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A River Runs Red


Beautancus

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On the Cussian shore of the Jaihu River which runs between the Cussian Province of East Areopatene and the Greater Holy Empire of Tagmatium, 2/26/08, mid-morning

 

Constable-Sergeant Towhidi Babul, one of the more senior patrol officers in East Areopatene?s 23rd ?Big River? District had never seen a more typical late winter morning. Taking a moment to relax and savor the rather picturesque scenery along the river while he forced down a steak biscuit, it was easy to forget that he was on duty, rather than taking a leisurely bike-ride down the river-way, which he often did on his time off. Normally, the 23rd District was calm, with the odd drug bust here and there, and the even odder rape or murder closer inland marring the air of general calm. To his own reckoning, fifteen years of hard military service, including a stint in the war against the Haru that came before this most recent one- and a brief bit of fighting in the Civil War had earned him the right to an easy time of it here. The same held true of most of the Constabulary in District 23, some of whom had even served with Towhidi in the wars.

 

Washing down the last bit of his biscuit with a swill from his coffee-thermos, Towhidi fiddled with a pack of headache powder, careful not to dump the contents out altogether before he could get it to his mouth. Catching an approaching container ship looming on the horizon, Towhidi hastily funneled the contents down, careful to avoid the chance of jumping at an unfortunately timed foghorn. Washing the vile tasting powder down with another gulp of coffee, Towhidi shook the last bitterness off with a toss of his head, and cast another glance in the direction of the container vessel. This early in the year, few of those came down the river, but enough did that it didn?t seem altogether unusual. It was probably laden with farm supplies, fresh out of the factories, and headed for the breadbasket districts a hundred or so miles downriver. Soon enough the river would be absolutely choked with similar vessels, ferrying all sorts of cargo- as far away as Miiros. More importantly, vessels would be coming back from there, carrying many of the modern amenities that Cussians had come to crave in the past few years, especially in East Areopatene, which was the most cosmopolitan of all the Glorious Dominate?s provinces. That was refreshing at times, and alarming at others. Towhidi?s own son seemed to be addicted to that damnable console gaming system that had come from Miiros. For a while it seemed that he might lose interest in the grid-iron because of it, but then Towhidi reminded him that the girls didn?t so much care for strong thumbs as they did for strong thighs. The boy had almost thrown the thing away after that, but seemed to have gained some interest in it again now that the season was over- and he had a steady girl-friend.

 

Chuckling at the thought, Towhidi pushed the kickstand of his motorcycle out, and prepared to give it a start, when an oddly placed sound caught his ear. An echo at best, but still distinct to a man that had ever served in a war- it was sub-machine gunfire. Almost dropping the bike on its side, Towhidi scrambled to get the kick-stand back down and pull his own gun at the same time. He had to rip his safety-helmet off in hope of catching a better ear-full if there was another report, while simultaneously pulling his radio ear-set down to his mouth for a transmission. ?I have shots fired somewhere in Sector G-54 in District 23, along the riverfront. Code-204, I repeat code-204! Discharge of a prohibited firearm!?

Another crackled of machine gun fire, this time closer. Frantically tossing his head to discern which direction the gunfire had come from, Towhidi raced away from his bike. A third crackle came, and he happened to catch a glint of fire out of the corner of his eye- on the river. Thoughts raced through the Constable-Sergeant?s head faster than he could catalogue. Had it come from that container ship? Had it come from down on the shore? Quickly scanning the shore, Towhidi ruled the later possibility out, and focused on the ship. It loomed close now, and he read the lettering on its side. The ?Joshan? appeared to be peaceful enough for the moment, but it was better to be safe than sorry. ?Have a river-unit check the container ship just down from my location Central, I think that?s where the shots came from. It?s labeled the ?Joshan,? and I really don?t recognize the port-markers.?

 

?Roger that Sergeant. See if you can get a better line of sight on things and go from there.? The static-ridden voice wafted back over the radio. Nodding to the unseen command, Towhidi raced down the river-front sidewalk, careful not to take his eye off the ship, now hulking just a few hundred yards down the river, and slightly more than that away from the shore. The ship also appeared to be dead in the water, only sliding a forward a bit from momentum now? A single figure appeared on the bow of the ship, alone and apparently in a hurry. The man spared a single glance over his shoulder and jumped- clear over the railing and rolled into a straight dive for the frigid waters of the Jaihu. The whole business startled Towhidi enough that he slid to a halt, fighting the urge to slide down to the shore. ?I have a man in the water! He just jumped off the Joshan!?

 

The man?s head appeared above water again a few seconds later, shaking the cold from his eyes and coughing a bit. He paddled madly away from the ship, making for the Cussian shore of the river, to which he was much closer to begin with. Blinking back the sheer shock of the moment, Towhidi tried to follow the man as he swam, careful to keep his weapon at the ready in case this man was the shooter that he seemed to be. As the man stumbled up onto the shore, it appeared that he didn?t have a weapon, but that didn?t mean that he wasn?t armed. ?Halt! Hands up until I can get down there!? Towhidi roared down at the man, leveling his gun on him. The man looked up at him, with an expression coming close to disappointment on his face. Another voice cut through the air, this time from aboard the Joshan. ?Stop that ba$tard! He killed the Captain!? It was just a momentary distraction, but Towhidi looked away all the same. When he looked back down, the man was holding something mechanical up, above his head. He began to scream, at first in English, which Towhidi barely followed- and then in accented Cussian. ?I strike this blow against the Oppressors! I strike this blow in the name of the world-revolution and the liberation of the Proletariat, so long ground under the jack-boot of your Fascist-Imperialist masters!? A second too late, it dawned on Towhidi that the man was holding a detonator, but to what he didn?t know. Squeezing the trigger of his gun, a controlled burst hurtled down at the man on the shore, and all three shots struck. It was still too late; the man?s work had been done.

 

Out of the corner of his eye, Towhidi caught something that seemed almost surreal- as time slowed to a crawl the Joshan?s hull seemed to expand, or bulge for an instant. There was the beginnings of an awful roar, and the deck of the great container ship exploded upwards, in an eruption of flame like Towhidi had never seen. Shards of super-heated metal lanced out through the air- one striking the Constable-Sergeant squarely in the chest, and killing him instantly. The chain reaction continued, as a secondary explosion engulfed the remainder of the ship, sprawling out over the surface of the river. The force of the blast actually reached the shore, carving a bit out of it, and forcing the river?s waters well over their normal bounds- on both sides. The ensuing roar was heard for several dozen miles on both sides of the river- Cussian and Tagmatine, in an event that marked a definite turning point in the history of both nations.

Edited by Beautancus (see edit history)
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The container ship Joshan had been nearer to the Cussian bank than the Tagmatine one, but the roar of the explosion was heard up and down both sides. The ship had been near the capital of the Catepanate of Eastea, Eastea proper. The explosion had struck near the administrative heart of the fractious Catepanate, causing wide-scale panic. Debris rained down from the blast, some of it big enough to flatten cars and cause significant damage to buildings. Some of the wreckage landed wetly. The shockwave of the blast shattered windows along shop fronts, showering people with glass fragments, causing more injuries

 

Confusion reigned for a while, as people ran aimlessly about, or stood stock-still and watched the remains of the Joshan slowly upended itself midstream, as oil-fires burned on the surface of the river and slicks of foul-smelling chemicals drifted from the shattered hull of the freighter. Someone amongst the crowds of witnesses shouted about survivors, and the crews of tugs and small vessels began to disengage from the wharfs and quays on the Tagmatine side of the river and make their way to the burning shell of the freighter. Sirens also began to sound in the city itself, as ambulances and fire tenders made their way to the river bank, some to help with the stricken vessel, others with the damage caused by the explosion.

 

A Holy Imperial Air Force JX-12 assault helicopter thumped overheard, its chin-gun swivelling as its crew took in the scene of devastation below them. It was quickly joined by two other ?copters, one from the police and another bearing the colours of the Tagmatine Broadcasting Corporation.


Catepan-General Anthony Trajan, the military governor of Eastea, looked up from a pile of notes, dossiers and reports he was sifting through as the doors to his office were banged open.

 

?Do you not know how to knock?? asked the one-eyed officer coldly. ?I am trying to sort out the damned backlog of crap the burning squads have created.? The worried look on the face of his civilian secretary made the general change his demeanour, becoming concerned. ?What?s gone wrong? The buggers up north aren?t whinging about their opium again, are they??

 

?There?s been an explosion, sir.?

 

?Jesus, where??

 

?On the Jaihu, sir,? replied the civilian. ?Surely you heard it?? The Catepan?s office was on the third floor of the central administrative building in the city, with a view that looked out across the city, in the opposite direction to the riverfront.

 

The Catepan guiltily removed a pair of earphones and then shook his head. ?What?s going on??

 

?It appears that a container ship making its way downstream blew up, sir. There are reports of gunshots being heard just before.? The man was nervously hopping from one foot to the other. ?And there are casualties from the blast in Eastea, sir.?

 

?Sh*t.? The general stood up, dislodging the pile of papers on his desk. They cascaded to the floor as he dived to stop them. Swearing again, he picked his uniform jacket from the back of his chair and slid his semi-automatic into his holster, checking the magazine in with a reflex action.

 

?Who?s on the scene??

 

?All the emergency services, sir,? replied the aide, flicking through a hastily-made folder. ?There?s a JX-12 floating above the area, along with a crime-copter and a vulture.? ?Vulture? was the colloquial name for any helicopter owned by a TV-station. ?There?s a load of rubber-neckers having a good look, but it doesn?t appear that there?s been any attempt to keep people back from the banks. A bunch of boats are trying to see if there?re any survivors.?

 

?F*cking hell,? the general cursed. Trajan, a man in which paranoia regularly found a home after being his HQ was bombed by a supposed-ally, felt a sinking feeling. ?Make my staff-car ready. I want to have a look myself.?

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The staggering destruction left in the wake of the explosion of the Joshan was similarly horrific on the Cussian shore of the Jaihu. The wave of smoldering debris that had slain Constable-Sergeant Towhidi had also flattened a number of buildings along the riverfront, as well as igniting a number of structure fires that were rapidly spreading inland in 23rd Big River district of the greater Akhtala metropolitan area. Though a response team had been assembled as soon as Towhidi had radioed the disturbance in, it was far from adequate to deal with the growing firestorm and rapidly growing number of collateral casualties.

 

The emergency-response networks in District 23, and the surrounding Districts, were immediately swamped with calls- only adding to the fatal confusion of those first precious moments. Air response teams were scrambled along with fire-teams and desperate Constables in an attempt to cordon off the affected areas, and minimize any further deaths. Two retrofitted Behesid attack helicopters quickly joined the Tagmatine helicopters in the air over the Jaihu, frantically exchanging data as the full scope of the explosion began to set in.

 


Long before the chaos born of the Joshan?s explosion had begun, the seeds of an even greater holocaust had been carefully planted. Desperate men on both sides of the River had begun their work soon after the sun rose over Eastea and Akhtala. An hour or so before the morning-rush began, moving vans were crawling down the riverfront on both sides of the Jaihu, heading for the major thoroughfares along the historic and scenic districts. Once a satisfactory position had been discovered for each, the vans were parked and discarded- one on the Cussian riverfront, and one on the Tagmatine riverfront. Though not intentionally, the vans were abandoned well out of the range of the shock-wave of the Joshan?s explosion, but still close enough to be inside the most affected districts on both sides.

 

Several minutes after the explosion on the river, a number of other moving-vans began their trek towards destiny, well away from the affected areas. Two more vans on the Cussian side, and two more on the Tagmatine side driven by the same group of men involved in the earlier portion of the morning?s work weaved through the traffic clots and hastily erected bottle-necks. Quietly discussing the far-reaching effects of the ?blow against the Imperialistic Oppressors,? each van?s team went over the pre-mapped routes once more as they drove, careful to avoid any obvious check-points, and potential hang-ups in their carefully laid plan.

 

One of the vans on the Cussian side had to be abandoned in the middle of a street, shut-down by a raging inferno in an apartment complex- and boxed off by maddening traffic to the rear. The other van lingered on a street corner, as the driver mimicked a disastrous oil-leak to whittle down a few precious moments, only a block away from the Headquarters of the Constabulary of District 23.

 

The vans on the Tagmatine side of the River had a harder time of reaching their intended targets, by some stroke of fortune for the Eastean government. The first of the vans on this side was headed directly for the Headquarters of Catepan-General Anthony Trajan- but was temporarily delayed, ironically enough by the convoy of vehicles that included their intended target, on his way to inspect the chaos along the riverfront. Once the convoy of government and military vehicles had passed the van, it continued on, and parked a block down from the intended target, buying time in a manner similar to their counterparts across the River. The second van was able to stall directly in front of a large fire-station, though a portion of the emergency vehicles had already been scrambled to deal with the damage along the riverfront. Still, it was the intended target, and it was a bit late to change that plan now. That van was abandoned, and the driver and his ?co-pilot? took up there place a bit down the street, careful to keep a wary eye on the van, and on anyone who might have spared it too much attention.

 

As the minutes ticked by, and the last phone calls spider-webbed out through the two men cells on ground on both sides of the River. Secreted away at an elevated location on the Cussian side of the River, Comrade-Mastermind scanned the Emergency channels once more with a level of excitement building within him that he had never known. Giving the final order to move into place, Comrade-Mastermind fixed his binoculars on the riverfront, though the view was hazy from smoke, and partially obscured by an inferno already towering from one building.

 

The van a bit down from the Headquarters of the Constabulary of District 23 moved into place, and the cell exited hastily, almost eschewing with caution. Hustling down the street to a safe distance, they turned and waited for the last call to be made.

 

Across the River, the last van moved into place, parking directly in front of Trajan?s HQ. These men exited cautiously, noticing that a pair of armed guards already approaching them. ?Hey, you two! You can?t park that thing there, this is a restricted area! What in God?s name are you thinking, especially at a time like this??

 

Before it could go any further, the van?s driver, a veteran of the rough and tumble business he was in jerked an automatic pistol from out of the back of his pants and hammered off a stream of bullets in their general direction. Both guards knew their business just as well, and handily avoided the stream of fire- rolling under the fire and coming up onto their knees. The first of the guards took a half-second?s aim and squeezed at the trigger of his automatic rifle, catching the shooter in the thigh, and again in the stomach and chest as he toppled. The second man was running, cell-phone waving in his hand as the second guard?s gunfire clipped him in the shoulder- sending him to the pavement instantly. The downed Comrade, desperate to see the plan through tapped the send-key of his phone, and the last confirmation text went through?

 

Less than ten seconds later, with each of the vans in place and the texts received by Comrade-Mastermind, the final phone call went out. All the van?s payloads had been linked through a single cell-phone number, so that each 5,000 pound mixture of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, nitromethane, and diesel fuel detonated at the exact same time.

 

Hundreds- perhaps thousands of people, laboring to save the lives and property of others were engulfed in the ensuing explosions, detonations that when combined dwarfed the size of the explosion on board the Joshan. Blossoms of fire hundreds of feet high rose above Akhtala and Eastea, ripping craters nearly a dozen feet deep and almost that wide beneath the spots where the vans had been parked. The helicopters hovering over the River were tossed about on the sudden thermal updraft, and buildings not consumed by the blast collapsed against the force. Cars rolled through the air as if they had been tossed by the hand of some unseen god, and those few windows not shattered by the original detonation toppled out now?

 

Comrade-Mastermind smiled, allowing the waves of exultation to wash over him.

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Trajan swore at the traffic. It shouldn?t have been on the road, not if the emergency services were trying to get to the injured from the explosion of the Joshan. His convoy, top and tailed by Land Rovers in the camouflage of the People?s Guard, had rapidly left the area near his head quarters, but had virtually ground to a halt since then. He could see ahead that a couple of hundred metres down the road that some idiot of a van driver had managed to stall his van in front of a fire station, causing a massive tailback. He thumped the back of the seat in front of him in frustration. His secretary, the occupant of the passenger?s seat, looked behind him.

 

?Sir??

 

The Catepan-General waved his hand dismissively and slumped deeper into his seat. ?Nothing, Manuel, nothing. Just the bloody traffic. Can?t the people of this nation do anything right??

 

The was a rap at the pavement-side window. Trajan turned to it and saw the corporal in charge of his honour guard. He wound down the window.

 

?Corporal??

 

?I was wondering, sir, that if-"


The two-man crew of Romeo Papa Two Zero, the HIAF JX-12 hovering above the shattered hull of the Joshan, suddenly heard a noise. Both men looked around at the cities below them, Eastea on the Tagmatine bank and Akhtala on the Cussian side. The chin-gun, slaved to the gunner?s helmet-mounted gun-sight, mirrored the gunner?s movement. The pilot saw it first.

 

Several massive explosions on both sides of the river ripped through buildings and sent debris flying through the air.

 

?F*ck me?? said the gunner.

 

The pilot groaned wordlessly.

 

All they could do was watch as two cities were shaken by a series of blasts, bigger than either man had seen in decade-long military careers, causing chaos and damage on a scale unprecedented since the end of the Civil War.

 

A chunk of wreckage, about two metres in length, spiralled lazily through the air, given wings by the blast waves. It gracefully span through the air, end over end in almost slow motion, neatly slicing the tail off of the TBC helicopter as it continued on its trajectory. The helicopter started loose altitude rapidly, spinning wildly. Its downward path ended abruptly as it slammed into a warehouse on a riverfront quay, which began to burn merrily.

 

Both HIAF airmen suddenly realised their peril. The shockwaves alone could pluck their tank-killer out of the air as easily as if it had been hit by a missile.

 

?Up, God damn it! Up!? screamed the gunner.

 

?What the hell do you think I?m trying to do?? replied the pilot, yanking the controls as hard as he could.

 

Below them, the cities burned.


He couldn?t see. He couldn?t hear. There was just blackness, utter blackness. Had he gone blind? He feared that a lot, ever since the bombs had fallen from those planes and the glass taken his eye. Or was it that he was dead? Death was a bit of a let down, then. Blackness, silence and a slight tightness across his chest, as if he was held in place by some sort of strap. He could hear things, now. A slight ringing noise. Was that what the heavenly choirs were supposed to be? Perhaps they were just doing a rehearsal. It?d be a disappointment otherwise.

 

Something grabbed his shoulder and pulled him. Light filled his vision. Was one yanked into paradise, rather than called, like people said one was? The ringing was still there, only it had increased in intensity and there was a muffled yelling?

 

?Sir, sir! Are you ok, sir? Sir!??

 

Trajan shook his head, realising where he was. Blood had encrusted his good eye, making it difficult for him to see and the ringing was the residual tinnitus of the blast and thousands of alarms going off across the city. When he finally forced his lids open, mainly through spitting on his hand and wiping the crust away, a scene of devastation met his eye.

 

The fire station was utterly gone, as had the majority of the tail back, virtually all the way up to where the lead Land Rover should have been. The front half of a fire tender was there now, although he could make out crushed wreckage under it in the camouflage of the People?s Guard. Debris littered every surface and fires burned everywhere, giving the smoke-filled sky a bloody look. People staggered about in a daze or just sat in shock. Others didn?t move at all.

 

He turned to look at his own car. It had been flung onto its side and spun through 180 degrees and all the glass had been blown in. The Catepan still had some of it in his hair.

 

?Where?s everyone else?? he asked his rescuer, the corporal from his honour guard.

 

The corporal turned from attempting to light a cigarette with shaking hands, but fumbling the lighter each time. He was missing his helmet and his DPM uniform was torn. The lamellar-style body armour of over lapping ceramic plates had been shorn away in places.

 

?Sh*t knows, sir. Your secretary and I got your driver out. He?s in a bad way, sir. He won?t last.? The soldier was finally able to work the lighter he was holding, and took a long drag before he spoke again. ?My Land Rover?s a bit battered, sir, but otherwise, ok. Jim?s lot, sir?? he gestured hopelessly with his cigarette towards the shattered ruin of the other escort.

 

The general patted him on the shoulder, and looked around for his secretary and driver. The driver was lying on the floor. Both legs were obviously broken and the man?s face was an ashen grey and his eyes were closed, although he was whimpering quietly to himself. Trajan then saw his secretary sitting down, with his back against a lamp post.

 

?Ok, Manuel??

 

The man looked up at Trajan, his eyes slightly glazed and his face uncomprehending. He didn?t say anything, just gazed mutely.

 

?I heard you got the driver out. Good man. Don?t worry; an ambulance will be along soon to help him. I hear he?s?? The general trailed off. It occurred to him that corporal might not have been talking about the driver. Manuel, his secretary, was attempting to hold shut a massive gash in his stomach. The general sat with him as he quietly bled to death.


The pall of smoke from the combined fires was obscuring the sun and creating a false night. Romeo Papa Two Zero had turned on its lights, although it didn?t do much good, just illuminated the swirling clouds pumped into the air by the explosions and after-fires. Both men looked around in disbelief. It looked like the Apocalypse had come and annihilated the cities of man. They couldn?t see any of the other helicopters, either Cussian or Tagmatine. The gunner fiddled with the radio. It was deadly silent. He tried anyway.

 

?This is JX-12 Romeo Papa Two Zero. Is there anyone out there??

 

The radio crackled static for a moment, spitting shrieks and whines at him, before a voice came across, fuzzily at first.

 

?Ro? pa? Tw? Zero? Oh, thank God. This is Sierra Charlie One Ten.? Sierra Charlie ? Sky Copper. The Tagmatine police helicopter had survived the blasts. ?What the hell happened??

 

?No idea, Sierra Charlie. A load of explosions, by the looks of it. Lord only knows who could have done that. Where the hell are you now??

 

There was a pause before the police helicopter answered. ?Over Cussian airspace, apparently. I hope they wouldn?t do anything. Where?s Teeb ?copter and the Cussians??

 

?They didn?t make it, Sierra Charlie, or at least the Teeb one didn?t,? replied the HIAF gunner.

 

The copper took a few seconds to answer. ?Sh*te. We were telling them to get out of there just before it hit the fan.?

 

The gunner closed his eyes and put his head back against his seat. The sight of the TBC helicopter spiralling into that warehouse would, in all likelihood, haunt him forever.

 

?I recommend you head home, Sierra Charlie. We?re going to do the same.?

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Waking to the high, shrill whine of sirens and the slightly muffled screams of dozens of people nearly mad with terror jolted Sarkash Babul back to reality, brutal and unwanted though it was. Waves of nausea coursed through him instantly as he began to roll over, having been sprawled on his back. The movement was too much for the young man, and his body reacted violently. Jerking to his side so that the vomit didn?t choke him, Sarkash became aware that someone else was lying only a few feet from him, and thought to utter an apology- until the condition of that person became apparent.

 

The person?s facial features were unrecognizable, bloody and swollen- whether or not they were unconscious, or something far worse wasn?t clear. The realization of what had just transpired crept back over Sarkash, and insurmountable grief gripped him. He?d been racing home, almost sick with the news that something had happened to his father at the River- something involving the immense explosion that had cracked some, and rattled all of the windows in his classroom. His memory seemed to trail off to darkness at the point where he remembered turning onto his street?but the mind-numbing horror of his surroundings confirmed his suspicions. There had been another explosion, through some cruel stroke of luck on the street that he and his family had called home.

 

Despite the disorientation and nausea, Sarkash forced himself to his knees, where he could get something of a better view of exactly what had happened. A car lay not so far from him, with the windows shattered and gone altogether. The roof bent downward, under the weight of some unseen rubble. Forcing himself to look further, the scene grew much, much worse down the street- closer to his home. A fire-engine obscured part of the view- having been tossed over on it?s side, and was now smoking?though he couldn?t tell if it was actually the engine on fire, or something behind it. Several other cars and been similarly tossed, and one or two of them were obviously on fire- veritably blazing. Smoke rolled behind them, rising in oily black columns too thick to see through.

 

Houses on both sides of the street were on fire- adding more smoke to the hellish screen- and obscuring his view of his own house. Fighting fear and the almost overwhelming urge to simply turn and flee, Sarkash forced himself fully erect. A quick hand planted against the nearby car kept him from toppling, and after a few seconds, he was sure enough of himself to take a few steps. His foot brushed against something soft, and Sarkash looked down to make sure he hadn?t stepped on some poor person tossed about the same way he had been. Horribly, he?d done just that- in a way. A piece of a person lay on the ground, partially blackened. It might have once been a leg or perhaps a bicep- but now it wasn?t anything, save for meat?

 

The retching began again, and filmy saliva rushed into Sarkash?s mouth. There wasn?t anything left to come up though, and all he could do was dry heave. Then, a thought more horrible than anything he?d imagined before in all of his day smashed into his mind with all the force of the explosion that had knocked him out. His mother might have been home when the explosion occurred. Silently, Sarkash began to run.

 

Rushing headlong past the over-turned fire-engine, Sarkash was aware that there were more bodies, and more pieces of bodies littered on the ground around it, but he forced himself not to look. He dodged around the ruined and smoldering hulk of what might have been a 4x4 truck, now smelling of burning oil and something close to a pig barbecuing, and continued headlong into the roiling smoke. The thick, harsh cloud nearly robbed him of his breath, and be began to cough violently. His hands came up on reflex, clamping over his mouth and before his eyes as he continued on. The heat radiating up in front of him was simply to much to bear, and he was forced back. Intensely bright flames coursed through the smoke before him, towering high?and confirming his worst fear of all. His home was gone. The fire was too large not to have consumed his home. Whatever had blown up had done so within yards of his house?which was in all likelihood no longer there.

 

Somehow, Sarkash caught a low moan coming from a pile of rubble not so far away. A chill wind cut through the heat, pushing the smoke away from him for a moment, and Sarkash caught sight of an arm waving weakly in the air. Rushing close, he realized that it was a fire-fighter, half buried under bricks and bits of asphalt.

 

Skidding to a halt beside the fallen man, Sarkash leaned close and spoke in a voice so calm that it struck him as eerie. ?Just hold on a sec, I?ll get you free. Can you move your legs?? The fire-fighter nodded, and then spoke, his voice crackling with pain and effort. ?I can, but I think one?s broken.? Sarkash nodded and began to frantically toss bits of rubble away, zeroing in on the work at hand. After only a few seconds, he?d cleared away enough to see that the man?s leg was obviously broken, bent in an unnatural fashion just below the knee. ?Hold on, I?m gonna pull you out enough that we can get you up on your good leg, ok?? The fire-fighter nodded his ascent, and barely growled when Sarkash gave him a good jerk. Though hobbled, the man stood easily enough.

 

As the two of them staggered away, back through a drifting bank of foul smelling smoke, the fire-fighter began to speak and then stopped. Sarkash cast him a look out of the corner of his eye. ?I don?t know either. It just doesn?t make any sense.? Only then did Sarkash realize that they?d both begun to weep.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Minister Paul Narses tamped down the contents of his pipe with a thumb, ignoring the pointed stares of some of the other occupants of the lounge he was sat in. Smoking was forbidden inside any public building, let alone the Imperial Palace Complex, with its ancient paintings, tapestries and artefacts. However, allowances were given to certain people, and Paul Narses was one of those people. A Minister, he was given some leeway, but even more than usual, due to the fact he was regularly requested to attend Imperial Cabinet meetings. The Ministry of Overseas Geological Oddities, Narses' ministry, was a small one and mainly an academic position. Most of Narses? time was spent looking over papers and theses, with the occasional lecture thrown in.

 

Narses lit his pipe by striking a match of his thumb. Such a move rarely worked first time, but always looked impressive when it did. He puffed on the tobacco and turned his attention towards the television, which sat on a low table at the other end of the lounge he was sitting in. The news was on, and it looked like there?d been some accident near Eastea, something to do with a freighter blowing up or something. The reporter was in a helicopter hovering over the scene, giving some up-to-date information on the incident. It wasn?t likely to be major news from a geological standpoint. The Minister shook the broadsheet in his hands in order to remove some of the creases it had accumulated, as the large newspapers were wont to do.

 

Suddenly, several other explosions emanated from the TV. Narses lowered his paper. Fiery blossoms expanded deceptively slowly across the television screen, and suddenly the viewpoint from the helicopter started to spin, and the reporter and the crew began screaming, before it cut off suddenly.

 

The room was in shock. Even the two Imperial Household Guardsmen standing at the doorway were looking at the TV open-mouthed behind their sallet helms. The Imperial Household Guards usually stood stock-still at doorways or along corridors, at the front gates of the Imperial Palace Complex, looking impressive for tourists. Now even they stared in shock as fire balls blossomed across the television screen.


News of the incident in the far west of Tagmatium had spread like wild fire; like the fires that had spread through Eastea. Press from all of the major news agencies within the Greater Holy Empire had gathered in the Conference Room in the Imperial Palace Complex, waiting to here the official announcement from the Imperial Government. It was to be given by the Holy Emperor himself, which was fairly unusual as Commodus James tended to remain aloof and rarely appeared in person. Indeed, he was viewed by the majority of Tagmatines as a cold and distant ruler and had only given a handful of previous press conferences, the last being when the Church of True Orthodoxy was declared a banned organisation.

 

Another anomaly was the amount of Imperial Household Guard at the meeting. There would often be a small honour guard dressed in their ceremonial armour accompanying the Holy Emperor and remaining off to the side. This time there was at least a score of them scattered around the room, dressed in their battle armour and clutching firearms. Those who knew of such things also noted that their assault rifles were armed and held at the ready. The atmosphere in the room was unbearably tense and uncertain.

 

Finally, the Holy Emperor spoke.

 

?Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I once again apologise I called this conference at such short notice. I feel I must also apologise for the heightened security, but I know you will understand once the situation has become clear.

 

?I have called this conference because of the events in Eastea just this morning. As many of you may have heard or seen, a river freighter by the name of the Joshan was making its way upstream along the Jaihu. When it arrived in the region of Eastea, a large explosion destroyed it, killing the crew, causing damage to buildings in Eastea and on the Cussian side of the river. Worse than the damage to buildings, the explosion caused an undetermined number of casualties amongst the morning crowds. Emergency services responded to the incident, and were acting admirably with the casualties and small fires caused by the burning wreckage of the freighter.

 

?However, as soon as the emergency services arrived in the area and began to help the injured, numerous large explosions shook Eastea. These were undoubtedly bombs. These secondary explosions were as large as the one which destroyed the Joshan and they have devastated Eastea, causing casualties on a scale unknown in Tagmatium since the end of the Civil War. These were specifically targeted at the emergency services and at the administration of the Catepanate, with at least one bomb going off outside of the headquarters of the Catepanate, the aim of which is undoubtedly to strike a blow at the ability of the local authority to cope with such a disaster.

 

?As yet, the Imperial Government is not aware of who placed these devices, and to what end they did so. Every attempt is being made to track down the instigators of this heinous attack and the Police, the Internal Intelligence Inspectorate and the armed forces are making sure that there will be no repeat of today?s monstrous assaults on the Greater Holy Empire and its people.

 

?Good day.?

 

The Holy Emperor turned away from the lectern and a minor press officer took his place in order to field questions from the mulitude of reporters and journalists.

 

EDIT: General spelling and added a few bits here and there.

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-Headquarters of the (Cussian) Imperial Information Network, Ttoille, Thursday- just after noon, a few hours after the Jaihu bombings-

 

Behind a regal looking forest green curtain of the Networks largest conference room, The President and Regent of the Glorious Dominate of Beautancus and the core members of his personal staff were still gathered around a truly massive LCD screen streaming a direct feed from a National Defense Brigade helicopter. The ?copter was hovering over the blazing remains of what had once been the Headquarters of the Constabulary of District 23; the pilot making occasional observations on the efforts to contain the flames.

 

Myllyharju?s face was ashen gray, partly from recent radiation and chemotherapy treatments, but perhaps more so from the images he?d been quietly taking in for several hours now. The dark circles under his eyes seemed to have only darkened and deepened, and his already thin lips had grown even thinner. His glance slid to his man-servant/personal assistant Mesheuk every few minutes, expressing a horror rarely witnessed in Myllyharju, and then darting back to the screen.

 

He?d been watching the video-feeds since the first bombing, aboard the Joshan, as well as receiving nearly constant updates from local law-enforcement and the River Brigade of the NDB, but at this point in the game there was far to little information to suit him. Mesheuk had taken the time to express concern over the President?s health an hour or so ago, and had been more severely rebuked that he had in years, and as such, let the matter go. There was no keeping Myllyharju from the business at hand, not at a time like this.

 

?Damn whoever it was that did this, damn them three times over. They?ll know the cost of dealing such to the Blessed Cradle, whatever the cost?? Myllyharju?s fist clenched and then ran to his breast-pocket, searching for where his cigarillos would have been until some months ago. He?d long since stopped cursing over that fact, and would never have done so now, even if Mesheuk had been the only one present. ?How long before I have to address the flock of ravenous vultures out there??

 

Mesheuk checked his PDA, and then took a few steps to peer around the great curtain. ?Shouldn?t be more than another few minutes Your Excellency. The security is almost entirely in place.? Security was an understatement. Though the press conference had been cobbled together in less than two hours time, and mostly by Mesheuk alone, the Imperial Information Network?s HQ was now one of the most heavily defended buildings in Ttoille. The street outside was blocked off for a mile in either direction- by tanks manned by crews to spare no shells if the slightest threat were to appear, and a veritable legion of Brigadiers, armed to the teeth and themselves on a hair trigger. The conference room was similar defended, with Beau-re-Gardsmen lining all the walls, and forming a barricade of flesh, Kevlar and cold steel before the podium where the President would be delivering his address. Field-Marshal Aubrehem re'Koreinau, drawn from his regular duties with the Defense Ministry nodded the go-ahead.

 

?Your Excellency, they?re ready.? Mesheuk made as if to push the President?s wheel-chair nearer to the curtain. It had been a forgone conclusion that Myllyharju would walk out on his on, whatever the exertion wrought later, but Myllyharju waved him off even now. ?I?ll need to get my wind up old friend.? And so, The Regent and President of the Glorious Dominate stood, seeming a life-age older than he had the last time he?d made a similar speech, and stepped around the curtain.

 


 

Sybil Mozedeh checked herself after first laying eyes on the President. Though as handsome and regal as ever, the People?s Prince had obviously aged with the stress of the past year. His skin seemed grayer, and there was more gray in his once raven-dark hair. His simple black suit was as immaculately pressed as ever though, and there was the same silent, almost arrogant, self-assurance that nearly everyone in Europa had grown to expect from Eli Myllyharju. Refraining from applauding the President seemed unnatural, but it had been strictly forbidden by Field-Marshal re?Koreinau- as a security measure.

 

When the President had taken his place at the podium, displaying the Imperial Lion emblem of the House of Ttoille, which Myllyharju had been adopted into, a few Beau-re-Gardsmen snapped a few still shots, for distribution amongst the gathered press after the press conference, since again, pictures had been forbidden due to the constraints of tightened security.

 

The President began, more abruptly than usual, his gaze far away in a manner that Sybil had never observed before. ?Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen- Humble and Loyal Subjects of the Shahanshah Janus IV, and may I offer the Most Sincere Blessings of the Heavens on His behalf and Mine on this most terrible of days. As you all are now well aware, there was an incident this morning the Great (Jaihu) River involving a Cussian freighter, the Joshan. The exact details concerning this incident are under investigation as we speak, and beyond the obvious- that it was an explosion of great magnitude- all further details are being withheld for verification and examination by the Imperial Defense Ministry.?

 

Heaving an obvious, and somehow labored sigh, the President shifted his weight. ?Some hours after the explosion of the Joshan, when the height of confusion and chaos had been reached on both the Cussian and Tagmatine sides of the River, a number of secondary explosions occurred, scattered through the cities of Akhtala and Eastea, seeming to be purposefully aimed at maximizing the loss of life, and at the liquidation of local law-enforcement and the assets of other emergency personnel. At this point, any details we have from Cussian forces on the ground and in the air are sketchy, and will likewise be withheld. Information involving the attacks on the Tagmatine side of the River are likewise unclear, and we are waiting for word from the government of the Greater Holy Empire before we release any information on the damage done there. It does seem to be safe to assume that the level of destruction is similar to that witnessed in Akhtala.?

 

?The total cost of lives from this catastrophic and unprovoked attack on the Cussian and Tagamatine peoples will remain unknown for some time, and it is highly encouraged for all Subjects of His Heavenly Majesty the Shahanshah to refrain from hurtful speculation. It is most necessary for we, the Cussian People, to maintain as high a level of morale as possible during these trying times. I can, and will however promise that when the exact cause of these attacks has been ascertained, the most swift and righteous Retribution of the Glorious Dominate will be directed against the assailants. Thank you, and may the Heavens keep you in grace and peace.?

 

And with that, the President spun on his heel, and marched back behind the curtain.

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Talemanica, Tal Shiar

Committee Room

 

Chairman Nikolay Jovtvev took his seat at the head of the table. Around him the various secretaries were clamouring over the recent events in Tagmantium and Beautancus. Everyone was worried about the nation's security with such a terrorist attack. The Chairman was the first to break the silence.

 

"Gentlemen the act done in Tagmantium and Beautancus troubles me. First I want to know if we had any part in the matter?"

 

First to speak was the Intelligence Secretary Filip Tontchev. "At currently we know about as much as Tagmatium and Beautancus, nothing. We are running through some scenarios and possibilities. Since we secretaly fund communist movements in both countries it is plausible that one of the factions acted. I have agents on the scene in both sides of the river gather information and trying to make contact with the coomunist groups we suppl to see if they had a hand in it. I am inclined to say that we didn't have a part, but that too is too early to say."

 

Nikolay looked down as he pondered the thought of Tal Shiar getting out of this mess if it were dragged in. "I pray that we did not through various channels fund the bombing in Tagmantium and Beautancus. It will be a political nightmare. Filip I want you to find out who did this and before the Tagmatines or the Cussians. If it wasn't us perhaps we can get an upper hand. Also if it was a group we fund then find out if they are attempting a revolution or just disrupting the government? If they want revolution then we intervene if not then we eliminate those responsible and evacuate the loyalists."

 

"That is a good choice sir and I would recomend that we issue a statement concerning the attack. We are not well liked in the region and our neighbors will try to find any reason to engage us." States the press secretary.

 

"I will be addressing the nation tomorrow concerning the attack. But we must know which side we are on." said the young chairman. He soon adjurned the meeting and on his way out he told one of the young soldier standing guard to follow him to the bedroom there was one way the chairmand would be able to releave his stress.

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In the hours after the attacks on Eastea and Akhtala, A4-sized envelopes were sent to TV stations and newspapers across both the Cussian Dominate and the Greater Holy Empire of Tagmatium and even some across the wider region. There were no identifying markings on them and each envelope was addressed, on a typed sticker, to the head of each establishment. Inside of the envelope was a DVD bearing no markings other than a red hammer and sickle and a small typed note, explaining that the DVD had information on it about the recent explosions in Tagmatium and Beautancus.


A rendition of the Red Flag begins and a flag bearing a hammer and sickle is shown flying against a clear blue sky. The image slowly fades out and is replaced by a spartanly furnished room, at the centre of which is a plain wooden desk, behind which hangs a map of the Occident with Eastea and Akhtala marked on it with red stars. Other cities are apparently arbitrarily marked with gold stars.

 

A tall, well built man dressed in a plain suit and with short brown hair and green eyes walked in from the right and sat down at the desk before looking up and smiling at the camera. He was instantly recognisable as the Chairman of the Communist Party of Tagmatium, the most wanted man in the Greater Holy Empire.

 

Richard Bowman.

 

?Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, comrades and brothers.

 

?Today, the world revolution has become a step closer. A blow has been struck against two enemies of the people, two oppressive regimes that endeavour to keep the working class down beneath the boot of the Imperialist, the Social Fascist and the priest. It was not a mortal blow, sadly. Such a fatal wound will not come for a time, but from today onwards, the oppressors of the working class will know that they are no longer safe in their heartlands.

 

?It is revenge for their moves against the only true socialist land in Europa, which had stood in Adaptus. Now, it has been reduced to ashes and the people once again labour under the lash of the capitalist system whilst the leadership relax in their abodes of luxury and discuss trifling matters of philosophy.

 

?It is revenge for the years that the revolution has been stifled across Tagmatium and Beautancus, and the for all of the working class who have been imprisoned by the lies of their supposed leaders, who hid behind false democracy and the threat of the mailed fist in order to keep the people from being able to throw off their shackles.

 

?Some will accuse us of being murders and terrorists; that we struck against innocents who had nothing to do with the governments that tyrannize the Proletariat. That we even struck against the very members of the people who we support. However, this is a fallacy. If you are not with us, by definition, you are against us. The people who were killed were tools of the upper classes, the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie themselves. Some of our comrades did perish striking against the machines of power, but often people have to do in order the our struggle, the class struggle, to continue and succeed against the foul oppressors that keep the people in waged slavery, drugged with distractions in order for them to keep the people from realising their peril.

 

?Soon, more bombs will follow and the rest of the Occident will tremble and the shining towers of the ruling class will tumble, crushing those who try to hide behind them from the righteous wrath of the people of the region. From the ashes of these false edifices will arise a true workers? paradise, which will then wash across the rest of the region and make Europa into the glorious utopia. The light of this workers? paradise will blind the rest of the world before they too are drowned in their own blood as the proletariat rises up and tears them down.

 

?Long live the revolution, for today is the day it truly begins in earnest.?

 

EDIT: Bottom part of post missing.

 

Thanks, TS!

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Within the bowels of the defense command of Osiris, the imagery of the communist extremist party message played endlessly on loop before the Council of the Nine Lords, of which Emperor Sa'Karn depended upon for decisions of national importance beyond his own merits.

 

Each represented a major and minor house, religious and military, cleric's and generals alike. Kaorin was of course there, as was Ferin, Yar'el, Narin, Jarvis, Ke'Var amongst the more recoginizable. At the head of the illuminated table, Sa'Karn, Emperor of the Haru. In his gravel smooth voice, the Emperor spoke.This is a threat to not only those touched by this terrorist act of violence, a thrust of the spear without honor, it is a threat to us. The seeds of discontent could be woven here amongst the weak that have yet survived our best intentions for a nation of strength.

 

Elected the speaker of the Council for this endeavor, Kaorin responded.I and the Council support a hostile front to these, socialists.The word spoken with an obvious distaste, the way one feels about bile up the throat.Futhermore my Emperor, we are prepared to give statement to the world, in your name and the blessed nation that is the Principality. May I as elected voice of the Council do so?

 

There was a long pause, as Sa'Karn slowly settled into his high backed seat, right hand at chin, as if to stroke the ink written into his flesh there. Index finger pointed outwards and then fell, then did so again before he spoke.Do so, and let it be known that we forsake the socialist cause, that they shall be stricken from our lands and they will recieve no favor from us. Also, I wish of the Council to arrange for fullest of aid to the Imperial Republic and the Glorious Dominate if they so wish it.

 

Nods from about the table as Lord Jarvis and Fleet Lord Ke'Var were elected also to alert the ambassadors currently enroute to either country as it was, to also present such when meeting with their counterparts concerning this new development.

 

Four hours after the Communist Video Message-

 

The form of the quite recoginizable General, at least to the higher ups of the Imperial Republic and the military forces of the Cussian people, Kaorin took to a podium amidst national sponsored news services and the flashing strobes. As quiet reigned, she grasped the edges of the podium and spoke into the microphones.

 

These past days we have seen an influx of violence in our neighors. Specifically The Glorious Dominate, and that of the Tagmatium Imperial Republic. At first, discounted as internal matters of either, the Communist message of a world wide revolution as led by a group of terrorists, bothers us greatly. As of now, by Imperial edict of Emperor Sa'Karn.

 

There will be no Communist parties allowed within our borders.

Any active Communist party participant or leader captured by Haru security forces, will face execution.

The Principality borders are in a state of lockdown. Only verified personnel and transports may enter with the seal of the Imperial Authorization. Failure to do so will result in immediate arrest which could lead to execution or imprisonment.

If terrorist acts are committed by this group in our nation, we will hold the nation of their birth, responsible and react accordingly.

 

General Kaorin did not have a face for jest or warmth mostly, unless you count a certain long lived Cussian. Another story, another time. She stepped away from the podium and the broadcast went black. However the border between the badlands, and the Imperial Republic, as well as the long shared waterway went on alert. Military forces were expanded to every corner of the Principality, more so then usual, even to Haru standards. Even the Seccessionists mirrored these actions, for as much as they hated Sa'Karn, they to were staunch anti-communists.

 

Fast attack boats and helicopters swarmed the river, where as before it might have been just a few patrol boats and the random overhead. Legions were being marched from cities and to cities, citizen registery made easier by mandatory bar coding was being checked.

 

Revulsion of the Haru people had just occured. Communist's? Here? By the Night never! These were common phrases heard. Though the media reported on the many happy soldiers willing to fight for House, Nation, and Emperor a few did make their way to the darker aspect of the speech presented. A Socialist Party, always tolerated for the eyes of the world was taken before said eyes, cameras rolling and denounced as enemies of the Faith and the Haru Culture. As thirty individuals stood against the reinforced concrete wall, Legionnaires of the 4th Khnum Guard, House Mzil Velven, took aim with their HIAR assault rifles and opened fire.

 

Bodies twitched and pulsed live on camera as hundreds of rounds tore through flesh and bone, depositing lifeless corpses to the ground. A child in the crowd that gathered, held up a white board sign, written in red ink. " Every Communist Dies ". There were exuberant cheers from the crowd, as an officer walked amongst the fallen and extra special made sure, popping a round from pistol into the heads.

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Central Administrative Complex, Ttoille, Glorious Dominate of Beautancus

 

As it had been for some months now, the cavernous chamber the President usually met with his Diwan (Cabinet) in was free of the characteristic drifting columns tobacco smoke. It was however, filled with the aroma of masterfully prepared filet mignon wrapped in maple smoked bacon, and an assortment of steamed vegetables. The President's appetite had abruptly returned, despite his recent chemo and radiation treatments, and Myllyharju seemed determined to make the best of it, despite the current crisis.

 

Most of his Diwan was present, with the exclusion of the Foreign Affairs Minister Saulot Burghedes (who was in Marmak Province, handling business with the Domiante's new Haru allies), as well as Myllyharju's solemn man-servant Mesheuk (who stood stock-straight only a few feet from the President's side), and Shah Nowzar, the Patriarch of the influential Suren Shahrdaran family of Feizon Province. The Suren were perhaps the richest House in the Dominate outside of the Imperial Ttoille Family itself, and had been the first of the great Houses to throw their weight in with the Janusite Rebellion, back in the early years of the 1990's, and were now reaping great rewards for that loyalty- including the possibility of Nowzar being named as a theoretical Vice-President of the Glorious Dominate, a position that like the Presidency would be unique to the Janusite Regime.

 

All had been dining in silence for several minutes, watching a loop of Bowman's DVD, each and everyone scowling despite the exquisite nature of the meal and accompanying wine. Myllyharju himself only glanced at it occasionally, and then with little disdain, whereas Protector-General Xerxes (X?ayār?ā) Haakon and Shah Nowzar openly glared at the image of Richard Bowman. The Kaphtraunt siblings, Serena and Kurash (Domestic Affairs Minister and Special Adviser on the Zoroastrian Faith) remained quiet and almost serene, exchanging only a quick glances every few moments.

 

After the video looped another time, Myllyharju finally spoke. ?Well. I think I?ve seen about enough of that damned thing. Mesheuk, if you would be so kind?? Myllyharju waved a dismissive hand, and his man-servant retracted the screen into the wall with an almost invisible tap on the face of his equally invisible PDA. Glancing at each face around the dining table in turn, Myllyharju sighed, and patted his breast pocket. ?I?ve never missed smoking more than I do now. Nonetheless, business must continue. As you all know, I?ve forbidden any broadcast, or publication containing any tidbit of information from this damnable package, without question, and carrying the harshest of penalties if my edict is disobeyed. No objections to that bit??

 

Everyone at the table shook their heads to confirm their agreement. Protector-General Haakon had actually advocated a harsher reaction, forbidding anyone to admit that the DVD?s had been sent out under pain of immediate execution or imprisonment, depending on the value of possible information on Bowman the person might possess. However, such was the reaction of one of the more sanguine military geniuses that the Cussian Dominate had ever produced. The President sighed, and took a quick sip from his wineglass.

 

?I wish it didn?t have to be this way. I really do. We?ve based this whole Regime on being more open than any before it, but I fear that this sort of slanderous propaganda would inspire more panic than anything our now-allies, the Haru could ever have done. This is an almost unknown threat. Something that had even been a joke, or a point of ridicule directed at foreign would-be-powers. Now?it?s come home, and bitten us square on the ass.? Myllyharju nodded his head, an indication that he wanted feedback.

 

Kurash Kaphtraunt spoke first, even as Protector-General Haakon was drawing in a breath. ?Most wise and humble Lord, I must agree with you on this point. I do not doubt the fortitude of the Cussian people, and neither do I doubt their loyalty to his Blessed Imperial Majesty?but Bowman is playing a more subtle game here. That map in the background, however unreliable, and however obvious- in a subtle way- it appears to be designed for one thing, and one thing alone. To inspire fear. The sort of fear that breeds discord, of a sort that our nation, so recently freed from the shackles of internecine warfare cannot afford.?

 

Haakon broke in before anything else could be said. ?As my well-spoken colleague noted, almost took the words from the mouth rather, this is a feeble attempt to inspire fear in a people that know it not. But as you?ve said yourself Lord President, this is the sort of enemy that we?ve only known from afar, the sort of trouble that less holy nations must deal with. Why it?s even happened now, I do not know?and my intelligence assets can?t bring much more than that together now. Oh, there are rumors now that it?s happened, and shadows of hammers and sickles everywhere?but nothing I can line up and put against a wall in front of a firing squad.?

 

Serena Kaphtraunt spoke next, delicately dabbing a napkin at the side of mouth beforehand. ?I agree- to an extent. Your Excellency, you know as well as I do that some outlet in Tagmatium will air this, if not the Haru or the Confederates. And I?m sure we?ve got at least a few million households in the Areopatenes that can pick up those transmissions. Not to mention the internet, and whatever international newspapers that will surely be carrying the story. It?s best to keep this under wraps for a few days- tops, until Protector-General Haakon?s people can properly disseminate this mess properly, and then give the ok for a mass broadcast, with a pre-broadcast news conference from you. I should have enough of my people spurred on to stem any tide that might arise from it.?

 

Myllyharju looked sour at that last bit, but nodded his head nonetheless. ?I know. I wish there was a way to buy more time?but I think we?d be overstepping our bounds to ask the Tagmatines, or the Haru, or the Confederates to put it off for a few days. We?re already getting the highest level of cooperation from them, and I don?t want to hurt that in anyway. Wise Lord knows that things are strained enough for all of us as it is. What about you Shah? Let?s have the view from the top.?

 

Nowzar cleared his throat, and leaned forward, resting his chin on his knuckles. This was the first time he?d attended a meeting with all the Diwan, and surely the first time he?d be able to express his opinion of such a stately matter. ?Your Excellency, humble and wise members of this august Diwan, as you might expect, the Sharhdaran will view this in slightly bloodier terms than the other classes. Communism itself will still be viewed as a joke, and a bad one at that, but this business with the bombings will be taken as a clear and present threat against the rights of the Nobility?I think that the measures you?ve taken are more than enough to appease them, but I also think that it might be best to play up more of the traditional rhetoric when we go public with this business. We might be modernized, but we?re still Cussian. Personally, I view this as an affront to the will of the Shahanshah, and a slap to his blessed face, as well as an unforgivable transgression against his subjects.?

 

Myllyharju smiled. He chosen well. ?Very eloquent, most gracious and excellent Shah. I?d actually not thought about playing up that angle so heavily, but it might be nice to give the upper levels of the nobility something to get behind us on, eh?? The President looked around the table, and everyone seemed to be in open agreement. Particularly Kurash Kaphtraunt, who was now looking at the Shah of Feizon very thoughtfully. Perhaps he understood? Either way, it would be clear soon enough.

 

Before Myllyharju could go any further, Mesheuk laid a light hand on his shoulder. ?Excellency?there is something I must regretfully notify you of.? No one had noticed him pulling his PDA out of his pocket, even now as the LCD screen was moving back out of the wall. The same footage that had been looped before was playing on the screen again, only now with a few additional quips at the bottom, as well as the logo of the Imperial Information Network. ?This is out of the IIN?s affiliate in Hrazdan in West Areopatene. This is live, from their evening broadcast. They run four hours ahead of us.?

 

Myllyharju?s face darkened in a way that it rarely did. Haakon was already on his phone, calling a subordinate back at the Defense Ministry. ?Yes, yes I see the damned mess. Have someone there before whoever is responsible can slip away, five minutes ago goddammit.?


Hrazdan, capital of Cussian West Areopatene- Imperial Information Network, affiliate channel 8

 

Sweat beaded on Aram Khachaturian?s face. His stomach lurched. He stubbed out another chain-smoked cigarette, and hastily relit another. He?d never hated being the senior editor before, but he did today. He also never made hasty decisions, which he knew were founded on very bad ideas. But he?d done that tonight. Still, he?d watched the whole broadcast, and had even written most of what the anchors had spieled out in their special reaction to the Bowman release. None of it had been openly sympathetic to the cause of the Communists, but it had been decidedly critical of the restrictions that the Imperial Government had placed on the information contained therein. The Cussian people needed to know all of it. It affected them as much, more in fact, than it did the most privileged levels of the nobility and Imperial Government. So, the responsibility was his, even if the idea hadn?t been his originally.

 

The man who?d implored him to air the damned footage sat directly across from, looking supremely pleased with himself. Mesrab Mashtots was also chain-smoking, and had said precious little in the past few minutes. Aram had laid out his thoughts about what would be coming, which amounted to beatings and black bags yanked down over their heads. Mesrab denied that such was possible. They?d merely given the people what they rightly deserved. Any such reaction on their part would be: ?yet another oppressive, reactionary action typical of an Imperialistic-fascist regime.?

 

Aram had thought that Mashtots had socialistic leanings from the time he?d hired the man straight out of the Imperial Journalist Institute?now he knew for sure. He could only wonder out how involved the man was in whatever Socialist subculture there was in the Dominate. A subculture that had been thrust into the public eye over the past few days, due in no small part to the actions that Aram had taken in giving the green light for the night?s broadcast. It wasn?t that Aram didn?t agree with some of those leanings?Aram was just amazed that he didn?t have better sense. He knew what was coming, as much as he knew the sun would rise in the morning.

 

?I?ve told you already Mesrab, we have only a few minutes left before they?ll be bursting the windows in and taking us into custody. I suggest you get out while you can. I?ll take all the blame, you know that.? Aram blew a thick cloud of smoke straight up, trying to breath his worries out with it. He hadn?t felt terror of this sort since the Civil War, when he?d been a field journalist attached to one of the last Augustinian Brigades in West Areopatene- rather unwillingly.

 

The younger man simply shook his head. ?I will share whatever noble fate waits for you Comrade. As I?ve told you already- you?ve done a great thing for the people today. Let us pray that it is enough to ignite whatever latent desire for true freedom they may have. Even if we are taken by the oppressors, it won?t be long before we?re freed and given a place on honor in the new model society that will come. And it will come. And if not?we?ll be remembered as martyrs to the cause. That I can assure you. We might even be mentioned in the next DVD.? Mashtots grinned smugly, blowing out his own cloud of smoke.

 

It was all Aram could do not to smack the man across the face. He hadn?t even allowed himself to contemplate that Mashtots would have such a?vested interest in this horrible business. ?You f*cking moron. You poor, sheltered boy. Do you think that the people are going to flock to this cause!? A cause that blows innocent people up!??

 

Mashtots almost looked hurt. ?How can you say that? Especially after listening to Comrade Bowman?s words!? He laid the truth out in a way that no one in this forsaken country has ever had the pleasure of hearing!?

Aram was on his feet, ready to grab the now clear Communist across the table, the man who?d for all intents and purposes ended his, and everyone else?s in stations? whole lives?not for true freedom of speech, but for a violent and almost sure to go up in smoke radical pipe-dream. ?Shh. Do you hear that??

 

Helicopters. More than one. Searchlights glared through the night-blinds of Aram?s office, casting his standing silhouette on the far wall. It had come. The harsh reprisal that Aram Khachaturian had feared. The copters must have come in as silently as they could- some remote part of Aram?s mind reminded him that they could do that nowadays- and were probably already putting men on the ground with their zip-lines. It was over.

 

?In the name of the Blessed Shahanshah, everyone in the Imperial Information Network Affiliate Channel 8 building is placed under arrest! Get down on the floor, and wait to be taken into custody! Anyone resisting arrest will be dealt with harshly!? A voice louder than any thunder called down from the heavens, almost rattling the windows of the building. Then came the high, shrill whines- canisters firing from the helicopters. Aram?s window shattered in a spray of stinging glass and shredded shade-fabric, and something metallic bounced off his desk, and into Mashtots? chest. The Communist gave a low ?oof? and tumbled back out of his chair- as the flash-bang grenade that had hit him and ricocheted back off exploded in mid-air. Aram went to the floor, blinded and coughing, even as another grenade blew through the empty space his office window had occupied an instant before. This time the grenade exploded in a cloud of noxious smelling gas, sending Aram scrambling for the nearest corner?


Nearing an hour later

 

When Aram woke, his head pounded, and he had to fight back the highly acidic vomit that threatened to race up his esophagus. He blinked a few times, carefully, to try and clear the darkness away?but found that the darkness wasn?t due to any deficiency in his own sight, but was in fact due to the rough black bag that was rather tightly secured around his entire head. His breath came short- and the almost distant ?blah blah blah? in his ears become clearer?

 

??all been found to be in direct violation of Imperial Decree- expressly directed towards you this very morning. In accordance with this willing act of high-treason you civil rights and subjects of the Most Blessed Shahanshah Janus IV, and as citizens of the Glorious Dominate of Beautancus have been revoked until you appear before a Military Tribunal. As you have forsaken your civil rights through this act of willing treason, you will have forgone your right to representation by an Imperial Barrister, and will be dealt with expressly as enemies of the Dominate. Should you choose to cooperate with the Defense Ministry Interrogators assigned to your specific case, and should they deem you free of direct responsibility in this heinous act of treason, you may have your civil rights reinstated. If not?you will be shot out of hand, like the dogs you have today proven yourselves to be. May the Wise Lord have mercy on you, because the Interrogators surely won?t.? The booming bass voice stopped finally.

 

There was some shuffling, close to Aram, and iron gripped hands, like a great ham in chain mail locked under his arms and lifted him off the ground violently. ?Put this asshole in my chopper. He?s the idiot that was in charge here. None of this could have happened if he hadn?t given the ok. Anything to say for yourself infidel-traitor??

 

?Mesrab Mashtots is a Communist?he?s the one that pushed me to air this business.? And Aram was happy. At least the man directly responsible for this debacle would pay.

 

?Sir, I think he?s talking about the guy that tried to crawl down the stairs?the one with the cracked ribs.?

 

?The one you shot in the kidney, Bahram??

 

There was a brief silence. ?Yessir.? Aram?s heart sank.

 

The voice of the soldier that seemed to be the commander barked again. ?You better hope that bastard pulls through then Bahram?otherwise we might have cut out our best lead yet.?

 

And with that, Aram was dragged away, to the Heaven's knew where...for a beating he didn't have the fortitude to contemplate.

Edited by Beautancus (see edit history)
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?Forgive me, Minister, but didn?t I tell you to focus on capturing Bowman nearly two years ago? The man was becoming a danger to the Greater Holy Empire with his inflammatory speeches and his aims for a totalitarian regime in Europa. Apparently you?ve failed in your attempts to capture the man.?

 

The Holy Emperor had not turned around. He stood with his back to the small group of people he had ordered into the Imperial Office, looking out of the window across St Constantine?s Square at the fa?ade of the Tagmatica Basilica opposite. The group was made up of Gebeon Tonaras, the Minister for Internal Affairs, the Head of the TIN, the Domestic of Police and the Inspector-Domestic of the III. The law enforcement officers slowly edged away from the Minister as if being the focus of the Holy Emperor?s anger was a contagious disease.

 

Tonaras swallowed before speaking. He had never feared Commodus like some members of the Imperial Cabinet. He'd even gone so far as to plot with some of the leading businessmen and industrialists in the Greater Holy Empire to involve Tagmatine soldiers in another nation?s civil war as to gain a strong powerbase in order to stage a coup. But now he stood staring at the back of the Holy Emperor?s head trying to think of something to say that wouldn?t send the barely controlled anger washing over him like a tsunami. He decided that deference and submission to the Holy Emperor?s position in the Imperial Government would be the best way forward.

 

?Most Holy Imperial Sovereign, I??

 

Commodus span around and thumped his hand onto the table, making everyone in the room jump. ?Do not attempt to blind me with obsequiousness, Minister. You have failed miserably in your task. You all have.? The Holy Emperor?s ice-cold eyes passed across the faces of the quartet in front of him. ?And this failure has cost the people of Eastea and Akhtala dearly. I would find it difficult enough to forgive you for the thousands of Tagmatines who have died, but since the blood of a people of another nation is essentially on your hands, I find it even more difficult to do so. Consider yourselves lucky that you?re still in your positions. Had there been anyone else who I can rely on as much to do your jobs, you?d currently be awaiting trial for gross criminal negligence, perhaps even treason.? The Holy Emperor turned back from them and returned to looking out of the window. ?You may well have not got a trial at all.?

 

The foursome looked at each other, apprehension clear on their faces. There was known disagreement between the group, as the Domestic of Police disliked the Inspector-Domestic as their organisations? jurisdictions overlapped and they both hated the Head of the TIN, who they viewed as having a superior attitude due the fact that his spies could sequester their personnel and reported to the Holy Emperor personally. The Minister of Internal Affairs distrusted the Head due to the fact that the spy could well have information on his schemes. He also disliked the Domestic of Police for not being as amenable as the Inspector-Domestic.

 

However, they were currently all in the same position and had discovered hitherto unknown feelings of camaraderie.

 

The Domestic of Police liked her lips nervously and spoke. ?Imperial majesty, we have all tried our level best to capture this dangerous criminal, but we have been unable to. We suspected that he was hiding out amongst the Skiithicoi in the northwest, but none of us could put an agent into their groups in order to find the man. You must know what they?re like, Kosmokrator. Very close knit and they don?t take kindly to anyone they suspect is a member of one of our groups.? She waved a hand to take in the Internal Intelligence Inspectorate man and the spy. ?We now suspect he must have fled into the petty states which border our nation to the south. Imperial Sovereign, we couldn?t have attempted much there without stirring up a lot of trouble.? Her voiced sounded slightly desperate.

 

?Hindsight makes the best general,? the taciturn secret policeman volunteered.

 

The Holy Emperor sighed audibly but still gazed out of the window. ?Indeed, Inspector-Domestic. Either way, it is worth little to me to focus on the fact that you have failed in such a spectacular and tragic fashion. It won?t bring back those killed by Bowman, but I imagine it may placate their families to see you four suffer for your lapse.? The Holy Emperor turned around for a second time, once again facing the group. ?You will catch him this time, preferably before the Cussians do. It would look better for the Imperial Government, and yourselves, if he was languishing in a Tagmatine prison rather than a foreign one. However, we must also attempt to cooperate with the Cussians as much as possible. We can only have common interests in this, even if the ultimate goal of catching Bowman will also be coveted by them as much as us.? Commodus broke eye contact with the group and lent and wrote a note on a pad in front of him. Minister Tonaras craned forward to make it out, but stopped as the Holy Emperor straightened up. ?If you fail in this task, heads will roll. I mean that entirely literally.?

 

The quartet straightened up, suddenly keenly aware of the Imperial Household Guardsmen that were coming to escort them out of the Imperial Office and the one-and-a-half handers they wore at their sides.


The Vice-Chancellor sat drumming his fist against his chin in a thoughtful manner, in time to the insipid light music being played in the lounge. He?d considered a similar move to that of the Cussian government and banning any organisation from showing the Bowman DVD, but had decided against it. Commenus was one of the only members of the Imperial Government who could act without the Holy Emperor?s express approval of their actions, and this was mainly because the Vice-Chancellor could be trusted to act in a similar manner to the Holy Emperor himself.

 

The broadcast would leak out and the Imperial Government would look worse for attempted to ban it. However, if it was broadcast, the Imperial Government would look foolish for not being able to capture Bowman after years of pursuit, and there was also the problem that it might cause panic, especially if the keen-eyed noted the cryptic map behind that bastard Bowman. Intelligence and terrorism experts, even a psychological profiler, were watching and re-watching the film, analysis it, trying to find out any hints as to where the man might be or if they could tell where a next attack could be.

 

Commenus himself thought that the man was too much of a smooth operator for that. It?d be a mind game, nothing more. He stood up and helped himself to a tea offered to him a by a flunky. After all, it wouldn?t do for the second most powerful man in Tagmatium to get his own drinks. He returned to his comfy armchair and took a sip of the mild tea and returned to thinking about whether his decision had been the correct one.

 

Honorius Kontarian, the Minister for War, walked into the lounge, opened a window and pulled a packet of cigarettes from an internal pocket. He?d made various attempts to quit over the years, but each new political situation had almost invariably driven him back to smoking. He looked around to make sure he was alone and lit up.

 

?F*cking Bowman. Why did he have to resurface again??

 

The Vice-Chancellor?s voice made Kontarian jump. He guiltily threw the half-smoked cigarette out of the window and slammed it shut. ?What was that, Philip??

 

Commenus sighed. ?The film of Bowman?s. I?m not too sure if either option, of whether to show it or not, would be the right one. Either way, it will cause problems. We might well be working for those bastards if we allow the newspapers and TV stations to discuss it.?

 

The Minister for War shrugged and pulled a second cigarette out of his pocket, lighting it as he thought. ?I?d imagine that the only thing you can do is give authorisation for it to be shown. After all, people will want to know how is responsible for the bombings, and letting him criminalise himself with his own mouth seems to be the best thing. After all, there?s no better way to defeat Bowman and his ilk by making them hated amongst the wider people, and if they can do it themselves and without it looking like propaganda, then all the better.?

 

The china teacup rattled in its saucer as Commenus placed it on a table next to the armchair he was sitting in. ?You?re probably right.?

Edited by Tagmatium Rules (see edit history)
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