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Something is Going Down in Yujyeng-Sol

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It was a searing mid-day. Rays of heat dissipated off the cracked dry road. Along it two light armored cars, Totelus, streaked, occasionally kicking up clouds of dust from where it had crept onto the roadsides. Peppered across the rolling hills were grasses, small vegetation, and the occasional tree. No other visual markers than telephone poles accompanied the roadside. Eung-Han had been informed it would be a desolate trip to Yujyeng-Sol, but still he felt deceived. There was truly nothing. And while initially there had been excited banter and chatting between the rest of the team, after the first four hours of nothingness it had faded until the atmosphere inside the car matched the exterior.

Eung looked away from the window toward the driver, Saegan. He was a lankier man, who looked like a kid compared to the rest of the guys. This was in part due to his sad scribble of moustache across his upper lip. It was all that he could grow. Hwan, the team leader, had told him to shave it off before they left, but Saegan insisted it was enough to qualify as permitted facial hair. Hwan had relented, in part because Saegan had agreed to drive both there and back. Saegan barely glanced over to meet Eung before turning back to the road, his bored expression unchanged. Like everyone else at this point, he did not have much interest in chatting. After a moment, Eung looked back toward the others.

The car radio was on, playing @Baltican free jazz. With the volume lowered because Seok complained about it. Too many shifting sounds. Even quietly, though, the rambling saxophone lifted the intensity within the car somewhat. It was an upbeat, moving piece. Perhaps another reason Seok was so against it.

Throughout the Totelu permeated a sort of reluctance and discontent. Aside from Hwan, everyone was a conscript. Mandatory service for all Kacherun citizens born in Her Majesties Realm, or Ju-Myeong. Usually, it meant training, tedium, and then eventual release once the two years were up. Sometimes, though, you got put on significant assignments during service. Such was this situation. Everyone in the car was Grade 1, which indicated “exceptional capabilities” and meant they were lucky enough to have been hand-selected based on behavior. While Eung-Han had tried his best to make good impressions, he couldn’t help but question what that behavior was. “Hand selected” probably meant “drawn randomly from the pool of people not currently assigned something.” And while having a special duty during your two years is certainly noble, Eung couldn’t help but be anxious, especially when it entailed a six-hour drive into the middle of the desert.

The nature of the mission was as such: aid enforcement officers within during a small raid. The debrief made clear it was to pinch a piece of the gang activity that had got a bit too comfortable. The location was Yujyeng-Sol, a company town. Extraction and refining on-site. It meant you lived in the middle of nowhere in a small town without much of any real things to do. As such, everyone knew these places were buzzing with criminal activity. The local authorities tended not to care, so long as things never got out of hand. To make sure things stay civil, they send some troops in and catch a few unlucky bastards and call it a quarter. It was probably the most disappointing form of assignment you could get. Eung imagined being an escort to some important CEO or member of the Kacherun aristocracy. That would have been much more interesting to put on a resume than this.

“Our presence is just to make sure things don’t get violent.” Hwan had explained earlier. “Once we’re finished, we stick around for a bit to file an official report. Then we can head back to base.” According to Hwan, despite the heat, this was going to be “practically a vacation.” Except there were to be no bars, no girls, no booze, and no fun. You were allowed to browse the local shops, but anything you wanted to bring back would have to be cleared by base security. How exciting.

Eung-Han shifted in his seat. The faint outline of the town outskirts began forming on the desert horizon.

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At sight of the town itself, the entire team stirred restlessly. After six hours, they had reached Yujyeng-Sol.

“Finally! We’re there!”

“Look at the place, it’s tiny.”

It was tiny. As the Totelus approached, it was easy to see the entirety of the town sprawl. There couldn’t be more than a couple of thousand people living here. Rising above the buildings was a single large water tower with a white lotus insignia, the marker of the Myeong dynasty. To the eastern side, the refinery dominated the view. A towering mass of tanks, concrete, and piping. It overlooked a distant field of derricks, pumping the vitals from the desert herself. To the town west, a Salamid mosque. A reminder of the eight virtues.

Eung turned back toward the rest of the team. They seemed to be in much better spirits. Following the initial clamoring, Seok looked to Hwan and asked, “How quick do you think the assignment will be?”

“Most of the time it takes around five hours. The first couple are for prep and coordination, most of the rest is the arrests and the paperwork. It can vary a lot, and it can depend on what actually happens.”

Everyone looked at one other, nodding in agreement. This made sense. After a moment, Saegan spoke from the front of the car:

“When will we actually go to the site?”

“Right after the debrief. We lose the element of surprise if we delay, even by a half-day.”

Once again, everyone nodded in agreement. This, too, made sense.

“So we’re bringing Totelus for intimidation, right? You said these are really simple missions.”

“Usually they are, yes. Pretty simple missions.”

“How many…” Seok started, then stopped.

“How many what?”

Everyone, except Saegan, who was still concentrating on driving, turned toward Seok. His eyes widened briefly before regaining his composure. Closing his mouth, he paused for a moment and looked away, as if chewing on what he was about to ask. Once again looking at Hwan, he continued:

“How many policemen will we be working with?”

“I believe the report said fifteen, plus the chief. With our eleven, it will be twenty-seven total.”

“Twenty seven. That’s a good number.”

Jiyoon, who had been quiet up to now, bumped Seok with him a teasing look:

“Are you nervous about getting hurt, Seok?”

“What?! Of course not, no. Besides, they check everyone who leaves and enters, they probably won’t even be really armed… right?”

Everyone turned to look at Hwan, who had maintained a serious expression throughout the conversation. He put his hand up to his mouth, contemplating his response. Nodding his head, he answered:

“They will likely be armed, unfortunately. Even though we maintain tight security in Hoesedosi, things slip through. But these weapons are not likely to be used against us. Raids like these are not uncommon, and the standard is to surrender non-violently. They know that fighting back would lead to more pressure on their business overall.”

Seok scoffed.

“You treat them too rationally.”

“This is my understanding. These people are criminals, but not stupid. They will do what they must to keep their business safe, and to stay alive.”

The rest of the car looked at one another, then back to Hwan, and nodded once more.

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