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5 mos ago
Current I change my status every year.
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2 yrs ago
"You went to the Chaplain, who also kicked you out. How do you antagonize a Chaplain?"
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2 yrs ago
Current status: Bumming cigarettes off of a Chilean guy.
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3 yrs ago
HELPI'MTRAPPEDINALICENSEPLATEFACTORY.

Bio

I'm Evan and I like hard liquor, trashy EDM, and shooting things. On the side, I dabble in strategic analysis and I have a blast working through logistical planning.

I study nuclear engineering: It's basically a sophisticated counting exercise that usually ends up in two ways depending on if your math is right or not: either water boils or people die horribly.

Most Recent Posts

Posted! Hooooly fuuuuck am I rustier than I thought I'd be, so as always, critique is welcome.

I wanted to have a second part to it, about the same length, to introduce some characters back at the monastery. But, I have to start getting ready for a 19-day field op coming up on Thursday, so I don't think I can get it done before then. I'll bring a notebook or something with me so I can work on it while I'm gone.



My boy what're you doing there in the 'ole field? Did a three week FTX last month myself.

Obviously not anything too intense that precludes writing PoW posts in the field *thinking emoji*
Aside from my references of pirates in Sochi and bandits in the Dagestan/Chechnya-ish area, not much of the North Caucasus has been touched aside from the guy who plays a Chechen Khanate.
Yerevan, Armenia

The wide, round table was quickly becoming a fixture in Hasmik Assanian’s daily routine. It was wide enough to accompany, at once, his Vice President, Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, and anyone else called in for any situation. Ornate wooden chairs upholstered with modest blue padding, pushed neatly into the table when not in use, bore intricate carvings from traditional craftsmen. A bronze placard had been set into the table bearing the name of each man in Assanian’s circle. Many of them were absent today. Hung on the dark green walls were paintings of Armenia by local artists, depicting natural beauty, folklore, historical victories, and even a few of daily life. One had recently been purchased from a rural artist depicting a solemn girl, no more than fourteen or fifteen, weaving a carpet on the stone steps of her home. Assanian took a liking to that one: it was quiet and peaceful yet busy with life, in contrast to the vibrant scenes of battle or landscapes that he considered boring.

Beside the table, a chalkboard was propped up on a stand. Written on it were the five parties of Parliament, while their numbers after the election were represented by a colored number, all adding up to a hundred and one. Atop the board was “votes” written in plain white. Assanian leaned on the table, staring towards the board. Beside him, his vice president twirled a pencil through his fingers while the Prime Minister stood stoically in a mute grey suit with his arms crossed and a look of deep concentration on his face. The Prime Minister was much older than both Assanian and Idration, balding with only a thin combover atop his wrinkled head. Serzh Antabian had been a politician with the Armenian Liberal Democratic Party for decades now, having been a founding member back in the 1930s. A few moments of contemplation went by, before he turned to the president: “You know this is going to be divisive, right?”

“Of course,” Assanian replied coolly, his focused brown eyes poring over the board in front of him. His hand moved to leaf through a revised copy of the Georgia Plan, laying nearby, fresh from the Ministry of War with additional information updated, mostly an accurate troop deployment schedule. The goal was to draw as few men away from the Turkish border as possible, requiring additional reserve and paramilitary units like the Border Service to take part. He was considering pushing that back to his Minister to limit the impact on society. The War Minister, Yegishe Eminian, was a brilliant strategist… in military terms. While his idea of drawing reservists to maintain a two-front operation was nobly-intended, Assanian and Antabian both agreed that it would hurt its chances of passing through the Parliament. People at home didn’t want to be called up for some foreign adventure, but if soldiers were already on the front then it made little difference to them. Eminian wouldn’t like the plan, but would follow the recommendation and try to mitigate the risk of pulling troops from the front to go to Georgia. He was a clever man, and Assanian appreciated it.

“The Liberal Democratic Party has heard murmurs of this plan and they’re honestly unsure of what to think. You and I both know we’re trying to work on our own problems, and going somewhere else isn’t on our agenda,” the Prime Minister warned, pointing lazily at the purple column on the board. “I can try and spin it for you, and I think party loyalty will help. I don’t foresee many dissenters on this vote. They like you, and if you can spin this as good for the country then it’ll be fine.”

Assanian looked back at Antabian, shaking his head: “Remember, I’m the President now. Things change, I’m not exactly beholden to the party’s leash anymore. Or as much as I was.” He smoothed out the purple tie sitting neatly below his jacket, a reminder of the party he came from. Idratian, beside him, made eye contact with his President and shrugged, but remained silent.

“We’ve always been in two camps, we’ve always had our hawks and our doves, Hasmik,” replied Antabian with a stern look, almost like he was scolding someone. “And I know you’ve always been a brash hawk. I don’t blame you, you were a cavalry commander. It will just take a little bit of work to ensure this success. We need to keep party unity, your term just started. Sacrificing it now will make things very difficult in the future, and that’s not what we need at this point in our history. If this proves too controversial, then I suggest we back off.”

“The good news is, however, the Enforcement Party will be all for it,” Idratian interjected, nodding towards the board at the ten politicians voted in primarily because they wanted to expand Armenian force projection to neighboring states, a rarity in a country so focused on domestic politics and unaccustomed to the idea of foreign interventions. “They’ve actually been saying something like this for years now, ever since Artsakh.”

“Then let’s put ten on the board,” Assanian announced, moving towards the chalkboard to circle the Enforcement Party and strike a ten next to the votes column. “Obviously for foreign military action, we need a two-thirds vote. Sixty-eight.”

“With the ALDP fully in, which may or may not happen, we’ll have fifty-three,” Antabian continued. He looked back at the board, towards the red column: The Armenian Communist Party. “I’m not even going to consider the Communists, they don’t want to work with any government, be it yours or Vadratian’s.”

“Are they even a real party?” joked Idratian with a scoff. “They don’t really do much, do they? Just kind of sit there and ramble. I wouldn’t count on their vote even if we were trying to print off Marx for every man, woman, and child.”

“Well,” sighed Assanian with a hint of resignation, “when the working class comes for our bourgeoisie heads I’m sure you’ll be the first one up against the wall for saying that.” He rolled his eyes and scratched in a “no” category, writing in the two Communists as definite opposition. He looked towards the Revolutionary Party and cocked his head. Despite his meeting with Serovian and the Council, the Armenian constitution was written more internally. It rarely mentioned limitations on Armenia acting outside of its borders, perhaps because the Council never anticipated a situation like this. Armenia, fatefully, was one of the larger and more established states in the Caucasus and Near Eastern region. This was interpreted different ways, and the Revolutionary Party was well-known to be against intervention in general. Taken literally, if the constitution said nothing about it then it shouldn’t be done. Defection was also rare in the hardline party, with other members shaming rogue voters as unpatriotic and un-Armenian: it was a savage sight to see. They numbered eleven, bringing the opposition vote to thirteen.

“I’ll put my estimates to about forty ALDP voters, just to give us a nice number to work with,” Antabian said with some thought. “There are a few known troublemakers… Erebunian is a nice guy but he’s definitely a bit of a flamboyant rogue. He has his posse of clowns, but they’re only three. I’d have the most trouble getting votes from them.”

The President went back to his board, marked up to fifty, and looked down at the Independence Party. Joseph Vadratian’s party, currently in a full retrograde after a disastrous election. While the ALDP and the Independence Party were often at odds with each other, the ALDP held a slim majority but not in excess of fifty-one seats. On controversial subjects, where the parties were deeply entrenched, success required coalition with the three minor parties whose loyalty very often fluctuated. Historically, the Enforcement Party and Revolutionary Party were friendlier towards conservative Independent Party policy: the Georgia Plan, however, could tickle the fancy of some Independence parliamentarians who wanted something to hold onto in the wake of Vadratian’s ousting. The party was in disarray, so defecting to the rival party would not be difficult. Strongmen inside the Independence Party controlled smaller groups of members, with the party leader working to control those factions. It was going to be at least eighteen members, however, close to half their elected population. This would require a little more work.

Antabian, thinking the same, tapped his foot absent-mindedly. His wise, dark brown eyes pored over the board. He was a quiet man, reserved in both person and Parliament, preferring to formulate his speech and actions. As such, his decisions were rather profound: when he spoke, people listened. Assanian liked that in a Prime Minister, since he had the task of wrangling politicians assigned to him. Assanian was, by nature, a military commander. Soldiers had orders, leaders, and subordinates in a neat structure. Politicians, on the other hand, made no sense, and the President oftentimes resented their behavior despite being one of them. Self-interest and political games permeated even the most checked and balanced system or the most robust arrangement of national service obligations, so it was up to Antabian to wrestle his way through the swamp and help the President out. After a few moments of contemplation, the Prime Minister spoke again: “Alright, I think I know who to talk to. I’m going to make a few phone calls.”

With that, he pushed up the sleeve of his jacket and took the time from a battered silver wristwatch. He cocked a thin eyebrow, before standing up and looking down to Assanian: “It’s also time for me to leave. I’m afraid the wife is making lahmajun tonight,” he said, referring to the pizza-like dish of bread topped with tomato sauce and spiced meat. With a rare smile, he adjusted his tie and added: “And half the reason I married her was for the lahmajun. I’ll let you know how the calls to Parliament go. Have a good night.”

The Black Sea

They appeared on the horizon at dawn as a gaggle of small, black silhouettes. The squadron of boats quickly resolved themselves to be the low-profile, fierce shapes of Russian pirates. The Breadwinner’s return lane took it away from Odessa, hugging the coast of Crimea until it turned off towards Georgia. A certain percentage of wheat, fruits, vegetables, meat, and other foodstuffs from Ukraine’s breadbasket were taken first to the military garrison in Poti as part of Captain Sarkisian’s contract before the rest of the consumer goods were delivered to Trabzon, necessitating the somewhat more dangerous route. The pirate bosses in Sochi, the wretched hive of scum and villainy it was, had caught onto these predictable Armenian merchant contracts. The visit of the Russian flotilla was not unexpected: a typical raiding party consisted of three gunboats and a boarding vessel packed with pirates, mostly teenagers scraping together a living from the unluckier merchant mariners. Captain Sarkisian, however, had seen the Russians before and had fought the fight he knew was just moments away. They were still several nautical miles out before he hit the alarm.

“Put her to broadside, I want all the guns trained on these guys,” Sarkisian ordered calmly, peering through a set of binoculars out the bridge’s window. The Breadwinner, like most Armenian cargo ships, maintained a pair of machineguns with sectors of fire covering the side of the hull. A single light naval cannon mounted to the bow was being rotated into position by its crew. On the bridge, Sarkisian’s crew went to their positions and fixed their eyes to their instruments. A klaxon blared, while the signalman announced an action stations call over the intercom. Nazarbekian, his executive officer, quickly downed the rest of his coffee from a ceramic cup and lit a new cigarette while he reached down to put on his intercom headset. This allowed instant communication with his ship’s section heads: engineering, damage control, gunnery, and medical. They checked in one by one as they came up on the intercom. The Russians drew in closer, their gunboats fanning out and starting a circle around the ship. They tried to stay out of range of the Breadwinner’s side guns, while confusing the bow turret’s gunner.

“All men are set,” announced Nazarbekian, acting as the communicator for Sarkisian.

“Thanks,” replied Sarkisian. He looked down at his watch before going back to the binoculars: “Give me a slow to seven knots, helmsman.”

The thrumming of the engine dulled and the ship slowly decelerated to give the gunners a better chance at reacting to contact. This presented more of a tactical risk, but Sarkisian was a fan of the strategy. The Russian pirates, noticing the change in its wake, began their charge. One of the gunboats gunned its engine as it tightened up its circle around the Breadwinner to slide away from the broadside. The Russians took the first shots: semi-automatic rifle fire, poorly aimed in the choppy sea, trying to keep the Armenians’ heads down.

“Hold fire until he reaches the starboard guns,” Sarkisian ordered. Nazarbekian repeated it into the intercom, where the message was taken by runner from the gunnery chief to the sailor manning the 12.7 millimeter heavy machinegun on the ship’s side. The other gunboat took the opposite direction while the boarding ship and its escort stayed away. Sporadic rifle fire erupted from the pirates’ ships, answered by Armenian sailors’ own personal weapons. The gunboat at the bow turned abruptly towards the ship, training its weapons right onto the Breadwinner’s gun positions. Armenian Independence class vessels had been traversing the seas for over a decade, and the pirates were smart. They trained almost as much as the sailors did. A volley of their machinegun fire ripped out towards the starboard guns, who began their answer. A rapid rhythm of fire crackled through the air as the gunners began engaging. Trails of water spouts sprang from the water behind the gunboat, while tracer rounds arced their way over the deck. Sailors dove for cover and returned fire in a back-and-forth.

“Do we have eyes on the other boat?” asked Sarkisian, switching his view from the starboard side to the boarding vessel still waiting out of range of the guns. “I need to find out where he’s going!”

Nazarbekian spoke into the microphone of his headset, trying to get information from the lookouts. With attention focused on the pirates in the direction of the coast, someone had to head to the rear and try to locate the flanking gunboat. He pressed his hand to the earpiece, listening to the crackly voice of the lookouts. His eyes narrowed and he took a drag of his cigarette. “Shit!”

“What?” Sarkisian asked with a jolt, spinning towards his executive officer.

“Another squadron is coming up from the rear! That’s two, what the fuck is going on?”

A chill ran through Captain Sarkisian’s spine. His eyes widened: “We need to flex our defenses. These guys are playing around with us. How did we let that slip?”

“Sir, they’re gunning it our way. The lookout says they look like they’re maxing out their engines coming for us. They’ll be within range in a few minutes.”

The second gunboat reached the stern by the time Sarkisian returned to his position by the window of the bridge. The arrival of the second squadron was quickly enveloping them, and the pirates were starting to close in. The stern gunners began to shoot and try to ward off the pirates while Sarkisian frantically tried to plot a course to get out of it. He shouted to his helmsman to increase speed and try to get out of the ambush: “We have to go, our gunners will just need to suppress and wave them off!” he ordered urgently. Back to his map, he calculated the distance to Poti. Over a hundred and thirty nautical miles: they couldn’t outrun the pirates to safety any time soon. He cursed again, they’d have to stay and fight. More of the guns became engaged while the main cannon locked into a tracking pattern on the boarding ship’s escort, which had started to swerve in and out. The machineguns were overshadowed by the loud thumping of the cannon as it send an airburst shell out to try and destroy the third gunboat.

On the gunboats, the Russian pirates emerged with rockets: they carried their shoulder-fired tubes to positions on the gunwales and took aim. A lookout reported the sighting of rockets, but he was too late to direct any fire to it: a rocket launched, swirling through the air and just missing the bridge. The crew ducked, hitting the ground with their hands on their heads before Sarkisian ordered them back up to their stations. “We almost got it there, boys!” Nazarbekian cheered, before his voice was drowned out by a cacophony of fire. His pride was short lived, the Russians got another rocket off. This one hit the bow, crashing in dangerously close to the cannon and sending an explosion roaring over the deck. The ship vibrated with the impact as a wall of flame swept across towards a group of personnel who dove for a cover. A fire started, smoke blowing backwards across the deck while others rushed for the hoses. “Fire, fire, fire!” came the report from the damage control officer.

Sarkisian watched from the bridge as a team of sailors moved out with the hose. He looked towards the smoke that was now threatening to obscure the main gunner’s optics. The gunner, too, saw this and let loose another round from the cannon before it was too late. Through good aiming or simply luck, this shell flew straight past the deckhouse of the third gunboat and exploded exactly over its stern. The pirate ship’s stern disintegrated and rocked the rest of the hull forward, bodies and debris launched like ragdolls. The gunboat started sinking instantly, a raging fire starting on its deck. Again, the Russians answered this victory with another round of gunfire, now getting dangerously close to the other gun positions. Nazarbekian checked into the intercom for reports from the other lookouts and had opened barely his mouth to relay information to Sarkisian before a horrific crash threw everyone to the floor. Nazarbekian’s coffee cup lurched off the center console and crashed into a steel pillar, shattering all over the captain. The electrical power flickered and went out. “What the fuck was that?” shouted Sarkisian.

While the battle had been raging near the bow of the Breadwinner, the second squadron of pirates had rushed into position through a hail of gunfire. Of their three gunboats, the lead was riddled with machinegun fire and left immobilized in the sea. Two more arrived in position, one with a weapon nobody had seen in this region before. A Tsarist multiple launch rocket system, affectionately called the Katyusha, had been cut off of its typical truck mountain and welded to a pirate gunboat. Eight racks carried thirty-two rockets, seventeen of which impacted the rear of the Breadwinner’s deckhouse, completely shredding through its superstructure and setting the topside alight. Sarkisian struggled up on shaky legs, smelling smoke in the air. Nazarbekian had been thrown to the console, hitting his head: he bled from his temple, but was grunting and steadying himself as he rose. “Is anyone hurt?” he asked, wiping the blood away. Nobody on the bridge was, aside from cuts on shattered glass, but a fire was slowly moving to the bridge. Nazarbekian tried the intercom one last time, getting only static.

Sarkisian kept panic at bay on the bridge: he ordered the bulkhead be closed to slow the fire down, and moved everyone out to the railing so they could climb down the exterior ladder and make it to the alternate command location. More rockets pummeled the ship as the Armenian gunners failed to take out the Russians’ gunboats: gun positions became damaged or destroyed, with the pirates suffering another loss of a gunboat from a fuel tank explosion. The fire became increasingly accurate: casualties were beginning to flood the lower decks where the ship’s surgeon was triaging. With nobody to coordinate them, the machinegunners’ sectors of fire began to lapse and the pirates, still circling the ship, started to find gaps. Sarkisian lost his lookouts, the eyes of the ship, and had no idea that the Russians were now moving boarding vessels into these blind spots. The crew, now fighting for their lives at the gun positions, were unable to stop them. The armored boarding vessels raced in towards the Breadwinner as Armenians fired their rifles in desperate attempts to hit crew members on board.

With a clang, the first of the boarding ships made contact with the Breadwinner. A Russian pirate, under fire, moved with a hooked ladder out to the side and hoisted it up with the aid of two others. They flailed it about until it got caught on the railing of a lower catwalk, securing it into place. The boarding ship had matched speed with the Breadwinner, and a boarding party began to scurry up the ladder. Two Armenian sailors began to shoot at the ladder, knocking some Russians off with their gunfire. It was too little, too late: the pirates had climbed aboard and were now engaging the Merchant Mariners with shotguns, submachineguns, and handguns. A breathless runner arrived at the command post as Sarkisian started receiving word that the other boarding vessel was near: “Sir, we’ve been boarded!”

The captain swore, his heart beating through his chest. His command and control over the situation was totally shot: there was no way he could communicate with his crew from the alternate command post, the power was still out. Russian boarding parties were already shooting with Armenian sailors in the cramped, tight passageways of the ship. The gunfire rang out through the metallic halls, the shouts and screams of men in combat accompanying it. On the stern, the other boarding ship had made contact and hooked in their own ladder, dispersing freely throughout the ship. Their first target was the bridge: Captain Sarkisian and his executive officer were prime targets for ransom. He ordered his crew to guard the entrances to the command post while his hands patted his belt to find his keyring. He fumbled amongst the brass keys, searching desperately for the alternate arms locker at the command post: each ship maintained a few guns in the bridge and backup command post in case of this specific event. Shaking, he went to the locker and tried the keys. The first few wouldn’t work: he cursed them loudly. The gunfire was getting closer.

Only two of his bridge crew had actual weapons on their person, a shotgun and a carbine. They posted up together at the entrance to the superstructure’s main stairs, where they heard the voices of the pirates below. “Sir!” one of them shouted, before letting loose a pair of shotgun shells. “They’re coming!”

“Fuck!” shouted Sarkisian, finally getting the key into its lock. With a click, the arms locker opened and five shotguns were sitting neatly in their racks. The Captain quickly distributed them to his crew along with a cardboard box of shells, which they began loading. He took a pair of pistols from the bottom shelf and handed one to Nazarbekian. A chorus of racking and clicking followed as the Armenian sailors prepared for the Russians. Tension was thick in the air: the Armenians took cover behind desks and lockers, aiming at the entrances. The stairwell guards shot again, now exchanging fire with the Russian boarding party. Sarkisian exchanged looks with his executive officer, then closed his eyes and muttered a quick prayer. His amen was punctuated with a shout from the hallway: “Stoy! Stoy! U menya yest granata!

Then, in broken and heavily accented Armenian, a different voice translated: “He has… grenade! Put gun to floor!”

My ne khotim prichinyat tebe bol! Sdacha!” angrily shouted the first one.

“He says… We are not wanting to kill. Put it down.”

Gunfire on the ship showed no signs of ceasing, as the crew bitterly fought in the corridors against the pirates. Sarkisian knew he couldn’t tell his men to stand down without electrical power to the intercom. Did they even have a grenade? Nazarbekian looked to him sternly: “What’s our decision? I don’t know if we can win this fight,” he warned.

“Shit…” Sarkisian muttered. He peeked his head over at the stairwell. “If they have a grenade we’re all fucked,” he whispered.

“Are we going to take that risk?” asked Nazarbekian. He looked over the railing. “A grenade goes off, we die. We fight, maybe we die. We surrender… these guys are pirates, not murderers: they’re financially motivated. We’re captured, yes, but… we could go home.”

“Who the fuck is going to grab us from Sochi?” asked Sarkisian, frustrated. “Who’s going to pay a pirate king in Russia?”

“It’s better than nothing,” Nazarbekian shot back. He sighed deeply. “I don’t like it either.”

The Captain closed his eyes again, the grip of his hand tightening around the pistol. He shook, frozen behind the desk. Inside, he pushed against it, but he knew it was over. The Russians repeated their request. His crew looked to him, wide-eyed, awaiting an answer. The fear in their eyes was amplified. So Captain Sarkisian exhaled harshly and muttered: “Please God, forgive me.” He put his pistol down on the floor gently, before motioning Nazarbekian to do the same. Sarkisian kept his eyes to the floor, shame washing over him: he did not want to see the faces of his crewmen. With great effort, he stood up from behind the desk and looked to the stairwell. The Russian had emerged from the staircase as soon as he heard the guards put down their guns. His eyes stared down the sights of a rusted rifle with rotting wooden furniture. The sights were aimed directly to Sarkisian’s chest, with the captain staring down its barrel. Sarkisian raised his hands slowly, shakily above his head.

“It is done. We give up,” he announced to him. “No more killing. It’s over. It’s over.”
Hrazdan, Armenia

He felt like an outsider, but one always did when they were around veteran tank crews. Jon stood in faded brown coveralls, smoking a cigarette awkwardly while a tank commander of the Gyumri Garrison’s reserve unit listed off tasks that they would be performing that day. In his left arm, cradled underneath his shoulder, was a leather tanker helmet with a blue stripe painted down the middle: a company evaluator. The tank crew, six of them, were there to put the newest Amrots Landship, numbered 788, through its paces on the Tsaghkadzor factory’s proving grounds. This was cheap, regular, and effective training for the reservist units who often found themselves crewing the heavy tanks on the frontlines in the west, but also provided valuable quality assurance for the heavy industry plant under contract to refurbish them. Better something go wrong in the hills of Hrazdan than in the plains of Karin. Jon, being involved with the program, was offered a spot on one of the test runs to get an appreciation for the beasts.

The Hrazdan Proving Grounds were located to the northwest of the city, conveniently west of the Hrazdan Garrison and north of its industrial neighborhood. This tract of land dipped in and out of hills, through fields, and across trickling streams. A well-worn dirt path ran through several emplaced obstacles and events, culminating in a firing range at the western end of the preserve. It almost looked like a standard rifle range, except the range was stretched to a kilometer and a half long with the hulls of other tanks scattered around to provide targets. Many of them were landships that failed their evaluation: “It’s kind of like when a race horse breaks a leg and you have to shoot it,” was Mister Bagruntsian’s joke to Jon when he was showing him around. The manager sat in a nearby jeep with an officer from Hrazdan, taking swigs of a flask and talking about the dancers at a local club.

“So company evaluators are always in this awkward position because we only have the seats for us crewmen,” the tank commander explained as he clambered up the track, gripping the top of the hull and pulling himself up. With a swing of the leg, he pushed his hips up and rotated his body to the top and got back onto his feet. Jon tried the same, jumping up and grabbing onto the edge of the hull that was above his head. He boosted himself up on a road wheel and awkwardly swung his leg over to the top, pushing himself up to the hull as well. The tank commander climbed up to the new turret of the landship and opened up a hatch, looking down into the body of the tank. “We do have some space in the back where we let you guys sit, usually. It’s on top of this battery box and you have this, well it looks like it is, but it’s a support beam to hang onto.”

Jon looked down into the cramped, metal space. He had done the summer military reservist trainings that all conscripts were required to attend, but they were mostly quick affairs that required students show up for a weekend to qualify on a rifle and relearn soldiering tasks before being released. He had never been in the inside of a tank before, but he quickly realized why they earned their reputations as coffins. Tanks of the Great War especially were crowded, with six crewmen manning weapons and controls inside of a box armored with thick steel walls and complex systems. Despite the upgrades and refurbishment, such as improved ventilation and a newer engine, the landships remained cramped and noisy spaces with discomforts largely eliminated by modern designs. Jon lowered himself into the body of the tank, his helmeted head hitting a valve on the way down. With a thud, his worn black boots hit the metal floor and he maneuvered himself to the back through what seemed like a forest of pipes and valves, like a kid navigating a playground.

The rest of the tank crew, largely apathetic to him, entered through a wide variety of hatches on top. There were six crewmen in an Amrots: a gunner for the main 120mm main cannon, which happened to be the largest tank gun in service in the region; a loader for said shells, a tank commander who managed the crew, a driver who sat down in the hull, and two hull gunners manning side gun positions. The settled into their positions and plugged into the tank intercom system: an aux cord to the helmet led to a headset not unlike those of a bomber crew’s. Everyone in the tank, save for Jon, could talk to each other and coordinate. The tank commander also had space carved out a boxy, vacuum-tube two-way radio to communicate with higher and an additional field phone had been wired into the back of the hull so that infantry could talk to tankers without exposing themselves: an improvised solution to a problem, learned the hard way in the Artsakh. These systems were the first thing tested, a chorus of voices all sounding off into their mics.

“Okay, the intercom works at least,” the tank commander called out to Jon, who marked it down on his clipboard. “Let’s go!”

The driver pushed an ancient-looking lever forward, starting the massive engine. It roared to life right beside Jon’s head, thrumming and pushing power to the treads of the machine. The driver pushed forward another set of levers in a complicated procedure, and the hull shifted forward. With a jolt, they were on the move, crawling over the gravel parking area towards the start of the track that would lead them through the proving ground’s course. The tank crew were unbuttoned out of their hatches, heads sticking out into the summer air, enjoying the breeze like dogs in a car. The tank drove out to its first event, a straightaway about two hundred meters long of paved road, followed by another straightaway of dirt road. This would be to test the speed of the landship: it was evaluated to be, on average, forty kilometers-per-hour on flat paved roads and slightly less on unimproved ones. The speed would suffer on various types of terrain, already computed by testing. These speeds were supplied to military planners who would use them to train tankers and plan their operations, but did not need to be tested again.

The landship accelerated, its controlling jeep following close behind. The tank’s engine roared and released foul-smelling gasoline fumes as it hit its maximum rotations-per-minute, upon which the design of the engine encountered a mechanical phenomenon known as “torque peak”: the engine would keep accelerating past its redline limit, but the internal combustion engine would start to drop power and therefore speed. The driver hit his engine’s redline limit and called out the number on his gauge: thirty-nine kilometers-per-hour. Jon wrote it down on his clipboard as the tank bumped off the paved road and onto the dirt straightaway, the entire time listening to irregularities in the engine. The stress test was successful, and the tank turned off down a hill to test its climbing performance. This consisted of a simple series of hills at measured grades. The crew went down the first dip, controlling the handling carefully lest the machine slip in the mud and turn off the track. They gunned it at the bottom of the slope to provide inertia for the trip up, repeating this as necessary for a few more grades.

The tank commander clambered his way to Jon’s seat, poking his head out of a hatch and towards the evaluator. With a smile on his face, he shouted: “Having fun over there?”

“It’s cramped and it smells awful back here!” Jon replied, his voice muffled by the scarf he held up to his face and nose. His eyes watered from the fumes. The tank commander laughed again, shook his head, told Jon that it would get better, and disappeared as quickly as he appeared. Confused, Jon looked back towards the main compartment of the tank where he was giving orders for a fording site. The tank, suddenly, dipped into the water. A river intersected the trail, dug out to be deep enough to ford through but not flood the tank. Jon looked back for any evidence of water leakage, which could quickly flood the engine and cause trouble for a crew locked in a tight, confined space. Luckily, the landship emerged from the riverbed dry, and drove off to the next set of obstacles. This one was a trench-crossing exercise, with a simulated wide trench set up in the middle of the road.

While landships, owing to their long hulls, could cross narrow trenches with ease, longer trenches required the use of steel bridging girders. These were straight, tread-width steel beams located just above the treads that were ten meters long. In the Great War, these would be emplaced by infantry or the crew by hand: this brought them under fire, and a solution was devised after the war by Armenian engineers. One of the features of the landship’s new electrical system were two small motors in the front of the landship: these were activated by the tank commander, which then actuated a lever system that brought the bridging girders to the ground in front of the tank. It was a judgement call for the commander, however: if he let them down too soon, they would simply drop into the trench with no way to recover them. Luckily, this reservist unit was familiar with the course and dropped the bridging beams with no issue. The electrical motors whirred, followed by a clunking sound, and then whirred back into place. The tank moved to the other side of the trench and took a few minutes to dismount and hoist the beams back into their holders.

The final leg of the testing circuit was dedicated to the weaponry. Armenian landships were armed primarily with a 120mm cannon. It sported a coaxially mounted heavy machine gun for infantry, but this was not used often with the sluggish turret speeds. More often than not, the top hatch sported a loader’s machinegun, which could traverse more easily. On both sides were heavy machine guns in lateral gun positions, used to defend the flanks of the beast. Some models added an additional flamethrower to these positions, a tank of pressurized fuel for it being retrofitted disturbingly close to the gunner’s head and prone to explosion from spall or shrapnel. This tank, however, just had its guns: Tsaghkadzor was keen on not destroying its proving ground, they already kept the Hrazdan fire department busy enough with range fires caused by bullets hitting into dry grasses or, sometimes, hot brass setting brush aflame: a flamethrower would be too much for them to handle.

The point of the proving grounds’ range wasn’t to evaluate the competency of the crew, they had gunnery tables for that, but to test the functionality of the weapon. The commander ordered the gunner to first conduct a full rotation of the turret, swiveling entirely around the hull and raising the turret elevation up and down. Once the mechanical reliability of the turret’s hydraulics system was proven, the commander ordered them to take aim at the first of five targets. With the metallic groan of grinding machinery, the gunner spun the turret onto the rusted hulk of another landship. The proving grounds had scattered old, deficient tanks on the target hill almost like a cruel joke: fail the testing and wind up another target for cannons. Practically, the large size of the landships offered a sizeable target to see where the rounds ended up. The commander called out the ammunition: “High explosive! Three charges!”

The loader now, hearing this, reached into the ammunition rack to withdraw a copper-plated tank shell. He swapped it around in his hands to face the other direction and slammed it forward into the open breech. A metal box next to him held bags of primer: each one offered more explosive power to propel the round farther, much like conventional artillery pieces. He took three bags and stuffed them in behind the round, flattening them out so they were evenly spread across the backplate of the projectile. “High explosive! Three charges!” he repeated, before closing the breech door and locking it into place with a level. The gunner adjusted his aim, peering through the optics of his scope and spinning the aiming wheel into the proper position. “Ready to fire,” he announced, face still pressed into the optics.

“Fire!” shouted the commander as he peered into his periscope optic. With a massive concussive blast shaking the inside of the hull, the charges exploded and shot the projectile the distance to its target. It sailed through the air for a few seconds, rotating in flight from the rifled barrel, before impacting just shy of the target. The round exploded into a storm of dirt, smoke, and flame, a dull thud in the distance. The tank gunner opened the breech, smoke pouring out of the barrel, and removed the shell’s casing with gloved hands. Above him was his hatch, which he opened with one hand before tossing the shell out with the other. Smoke from the gun filled the cabin, the ventilation system struggling to vent it out. Jon went into a fit of coughing, his arm over his eyes to keep the smoke out. He had heard stories of Great War tankers passing out from the toxic fumes: the new tanks, despite the upgrades, were not much better. The crew were under strict instructions to keep the tank “buttoned up” for at least two shots, however. After they could open up the hatches to air it out.

Four more times, the steel frame of the tank was rattled by fire. Each time, mechanically and robotically, the loader would slam home a shell and prepare the breech for firing, before the gunner pulled back his lever to send it flying off to another steel target. Each time, Jon breathed in more of the smoke and carbon, before finally having enough: he scrambled for the hatch above him, pushing it open and crawling his way to the top in a coughing fit. His clammy hands fought to unbuckle the strap of his helmet, which he threw down into the tank before leaning over the edge and vomiting over the side skirt armor and the tracks. Another fit of coughing followed, as he dry heaved again and spat out his saliva. “Fuck,” was all he managed to get out. The student-turned-tank-evaluator breathed in deeply, coughing again, and wiped the sweat out of his matted-down hair. A grimace came across his face and he slumped back down into the hull of the tank where the commander was smiling at him.

The tank tossed its final shell out of the loader’s hatch and spun around on its treads. Hatches still open to air out the smoke, they began their drive home. A few minutes of maneuvering led them right around the track and back to where they started, where Mister Bagruntsian had already parked his jeep with the reserve officer and was leaning on its hood. Behind dark sunglasses, he watched the tank crew park and dismount, dropping down onto the gravel and taking off their helmets. Cigarettes were passed around and lit, while Jon stumbled his way over.

“You’re rather pale,” Mister Bagruntsian commented, moving his hand outwards to grab Jon’s clipboard. He looked through it. “And it looks like 788 here passed with flying colors. She’ll go right off to the front.”

Mister Bagruntsian peeked around Jon’s shoulder to the tank. “Maybe once they clean the vomit off of it,” he added with a smile and a slap on the back.

“Nobody ever told me it gets so smoky in there,” Jon protested. The manager chuckled again, withdrawing a pack of cigarettes of his own. He lit one and offered another to Jon with a devilish grin, who stepped back and shook his hand in front of him.

“You might have smoked enough for one day in there. Anyways, thanks for coming out today. Now you’ve got an appreciation for how these things work. What do you do in the reserves, Jon?”

“Besides my student deferment, sir?” Jon asked. “Just the basic conscript stuff. Nothing like this.”

“Then it’s a solid experience for you,” Mister Bagruntsian said. “You think you might put in for a reclassification to this?”

“Fuck no!”

“Alright, well now you’re going to oversee a delivery of these to Karin sometime soon. I have the details in my office.” The manager finished his cigarette in a few long drags before crushing it out underneath his shoes. He started along back to the factory after waving goodbye to the tank crew. “Come along, now,” he called to Jon, “we’ll get you shipped off in no time.”
Sevan, Armenia

Hagop’s alarm clock pierced through the comforting shroud of his sleep, waking him up at precisely nine in the morning. He flailed underneath his light blanket, futilely waving his hand around to try and stop the ringing. After a few seconds of searching, he finally was able to slam the alarm into silence, knocking something off the bedside table the process. He laid face-down on his pillow for a few more seconds. With a heavy sigh, he stretched out into a pose not unlike that of a dog’s, and sat up. He looked around through his sparse apartment’s bedroom, at the ugly green wallpaper and beige carpet that needed to be cleaned. Scratching his unruly curly black hair, he checked back to the floor and saw that he had knocked his handgun off the table while trying to turn his alarm clock off. Hagop sighed again, gingerly reaching down to put the handgun back with his things: it was loaded, of course, with one in the chamber and its safety off. Such was the life of a Mafiya foot soldier.

His creaking wooden door opened to the smell of potatoes, sausage, and black tea. He lived with Mikael, who cooked simple Russian breakfasts almost every morning. Since Hagop couldn’t cook, or at least couldn’t cook very well, he ate whatever Mikael came up with, which often consisted of a very repetitive quick dish. A ceramic plate was already on the sturdy wooden table with some food on it. Hagop brushed past the table in his sitting room to poke his head into the kitchen, where Mikael was cooking. The Russian wore a blue-and-white striped sleeveless undershirt around the apartment, a unique piece of gear from the Tsarist military that wound up in Armenia with the Russian community. It was lazily untucked over cotton athletic shorts and a pair of slippers. He turned around, greeting Hagop. “Did you see I made sausage?” he asked in his usual deeply accented Armenian.

“I did, it looks delicious,” answered Hagop, sitting down at the dining table. He pawed for the metal fork next to the plate and used the side of it to slice off some of the sausage. He ate it, chewing while scratching his hair. “So do you have anything going on today?” asked the Armenian.

“I still have to do my laundry,” Mikael answered casually, gesturing with his hand still holding the spatula out the window to the end of their block where a laundromat had just opened up.

“I thought you did you laundry yesterday,” asked Hagop curiously. He leaned back in the chair and rolled out his arms in a big, lazy circle: his right shoulder still pained him from an injury back in his youth when he was on his school’s wrestling team. He grew up near the Persian neighborhood of Sevan, where almost every single boy wrestled. They called it koshti, and they were good at it. Good enough to tear fourteen-year-old Hagop’s shoulder out in a match when he couldn’t submit quickly enough.

“Funny story about that,” Mikael said with a grin. He flipped two sausages onto his own plate and turned off the gas to the stove. He brought the plate down to the table and sat in the wooden chair opposite of Hagop. “I went down yesterday, right? And this guy, some middle-aged fatass, starts telling me I can’t use his machines because he could tell I’m Russian. My accent gives me away, heh.”

Hagop chuckled. “Another one of those ‘Russians are taking our jobs’ people?”

“He said that if I were to use his machines and an Armenian came in and had to wait, it would be unfair,” Mikael continued, taking a bite of his own breakfast.

“Why didn’t you do anything about it?”

“Well,” Mikael answered with a laugh. “I asked him very politely if he knew who he was dealing with. I showed him my arm. He told me that he knew exactly who I was: a Russian.”

On Mikael’s arm was a Russian mafiya tattoo, done in the style of gulag art. All of these tattoos had a history from Russia and an associated meaning. While tattoos were generally less-accepted in Armenian society, Russian gangsters often bore a “suit”, known in Russian as a mast, of tattoos. His chest was well marked with a church bearing a cupola, for one stint in prison, and a sun rising over it with four rays to denote four years. A cat sat at the entrance of the church, looking out, denoting his status as a thief. Beside the sun, on the other side of his chest and over his shoulder, were a constellation of stars with an eight-pointed star in the middle: he had killed the head thief in his prison in Russia, becoming the boss after only a few short years. Yet he kept only the outline of a skull on the inside of his left arm. It was subtle enough that he could operate in regular life with no suspicion as long as he wore longer sleeves, but if he needed to show someone that he has killed then it was easy to flash the symbol of a murderer.

“The fuck had no idea, I don’t even think he noticed the tattoo,” Mikael continued, looking down at the skull and shaking his head. “So I asked again, and I told him that if he continued behaving like this then bad things would happen.”

Hagop raised an eyebrow. “He’s a rather dense fellow, isn’t he?”

Mikael rolled his eyes. “Usually I would have beaten his ass right then and there but… well, there were a few old women doing laundry there at the time and they didn’t need to see that. So I told him I’d be back and that he should seriously consider changing his mind.”

Hagop sighed and finished the last of his sausage. “Why do you have to keep getting into trouble like this? I just wanted to relax today and maybe go to the cinema later.”

“We’ll still have time to go to the cinema,” replied Mikael. “But first I’m going to do my laundry. Actually, can you help me carry it there? I’ve got the bag in the corner over by the sofa.”

Hagop agreed and finished his breakfast. The two washed their dishes, placing them carefully on the drying rack: Hagop, at least, tried to keep things organized. Even if the apartment was cheap and dingy, located in an old building next to the seedier parts of town, he still didn’t see that as an excuse for messiness. Many youths left their time as National Service conscripts with a disdain for dress-right-dress cleanliness and almost overbearing organization, but Hagop tried to strike a balance between being obsessively ordered and a slob. Fighting with Mikael about it was an uphill battle, since the Russian was careless with his things and often just left piles of stuff on the floor. Somehow, it was completely normal for him to leave his shotgun on the sofa next to a suitcoat draped over the arm of it. He didn’t even let Hagop clean his things out of the common areas, somehow claiming that he knew exactly where in the mess everything was and if it were cleaned up then he’d lose things.

The two dressed, Hagop throwing on a light blue cotton summer shirt over a pair of loose pants. He slicked back his long hair and slid his handgun into the waistband of the pants before tightening his belt around it. Mikael tossed him the laundry bag as he chambered some rounds into his own revolver. They left the apartment just before ten, locking up and walking down the stairs. They chatted about the results of the football game that both of them had missed that week: FC Sevan had beaten the historically amazing Ararat team in what both of them had considered to be a very lucky upset. Tied 1-1 into penalty shots, FC Sevan’s new striker from the deserts of West Armenia kicked one that bounced right off the frame of the goal, past the goalie’s fingertips, and into the net. They made quite a bit of money on it and had to go collect their winnings later that day. The laundromat wasn’t that far away, a red awning with the words “Laundry Service – 50 Dram, Modern Machines” emblazoned on the side.

A little bell rang as the door creaked open. The owner, in the back, called out “Just a second!” as Hagop and Mikael walked to the counter. Hagop dropped the laundry bag next to his feet and leaned over on the counter, looking over to Mikael who appeared almost bored with the experience. The owner, true to Mikael’s description as an overweight, balding, middle-aged man came out wearing comically small glasses, poring over a dry-cleaning receipt. “Can I help you?” he asked, before looking up. His mouth turned downwards into a scowl. “What are you doing here? I told you that I’m not letting you use the damn machines.”

Mikael didn’t say a word before his hand reached out to grab the fat man’s collar and slam him into the table. His glasses flew off towards the ground, scattering off to the side. Hagop just looked down at the scene and crossed his arms. The laundromat owner yelped in pain and grunted, a trickle of blood coming out of his crooked nose.

“So I asked you if you would reconsider your decision,” Mikael said, “and it appears you haven’t. So I’m going to give you one last chance. I give a lot of chances, don’t I?”

The fat man blubbered and tried to spit out an answer, flailing beneath the grip of the Russian gangster. He tried to use his hands to push away, but was unsuccessful. Instead, Mikael gripped tighter and forced the man harder into his counter. The gangster, with his other hand, grabbed the handle of his steel revolver out of his waistband and audibly clicked back the hammer. He screwed it into the owner’s ear, causing another yelp. Hagop almost felt bad for him. Almost.

“There are two options now. One, you let me, and anyone else for that matter, do my laundry like a regular customer. I’ll pay you, you’ll take my money, and you’ll support your family. You’re ugly, but I still think you have a wife and children. Do you?”

“Y-yes,” stammered the owner, almost hyperventilating now.

“How many?” asked Mikael nonchalantly, like he was making small talk before a job interview.

“My wife… We have… Three boys,” he said, shakily, trembling underneath Mikael’s grip.

“Three boys are a lot to feed,” observed Mikael, looking to Hagop and nodding. “I had a few brothers and my mother really had to do a lot to get us food when we were young. So I know the struggle, and I would rather not subject your kids to a single mother. I can, though.”

“No!” screamed the owner.

“Alright, so that’s our first option. I come in, I pay, and I do my laundry. We don’t forget this happened, we learn a lesson from this… but it’s water under the bridge from now on. God forgives, and so do I. It’s the right thing to do. I’m sure I don’t need to explain the other option, but I’m sure it would be a tragedy if an investment like these washing machines went up in flames.”

Mikael gripped the man’s collar tighter again and lifted him up to his feet, holding the owner in place as he stumbled on unsteady legs. “Alright, alright, alright,” he cried, wiping blood away from his nose. “It’s fine, it’s alright… Do your laundry, just… just leave me alone.”

Mikael smiled, looking back at Hagop. He turned his attention back to the fat man, still quivering with the Russian’s hand on his shoulder. He took his handgun away from the head of the owner but, instead of holstering it, raised it above his shoulder to bring it down onto his temple with a loud thud. The fat man grunted and dropped to the table, smacking his head on the counter and splattering blood across it. He lay moaning on the floor, hands clutching his head to stop the bleeding.

“Listen, that was for the disrespect,” Mikael explained as he inspected the handle of his revolver and tucked it back into his pants. “I’m a believer in respect. I’ve killed over respect. Next time, think before you act.”

The fat man moaned again, sobbing softly on the ground and writhing in pain. Hagop, who had been absently playing with the thin metal arms of the fat man’s glasses, leaned over the counter and tossed them down to him. Mikael reached into his pocket, withdrawing a brown leather wallet. Opening it, he took a purple-and-blue banknote with a 50 emblazoned on the front alongside a heroic portrait of a young and handsome Mikael Serovian in his prime. He took the bag of laundry and went to the closest washing machine, opening the door and pouring some soap into the receptacle. He put a load in, turned the timer, and hit the start button. With an electrical buzz, the dull thumping of the wash cycle drowned out the moans of the owner. He patted Hagop on the back, who put his hands into his pockets and shrugged as they went for the exit. The little bell rang again as the glass door opened up. Mikael hesitated as a warm summer breeze rushed through into the building, and turned his attention to the “open” sign on the door. He flipped it over to read “closed”, and turned back to the owner: “Clean the place up, will you?”

Without waiting for a response, both of them left. They stood on the sidewalk, hands in their pockets, as a car rushed by, stopping at a stop sign, to turn at the intersection. Hagop withdrew a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket along with a match, striking it and lighting up one for him and one for his partner. They smoked silently for a minute on the sidewalk underneath the shade of the awning, stopping only to say hello to an old woman walking by. She looked at the sign on the laundromat and frowned: “Closed?” she asked.

“I’m afraid so, ma’am,” Hagop answered with a shrug, looking back to the counter at the end of the building. “I think he’s doing some cleaning in the back. Shouldn’t take too long.”
“Well… thank you,” the old woman replied. “Maybe I’ll come back later. This is easier on my old hands than the clothesline. It’s amazing how far things have come, isn’t it?”

“It sure is, ma’am,” Hagop said. The old woman smiled at him and turned around to hobble back to her apartment, leaving the two underneath the awning again. Within another minute, they had finished their cigarettes, thrown them into a drain, and were going back to their own place. The entire day was theirs to enjoy.

Yerevan, Armenia

The Council, or at least the council’s building, sat upon a hill overlooking Armenia. Inside a modest estate with a sprawling garden lived the last remaining members of the Armenian Separatist Federation, elderly and frail after years of rough life. Accompanied by a contingent of nurses and assistants, the Councilmen lived comfortably. Within the walls of this estate, long after their retirements from politics, they provided counsel and assistance to Armenian politicians seeking solutions for challenges in line with the revolution’s spirit. The Council had no actual legal power, of course, but their societal power as liberators and immortal heroes gave them clout to influence decisions and policy. A prominent example emerged during the election, where the Council published routine statements on the state of Armenian democracy and warned people against the dangers of undermining. It was certainly a curious government organ, but one that was due to be gone very soon. There were only three surviving members of the ASF of the original twelve, and they were aged anywhere between seventy and ninety years old.

In the years just after independence, the Council traveled and talked and held council sessions across the country. As they aged, however, they withdrew to their estate to let people come to them, like monks in a monastery. They watched from their garden as Yerevan grew taller and wider, as roads began to inch outwards towards other cities like spider webs. They watched society undergo shifts and changes with the time, offering their guidance on where it should go. A massive library of literature of politics, economics, and philosophy, including many of their own writings on the Armenian state, was compiled and the Council often debated these subjects amongst each other. George Washington, Voltaire, and others were compared to Karl Marx or even contemporary figures like Hou Tsai Tang. Over time, their mystique only grew with their isolation: they became more and more mythical, blending into the national story as strong characters. Some even called them the philosopher kings of Armenia, ruling by way of the national government in the city below.

Assanian sat with Mikael Serovian on a carved wooden bench beside a rock-bordered pool. Lilly pads floated lazily atop its greenish-hued water, fish swimming gently under the still surface. In the center, a rock bearing the Arevakhach wheel of eternity, peeked above the water. The gentle trickle of a stream, combined with the rustle of various plants, trees, and flowers in the wind, soothed the men. Serovian, dressed in a somber black suit, had grown almost completely bald: a far cry from his famously wild and ragged, golden-brown hair that he wore around the mountains as a revolutionary Fedayeen. His strong, muscular body had deteriorated to a frail, pale frame that hunched over when he walked with a cane. Yet the mind of the first Armenian president remained sharp as ever, the grips of age not yet taking his thoughts from him. He had his hands folded on his lap as Assanian talked through what Moysisian had briefed him on, his eyes focused on the mountains in the distance but nodding along understandingly.

“It’s very focused on partisans and militias, irregular forces and cooperation with the civilian government,” Assanian mused, watching as a fish jumped out of the water and back in with a tiny splash. “The NSS minimizes the deployment of regular military formations to major urban and production areas, but wants us to work hand in hand with the Georgians. We want them to trust us.”

Serovian leaned back into the bench and nodded again. “If you’re looking for a strategic assessment, my days of the Fedayeen are behind me. I know that war has changed… Tanks, airplanes, even an infantryman’s rifle are all alien to us. Your troops can shoot thirty rounds with one chambering of the bolt, we had one! I think Moysisian can give you a better picture than I can. What I know you want the answer to is ‘should we do it?’”

Assanian nodded, looking towards Serovian. The former president was still looking off into the distance, at the half-finished Tsaghkum Tower destined to be the tallest building in the region. Its skeleton frame barely peeked above the other modest towers that had been built in the city center of Yerevan for the last fifteen years. The Councilman continued: “I know there has been a lot of debate about foreign intervention. Your party in particular has been hesitant about it, you’ve all been so focused on the interior affairs and cleaning up the mess that the Independence Party’s rule made.”

“There’s no consensus on a platform, it’s like we ignored it when I was in Parliament,” Assanian agreed, thinking back to his time as a member of the Liberal Democratic Party watching these discussions from the sideline. “My Prime Minister has been trying to ask for opinions on it, but there’s no coherency. Especially with what could be construed as a foreign invasion. Our military is geared towards defense… The trenches in the west, and our war in the Artsakh. The only foreign posting we have is Poti, and most people think that it’s just port guards so we can refuel our cargo ships in peace.”

“The intent of the Armenian state was always to defend the Armenian people and our culture,” Serovian reminded him. “That’s us, that’s the diaspora from France to India to America, that’s everyone who hails from Hayk, near or far. Keep in mind that the republic you currently lead is the first Armenian state since the thirteenth century. Even then, that state was like a kingdom in exile in Cilicia, not our ancestral homeland. It’s been even longer since the Armenian people have had total control, not just subjugation and vassalization, over our lands.”

“Then we’re not necessarily responsible for other states’ securities,” Assanian said, as if continuing his explanation.

“Not entirely, no, and I know many of your reservations come from the fact that you do not want to be an empire. The greatest irony of them all is the Ottoman Empire being replaced with an Armenian Empire conquering its way through Georgia. I fear we may already be on that slope just from the way we treat the Russians… The Turks did the same thing to us before they started killing us.”

“Then how do I balance something like this with our integrity as a nation?” Assanian asked, his insides turning to ice at the mere mention that they could be becoming the monster they sought liberation from. Were forty years really enough to forget the pain? Were they that wrapped up in protecting their people that they lost sight of who they were? “The Georgia Plan… Well, it makes sense to me. It makes sense to my cabinet. My ministers agree that it is thought out well and could offer the relief we need to deal with several issues. The bandits, the refugees, the drugs, the crime… Georgia is a major component in all of them. It gives us an opportunity to stabilize our region and stop suffering on all sides.”

Serovian sighed and frowned. “It’s a check that you have to make sure that your government understands before you undertake an operation such as this. You know what our intent is, you know what Armenia is supposed to be. I am very proud of how far we’ve come, but I know the rest of the Council worries that we could lose sight of ourselves. Make it apparent who we are and what we do. We have ideals, we have values. Vadratian, your predecessor, forgot much of this despite our concerns. I implore you to think about these things. You’re a smart man, Hasmik. You’re caring. I know who you are and I know of your service to the Army. You have values, too. You know what duty is.” The Councilman looked back towards the estate, then back to Assanian: “I trust you. I think that you can order this.”

Assanian crossed his arms and thought. Of course, the old clichés about a best defense being offense came to mind. But more practically, the Armenians could have their cake and eat it, too: a protected state and a retention of their ideology. The warnings of empire stirred something in him, made him think about the morality of what they were about to do. The Great War was supposed to be the death of empire, the death of the world order that had kept them from greatness. Around the world, it was not always like that, but something led Assanian to believe that they could take these lessons and learn something. They were weak now, sapped of their strength and unity by those who sought to extract instead of build. If people recognized this, if they internalized it, then something great could happen. But something had to start the fire, someone had to take initiative and champion a new age. Armenia was stronger now than it had been in hundreds of years: why couldn’t they come from the shadows to make the region as they wanted?

Destiny, for once, was in the hands of the Armenians. No longer were foreign powers there to determine what people could and couldn’t do. The Caucasus and the Near East were finally free to change everything. Assanian smirked and looked over to see a glint in Serovian’s eye, as if he read Assanian’s mind and knew what he was thinking. The President thanked the Councilman for his time and excused himself. He took his coat and his briefcase, and returned to the city.
Aygestan, Armenia

Mary Kandarian stood with her family at the dinner table as the sun dipped below the dark green mountains of the Artsakh. She looked down wordlessly at the meal prepared, dressed in a deep blue silk dress with the traditional brightly decorative patterned trim subdued in tone, her jewelry and ornaments removed, and a scarf wrapped loosely around her head. The night before the funeral was the ritual of Dan Gark, a wake at home to be with family before the priest took them to the church the following morning. Both the parents of Mary and Gor, her own two sisters, Gor’s younger brother and sister, and the couple’s children were there: Mary’s brother was unable to get leave from the western border to attend, while Gor’s older brother was training in Nakhchivan. They had spent the day each other, recalling memories of Gor’s life and his marriage to Mary. His casket was prepared in the sitting room, open as per tradition. The church had dressed him in his suit, covered the wounds on his head with makeup, and made him look peaceful as he laid there.

The family ate and drank together until midnight, laughing and crying over childhood stories or pointless arguments that they had. One time, Gor had been out getting water from the well with his mother when he saw a dog running through the woods and decided to chase it: he had loved dogs and wanted one badly at the time. His father had to run after him and grab him as he tried to find it and “tame” it. A year later, Gor’s parents finally adopted a small dog from a family friend whose herding dog had puppies. It was a runt, but it lived through Gor’s childhood. Its name was Hovit. Many years later, when Mary and Gor had their second child, they would adopt another one for their kids. That one, old and riddled with arthritis, was curled up peacefully on the floor next to a window.

The wake of Gor was ended around midnight when his parents announced that they were tired and wished to rest for the next day. The sons went to the front door where the casket lid was placed upright, a traditional way of notifying the neighbors of a death in the family. They brought it into the house and carefully went to their rooms, while Mary returned to her now empty bedrooms. Photographs of her and Gor still stood on the dresser: that and the closet were still filled with clothes she had not sorted through yet. After the funeral and a few days of mourning, she knew she had to start looking for places to send his old possessions. Looking through the cleaned clothes hanging from the closet or stumbling on his hunting rifle and ammunition by the front door filled her with sadness, like she thought he was coming home at the end of the day before that thought was quickly crushed. Gor was never coming home from the forest again, he had been claimed by the mountains of the Artsakh like many others. A stupid, meaningless death. It was frustrating to watch someone die like that: not for a purpose, not for a cause, but because of an accident. She remembered simmering with rage when the foreman told her that it was a rusted-out clip holding a line in place. A rusted-out clip, a ten dram piece they could have picked up from the hardware store on their way over.

Aygestan’s priest arrived on the quiet Friday morning with a small group of volunteers the next morning. Mary, who had done her best to look presentable and stoic for the funeral, could not hide the lack of sleep in her eyes. Aygestan’s church’s pastor was an older man with a well-kept greying beard. Wrinkles covered his olive skin, but he maintained a tall and sturdy build despite his age. He wore the simple black robes of the Armenian Church with the pointed hood down, golden cross dangling low across his neck. His followers, young men and teenagers with strong arms to lift Gor’s casket, stood a distance behind him in almost identical black suits. Father Deradoorian bowed his head respectfully to Mary. “Good morning, Miss Kandarian”, he said softly. He looked to her tired face and sunken eyes in the way priests always tried to do, with compassion and understanding.

“Good morning, Father,” Mary answered duly and without overt emotion. She stared emptily ahead at him, diverting her gaze to scan the followers behind him. “Today is Yegeghetsvo Gark, isn’t it?” she said rhetorically, referring to the church services of Armenian funerals.

“Yes. With your permission, we would like to bring Gor’s casket to the church for this morning’s service.”

Mary nodded, stepping aside and offering Father Deradoorian a path through her door. The volunteers wordlessly entered in a single-file line to the sitting room where they ensured the casket was closed and properly secured. After Dan Gark, the casket was always to be closed when going to the church for services and burial. They lifted the dark black wooden coffin off the floor and shouldered it, bringing it right back out the front door and towards their modest black sedan that sat on the road with its rear doors propped open. They then lifted the coffin, spun it three times, and brought it back down to shoulder level. Father Deradoorian stood with his hands clasped together, watching. Mary had blanked her face, coldly watching the casket of her husband leave their home for the last time. The church’s car had been fitted with rails specifically for coffins, which the bearers carefully slid Gor’s onto. They locked it into place to stop it from sliding around on the winding mountain roads and pressed the rear doors closed.

“We will see you this afternoon once the preparations are completed,” Father Deradoorian continued. The volunteers of his all piled into the sedan, closing their doors to wait patiently for their pastor. “Who will you be bringing with you to the final ceremony?”

“Just our family and his,” Mary answered. He adjusted her dress and looked back to her house, where her children were still sleeping in their rooms.

Father Deradoorian nodded solemnly. “Well then, I shall give you a few hours to get ready. One in the afternoon is when I shall start the service.”

The pastor placed his hand over his heart and offered a blessing to Mary, before turning back towards the church car. He climbed into the side passenger seat and the engine rumbled to life: the wheels crunched gravel as it pulled back onto the road and began to drive off towards the main part of Aygestan. Mary’s house was only a few minutes from the town, nestled quietly along with three or four other wooden country homes on a lonely road. The vibrant summer forest enveloped their little street, stretching up and down the side of the hill that it was cut in on. Mary looked around at the road, noticing a flight of birds coming down past the power lines that stretched across the street. They turned right towards town, almost following the priest and his followers on their journey to the church. With a sigh, she turned back to her house and went back in. She woke her children and ordered them into their dark suits, then knocked on the door of her parents. They, too, were dressing in their mourning clothes.

Mary had to borrow a neighbor’s car to get them to the church. It took two trips to carry the entire extended family into town. Aygestan wasn’t large: the distance between her house and the church was only a few kilometers. It was a typical western Artsakh town: in the valley, nestled by the mountainsides that were comfortable to residents. Along with the church, there were only two restaurants, a coffeehouse, and a small hotel; a grocer, butcher, baker, and a general store all located in the same block of town; a single school for children of all ages; and one increasingly elderly policeman for the town. The biggest employer was the Aygestan Brandy Company, where Gor had previously worked in his teens before logging offered a more competitive paycheck. The only medical clinic was midway between Aygestan and the neighboring village of Kyatuk.

By one in the afternoon, the family had filled into the church’s graveyard for the ceremony of Yegeghetsvo Gark. They stood themselves around the grave plot that was freshly dug, looking towards the front and Father Deradoorian. Gor’s casket was positioned at the front of the ceremony. A trio of candles stood beside the casket and a traditional funeral wreath decorated by family and friends called the psak. Beside it, a khachkar had been carved for Gor by a local craftsman. The stone slab, engraved with his name at the top and symbols like the cross and the Armenian wheel of eternity stood stoically beside an altar. It was dug in like a gravestone at the foot of the plot. Assistants moved back and forth across the church, preparing things for the final ceremony. Mary came around next to her sister Anna, who gave her a quick look to make sure she was alright. They waited, standing straight with their hands clasped as Father Deradoorian went to the pedestal.

“Welcome,” began the pastor as he surveyed the gathered family with his kind eyes, “I hope that the journey here to our humble church was safe and comfortable.”

He looked over to his followers, who were positioned next to Gor’s casket. In a slow, steady voice, he gave his last rites: “While Gor was a good man, his time came early. We have celebrated him through life and now death, and now we must lay him to rest. God shall receive him, but we mustn’t forget him from his time in this world. Always keep Gor Kandarian in your hearts, always remember his contributions to his family and his village.”

Armenian funerals never had eulogies. The church services were short, efficient, and official affairs. Most of the remembrance was done at Dank Gark the night before, with family and food. More days of remembrance, especially on the seventh and fortieth days after the burial and annually after that, would be part of the Kerezmanee Gark graveside services. But for now, it was time for Gor’s final burial. The casket bearers slowly lowered the body into the plot, slowly putting it to a final rest. The pastor watched, then called the ceremony to a close after the body was securely in its plot. He dismissed the waiting family, who shuffled out towards their waiting car. It took another two trips to head back home, where they went back to their rooms and prepared themselves for the evening meal, hogehats. Consisting simply of cooked meat and potatoes, this meal was to remember Gor for everyone present at the ceremony. Until the end of the night, the Kandarian family ate and drank together. When they were tired and full, they retired to their beds. Gor was finally with God. He was at rest.

Yerevan, Armenia

The presidential office in Yerevan was located on the second floor of the palace directly in front of the main square. A vaguely rectangular room with an ornate wooden desk near the windows and balcony and an Armenian rug laid out in front of it, there was a sofa and table for meetings along with a library filled with literature and books about any subject relevant to the President. Hanging from the carved and decorated ceiling was a golden chandelier that bathed the room in yellow-white light as the sun dipped below the skyline of Yerevan. Like with many late night at the office, President Assanian was dressed down to his shirt, his jacket and tie slung across his chair. With him were a stack of files on his desk and the director of the National Security Service. A lighter man with wild, curly black hair and a perpetual stubble, Director Marko Moysisian wore his outfit with the sleeves of his white dress shirt rolled up and black suspenders slipped off to sling low from his hips. He swirled a large amount of brandy in a crystal glass.

The National Security Service was Armenia’s prime intelligence organization. Born from the Fedayeen spy networks after the formation of the military, the NSS became one of the most important parts of the government. It had agents collecting information across Armenia, and had spread out into Georgia and Turkey to locate threats to Armenian security. They earned their reputation for being snakes, stopping at nothing to get what they needed. Their operations embodied the dark side of militia tradition: apathy towards laws and decency, fighting against all odds to finish the fight. Eventually, they branched out into partisan operations: drawing on their Fedayeen heritage, they trained people to conduct assassinations and sabotage. The result was a small, relatively unknown, but incredibly effective organization that was difficult to control. They did what they wanted in ways that roughly lined up with the intent of the government at large, but one could never be certain of their actions. An Armenian soldier was trained not to kill a civilian, despite his own personal feelings: an NSS operative had no such reservations.

“So as you can see, our Border Service hit a few bandit positions in Georgia this month,” Moysisian stated, tracing a line along the Georgian border that was circled by his analysts. “They got a few of our guys, so the commander of the battalion there asked our assets in Georgia to see where they could strike back to send a message.”

President Assanian nodded along, reading into his file. Three companies went out and attacked several different positions, mostly small minor outposts and resupply bases used by Georgian border raiders. It was the largest such operation undertaken in the history of the Border Service. A quick, professional raid that caused a significant amount of damage. But the question now was what could be done in the future. Border raids had been causing more and more damage over the past few months, and the increase of refugees and drug smuggling was causing problems at home. The police in Gyumri were raiding weapons caches and settling ethnic feuds, while in Sevan there were drive-bys with machineguns. The former President, Joseph Vadratian, had chosen to handle it internally by putting down Russian and Georgian immigrants.

“Maybe it’s time we think offensively,” suggested Moysisian. “Our elements did a lot of damage and based on the information I’ve received, the Mountain Wolves’ lieutenants are starting to worry.” He looked back at the map and saw the village of Patara Darbazi. “One was executed for ordering those initial raids that caused our retaliation,” he added with a slight chuckle.

“What would offensive thinking entail,” carefully answered Assanian. He knew the NSS and their suggestions were often grey at best, and he knew that Moysisian wouldn’t be giving him the full picture even if he asked. Moysisian smiled again, adjusting the a roll on his sleeve that sagged a little low.

“If we could… figure out a solution to our Georgian problem, what do you think that could be?”

Assanian frowned, eyeing Moysisian and his casual posture. “I’ve been working on policy for the internal affairs portion of it but… we need all the options we can get.”

“What if we could have a Georgian government to take the brunt of Russia’s collapse for us? We’ve already gone into Poti to stabilize that port for our own economic interests and it’s worked out for us.”

“Have you been planning this?” asked Assanian, somewhat startled. “Going into another country and setting up a government?”

“It’s what the Persians did in former Azerbaijan,” pointed out Moysisian. “After the war, we have had no further problems in the Artsakh.”

He rearranged the folders to present one to the President. In bold, black letters on the top, it was labeled: “Plan Georgia – Offense.” It looked like a few dozen sheets of paper, along with maps and other figures, were inside. The President looked over it hesitantly: troops in the streets of Georgian cities, using Christian militias to secure areas of the countries against Islamists in the southeast. Politicians and organizations propped up by the NSS. Economic aid, propaganda to sway the people towards the Armenian state. The formation of an allied government built around a Caucasian identity. A union between the two states. They would be using the Georgians to absorb the refugees from Russia instead of the Armenians. On some level, it made sense, but it didn’t quite sit right with Assanian. “We’re going to invade another country and set up a government? That doesn’t sound like us,” he replied.

“What do you mean, not like us?” answered Moysisian. “We’re securing our people against the Russian criminal elements and Georgian bandits. Setting up the Georgians as a functional government instead of a wasteland gives us a buffer.”

Assanian continued to read through. Some of the details were not fully fleshed out or were left vague on purpose. He wanted to ask but he knew he had to spend more time reading over it. “This just sounds like we’d be extending too far. Meddling with other countries. I’m not sure if this is how I want to govern Armenia.”

Moysisian took another sip of his brandy. “I think that we’ve put together a good plan here. Poti is just a small case of it, a test undertaken by Vadratian’s administration. He wanted to see how it would work on a small scale and the Georgian Poti Regiment has been trained up for several years now. We’ve just started cycling Armenian officers out of it and replacing them with junior Georgians trained and fighting with the force. It’s working well.”

“I’ve read the reports on Poti, Marko,” replied Assanian. “It’s been making good progress and we’ve had tremendous growth from using it as a shipping port but… If we were to march on Tbilisi like this, it would be different.”

“At the end of the day, this is your decision to make. But we have included assessments there as well.”

Assanian looked back to Moysisian and put the folder on his desk. “I’ll look at it further tonight. Is there anything else you wanted to tell me, Director?”

Moysisian shook his head and gathered up his coat. He offered a goodbye to the President and excused himself from the room where a guard escorted him to his waiting car. Inside the office, Assanian looked through the maps and thought. He had issues with taking control of a country like that, but what Moysisian was saying made sense. Five years of term could yield positive results but he knew it would be expensive and difficult. It took long enough for Armenia to get back on its feet, and it could very easily be overextended when it came to helping out another country. 1960 was the first year that Armenia could begin paying back at least some of its massive loans to Persia and Europe. But it was a valid suggestion, one that he would have to consider. Having someone else deal with the drugs and crime that Russian immigrants brought would be better for the Armenian state, and would offer the country some respite to begin solving the problems that had already manifested.

But Assanian was still not positive. Moysisian’s enthusiasm for foreign intervention concerned him, and it was something he wanted to discuss with the Councilmen of the Revolution. The founders of the Armenian Separatist Federation, or at least the few who were still alive, formed the Council as an unofficial organization to assist politicians when problems came up regarding governance in a post-revolutionary Armenia. He knew that they would make time to speak with him, especially on a topic like this. Their insight would help him make a final decision.

Before he left for the night, Assanian tossed the folder back to his desk. He straightened his tie, tucked in his shirt, and threw his jacket back on. Turning towards the calendar on his wall beside the desk, he picked up a marker and wrote down a note: Meet with the Council. Then he turned off the light and went home. The Georgia Plan could wait.
Gyumri, Armenia

The Gyumri policemen crowded around a table covered with memos, manifests, photographs, and pertinent pieces of evidence. Two military policemen from the Gyumri base talked quietly with each other. A rack of weapons, tagged with evidence stickers, stood next to the table as Tigran quietly inspected one of the rifles that Private Marovian had hidden in his room. The metal receiver of the rifle bore, at the base near the rear sight, a serial number and the location of manufacture. All four of the rifles’ identifying information matched with the service carbines that went missing in Marovian’s truck. A military interrogation of Private Marovian had been conducted on-base by military police officers, and which had led to the location of another arms cache underneath a Russian restaurant in the eastern ghettos. The truck, too, was found by a hiker in Lake Arpi. Thirty kilometers north of the city, it had appeared that Private Marovian drove the truck to the edge of a dirt firebreak. In a move that somewhat impressed Tigran, the young arms dealer then put the truck in neutral and pointed it down a hill, jumping out before it started rolling too fast.

The military police presented their investigations to the Gyumri department: Marovian was cooperative with the investigation thus far, but Karlovian had fled to the north and slipped across the Georgian border upon hearing about the recent murders. He was terrified, and rightly so, that a police investigation would be coming towards him. A military investigator had been sent north to check with Border Service posts and see if he had emigrated across the border through a checkpoint, especially since the Karlovian family automobile was reported stolen a few days prior. That, however, was no longer Chief Tigran’s problem. The weapons found in the Russian restaurant were part of the stolen arms, and the location was suspiciously close to the residences of several suspected Mafiya lieutenants. It was determined that the lieutenants were trying to incentivize teens and unemployed young adults with money to start hitting Armenian establishments with these weapons, furthering tensions in the city. What the Mafiya sought to gain by inciting race riots was still unclear, but the police were beginning crackdowns on any and all gang activity to try and start building an information network from apprehended suspects.

After the conclusion of the military investigation, one of the MPs turned to Tigran: “Chief Korkarian, we’ve wrapped up all we can for you. The rest of the weapons fall into our jurisdiction, so we are focusing on finding those arms caches. Unfortunately, aside from that, we can’t help you with the Russians. That’s for the Gyumri boys, since you started the case.”

Tigran nodded, shaking the man’s hand. “I understand. Thank you, Corporal,” he said, eyeing the black chevrons on the soldier’s collar. “The weapons are still a big part of it, and we’ll help you once we uncover more of this. Marovian had a ‘sell-list’ that we sent to Sergeant Kavalian. Nothing like any sort of official ledger, he was a little bit sloppy on that, but it was addresses and names.”

The MP smirked, crossing his arms. “We’re excited to kick down some doors. Beats grabbing drunks who are too wasted to fight back well.”

Tigran just nodded solemnly, keeping his thoughts to himself. He knew all about cocky young cops taking risks and going straight for the action. They were like soldiers, almost, and every time they learned the same lesson: policing, especially nowadays, was nasty and sometimes brutal. The first time they see a real victim of heavy assault, murder, or rape, they reevaluate their thoughts on door-kicking and shooting bad guys. It broke some people, jaded others, but nobody ever really was the same. Nothing could be said to them before then, so Tigran thanked the Corporal and escorted him to the jeep waiting outside. He and his partner threw on their taraz soft covers, waved, and jumped in their vehicle to roar off down the road. Tigran sighed and turned to Alex, who was beside him. “Fucking kids,” he muttered. “I hope they don’t crash.” His partner nodded, shrugged, and put his hands in his pockets. They both went back to their desks to handle administrative work.

A few minutes of form-filing had passed before the telephone on Tigran’s desk rang. The patrol chief put his pen down, reached for it, and picked it up to hear his dispatcher in the telephone room: “Chief, two patrols are requested for a vehicle fire in Yerkatgtsi Norvan east of the rail depot at the Axayan-Garegin intersection. Looks like a sedan on fire in an intersection, possibly arson. Firefighters are heading on scene now.”

“Alright, I’ll be there,” Tigran answered, before hanging up the phone. He grabbed his blue policeman’s jacket that was draped off the back of his chair and his duty belt from the coat rack. He busted out through the door, to find Alex smoking a cigarette next to the coffee table. “We’re going to East Gyumri,” he said. “Grab your things, I’ll pull the car out.”

Alex simply nodded, moving towards his desk to grab whatever gear he needed to put on. Tigran, meanwhile, dipped out through the side exit of the police office and withdrew his key ring from the pocket of his pants. Getting through several fence doors, he lightly jogged over to his patrol vehicle: trusty number seventeen, complete with scratches on its bumper from pushing cars off the road and a buffed-out scattering of shotgun pellets on the trunk. Tigran and Alex took care of it, however, and kept it freshly painted after anything happened to it. He swung open the doors to the motor pool, hopped in the driver’s seat, and whipped it out to the front of the office where the second patrolmen were already waiting. Tigran honked his horn at Alex on the curb, who shook the hand of the second car’s passenger and jogged over to get in. “Ready, chief?”

The pair took off, carefully swinging around the corner before heading towards the main through-street of the city. Gyumri was one of Armenia’s largest cities but also one of its oldest. The streets were crowded and winding, having evolved from pedestrian alleys to avenues traversed by horses to automobile roads. One road, Haghtanaki Avenue, flanked the long and narrow Victory Park through a north-south slice of the city: it provided the quickest way to get from one end to another and had been widened for buses, trucks, and the increasingly numerous cars owned by Armenians. Despite this, police response time in the Russian-dominated ghettos in the east often suffered as the patrols struggled to quickly get through. While major infrastructure improvements had been constructed in local areas by provincial governments, a grand national highway system was still being debated in Parliament. The police still had to take constrained city roads to get from one neighborhood to another. It was thirty minutes of driving through traffic, sometimes requiring a siren to move dawdling drivers out of the way, before Tigran and Alex spotted the plume of smoke rising from an intersection.

Yerkatgtsi Norvan had developed a reputation as the bad part of town. Part of that stemmed from the Russians, but it was also just a neighborhood occupied almost exclusively by the working class. Due to its proximity to the train tracks and warehouses of Gyumri, many people worked industry. It was dirty, loud, and smelled of burnt coal constantly. City officials preferred to spend their sanitation budgets elsewhere, providing only the bare minimum of services to apartments here. Russian graffiti covered the bare concrete public housing blocks, shoes dangled from electrical wires, trash blew down empty alleys, and passerby stared at the police. Tigran and Alex stopped their car a safe distance away from the central intersection of the neighborhood and cautiously dismounted. Alex put his hand to his pistol belt, feeling for the wooden handle of his revolver as both of them fanned out to opposite ends of the street. There were no more onlookers, nobody coming to see what was happening. Just the crackling of a fire as the gasoline from the car burned. Tigran eyed the windows of the drab apartment blocks, barely noticing a long object appearing at the top floor of a seven-story building.

“Gun!” he shouted, diving to cover by a streetlight as a shot rang out. His ageing body hit the ground with a thud as a rifle round shattered the window of the police car. Alex tried to return fire with his handgun, putting three wildly inaccurate downrange before kneeling down next to a bus stop. “It’s an ambush!” Tigran repeated, just as a group of people appeared from behind a fence. There were four, armed with shotguns and one with a carbine. Alex swore and ducked down again: one of them leveled their piece and fired off a spray of pellets towards the police. Tigran rolled past the streetlight and got into cover in an entranceway beside him as another volley of shots ripped across the street. He struggled for the revolver in his leather holster, pointing it down the street to shoot off a round. He was now separated from his partner, on opposite ends of the street, outnumbered and outgunned.

In the distance, someone called out in Russian. “Politsiya! Politsiya! Von tam!” The four gangsters fanned out into the road, exchanging more shots with the Armenian police. A carbine round smashed into the concrete by Tigran, blowing chunks of it down onto the sidewalk and hitting the old man with a concussive thud. He stuck his arm out of cover and returned shots before drawing it back in to reload shells from his cartridge belt. He had personally never seen a use for revolver speedloaders like the younger cops, but now could see where they would be handy. The gangsters moved into cover, just as Alex looked back to Tigran from his position.

“I’m gonna go for the shotgun!” he yelled across the street. “Cover me!”

Tigran nodded, got up onto a knee behind the cover of his concrete alcove, and scanned the road with his pistol. Alex stood up, took a deep breath, and started sprinting to the police car. The Russian sniper in the apartment block tried to zero in on the cop, but he was too slow or poorly trained to get a good lock on: a shot went high, shattering a window further down the street. Alex dove into cover by the trunk of the car and fumbled for the latch. It popped open with ease, and he reached for the wood-stocked shotgun strapped into the trunk’s floor. Cursing as he loaded its magazine with shells and racking it, Tigran’s partner kneeled back down and leaned towards the side of his cover. “Come out, fuckers!” he shouted. He followed up in some of the only Russian words he knew: “Syuka blyad!

A gangster, sufficiently enraged by this, emerged from hiding behind a street corner and leveled his shotgun against the police car. He shot off two rounds in rapid succession, before Alex returned fire with an expertly-aimed slug to the chest. Armenian cops had two types of shells in their cars: buckshot, for closer breaching actions, and solid slug shells for longer-ranged street fights. The Russian was hit center of mass with a 12 gauge slug, his torso exploding in a shower of blood as he was thrown to the ground screaming. Alex racked the shotgun, ejecting a shell onto the concrete, and took aim as the gangster’s friend ran to the middle of the street to retrieve the wounded man. Alex shot again, this one shattering the gangster’s leg and almost tearing it off. The man dropped his carbine as he fell face-first into the concrete. He tried crawling for it, inching towards the piece as Tigran followed up with a second slug that blew his shoulder away. Two dead Russians lay in pools of blood in the street, which was enough to convince the other two to drop their guns and sprint away.

The Russians ran down through the road, dipping behind into an alleyway. The Armenians, unsure if they could still pursue with the sniper aimed squarely at them still, cursed them and fired off a few ineffective return shots. All these did were harmlessly impact into the concrete. Now, it was just them and the burning car: the sniper watched them closely. Tigran and Alex turned to each other, shaking their heads. The chief slumped back into his alcove, holstering his revolver, running a hand through his grey hair. The firefight had taken all of fifteen harrowing minutes, but he had no idea where the other patrol was. They were supposed to flank around to the other side of the intersection but they hadn’t been around during the fight. Yerkatgtsi Norvan was notorious for being confusing and dense, leaving Tigran wondering if they had just gotten lost or were in trouble of their own. With no way to contact them, he wouldn’t know until much later. The pair waited in their cover for another few minutes, unsure if they should chance the sniper.

Tigran, ultimately, decided to regroup with Alex. He steadied himself, nodded at his partner, and took off at as fast of a jog as he could manage while praying that he wouldn’t be shot in the side. He remembered from his military service that it took a trained sniper four seconds to zero in on a moving target. It was obvious that the gangster wasn’t trained, nor was he any good at his job, but Tigran counted in his head as he rushed to the car. There was no return fire, just silence. He ducked down to behind the trunk with Alex: “I think he’s gone,” he said breathlessly.

“Yeah, probably dropped his shit and ran when I blew his friends apart,” Alex remarked, lighting a cigarette out of his trusty steel case. He offered one to the chief, who declined by waving his hand in front of his face and tried again to catch his breath.

“It was an ambush, goddammit,” Tigran scowled. “I haven’t seen this shit before. Fuck them. Fuck them all. This is the shittiest, most cowardly fucking thing you can do. They’re not men, they’re fucking pussies.”

The chief paused again, taking a deep breath to calm down. He couldn’t let his emotions control him like that. They still had to get home. Alex exhaled, leaning his shotgun against the car before standing up out of his squat. With a look to the former sniper’s nest and another drag on the cigarette, he heard a car moving behind them. The cops turned around to see their lost partner, driving slowly towards them. The car stopped, and a bewildered junior patrolman hopped out of the driver’s seat, apologizing profusely. “Chief! Shit, I’m sorry, we took a wrong turn a while back and got lost in this damn neighborhood.”

“Are you a fucking retard? Do we need to institutionalize you with all the other fucking retard babies who got dropped on their heads by alcoholic piece of shit mothers?” Alex shouted, straightening his belt as he walked angrily towards the patrolman. “Who gets lost for twenty fucking minutes in this town? It’s not even that big!”

“Sir! Wha-“ the patrolman began, before noticing the bodies ahead of them. Alex continued his march to the driver, closing in and extending his fingers into a knife that he waved in the face of the new hire. Before any explanation could be offered, Alex turned his knife-hand towards the boyish face of the patrolman and slapped him with an echoing smack. The cop stumbled, but regained his composure.

“We were ambushed, for God sake! Fucking ambushed! It was a fucking trap!”

“Alex!” Tigran called out from the patrol car as he inspected the damage. “Calm down and help me change this tire. And you! Officer… I forget your name.”

“Hovnanian, sir,” the patrolman uttered. “Officer Hovnanian.”
“Get the evidence. There are four guns in the street and we suspect one in that apartment over there,” Tigran ordered. “Recover them and head home. There’s no emergency here, just an ambush. We’ll let the locals deal with the wreck.”

Alex trudged over to Tigran, fuming. The chief had taken a jack and tire iron from the trunk and was busy rolling the spare tire over to the front-left, which had been riddled with buckshot. Small divots pockmarked the hood and side of the car, shredding the rubber tire. Luckily, it was just the one: they didn’t have to cannibalize any spare tired from the other cruiser. “Keep your shit in check, Alex,” warned Tigran as he kneeled down to place the jack under the car’s sturdy frame. “I know it’s frustrating. You saw my response.”

“He’s an idiot,” Alex replied as Tigran jacked up the car. “I wanted to punch him right in his little gut.”

“Show some restraint, next time. We’re professionals. We have laws in this society, we have rules. Everything is going to hell in this city, but we’re stopping it. Does law and order mean nothing to you? Why are you a cop?”

Alex sighed, taking the tire iron from his chief. He loosened the bolts on the wheel, snatching them up and lining them in a neat row as he worked. In the background, the junior patrolman walked through the bodies, picking up guns and slinging them over his shoulder while his partner smoked a cigarette and scanned the potential avenues of approach with his shotgun. Tigran stood back as Alex lifted the wheel off and handed it over. “I don’t like getting shot at,” grumbled Alex.

“If you did, I’d be sending you over to the psychological ward at the hospital,” joked Tigran. “Could you put the tire back on for me? I’m too old and frail.”

The tire was replaced as Hovnanian and his partner emerged from the apartment block. An elderly woman had led them up the stairs to the sniper’s nest, explaining that she had seen a man jump from the second story of the staircase out onto an awning and run away. It had been one of her tenants, renting out the room for only a week. His partner clutched a Mosin Nagant rifle awkwardly in one hand, shotgun in the other. The pair returned to Tigran and Alex: “Sir, we got the weapons. Four in the street and one in that apartment. Was that everything?”

“Yeah, you got it. Thanks, kid,” Tigran answered as he threw them in the back seat, closing the door. “That should be it… Nobody’s hurt, we’re all fine.”

Alex looked back to the still-burning car in the intersection. “So we’re not extinguishing it?”

“It’ll burn out,” Tigran said with a shrug. “Now let’s get out of here.”

The police mounted up in their cars, backing away from the intersection. Rattled but not discouraged, they turned and drove off back to headquarters. The weapons in the back appeared to be part of Private Moravian’s stash still, leading them to think that the gangsters were starting to get more aggressive. With the evidence turned in and the reports beginning to be written by Hovnanian, Tigran and Alex sat together with the case file. Carefully annotating the events of the day, the case thickened still. More weapons, more gangsters, more violence. The military were closing in on Karlovian and the Gyumri police were still hitting suspected sites in the ghettos. Gyumri had turned into a time-bomb, one that the police hoped to diffuse before it escalated into the worst violence the country had seen yet. But for now, the day was over and the police were changing shifts. Tigran and Alex were heading home, done with another day at the office.
<Snipped quote by TheEvanCat>

Genuine question here: Looking at your sheet, I don't see a mention of the Armenian Genocide anywhere, so I assume it just didn't happen in this timeline on the same scale (Your sheet does mention massacres, but I assume that isn't to the scale of the Armenian Genocide OTL)?


Just got back from New York:

But yep, established canon is that the Turks were basically too busy fighting in this shittier version of the Great War to dedicate manpower needed to kill the minorities they didn't like (Armenians, Assyrians, etc.) so there was no real genocide for anyone.
BYRD WHY THE FUCK YOU GOTTA CALL ME A NAVY MAN I'M IN THE ARMY REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

but thanks tho
<Snipped quote by TheEvanCat>

Now looking at it, I see what you mean and I do think it would be unrealistic for Assyria to have a goal to stabilize any surrounding nations, so I'm just going to scrap that idea out of the application and make it so they focus more on stabilizing internally.


I think a good direction to go would be reconciling what happened during the civil war and what happened to the Kurds. Keep in mind there's a Kurdistan that's been alluded to and there might be opportunities for stories there. Other than that, I personally have no further concerns.
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