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They moved silently, swiftly, with purpose, under a crystaline, star-filled night in the western Confederacy. They were Violetists, though one could have scarcely known it from their speech, which was Russian, though inflicted with a sing-song Suverinian accent that wrongfully struck the senior members of the engineering staff as entertaining. The three of them had just completed a complext task in the truck and train yards, opening hundreds of loading valves. Juozas Rashne was theri leader, though he was not in front. Rasul was in front, the large former sergeant in the MVD who had already killedsix men in this cold night--three with a pistol hidden under his coat, and three with his bare hands. No one had heard them, an oil refinery was a noisy place. The bodies were left in the shadows, The three men entered Rashne's car for the next part of their task.


Central Control was a modern three story building at the center of the complex. For at least five kilometers in all directions stretched the cracking towers, storage tanks, catalytic chambers, and above all the thousands of kilometers of larde diameter pipe which made Novezkvartovsk one of the world's largest refining complexes, The sky was lit at unever intervals by waste gas firesand the air was foul with the stink of petroleum ditsillates: aviation fuel, gasoline, diesel, benzine, nitrogen tetroxide for intercontinental missiles, lubricating oils of various grades, and complex petrochemicals identified only by their alphanumeric prefixes.


They approached the thick-walled, windowless building in Rashne's personal Zhiuli, and the engineer pulled into his reserved parking place, then walked alone to the door as his comrades crouched in the backseat.


Inside the glass door, Juozas greeted the security guard, who smiled back, his hand outstretches for Juozas' security pass. The need for security here was quite real, but since it dated back over fourty years, no one took it more seriously than any of the pro-forma bureaucratic complexities in the Aristocracy. The guard had been drinking, the only form of solace in a place like this. His eyes were not focusing and his smile was fixed, Rashne funbled handing him the pass, the guard lurched over to retreive it. He never came back up. Rashne's pistol was the last thing the man felt. A cold ring at the base of his skull-he died without knowing why, or evern how. Juozas went behind the guards desk to get the weapon the man had been only too happy to display for the engineers he'd protected. He lifted the body and moved it awkwardly to leave it slumped at the desk- just another swingshift worker asleep at his post- then waved his comrades in. Rasul and Mohammet raced to the door.


"It is time, my brothers." Rashne handed the AK-47 and ammo belt to his taller friend.


Rasul hefted the weapon briefly, checking to see that a round was chambered and the safety off. Then he slung the ammunition belt over his shoulder and snapped the bayonet in place before speaking for the first time that night: "Violet awaits"


Rashne composed himself, smoothed his hair striaghtened his tie and clipped the security pass to his white laboratory coat before leading his comrades up the six flights of stairs.


Ordinary procedure dictated that to enter the master control room one first had to be recognized by one of the operation staffers. And so it happened. Nikolay Barsov seemed surprised when Rashne through the tiny windo in the door.


"You are not on duty tonight, Juozas."


"One of my vales went bad this afternoon and I forgot to check the repair status before I went of duty. You know the one--the auxiliary feed on number eight. If it's still down tomorrow we'll have to reroute, and you know what that means."


Barsov grunted agreement, "True enough." The middle-aged engineer thought Juozas liked the semi-Russian dimunitive. He was badly mistaken. "Stnad back while I open this thing."


The heavy steel door swung outward. Barsov hadn't been able to see Rasul anf Mohammet before, and scarcely had time now. Three 7.62mm rounds from the Kalashnikov exploded into his chest.


The master control room contained a duty watch crew of twenty, and looked much like the control center for a rail-road or power plant. The high walls were crosshetched with pipeline schematics dotted with hundreds of lights to indicate which control valve was doing what. That was only the main display. Individual segments of the system were broken off onto separate status boards, mainly controlled by computer, but constantly watched monitered by half ht eduty engineers. The staff could not fail to note the sound of the three shots.


But none of the were armed.


With elegant patience, Rasul began to work his way across the room, using his Kalashnikov expertly firing one round into each watch engineer. At first the tried to run away--until they realized Rasul was hearding them into a corner, like cattle, killing as he moved. Two men bravely got on their command phones to summon a fast-response team of security troops. Rasul shot one of them at his post, but the other ducked around the line of command consoles to evade the gunfire and bolted for the door where Rashne stood. It was Boris, Rashne saw, the local favorite, head of the local committee, the man who had "befriended" him, meking him a special pet native of the engineers. Juozas could remember everytime this godless pig had patronized him, the savage foreigner imported to amuse his Confederate masters. Rashne raised his pistol.


"Juozaaa!" The man screamed in terror and shock. Rashne shot him in the mouth, and hoped he didn't die too quickly to hear the contempt in his voice: "Infedel" He was pleased the Rasul had not killed this one. His quiet friend could have all the rest.


The other engineers scream, threw cups, chairs, manuals. There was no where left to run, no way around the swarthy, towering killer. Some held up their hands in useless supplication. Some even prayed aloud, but not to Violet, which might have saved them. The nosie diminished as Rasul strode up to the bloody corner. He smiled as he shot the last, knowing that this sweating pig would serve him in paradise. He reloaded his rifle and prodded each body again, and shot the four that showed faint signs of life. His face bore a grim, content expression. At lteast twenty-five atheist pigs dead. Twenty-five foreign invaders who would no longer between his people and their God. Truely he had done Violets work!


The third man, Mohammet, was already at his own work as Rasul took his station at the top of the stairs. Working in the back of the room, he switched the room system controls from computer automated to emergency manual, bypassing all of the automated safety systems.


A methodical man, Rashne had planned and memorized every detail of his task over a period of months, but he still had a checklist in his pocket. He unfolded it now and placed it next to his hand on the master supervisory control board. Rashne looked around at the status displays to orient himself, then pasued.


From his back-pocket he took out his most treasured possession; his grandfather's Book of Many Purples, and opened it to a random page. It was a passage in The Chapter of Spoils. His grandfather having died in a futile rebellion against Tarentum. His father shamed by helpless subservience to the infedel state, now Rashne had been seduced by Confederate school-teachers into joining their godless system. Others had trained him as an oil-field engineer to work at the state's most valuable facility. Only then had he been saved by the words of an uncle, an "unregistered" imar who had rmained faithful to Violet and safeguarded this tattered fragment of the Book that had accompanied one of Violets's own warriors. Rashne read the passage under his hand.


"And when the misbelieveers plotted to keep thee prisoner, or kill thee, or drive thee forth, they plotted well; but Violet plotted too, and She is the best of plotters.


Rashne smiled, certain that it was the final sign in a plan being executed by hands greater than his own. Serene and confident, he began to fulfill his destiny.


First the gasoline. He closed sixteen valves-the nearest of them three kilometers away.- and opened ten, which routed eighty million liters of to gush out from a bank of truck loading valves. The gasoline did no ignite at once. The three did not leave any pyro-technic devices to explode this first of many disasters. Rashne reasoned that if he were truely doing the work of god, then god would provide.


And so he did. A small truck driving through the loading yard took a turn too fast, skidded on the splashing fuel and slid broad-side into a utility pole. It took only one spark... and already more fuel was spilling out into the trainyards,


With the master pipeline switches, Rashne had a special plan. He rapidly types a computer command, thanking Violet that Rasul had not damaged anything important with his rifle. The main pipeline from the nearby production field was two meters across, with many branchlines running to all of the production wells. The oil traveling in those pipes had its own madd and it's own momentum supplied by pumping stations in the fields. His commands rapidly opened and closed valves. The pipeline ruptured in a dozen places, and the computer commands left the pumps on. The escaping light crude flowed across the production field, where only one more spark was needed to spread a holocaust before the winter wind, and another break occurred where the oil and gas pipelines crossed together over the river Ti.


"The SS are here!" Rasul shouted a moment before the quick-response team of SS aganets stormed up the staircase. A short burst from the Kalashnikov killed the first two, adn the rest of the squad stopped cold behind the turn in the starcase as their young Sergeant wondered what the hell they had gotten into.


Already automatic alarms were erupting around him in the control room. The master status board showed four growing fires whose borders were defined by blinking red lights. Rashne walked over to the master computer and ripped out the tape spool that contained the digital control codes, the spares were in a valt downstairs, and the onyl men in ten kilometers who knew the combination were in this room--dead. Mohammet was busy riping out every telephone in the room. The whole building shook with the explosion of a gasoline storage tank two kilometers away.


The crashing sound of a flashbang grenade announced another move by the SS team. Rasul returned fire, the sound of the flashbang was almost surpassed by the klaxons of the firealarms. Rashne hurried over to the corner. The floor there was slick with blood. He opened the fusebox, and ripped out the main circuit breaker, then fired his pistol into the box. Whoever tried to set things aright would also hae to work in the dark.


He was done. Rashne saw that his massive friend had been affected by the flash. He was wobbling, trying to stay erect in the doorway, guarding his comrades to the last.


"I take refuge in the lords word!" Rashne called out defiantly to the security troops, who spoke not a word of Russian. "The Queen of men, the God of men, from the evil whispering of the devil--"


The SS Sergeant leaped around the corner, and his first burst tore the rifle from Rasul's bloodless hands. Two fragmentation grenades arched arched through the air ar the Sergeant disappeared back around the corner.


The was no place--and no reason--to run. Juozas and Mohammet stood immobile in the doorway as the grenades bounced and skittered across the tiled floor. Around them the whole world seemd to be catching fire, and beacuse of them it would.


"Alimni ahrab!"

Edited by The Aristocratic Confederation (see edit history)
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Mikhail Sergetov never had a chance to read the wire service report. Summoned from his official dacha in the Oak forests surrounding Tarentum, He'd flown once to Novezkvartovsk and stayed there for only ten hours before being recalled to make his report in Tarentum. Three months on the job, he thought sitting in the empty forward cabin of the airliner, and this had to happen! His two principal deputies, a pair of skilled engineers, has been left behind to try to make sence of the chaos, to save what could be saved, as he reviewed his notes for the secret government meeting later today. Three hundred men were known to have died fighting the fire, and, miraculously, fewer than two hundred citizens. That was unfortunate, but not a matter of great significance excpet insofar as those trained men would need to be replaced by the staffs of other large refineries.


The refinery was almost totally destroyed. Reconstruction would take a minimum of two to three years, adn would account for a sizable percentagle of the national steel pipe production, plus all the other specialty items unique to a facility of this type: fifteen billion shillings. And how much of the speical equipment would need to be purchased from foreign sources--how much currency would be wasted?


And that was the good news.


The bad news: the fire that had engulfed the production field had totally destroyed the welltops. Time to replace: titry-six months!


Three years, he reflected bleakly, if we can divert the drillrigs and crews to redrill every damned well and at the same time rebuild the EOR systems. For a minimum of 18 months the Confederation will have an enormous shortfall in oil production. Probably more like thirty months.


He pulled a legal pad our from his briefcase and began to make some calculations. It was an hour flight, and Sergetov didn't notice it was over until the pilot came back to announce they had landed.


He looked with squinted eyes at the snow-covered landscape of Vnukoro-2, the VIP-only airport outside Tarentum, and wlaked alone down the boarding stairs to the waiting limousine. The car sped off at once, without stopping at any of the security points. The military officers snapped to attention as the car passed, then returned to the business of keeping warm in the subzero temperatures. The sun was bright, the sky clear except for some high, thin clouds. He looked vacantly out the windows, his mind mulling over the figures he had reached a half-dozen times. The Presisdent was waiting for him in Tarentum Command.


His protfolio was Energy Production and Distribution (EPD). He had held that position since September, and was only beginning to establish his plan to reorganize the entire regional energy functions. The task he was about to face would decide his career and future in any case, and perhaps his country's.


The car proceeded down Prospect Ave, which turned into Gor'kogo, the limousoine sped through the center lane which was kept clear by police. They motored past Intourist Hotel into the Capital Square, and finally approached Tarentum Command's gate. Here the driver did stop for the security checks, three of them, conducted by SS troops. Five minutes later the car pulled in to the door. The gaurds knew Sergetov by sight, and saluted crisply, as they held the doors open so that his exposure to the cold would last but a brief span of seconds. The executive branch had held its meetings in the foruth basement floor for the last 50 years.


The room was deathly quite as he entered. Had this been in thr Arsenal building, the atmosphere would have been like a funeral-- and there had been far too many of those. Slowly, the Aristocracy was running out of people who had survive the earlier terrors. and the currne t crop of 'young' memeber all in their fifties and early sixties, was finally being heard. The gaurd was being changed. Too slowly--too damned slowly-- for Sergetov and his generation of Party leaders, despite the new President. The man was already a grandfather. It sometimes seemd to Sergetov that by the time these old men were gone, he'd be one himself. But looking around this room, he felt young enough.


"Good day, gentlemen." Sergetov said, handing his coat to an aide, who withdrew at once, closing the door behind her. The other men moved at once to their seats. Sergetov took his, at the podium in front of the others. These men were some of the most powerful in the world, and they awaited his words.


The Party Prime Minister brought the meeting to order. His voice was calm and businesslike. "Dr. Sergetov, you may begin your report. First, we wish to hear exactly what happened."


"Gentlemen, at apporoximately 2300 hours yesterday, Tarentum time, three armed men entered the central complex of the Novezkvartovsk oil complex and committed a highly sophisticated act of sabotage."


"Who were these?" The Minister of Defense asked.


"We only have identification for two of them. One of the animals was a staff electrician. The third" --Sergetov pulled the ID card from his pocket and tossed it down to the table below-- "was Senior Engineer Juozas Rashne. He used his expert knowledge of the control systems to initiate a massive fire which spread rapidly before the high winds. A security team responded at once to the alarm. One traitor still unidentified killed or wounded five of these brave men with a rifle of foreign origin. I must say, having interviewed the SS Sergeant--the lieutenant was killed leading his men-- that the gaurds responed quickly and well. They killed the traitors within minutes, but were unable to prevent the complete destruction of the facility, both refinery and production fields."


"And if the guards responded so fast, how then did they fail to prevent this act?" The Defense Minister demanded angrily. "What was this fanatic doing there in the first place?"


"Sir, work in the petrol fields is ardorous, and we have had serious difficulty in filling the posts we have there. My predecessor decided to conscript foreign workers to fill those positions. This was madness. You will recall my first recommendation last year was to change this policiy."


"We have noted it." The chairman said. "Go on."


"The gaurd post records all telephone and radio traffic. The response team was moving in under two minutes. Unfortunately, The guard post was located adjacent the original control building. The current building is located thre kilometers away. A new guard post was supposed to have been built, and the proper materials were bought for this purpose. But it seems these materials were misappropriated by the building director for the purpose of building Dachas on the river a few kilometers away. This man has been arrested on my order for crimes against the State." He reported matter-of-factly. "I have already ordered increased security on all pretol facilites and have order the families of these men to be arrested and interrogated by SS agents, along with all those who worked with them.


Before the SS gaurds were able to kill the traitors, they were able to sabotage the control facility in such a way as to create a massive conflagation. They were also able to ruin the control equipment in such a way that even if the SS team had been able to get a new team of engineers into the facility, it is unlikely anything could have been saved. The SS team was forced to evacuate the building, which was later consumed by the flames. There was nothing more they could have done." Sergetov remembered the Sergeant's blistered face, and the tearsflowing down, over the blisters as he told his story.


"And of the fire brigade?" The Prime Minister asked.


"More than half died fighting the flames. Along with over one hundred citizens who joined to battle the fire. Once this bastard began his devil's work, it would have been as easy to control as an earthquake. For the most part the fire has been put out."


"But how was this catastrophe possible?" a Senior memeber asked. Sergetov was surprised by the quiet mood of the room. Had they met and discussed this affair already?


"My December report described how this room controlled the valves and pumps for literally 110 square kilometers. The same is true of all our large oil complexes. From this nerve center, a man familiar with the controls could manipulate the various systems throughout the field at will, causing the entrei complex to simply self-destruct. Rashne had such skill. He was a Suverinian chosen for special treatment for his intelligence and supposed loyalty, an honor student at some universityand a member in good standing with the local canton. It woulkd also seem he was a religious fanatic capable of such treachery. All of the people killed in the room were freinds of his--or so they thought. After fifteen years in the system, a good salary, the professional respect of his comrades, even his own automobile, his last words were a shrill cry to 'Violet'. The reliability of the people of this religion cannot be accurately predicted."


The Defense Minister nodded again. "So what effect will this have on our oil production?" Half the men at the talbe leaned forward to hear Sergetov's answer:


"Gentlemen, we have lost thirty-four percent of our total crude oil production for a period of at least one year, possibly as many as three. It will be necessary to redrill every well and finally reconstruct the pipelines from the fields to the refivery and elsewhere. The concurrent loss loss of the refinery is serious, but not an immediate concern as the refinery can be rebuilt, and in any case represents less than a seveth of our crude oil production. In real terms, due to the chemical make-up of the Novezkvartovsk oil, the net total production of loss understates the impact on our economy. Western oil is 'light sweet' crude which means it contains a disproportionately high large amount of the most valuable fractions--those which we use to make gasoline, kerosene, and diesel for example. The net loss in these areas is fourty-four percent of our gasoline production, fourty-eight percent of our kerosene and fifty percent of diesel. These figures are rough calculations I made on the flight back, but they should be accurate within tow percent. My staff will have more accurate numbers in a day or so.


"Half?" The President asked quietly.


"Correct, Sir." Was the response.


"And how long to restore production?"


"If we bring in every drilling rig and operate them round the clock, my roguht estimate is that we can restore production in twelve months. Clearing the site wreckage will take three months, and another three will be needed to relocated our equipment and commence drilling operations. Since we have exact information for well locations and depths, the usual element of uncetainty will not be part of the equation. Within a year--that is sixmoths after we recommence drilling--we will begin to bring the production wella back on stream, and full restoration of the wells will be achieved within two more years. While all this if going on we will need to replace the EOR equipment as well."


"And what might that be?"


"Enhancced Oil Recovery systems, Minister.Had these been relatively new wells, pressurized from underground gas, the fires would have lasted for weeks. As you know, these are wells from which a great deal of oil has already been extracted. To enhance production we will have to pump water into the wells, which has the effect of forcing the oil out. It may also have the effect of damaging the oil bearing strata.


"So, even three years from now production will not be at full restoration?" The Interior Minister asked


"Correct, Sir. There is simply no scientific basis for making and estimate of total production. The situation we have here has never been encountered before, either in the West or the East. We can drill some test wells in the next few weeks which will give us some indications. The staff engineers I left behind are making arrangements to begin the process as quickly as possible."


"Very well, the next qustion is how long the state can operate on this basis."


"There is no denying that this disaster of unprecedented sclae for our economy. The winter has drawn down our oil inventories nore than usual. Certian energy expenditures must remain relatively intact. Electical power generation, for example, accounted for thirty-eight percent of our oil products, far mor than planned, due to past disappointments in nuclear and gas production; which we expected to reduce oil demand. Gas production will require at least five years due to failure to modernize. And U235 recovery will are currently slowed by environmental reasons."


"So make those bastards work harder!" The Minority Party leader suggested.


"It is not the men, it is the machines. Cold effect metal more than men. Tools and equipment break simply because they are brittle with cold. Weather conditions make the resully of spare parts more difficult. We cannot dictate the weather."


"How difficult would it be to conceal drilling operations?" The President asked.


"Difficult? No, Mr. President, impossible. How can one conceal several hundred oil rigs, each 24 meters high? One might as wellattempt to conceal the missle lanching complexes." Sergetov noticed for the first time the glances being exchanged between the Defense Minister and the President.


"Gentlemen, allow me to give you some roguh figures in the way we must consume our oil products. Please understand I am going from memory, since the annual departmental report is in the process of formulation at this time.


"Last year we 908 million metric tons of crudde oil. This fell short of the planned totals by 32 million metric tons, and the amount produced was only possible due to the artificial means I discussed earlier. Roughly half of that was refined into heavy crude for electrical production, factory boilers, this oil simply cannot be used in other ways. Since we have only three--excuse me--two refineries with the sophisticated catalytic chambers needed to refine heavy oil into light distillate products.


The fuels we produce serve our economy in many ways. As we have already seen; thierty-eight percent goes to electicity and other forms of power production, and fortunately heavy crude serves much of this. Of the lighter fuel--diesel, gasoline and kerosene--agricultural production and the food industries, transportation of goods and commodities, private consumption, passenger transportation and finally military uses, thes along absorbed more than half of last years production. In other words comrades, with the loss of the Novezkvartovsk field the end users I just mentioned account for more than we produce, leaving nothing at all for metallurgy, heavy machinery, chemical, and construction uses, not to mention what we customarily export to our fraternal allies throughout the world. To answer you specific question, we can perhaps make a modest reductionin the use of light oils in electrical power usage."


"What about nuclear power and natural gas?"


"Nuclear power is already sivteen percent below planned output, and is getting worse, which has caused the conversion of many plants to oil. Moreover, the conversion of such facilities from oil back to nuclear is even more costly and time-consuming. Conversion to gas is a much cheaper and more attractive alternative that we have been vigorously pursuing. Gas production is also under-plan, but had been improving. We had planned it to excede targets later this year. Here we must alos account for the fact that much of our gas goes to extre-regional allies. It is from this that we gain more currency with which to buy foreign oil, and of course, luxuries." The Minister of Trade winced at this mention.


"So what is your solution, Sergetov?" The Defense Minister inquired with unsettling solicitude.


"We must bear the burden the best we can. improving efficiency at every level of our economy." He didn't bother talking about increasing the imports of oil. The shortfall he had explained would cause an increase in imports thirty-fold. The national Treasury wouldn't even consider allowing it to double. "We will need to increase the contracts with Baricade Drilling Co. and purchase more drilling equipment from the east so that we can expand exploration and exploitation of known fields. And we need to expand our construction of nuclear power plants. To conserve our available production we should restrict supplies to trcuks and personal autos--there is much waste in this sector, as we all know, perhaps as much of a third of total usage. We can temporarily reduce the amount consumed by the military hardware to industrial areas. We face very hard years, but only three." Sergetov finished on an upbeat note.


"You experience in foreign and defense affairs is slim, no?" The Defense Minister asked.


"I have never pretended otherwise." Sergetov replied warily.


"Then I will tell you why this situation is unacceptable. If we do what you suggest, then Tagmatium will learn of our crisis. Increased purchases of oil and the activity in Novezkvartovsk will demonstrate to them all too clearly what is happeneing here. That will make us vulnerable in their eyes. Such vulnerability will be exploited, and at the same time"--he pounded his fist on the hard oak table--"you suggest reducing the fuel available to the forces who defend us against them!"


"Mister Minister, I am an engineer, not a soldier. You asked for a technical evaluation and I gave it." He kept his voice reasonable. "This situation is very serious, but it does not, for example, effect our strategic missile forces. Cannot they alone shield us from the Imperialist during our recovery?" Why else had they been built? Sergetov asked himself. Wasn't it enough to kill the Greater Imperium ten times over? And now this wasn't enough?


"And has it not occurred to you that they will not allow us to purchase what we need? They will blockade us and prevent these tools from coming to us." The Military Theoritician asked.


"When has the Greater Empire ever--"


"When have they ever had such a weapon to use against us?" The President observed. "For the first time, they have the ability to strangle us in a single year."


Sergetov looked around the room. Thwenty-two men, of whom only three truely decided things--and one of those was missing--comtemplating over two and a half billion workers, hungry and in the dark, at the same timethat the troops of the Army, the Ministry of the Interior and the SS found their own fuel supplies to be resticted, and because of it, their mobility.


The Defense Minister broke the silence." We must obtain more oil. It is as simple as that. The alternative is a crippled economy, hungry citizens and a reduced defense capacity. The consequneces of which are not acceptable."


"We cannot purchase oil" One pointed out.


"Then we must take it."

Edited by The Aristocratic Confederation (see edit history)
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"Gentlemen," began the Defense Minister. "The Confederation must have oil, at least two hundred million tons more than we can produce. Such oil exists, only a few dozen kilometers from here--more oil than we will ever need. We have the ability to take it, of course. Insider of ten days, we could assemble enough aircraft and mechanized troops to swoop down on those oil fields and gobble them up.


Unfortunately, there could not fail to be a violent Tamgatine response. The Tagmatine forces do not have the ability to defend those oil fields with conventional means. Their Imperial Guardsman, a hollow shell of heaquaters and a few heavy troops, they could not hope to stop our airborne and mechanized forces. Where they try, and they would try, their heavy troops would be overwhelmed and exterminated in a few days--they would be faced with a single alternative: League. This is a real risk we cannot overlook. We know for a fact that Tagmatine warplans call for a dual fronted assaul from the coasts and from Suverina.


Therefore, before we can take the territory to the North, we must squeeze Suverina out of the league, and isolate Tagmatium."


Sergetov sat up in his leather chair. What was this, what was he saying? He struggled to keep his face impassive as the Defense Minister continued.


"If Suverina is first removed from the board, Tagmatium will be in a most curious position."


Did they really believe this, Sergetov wondered, did they really think Tagmatium would sit on it's hands? What went on at the late meeting yesterday?


At last one other person shared his concern. "So the only thing we must do is break Suverina from the League of the Treaty? Are these not the countries whose conventional forces you warn us of every year? Every year you tell us of the threat the massed LT armies present to us, and now you casually say we must break them apart? Excuse me Mister Minister, but are not Rennd and Tagmatium already dispositioned against us? And why would Suverina not fulfill it's treaty promise to defend the LT?"


The Foreign Minister answered. "Our objectives must be limited, and obviously so. This presents us with several political tasks. First, we must engender a feeling of security in Tagmatium to put them off guard until it is too late for them to react forcefully. Second we must attempt to unrreavel the alliance between Suverina and Tagmatium in a political sence. As you know the SS has been working on this plan for several years and it is now in final form."

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Fort Justinianus was its name of the small town and refinery complex, named after the famed explorer, Brigadier Theodore Justinianus, of the 17th Century who had mapped almost the entirety of the Occidental Subcontinent. It was considered a backwater, almost entirely isolated from the Greater Holy Empire by several thousand kilometres and the huge ?back-bone of the Occident?, the almost impenetrable Occidental Apennine Mountain range. Indeed, the events of the Tagmatine Civil War had come almost as a surprise when news filtered across the mountains several months later.


The town itself consisted of the houses of the refinery workers and other town inhabitants, a church, the Church of the Holy Trinity, a few pubs and a smattering of small shops and a post office. It had a small port, which had declined rapidly in importance since the building of the Trans-Apennine Pipeline, which connected the tiny refinery to the Greater Holy Empire.


The refinery was small, as geological surveys conducted in the early 20th Century had pointed only to a small oil field, which wasn?t worth constructing anything but a small complex. The port which had used to serve oil tankers and freighters of many sorts had ceased to be of much use, and was marked by a labyrinthine mess of decaying warehouses, customs houses and wharfs. It did, however, still see the stopping off of patrols of the Holy Imperial Navy. There was irregularly a frigate or destroyer in the port.


The main lease of life to Fort Justinian, indeed, where most supplies came from due to the surrounding area being windswept, bleak and having infertile soil fit only for the grazing of herds of sheep, was the airstrip. Aeroplanes landing brought food and took away letters and the like to family and friends else where in Tagmatium.


Gathered around the airstrip, as it was considered to be part of the Holy Imperial Air Force (HIAF), was the main feature of Fort Justinianus, and indeed, made it live up to the name of ?fort?, the base of the 12th Aerial Guards battalion. Not particularly the most distinguished unit in the Tagmatine armed forces, the most recent action they had seen was when some bandits from the mountains had attacked some vehicles on the roads leading to the valley Fort Justinianus sat in, and the 1st and 3rd Companies had gone on a hunting expedition, to bring the law of the Greater Holy Empire to them.


In all, Fort Justinianus an unremarkable place, even bleak and unforgiving. Receiving a post there, from either the HIAF or the Tagmatine Petroleum and Gasoline Corporation, was considered a punishment or a mark of displeasure from the authorities. However, the small town, population around 2000, discounting the Aerial Guards Battalion, was fiercely proud and patriotic of their heritage as Tagmatine Citizens.


TagEdit: MS's post on religion and RP has been split off to its own separate thread:


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"They didn't ask me," explained the cheif of the General Staff. "They didn't ask for my evaluation. The political decision was already made when they called me in fromThursday night. When was the last time any Defense Minister asked me for a susbtantine judgemental decision?"


"And what did you say?" Asked Five-Star General Adrian Demetrios. The initial response was a grim, ironic smile.


"That the armed forces of the Confederation were able to carry out this task, given four months of preparation."


"Four months..." Demetrios stared out the window, then turned back. "We won't be ready."


"Hostilities will commence June fifteenth." He replied.


"We must be ready Adrian. And what choice did I have?" Would you have had me say 'I am sorry President Radomir, but the Confederation mechanized forces are unable to carry out this task'? I would have been dismissed and replaced with somone more tractible--you know what my replacement would have been. Would you rather answer to Bukharin--"


"That fool!" Demetrios growled. It had been the then Lieutenant-General Bukharin whose brilliant plan had led the Confederation navy into Tarragat. Professionally a nonentity, his politcal connections had not only saved him, but continued his career near the pinnacle of uniformed power. A clever man, Bukharin. Never involved in the campaigns he produced himself, he could point to his paper perfect plans and claim they were all poorly executed, after he had moved on to the command of the Northern military district.


"So, you would have him in this office dictating your plans to you?" The General Chief asked. Demetrios shook his head. The two men had been friends since they had commanded a tank brigade in the same division, just in time for the final surge toward the last socialist stronghold in 1951.


"How are we to go about it?" Demetrios asked.


"Steel Winds," was the reply. Steel Winds was the plan for a mechanied sweep into the lowlands of the northern territory, while anticipating Tagmatine counter-action. Constantly updated for changes in the force-structures of both sides, it called for a two- to three- week campaign commencing after a rapid escalation of tension between Aristocracy and Tamgatium. Despite this, in accorcance with Confederate Doctrine, it called for strategic surprise as a precondition for success, and the use of conventional weapons only.


"At least they weren't talking about nukes." Demetrios grunted. Other plans with other names applied to different scenarios, including many for the tactical use of nuclear arms, something no one in uniform wanted to contemplate. Despite all the sabe-rattling of their political leader, these soldiers knew all too that the use of nulcear arms made for ghastly uncertainties. "And the maskirovka?"


"In two parts. The first is purely political, to work against the Tamgatine government. The second part, immediately before the war begins, is from SS, You know it, SS group Nord. We reviewed it tow years ago."


"Four months," Demetrios repeated. "we have much to do, and if this SS magic fails to work?"


"It is a good plan. It needs only decive Tamgatium for a week, though two would be better. The key of course is how quickly Tagmatium can reach full readiness. If we can delay their readiness by seven days, victory is assured."


"And if not" Demetrios asked sharply.


"Then it is not assured, but the balance of force is on our side. You know that Adrian." The option of recalling mobilized forces was never brought up. "We will need to inprove the discipline of soldiers throughout the force, first of all, and impliment intense training operations. Just how awful is this fuel problem?"


"It could be worse, we have enough fuel fro extended unit training. Our task is no easy one. But four months is a long time for this task, is it not?"


It wasn't but there was no point in saying so. "As you say, four months to istill fighting discipline. Will I have a free-hand?"


"Within limits."

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Morale was always a problem so far away from home, and in such a bleak setting. It had, however, sunk to an all time low recently. The lieutenant-colonel, one of the first into the newly-founded Aerial Guard battalions a decade ago, was a drunk. It was kept a tight secret by the other officers, but rumours would leak out, especially when gunshots would ring out in the dead of night, as the base commander fell into a fit of drunken rage, the cause of which was still a mystery to the other base officers. The result was that the senior major was almost entirely the real commander of the base.


On top of this, there were rumours filtering into the town that there was a build-up of Aristocratic Confederation forces over the border, little over 50 kilometres away. Whilst at the moment they were unsubstantiated, it still made the whole town nervous. That, and the fact that the Greater Holy Empire seemed to be taking no heed of the threat to its furthest outpost on the Occident. However, Fort Justinianus had not heard any news of the Western Army being mobilised several weeks ago ? news had just not filtered through yet.


Therefore, morale was suffering, as it appeared that the Imperial Government just did not care about the fate of the small colony far away to the west.


This, however, wasn?t the case. The Imperial Government had not yet seen the massing of Confederate forces just across their border to the south of Fort Justinianus. Once they had, the Imperial Government would react with as much force as it could muster ? Tagmatium never reacted favourably with attempts to invade its territory.

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The Imperial Palace Complex, Tagmatica, Tagmatium


Once again, a large screen on the wall of the meeting room displayed a map. However, this time it wasn?t of southern Europan trouble spots, or the Barrier Islands where a Tagmatine fleet played a game of cat and mouse with a Vocian one. This time, it showed an image of the west Apennines and the small plains near the isthmus which joined the furthest peninsular to the Occident. Highlighted was the border of the Aristocratic Confederation and the tiny Tagmatine outpost of Fort Justinianus.


?Activity along the border points vaguely to a build up of Confederate military,? the man talking was a slightly bored-sounding Tagmatine Intelligence Network man, who was standing just to the right of the screen. ?Just inside Confederate borders at the moment, however. Nothing points to where they are moving off to next.?


The Holy Emperor frowned at the man slightly. It irritated him that this spy could make the whole thing, of utmost national importance, sound tedious, like a visit to the supermarket to get the weekly shopping. Commodus stood up, and addressed the rest of the room, which had the top governmental officials in Tagmatium in it.


?It looks as if the Aristocratic Confederation wishes to expand to its north or north east. If they move north east, then it is of no concern of ours, although I loathe to see that rather offensive nation gain stature and importance. Their web of trade to the EOS states already concerns me. On the other hand, if they decide to expand northwards, it places in peril our small colony of Fort Justinianus. They may try to either annex or destroy our four hundred year old outpost, which isn?t something I can stand for. Fort Justinianus is of almost no significance, the only key feature it possesses is a small oil field, according to surveys carried out in 1919 and 1923. I don?t think that is their objective. The oil fields are small and aren?t much of a prize, especially when war is considered.?


The Domestic Manuel Copronymus stood up as the Holy Emperor sat down. The officer had just returned from his army in the west in order to address this meeting. ?The Western Army is still mobilised, which does give us a head start against any possible attack. The crossing of the Apennines, by whatever route, will take over a week. We?re lucky the Aristocracy is doing this in the summer, because winter would make most routes impassable, especially to a large army.?


?If the worst case scenario does take place, how long can the units in Fort Justinianus hold out?? asked the Vice-Chancellor of Dux Numerius Rosslyn. The Holy Imperial Air Force officer shifted in his chair.


?Not long. Morale is low, and I?ve heard rumours that the lieutenant-colonel of the 12th Aerial Guards is a drunk. They have never been expected to do more than sit on their arses and fend of the occasional bandit attack. The feeling is usually that Tagmatica has forgotten them.?


?Hmm,? the Holy Emperor mused. ?Would a visit by a top Imperial Government official be enough to boost morale, temporarily at least??


?That may work, your Imperial and Most Christian Majesty,? answered the Dux. This was the first time he had attended such a meeting, so didn?t realise that Commodus preferred less formal titles. ?Who shall we send, though, O Vice-Gerent of God in Europa??


Commodus, wincing slightly at the use of the grand titles, lapsed into thought for a moment. ?The Vice-Chancellor will be a good candidate.?


?Me!?? Commenus sat bolt upright in his chair.


?I could hardly go myself, Philip. I would be too much of a tempting target to our barbarian friends, whether or not Fort Justinianus is a target.?


?Of course, Commodus, my past record shows that I am no coward, but??




?I have no wish to put myself in such danger, to be honest. And I?m still a very important official in the Tagmatine government??


The Holy Emperor leaned back in his chair. ?I tell you what, Philip; I?ll give you a company of Imperial Household Guards. Other than that, your aeroplane awaits!?


Commenus nodded, stood up, and walked out of the room.


EDIT: Grammar, spelling and a bit more detail.

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Eight men stood around a large oaktable studying maps of the border between the Aristocracy and Suverina.


-These romours are very concerning.


-Yes, indeed general.


-If they attack our allies outright, dare we attack them?


The other offices in the room didn't look to sure.


-Wouldn't that be a bit too risky, sir?


-Do you all think we should leave our allies behind then?


After som silence majorgeneral radovic finally answered.


-Ofcourse not, but a full war with the aristocracy, can we handle it?




-Do we even have any plans for an invasion.


-erhm, no.


-I think it's settled then.

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Aleksandar Mirko was the head and political face of the SS organization. He did little work himself, there was a whole organization of some of the best minds in the Occident devoted to making sense of everything. His job was to merely report to the President on urgent matters, and lobby for an increased budget every year. Today was one of the few days in which he actually did any work.


He was sitting in one of the frequent meetings, almost every other day he was called in to give his advice on particular issues. Anyone outside this room was under the impression that they were discussing economics, in fact, all of these meetings were under the guise of peaceful, domestic matters.


"Mr. Mirko, you may give you analysis on the situation."


"As you know, we have two spooks lurking around Fort Justinian. Their mission has been to gather information about the readiness of the garrison's ability to respond. They have given us a great deal of information about the installation and it's capabilities.?


?And what have they found?? Asked the Minister of Defense.


?It?s merely an airbase that has been overlooked by both our plans and the Tagmatine government. Morale for the soldiers there is low, they feel as though their sacrifice has been forgotten by the corrupt ?politicians? in Tagmatica. I was handed a paper just before we convened. Says that our spooks have sighted a high-ranking official depart from Tagmatica, on his way to the base. This is of some concern to me.?


?And why is that? Mr. Mirko??


?The last time they pulled a stunt like this was never ago. It?s simply out of place for them to send someone of this stature to a remote location, especially so close to the border of their better-off neighbors. I suspect that they have taken notice of the increased military action on our part and are trying to raise to morale of the garrison??


The Defense Minister interrupted him. ?So they have sent a high-priority target only a few minutes away by missile? Mr. President, I insist that we strike that base immediately.?


?Why in the black-hell would I do that?? Demanded the President.


?We have no idea the next time they will send a target of this importance into such an easy strike zone. This may never happen again! We should knock off one of their officials while the window is wide open!?


?That?s enough. You should know damned well we aren?t ready to start this war. If we hit them now they would no doubt attempt to retaliate. If this war begins before we are ready everything we have endured and are prepared to endure will be in vain. No, there will be no action taken on this target of opportunity. Besides, allowing him to walk away might work to our advantage. If they think we aren?t going to bat an eye at such occasions, they may simply dismiss our preparations as mere exercises.?


"But sir!" The Defense Minister bellowed.


"It final. We will not take action on this."

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The Prince looked at T'Nith with a level of amazement that hadnot graced the offices of the Lord of the Antlered throne since time immemorable.


"He's sending who where?"


T'Nith surpressed a smile, it was almost amusing to see the normally calm prince so shocked.


"The vice-chancellor of Tagmatium to Fort Justinianus, a small Tagmatine outpost to the south of Tagmatium."


"Why by all the teeth in the beast's frozen maw would he do something like that? From what I can tell from these reports that fort is little more than an airstrip manned by a staff of half-civilized, semi-trained, drunken, and inbreed exiles. What has the vice-chancellor done to deserve such treatment?"


"He prince really is shocked," T'Nith thought to himself. "He's really letting his hair down. Must be his Tagmatine blood coming to the fore." He then spoke aloud, "nothing it would seem."


"Nothing?!" The shocked still registered on the prince's face. "NOTHING AT ALL??!!"


"No my liege. Rather it would seem to be a bit of flag wave on the emperor's part. An attempt to raise morale in an oft forgotten part of the empire."


"Ah," understanding spread across the prince's features and his face took on its characteristic serenity. He smiled "I am sure the vice-chancellor is absolutely thrilled to have been selected as the one to carry out such an," the prince paused, "noble task for his emperor." The smile disappeared and he picked up another report from his desk and looked at it momentarily. "Might this flag waving visit have anything to do with the wargames the Aristocratic Confederation announced recently?"


"It is possible my liege, it is possible. Tagmatium and the Aristocratic Confederation have had a," it was T'Nith turn to pause, "less than cordial relationship since the conflict Tarragat Island started. Indeed, after the Aristocratic Confederation's cowardly strike on Tagmatine forces I doubt the Government of Tagmatium would trust the Confederation not to try a similar act against the empire proper." T'Nith's distain for Confederation's actions' in the Tarragat conflict had become increasing evident as he spoke, althought it paled in comparsion to what he said next. "I can not say I blame the empire. I personally wouldn't shake hands with any members of the Confederation Government for fear of them trying to steal my fingers."


The prince laughed.


"I'm sure they wouldn't succeed at that my friend. Indeed, I am sure the result of such an attempt would be quite...negative for any member of the Confederation Government tha tried." He glanced knowingly at the dagger that hung from T'Nith's belt with a smile and then turned serious again. "Nonetheless, keep me informed about this situation, if a conflict does occur between Tagmatium and the Confederation we maybe able to turn it to our advantage." He smiled again, "in any case I will be interested in hearing how the vice-chancellor enjoys his royal progress."

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OOC: I?m back. Let?s get this thing started?


The Vice-Chancellor leaned his head back against the headrest of the seat. The small jet hand just taken off and Fort Justinianus was swiftly receding into the distance. It hadn?t been the most comfortable of missions ever, but Commenus had definitely seen worse during the years of exile during the Republic. Morale had seemed incredibly low, but the major in charge, Major Occidentus, had appeared to be a very competent officer. It was a shame that he was stuck in the middle of no-where. A more active command would probably suit him more. Commenus mentally added seeing about a transferral for the major to his to-do list, then scratched it off as he realised that it would probably ruin morale at the airstrip even more.


The Captain-Major of his bodyguard had requested to stay in the base to bolster the defensive strength of it. However, Commenus had declined it, as it would look very suspicious. Evidence pointed to Confederate spies in there area, and 70-odd black-armoured, red-clothed elite of the Tagmatine armed forces would attract unwanted attention.


The telephone set into the desk in front of the Vice-Chancellor rang, making him start.


?Hello? Oh, Commodus. Yes, the trip went well. Morale was low, of course, but the major in charge appears to be a very good officer. No, nothing like that. Yes, I did advise the officers on the position of our units in the Borea. They were disappointed, of course, but I assured them we were doing all they can. I think all we can do is let the Confederation act first. Ok, then, sir, I?ll see you in the Imperial Palace.?


He put the ?phone down, and reclined the chair and closed his eyes. Tagmatica was a good few hours away, and he needed a bit of rest.

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