[Earth II] The Filipino-Layartebian War: And Hell Followed..

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[Earth II] The Filipino-Layartebian War: And Hell Followed..

Postby Layarteb » Sat May 30, 2020 9:23 pm

OOC: This is the second part of a larger series of threads known as the The Filipino-Layartebian War, a 21st century conflict between the Empire of Layarteb and the Socialist Republic of the Philippines. For more information, please see the OOC Thread. To participate in this thread you must be a member of Earth II. All active, Earth II participants, please speak to me over Discord or through telegram concerning your role in the thread - if you would like one. The first part can be found here.

The Filipino-Layartebian War: And Hell Followed...

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - Viktor Vasnetsov

And I looked, and behold a pale
horse: and his name that sat on him
was Death, and Hell followed with
him. And power was given unto them
over the fourth part of the earth, to
kill with sword, and with hunger, and
with death, and with the beasts of the
(King James Version, Revelation 6:8)

Part I
Uncommon Bedfellows

• • • † • • •

Sunday, January 12th, 2020 | 10:45 hrs [UTC+8]

Intramuros, Manilla, Philippines | Iglesia de San Agustín de Manila
14° 35' 19" N, 120° 58' 32" E

Brandon Sims rose as the priest gave the final blessing and stepped down from the altar ledge. He would lead a small procession down the main aisle of the church and out to the front doors where he stood there to shake the hands of anyone leaving the church, offering final blessings and getting a few minutes edgewise with his congregation that he could not get from the altar. He did this three times every Sunday for that was how many masses he gave at the Iglesia de San Agustín de Manila, a church that was over four hundred years old. To the country's heavy Catholic populace, Iglesia de San Agustín de Manila was a beacon of history, especially to the residents of Intramuros, where the church had been built and situated. It was the oldest stone church in the country and though the church hosted tourists during appointed times, Sunday was for mass only.

It was why Brandon went to this church. A foreign service officer with the Layartebian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he'd been in the country for four years now. It was his first posting since graduating in 2016 and taking the oath of his office. Attached to the political office, he'd come to the country a lapsed Catholic but found a reinvigoration of his faith ever since walking into this very church during a tourist visit. It was only his first time without the walls of the embassy's protective compound and to say he was nervous was understating how Brandon felt that morning. Yet Father Juan, who now passed him with a smile, muttering some final prayers to the Lord Almighty over his congregation, was there to make him comfortable. The aged priest was in his sixties then as he was now and he saw the nervous Brandon and picked him immediately for a foreigner, not that it was too difficult.

Brandon had grown up in wealthy Connecticut and he'd gone to Yale. His parents expected him to become a businessman or lawyer but instead, Brandon revolted against his ivy league upbringing and left the country at the first chance he could. Of course, he hadn't been prepared for the world outside of Connecticut, let alone Layarteb, let alone the Philippines. The government might have been hostile to the Empire but Brandon found, through his now many trips outside of the embassy's walls, the people weren't so malevolent. Yes, the general opinion was negative of the Empire but not necessarily of the Layartebian people. What he found, initially, was a guarded group of adherents who regarded Brandon as an outsider at first but who gradually came to accept his presence over the months and the years. Father Juan gave more than a number of sermons about the acceptance of all of God's followers, regardless of where their birthplaces lie, almost always speaking out to his congregation to accept Brandon's presence. Years later, he was no longer seen as an outsider or even as a "Layartebian" but as a Catholic. Brandon appreciated it, appreciated the baked goods they brought sometimes just for him, appreciated the mothers who brought in their daughters for Brandon's eyes to catch. He had to admit there was some comicality to it all but nevertheless he continued to show up, each and every Sunday week after week.

He had no indication that this morning would be any different from the countless ones past as he walked down the aisle, waiting for his turn to shake Father Juan's hand and thank him again for delivering a great sermon. Walking down the aisle, he scanned the faces of those present. Most of them were faces he saw every week but a few were foreign to him, perhaps people coming out of the darkness like he had once done. He didn't think much of it. He was an officer in the political section, of middle ranking, no longer the junior-most officer but hardly in the running for section chief or departmental attaché. He spent most of his time working on policy analysis coming out of the Central Committee. It wasn't the most exciting work but he enjoyed it and so that was how it went day-to-day.

As he approached Father Juan, Brandon gave a smile and held out his hand. The elderly priest took it and smiled, "It is good to see you in this new year. I hope to see you next week."

"Every week Father unless something should prevent me,"
Brandon answered. As he did, the sound of a car moving at high speed transformed into the grating sound of a white panel van screeching to a halt just twenty meters from the church. Smoke rose from where the tires had gripped the brick roadway on General Luna Street and stopped the vehicle. The side door was thrown open and three men jumped out, a fourth coming out of the passenger seat. All of them were armed with submachine guns and all of them were dressed in black with their faces covered. The man who jumped out of the passenger seat aimed his weapon into the air and let off a burst of gunfire that pieced the quiet, somber, morning air around the church. It sent into a panic nearly everyone around as men and women, some clutching their children, scattered in the opposite direction away from the church. Those close to the church ran inside of safety. Brandon was one of them but not Father Juan.

Two of the four men came bounding towards the priest as he stood between them and the front door. The other two remained with the van, guarding the street while the driver remained inside, ready to slam his foot onto the accelerator and speed away. "This is a house of God!" Father Juan shouted to them as they approached, undeterred by their weapons, accepting that he may die but not accepting that he would cower. He shouted at them again, speaking in Filipino, in an authoritative voice that could command the unruliest teenager but these men weren't unruly teenagers. They approached rapidly, weapons shouldered, and before Father Juan could stop them further, one of them knocked him clear out of the way with the butt of his weapon. The strike was so swift and so several that Father Juan fell to the ground like a lump of bricks. The two men entered the church but they didn't have to go far.

Speaking in a language that Brandon didn't recognize, the two men talked with one another and then aimed their weapons at him. "Get up," one shouted in broken and poor English. Brandon obliged. "Move!" The man shouted again and he pushed Brandon out of the church before kicking him hard into the lower of his back. The kick sent Brandon tumbling onto the ground and that was the desired effect. Before he could move, the same man who'd kicked him had jumped onto him, putting his knee into Brandon's back. Violently, he yanked Brandon's arms behind him so that he could restrain the Layartebian with a plastic cable tie that he yanked almost too tightly onto Brandon's wrists. Then a black hood went over Brandon's face and the two men hurried him into the van. The other two men jumped back into the vehicle and the driver slammed the accelerator. The van left the scene just as loudly as it had arrived, having been there for all of forty-five seconds.

• • • • ‡ • • • •

Sunday, January 12th, 2020 | 14:10 hrs [UTC+8]

Ermita, Manila, Philippines | Embassy of the Empire of Layarteb
14° 34' 39" N, 120° 58' 38" E

Sandra Orona was the legal attaché in the Layartebian embassy in Manila and on this particular Sunday, like all Sundays, she would relax in the confines of her apartment on the embassy's grounds and catch up with her family back at home. At forty-five, she had lived a very tumultuous life that had played havoc on many of her relationships, both personal and familial. At twenty, she applied to the Federal Justice Agency and entered the academy training within weeks of her college graduation, barely saying goodbye to her friends and her family before she was in Virginia for the 26-week course. She graduated high in her class and was put in as a probationary agent in Ireland - of all places - for two-and-a-half years before she was granted the status of special agent at twenty-five. Seven years later, she was made a senior special agent thanks to hard-earned performance merits and several successful case conclusions while working in the Major Crimes Section, particularly arson. She personally cracked the case on two serial arsonists in Ireland during her time there.

Then it was back to Layarteb-proper where she was put in the FJA headquarters in Layarteb City. At thirty-seven, she was looking at another upcoming promotion when she was seconded to an anti-narcotics task force. Late on a summer night in August, her team initiated a no knock warrant on a house in Cleveland, Ohio that had been under surveillance for several years as a drug house connected with the cartels in Mexico. The raid went badly and three men were injured, one killed as he took three rounds to the chest and neck upon making entry. The tactical team that had gone through the door took the brunt of the damage and the shootout that ensued turned the entire neighborhood upside down. Seven suspects were killed in the shootout and several rounds almost hit Sandra as she waited outside. Those bullets weren't meant for her but they came through the opened windows as the suspects inside made a stand. She called it quits shortly thereafter and took her experience to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Now, eight years later, she was the new legal attaché with barely four months in-country. She was learning quite a lot and quite fast.

The majority of her time had been spent getting to know the staff and getting to know the country. The strict, law-and-order approach of the Central Committee might have given the impression of a crimeless country but it was anything but. The country had a robust black-market sector that smuggled everything from drugs to people. Corruption amongst local officials was less than a lot of other countries, thanks largely to the stratocratic system but it wasn't non-existent. There were also major problems with domestic violence and murder with Quezon and Manila being the most dangerous cities in the country. Needless to say, Sandra had her hands full most of the time, which was why the weekends were almost sacred.

Layartebians rarely visited the Philippines, if just because of the hostile nature of the government and so she spent less time worrying about tourists who committed local crimes than she would have in any other posting. Still, there were a lot of embassy personnel to worry about and enough Layartebian businessmen that she wasn't able to lean back in her chair with her feet up every day. So, it both came as a surprise and not a surprise when her cell phone started ringing with the number with the number for the police headquarters in Manila. She would be the first to hear about Brandon Sims' kidnapping.

She hit the answer button and put the phone to her ear. It was General Guillermo Espada on the other end, the head of the Philippine National Police and not someone she would ever find herself speaking to except at perhaps an official, diplomatic function. "Madam Sandra Orona, Layartebian embassy, yes? I am General Espada of the PNP." He asked in English.

"Yes sir, that is me, how can I help you today?" she said.

"First accept my apologies for calling you on a Sunday. There has been an incident with an embassy officer by the name of Brandon Sims," the general said. Sandra searched her memory but she couldn't put a face to the name. She worried what the man had done. She hoped it wasn't anything serious that would cause a major, diplomatic incident.

"All right general, what did he do?"

"Do? Nothing ma'am, I apologize, no he did not do anything. He was abducted this morning,"
she looked at the clock. It wasn't morning by a long shot anymore.

"What details can you give me?"

"Not very many I am afraid. He was abducted at approximately 10:45 in front of Iglesia de San Agustín de Manila, it is a church in Intramuros."
She knew it because it wasn't even a mile away. She'd heard the gunshots around the time that he was saying but she assumed it was a police action and nothing further. She hadn't investigated too deeply except to find out that they weren't gunshots aimed at the embassy. "Five masked men abducted him as he was leaving the church. We do not have much information right now I am afraid."

"General, this is a major problem, we need information."

"We will certainly provide it as best as we can ma'am. You may call on me directly."
He hung up after that and she set in motion the protocols that were required of her but she also didn't like the lack of information. She was still an agent of the FJA at heart and hearing so little information when she knew they'd have more did not sit at ease with her. Determined to do her own investigating, she very quickly readied herself to leave, knowing where he'd been kidnapped, which was where she would start. However, she wasn't going to go alone and she requisitioned one of the security officers accompany her for the simple fact that they were legally allowed to carry weapons in the country - she wasn't.

• • • † • • •

Last edited by Layarteb on Wed Jul 08, 2020 8:45 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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• • • • ‡ • • • •
• The Empire of Layarteb •

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Postby Layarteb » Tue Jun 09, 2020 8:26 pm

• • • † • • •

Sunday, January 12th, 2020 | 15:15 hrs [UTC+8]

Intramuros, Manilla, Philippines | Iglesia de San Agustín de Manila
14° 35' 19" N, 120° 58' 32" E

Sandra Orona had always resembled Helen Hunt in a way, not enough to be a stunt double or a doppelganger but enough to bear some similarities. Like Helen Hunt, Sandra had blonde hair and she was 5'7" but unlike Helen Hunt, she was part Latino, which gave her a much darker complexion. Her father had been born in Puerto Rico while her both had been born in Western Virginia. She had more of her mother's physical features but bore her father's complexion. Spending four days a week in the gym also kept her from resembling her parents, neither of whom were considered "in shape" by any stretch of the imagination. They were far from obese but they carried plenty of extra weight in their guts.

When she first requisitioned an escort, she was going to be assigned a 27-year-old former army paratrooper named Charlie "Bull" Thorn but Charlie wasn't her first choice for anything. He didn't have the tact or the grace to deal with sensitive situations. He didn't know how to conduct an interview or an interrogation so she nixed that right away and instead took a relative newcomer to the embassy, the 24-year-old Jake Townsend who had only served his conscription period of 24 months. He'd gone to college, majored in something useless, and then he joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, utilizing his military background to get an "in" with the security division. This was his first posting and he'd only been in Manila for nineteen weeks, enough to know the map of the city but not enough to be on anyone's radar. Townsend would draw two firearms from the armory, the standard-issue duty-carry pistol and the standard-issue backup pistol. The former was a SIG Sauer P320 Full Size and the latter was a SIG Sauer P230 Compact, both chambered in .357SIG. Townsend grabbed the backup on the assumption that if a firefight ensued, Sandra would be using that weapon for herself.

Sandra drove. It wasn't a particularly far ride but she didn't trust that Jake knew his way around as well as she did. He was there for muscle and protection in case the shit hit the fan, in case they pulled up and the police tried to arrest them, in case they pulled up and found an angry crowd. Unless the situation warranted, he was merely be seen and nothing more. They left the embassy at precisely 15:00 and twelve minutes later, Sandra was parking the car approximately eighty meters from the church. The police had cleared out the area of cars and put up yellow caution tape, which left an abundance of open parking spots that would otherwise be legal. Since the car had diplomatic plates, the idea of being ticketed or towed was nonexistent. If anything, the police wouldn't want them around and they'd try to shoo them.

Getting out, they walked the eighty meters down Real Street, turned left onto General Luna Street and stopped. Expecting to see a throng of police cars still, Sandra was surprised to see nothing out of the ordinary. It was as if a crime hadn't even taken place and she looked at her watch. It was 15:15 and the crime had happened not more than four-and-a-half hours earlier. Given the nature of the crime, she still expected to see forensics teams on site, perhaps even a police foot patrol maintaining the crime scene. What she saw suggested no crime even took place, which more than alarmed her. She'd suspected something was fishy when she'd received the phone call from General Espada but now the hairs on her neck were tingling. Whatever happened, she quickly surmised, the police weren't going to be trying too hard to solve it. They'd come to a conclusion and stick by it, regardless of what the evidence showed. It was AL604 all over again, she thought to herself as they made their way into the church's parking lot, ducking under some more caution tape.

The area seemed deserted but she found the doors to the church open and so she went inside. It was largely empty and quiet. Being the respectful albeit lapsed Catholic that she was, she took some holy water and blessed herself. For fear of not knowing what to do, so too did Townsend. Then, they walked up the main aisle and towards the front, where a pair of elderly women were seated, giving their personal devotions. Sandra genuflected and took a seat in the pew next to them, "Disculpe mi interrupción, pero estoy buscando al padre Juan. ¿Me ayudarías a encontrarlo?" [Would you please pardon my interruption but I am looking for Father Juan. Would you help me find him?] She asked them, having searched the church online before she left her apartment, finding the head priest's name easily.

"Una Layartebina," [A Layartebian,] the woman said and then smiled, "he's not here. Those heathens put him into the hospital." She answered then in English, explaining, "I was a school teacher for many years. I taught English to international students," she smiled again. She was easily in her eighties. Again, these weren't a people who hated Layartebians on a personal level, least of all in the house of God.

"Heathens? I don't understand."

"Earlier today, this morning, after mass,"
the other woman - equally as old - chimed in, also in English. They weren't talking loudly for they were respectful of the sanctity of the church but they could easily be heard. "Those heathens, the Muslims," she nearly spat at the word, "they took that nice Layartebian boy."

"Were you here?"

"Oh yes we were, we're always here on Sunday. It is our day for the Lord,"
answered the first woman. "I am Rosa and this is Cecilia."

"I am Sandra. I am a security officer with the embassy and I am investigating what happened. Can you tell me what happened? What you saw?"

"Did you call the police?"
Rosa asked.

"They called me."

"That happened many hours ago."

"Bureaucracies are slow ma'am,"
Sandra smiled, "I won't write down your names."

"No you can write them,"
Cecilia answered, "we don't care much for those people." Rosa shook her head, "They're terrorists down there." She was referring to the sizeable Muslim populace in Southern Philippines and the animosity towards them pervaded every facet of Filipino life, especially in the elderly. "If they could behave that would be one thing but they kidnap people for ransom all of the time and what do the police do?"

answered Rosa, "too many young men and women have been ruined by them. No we will tell you what happened; after all, Father Juan is in the hospital. Maybe you can avenge him. It's not right, you do not hurt a priest, especially not here!"

"So they hurt him? How?"

"Smacked him in the head with their gun I thought he was going to die the way he hit the pavement, we all thought we were going to die, we thought they were going to shoot us!"

"How many were there?"

"Well there was the driver, he must have stayed because they left so fast,"
answered Cecilia, "then there were two men who came up to the church, they had the guns, one of them hit our Father Juan. We are here praying for him, that he can recover."

"So three, any more?"

"Maybe? We did not see if any stayed with the car."

"What kind of car?"

"It was a white van; they came out of the side of it."

"You didn't catch the plate did you?"

Rosa laughed, "My dear," she put her hands on Sandra's, "my eyes work one maybe two meters away without my glasses, not very far with them."

"I understand. Then they took the Layartebian, they took Brandon?"

"Yes, they came right for him, like they wanted him,"
Cecilia said, "Father Juan tried to stop them, which was when they hit him."

"Did they shoot their guns?"

"Oh yes,"
Rosa said, remembering, "oh yes. They came up so fast, they made such a racket, speeding up the street, then slamming on their brakes. I hate how people drive like that but yes they shot first, it made us all scared. Father Juan was not though."

"I like Father Juan."

"So do we, so does everyone, he is such a kind man, so loving."

"Was it quick? Do you recall how long they were here?"

"Not long, a minute, two? It happened so quickly."

"How were they dressed?"

"Their faces were concealed, they had all black on, like you see those terrorists on the news whenever they have someone to ransom."

"Did the police question you?"

"No, they didn't really question anyone but Deacon Pablo."

"No one?"

"No one,"
Cecilia said, backing up her friend. "Is that unusual?"

"Very. Is Deacon Pablo here?"

"No he is with Father Juan."

"Can you tell me what hospital he is in? I'd like to talk to the deacon. Perhaps he can give me some more information."

"Oh yes he is right down the street at Seaman's Hospital. It is just down the street down Cabildo."

"Yes, I know it, thank you. I shall light a candle for Father Juan and pray for him."

"You are a Catholic?"
Rosa seemed surprised.

"Of course."

"They tell us you are all pagans."

"I'm sure they tell you a lot of things about us."

"That they do,"
Rosa said, "I hope you find that boy, he is such a good boy. He is here every Sunday; he helps out a lot. He did not deserve that."

"No one does ma'am, doesn't matter where they're from,"
Sandra smiled and stood up, gave a blessing and left the church, lighting a candle as promised and leaving two pesos in the donation box.

Outside of the church, she began to look around the area. "Why wouldn't the police question anyone?" She asked herself rhetorically as she walked around. "They had to be there," she said after looking down at the dried blood from where Father Juan had been struck. She pointed almost right to where the van had stopped and she walked carefully towards it. "Look around for shell casings."

"Yes ma'am,"
Townsend answered, having said nothing since they'd left the embassy until this very moment.

Hunching that the police didn't get them all and suspecting the use of automatic weapons, Sandra took a wider search area and she very quickly found what she wanted, two spent shell casings in the gutter of the street. "Here we go," she said and she opened her bag and pulled out a small, evidence collection bag. She grabbed both without putting her fingerprints on them and eyed them through the bag, "AKM ammo."

"How's someone got an AKM in the middle of Manila in this country?"

"That's really simple Townsend, because they aren't from Manila. Those ladies in there were extremely clear who did this. When the general called me to tell me what happened we had barely any information. I got more information talking to those two ladies than the chief of police gave me so what does that tell you?"

"They're hiding something ma'am."

"They're hiding something,"
she repeated, "not bad Townsend. What did you major in?"

"Criminal justice ma'am,"
he said and almost right away, Sandra let out a loud laugh, "what ma'am?"

"Stop calling me ma'am for starters. I guess you couldn't do much with the degree?"

"I didn't want to become a cop ma,"
he caught himself, "miss?"

"Orona for fuck's sake Townsend. All right you're my partner on this, let's see if we can't put those collegiate skills to use. Of course, the classroom and the real world are different. So, what did you notice in there or around here?"

"Carelessness, they didn't bother to wipe up the blood and they only interviewed the deacon. They left evidence around and they didn't even block off the area so there's probably more evidence to be had here. Should we look for cameras?"

"Good idea, look around let's see what we can find."

"Well just look up and behind me then, I saw it coming in here,"
and right over the church's door was a camera that looked out over the entire area, right where the crime would have happened. "Do you think they took the tape?"

"Yes I bet they did if just to hide what happened. We have to talk to the deacon. Come on, we'll walk it's four hundred meters from here, if that much."
They set off down General Luna Street, took a left on Victoria Street, a right onto Cabildo Street, and there was the hospital at the next corner.

• • • † • • •

Last edited by Layarteb on Sun Jun 14, 2020 11:44 am, edited 1 time in total.
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• The Empire of Layarteb •

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Postby Layarteb » Wed Jun 17, 2020 8:47 pm

• • • † • • •

Sunday, January 12th, 2020 | 15:55 hrs [UTC+8]

Intramuros, Manilla, Philippines | Seaman's Hospital Manila
14° 35' 15" N, 120° 58' 39" E

Sandra and Jake walked through the front doors of the hospital and were hit the powerful but distinct antiseptic odor that all hospitals have. They were greeted by a clean and comfortable waiting room with a muted television on one wall, vending machines on another, and chairs that allowed family and friends to sit in comfort for extended periods of time. Dead ahead was a nurse sitting at a receptionist's desk with a clock above her and a number of signs in a multitude of languages. This was a hospital that primarily catered to merchant seamen who needed medical attention following the docking of their ship in the Port Area directly to the southwest of Intramuros. Sandra and Jake took it all in and walked up to the desk where the nurse receptionist was waiting for them. She'd spied them as they'd come through and immediately sized them up as foreigners - not that it was hard to tell. "How can I help you?" The nurse asked in English first, "Are you injured or are you here to visit someone?" She continued. Her English was accented but clear enough to the two Layartebians.

"Yes," Sandra said, "we're here to see Father Juan please."

"What is your relation to him?"

"We're parishioners,"
Sandra lied. The nurse looked almost immediately skeptical of this claim, "We missed this Sunday's service and we heard about the terrible events so we want to make sure he is all right and to see if he needs any assistance while he's convalescing."

"You look like Layartebians."

"We are,"
Sandra said, deflecting some of the hostility, "are we not to attend mass while posted here?"

"Are you from the embassy?"

"We are."

"What work do you do?"

"Visa approvals mostly, sometimes passport replacements for clumsy businessmen."

"And how long have you been attending Father Juan's services?"

"What nine months?"
Sandra looked to Jake.

"More like ten now, I've been here what eleven?"

"Quite some time,"
Sandra said, pleased that Jake was quick on his feet. "Are we able to visit him?"

"Room 202 and no more than two of you to a room at a time and no more than thirty minutes at a time. Do not upset him!"

"Not at all ma'am,"
Sandra smiled.

"Wash your hands before you go in please," she said, pointing to a sink that had a very large sign that told visitors to do precisely that upon arrival. Sandra noted and the two went over to the sink and liberally washed their hands, soaking the soap into their hands. When they'd finished, they dried up and proceeded into the hallway. What struck them was an air of calmness over the hospital. There were no doctors or nurses scurrying around, no cacophony of noises and pages, no chaos. It was a relaxing place, a place that anyone could convalesce in and actually get better versus the hospitals back home, which could be unnecessarily frantic and busy.

They moved up to the second floor via a wide staircase adjacent to the entrance to the wards. From there, it was simply down the hall to Room 202 where the door was open. Sandra peered in and knocked, asking in Filipino, "May we come in?"

"Come in,"
a man in a chair by Father Juan's bedside said, "who may I ask are you?" He stood.

"My name is Sandra Orona and this is Jake Townsend, we're with the Layartebian embassy. If Father Juan is up to it, I have a few questions for him."

"What are your roles?"
The man asked, forming something of a barrier between them and the priest. This was most certainly Deacon Pablo.

"I am in charge of security and Jake is a security officer and my escort."

"Please have him wait outside, he is not needed in here, this room is safe,"
the deacon asked. Jake didn't have to wait for Sandra's cue, he excused himself from the room and found a chair outside where he sat down. In the room, Sandra asked who the man was and he identified himself as Deacon Pablo.

"May I ask you some questions?" She asked. Father Juan nodded.

"But you may speak English, your Filipino isn't very good," he laughed then winced in pain. His head was wrapped up pretty tightly and his face showed significant bruising.

"Thank you," she said, taking the seat where Deacon Pablo had been, "how are you feeling?"

"Like someone hit me with a machine gun. I presume you are here about Brandon?"

"I am."

"Did you talk to the police?"

"Padre, I found out more information from your parishioners than I did from the police."

"Why am I not surprised,"
he said, "shut the door." Deacon Pablo complied, gently shutting the door. Father Juan was in a single room so there was no threat of anyone else overhearing them. Hospitals weren't bugged by the secret police of the Philippines. "The police didn't want to know much from us either. Isn't that right?"

"They asked me only basic questions,"
Deacon Pablo answered, "nothing beyond the basics."

"What impression did you get?"

"Only that they were looking for the surface-level information, nothing further."

"Your parishioners suggested that Brandon was targeted, would you agree?"

"I would,"
Father Juan answered, "they knew precisely who to come for and when. I suspect they had someone communicating with them from inside of the church. We don't turn anyone away, even strangers. That isn't the Lord's bidding. Even when they are foes."

"Do you know who they were?"

"It should be easy,"
Father Juan said, "they were Moro. I could tell from their dialect, from their language. When I was a young priest, I did some missionary work down on Jolo. Never was I in a more hostile land."

"Do you speak their language?"

"No, I'm afraid I could never quite grasp it enough to speak it but I can recognize it."

"What else do you remember? Anything about their vehicle, about how many there were?"

"The vehicle was plain, a white panel van, nothing special. Three got out of the van, one from the passenger side, a man stayed at the wheel. Two came up to get Brandon and I stood between them and this is my reward,"
he moved his face slightly to show the damage, "the doctors say I will heal but it will be tender for a while."

"I would like to help find what happened to Brandon and I noticed something about your church. You have a surveillance system. Did the police request footage?"

"They didn't even ask,"
Deacon Pablo said, "you would think they would ask?"

"Is the video saved?"

"Yes, the tapes last seventy-two hours."

"May I have a copy? I am interested in finding Brandon."

"Of course,"
said Father Juan before his deacon could interject or say anything to the contrary, "Brandon came to us as a lost young man. My parish initially regarded him with suspicion but every Sunday he came and every Sunday he won over more and more people one-by-one. You must understand. Our government tells us that Layartebians are the evil menace. They've told us this from our birth and so what are we to believe? Brandon changed the opinions of many of my parishioners. For that I am grateful. Pablo, please bring them to the church, get them the tapes. I'll be find here for a while, I should think I need to rest anyway. The painkillers are wearing off and I just don't have the strength to endure the next few hours without them."

"Yes Father,"
Deacon Pablo answered.

Twenty minutes later, they were back in the church as the deacon copied the footage over from the hard drives to a thumb drive that Sandra provided him. He wasn't too fond of what happened, of the nonchalant attitude that the police took, of what he perceived as an insult and an affront to God. Before he handed back the thumb drive, he hushed his voice and said to Sandra, "The police don't want to solve this. They want you to leave the country. Brandon doesn't deserve that. They've kidnapped him for now, probably for ransom. But how long will they hold him as ransom?"

"That's why I need to find him as soon as I can."

"Please do and we did not give you this footage, you must understand."

"I understand,"
she smiled, "I've been known to steal from time-to-time."

"Thank you."
He said and he handed over the thumb drive. Sandra and Jake made for their car and then back to the embassy. Vigilant that the secret police might be following them, Sandra felt on edge from the moment she walked out of the church until the moment she passed through the gates of the embassy. She looked for tails, for anything out of the ordinary but there was nothing to see. If they were there, they were invisible; if they weren't there, they were invisible. What she held in her bag - the thumb drive - would prove to be invaluable evidence in piecing together the kidnapping, the entire crime. She just couldn't understand why the police would let Islamic terrorists capture someone, let along someone with diplomatic protection, and not be interested in solving the crime at all.

• • • • ‡ • • • •

Sunday, January 12th, 2020 | 16:00 hrs [UTC+8]

Calatagan, Philippines | Port of Calatagan
13° 49' 21" N, 120° 37' 41" E

While Sandra and Jake were talking with the receptionist in the hospital, Brandon was being manhandled from one boat onto another a few hundred meters from the Port of Calatagan. He didn't know where he was, what time it was, how long he'd been held, or even where his kidnappers were taking him. In trying to reconstruct everything that had happened since his abduction, Brandon was drawing a lot of blanks. He'd had his hands restrained and a hood throw over his head at the church, then he was thrown into the back of a panel van, which drove erratically at first and then more calmly. It seemed that they'd been driving for hours before they finally stopped somewhere. He didn't know where it was but he knew it wasn't in Manila simply because it was quiet, peaceful almost. There, his kidnappers took him out of the van, ordered him to take a piss, and then pushed and shoved him into a house. The hood had never been removed but his wrist restraints were. He was given a glass of water with a straw and ordered to drink. His kidnappers didn't speak English but the few words of Filipino they did speak, Brandon understood easily.

They were in the house for a while before he was once again restrained, this time using duct tape, he knew from the smell and the sound it made. His legs were restrained at his ankles, his knees, and his thighs, his hands were restrained behind his back, and a piece of tape was put onto his mouth. The hood was never removed. Then he was put into a body bag and as dark as the world was, it got even darker when the zipper was closed. Claustrophobia set in almost immediately though Brandon had never been claustrophobic before. He panicked and was given strong and powerful punches and kicks until he stopped thrashing around. They aimed their shots at his body, at key points where it would hurt the most - his knees, his kidneys, his crotch. Then they were back in the van and driving. Once again, he didn't know for how long, didn't know that he'd been held captive for over five hours now, didn't know where they bringing him, only that when they arrived it was coastal for he could hear birds and the diesel outboard motors of small sampan boats.

He was put into one of these boats and brought a few hundred meters away from the port where he was now, over five hours since he'd been abducted from the church, since he'd been forcefully thrown into a van and driven out of Manila. He didn't know that the Filipino Coast Guard had their own station at the port or that his kidnappers walked him right past the coast guard booth. Money had been passed over and the coast guard officers looked the other way, didn't care that these men were moving a body in a body bag. He didn't even bother to ask, he just took the money and kept reading his magazine.

The boat he'd been thrown into was a motorized lambo, an Indonesian-type design that was popular throughout the Philippines for cargo transport. That's all he was right now, cargo. The four kidnappers who'd taken him aboard spoke cordially and casually with the boat crew, as Brandon could easily hear from the tones in their voices. They weren't speaking a language he recognized though so he couldn't tell what they were talking about though he assumed it was casual conversation just from the way they talked.

When the engines of the lambo fired up, the entire boat began to vibrate. Brandon was, by then, moved into a cabin below deck. He knew this because of the way he'd been carried down a set of steps and into a cabin. He was placed on a bunk but the zipper to the bag wasn't opened and so he lay there, terrified beyond belief. He tried to talk but he only sounds that came out were muffled from being gagged and he wasn't sure if there was even anyone in the room listening to him. The vibration made it impossible to hear if someone was present, to hear if there was something breathing nearby. The boat began to move, turning gently in the waters. It moved slowly at first, coming through the channel that linked this small bay with the deeper waters of the Verde Island Passage. The boat would largely be keeping close to the Filipino islands rather than heading out into the deeper, open waters of the South China Sea. It would mainly travel north and east of Mindoro and then down through the Tablas Strait and all the way to the Sulu Sea, transiting relatively slowly.

Brandon didn't know how long he'd be at sea for or where they were taking him but he began to put a few thoughts together. He knew that kidnapping was a major source of revenue for some of the country's gangs and trafficking groups, that - as a Layartebian - there would be a sizeable ransom requested. He also knew that the Layartebian government didn't pay ransoms, that it refused to legitimize the business of kidnapping. Whomever kidnapped him must not have known this or perhaps they did and that was the reason why he'd been specifically targeted. All he could hope for was that the police or even the embassy would be looking for him. He was too naïve to realize that the police had already concluded it wasn't worth investigating because it didn't suit the Central Committee's political needs. Sandra was still piecing together why they would tolerate such a condition herself.

For now, all Brandon knew was that he was on a boat, being taken somewhere, and that his abduction had been witnessed so the embassy would know. People would know. Someone would look for him, of that he was sure and hopeful, at least for now.

• • • † • • •

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• The Empire of Layarteb •

User avatar
Posts: 8334
Founded: Antiquity
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Layarteb » Wed Jul 08, 2020 8:56 pm

• • • † • • •

Sunday, January 12th, 2020 | 17:45 hrs [UTC+8]

Ermita, Manila, Philippines | Embassy of the Empire of Layarteb
14° 34' 39" N, 120° 58' 38" E

Jake pulled up to the exterior gate of the embassy and flashed his badge. From the passenger seat, so too did Sandra and they were let through the exterior gate. From here, Jake had to negotiate a slalom made out of Jersey barriers, which was designed to prevent car bombs from driving straight into the from façade of the embassy. Going more than 5 mph through the slalom was risky and going more than 10 mph guaranteed smashing into the concrete barriers. Jake kept it in between as the security guards watched with the suspicious look of all security guards, regardless of the fact that Jake was a security officer himself. Once through the slalom, they were stopped again at the inner gate and once again, they showed their badges but this time, Jake had to state that he was going to the motor pool to return the car. His entrance was logged and off he went, to the motor pool, parking in the first available spot he saw.

When they got out, Sandra looked across the roof and with a shrug of her shoulders said, "I'm going to need a partner in this. You did decent today and it might be an imposition to have to train someone new. You in?"

"I could be but you're going to have to clear it with my supervisor. You know how territorial they get in security."

"Who is it?"

Jake answered and with that Sandra grimaced. Madison Hallway was notorious for being territorial. She was also six inches away from being transferred out for getting snippy with the wrong diplomat at the wrong time. Sandra could leverage that but it would take some wrangling. The polite thing to do would have been to go direct to Madison, state her reasons, and point to her title of "legal attaché," which was much higher than Madison's title. Yet despite this, she was going cross-department so her authority wasn't as definitive and it was unlikely she'd made her appeal. She'd have to go direct to Madison's supervisor, unless she wanted to try to pull the trump car right away.

She'd have to think about her strategy but for now, she and Jake made their way to the on-campus cafeteria for dinner. Sandra preferred to stay on-campus in this situation simply because it was safer to talk and she needed to try to bounce some ideas off of Jake, not so much to see what he thought but more because that was the best way for her to think. Sitting at a table across from one another, a cafeteria tray in front of them with a full-course dinner, Sandra began to revisit all of the facts of the case, thus far. When she was done, they were halfway through their dinner, "What I still can't put my finger on is why the government isn't interested in this. Jund al-Islam isn't a friend of the government." It was plainly evident who was responsible for the kidnapping and Sandra knew it within seconds of seeing the video tape, even if she'd knew it prior to that from the testimonies she'd received.

Jund al-Islam, or Soldiers of Islam, was the largest terrorist group operating in the Philippines and they'd sworn their allegiances to Al-Shams. They'd started out in the late 1970s as the Moro Liberation Army under the leadership of Ata Haddad. They weren't too concerned with Islamic jihad back then; they were more or less a rebel group that wanted independence for the Sulu Islands. Haddad was killed in 1994, rumor had it by his successors, Junaid Ganem and Nadir Handal. They renamed the organization Jund al-Islam though they sometimes referred to themselves as the Islamic Jihad of the Philippines. Their goals were altered as were their methods. They still wanted independence but now they wanted a fundamentalist, sharia state comprising of all Muslim-majority areas of the Philippines, which would be expanded to the rest of the region - with time of course. They embraced Islamic fundamentalism but they also embraced many of the criminal behaviors of a common criminal syndicate. They took on assassination jobs for income and built a business out of kidnapping for ransom. They even dabbled in counterfeiting, drug trafficking, extortion, human trafficking, and money laundering. They used violence and fear to maintain their standing, murdering those who stood in their way, raping woman as a message, and sexual abusing children as retribution for disloyalty.

The government had been conducting any number of security operations against them since the mid-90s with moderate success. Yet they were far from defeating Jund al-Islam, whose forces numbered over five hundred. To make matters worse for the government, Jund al-Islam allied with the Thrashing Dragons syndicate out of Nanfang, who helped them flourish in the drug trade, providing them with product to sell and weapons to buy. Jund al-Islam had plenty of other allies around the world too and within the Sulu Islands, especially on Jolo, they were entrenched. Kidnapping for ransom, their primary form of revenue, was mainly levied against businessmen and wealthy nationals, the kinds of people who had the means to pay the ransom. Captivity was regarded - by survivors - as a mixed bag. Some people were beaten and tortured, others left alone, it depended what Jund al-Islam wanted for ransom. The higher the price, the better the treatment, if just to encourage speediness in the payment of ransom.

Kidnapping a Layartebian was new for them and it wasn't by mistake. Jund al-Islam had never kidnapped anyone they didn't intend on kidnapping, which meant that they knew who Brandon was, what his nationality was, and what that would imply. "It's calculated," Sandra said, as if to home in on the point after she'd give Jake a rundown on the group. "Why now? Why Layartebians now? Foreigners certainly aren't 'off-limits' to JI but they've never targeted Layartebians before."

"If they've never targeted us before then there had to have been a reason. A group like that, especially allied with Al-Shams, doesn't just ignore a juicy target like us."

"No they don't, which means someone was holding their reins back and that someone let go,"
Sandra said, sitting back and pushing her tray forward from the edge of the table. She was done eating and it wasn't sitting too well with her this development. "Who could have had sway over JI? Al-Shams. Al-Shams wouldn't have said 'Don't target Layartebians' that's mad. No one else would have had enough sway."

"Unless it's Manila."

"Manila? That's ridiculous,"
said Sandra, almost laughing at the suggestion.

"Or is it so ridiculous it screams truth? This government screams law and order. They jail people for two weeks just for blowing a stop sign. Six months just for posting one negative comment online about the Central Committee."

"Come with me,"
she said. Sandra had an idea in her head and with Jake in tow, she made for the intelligence section of the embassy. As legal attaché, she had a higher level of clearance, which made her privy to certain briefings. Jake didn't have but the basic level of clearance required to work in an embassy but she had a plan for that too.

The intelligence section consisted of three parts. There was a general area for receiving walk-ins and doing what might be considered routine tasks. Then there was a secure area, where the majority of the analysis was done. Then there was the vault, which is where the most sensitive work - including communications - took place. She didn't have access to the vault but she could have access to the secure area, with an escort. It was there that she met Roger Branch, who carried a title of case officer but who was really the deputy station chief, a very closely guarded secret. Almost immediately, there was a discussion about Jake's presence but Sandra worked that one through and the three of them moved to a secure conference room before anything could be said.

"I need to know intel on government operations against JI."

"Why? They kidnap our boy?"
Branch asked.

Sandra, surprised at the question took a moment to answer, "And I thought you would know that already?"

"It's been a low-priority right now. What do you know?"
After Sandra was finished giving him the scoop, Branch laughed, "If that doesn't stink of an inside job then what does. I'll go pull up what I can find, wait here. Might take ten minutes. Might take five." Branch got up and left, leaving the two of them in the conference room.

"You do realize everything you see in here is classified. That means no telling your girlfriend where you were."

"Got it."

"It also helps my case in getting you over to my side of the wall. I have a hunch. My hunch is that the government, since Flores' ouster, is trying to negotiate a peace settlement with JI and that's why they don't want to ruffle any feathers and JI, wanting good terms, decided to go for the big prize."

"Doesn't explain why they never went after Layartebians before."

"It does. What did you say? 'Manila' right? Flores was the one holding the reins. He was fighting JI but he probably told them that Layartebians were 'off-limits' if for the 'good of the Philippines' and I bet they agreed because JI wouldn't want to have to fight both Manila and us. Now Flores is gone and the Central Committee is trying to make a peace agreement, or a ceasefire even, with their biggest, domestic threat so that they can focus on us. JI's going to try to get some good money in the meantime and that means the gloves are off, we're targets."

"Which would mean we'd get zero cooperation from the government retrieving him."

"Exactly, so that makes recovering Brandon that much more difficult. If Manila's going to negotiate, on our behalf, they're going to want a lot in trade, and I do mean a lot."
Branch entered the room holding a piece of paper in his hand. "That's it? One piece of paper?"

"It isn't much but it's something. Two weeks, or so, after Flores' ouster, signals intercepted a conversation between Chuang and an unknown male individual calling him from the Jolo Airport. The conversation was brief and we almost missed it. The translation is, 'We have a ceasefire.' That's all there was. One sentence and Chuang never answered back, he just hung up the phone."

"How's that for theory,"
Sandra said, slamming her palm on the table victoriously. "Government and JI has a ceasefire. Flores is out of office. JI has free range on Layartebians for kidnapping. They probably started looking for one right then and there. The Central Committee isn't going to jeopardize the ceasefire with JI because so long as its in place, they can focus fully on us. Do we know what the terms of this ceasefire are?"

"Not a clue."

"Well you've got some digging to do then,"
said Sandra, "right now we can safely assume that Brandon is on his way to Jolo, likely by boat, which means there's no way to trace or find him. We need signals focused on JI."

"Yeah that's done, not even a question now."

"Which leaves us with the government. They're not going to cooperate so we might be on our own here. That's not going to make your jobs any easier. I'm going to take this to the ambassador."

"I'll tell my bosses too. All right so we got something. We got a lot. It'll be in the briefing tomorrow I'm sure."

"Thanks Branch, all right we're out of here. Make me proud,"
Sandra said with a smile. He escorted them back out of the secure area and began to work his end. Sandra would be working hers too, which meant that there was little for Jake to do for the rest of the evening so she let him go with the expectation that he'd be working with her going forward.

• • • † • • •

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