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10 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

Shahan IVa
Five years ago

The first one of the survivor caravan arrived at the checkpoint with his hands held high in the air, limping across the shattered and torn road while dozens of men, women, and children of all species and ages trailed behind him. His exposed skin, face and arms, were covered in dirty bandages. Beneath the wraps, his skin was burnt and charred, peeling off grotesquely. A soldier, from a mobile guardpost, had spotted them a few kilometers out with his scout drone, and had assembled a fireteam to block off the road. A gun platform mounted to a utility truck had been brought to the center of the road. They dressed like Vanaati, probably the ones unlucky enough to be stuck in mineshafts or bunkers when the nukes glassed the town and its rebel garrison there. The leader dropped to his knees in front of the fireteam and bowed his head down to the ground.

In the distance, thunderous explosions from nuclear warheads and laser bombardment sent ripples through the still air. It was noticeably hotter: thermal energy from the fires and explosions had raised the temperature by a few degrees, at least locally. The goal of the Kotayki battlegroup was not to glass the entire planet, since they still needed to space when the battle was over, but instead to completely wipe any sort of resistance pockets that Vanaat could still harbor. In the distance, over the horizon, the city of Vanaat burned and sent thick plumes of acrid smoke into the blue sky. Drones and craft soared across the grasslands, ferrying troops and supplies. On the ground, convoys of troops were poised to enter through the city to verify the damage done and move onto the next position. Sadaet's vehicle, towing a tactical satcom array to help establish local communications for the battle damage assessment, had parked a hundred meters behind the checkpoint while they waited for the security element to clear the road. He stood behind the armored door of his truck on the running board, hand on the hilt of his holstered revolver while the other one gripped a handrail on the roof of the truck. A cigarette dangled from his mouth, his helmet linked with a d-ring to a spare loop on his plate carrier's load bearing harness. He turned to his technical expert, a warrant officer almost twice his age with wild hair and a greying beard. "Who are these guys?" Sadaet asked.

"Vanaati," said the warrant officer simply. "Probably trying to get out of there. No idea how in the hell they managed to do that, we've been glassing the town for days now."

"They've got vehicles behind them," pointed out Sadaet. He gestured in the direction, many meters behind the herd of refugees on foot with their hands in the air as well. Ragged-looking vehicles with blasted-out windshields and scorched paint drove slowly with the writhing figures of the mortally wounded in their truck flatbeds or sprawled out on backseats. "And the wind is pushing the fallout to the east, right by Battle Position Rio."

Shouting from the refugees brought Sadaet and his warrant officer back to the scene. The lead man, speaking in thickly accented Vanaati, begged for help from the fireteam. "We're poisoned! Poisoned!" he screamed at them. His hands turned to fists, he shook at the troops from his knees. "Everyone is sick! We're all burned! How could you do this? Everyone!"

"Back off! Back up!" shouted one of the security troops. Beside him, another soldier held out detection gear in his hands, registering a potential radiological threat. While radiation poisoning wasn't contagious, the concern was fallout particles: little pieces of dirt or material sucked up by the fireball and deposited with radioactive nuclides that was dispersed over the blast area. While most of it decayed within two days, there was a significant contamination risk to men and materiel from some of the elements with longer half-lives. “I swear to god, if you don’t back the fuck up I will shoot you in the fucking face.”

Sadaet’s radio started to ping, but he turned down the volume knob. The scene in front of him unfolded about as dramatically as it could have: the refugee continued to shuffle towards the checkpoint, his followers alongside him showing their wounds and desperately requesting help. A single medic had been brought forward from the convoy to assess the situation. He could be seen shaking his head, massaging his forehead with his fingertips with a pained expression on his face. An officer beside him was pointing to the refugees and talking fast. The discussion between him and the convoy security leader turned into shouting, then shoving. A shout from the little circle drew two soldiers in as the officer body-checked the medic into a ditch beside the road: one soldier restrained him, now yelling and screaming at the medic and pointing wildly at the refugees, while another helped the other man out of the ditch. What insanity.

While this unfolded, a gunshot cut through the air. The fight on the side of the road stopped: the men looked, some in shock, some in total apathy, as the checkpoint fireteam leader fired off another shot into the ground beside the refugees. “The next one goes right into your fucking forehead!” he screamed, jerking his rifle towards the leader of the huddle. The man dropped to his knees again, hands still outstretched in the air.

Sadaet turned back to ask for another cigarette from his chief. He opened up the cardboard box, withdrawing one slowly while he flicked open his lighter in the other hand. He bent his head low to light it behind the cover of his truck’s door, away from the wind, and just managed to get a good light going before the rip of a machinegun burst tore across the road. He flinched down behind the armored vehicle skin as another cacophony of rifle rounds, some even on automatic mode, shook the convoy. The screams and shrieks of dozens, hundreds even, of people, silenced the gunfire. Refugees took off sprinting in whatever way they could, scattering like balls broken in a game of pool. Bodies lay in the street, torn to shreds and missing arms, legs, and faces. Red blood seeped out from underneath the pile of dead in the streets. A pink mist gently settled down from the scene, mixing in with the blood on the road before someone called for a ceasefire.

“Stop!” shouted the officer, who had broken out of an arm-lock from a convoy securityman. “Stop shooting! What the fuck!”

“They kept coming!” replied someone else. Sadaet didn’t know who. Beside him, his chief offered up a few choice swears before settling down into his seat and closing his door. “Get in, sir,” he said simply, bluntly. “Close the door. Start the engine. Our convoy is moving.”

Teravainen

“Alright convicts, go time.”

Sergeant Gunnarson leapt from the ramp of their dropship onto the wet, muddy ground. His boots sucked into the mud, he raised his rifle to a crisp high-ready before scanning his sector. Off the ship next came Sadaet, jumping down into the dirt and unslinging his carbine from the sling on his chest. His left hand held onto the foregrip of the piece, an unregistered printed weapon he had downloaded and assembled some years ago after he could out that he could not avoid firefights with his technical expertise alone, while his left hand tapped at a small screen strapped to his left wrist. He went down a knee, bowing his body and slipping one shoulder of his assault pack off. The rest of the team assembled into a semicircle facing outwards just off the ramp of the dropship to provide security while Sadaet uncovered the drone inside his pack. He flipped the power on, unfolded its triangular wings, shouldered his bag, and stood up to toss it out.

Immediately, the drone’s engine kicked on and, as it dipped a little bit in the air, it flew off. A sensor link was established to Sadaet’s wristpiece and he began receiving live data from the sector. Visual, infrared, or other optical imagery piped into the screen while a side window displayed coordinates or pertinent alerts. “We’re live,” Sadaet said simply, his hand coming back to the weapon grip. He pushed the alert window to his contact lenses and ducked down again as the heat of the dropship engine passed over him and the crew. The engines, angled down, downwashed them in dirt, grass, and heat as it passed off back to the Revenant. Gunnarson hissed about forming up as their ride left, and the team moved into their wedge to begin moving out. The dropship was moderately stealthy, but the Federation had better sensors than that. There would at least be a rudimentary investigation into a potential intrusion, but they had plans to be long gone by the time a quick-reaction force arrived.

The team took off at a combat jog, weapons raised and scanning. Their formation passed over a few hundred meters of open ground before disappearing into the woodline. Gunnarson called them to a halt and security position while Sadaet gathered information from the drone. He had helped develop the software that turned physical and digital reconnaissance signals into actionable intelligence: his thermal sensors picked up and identified guard positions, which were matched to locations and pushed out to heads-up-displays on the other members of the team. The drone did a few flybys of the base, encircling it to double-check that it had found all of the signatures it needed. Thermal, electromagnetic, visual, and radiological hits were converted into camera positions, weapon nests, or types of buildings and vehicles. Once a few minutes had passed, the scan was complete. A fully-detailed view of the depot populated on top of the existing imagery: now they had real-time positions of the enemy position. Gunnarson ordered a final check of weapons and equipment before they began their maneuver to a critically underdefended point on the perimeter. Time to get some action.
Armenian-Georgian Border

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The night was quiet across the country as the Border Service moved into their camp sites. The company’s vehicles circled up at the camp site like wagons in the desert, and troops immediately began working from the outside in establishing their fortifications. Fighting positions were dug, weapons were emplaced in a circular security screen with interlocking sectors of fire. The mounts of excavated dirt were used to further reinforce covered positions. These initial positions were all that would be slept in until the camp would be fortified over the next few days and replaced with tents, sandbag walls with wire perimeters, and other amenities. When the sun rose in the morning, Georgian farmers out in their fields would discover a new army of foreigners on their soil. Yaglian and his team had barely gotten three hours of sleep before the daily patrols were to begin. First up on the list: the lieutenant had announced that their platoon had gotten the village they knew well already. It was time to return to Patara Darbazi.
The Revenant

Nobody outside of the frontier systems smoked anymore. It was an old world habit largely superseded by electronic cigarettes... which Sadaet thought were for douchebags. In the atmosphere-controlled space stations and ships, finding a space to light up was difficult at best: personal living quarters and obscure places like machinery rooms. Luckily for him, he was able to keep the smell to a minimum from his own room and scrub out the worst of the chemicals with some extra filters added to the air system. He had received word of an upcoming mission and was preparing his gear: a small rucksack, olive green and worn from years of abuse, was stuffed to the brim with radio equipment and computers. Anything from radio transmission, retransmission kits, electromagnetic jammers, scramblers, and disablers, to cyber network enablers and breach kits were tossed into pouches and compartments. On the back, Sadaet’s name in Punjabi Shahmukhi script flowed across the back. A keychain with a little waving cat dangled from a webbing strap.

His four speakers were put at corners of the room and pushed soft electronica toward the center of the room. He had already brought his things onboard from the storage unit at Helios Station. An ornate rug covered the cold metal floor of his room. On the wall, he had mounted his shrine: Sadaet himself came from the Gorbenani subcontinent on Shahan IVa and, like many of his people, followed a curious mix of secular Islam and Sikhism called Masireh Setareh. Translating roughly to “path of the stars”, the hole temple at Prosidainsa was constructed by explorers from India and Iran generations ago. Their ships had both suffered grevious mechanical failures and were left adrift, floating in space for years. Yet, as both of them began to run low on power and supplies and the cryogenic pods were about to fail, a miracle happened: the ships drifted and met each other.

The odds were so astronomical as to be impossible... the vastness of space could only be overcome by something far greater than simple statistics or probability. So as the explorers fastened together their ships, they used the last of their fuel to crash land on the Shahani system frontier. Their colonial supplies were used to create Prosidainsa, the Providence of these stricken men and women. Over the years, a spiritual fusion of the children of Muslims and Sikhs found common cores and teachings, merging to become the core of society there. If there was only One Truth, Allah fulfilled much of that role. The Gurus and Hadiths taught the youth lessons and morals. Values and tenets founded the base of behavior. All because of a curious meeting amongst the stars. Sadaet himself bore a tattoo sleeve of iconography on his left arm, and wore jewelry and trinkets.

The bag was packed, his rifle readied and laid next to it. The War Room was waiting: time to make his pay.
Shahan IVa
Five years ago

A map of a few square kilometers of grassland had been projected by hologram from a device on the ground, red dots pinpointing anti-air artillery systems hidden cleverly in stealthy bunkers in the hills. A semicircle of half a dozen enemy positions surrounded a town: Vaanat. Once an old mining town and spaceport, it was a boom town searching for the minerals that powered computer technologies. Samarium, europium, yttrium, and other rare-earth minerals flowed from extensive tunnel systems mined by robots, humans, and alien workers. Now, the insurgency occupied them. Positions were fortified and bunkers were created from which missile systems emerged, shot their payload, and retreated back inside to be reloaded. It was thought that the enemies were printing new missile components to be assembled in factories far below the moon's surface. The prize of Vaanat was its improvised ship-killer: a gimbal-mounted system built from an old asteroid-cracker's mining laser turned upwards. The RKS Rukshona had orbited over this side of the planet only to be split in half by the beam and lost with all hands. It was time for revenge.

Sadaet's team's communications station was set up inside a portable metal building by their outpost. An antenna honed in on the closest insurgent air defense station, picking up scrambled signals as the photonic communications sped between platforms. But things were sparse, and they needed to kick the hornet's nest. Sadaet leaned over the shoulder of a drone operator, sleeves rolled to his elbows in the sweltering heat, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Nearby, a sturdy robotic strike aircraft fired up its engines and rolled to the edge of its launch pad. Underneath, it carried two hypersonic glide missiles. A partner aircraft carried the same missiles, but with high-yield nuclear warheads. They had to punch their way through the missile shield to get to the ship-cracker.

"Alright, let's get the first one in," Sadaet ordered. Outside the communications post, the first drone lifted off. "Put it on a nuclear attack trajectory."

The drone operator coolly took over the controls, programming it in for what equated to a modern-day dive bombing. The drone would fly until it thought it had distanced itself from the air station before firing off its missiles. This one, however, was designed to be a decoy. Sadaet wanted it to fly in too close, fire its weapons too late. The rebels, figuring that they had made a mistake, would announce that they would be intercepting and destroying this strike craft. All of those communications would be seen by Sadaet.

It took a few minutes of flying before the drone reached the edge of the missile shield. He watched the screen as it banked inwards towards the red dot at the east end of the ring. The rebels popped their launcher of its bunker, revealing itself to the reconnaissance assets positions nearby, and fired. Sadaet's drone launched, not in time. He watched the blips on the map travel towards each other at tremendous speed, right as one of his crewmen shouted: "Got a lock!"

Over the intercom, a rebel's accented voice announced the drone's position and that they were coming under attack. Instantly, Sadaet saw data appear on his commander's screen. The location of the sender and the receiver. What was being said. Telemetry data. It was a poorly-secured system indeed. That's what happened when they used commercial datalink systems that weren't hardened and diversified: everything flowed forth on one channel, encrypted and hidden. The key had been in their pocket the whole time, so Sadaet just needed to find the source. He gave the command to jam it. Instantly, a signal was injected into the stream that scrambled the datalink. A simplistic AI caught a ride from their beam to the enemy data stream, flowing towards the air defense node and its command center. Instantly, the missile on Sadaet's map veered off on a random course and the drone flew away. The friendly missile hit the bunker and wiped the blip from the map.

With an opening, the second drone exploited it. Under control of the strategic nuclear forces and out of Sadaet's hands, he watched as it leisurely headed through the gap. The holographic map displayed, in perfect clarity, as both missiles were let loose. One headed directly towards the ship-killer. The other, for the town. His heart raced, watching the two yellow missiles glide across the hills and over the insurgent battle positions. Less than five minutes later, the ship-killer exploded. The gigantic laser vanished underneath a massive burst of heat and blast, vaporizing. The blast wave carried out a few kilometers over the grassland, its shock going into the ground and tearing up the tunnels. Rebels were buried alive, gasping for air as the fire sucked it all out of their hiding-places. The second one headed to finish them off: the command node was in the town. That one hit a minute later, effortlessly blasting down thousands of people and demolishing the coordination of enemy air defenses.

Sadaet listened over the radio as the nuclear forces announced their successful strikes. He frowned, listening to his commander acknowledge and announce the arrival of a bombardment group from the other side of the planet. "Keep their position surrounded," was the order. They would reach their position within a few hours. Every little blip of life would soon be gone from Vaanat. From the men to the women to the children, from the guilty to the innocent: all life would perish and the ground would turn to glass. It was only a matter of time.

The Revenant
Present day

Sadaet's room aboard the ship was sparse at first, just four bare metal walls with a window he was certain was electronic. A small bathroom with a shower was all his own, which was nice. Already, he had spent some hours setting up his equipment from the hotel. A crew of Helios Station drones had delivered equipment he ordered with the exquisite credit advance given to him by Stryker. His computer station, communications gear, and a table with various electronics and boxes of tools and parts occupied a large section of the wall. A personal drone, his own, sat lifeless on the table waiting to be fixed. On the floor, he had ordered a rug. He liked rugs: if he was walking around barefoot, the metal floor would get cold. He sat down on his bed and ran his hands through his wild hair. He looked up at the corners of his room, wondering where the Alliance had placed the camera. He knew they couldn't be without supervision.

A message on his phone sprang out of the background. He had been linked into the data system by Stryker and had access to the internal comms. It was from the doctor, someone named Varrus. He had been on the ship for hours but had never seen the person. Apparently it was for a medical examination, which Sadaet found a little questionable. Doing physicals? Did the Alliance have medical standards for deniable, black operatives? He laughed it off, before laying down on his bed. His tired eyes closed, feeling the soft warmth embrace of the mattress. He sunk into it, losing himself to sleep. Things went black for him.

Until a flash of light tore through his dreams. A rumble shook him. A fireball rose from pristine grasslands, blowing through buildings and incinerating faceless people. Debris flew through the air, ripping across the fields and swerving right past his head. The man awoke, shooting up from his bed. He felt the heat in the air and smelled... burning. The prairie was on fire. "Fuck!" he shouted. He stopped, hands on his thighs, looking down at the metal floor. He hoped nobody heard him.

"That fuckin' war," he grumbled to himself. "Shithole fuckin' moons." He checked his phone again. The message from Varrus was still marked as unread. He figured that he should probably show up for that. At least making friends with the doctor would yield benefits in the long run.

@BKburke
Hrazdan, Armenia

Jon’s go-to bar was stood up a few blocks away from the school’s student apartments, at the bottom floor of a five-story building with a newspaper printing office right above it. In a row of several bars capped off by a corner store, the Hollywood Hayeren stood out with its obnoxious red, white, and blue neon lighting and an American flag hanging in the window next to an Armenian one. In English, American beer brands like Budweiser and Miller were proudly advertised: “The only place in town for imported American beers!” exclaimed the chalk sign on the sidewalk outside. Inside was dimly lit in red, a speaker playing jazz recordings, and Americana plastered on the walls. A surfboard, a stolen spade-shaped California State Route 110 road sign, and framed photographs of Los Angeles landmarks like the Hollywood sign and the skyline all covered the worn wooden panels. The bar was steel, fashioned almost like a diner’s, with round swiveling stools bolted next to it. Cigarette smoke wafted across the ceiling. The bartender, Mike Sinanian, polished off a glass as Jon came through the door.

“And make sure you close leave that open a little bit, yeah?” asked Mike. Jon stopped to kick the doorstop in, allowing some of the smoke to funnel its way out of the door. “I’m not trying to choke to death in my own bar tonight.”

Jon removed his suitcoat and hung it up on the coatrack next to the door. He loosened his tie, removed it, and threw it haphazardly onto the same rack. Unbuttoning his collar and pushing his sleeves up, he sat down at the counter. Mike slid him a coaster and an ashtray as Jon took a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket. “You got any of those American ones from your guy back home? You know, the ones with the Mexican sounding name and the cowboys?” Jon asked. “Always wondered what those were like.”

“Marlboros?” replied Mike. He chuckled a bit. “Haven’t been able to get any. I’m already struggling to talk to my guy in LA enough as is. Ordered a bit more of my stock just in case. The only reason I get business is curiosity. People wonder what the Amerikahayer live like. You know, LA is pretty busy nowadays. Things are back to normal, I suppose, after the war but it’s getting bigger and better there and he’s forgetting about little old me.”

Without asking, Mike filled a glass of Budweiser from his tap and placed it on top. Like a routine, Jon placed twenty dram in a neat stack in front of him. The beer, light and refreshing, hit his lips and he drank it down like the water it basically was. Jon checked his watch. “We’ve been getting busy at work trying to rush orders for the Amrots landships ever since Parliament started debating the president’s new war plans. There are a few Reserve battalions we are ready to equip with the damn things. I’ve heard they’re not trying to pull the inactive men, though. Thank God.”

“Everyone’s in the Reserve,” Mike reminded him. And he was right: all Armenian men were, on a macro level, organized into five distinct readiness classes of personnel. Status A troops were the volunteer, elite, frontline units given the best training and equipment: they worked the front with new equipment like automatic assault rifles. Status B troops were the rank-and-file members of the Army or Border Service, often conscripts, and were by far the most common sight to see. Jon and Mike belonged to the Status G reservists, serving their mandatory National Service term as a civilian with annual trainings and the occasional set of orders through the mailbox. Status D men were organized loosely into local Fedayeen militias, armed often only with bolt action rifles and an armband to indicate their status as a combatant. The rest belonged to Status F: special forces, irregular combatants, and secret programs that were well out of most of the country’s sight. Mike smiled and chuckled: “That’s a disruption. Shit, what would you do if I got called up and had to shutter the bar for a while?” he asked.

“Well if the Hollywood closed down I’d just take my business elsewhere. Tsaghkadzor pays well for a summer work exposure job.”

“I’m sure it does. Government contracts are very lucrative nowadays,” Mike agreed. He rested his arms down onto the table and adjusted the large, black-rimmed glasses he wore. “You’d think the state would just take control of everything at this point.”

“But then where would the money go?” joked Jon. He took another sip of his beer: “I’m already paying enough in taxes. They take so much of my money already. They tax shit and make it more expensive. My boss is already grumbling about the new fuel tax increase, since it’s getting more expensive to run the tanks through the proving ground. But at least this new guy doesn’t want to like, pay to resettle the Russians… Can you imagine? They’ve already crowded themselves into shitty parts of town. Where was Vadratian going to put them? Camps or some shit? Let ‘em live in their crappy apartments and shoot each other, they’re not shooting me or setting my corner store on fire, so I’ll live with that.”

“But hey, at least rent would be cheaper,” admitted Mike. “That is, if you want to move into the ghettoes. Gyumri used to be way more expensive until the Russians moved in. Which I suppose is a blessing if you just stay out of the east.”

“Last I heard through the rumor mill from one of the tank crews was that the police just found a deserter who stole a ton of guns and gave them to the Mafiya. Another one tried to make a run for Georgia and was arrested by the Border Service.”

“Jesus Christ,” Mike exclaimed. “That’s some Wild West shit if I’ve ever heard it,” he said, even if Jon only vaguely caught his reference to the film genre.

“A bunch of Russians on meth with submachineguns,” commented the student with a knowing nod. “Can you imagine? Shooting a guy four times and he’s still coming at you?”

He finished off his beer, downing it until only a light ring of foam was left at the bottom of the glass. He pushed the coaster and glass to the other side of the bar, which Mike took to the tap. He pulled back on the lever with an ornately advertised red Budweiser logo: only a touch of liquid dribbled its way out of the head. The bartender kicked the keg down below the bar like it would help, but was unsuccessful. He shrugged and turned to his patron: “Want to come to the cellar and help me get another keg up here? It’s a pain in the ass doing it myself.”

Jon agreed, sliding off the stool to follow the bartender around the bar and through a metal door that sat inconspicuously in the corner. Above it, a yellow metal sign featured a white circle with a falling bomb and “shelter” in big capital letters. Most buildings in the country, especially newer ones, were mandated to have a bomb shelter of a certain capacity: one family’s size for your own home, enough for your tenants in an apartment building, or a sizeable one enough for your patrons in an establishment. Ostensibly, they were supposed to be stocked and ready to use at all times, but most people were using them for storage in the absence of a credible threat. Mike had been keeping the spare spirits in his shelter so that he could free up the actual storage room for more seating. The pair descended the creaking wooden stairs, lit dimly by a single lightbulb, and entered through another door. Metal shelves of bottles, boxes, and kegs lined the shelter along with other acquired junk that the bartender owned. Mike and Jon found a keg of the beer and hoisted it up, climbing the stairs again.

The hoses connected and the tap working as intended, Mike poured the first glass of mostly foam out into the sink before offering Jon another beer. He poured himself another glass, claiming that he was thirsty as well, and toasted it with the student. They sipped on the cold brew together, listening to the jazz, as the door creaked open again. A young woman, probably no older than her early twenties, stepped through the door. The first thing Jon noticed was her hair, obviously dyed a light blonde, clashing with her olive brown skin. On her face, a crooked sloped nose betrayed her Persian ethnicity. A Muslim woman drinking in a bar? But Jon was familiar enough with the Persian culture to know that many of them, particularly city-folk, were not avid Muslims. Tehran had wild underground parties, speakeasies where the liquor flowed, and even red light districts tucked away in various alleys and backstreets. A woman with, of all things, dyed hair was definitely not from the countryside. She sat down at one of the seats on the far end of the bar while Mike and Jon exchanged looks.

“Welcome, miss… Have you been here before?” Mike asked gently as he went over to her side. He stayed standing straight with his arms crossed, careful not to get too close. She looked at him curiously.

“Eh, no,” she said in her soft, girlish Tehrani accent, pausing between words as she searched for the right one. “But I have just moved in the next block over. Can I get one of whatever is cheap?”

The bartender quickly passed her a beer, accepting her cash. She grabbed the glass gingerly with both hands and sipped it from the foam: she looked slightly offended by the taste. Jon observed this and smirked a little into his drink, turning his head to try and hide it. The woman shook her head and asked in disbelief: “How can you drink this? Is this American?”

“Well, yes… but it’s an acquired taste,” Jon answered, looking over her perplexed face. In his best Persian, he tried to ask her about what she usually drank: “Dar Iran, chetor mahmuli shoma mi nushid?

The woman’s eyes shot from her drink to Jon as she smiled broadly. “Farsi sohbat mi koni? Che ali!” she answered rapidly. “Hijkes tu Armanistan zibaan-am nadonan!

Jon shook his head and smiled at Mike, who just crossed his arms. “I don’t know that much,” Jon admitted. “See, I just study it at university. Hrazdan Industrial University. Esm-e shoma chi eh?” he added, asking her name. The girl laughed at his accent.

Farah Kalantari!” she answered excitedly, leaning in closer to Jon. “I am also here at that school for this next term. See, I am one of the first women to study management in Persia. Armenia has a… a… a good reputation for factories! Very efficient, very modern. Like Europe!”

“We learned a lot from the Europeans who came here. We have lots of Armenians in those countries who brought their skills home after the war,” Jon explained, running his hands through his hair. “I’m glad that my school is very famous. It even draws fine women now, plenty like you. My name is Jon, by the way. Korkarian.”

The night went on in the bar as the two students introduced themselves and talked. Drinks were filled and emptied, Mike filling the glasses from his tap until he was ready to close them out. The youths remained the only people in the bar until the lights started to turn off and the record was removed from its needle. Curtains were closed, windows were locked, and Mike had to let them loose on the streets of Hrazdan as the clock struck ten. He thanked them for their business and let them know he was excited to see them whenever they came back. Jon and Farah decided to walk home together to her apartment, crossing the main street by the entrance to the bar’s alley and continuing down a row of identical concrete apartment buildings. Illuminated by the yellow streetlamps, Farah led Jon to the entrance of her building. “I can go home from here,” she said with a smile. In a hopeful tone, she asked: “You said you come there all the time, yes?”

The student put his hands in his pocket: “Of course. I love Mike, he’s my friend. The bar is a good place in town. I’ll see you there sometime soon, right?”

“Of course! Have a good night, Jon.” Farah bounded off to unlock the creaky wooden door of her building and slip inside. Jon turned away, casting one last glance at the address of her building and heading off down the street, alcohol buzzing through his veins and making his feet feel almost like they had weights in them. Luckily, he wasn’t too drunk: he could manage. His apartment was in the complete opposite direction, a few blocks down past the Hollywood. He didn’t mind the walk, the streets of Hrazdan were peaceful after dark. The industrial town operated almost like a factory itself: aside from the obvious like firemen or policemen, nobody was out after nightfall. They all needed their sleep for their job. Jon didn’t even see a stray animal on his way back to the student apartments. He climbed the stairs up to his floor and opened the door quietly so as to not disturb his roommate. They both had work in the morning as well: Jon went right to sleep.

Sochi, Kuban Unorganized Territories

Their seaplane wobbled its wings as it hit a patch of turbulence. Its ungainly body, shaped more like a hull than anything else, shook slightly. The strong propellers cut through the air. It flew in the darkness of night, skimming the water and dipping up to head through a valley once it reached the shore. A red light illuminated the cabin, in which a crew chief looked out through a window. He scanned the dark forests below, looking for his target. The plane passed over what looked to be a large swatch of farmland just on the outskirts of the city, right behind a mountain range. He turned his head to the two figures sitting in the cabin, burdened by green parachute packs and rucksacks. He raised his arms in a “get up” motion, ordering them to clip into a steel wire hanging above the seats. Wordlessly, the yellow static lines were clipped in and the jumpers stood up with their equipment. The crew chief opened up the door, letting the wind whistle through the cabin. He looked out one last time and shouted: “Go!”

Natalia Dadeshvili was the first out the door, snapping straight into a streamlined jump posture as the wind took her and she trailed out behind the aircraft. Her stomach shot straight into her throat and she was terrified before every jump, but the adrenaline kept her fear of heights at bay. In her head, the only thing she could do was count to five. At five seconds, she felt the violent shock of a successful parachute deployment and her free-fall came to an end. The woman looked up at the round nylon canvas now sprawled out against the dark blue sky and checked on her partner: Anton Kapanian. He was falling just behind her, but at a stable speed. Relieved, she checked on the plane as it began to bank away. The pilot waggled his wings at the jumpers before tearing off back to the coast. Natalia pulled on her risers to steer into the center of a field, trying to avoid landing in the nearby vineyards or orchards. Spotting a convenient landing place, she tucked her feet together and prepared for impact.

The ground met her at substantial speed. She impacted with the balls of her feet and fell immediately onto her side. Feet, calves, thigh, hip, and back. Her hands were tucked into her face to protect it and she dropped like a sack of potatoes. Relieved, she waited a few more seconds as the parachute floated down gently behind her. Anton landed a few meters away as Natalia unclipped her harness and reached for her gear. A huge rucksack contained supplies for three days of operation: she struggled to get it on her back and reached for the padded weapon case that contained her carbine. She ripped off her leather jump helmet and goggles, tossed them into the weapon case, and went for her parachute. Anton jogged up to come meet her. “Everything alright?” he asked quietly. “Nothing hurt, broken?”

“I’m fine,” Natalia replied, dragging the parachute across the dry ground of the farmer’s field back to its bag. “Where are we going to toss these?”

“I saw a creek down there,” Anton said as he pointed south. The pair gathered up their equipment and dragged it down a hundred meters or so to the small running creek that meandered its way through the valley. Natalia stepped down the embankment and quickly tossed her parachute bag and weapons case into the bottom of it. She picked a few rocks to bundle up in her parachute canvas and threw that in as well. There would be no signs that they had entered the country: Natalia and Anton were field agents in the Armenian National Security Service, tasked with gathering intelligence on pirate operations in Sochi after a civilian merchant ship was boarded and captured. A reconnaissance plane, sent out the day before to look for landing zones and pirate bases, identified the MV Breadwinner of Rize in dock undergoing repairs by the Sochi bandits. They were going to check the area out for a few days: the Navy had notified the NSS that they were planning a rescue operation and had begun to mobilize forces in the only Armenian foreign base at Poti, Georgia.

Natalia sat down on the bank of the creek, leaning up against the metal frame of her rucksack. She wiped the sweat on her hands off on the blotchy camouflaged smock she wore, before fixing the twin braids of hair that rested over the front of her shoulders. Anton dragged his equipment into the creek and slung his sniper rifle across his chest, before laying down with his map and a pen. He took the direction of two mountain peaks with his compass and used the intersecting lines to determine their location, before plotting a route to a hilltop that would be their observation post. “Ready?” he asked, putting his hands in his pockets. As much as he wanted a smoke, the smell would linger and he didn’t want to leave trash like a butt by the water for the farmers to find in the morning. The other spy struggled her way up, clambering onto her feet with the weight of the ruck on her back. The path ahead of them was a rough hike up the forested side of a mountain. They got going without further conversation.

It took them another few hours before they had everything set up. Natalia and Anton were posted on a forested hilltop ten kilometers away from the north of the city: the pirates appeared to live on a base there, ruling over the rest of the city. The Unorganized Territories were a feudal mix of warlords and strongmen, the politics of which were lost on the two NSS agents. Natalia herself was born to a Georgian family in Javakhk, the most northern province of Armenia. She saw what happened just across the border, where her cousins and grandparents were living under the rule of a self-defense militia that carved out their turf from a few small towns. The pirates who ran attacks on shipping routes were most likely sailors pressed into crews by a warlord operating as the governor of the region: he collected tax from the farmers and craftsmen, funded public projects, and restored some semblance of frontier justice against criminals. Others in the former Russian state organized their own nations in miniature from ideology: provinces ruled by communist governments were just as common as libertarian communes or Orthodox theocracies.

Natalia stepped out from underneath her shelter-half, strung up against a tree in the woodline and covered with vegetation to camouflage it. Her pant legs were rolled up to her knees as she walked barefoot in the grass. The spy wore a green woolen sweater in the chilly, dew-drenched Russian late-summer morning. Her sweat-drenched jacket was drying out on a tree branch nearby. In one hand, she slung her rifle across her shoulder: in the other, she carried a pair of binoculars. Anton knelt in the damp grass beside a bush at the top of the hill, scanning through his rifle’s scope down at the city below. Russian towns in the north Caucasus looked almost like any other Ukrainian or European city at the end of the 19th century. Classical architecture, scarred and faded by years of poor care, still remained beside cobblestone streets. The sun peeked its way over the eastern hills, casting its shadows on the figures who began their morning routines. At the northern harbor, Natalia noticed boats starting to go out with the tide.

“There,” Anton said, “look around two-hundred and fifteen degrees on your compass.”

Natalia swiveled to that direction, turning her gaze to a mechanic yard where trucks had just dropped off a shift of workers. Figures with guns walked around on perimeter patrols while others clad in jumpsuits carried toolboxes and bulky equipment towards the dark hull of the Breadwinner. Even at their distance, the bright lights of welding torches could be seen popping on and off across the deck. “It looks like they’re repairing it in drydock,” Anton assessed, adjusting the focus on his sniper scope with a concentrated look about his face. A ship like an Independence-Class could easily act as a mothership. Pirates mostly operated near the shore on small, low-ranged boats. A clever engineer, of which the former wartime Tsarist education system produced many, could outfit the ship with fuel tanks and boat racks to maintain and refuel pirate skiffs. Natalia took turns looking down the binoculars and drawing what she saw in a brown-leather bound notebook.

“Well obviously the ship is their prize. Remember the stories of old pirates?” Natalia asked. “The Americans fought the Barbary pirates because they kept stealing their ships and… sailors.”

“Huh?” Anton asked, lowering his rifle and turning his head to her.

“The Barbary pirates used to be these Ottomans in the 19th century who would capture American merchant ships and crews,” Natalia explained, still drawing the harbor layout with annotated buildings and positions. “They said they were prize vessels, used to grow the Ottoman navy. The crews would become slaves made to work on the vessels or ransomed off to get more money for the Sultan. It really hurts a nation’s pride when pirates steal their shit. Especially new ones… America was barely just past twenty years from writing their constitution. We’re only four decades removed from the Great War.”

“Are you think the Merchant Mariners here are being held hostage as crews for the ship?”

“Look at it, they’re fixing it. Obviously they’re going to use it. If I were a warlord I’d ransom it and the crew as is if I just wanted the money. I’d suspect they’re going to force the crew to man it, too. Wouldn’t you?”

Anton nodded, peering back through his magnified scope. “And if the crew is going to man it, they’re going to be coming and going… supervising repairs. Showing the pirates around. And we can see where they’re coming from.”

The day continued, townspeople moving about the city. Farmers went out to their fields, herders released their cattle, and the fishermen went to sea. Life here was like life anywhere else: a far cry from the disastrous, apocalyptic Russia of famine and death that made Natalia think that Russian-Armenians were perhaps exaggerating their situation. Then she remembered her own Georgia, reading a letter from her aunt about the militias burning down the home of a suspected homosexual only to discover the accuser was simply lying to cover up her own affair. Goosebumps rolled across her skin: she shook the chills away. Her home was in Armenia where the rule of law applied. By noon, another pirate truck had arrived at the drydock: Anton and Natalia focused steadily on it as the back cover was thrown open and a half-dozen sailors, still in their dark blue peacoats and white duty pants, were forced off by more armed men. They walked single-file up the gangway to come aboard their ship, disappearing into the superstructure. “That’s them,” Anton muttered.

The spies waited for hours, at least one of them with eyes on the ship the whole time. The sun began to set again, people started to return home. Natalia first noticed the Armenian sailors leave the ship and get back into the truck. She alerted Anton and, together, they watched the pirates’ vehicle turn back on. Bright lights illuminated the street ahead of it, painting the buildings a white color as it rumbled out of the yard. Anton and Natalia watched it turn out, heading down away from the center of town. Natalia compared it to her notes and the map of Sochi provided as part of the intelligence kit. The truck drove out to the north of town, stopping just shy of the exit sign where fields took over from residential houses. It turned again, heading down a small street until it reached what appeared to be a complex of short, green buildings. Natalia took a look at the buildings and traced the road on her map to the same location: the Mamayka Primary School.

Natalia scribbled a mark on her map and jot down the notes in her book while Anton confirmed that the sailors were being herded into the school’s old gymnasium on the east side. “Well there we have it. Our sailors are in the school,” Anton reported. “I suppose that was a good first day.”

“Yeah,” Natalia answered, closing her book. The sun now was dipping down over the glittering sea, reflecting off of the water. The day was over, nothing else was going to happen that required the both of them she asked if Anton wanted the first watch and went back to her shelter-half. Her ration for the night was a box containing, amongst other things, a simple tin of salted pork. She scarfed down the too-greasy meat, washing it down with warm water from her canteen. Dry, stale biscuits complemented the food, followed by a bag of nuts and raisins and a chocolate bar. The only thing remaining was a gleefully-advertised pack of cigarettes that she put aside for Anton. With a yawn, she looked back at the hilltop. Another few days of reconnaissance. Then exfiltration. Then a ride home. It was all so simple.

Yerevan, Armenia

“So, the issue of Foreign Policy Number Nineteen has formally been introduced by the office of President Hasmik Assanian. This will require a majority of two-thirds to enact in accordance with Article Seven of the Constitution.”

Prime Minister Antabian spoke from the carved wooden lectern at the front of the Armenian National Assembly’s main hall. It featured a bold coat of arms, eloquently carved into the podium and surrounded by ornate bordering with arevakhach wheels at the base of each side. A massive flag hung behind the Prime Minister. A microphone carried the old man’s voice throughout the hall, where one hundred and one leather-bound seats were arranged in a semicircle in front of him. Alphabetically, the parties were arranged from his left to right with each position inside the parties determined by seniority. Marble columns on each side of the hall supported a curved roof from which an ornate chandelier hung. Carvings of Armenian folk stories had been cut into each section of the hall. Gold from the West tastefully lined the walls and ceiling: it was a hall of power modeled after the finest European tastes. Many years of work and more money than anyone was comfortable admitting had gone into its construction. It also served as President Serovian’s defiant symbol of resistance to the Turks.

President Assanian and his advisors sat in their specially designated section at the rear. While dignitaries were free to join, the National Assembly had the parliamentary delegates sit in the front while their business was assigned to them. They had spent hours debating over the finer points of the Georgia Plan, about troop numbers and revenue. About what parts of the border troops were called in from. Timelines, allied forces in the country, logistics, and anything else that even Assanian and Moysisian hadn’t thought of were talked about my old men in suits for the better part of that day. Vice-President Idratian had nudged Assanian awake a few times during some of the longer-winded speeches by Revolutionary Party veterans about their vehement opposition to a “great breach of the Fedayeen’s philosophy.” A few minor changes had been agreed on by members of the Liberal Democratic Party, mostly involving the timeline for troop rotations: deployments of troops in country after the setup of initial government had been shortened from twelve to nine months. It was a compromise: a faction of rather dovish Independence Party wanted six months.

A short recess was called so that the party leaders could gather votes from their members. Each one would tally their yes or no on a piece of paper turned into the party leader, which would then be announced at the request of Prime Minister Antabian. Assanian and Idratian talked amongst themselves during the half-hour break. The Prime Minister patrolled the hallways, monitoring for discussion: the final voting was done in silence, and any conversation would render the speaker and the listener’s vote as invalid abstains. The time for discussion and debate had passed. Each party leader duly received the paper and did the math on their own, writing down the final yes-no vote before waiting out the remainder of the recess period. It was an eerie quietness that Assanian so rarely heard in the halls of democratic action. The Prime Minister finished his walk and hobbled his way up the stairs to the podium, where he called to order the assembly: “The voting period has finished and we shall now hear the results. We start with the Communist Party.”

The leader of the Communist Party loudly cleared his throat and stood. The bearded man’s neatly-combed hair was flecked with grey. His bright red tie and pocketsquare clashed against the muted black of his double-breasted suit. “It is the stated position of the Communist Party to never involve itself in political actions that do not benefit the workers and proletariat of this country. An action in a foreign land exploits the labor of not only our conscripted soldiers but the workers of the industry that support them. It also leads to, what we fear, will become the exploitation of native Georgians by your administration if it grows in power and authority. This sets a dangerous precedent. Both of our votes are no: there are no agreements.”

“Thank you,” said Antabian, marking down the number on his own notepad. The speaker for the Communist Party sat back in his seat, looking at his partner. Their vote didn’t count for much besides their voice, but that was all they needed. “Now we look to the Enforcement Party for their results.”

The Enforcement Party’s younger, huskier leader stood from his seat. He looked down to the sheet of paper in his hand. “The spread of refugees into this country,” he began, “has created security and crime issues unforeseen by our original Fedayeen predecessors. Internally, we are becoming divided. There are attacks on policemen in Gyumri, street crime in Sevan, and ambushes on border troops to the north. After the Artsakh, we have become complacent with our position in the region and have had to rely on Persia to secure our eastern and southern flanks. While we strongly caution the decision to remove troops from the border to carry out this plan, we believe that it is necessary to show that we as Armenians can project power from beyond our own borders. We share a strong historical, cultural, and religious bond with our brothers to the north in the Georgian mountains. We must rid them of the bandits and criminals that plague their society while providing an answer for the ills that plague our own. All of our votes are in the affirmative: ten to zero.”

Assanian turned to Moysisian and gave him a knowing look. Antabian had been correct in his assumption that the Enforcement Party would vote on this, despite the cuts to reservist activations. The President mentally chalked up the victory before the next block of voters came to stand and present their closing vote. The notorious Independence Party took the stand, their leader visibly anxious. It appears that he, too, had done the math on this bill when it was being introduced and debated upon over the last few sessions of parliament. “The Independence Party recognizes the threat that emerging changes in the Armenian demographics present. We concur with Enforcement Party members in saying that Russian communities are often sources of crime in our own cities. During the administration of President Vadratian, we sought to minimize the impact that this would have on our own sovereignty.”

He looked back at his party, his eyes darting to the strongmen in a way that told Assanian they were defectors. “Our party, here, for this policy proposal, has voted twenty to fifteen in favor of ‘yes.’”

A wave of murmurs crossed the parliament, prompting the Prime Minister to order them to quiet down. The politicians being represented sat in their seats uncomfortably. The leader of the Independence Party had once been a proud man, a leader in traditional values by the name of Armen Tsaghzian. Now, he looked like a shadow of his former self: he looked hungover, like he hadn’t slept the last few nights. Stubble shaded his chin and his shirt and pants appeared rumpled, like he only threw a new jacket and tie on to appear well-kept after a rough night. Assanian, not usually partisan by nature, felt a sort of humor watching him stumble through a statement so obviously trying to downplay his party breaking loyalty and voting on a Liberal Democratic proposal. A thin smile broke through his lips as Tsaghzian continued to save face: “Traditionally, we believe that internal threats should remain internal and there is a clear distinction between foreign and domestic policy. The new decade has turned and we are facing a variety of unconventional threats. This requires… an unconventional response. As such, the Independence Party will support this initiative.”

Prime Minister Antabian and Assanian exchanged looks from across the hall, albeit just briefly. He looked down emotionlessly at his sheet and scratched in the new numbers. Thirty to seventeen. The old man thanked Tsaghzian for his remarks and moved to the next speaker: the Armenian Liberal Democratic Party. This man, Philip Babovian, was once Antabian’s second in command when the ALDP was on the minority end. The right-hand-man of Assanian and Antabian’s party, Babovian nodded knowingly at his old boss. “I believe everyone wants to get out of here early, I think?” he asked rhetorically, eliciting low, forced chuckles from the politicians in attendance. “We stand by President Assanian’s foreign relations policy. In the legislative party’s opinion, we think that it represents a mix of internal and external policy to deal with societal change. Obviously, as time marches on, our society will experience new chapters. While before we avoided extermination, now we must prosper. But we must prosper as a land that others in the shadow of the Ottoman Empire can turn to. Noah landed his ark at Mount Ararat as the world flooded. He landed right here, in the Fatherland.”

Assanian nodded along, Idratian crossing his arms and listening intently beside him. “Just as it was then, the world now is on the brink of catastrophe and the precipice of war. Our war with the Ottomans has continued to be deterred to this day. Going to Georgia, using our treasure and power to stabilize our northern neighbors, is our next stepping stone. We take risk with the troop deployments. We take risk on our military and economy. We take risk on our political affiliations. But we believe that this is worth it to establish a positive environment in the Caucasus. It is better for us. We cannot live surrounded by enemies: the Artsakh War proved that enough. But instead of relying on the Shah’s deus ex machina, we are taking matters into our own hands in a way that supports the continued development of a liberal democracy at home and across our borders. We vote thirty-nine in favor, with four dissents from the party opinion.”

Thirty-nine was one off from Antabian’s supposed expectation of forty, but it passed the threshold nonetheless. Idratian patted his president on the back and muttered a light congratulations as Babovian took his seat. Before they had more time to react, the leader of the Revolutionary Party shot up to give his speech: “The Councilmen wrote very little into the Constitution about this sort of action,” said the spokesman in a low-rumbling gruffness that betrayed his deep frustrations. “And as such we cannot stand with it. We recognize that, despite our vote of eleven to ‘no’, the decision still stands. But we will take our platform to speak our continued defense of conforming to values outlined in the Constitution. We fought a revolution, a war against foreign oppression, to create our own Fatherland. And now, we risk becoming the oppressors of someone else. Another Ottoman Empire. This is not what the Fedayeen wanted. This is not what the Armenian Separatist Front wanted. This is what we continue to be the vanguard of. The policy represents a dangerously slope to go down on: I hope that, when this vote appears in the history books, we all realize with hindsight the consequences of our decisions.”

Prime Minister Antabian tallied up the votes. He scribbled in some numbers with his pencil and wiped the lead away before leaning into the microphone: “As it stands, the voting from our National Assembly’s parties has closed. In total, Foreign Policy Number Nineteen, known informally here as the ‘Georgia Plan’, passes the two-thirds threshold: sixty-nine to thirty-two. It is narrow, but it passes. You are dismissed.”

The National Assembly rose simultaneously, the individual parliamentarians turning to each other to give congratulatory handshakes or shake their heads. Assanian and his cabinet congratulated each other and offered words of encouragement as Antabian came off the podium with his folder of documents from the hearing. The masses of politicians streamed out of the wooden double doors at the end of the walkway, flanked by policemen in dress uniform, while Assanian smiled at the Prime Minister and shook his hand. “We won!” he announced in a rare burst of excitement. “How quickly can we get this published and sent out in a statement?”

The Prime Minister looked down at the document. “It’s all marked up, so we’ll have to retype it. By tomorrow the official release should be out. But it is law. The Georgia Plan is slated to begin on schedule, like we thought.” He smiled as well, watching the last of the stragglers leave the hall. Some mingled outside, others went to the balcony watching over Republic Square to smoke cigarettes. Others just left straight to go to their homes. The President, hands in his pockets, stood by the Prime Minister. Armenia, for the first time since antiquity, was going beyond self-defense. The mountains to the north held the next chapter for his country’s story. Assanian watched as Antabian delivered his folder to the staff courier, who departed hastily along with a policeman escorting him. That order, already written by Moysisian’s NSS, was to be distributed to the Ministry of War. The chains began turning on the largest mobilization of men in the region since the Artsakh War almost a decade ago. And for Assanian, it was his first victory in parliament.

“Well I don’t know about you gents,” he said, straightening out his purple tie, “but I’ll be back home celebrating. I hope that you’ll join me as well if you don’t have anything else to do tonight.”
A rogue AI? Countersurveillance? Sadaet mulled the proposition while we sipped his drink. Messing around with Alliance equipment was messy at best: they usually hardened their equipment with all sorts of capabilities. Sadaet didn't even know what he didn't know: he never worked for the Alliance, he never held a security clearance. He'd have to figure out all this out before he ever started to tamper with a system. But the money Stryker was offering was good and he figured that this would be the best opportunity he had. Otherwise it's back to running electronic warfare ops with various mercenary groups, some of whom may or may not want to let him go after his services are complete. That's usually how it went in the rogue mercenary market, especially among the more criminal elements.

He sighed: "Okay, well that sounds like a good plan. Ballsy, but at least it's reasonably thought about. The technical aspects of it are going to need some working on. I'm sure if the surveillance goes out they're going to ask questions, and that will just unravel the whole thing. So we can't go around smashing cameras and shit. So we've got to do it carefully, holding it off until you finally can break free and run for it."

He whipped a pen out of the pen pocket on his jacket sleeve and scribbled a quick diagram on a nearby napkin. "Don't worry, I'll destroy this," he said. He scratched out a ship and drew a few arrows to different components. As he wrote, he talked: "We have a hardware problem, which is obviously the systems consisting of sensors and shit. And the software problem, which, I don't know because I haven't seen it, but I can assume everything's all layered together into some sort of intermeshed fuck fuck game. So we're dealing with coordinate systems, because we're going to want to spoof our location and our routes. Communications, making sure those are set up to match our coordinates. Other stuff too like checking us into ports when we 'say' we land there. Making sure the AI gets 'fixed.' All this stuff."

He leaned back and scratched at his beard. "I'm down though," he said with a nod. "I can go back, check out of my hotel, and bring my shit over to your vessel. Which is where, by the way?"

@Crossfire
Actual: USA! USA! USA!
Secret: Ethiopian
Helios Station

Sadaet saw the two men out of the corner of his eye as they sidled up to him at the bar. They were punctual, at least. One of them was older, with a jarring scar across his face. The other one was younger, messier, with wild black hair: he smelled like explosive residue, which only mildly concerned Sadaet. He extended his hand out to the older one, who was in front. He introduced himself in an odd mix of British colonial accents: "Sadaet, I presume? I'm Stryker. Let me grab a drink and we can talk business."

He turned to the bartender, the human closest to the counter, and asked for two of Sadaet's lagers. He ordered them over to a booth, which he cocked his head towards. Sadaet let them lead the way, keeping them a few footsteps in front of him as he subtly touched the handle of his revolver one last time under his jacket. It was a characteristic tell: he scolded himself internally to stop doing that so much. The two men sat down at the table. Sadaet kept his back to the door, something he was uncomfortable with but did as a gesture of respect anyways.

The mercenary took a sip out of his beer and leaned back into the table. "So I read this contract that you sent me and the job sounds all well and good... even if it doesn't sound like much at all. I feel like there's some super secret squirrel shit you've got, which I can deal with. I haven't been able to find out much about you or whatever crew you flew into the station with."

Sadaet gestured to the women in the next booth over. "Those girls have some pretty phony signal signatures, I feel like they belong with you as well. Am I right? Or are there two groups of secret squirrels on this station. It's a pretty big posse you have rounded up. What's my role in it?"

@Crossfire @Rultaos
Helios Station

From the dingy hotel room complete with a slightly dark stain in the carpet that he was fairly sure was someone's blood to the row of sketchy-looking bars on the outer wing of the station, Saedet felt a sort of humor about the station. He wandered through the dimly-lit passageways with a courier bag slung over his shoulder, until a hologram from his wristwatch alerted him to the reason why he had come. Someone had wanted to meet with him on this station: news of a job had drawn him here, where he had been waiting for a week trying to get a handle of the situation. For him, however, things had proven difficult. The guy had no aliases in civilian or military records, no social media presence, no tax records... It was like he was a ghost. Sadaet appreciated as much. It also made him feel better: his potential employer was careful and professional, and those people usually didn't scam and murder their hires.

A pathway in vibrant blue traced through the halls on his eyelens display, towards a seedy red sign that read "The Wasted Wormhole." Some brands of beer in neon were advertised on the window, along with a quaint "OPEN" sign. The soft beat of a chillwave vibe pounded gently to the hallway. Sadaet checked his corners and ran his hand across the grip of his revolver before pushing in. His eyes scanned the sparse crowd, his eyelens bringing up whatever information on them it found. Two by the corner, a dark-skinned woman with white hair and some other woman that Sadaet couldn't quite place, caught his attention. His eyelens drew up more data on them: certain things appeared fishy to the trained eye. Most people their age had things like pictures on social media, publically available apartment rental contracts, or other minute facets of daily life. To Sadaet, theirs looked... Fabricated. He put some tabs on them and ordered a house lager at the bar.

He pulled out his phone, scrolling through an AI-generated feed. He knew none of the people that showed up on his media accounts, but he did it to generate network traffic that his him amongst the general population. He tapped past pictures of couples he's never seen having babies he never would meet, simultaneously knowing everything about them but not anything at all. He liked a few, thanking the bartender as a glass of beer was placed on a dingy coaster by his hand. More news stories popped up from around the system. A break-in on Helios Station. A mining accident on a moon. Solar panel malfunctions causing brownouts for certain sections. All equally meaningless to him. He sat in the upholstered seat and checked his watch: if this guy was as professional as he seemed, hopefully he'd be on time for the meeting.
Alright, all good with this? Trying not to be the typical criminal setup and break the whole hardened vet trope, since the dude is supposed to be a commo officer in hiding after his regime was toppled by the Alliance.

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