. Lucky for Wataida, Anna had been on duty and heard of the story. She had hurried to the emergency room where she found the sobbing girl and devastated family. Anna had spoken quietly and firmly to them, assuring them that she would do what she could for the girl. They had said they had no money to pay for the operation but Anna stated she would do the operation for free.

Seven hours later an exhausted Anna had told the worried parents that Wataida would be able to walk again if they took proper care of her. She had searched the hospital over for some crutches for the girl and even threatened a stubborn white nurse with firing if she didn't hand them over when the woman realized they would be going to a black patient. The nurse had complained to the hospital director who had simply shrugged and waved her away. He had more pressing problems to deal with.

"Because of you, my daughter will run and dance again. There is no greater gift a man can receive." Aneni had continued to praise Anna and she tried to brush it off.

"I was only doing my job, Mr Aneni. I am sure anyone else could have done it."

"Yes, but would they have done it?" He replied calmly, his eyes searching hers carefully. She knew, in her heart, that he was right. Racism was alive in well in Rhodesia, nowhere more so than when it came to whites treating blacks in the hospitals. Anna had refused to be a part of the problem and even a few months later her reputation for unbiased care had earned her recognition from the hospital administrators.

"You could have simply walked away, but you did not." Aneni's face was serious now and she could see a tear glimmering at the edge of his vision. "You are a good woman. And I will never forget it." His face brightened again. "My store is open to you. What did you wish to see."

Natalya, who had remained quiet throughout the entire event, smiled at the interaction. Truth be told, she found the blacks intimidating and strange. She knew she was guilty of bias against them through lack of education rather than any birthright and she had been working hard to emulate Anna's open minded approach.

"She loves that yellow sonrok in your front window. Been eyeing it for weeks!"

"Ah, an excellent choice! Let me fetch it for you." Aneni hurried to the front of the store while Anna struggled with her emotions. She felt a strange sense of accomplishment, and a good deal of pride as well. She had made a difference here.

"Yes, this one, it will suit you very well." Aneni was back as quickly as he had left and he held it up in front of her. There was no fancy pattern, just a very gentle yellow tone and she loved it.

"Please, try it on." Aneni pulled a screen around Anna and she quickly changed. Aneni and Natalya chattered beyond the screen about the city and how different it was from Russia. It was a conversation they had had locals a hundred times before. The stories of snow and freezing winters never failed to amaze and horrify the Africans.

She flattened out the dress and knew, as she stared at her reflection, that she had made the right choice. The dress was beautiful. She stepped out from behind the screen to face the others. Natalya sighed enviously and Aneni clapped his hands together in delight.

"Oh yes. It is you, Doctor. Simply lovely, it would make my wife jealous to know I have seen you in it." Again Anna only detected honesty in the mans tone and did a small spin. She loved it.

"How much is it?" She asked. She had thirty pound in her wallet, far more than she knew she would need, but there were other purchases to make that day.

"For the person who saved my little Wataida? For the Doctor who showed us compassion in our darkest hour? For the woman who gave my family our angel back? Not a pence will I take. It is my gift of thanks to you." Aneni was smiling again and he held up a hand to stop her speaking. For a moment he struggled with words and then, surprisingly, stepped forward and took her hands in his. Deep brown eyes stared into bright blue. His grip was firm but warm.

"Doctor. There is never going to be enough dresses in the world for my family and I to properly thank you for the kindness you showed us that day. Many have come before us who did not have someone like you to care for them and they will never walk again, never dance again, never know the joy of running across the great plains. And I know we are not the only ones you have shown such kindness to."

Anna thought back over the past month, thinking of all the people she had treated. She knew that she was being given most of the black patients. The other podiatrist refused to treat them. More than a thousand people had come through her small, hot, office in the hospital since her arrival. She had never denied anyone care.

"You will always be welcome among my family."

Anna left the store twenty minutes later wearing her yellow sonrok. She was deep in thought as she made her way down the sidewalk, only brought back to awareness by Natalya who put a hand on her arm to get her attention.

"What that man said is true." Natalya had an odd look on her face and it took Anna a moment to realize that she was staring at someone who admired her. "You are a great person, Anna, and I will be like you. This is my home too and I must work to make it so. If you ever need a nurse to assist you, please do not hesitate to call me. We come from a land torn by violence and hatred. I will not let it be so here. I will be the change I wish to see in the world."

Anna hugged her friend. They were home.
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Hidden 11 mos ago Post by Vilageidiotx
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Vilageidiotx Jacobin of All Trades

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--------------------------------------------
Mid September, Addis Ababa
--------------------------------------------

Sahle woke up, caressed by silk blankets, but he did not open his eyes. He didn't want to be awake. The room smelled like roses, strongly so, overpowering the musty scents of the bordello, though he still smelled hints of the girl in the sheets where she'd been. A record was playing, the sound grainy.

Listen to me, honey dear
Something's wrong with you I fear
It's getting harder to please you
Harder and harder each year


Somebody knocked on the door. Light rasps. He heard the girl say "Âllo" in her musical french. The record kept playing.

I don't want to make you blue
But you need a talking to


"It's Ruddy. Is he here?" said Rudolph's familiar voice on the other side of the door. Sahle closed his eyes harder as if that would banish care from the world.

Like a lot of people I know
Here's what's wrong with you...


There started the soft strum of bare feet against hardwood.

After you get what you want, you don't want it
If I gave you the moon, you'd grow tired of...


The record player stopped abruptly and the door was open. He felt what he knew was his clothes fall on him all at once. "Your majesty, they want you at the palace."

Sahle sat up. It was the same room he'd fallen asleep in: overbearingly French, with antique Empire furniture and thin blue fleur de lis wallpaper. He saw Rudolph standing there in beige Ethiopian robes and a fez. His face was unusually stern; not the way a school teacher might look stern, but nonetheless a noticeable shift in his otherwise placid attitude. Camille stood by the record player in a thin blue negligee, watching dumbly from the corner, her thick dark eyebrows arching. He climbed out of the sheets and began dressing. What had happened? What could happen?

Everything probably, he thought, grumbling to himself.

The walk out of the Vin Rouge was quiet. They went out the back where the Emperor's car waited for him. There were guards with plumed pith helmets standing watch. The air was cool after the storm of several days ago, but the sun was out now. It looked to be about noon. Rudolph opened the door for the Emperor and climbed in after him. Before the door shut, the knot of the tassel on Rudolph's fez caught the top of the door frame and knocked the hat sideways.

"I believe the battle in the north has been lost." Rudolph said, straightening his fez. He was affecting disinterest. Or was he really disinterested? Sahle's heart skipped a beat.

"Do we need to evacuate?"

"I haven't heard talk of it. But they don't tell me these things. I'm just an innocent bystander."

Sahle envied that, and envy made him offended at Rudolph's remark. How could he be so calm? They city seemed to echo this new fear. Were there fewer cars? Didn't it seem the people they passed were more anxious? The police in their booths more vigilant? Didn't this now feel like a city under siege? Even the light in the sky seemed muted, like a grey energy descended from the clouds. As they passed through the busier intersections in the center of town, confused with little cars and trucks and bicycles and burdened pack-animals, Sahle felt the eyes of everyone around. Did they know he was the passenger? A motorbike puttered past, two men riding on it. He imagined they would be soldiers soon. Perhaps they knew it. Perhaps they would die.

The Imperial Limousine climbed the hill above the city. The palace sat on top beneath the shady trees. Guards met them as they entered the drive. Were there more guards around the palace now? Sahle was beginning to feel like a General, and the feeling was all wrong. They led him in.

His mother met him at the door. Even though she was quite shorter than him, she felt taller, even menacing. "Thank you, Freiherr von Lettow-Vorbeck." She said coldly to Rudolph. He took the hint and went in another direction. Sahle noticed his mother was dressed in all black, her dress trailing on the stone tile.

"You need to replace Zekiros." she said.

"I do?" they went inside.

"This disaster is his fault. He did not listen to Desta."

"That is good."

"That is good? We are lost and that is good? We should not have opposed Hassan in that place."

"How bad is it?"

"It is very bad." she rubbed her cheek. "It happened yesterday. On Enkutatash, and your sister's birthday too. It is a bad omen."

"I will not put Desta in charge. If I give him the Army he will make himself Emperor."

"He only wants his money, he does not care about the office. That is a good servant. He does not puff himself up and make simple mistakes. That is what you have to watch out for. I trust Desta because I know he is good at his job, and that he wants the money, and that he doesn't want the government. He is not a threat like these military men, or the nobles. I trust him with your life." She said the last part slowly, trailing off.

They entered the scarlet throne room. Zekiros was there in a pressed tan uniform looking like he hadn't slept, leaning over a table papered in disheveled maps. Desta stood on the other side of the table affecting his patented mix of meek and triumphant. Zekiros' officers huddled by him. Most of his advisors were away, leaving his older doppelganger Telaye, the priest Sisay, and the large-headed Medebew. They looked confused. Sahle decided they wouldn't be helpful.

But like any moment where he felt like he needed to take command, Sahle's insides balked at the task. He wanted to leave this place. Instead of taking command, he said nothing. Things would be handed to him as they came. That's all he knew how to do.

"Your majesty" Desta saw him first and greeted. The others repeated the greeting and bowed.

Zekiros spoke next. "Your majesty, the line protecting the passes at Marda and Chinaksen has failed. The army is falling back through the mountains. We are forming a new defensive line."

"It would not have been lost if our aircraft was in the sky." Desta said.

"The aircraft is deprived of fuel." Zekiros struck next. They were like men in single combat. "I have told you this. Our reserves are sitting in Djibouti, and Hamere won't release them."

"And what are the fuel reserves doing in Djibouti when the air force is located in Mek'ele? That is nearly three hundred miles difference by way of flight. For any craft that can fly that is, if it is given enough fuel."

"It is cheaper to store it in the port. I would have liked to bolster our reserves, but it seems like the money is never there." Zekiros said. He was fuming, his eyes accusing Desta.

"The civil war is out there, not in here!" Eleni said. Her eyes accused Zekiros.

Too much tension. Sahle was getting a headache. He wondered where Livy was. In her house, perhaps, writing another letter to her American mother.

"We will reorganize in Harar..."

"You haven't heard the best part of the latest battle, my Emperor." Desta said. Sahle disliked his tone, but his ears perked up. He noticed Zekiros redden. Desta continued. "Ras Hassan captured large portions of our armor."

"Armor? The big trucks?" Sahle asked.

"The tanks."

"That is a thing that can be done?"

"Ras Hassan did it. I heard the tanks moved forward from the rest of the army. They were boarded, by cavalry is what I hear. I don't know. It could be a rumor. But I know we have lost most of our armor in that battle none the less."

Sahle was astonished. He didn't say anything. They were really losing this war. And what could he do against an enemy that could steal armored trucks in live battle like they were unwatched horses?

"Ras Hassan is a genius, and we will have to watch out for that." Zekiros said. "His father was a genius. It is in his family's blood."

"Do not make him into a devil, my brothers." Sisay spoke up. The old priest was usually quiet, so hearing his voice was another astonishment for Sahle. Sisay continued. "He is just a man. Only a man. If you become scared of him, you will let his legend beat you."

"He has no legend." Sahle said, mindlessly, because it felt like something he should say. He saw the priest's wrinkled features fold as his face went back to its typical placid expression.

Nobody else said a thing.

"We will beat him." Sahle added.

Zekiros brooded over his map, his head sunk between his shoulders. "We will come together tonight when more is known." he said.

Desta looked up at him with predator eyes. "It is his majesty's right to convene or end a meeting of his Imperial Council." he said.

Zekiros looked alarmed. Sahle did too. "My apologies, your majesty." The old general bowed.

"It is okay." Sahle said. He didn't feel like he'd been offended. Should he have been? He looked at Desta's satisfied face and a light flickered on in his mind. He was watching politics. It made him tired.

"You were right to end this meeting, MeridazmachZekiros" Sahle replied, emphasizing the title. "I agree that it is ended, and I will retire to my apartments. Is there anything else I need to know before I go?"

"There is one thing." he heard his mother's voice and turned to her. He could tell by her face that she was unhappy, "The girl Carnahan is here. She arrived just after we did and came in uninvited."

Sahle stared dumbly. "I invited her." he lied. He left the room, his emotions in a cloud. All he knew is he felt tired, and he wished very much he was still at the Vin Rouge.

--

He found her in his room, sifting through his records, fully dressed. He'd given her leave of the palace, but he regretted that now, seeing that it might cause problems. She wore a canary yellow dress with matching hat, and her hair went to her shoulders like red waves. Her blue eyes were wet and distressed. "I heard you went to the brothel. I've heard them talk about it."

"I did this thing." he replied.

He could see that it hurt her. He knew why, but at the same time he didn't know why. He wasn't a regular man. Surely she knew this. But she turned away from him. "I am not jealous." she started, her voice searching, "I know that it isn't my place here. But I don't understand my place. I don't know what to expect."

"Only expect a little rock and roll." he said, trying a smile, making an attempt to sound American, even holding up his fingers as if to snap.

She ignored it and continued, facing him again. "I feel like I'm... like one of Henry the Eighth's wives." she said.

"I have heard the name." Sahle paused, trying to recall. "En-er-ree" he said, feeling the name on his tongue, "En-er-ree. I do not know. It sounds English, yes?"

She didn't say anything. She turned around again and tears started to roll down her cheeks. "Should I be here?" she asked. What was he supposed to do about this? He was an Emperor, not a mother, and he did not know what to do, so he just stared at the back of her head.

"And the war..." she said. Her voice wavered.

"The war!" he grabbed onto this, "The war is no big matter! I will finish the war soon, and you will have no reason to cry.

"I am a little girl. That's what I feel like." she said, sniffing, turning to face him. "There is war, you are a King. The boys at home I dated... all they had were boats..." The more she talked the more anguish played across her face. She turned away again and he could hear her sobbing.

He was still lost. This was a lesson in why to appreciate whores; they did not do this to him. But he had to make an effort, so he came to her and turned her toward him. Her face was half as red as her hair now. "You are a little girl, but this is no reason to cry. I am here and you will be protected. I will win the war for you. Does that sound good? I will be your En-er-ree."

She broke down and cried. Truly cried. And as she cried, he felt more awkward, and his feelings grew dark. He could not make this young woman happy. He could not control his counselors. He could not win a war. All he could do, all he could ever do, was just watch things happen around him.

"I will win this war myself." he said.

She still cried. Then she gathered herself, and spoke. "I shouldn't be here. Your people don't like me. I've heard rumors. What would they do..." she started crying.

He took her in his arms, but she did not feel right there. She seemed to withdraw from him, into herself, so she felt like holding a coiled rug. Inert.

He kissed her head. "I need to go." she said. She pulled away from him.

"What do you want?" he asked for her as she walked toward the door.

Her face was red. Her eyes were red. In the shadow of the room she looked sick. "I don't know. I came because you might know."

She left. He was alone in the room.

--

"I will command the army at Harar" Sahle told them. The throne room was dark and crimson like the inside of a heart. His advisors looked at him like he'd announced plans to kill himself.

"That will not be necessary..." Zekiros said.

"You are the talisman of Imperial power, your majesty. You will not be safe..." Desta said.

"You are not a soldier, you are my son." His mother said flatly. And then they all stared at him, waiting.

Sahle looked at Zekiros. "You wanted me on the front, to inspire the troops."

"That was before we were..." Zekiros stopped, swallowing his words.

"Before we were?" Sahle asked.

"The front is not stable." Zekiros stated, "I am willing to help you if you wish to command from the front, but it will not be an easy task. You must be guarded. And we must bring in the air force. That will be truer now than it was before."

"Do we have any plans to do this? To bring in the air force.?"

"We will try to get a hold of the Djibouti reserves. In the meantime, we had some reserved for the armor..." Zekiros cleared his throat, "The air force can use that."

"I am handing control of the civilian reserves to the military." Desta stated.

"We can do that?" Sahle asked.

"You can do that." Desta said stoicly, "You are the Emperor. And I act in your name."

"You are not a soldier!" Eleni shouted. She looked angry, and that childlike existential fear of an angry parent held Sahle's tongue. Eleni looked at the advisors. "Will none of you say anything about this? This is insanity. The boy should not lead troops into battle. It cannot be allowed!"

"The Emperor can do as he will." Desta said simply. His words were measured. Eleni's head pulled back so that she looked like a cobra ready to pounce. Desta didn't react to this, but kept speaking in the same tone he had been. "However, I advise the Emperor, in my capacity to do so, that he shouldn't do anything rash."

"I am not doing anything rash." Sahle said, "Old kings led mean into battle. All over the world this is true. In Ethiopia, In China, In Russia, In America (he quickly realized this was wrong but kept going), In England too. It has always been true."

"Was true, perhaps." Desta said, "But with all due respect, Kings commanded troops into battle with sword and lance. War has changed. Old kings did not contend with automatic guns and air fighters."

"I do not say I will lead charges." said Sahle, feeling rattled and slightly embarrassed, "But I will be near the action. And the men will see me. Like Zekiros sai..."

"Zekiros is not a competent man! Do not trust him for advice!" Eleni lashed out.

The room was silent. Dead silent. Eleni looked them over "You will not stop this? Is no man here brave enough to save their Emperor?"

Nothing. She retreated in an air of dignity, and left the room, and there was still silence for a time.

"You will need to be protected of course." Zekiros said.

"I have my guard. I will come with the planes. Is that a plan?" Sahle asked.

"It will be done." Zekiros said.

"I will stay in Addis Ababa." Desta added, his voice soft and assured. "Keeping normality is key. And an easy thing to perform."

"His Majesty will decide that." Zekiros barked. He stared straight at Desta, a hard stare. Desta looked like he'd just been goosed.

"I see no problem with the Minister of the Pen staying chained to his, er, pen." Sahle said.

"He ministers your pen, yes?" Zekiros asked. Sahle nodded, understanding. Zekiros continued. "Well, your pen goes with you. Let him Minister it near your feet, your Majesty. Your mother can handle the city."

"It seems the Meridazmach cannot handle being parted from my advice." Desta said icily. He turned to the Emperor. "The continuation of government requires..."

"Continuation?" Zekiros barked, more aggressive this time, and made a tumult. Everyone in the room was startled, but they seen immediately the mistake Desta had made, thought it might not have been a mistake if Zekiros hadn't jumped on it. But Desta was taken aback, and Zekiros pressed his advantage. "Continuation from what? Nothing will happen to his Majesty."

"I only meant the continuation while his majesty is..."

Zekiros turned to Sahle. "It is good to keep men like this close." Then he turned to Desta, "You are not the continuation of the government, Desta. If some deception were to befall his Majesty, the continuation of the government is his family."

"I did not mean continuation in the event..."

"Be quiet." Sahle commanded, and all was quiet. But Sahle did not feel firm on his feet. He was never a man to take the idea of danger to himself without fraying at the edges. He was rattled, and he knew he looked rattled.

"Your majesty..." Desta started.

"Quiet." Sahle gathered himself, "You will go with me. It will be best that way. For the continuation of government... from the front line."

The air was still. Zekiros stood like a marshal statue in a city square, and his face was stony. "We adjourn." Sahle said. He left before they did. Two guards followed him.

"I will be needing a car." Sahle said. Outside it was dark, but it did not matter. He was not sleeping in his vault-like room, alone. He could not stand to visit Livy either, and see her tear-stricken face. But he knew somewhere to go, because this horrible day had began when he left that somewhere. And so he returned to the Vin Rouge.
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Hidden 11 mos ago 11 mos ago Post by TheEvanCat
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TheEvanCat I wouldn't say / I'm "missing" it

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Baku, Persian Azerbaijan

It was incredible what only a few years of peace and progress could do. Since the Artsakh War and the Persian occupation of Azerbaijan, the turbulent border between Armenia and its Muslim neighbor had calmed. Fortifications were dismantled, troops were demobilized, and the ground had been broken on an oil and gas pipeline from the Caspian Sea to Armenia. The real key to economic progress, however, was the completion of the Stepanakert-Baku railway in the late 1950s. Passenger and cargo rail between Persian Azerbaijan and Stepanakert allowed for a massive boom in the Artsakh’s export economy. Stepanakert went from a modest provincial capital to a trade hub, its spokes stretching from Baku to the east and Ardabil in the south all the way through Lachin towards Armenia proper and, by extension, Yerevan. Lumber from the black forests was used to build new developments in Azeri towns, while Persian coal and gas fueled electrical plants in the mountains of Armenia. The benefits to jobs and the economy could not be understated, even if the developments were sure to have the members of Armenia’s hardline ethnic old guard rolling in their graves.

Mikael and Hagop were purchasing a different kind of cargo to take back with them to their country. Every half a year or so, they were the official envoys of the Mafiya to the burgeoning Baku crime syndicates. The dockside shanties and slum neighborhoods of the capital were rife with smugglers and illicit manufacturing. In particular, the Mafiya had begun a newfound relationship with the Afghan diaspora. Old gunsmiths, famously improvisational and resourceful, moved from the Khyber Pass through Central Asia as the Persian Shah slowly opened the country of Afghanistan to foreign investment and travel. People went where the money was and, in the strange absence of war in Afghanistan, the money was in crime. Afghan gunsmiths quickly made a name for themselves manufacturing increasingly quality illicit firearms from Kabul to Tehran to Baku. Police were finding these weapons as far away as Cairo and Athens, sometimes even China. Chances are, if the weapon wasn’t Tsarist or sold off by a conscript, it was an Afghan-made version of a European firearm.

Their train had rattled its way through the countryside, belching black smoke from its coal engine, past the dirt roads and farmers working the fields. Mules carried bales of hay and crops, fresh from the summer harvests, to small town markets just as they always had. It was a curious sight, even for someone who had been there many times before. Hagop had been raised with public schools teaching about the war in the Artsakh, and general opinion at the time was that the Azeris were no more than Turkish lackeys at best. Oftentimes, they were just the “Turks of the East” to people, especially older ones like his parents. Many of them still scoffed at the notion of going to Baku for business or, worse, a holiday, despite the fact that it was run by the Shah of Iran now. The holiday season, however, was over, and the regular workers were coming back from their vacation destinations. Ironically, this provided enough cover for Hagop and Mikael as they rode the train with a crowd of returning Azeris and their families.

The locomotive, one of the many Spanish-designed machines traveling the rails and roads in the Persian kingdom, screeched to a halt as it approached the station. A long blast of its whistle shrilly alerted the passengers to its arrival, waking some from their naps and frightening crying babies. The trip was three hours in total duration, counting the distance of over two-hundred and fifty kilometers and various stops in some of the smaller towns along the track. In Baku, a thick fog had descended upon the coastal city, obscuring most of the buildings that were slowly being rebuilt after the Persians’ four-month siege of the city. Their conquest was swift and met little resistance, but despite the intentions of minimizing collateral damage the Shah’s army still shelled Baku until the last holdouts of the government’s elite units surrendered. The Shah had wanted to unify Azerbaijan’s territory with Iran’s Azeri provinces in the north of the country: for decades, both countries squabbled over claims and nomenclature. Now, officially, the Persian-annexed Azerbaijan region was simply known as “North Azerbaijan.”

With a rumbling of metal, the doors opened and the train attendants called out through each of the cars that they had reached Baku. Hagop nudged Mikael awake and, groggily, both collected their things. They both wore simple clothes, tan and brown pants with dull cotton shirts tucked in and the sleeves down to cover up their tattoos, each carrying only a small briefcase. They wouldn’t be there for very long. The pair exited off onto the platform and melded in with the crowd, walking quickly to the edge of the station. Baku’s old city train station was remarkably Persian in design, a tan stone building with oriental carvings and tall, arced windows. Atop the castle-like building were four minaret-like towers around the edges, and a large dome in the middle. As they moved quickly off the platform, Hagop felt a tap on his shoulder: he turned around to see Mikael hurriedly lighting up a cigarette with a match. “Shit,” he grumbled. “I tried to smoke on the train but one of those mothers with the screaming kids kept giving me dirty looks.”

Hagop chuckled and replied: “You know, I think people are starting to say that smoking around babies is a bad thing. It’s bad for them or something… I don’t see it. My parents smoked all the time in the house.”

“This whole country is just shitty for this sort of stuff,” Mikael observed, looking over his shoulder. Smoking in public places was technically outlawed by the Shah to appease the Islamic clergy that still maintained strong influence in the country. In the outer edges of its territory, this rule was hardly ever enforced, but Mikael had paid fines for it before. “That’s why all the Persians go to Sevan to spend their money. There’s no gambling, no strippers, and no hookers here. I even heard the bars close at midnight. Midnight!”

Hagop just shrugged and nodded towards the entryway of the train station’s grand, carved arch. “I suppose they’re just better Muslims than we are Christians.”

Baku’s cobblestone streets bustled with activity. Merchants hawked their products on the street, demanding Hagop and Mikael’s attention. One particular one was selling traditional Azeri musical records, sending a child no older than twelve to ambush the pair while holding a disk up in his hands. “Mister! Mister!” he called out, pointing to the record. “I have music! Meykhana.”

Meykhana, being a traditional Azerbaijani spoken word to a beat, was popular with the urban youth in Stepanakert. They switched out the lyrics for Armenian stories and experimented by adding in instrumentals with the duduk, guitar, or other instruments. When the kids went to Yerevan to work or travel, they found other likeminded musicians in underground basement clubs. They happened to mingle with, of all people, Ethiopian expatriates who worked and lived in the surprisingly similar religious climate of Armenia. Afro beats and intonation quickly fused into the Armenian-Azeri music, the end result being almost indistinguishable from traditional song and quite unique. It took to the clubs of the casinos in Sevan rather quickly, the drug dens and opium trips warping the music to almost a spiritual level. Young people in their late teens and early twenties would go there to drink, do drugs, have casual sex, and listen to the blended multicultural beats called halum, or “melting.” Being offered a meykhana record on the street seemed old-school at this point for Hagop and Mikael, in the same way that listening to the scratchy recordings of folk music on the radio with their grandparents seemed boring and dull. Pitying the boy, Mikael squatted down: “How much?”

“Twelve manat!” the boy exclaimed, excited. He pointed to the record again. “It’s very good, it’s my brother’s. He recorded this whole thing.”

Mikael raised an eyebrow. The manat was still widely-used in Persian Azerbaijan despite the “official” currency being the Iranian toman. It ran about a roughly similar exchange rate to the Armenian dram, a little less valuable as of late. Even so, twelve manat was still too high a price for a simple record. Mikael tried to lower it. “I only have tomans, kid. I can give you six toman. It’s like…” he paused to think for a moment: “Maybe eight or nine manat.”

The child scoffed. Managing the two currencies at once clearly wasn’t ideal for him or the owner of the stall. But he was bargaining closer to a deal when most people paid him no mind. Mikael reminded him that he could just take his money elsewhere, before the kid shook his head. “Alright,” he agreed. He took a hand off the record and proudly thrust it out towards Mikael, eliciting a rare smile from the Russian criminal. He took it and shook it, then reached into his pocket. Hagop closed in towards his partner, eyes scanning the street to make sure it wasn’t a distraction to get them robbed: a classic trick in the market sections of Caucasian and Persian cities. Nobody came running out of the alleys to steal their wallets, and Hagop relaxed himself. His hand, which had been placed inconspicuously atop the handle of his concealed knife, moved back down to his side. With the record in his hand, Mikael waved the child off: he returned triumphantly to his market stall, money proudly in hand. They continued on their journey down the stone streets of the town.

Alongside the docks of Baku was a sprawl of corrugated metal warehouses built with a labyrinthian system of alleyways between them. Freight doors opened to dirt roads that led directly to the docks, where the longshoremen would hoist pallets of consumer goods usually across the sea to the Turkmen and Kazakh port cities. Armed guards, some policemen but many private mercenaries hired for anti-piracy functions, strolled along the docks beneath the huge cranes and hills of cargo. Hagop and Mikael descended into the warehouses, turning off a residential street just before a trash-ridden alley, where they reached a rusted iron gate. Hagop withdrew the keys from his pants pocket, jiggling the ring until he got the right one. A worn sign declaring that it was private property dangled limply by one bolt, the other one long since rusted off. He clicked through the lock, pushing the gate on its rusty hinges before locking it again when Mikael walked ahead of them. They navigated through the shadows of the alleyway, turning past clumps of workers on cigarette breaks or rolling dollies of boxes through doors.

Mikael counted the numbers on the buildings in his head until he found the right one: 1092. He delivered a swift three knocks to the wooden door, listening for the faint sounds of footsteps. A few moments later, the door handle turned and the entryway swung open to reveal an older man, dark-skinned with a hooked nose and grey flecks in his scraggly beard. A loose, tan linen garment flowed down his body: he was their Afghan gunsmith. The man immediately smiled to reveal a row of bright white teeth and extended his hand: “Ah, welcome back! I’ve been expecting you!” he exclaimed in his accented Persian.

“Thank you, Ashraf,” Mikael replied, shaking his hand. The gunsmith’s name was well known amongst the Sevan Mafiya communities: Ashraf Herati. He had supplied arms to groups fighting Shahist incursions into Afghanistan, other tribes, and even as far east as Indian criminals and dissidents. He had moved to Baku after Afghan police raided his village and found him: Ashraf had paid the judge at his trial to sentence exile instead of execution, so he packed his bags and made his way to newly-annexed Azerbaijan to try and find a way to exploit the lawlessness of the region. His employees got to his equipment before the police did or simply bought his tools out of evidence lockers, where they were driven through to Central Asia and put on boats to Baku. His operation downsized and still concerned with being caught again, Ashraf began a contract with the Mafiya to send weapons over the border to Armenia where the legal technicalities of arresting him became more complicated. Whatever his reasons, the Mafiya were glad to have a cheap source of weaponry and ammunition for their hitmen.

Bache!” shouted Ashraf into the office of the warehouse. A young man appeared almost instantly in a doorway, wearing a blue suit, jacket open, with no tie on his light grey dress shirt. This was his apprentice, Muhammad Zahir. His hands were black with grease, one of them wiping the other on a handkerchief. “Fetch the Armenians some tea,” he ordered.

Muhammad returned a few minutes later with a platter of teacups and a kettle. Wordlessly, he sat them down on the low table where the three sat on the carpet and returned to the workshop in the next room. For the next hour, they talked. Hagop and Mikael personally thought that this was a waste of their time, but they knew Ashraf and the other Afghans loved to talk about anything and everything. Most of it revolved around families, of which neither Mikael nor Hagop had: Mikael hadn’t heard from his in Russia since he went to jail and was subsequently released, and Hagop hadn’t talked to his parents ever since his sister died in her car accident years ago. Both of them had on-and-off girlfriends who knew little to nothing about what they really did, but nothing ever got serious for them. Yet Ashraf proudly made small talk about his two sons and two daughters, and what his six siblings were doing in Afghanistan or Persia. The topic went to the weather, then to the latest football scores, then to complaining about the city’s new dumpster ordinance. They finished their chai and sweets and headed into the workshop.

Ashraf’s workshop, hidden behind boxes of faux-commercial goods, consisted of as more machines than Hagop or Mikael knew about. From mills to presses, lathes to belt sanders, or welders to drills and hand tools. A few employees worked the Afghan’s stations, assembling components while Muhammad walked around to inspect them. Ashraf had made headway into professionalizing the often-accurate reputation of the Khyber Pass weapons’ poor quality: he had entire drawers full of stolen or bought blueprints, and even more shelves with original models of the firearms he derived from. While material quality often suffered compared to the real designs, these weapons and their ammunition sufficed for the Mafiya’s activity. Ashraf led them to a crate with weapons stacked neatly inside.

“Let’s see, my friends,” he said, reaching into a pocket to withdraw circular reading glasses that he sat low atop his nose. A manifest was included on top of the crate. “Twenty-five bolt-action rifles, British Lee-Enfield pattern,” he began, noting a classically reproduced weapon in Afghanistan. Mosins were easy enough to just find laying around, but the Afghan guerrillas had been using Lee-Enfields to great effect since the imperial Russians and British played their Great Game in the country. “Ten shotguns, Armenian police pattern; fifteen handguns, Russian Tokarev pattern; and finally five semi-automatics of the K4 type.”

He reached inside and pulled the wooden receiver of a K4-copy out. The Armenian semi-automatic service carbine had been difficult to reproduce, since the only base weapons were often stolen from armories and subsequently hunted down. Hagop had heard that a thief in Gyumri had been apprehended by the Armenian military police while trying to sell a supply truck’s worth of equipment to racial gangs in the city ghettos. This was the first sample of them that the gunsmith had produced: a trial run. His workshop generally only produced what was reliable and profitable, with little to no special requests. His workforce was just too small. Ashraf handed the weapon to Mikael, who squinted at it and pulled on the charging handle to observe the action. As he fidgeted with the controls, Hagop grabbed one of the black handguns to check the quality. The Afghan put the receipt back into the box and said: “Let me know if you have problems with it. People have been wanting these for a while. More firepower.”

The Afghan raised his hands to mime shooting a gun and pulled the trigger three times. He chuckled to himself, then asked: “So I’m guessing that briefcase has the money, yes?”

“It does,” Hagop answered. “The previously agreed-upon sum.”

Ashraf reached his hand out and Hagop handed over the cash. He popped open the lock to see stacks of tomans inside, to which he began counting. “No counterfeits, yes?” Ashraf asked nonchalantly as he tapped each of the stacks of bills. Mikael laughed at the suggestion.

“We would never do that to you,” he replied simply, now peering down the sights of the rifle at a nearby wall while he played with the sight adjustment screw. “We save those for our lesser business deals. We like you in Sevan.”

Tashakor!” beamed the old man, placing his hand over his heart. He closed up the top of the suitcase and placed it down by the side of the crate. “It seems everything is in order. We’ll handle delivery to the trucks, you don’t need to help. I have Muhammad for the heavy lifting. He’ll also accompany you to the border. Bache!

As Muhammad scurried towards the crate, Ashraf turned to walk the Armenians out the door. He informed them that the weapons would be loaded into a truck following in a convoy of coal-haulers that was making its way to the Artsakh, so that they could bury the crate inside of them to avoid the customs and Border Service personnel. Hagop and Mikael had their passports under false names and changes of clothes as employees of the trucking company brought from Armenia. The trucks would load next to the docks by the coal-yard in the evening time, most likely around six or seven. The Armenians thanked the Afghan for his work, before they left. It was still the mid-afternoon as they walked back to the main road and discussed the work ahead. The drive was easy enough, four or five hours to their pickup point in a small Artsakh village. They had done this job many times before: the Border Service in the Artsakh operated out of small outposts were often bored. There were no Ottomans to fight like in the west and no Georgian bandits to shoot at like the north. Their complacency routinely let Hagop and Mikael traffic whatever they wanted through the border.

In the meantime, Hagop turned to his partner and asked if he was hungry. Mikael shrugged. “Well, I still want to eat before we head out,” the Armenian said. “Let’s go get a to a cafe or something.”
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Hidden 11 mos ago Post by The Wyrm
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The Wyrm

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Mid September, Salisbury
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The headquarters building of the Rhodesian Security Force was a long, low, two storey structure made of reinforced concrete covered over with brown stucco and crowned with a collection of tribal "beehive" style rooves. Tucked back into the forest outside of Salisbury it served as the nerve centre for the RSF as well as the base for all Rhodesian artillery, engineer, and armoured car units.

On the west end, overlooking a fast moving creek and shaded heavily with massive Croton trees, was an open-to-air conference room, all of the windows removable and replaced with screens during the warmer months. A tray of glasses and a silver jug of water, moisture beading its sides, sat in the middle of a large wooden table carved from a single tree. Twenty tall backed, yet comfortable looking chairs, were set around the table but today only four of them were occupied.

At the head of the table sat General Thomas Bennet, the head of Rhodesia's security forces. To his right sat Byron Starr, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and President Patrick Chapell. To his left, back to the view, was General John Clarkson, Head of Military Intelligence. The tabletop in front of him was covered in various files showing pictures, written reports, and columns of numbers. Each other man had a smaller folder in front of him, open to the pages being discussed.

"Generally put, gentlemen, Africa is a bloody shit show right now." He was gesturing to a photo of bodies tumbled into an open grave. "The Spanish aren't even bothering to try and hide the bodies in Algeria. Ten of thousands dead. They even deployed gas against civilians."

The others nodded. All of them had seen the photos appearing around the world of the massacres in Algeria perpetrated by Spanish troops. There was plenty of ire and indignation but there wasn't a single power out there who wanted to go toe to toe with the Spanish right now. Rhodesia had been watching to see what sort of counter-insurgency measures the Spanish might have but it seemed the Spanish solved that problem by killing literally everyone they could find. Effective, immorale perhaps, and not at all a good idea for the Rhodesians.

"Closer to home we have good news, and bad news," Clarkson continued. "The insurgency in our area has taken a real hit since we drove the last of the terrorists back into Zambia. The disappearance of Andrew Walls has helped as well..."

He grit his teeth as he said the words. The entire Rhodesian security apparatus was still looking for the damn man but he had vanished like a ghost. The last confirmed sighting of him had been at the cave in the Highlands but the agent they had on the inside did not know where he had gone. It was infuriating. Clarkson had at least managed to have the mans assets frozen overseas and gotten the American FBI to agree to keep an eye out for Walls should he try to return to America.

"Having command of the skies has been the real saving grace. The communists did get their hands on a couple of locally made bi-planes that they used to run messages and drop guns over the border. The RhAF caught them last week and shot them down. Both pilots jumped and fell without parachutes."

"Any word on the terrorists who blew up the bus downtown?" Chappell asked, breaking in on the conversation.

"Yes. I had a phone conversation with Don Prescott his morning by phone, he is currently down along the South African border. It seems some of the local police down there got a tip that two men had been building "road blasting devices" in their cow shed. One of the neighbours heard of the bombing and thought it was weird they were building those sort of things in a barn so he told his priest, who told his wife, who talked to the wife of a police officer."

"Community policing at its finest." Said Starr and a ripple of laughter went around the table.

"Unfortunately," Clarkson continued after a long drink of water. "It seems they were receiving direction from someone else. So we've got the bombers, the bombs, some extra material, but we don't know who was running them. Prescott assured me that he and the RSB are on it."

"That's something at least." Chappell said and leaned back in his chair. The bombings had been a real scare in the capital and he had been doing everything in his power to spin the story as an attack on Rhodesians, regardless of colour, and their way of life. It had targeted a bus mostly frequented by whites but a number of blacks, including several children, had also been on board at the time of the explosion. It was to bad for them, but for him it had been a PR win.

"That's the end of the good news." Clarkson finished as he turned over the next page in his report. Behind him a pair of bright green hummingbirds went hurtling past chirping loudly, breaking in on the solemn little group.

"Well fuck..." Chappell muttered as he lifted the corner of his file to see how many pages remained. "I thought that was the bad news. Just can't catch a break can we?"

"Well on the bright side, most of the bad news doesn't involve us, yet." Clarkson had flipped his page and the other men followed suit. The South African flag featured in the top corner and the very first picture showed white police officers firing into a crowd of striking black miners.

"Our neighbours to the south making great choices, once again." Starr muttered angrily under his breath. For months he had been working with his South African compatriot, trying to make the man understand that if they kept treating the blacks as little better than slaves it was only a matter of time before you had a race war on your hands. You didn't need a doctorate in history to see how that was going to end.

"That's right, Minister. The latest riots ended only after the police opened fire on the crowd. It's led to more attacks on whites out and about alone, not to mention another terrorist bombing in Joeburg. We're doing all we can at the border to prevent the radicals from moving north. Thankfully, our policy of carrot and stick, rather than just stick, has most concerned parties willing to turn over trouble makers in return for cold hard cash."

"We've detained 23 this month alone trying to cross the border," Bennet took up the narrative. All things in relation to the security of the country, including the police, fell under his command. "Some were nobodies and a vengeful someone just wanted to make their lives hell and make some money off of us. Six of them however are what we could plainly call "bad-dudes". Since they're not Rhodesians, we turned them back over to the SA Secret Police and I doubt we'll see them again anytime soon."

Nods went around the table. The one thing the two white states had in common was their ability to make people "disappear". Rhodesia tended to be quite conservative when it came to "ghosting" its own citizens but had no qualms about getting rid of someone elses.

"The situation seems as volatile as ever, though there has been a drop in refugees coming from SA. I think their own military has something to do with that. They've been concerned about "brain drain" up our way as anyone with the means to apply to our refugee program has been doing so whenever they can."

"Okay, well keep me in the loop then. We're still in talks to buy the Kruger National Park off of them. They're strapped for cash and getting desperate." Starr interjected and scribbled some notes on the paper in front of him.

"Can do." Bennet responded, making some notes of his own.

"Now, the real gong show." Clarkson had flipped through the pages covering South Africa and stopped with half the file still unexplored. "Ethiopia."

"If ever there was a cluster fuck in Africa..." Bennet breathed out a sigh of exasperation.

"And that, my friends, is saying something." Clarkson responded as he leaned back in his chair and looked up at the exposed wooden beams that rose above his head. This was one he had been reviewing most of all recently since the destabilization of the Empire would affect them all.

"The crux of the situation is a civil war, and the Imperial family is not winning it right now. They've got various forces tearing them apart all over the place and an ineffective leader in that Sahle character. He's more interested in chasing girls than running an Empire. I'm not sure either way if his number one guy, Desta Getachew, is a snake trying to get rich, or a snake trying to take down the Emperor. We've had an agent watching him for some time now but I wouldn't be happy putting money on either side of that bet right now."

"The rest of the Imperial family is not in a better state at all. Yaqob, the younger brother, is in China getting his head filled with Communist nonsense I am sure. If something were to even to happen to Sahle, it would probably be in our best interest to try and ensure Yaqob never returns home at all." He didn't elaborate but everyone at the table knew what he meant.

"The sister, Taytu, was last seen in Spain but god knows where she went. The current police state over there is making it hella difficult for our agents to operate at all. One was arrested last week and we only managed to secure his release after a personal phone call from me. That was an interesting conversation to be sure."

"Of all the threats currently facing the Imperial government up there, Ras Hassan is possible the most dangerous. He's smart, tactically clever, and very motivated. I think things are heating up with him and I wouldn't be surprised to see him lay a kicking on the Imperial forces soon."

"That brings us to a question, do we offer to help the Ethiopians?"

No one asked "why". They all knew that if Ethiopia collapsed, Rhodesia would be quite alone in Eastern Africa. It was a stretch to call Ethiopia and Rhodesia "friends", but they were certainly the most stable countries in Africa. Or they had been. It was strange to think of Rhodesia as an island of calm on a continent gone mad.

"General, have we got any resources we could spare?" Chappell glanced at Bennet who didn't have to look at his notes to know the answer.

"Artillery and aircraft only. Our ground forces are fully engaged in hunting what remains of the Communists through the mountains. We're still using a few helicopters for insertion jobs but the majority of our aircraft are resting and repairing. The artillery has been training with their new 155mm howitzers and would love to try them out. They missed out on the brush war due to lack of roads." He paused and then shook his head slightly as if to clear it. "Any units we deploy will require our own troops to protect them as well. So we would have to deploy some troops there."

"The Navy is also still available and chomping at the bit to do something. We don't have any big ships like the Ethiopians but our fast destroyers are good for close in supporting fire and coastal bombardment."

"So, in effect, we would provide a small expeditionary force in support of artillery and aircraft?" Starr asked, writing down a few more notes. "And some Naval assets if needed?"

"Yes."

"Any of the Selous Scouts available?" Starr asked with a glance at Bennet, who shook his head.

"Negative. They're operating abroad at the moment." That was polite speak for "killing people in other countries". The Selous Scouts often jumped over the border into Ostafrika, Zambia, and even South Africa, to hit at terrorist camps.

"Great, thank you. The next time I speak with their ambassador I will hint at help being there if they need it."

"That works." Bennet said with a nod. "What's next?"

"The Congo I reckon." Clarkson said with a resigned sigh. "Onward and upward."
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Hidden 11 mos ago Post by Vilageidiotx
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Vilageidiotx Jacobin of All Trades

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September 13th: Gondar, Begmeder Province, Ethiopia
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Ergete was no prisoner. He realized this immediately, and it derailed his entire concept of his place in the world. They put him in a room on the second floor of the Mesfin's Residence: a building more like a city hall, half of it dedicated to public functions and half dedicated to private. It was in the colonial style, built out of juniper wood and plaster and surrounded by a spacious two-story wooden veranda.

He could walk onto the second floor deck and look out across the market. If he wanted to, he could jump. It wasn't that far down. But they'd told him not to and so he didn't. Not because he was a prisoner; he would have made the jump anyway in that case. Rather, they told him they had something for him. A gift. And he believed them. Or at least he was curious. Fate was always hiding out there somewhere for him, reaching out a hand. His gut told him this was such a hand. So he stayed, and stewed, waiting for his time.

Gondar had the appearance of a town out of the middle ages. It was nestled in the tropical green ambas and mountains of Ethiopia's ancient heartland, dominated by its open air market smelling of spices, and by the stone castle complex that once was the home of the Emperors, so that it looked like a town in an equatorial fairy tale. He could see the castles from here, peeking from behind the trees, silent and timeless. They were in the Portuguese mode, designed for the Emperor by those people when they roved the coasts of Africa, in the days when they were trying to plant the Papal religion in these parts. It was brown stone, rounded crenelations, and the uniquely Iberian mix of Arabic and European tastes. Though the castles stood quiet, the roads bustled all around their grounds.

How strange it was to be here now, like this. This town was his goal. The ancient homeland of the Amharics seemed the most fitting place to rebuild the country in the image of democracy. Addis Ababa was too new, a product of the Emperors alone, no national character. Gondar would be his capital.

But he'd meant to enter it on horseback, an army at his back. Instead... well, what was going on here? They fed him well. He ate meaty wat and drank fresh juice every day, like he were living the life of a Neftanya. He expected the Mesfin to visit him, but the days went by, and nothing was heard. They gave him fresh water to wash with and a bible to read.

Was it a trick? What kind of trick? He didn't understand it. If they wanted to, they could have killed him at the plantation house. They could have thrown him in prison. They could have hung him in the market. But none of that. It was juice and wat. Destiny was here. His gut told him so. But how would destiny appear?

On the tenth of September, somebody important arrived in town, followed by a column of armed retainers on horseback, looking like modern day knights returning to Camelot, but their lances traded for rifles and their armor for shammas. They came to the Mesfin's residence, and he heard the bustle of their arrival, but that was all. He heard nothing of who they were, so his mind wandered. Could it be the Mesfin returning from a patrol? The men he'd seen looked noble and war-like. Everything he'd heard about the Mesfin of Begmeder suggested the man to be built like a priest; a bureaucrat, not a horseman. These men had experienced battle. He could see it in the way they carried themselves. A warrior was vigilant and knew it. That gave them a subtle pride, not like swaggering village boys come back from fucking the town witch, but like lions, aware that they may be attacked at any moment, confident they can handle whatever comes, and completely comfortable with their place in the world.

That night he worried about it in his sleep. Worry wasn't in his nature. He blamed the rich food, and promised himself to eat more sparingly, before crickets lullabied him to sleep.

On the eleventh of September, the attitude in the city changed. It happened in the afternoon as people left the market. There were whispers, and it made Gondar somber. Listening out at the people from the balcony, he could hear them talking about some disaster. That evening, a note was delivered along with his meal. There had been a battle near Harar. The Emperor's army was defeated. Ras Hassan was overwhelming the east.

This set Ergete's mind to spinning. Who couldn't have predicted this? In the settlement after the Great War, the Somalis were given undue power. Half of the Ethiopian nation was ruled by them. It had been assumed by those in power, talked about like it were in the gospel, that the Somalis were given so much freedom they wouldn't want to be independent. Why face the modern world alone? The white race ruled the southern part of the African continent. Might they not look at an independent Somalia and become greedy?

But that assumed all Somalia would ever want is independence. Why have independence when you could rule it all?

Of course, it would never work. Ethiopia had held off the Muslim invaders for one thousand years. This land was God's land, it could not be taken by force. But for Ergete, his faith in God still flickering in his heart like an unquenchable flame, there was an opportunity here. The Emperor was in the way of democracy. Now he was weakened.

Ergete's mind raced but he was still in a cage. He couldn't do anything from here. He needed to get out. But where did he go after this? Destiny hadn't pointed the way.

So that day passed him by. He felt stuck.

The morning of the twelfth of September, he went out to look over the market, and the answer came to him. A girl no older than thirteen, wrapped in white, stopped in the street and looked up at him.

"Are you the Fitawrari" she yelled. She had a pretty face and nervous eyes.

"Yes" he said, giving her a winning smile. Should he be announcing himself like this? Of course. This was destiny.

All thoughts of fate and destiny fled his mind when she threw an egg at him. It struck him in the forehead. She must have ran away, but he didn't see, because of the yoke running down his eyes. Something else came out too, something solid. He felt it bounce off his nose. He didn't see it, but he knew it must be an unborn chick. Why the insult? Was she just a dumb kid? A child of a Neftanya? Or did she know something...

He wiped the egg off with his shamma, and when he did this, he saw that what bounced off his nose hadn't been a bird fetus, but a piece of paper. He quickly picked it up and brought it inside.

"Ras Wolde Petros Mikael is in Gondar. You will be sold to him if you do not escape. You have friends. Come to the coffee shop across from Giyorgis Church after dusk."

This didn't scare him. It excited him. This was the world he knew, the one he was supposed to inhabit. This was the hand of destiny he had waited for all this time

When his captors brought him food, he picked at the wat with his fingers and saved the bread, but he drank the juice in one gulp. Was there anything in his room that could be useful? It was spare, but he had to take something. He decided to take the blanket from his bed, and an icon of Saint Frumentius. The portrait was small enough to hide, and he felt there was a story there, one that could be appreciated by future generations.

The sun began to go down, red light showing shadows on the roughly painted walls. When should he go? He was preparing himself mentally. It would be a dash in the dark, and a desperate one. He still hadn't completely recovered from his time under the church. But he knew he could make it because it was necessary for him to make it.

It was time. He stood up and took a deep breath. Outside, he heard birds. The door was open for him to dash through.

But he didn't get the chance. The door to his room opened and two burly men with knives on their belts came in and took him. It was too late! He should have started earlier! He swallowed the note before they got to him. They didn't seem to notice. The paper tasted like raw egg.

They brought him through the thin halls. Wood floors creaked beneath his feet, and the plaster walls seemed to drink the light from the atmosphere so it felt like they were in a moderately lit cave.

Okay, so he hadn't been able to liberate Frumentius. But something was happening here he could escape from. Being sold to the Mesfin of Wollo meant he was going to travel through regions loyal to him. A break out! Unless they tried to kill him here.

He was brought into a dining room, a hefty wooden table in the middle. All the men were standing, and there were a lot of men, facing each other like brigades on the battlefield. The diminutive Mesfin Issayas Seme was the only man sitting, looking like an over-blown bureaucrat, just like Ergete had heard. The Mesfin looked about forty. He was mostly bald, with thin framed glasses resting on his nose and a noticeable paunch, like he'd never done a real day's effort in his entire life. On the other side of the table was a number of men in white robes and shammas, shoulders stiff, knifes at their belts. The bearded man in the middle stood out in his embroidered cape with lions mane on the shoulders. That, Ergete knew, was Ras Wolde Petros Mikael.

"This is him?" Wolde Petros said, looking at Ergete like a lion looks at a dog.

"This is him." Issayas replied. The contrast between Wolde Petros powerful voice and Issayas thin one made the latter sound frightened, though his expression didn't show it.

"He looks like a beggar. This man wants to be a Prime Minister?"

There was a silence. Ergete was considering his options. Wolde Petros seemed over-proud. That could be a weakness. He might make mistakes

"I'm ready to take you." Wolde Petros added, staring Ergete down. Ergete did not faulter, and so they stared. There was a strange pause in the action hanging over both parties. It was like the cogs of a machine that'd froze up.

"Not yet." Issayas replied quietly.

That was interesting. Ergete's mind shifted fully from the future to the moment. All eyes went to the bureaucrat.

"What are you playing at?" Wolde Petros looked down at the sitting Mesfin.

"Sit down." Issayas invited. Wolde Petros did. Issayas looked up at Ergete. "You too." he said. Ergete sat.

So they were there, looking like conspirators. Ergete saw a slight smile on Issayas' face. It looked like a release, a sign of relief.

"The Emperor is doomed." Issayas said simply.

That was very interesting. Ergete looked at Wolde Petros. The Ras... what was that expression? Fear at first? It became rage.

"What?" was all he managed to say. His men tensed up. Issayas' men tensed up. All the men in the room save Ergete and Issayas were armed, most with knives, some with pistols on Issayas' side.

"I have a proposal." Issayas unfolded his hands and put one on the table. "One" a finger shot out, "You become the Emperor."

Ergete felt a feeling like pleasure, almost a minor orgasm in his mind. He was so close to this. A part of it. He loved it.

"Two." a second finger, "Ergete is allowed to form a constitution. He cannot do it alone but will bring together all officials who want to be part of this. Three." a third finger, "We negotiate with Hassan. Four" a fourth finger, "We do not commit violence against his Imperial Majesty unless he forces us to."

Nothing was said. The room was very tense. Ergete knew he was grinning ear to ear but he didn't try to control it. Wolde Petros looked stunned

Issayas continued talking. "It's inevitable. I do not believe this war ends with Sahle as Emperor. His government is corrupted, they don't have the ability to win this thing. You know this."

"I will not hear this." Wolde Petros stood up. He turned around. "He is my blood you know." he said, then he turned back to them. "You are under arrest. You and the shifta both. I will have you packaged to Sahle like sheep!" His rage had seemed to happen as he spoke, like he had left the moment for a time, and was talking his way back into it. His hand was on the hilt of his knife when he was done. His men followed his lead, but they moved slowly, blocked by Issayas' men.

"I ask again. I invite you because an Emperor will give us legitimacy. I invite Ergete because, though he is a shifta and a cattle thief, he has support with the people in the villages. The true power would be in the government..." Issayas said.

"You are under arrest..." Wolde Petros barked. His voice carried and ruled the room.

But Issayas was not cowed. He whistled shrill like a bird. Men came from every doorway, armed with swords and clubs and guns. Wolde Petros' party was surrounded.

Wolde Petros tried to rush at Issayas, but he was clubbed on the shoulder by one man, and then on the head by another. He punched a man in the face and tumbled over him before he was subdued. His men, overwhelmed three to one, flinched for their knives, but they saw it was hopeless and moved no further. They'd been defeated.

"I will not truss you up like a sheep." Issayas said. "You will be my guest. Your Emperor has done wrong to me, and to Ergete, and to every one of us. Take them away from us." The armed men did as told, and the room emptied with the stamp of feet on wood. Soon it was two guards, Issayas, and Ergete. The Mesfin turned to him.

"I am on your side if you are on my side." he said.

"I am on the side of democracy. If you are with me on that, then we are allies."

The Mesfin smiled. "The Neftanya are still a problem. They will fight you."

"I am surprised you fight them." Ergete replied, "I thought they were your allies."

"They do not like the government because they want to be the government instead. That is your first lesson in real democracy I think. The wealthy landowners are always the enemy of the government, no matter if the government is the King or the people. The only government they will accept is the one where we are all their servants."

"You sound like Chairman Hou."

"No." Issayas took a deep breath, "I'm just a tired man. And I have decided to make myself more tired than before." He took his glasses off, and massaged the bridge of his nose. "I can trust you?" he asked. He picked up his pen and began to write.

"Trust me? What are you doing?"

"Writing a plea to the Tigray Mekonnen. Then I'll write one to the family of the stubborn Ras is my guest bedroom. This is not a play. I don't want a war."

"You can trust me if you fight for what is right." Ergete said, his voice like a drum.

"I don't mean can I trust you like that. I apologize." he looked up for a moment, studying Ergete's eyes. "I mean can I trust that you are capable of conducting a war should it come to this? I know you were defeated in the field, but I also know you have the trust and support of a lot of my people. Mary in heaven do I know this."

"With the support of a province?" Ergete did not struggle to contain his excitement, "I can win the world."

"Well I don't need that." Issayas went back to writing, "I merely need a shield to negotiate behind. I will need to educate you, since you are now my partner..."

"Or do I need to educate you!" Ergete stood up, "I will win democracy for..."

"Sit down." Issayas didn't look up from his paper this time. Instead he merely waved a hand. "Your experiment in democracy is an idea that has met its time, I wager. I have no attachment to the feudal system. So you don't need to tell me every five minutes how much you like democracy."

Ergete sat down, feeling out of his element now. He might have been embarrassed if he knew how to be. Instead those emotions came to him as confusion. "Well, your wanting to make Ras Wolde Petros Emperor... you see why..."

"I will educate you." Issayas interrupted, "We should have an Emperor even if we have a constitution. It is the way of our country to have an Emperor, and we have too many self-indulged lords who would make themselves Emperor if the throne was empty. For democracy you need stability."

"America..."

"They are ferengi and we are not. We do not do as the ferengi do. We are a different people."

Issayas letter was getting long. A part of Ergete was jealous of that letter. Such an important moment in history and he was just a body guard for these pieces of paper? "I am your shield then? This is not a revolution?"

"Call it what you want." Issayas said, "Words are the most important thing. The words I write, if they carry well, will save lives. You say revolution like the word is magical and changes what we do. People call this a civil war, and it creates a sense of fatality, and everybody thinks we are all natural enemies and we must chose a side because, well, we said civil war, that's how civil wars must work. What we have is a failure of words. This doesn't have to be a bloody revolution, does it? This doesn't really have to be a civil war." Issayas looked up, as if searching for his beloved words above the door frame. "What we have is a failure of the Imperial Government to function. That's all. No need for war. The Emperor's job is to keep his court in order so they can carry out their functions, but our Emperor is not capable of this job, so the thing has spun out. But there is no law of nature brought on by these words we use that means, just because Hassan wants to be a great man, he must fight our people to the death. There is no rule that says that, because Hamere noh Dagna wants respect, or Desta Getachew wants money, that they must take their corners and fight. And there is no rule saying that, because Ergete wants to be a beloved statesman, there must be a war in the north or bloody revolution. I want to sooth all the powers, and bring an end to the war."

"There is no rule that says, because Issayas Seme wants peace, it will be done so easily." Ergete replied.

"Fair." Issayas said. He was looking at Ergete now, and that made the shaken revolutionary feel more at ease somehow. Ergete was gaining his feet. "You name these names but I don't know why they matter. There are two simple conflicts. The people against the wrongs in their government, and the Muslim conqueror against the people of God."

"You didn't understand anything I said." Issayas said flatly. "I will expand it. Imagine the Emperor is the Sun. He is at the center of our government, and by the gravity of his office he keeps the orbits of the other great bodies in check. But our Emperor is no great sun, but a minor star, a dead star that hardly heats itself. So the greatest bodies of our Imperial solar system draw the lesser bodies nearer to them, so that the orbits of the entire system are in chaos. The greatest bodies in our solar system are Desta, Hamere, and of course, Hassan. They all have different places, different pulls. And since our Emperor won't regulate them, we must."

"I definitely didn't understand that." Ergete replied.

Issayas moved on. The tired bureaucrat took on a look like determination. "With the Emperor withdrawn from the throne, the important men are chasing their desires without governance. This has been true for a while. Hassan is the biggest threat. That man grew up during the greatest wars in Somali history. He lived in the shadow of the Mad Mullah, and he fought in the latter of those wars. There is nothing else in Somalia, and the Emperor has given him no meaningful task. So his ambition went back to the past, and attached itself to the wars of his grandfather and of the Mullah. Imagine if that ambition were turned to Empire-building? Now, Desta has filled the place Sahle left empty, being closer to the throne. And if Desta was a wise man who ruled for the sake of the Empire, he would have given Hassan more to do than manage a stationary army in the desert. But Desta wants to be rich. Not just rich, but American rich, in a land that does not have that kind of wealth wealth. And so he squeezes, and he ignores the needs of Ethiopia in favor of his specific goals. We know this here. Why do you think the Neftanya are a problem in the north? Because they are the only source of wealth here. The government neglects its duties in the north and let the lords run rampant, so that the wealth of the state can be spent expanding transportation grids in places Desta needs them to be for his coffee. So he ignores Hamere..."

"Who I don't know." Ergete interrupted.

"I am not surprised. We are far from the sea." Issayas said, "Well, and he's lower profile. Do you know what the Medri Bahri is?"

"The coast?"

"Not quite, but close. In olden times, before the Zemene Mesafint, the Emperors of Ethiopia typically ruled to the sea. But to get to the sea you must cross difficult land, and the Emperors always had their eyes to the south and the east, where the Muslims and Pagans ruled. So they appointed a man to rule the coastal march, and called him Bahr Negus (King of the Sea). Now the world of the Emperors were fights against Adal, raids by the Oromo, the conquest of the Shankela. But the world of the Sea Kings were the Turks, and the Arabs, and trade along the Red Sea. So they became, in affect, two seperate realms. The realm of the ancient Sea Kings is what we call Eritrea today. The office was abolished when the Italians started their brief tenure, so the old Eritrean Sea Kings are long dead. But when Iyasu instituted his system of power-balance... which you understand?"

Ergete was interested. "Try me." he said, affecting nonchalance the best he could.

"Iyasu saw the government as overextended after the Great War, so even as he modernized the government of old Ethiopia, he dealt with new territories through balancing two powers. Somalia was an unnatural bedfellow, so when it was brought in as Adal, and gifted with the Ogaden desert as part of that deal, Iyasu rebalanced the system by giving Mogadishu, Djibouti, Assab, and Massawa over to another high officer, and fittingly he revived the title Sea King. In theory, having another powerful vassal the likes of Adal was supposed to give the mesfins of Adal pause. After all, they would naturally be in competition. Khalid al-Himyari did not value commercial Mogadishu over the hardened people of the Ogaden, but that was an oversight that would eventually be noticed, and Adal wouldn't be a friend to the Sea King. Plus, Iyasu had no interest in naval building and developing ports, so he he hefted that to a man powerful enough to manage those tasks properly."

"This is a foolish system." Ergete said.

"It was supposed to be temporary. Until the Ethiopian government was modernized and capable of properly digesting its new gains. It might have worked too, if Iyasu's heir had been competent."

"So this Hamere... is willing to sell out Christian civilization for? What?"

"He's negotiating. He believes he can find a place in Hassan's order if he has to, but what he really wants is..." Issayas smiled and looked down, "For me to write these letters, actually."

"What? Your letters?"

"He wants Sahle ousted. Well, fair enough. I don't respect Hamere's methods, but I agree with him about the Emperor. If Wolde Petros is out, we'll need a new one of course. The younger brother is the next best course, but I'm not sure he is any better..."

"I think I understand it." Ergete said. He was from the peasant class, and all his life the workings of the nobility had always been a contemptible mystery to him. But now he was seeing somewhat beyond those proletarian stereotypes. It looked like the revolution of people, for the people, by the people was not just a fire burning in the villages. It was ablaze all across the entire edifice of the old order. He always knew in his heart that his revolution was inevitable. Now he could see it with the same eyes as God.
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