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The Broken Scepter (IC, Closed)

A staging-point for declarations of war and other major diplomatic events. [In character]
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Krasny-Volny
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The Broken Scepter (IC, Closed)

Postby Krasny-Volny » Thu Oct 13, 2016 1:53 pm

Image


Time here flows slowly, in that waking moment beyond consciousness and sleep. You struggle to keep your eyes closed for as long as you can, but alas, the television screen just beyond your field of vision again flickers to life. Is it possible you really went to sleep on the sofa again? You find yourself rubbing your red-rimmed eyes and scanning the room, fumbling for the TV remote. No work in the morning, thank God, so at least there's no shame in staying up this late and binging on the marathon of whatever episodic game show or string of Kaboom commercials is on at this ungodly hour.

Your fingers brush the remote idly, and the screen flickers again.

Most Krasny-Volnans like to imagine that, in the grand scheme of things, their country is well-regarded as the idyllic mountain paradise of spy thrillers and winter vacations, of ski resorts and movie stars, and fresh footprints in the sparkling, unspoiled snow.

"Life in the Grand Duchy of Krasny-Volny has been unpredictable since last week's general elections - the first in over a decade, ended amid recounts and accusations of vote-rigging by all parties and the ruling Popular Front suspended the constitution, arrested the main opposition leader, and declared the election invalid..."

How naively deluded they are.

"Tanks were seen in the street today as the government launched what it described as a massive show of force aimed at discouraging bloody revolution, and which opposition parties attacked as a blatant display of intimidation targeting an already cowed populace..."

Haunting images of hollow-cheeked, hungry, men and women - dressed in ragged, hopelessly inadequate clothing against the cold - standing in ration queues and somber, crumbling, buildings weave a picture of a bleak, bitter, nation struggling to keep afloat through a half dozen interwoven news clips. The veteran anchor's voice takes on a practiced, dispassionate tone as you wearily hit the mute button. Enough of those faces.

What were you thinking, anyway? It's one o'clock in the morning. News at this hour is never good.

Joints creaking, linen rustling, you swing your feet off the sofa and onto the soft carpet below. Even in your sleep-muddled mind you remain acutely aware that the fridge must be somewhere nearby. Yeah, a second nightcap never hurt anybody. The news about that country - Krasnia, Kasnia, Volotovia, Zimbaboozleistania, shit, it's already slipped off the radar - stays with you for a minute, but not much longer than that. The synapses in the human brain can send out anywhere from one to one thousand signals per second. And right now those signals have already filed that information somewhere where even you can't find it, somewhere in one of about a million overflowing cabinets to gather dust until forgotten. Figures. By tomorrow you won't remember any of this anyway.

If you'd taken anthropology courses in college, perhaps you would've recalled the Most Sovereign Grand Duchy of Krasny-Volny as a footnote, an obscure little piece of worthless, resourceless soil where simple peasants eked out a modest living. Perhaps your sister - the humanitarian, the aid worker, the one the family never talks about and spends all her time abroad - had sent you a postcard from there once. Maybe even posing with the large shipments of pencils they were taking to Krasny schools.

But that was it. Nowhere in the grand scheme of things was this country important or significant, not even to scholars of international affairs. It had no industry to speak of. Little diplomatic recognition overseas. Its people and government dwelt in isolation, too fixated on their own petty squabbles and humdrum everyday affairs to appreciate the vastness of the world around them.

And frankly, you felt obliged to return the favor.

You return to the sofa, cold beer in hand, and absently reach for the remote again. The special report on the slow death of a country is replaced by a smiling lunatic mopping up soap scum with a rag and a spray bottle. Life goes on.

M a r c h, 1 9 7 8

The Grand Duchy of Krasny-Volny



A passenger ferry makes slow, unhurried progress down the Krasny River - as it has done every day, for the past hundred years that its destination has been of any administrative or economic consequence. Locals in fur caps and quilted jackets and one or two foreigners, a menagerie of suited businessmen there under the pretense of a scenic vacation plus a handful of mangy, unshaven backpackers, brace themselves against the pitch and the roll of the small vessel as it continues the plodding journey towards the claptrap, haphazard low concrete boxlike structures on the Chorstad wharves and a shallow waterfront that appeared to have been thrown together about two hundred years ago and abandoned to the ice and silt ever since.

This is no country for old men, and although Krasny-Volny looks to be the furthest thing from Yeats' Byzantium to warrant literary description, there are a number of subtle similarities nonetheless. No Grecian goldsmiths touting their precious wares, but plenty of cars, women, drink, and mansions to keep the drowsy nomenklatura entertained when they weren't looting the treasury and robbing their own people blind. Chorstad was small, squalid, and undeveloped, much like the rest of the country, but it had that toxic air of big city corruption you simply couldn't find anywhere else. Beyond its ugly state ministry buildings of recent construction and the more dignified, Romanesque Palace of Justice which dominated the capital's skyline, an immense forest loomed primeval- Mother Nature poised on the edge of civilization, as if watching, waiting to reclaim the land with lush verdure long after the last human inhabitants were buried and their nation forgotten. As the ferry prepared to dock at the wharf, the foreigners cooed at the raw beauty of it all. The biggest trees they'd ever seen, so tall and thick they couldn't see the forest floor. Red too, red like freshly spilled blood, which in turn reflected upon the water and gave the Krasny River its name.

So many trees, centuries old, for the forest here had never been cut for timber.

Chorstad itself was a collection of mostly shuttered and dingy storefronts, so much so it was impossible to actually tell which shops were open and which ones weren't, their shelves barren and dusty within. There was a chill in the air, clouds building on a horizon the color of the river. No gulls or pigeons here. Only crows, their coats slick and shiny like oil, observing the people below from rooftops and power lines. The commercial buildings were dull, weathered brick, the official ministry headquarters and house of parliament chipped, mismatched concrete. They were all situated along Sbitnev Avenue; in fact, the whole city was situated along Sbitnev Avenue, which ran alongside the waterfront. As far as urban planning went, Chorstad was built as a conventional elongated grid centered on Kurkhov Square. On the western outskirts of town Sbitnev Avenue became the Airport Road, at least for want of a better name. Towards the east, it angled south and became National Route 1.

Two major installations on Sbitnev Avenue were the National Bank of Krasny-Volny and the State Broadcasting Corporation. The bank occupied the only building over seven stories in Kurkhov Square, and indeed, in Chorstad; its upper floors housed consular offices, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Directly adjacent to the bank was the building which housed the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Defense. Across the street was the imposing Palace of Justice with its gritty turrets and gables, next to which the three story, boxlike National Assembly building seemed ridiculously ineffectual and inadequate: drab, featureless concrete intended to convey the impression of grim, faceless state authority. The recording studios of the State Broadcasting Corporation were well past the square, on the southern edge of the city where Sbitnev Avenue joined the highway and the more unscrupulous Krasny policemen banded together to set up roadblocks and extort bribes from passerby.

Beyond the de facto city limits, in the outlying suburbs and villages of Chorstad nestled comfortably in the forest's embrace, the weary traveler could catch glimpses of the black and white and blue of the Koroscov Mountains above the treetops, and the opaque, leaden gleam of broad, icy rivers. There, humbler lives were led - where the men, distinct in their leather caps and handsome, gaily hued tunics, scoured the timberland for dead wood for their fires, and the settlements alive with the din of hammering and chopping and singing. Peasant women in their bright scarves mending cloaks or scrubbing them with ash to prevent rot, and scarce girdles and coifs and lengths of cloth and needles and thread being fought over like gold and bartered at inflated values. Here and there graybeards sat in their drab sweaters and medals, veterans of the independence war over twenty years passed. Even beyond the villages thence were the great estates of the aristocratic landowners, relics of the Feudal Age, and further still the picturesque ruins of medieval citadels and basilicas interdispersed with shrines to the saints.

There is a spring drought on this year, as in '76, and the village girls perform the customary rainmaking ceremony - a hangover from the pre-Christian age - to summon the dodolas. Clad only in leaves and garments of expertly sewed vegetation, they wander from house to house, imploring in their singsong lilts for the mistress of the clouds above to answer their prayers. Such rituals, though frowned upon by the policemen and officials whose professions bring them in line with the government's policy of discouraging superstition, are greeted with approval by those of the older generation, perhaps because it harks back to greater (or at least more fantastical) times.

The news wasn’t so different then, either.



March 11 – “Rumblings of Discontent”, Eyewitness Krasny-Volny
Serious rumblings of discontent broke out across the Grand Duchy of Krasny-Volny in early 1978. On February 2 the country’s ruling National Assembly adopted a motion extending Premier Artem Makovetskiy’s term of office for life, which he accepted. The following day the government’s detention powers were extended from forty-eight hours to twenty-eight days or more without charge, and by late February an unofficial state of emergency was in effect following mass protests by thousands of peasant farmers who were told they must accept a 30% slash in prices for agricultural products as part of the premier’s latest austerity budget. Diet staples such as turnips had been given reduced allocations on ration cards last year as turnip prices rose, and long lines waited outside butcher shops for meat and dairy products. The water content of butter was increased to 20% and milk only sold to those on special customer lists, who were public employees in the main. Despite the recent reduction in prices, Krasny citizens could buy little in the shops – their savings in banks have almost doubled since March 1977.

Premier Makovetskiy, 37, was head of the Socialist Krasny-Volnan People’s Congress (SKVPC), which turned nine years old last month. Makovetskiy, through a shrewd alliance with the conservative monarchist movement in Koroscova Province, was swept to power in the April, 1970 elections. Koroscova is the wealthiest region of Krasny-Volny and by far the more populous, with a population of nearly two million. Its monarch, Ulrich XI, who became the first Grand Duke of a unified Krasny-Volny in 1954, had consistently stood against the strong central powers of a national government.

Despite garnering widespread praise for his backing of Makovetskiy, as well as his decision to abolish the absolute monarchy and hold parliamentary elections under a universal suffrage in 1970, Ulrich’s relationship with the SKVPC has become increasingly tenuous. A constitutional crisis arose scarcely four years later when the Grand Duke attempted to retain wider personal powers, including the ducal family’s right to eminent domain. The National Assembly responded by evoking a constitutional amendment granting executive powers to the prime minister (premier)’s office. This resulted in a major falling out between Makovetskiy and the Duke.

In the 1975 elections, Makovetskiy’s SKVPC was swept back into office with 87% of the votes. He took the opportunity to lobby for a new constitution giving the office of premier more exceptionally strong powers, another step in Makovetskiy’s concept of a one-party Socialist state…

The role of the armed forces
The Armed Forces of the Grand Duchy of Krasny-Volny (AFKV) are currently in the process of undergoing a massive reorganization and demobilization campaign as part of the current government's undertaking to alter the ethnic and political composition of the armed forces so as to better reflect the SKVPC's political supremacy. The appointment of partisan officers, often selected for their political connections to the party rather than their competence, to senior positions highlighted a trend of accelerated politicization of the AFKV. Nevertheless, during the annual SKVPC Congress of 1976 Premier Makovetskiy complained that the military was still composed of "reactionary elements" which predated his ascension to power in 1970. He sharply criticized the AFKV for its apparent political inbalance, particularly since two-thirds of the officer corps still owed their careers to the Grand Duke and many were unrepentant royalists. The AFKV's most elite unit - the Ducal Guard, once credited with suppressing dissent to the reigning monarchs and putting down revolutions - also remained composed of partisans handpicked for their allegiance to the ducal family.

Makovetskiy and Defense Minister Yulya Kuzmych set out pulling the AFKV's teeth. They demobilized half the Ducal Guard, renaming it the "Ministerial Reserve" and integrated it with the normal army chain of command. The next step - and the most conspicuous change in the AFKV in the past two years - was reorganizing the officer corps. Makovetskiy claimed that "8,000 old guard" appointees of all ranks were in the army at the end of 1976, and they dominated the officer corps; by January 1978 there were "fewer than 3,000". Among the personnel demobilized for political reasons were a disproportionate number engaged in technical and logistical specialties.

A storm of protest erupted from all ranks of the AFKV, the most common charge being that the army as an institution was being systematically demolished, its cohesion and competence eroded, and its professional standards diluted by the unrealistic promotion of so many politically connected individuals and the equally rapid expulsion of senior personnel - whatever their philosophy with regards to the feuding between Makovetskiy and Duke Ulrich - whose skills were badly needed. Entire battalions were now being commanded by men who had been junior NCOs prior to the reshuffle. Army equipment was becoming unserviceable due to the shortage of personnel with adequate technical training. A new elite unit, 1 Para-Commando was formed as a counterweight to the Ministerial Reserve while its remaining troops were awaiting demobilization or transfer to other units; Makovetskiy insisted they were a fresh stab at forming an elite force without political connotations, while his critics insisted he was merely swapping one "praetorian guard" for another.

It is difficult to say whether the premier was aware of the immense damage he was causing to the morale and conditions in the AFKV; certainly, if history was any indication the SKVPC government was more concerned with maintaining effective security services rather than a military. Policemen and counter-intelligence operatives after all, could be relied on to monitor subversives and crush internal dissent. Krasny-Volnan soldiers, most of whom were conscripts resigned to doing their two years? Not so much. The AFKV regulars, who held royalist sympathies for the most part, were fast becoming extinct.

Defense Minister Yulya Kuzmych was astute enough to grasp and recognize the practical fallout from her and Makovetskiy's reforms, and was likewise aware that if the problems in the AFKV continued, the premier would look for a scapegoat. She tried going to the SKVPC politburo on multiple occasions but was made aware in no uncertain terms that nobody else wanted to hear about failures. As far as the party was concerned, the AFKV was being purged of royalists and other undesirable elements, so there was no issue. It did not occur to them that equipment shortages were acute, the logistical structure of the army had imploded, and that the men were unskilled, undisciplined and badly motivated due to the shortage of senior training instructors. The air force was in better shape, as even the SKVPC politburo was aware that a degradation of quality in the technically oriented air fleet was not worth the political benefits of a similar reorganization effort. However it did not escape the purges unscathed either. Pilots were allowed to remain; the attrition among technical support personnel was much higher.

Like the premier, Kuzmych was an idealist, not a soldier. However she had also served as a judge on the Krasny-Volnan Supreme Court and had been in politics for nearly two decades, under both the monarchist regime and Makovetskiy's new order. She was neither blind nor stupid. The exodus of professional career soldiers due to the purges needed to be relieved by an influx of newcomers. Foreigners - well-trained and well-skilled foreigners, not sbrod from other developing countries, could hold the AFKV together by compensating for the shortage of officers and training and logistical staff, fill in the gaps where needed, and prevent further disintegration of the country's sagging defense capabilities.

Makovetskiy didn't like it.

But then again he didn't like admitting the shortcomings of his pet projects, either.

On February 21 he approved the Defense Ministry's proposal to advertise for foreign troops to serve in Krasny-Volny under contract.

Kuzmych, clever girl that she was, hadn't wasted any time. She already knew where to find some.
Last edited by Krasny-Volny on Fri Oct 14, 2016 11:58 am, edited 4 times in total.
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Postby Krasny-Volny » Thu Oct 13, 2016 7:16 pm

Chorstad International Airport

It was difficult to gauge which was more dangerous: the landing site or the aircraft.

One thousand feet over the thick, rolling forest a battered, twin-engined Illyushin Il-14 orbited - propellers whining as it circled a potholed airstrip less than a fourth of a mile in length. The simple digit "γ" was printed on its tail in a faded block numeral. Along the fuselage, "Civil Aviation Group" in Krasny was spelled out in similarly illegible script. Stenciled on both sides of the nose was the airline's sole distinguishing feature: a large green, white, and yellow tricolor.

One of the only three aircraft of Krasny-Volny's official flag carrier, that vaguely termed "Civil Aviation Group", it also happened to be the only one still in flyworthy condition. The others, including the expensive Il-18 which had once been the pride of the fleet, had crashed on landing at Chorstad International. Fingers were still being pointed over both those incidents, with the government blaming the drunken, incompetent military pilots who'd been press-ganged into flying an ostensibly civilian carrier, the pilots blaming the dilapidated airstrip in general and the poorly maintained fence surrounding it in particular.

The Illyushin cruised slowly above the ground as it descended towards the distant skyline of Chorstad visible ahead. No runway lights gleamed red or green ahead; sure, some were visible in the pallid sunshine, but their circuits were all fried. Captain Slosberga hated the fact that the previous wrecks had never been cleared, merely bulldozed to one side of the airport where he could still see them, a grim reminder to everybody on their return journey to pull off the impossible and secure a smooth landing. As the Illyushin rolled out of turn and slid downwards he watched for any stray cattle wandering onto the tarred surface from the broken fence perimeter, listened to his pilot mutter the Nunc dimittis, and likewise made his peace with God.

Officially, the Civil Aviation Group masqueraded as a commercial airline and freight service. It was the only carrier that still routinely used Chorstad International Airport and flew direct flights there, at least since 1974. Unofficially, its primary mission was smuggling shipments of beef, cashews and peanuts overseas, where they were expected to fetch higher prices in foreign currency - all on behalf of certain political figures on the take. Sometimes Captain Slosberga returned with shipments of frozen lobsters too. The party officials liked to eat well.

Slosberga's Il-14 passed over a strip of dead grass and then the tarred runway was unrolling thirty feet below the aircraft. A jarring bounce, a teeth-rattling thud and the roar of the reversed engines interrupted the thoughts of those in the passenger cabin and let them know they were back on terra firma again. Sloberga brought the ancient Illyushin in hard, rolling off the runway without hitting any obstacles this time, living or otherwise, and towards the unpainted block terminal and its rudimentary tower, where another plane - an Antonov used for VIP shuttle purposes, was parked at a rolling stairway. At length his overhead speaker crackled to life, emitting the standard announcement, in English, for the benefit of the distinguished guests aboard. "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Chorstad International Airport."

Slosberga found himself having to bite back the irony in his voice. This so-called international airport could only accommodate two aircraft per day, assuming the weather was clear and the sun was still shining.

"On behalf of Group Krasny Civil Aviation...."

He turned to glance at his copilot, who was fingering a crucifix and reaching for a bottle stashed beneath his seat.

"And ah, our entire flight crew..."

Hell with it. He wasn't paid enough for this. Slosberga replaced the microphone and gestured for brandy.

Six minutes later, the forward entrance of Il-14 γ swung inward, giving its passengers their first real glimpse of the decrepit airport that lay beyond. Fuel depot and parking lot for tanker trucks on the left, and terminal - a squat structure affixed in a perpendicular fashion to a rudimentary tower, dead ahead. There were no windows or radar. To the left of the doorway into the terminal a jeeplike vehicle with prominent headlamps - actually an open-topped GAZ-69, idled.

A door slammed: two uniformed Krasny immigration officials and a stocky, fair-haired bureaucrat type, sweating like a wheel of cheese beneath his dark suit, stepped onto the tarmac and scanned the new arrivals.

Alexander Chiryatev was never one for standing about like a fool, waving a white piece of paper. He flattened his tongue against the roof of his mouth, clenched his teeth, and allowed his harsh accent to ride roughshod over the alien syllables: "Uli Schwyz!"

Not everybody turned in his direction, but those that did knew who he was looking for. Chiryatev extended his hand. "Alexander Chiryatev, Permanent Secretary to the Minister of Defense. No need to go through customs, it's been taken care of. Just give your papers to these officers and they'll stamp them right here. We already have a vehicle waiting." He jerked a thumb in the direction of the GAZ jeep.

"If you checked in any bags, our people will deliver for you later, unless there's anything in them you need this afternoon. I have orders to take you to your lodgings. We can talk more on the way there."
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Postby USG Security Corporation » Sat Oct 15, 2016 11:26 am

Chorstad, Krasny-Volny
March 1978


They had caught the second connecting flight on their journey to Chorstad, the capital of Krasny-Volny. Their first couple legs had gone fine, but there was a tension on this flight that he could not quite place. The last decade had seen a rise in the popularity of hijackings. Travelers in less developed parts of the world were well aware of that fact. Contrary to popular opinion, one couldn't so easily pick out a revolutionary or terrorist by appearance alone.

Somewhat unrelated was the extreme foreign appearance of his assistant, who was seated across the aisle.
Ibo had an almost metallic ebony sheen to his skin, visible on his clean shaven dome, and wore a grey Nehru style jacket. It was a bit of a contrast to the sea of extra pale, Slavic faces of the rest of the passengers, who kept glancing at Ibo, if not outright staring at the exotic visage. The West African didn't seem to mind or particularly notice the attention. He was sitting quietly and looking straight ahead, occasionally sipping at a water in a plastic cup that the stewardess had given him.

Philippe Marchand, Director of the Intexa, in contrast wore a brown suit with a paisley tie, as that was fashionable at this time. Although, as they'd progressed further East, he'd noticed that the clothing had gotten progressively darker and more drab. Lots of dreary black and grey to be had on this flight, to where one might think the Bolshevik rebellions had never ended.

Philippe, as high level a figure in the Uli Schwyz organization as he was, didn't normally spearhead a simple training contract negotiation, but there were some particulars that concerned him about Krasny-Volny. They weren't able to get a lot of political information or do an intelligence gathering mission ahead of time, but there had been some rumors of discontent.

To pass the time when he wasn't people watching, Marchand reviewed the preliminary file on the government and low budget equipped military of the unique monarchy/socialist regime as if he could glean any more details out of it. In situations like these, to be very frank, one might suggest that money would be better spent on updating their early cold war Soviet bloc equipment, vehicles and aircraft rather than hiring on an expensive private military group, but that didn't win contracts. Besides, they were potentially investing on training more capable military personnel and that was not really a bad investment. Better soldiers could make do with what they had on hand. Mediocre soldiers with little training and mediocre equipment would put up a mediocre fight, at best.

He also had the most current travel guide he could find on Krasny-Volny, and had bookmarked the capital section, which was of most interest to him at the moment. That was where they were headed, and that was where all the decisions would be made in regards to the upcoming potential contract. Plus, should things happen to blow a gasket while the Uli-Schwyz were in country, as had happened to them on a handful of other training contracts, it was good to know if the actual centralized power resided in the actual capital. Such was not always the case.
To a degree, it was true in this case, but it also seemed like a lot of the economic and industrial power was held in Gugat. If they had time, he might want to take a detour there before flying home.

He’d also surmised, between the file and the travel guide, that Chorstad’s port facilities were not well maintained at all, due to decline over the last two decades, partly to an economic downturn and partly to mismanagement. That could be an issue for the Uli-Schwyz when getting their contracted cargo ships in to drop off heavier armor and equipment for a longer haul training contract. They had some heavy airlifters, but to bring in a whole mechanized company could take some serious time through that route, as opposed to by sea. An alternate port might need to be found, and a secure land route to the capital established.

Additionally, if something did go wrong and they had to get out fast, Chorstad was some ways removed from the coast. Without being able to call on a friend or ally, they could have to leave a considerable amount of heavy equipment behind. That didn’t even take into account the human cost. Troops would have to hold a pocket with a adequate airfield against potential hostiles during an evac process. They would need to insist on maintaining their own small coastal station, away from Chorstad.

There was always Option D, as they referred to it. Rather than take losses trying to get out, infuse more forces in where they could overpower any foe. Ultimately, Option D called for retaking power in the troubled nation, eventually handing it over to a friendly, capable indigenous ally. The Uli-Schwyz were one of the best groups of elite fighters with the most advanced, modern equipment out there. They could pull off such a coup. It had been done before, but it wasn't the easiest way to recoup fees. Option D was never mentioned to a potential client.

In any case, this called for a heftier negotiated fee up front to cover such eventualities. That could be tricky as some clients might balk at such numbers. He really wished they’d had a covert assessment before heading into this negotiation, to verify the stability and popularity of this potential client, the current government. He would still treat this as a simple training contract, until given cause otherwise. It would be refreshing to get back to the basics, anyway.

Maybe it was time to give his mind a rest before they landed.
Beneath all the research, a pulp paperback with Nazis, gold, swashbucklers and buxom women sat to the side, half read. Perhaps it was time to re-focus, or rather lose focus with that mindless trash.

They were riding in an old Illyushin of what passed as the only domestic airline that still flew into Chorstad. The ride hadn’t been smooth, to the say the least. They hit some more turbulence as they were making their final approach into their destination. Philippe had Ibo in his periphery and a slight smirk lit his face. While some of the passengers were starting to grumble and murmur the more they hit air pockets, Ibo remained calm. Somehow, he’d maintained his water glass. Every time it was bumped into the air, the African would snatch it with lightning speed and gingerly and gently replace it onto the tray table. This was happening with some frequency now.

Philippe simply had his chin cradled in his hand. After all he’d been through, this would be a hell of a way go out.
They smacked down with some horrified gasps and muttered, hurried prayers as their background soundtrack. The plane rolled haphazardly towards what was supposed to be an International airport.

A voice that sounded sort of labored crackled over the public address speakers:
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Chorstad International Airport...On behalf of Group Krasny Civil Aviation....And ah, our entire flight crew..."
Click.

Marchand shook his head, moving his hand to his forehead. If he believed in omens, they’d already be trying to hop on the next flight out. They disembarked with the mass of passengers that clung to each other as one did after surviving a traumatic experience.
Both men had brought reasonable sized bags as carry on luggage, and had no need to visit the baggage claim. Marchand had extra suits in a covered hanger bag. They had brought coats, as it may be almost spring, but such climates were usually shaking off the chill of winter. They trudged across the tarmac after clanging down the rickety aluminum stairs..

Now to find a man holding a sign.
As they progressed from the gate, spaced apart and scanning the new environment like a hunter team, their attention was drawn to a man shouting what sounded like,
"OOOLI SHHWAAAHHHZ!”

Close enough.
The two Intexa men narrowed the gap between them and closed in on the man. Philippe wasn’t quite happy at the very public announcement. He was inclined and used to dealing with more professional discretion, but one couldn’t have everything their way. Or much going their way in Krasny-Volny, apparently.

“Alexander Chiryatev, Permanent Secretary to the Minister of Defense.”

“Pleasure. I’m Philippe Marchand, Director of Intexa, the Uli-Schwyz support bureau. This is my assistant, Ibo Inzara.”
The dark, bald man bowed slightly.

The Secretary rolled on,
“No need to go through customs, it's been taken care of. Just give your papers to these officers and they'll stamp them right here. We already have a vehicle waiting."
He jerked a thumb in the direction of a GAZ jeep.

They did as told and were stamped through as official visitors to Krasny-Volny.

"If you checked in any bags, our people will deliver for you later, unless there's anything in them you need this afternoon. I have orders to take you to your lodgings. We can talk more on the way there."

“No, we just have these carry on bags. No checked luggage. Let’s be on our way then.” Marchand acknowledged.

Ibo didn’t speak often, and he had no need to now.
They clambered aboard the Russian military multi purpose vehicle and stowed their bags in the back. Ibo sat ramrod straight up with his hands on his knees. Marchand sat back but gripped the side of the jeep as they hit more bumps on the ill maintained airport road that meandered into the capital. He gazed out at the sights as they finally veered onto Sbitnev Avenue. It was a good time to put pictures to what he’d read in the travel guides and file.
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Postby Krasny-Volny » Sun Oct 16, 2016 2:48 pm

The pale, cool morning sunlight began to dim and the scent of rain grew stronger as Alex Chiryatev gunned the jeep's four-cylinder engine and slipped the clutch. The one and a half ton vehicle lurched forward with a shudder, then rapidly accelerated, engine popping and crackling.

Chorstad's Airport Road was mostly packed gravel - crushed stone and the occasional loose pebble grinding beneath the jeep's wheels. For about five minutes, Chiryatev was cursing the uneven, potholed surface liberally in Krasny as he navigated the maze of sunken areas and leaned hard on the horn to discourage the passage of cattle grazing on the grassy slopes nearby.

The potholes, animals, and gravel abruptly vanished at Sbitnev Avenue.

"I suppose you are thinking," Chiryatev murmured. "Is it always this quiet? But we do like our orderliness." He grinned, taking one hand off the wheel in a sweeping gesture like a tour guide introducing the magnificent ruins of some forgotten alien civilization. His meaning was implicit. No boom boxes, discos, wild hairstyles, or Western decadence here at Banana Republic! Come and buy your one way ticket back to a more genteel era, where people went around decked out in drab wartime colors and lined up for ration stamps!

To the left, sunlight sparkled off the Krasny River and cast long shadows down the broad nineteenth-century boulevard and its narrow, cobblestoned medieval alleyways. New leaves were budding on trees, giving the impression of a city awakening from hibernation, coming alive again after the winter frost. Narrow, cramped, and airless storefronts loomed to the right, their weather-beaten facades sagging against each other for support. A slight easterly breeze stirred, bringing with it a handful of leaves stripped before their time. The leaves settled like a carpet on the road before Chiryatev scattered them.

The commercial district was five short blocks long, some of the businesses spilling around corners. From the looks of the buildings, most had been constructed during the previous century. Or the one prior to that. None were more than three stories tall, mostly hewed from dressed stone, though there were a few faded brick facades. Six had shattered display windows, curtains drooping limply beyond the sills. Three more had been boarded up with cheap plywood or painted over. Not even the dank cubicle shops which had once hawked trinkets and postcards to the occasional tourist remained open. Huge crows perched atop their eaves, fluttering their glossy black wings in the sunshine.

Quaint, abandoned storefronts seemed graceful and elegant next to Kurkhov Square, a traffic circle flanked by what appeared to be stolid and utterly featureless concrete boxes. The structures here were new, thrown up during the past decade by Premier Artem Makovetskiy and his ruling Socialist Krasny-Volnan People’s Congress in what was either an attempt to impose a heavy-handed Stalinist bureaucracy in atmosphere if not in fact, or demonstrate just how low the imaginations of the underpaid, disgruntled city engineers could sink. The cheap, poured concrete was already starting to chip away, and as the buildings housing the state offices hadn't been designed with drainage or foundations either their bases looked like they were about to fracture.

"The government offices are still shut," Chiryatev said by way of explanation, easing on the brakes and pointing at the dark windows and padlocked doors. Krasny-Volny's bureaucratic workday never began until long after sunup, if it ever began at all. "But there is the State Bank of Krasny-Volny." He indicated the box that towered over the others. "The upper floors are the diplomatic and trade offices, also the Ministry of the Interior. That adjacent structure attached to it houses the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Defense. Your first appointment will be there with Miss Kuzmych, my immediate supervisor and the Minister of Defense responsible to the premier."

The junior bureaucrat paused momentarily. "The minister has requested the two of you join her for evening tea at eight o'clock tonight...if that will be a good time." Alex shrugged. He wasn't a diplomat but if he was, he might've waited until after they reached the house to bring it up.

Still, the sooner they know where exactly this meeting will be held, the better.

At least Chiryatev's English was good enough to make it sound as if what his immediate supervisor was asking nicely. If he'd translated her orders to the letter "requested" would not have been the appropriate term.

Letting the two Intexa men mull it over, Chiryatev accelerated again and continued around the traffic circle. "The domes and spires you see belong to the Palace of Justice, where the Supreme Court meets. It was built in the thirteenth century and is the oldest surviving example of Romanesque architecture in this country. The sort of thing tourists like pictures of."

Probably not a good idea to mention it was illegal to take photographs of public buildings unless one had a photography permit from the Minister of the Interior. But the foreigner who seemed to do the talking, the white one, was clutching what looked to be a guide book as he stepped off the plane. Surely he has been enlightened already.

At this point it was fast becoming apparent what Chiryatev had meant by his earlier observation about the quiet. Chorstad's stillness was profound. The Gaz jeep was the only moving vehicle on the long thoroughfare. There were no civilian cars on the road, no other engines in the distance to break the unnatural silence. A few passengers were visible standing on the wharves as they debarked from a ferry, but their voices seemed muted, indistinct in the breeze. There were no pedestrians roving from district to district in search of work, or hunting from store to store for food and clothing. Nobody strolling along the cracked sidewalks, or sitting on the porches and balconies that overlooked Sbitnev Avenue.

Philippe Marchand and Ibo Inzara were about to learn why.

A pair of unlit floodlights and barricades of partly filled sandbags flanked the security checkpoint up ahead. Canvas-sided trucks painted in the white stripes and blue lettering of the Krasny-Volnan Militsiya were parked on the curb, filled with surly, gray-jacketed policemen who somehow managed to look both baked and bored out of their minds.

"There is a curfew on," Chiryatev said by way of explanation as the police sergeant waved him through without comment. He recognized the secretary for who he was, and no constable with half a brain delayed an official from the Ministry of Defense going about official business. Plenty of isolated border postings had already been filled with soldiers and policemen alike who'd annoyed some of the notoriously unforgiving politicians now running the country.

They were now approaching the end of Sbitnev Avenue, where it took an abrupt right southeast towards the highway - National Route 1 - to Belrovia and Igumnova further beyond. Ahead, Chorstad trailed off into the dense forest. Massive firs and spruces loomed over the city limits, sunlight cascading down towards the forest floor through a few scattered openings between the closely packed trees.

Alex Chiryatev put the jeep in park before a modest timber chalet with three massive dormer windows facing the street. "Your lodging, sirs. Right on the edge of the city." He debated informing them the house had formerly belonged to a former state accountant who was now cooling his heels in the city lockup due to his royalist sympathies. The police had thoroughly looted the place when they'd arrested the former owner. Long gone was the furniture - leaving behind ugly scratches across the creaking wooden floor where some enterprising cops had dragged it all out - and the color TV too, so all four rooms were nearly bare, but there was still silverware lying around some of the drawers plus a cabinet full of Rakija in the kitchen. Two iron-framed beds with swaybacked mattresses and a scarred enamel sink that produced, with a low clanking snarl, a stream of viscous red liquid that smelled of the Krasny River. In a city where comfort cost money and accommodations were scarce this was like the Ritz. Still, Chiryatev looked genuinely stricken as he unlocked the front door and offered Philip Marchand the key, aware that a man of such stature was probably accustomed to far better. "There are no hotels in Chorstad so I am afraid this is the absolute best we can do." The younger man took a drag on his cigarette as he stood at some semblance of attention, waiting to be dismissed. "Shall I inform the minister that you have accepted her invitation to evening tea?"




Strange, how looking at the state capital - or indeed, a house like this - could tell one so much about a country. Krasny-Volny had the air of a place that had meant something, maybe five hundred years ago in the age of knights and castles. And there was no doubt that Chorstad was dying, perhaps all of the country with it, not just gently declining into a backwater.

The existing infrastructure and buildings and administrative structure were accounted for: but these just comprised the skeleton, the bare bones of a country upon which the muscle and sinew and skin had to be added. Chorstad was a city without warmth, or life: a city without barking dogs or taxis or children laughing in the distance - a city that wasn't too trashy, too neon, and too loud, yes - but also a grim, miserly settlement without color or cheer which also happened to be run like a criminal fiefdom. Premier Makovetskiy owned four or five cars and lived on a giant, sprawling estate nestled in the forest away from his problems; most parliamentarians and cabinet ministers did. They could've just as easily sent Philip Marchand and his unflappable assistant Ibo to the Krasny-Volnan equivalent to stately Wayne Manor and plied them with all the luxuries they wanted.

They didn't, of course - and it was a decidedly poor start to a relationship that would determine their very fates soon enough.
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Postby USG Security Corporation » Thu Oct 20, 2016 12:29 am

En route to downtown Chorstad

They bumped along in the GAZ on the airport road, doing their best to maintain composure. Marchand had been doubtful of the need for an all terrain vehicle before they'd started out. He was often used to being treated as equal parts dignitary and VIP businessman, which roles he and his teams usually did fulfill. Also typical was that the conveyance on arrival was a car befitting such VIPs. Perhaps he expected a Zil limousine. However, the utility of the GAZ multi purpose vehicle was soon apparent as they progressed from the airport. He'd ridden in much worse, under fire, so this wasn't as disappointing as one might think.

Finally, they entered what passed for a proper paved street as they turned onto Sbitnev Avenue.
"I suppose you are thinking," Chiryatev managed to speak just barely over the din of the engine, "Is it always this quiet? But we do like our orderliness." He grinned, taking one hand off the wheel in a sweeping gesture like a tour guide. He indicated the city and its shocking lack of activity for a central hub.

Marchand simply nodded in reply. Ibo remained locked in stony silence.

The city was quaint and rustic, and bleak and barren in equal parts, like many they had seen in their course of work. It was telling for sure and also lived up to exactly the image he'd had in his mind before they had physically lain eyes on it. There was a small area of commerce and no activity present. The easiest thought to cross his mind was how would they be able to pay for the Uli Schwyz?

They hit the stark concrete uniformity of Kurkhov Square, as they neared the government center of Krasny-Volny.
"The government offices are still shut," Chiryatev said by way of explanation, easing on the brakes and pointing at the dark windows and padlocked doors. "But there is the State Bank of Krasny-Volny." He indicated the box that towered over the others. "The upper floors are the diplomatic and trade offices, also the Ministry of the Interior. That adjacent structure attached to it houses the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Defense. Your first appointment will be there with Miss Kuzmych, my immediate supervisor and the Minister of Defense responsible to the premier."

The junior bureaucrat paused momentarily. "The minister has requested the two of you join her for evening tea at eight o'clock tonight...if that will be a good time." Alex shrugged as if their answer wouldn't matter.

Philippe was aware of a language barrier in the way, but Secretary Chiryatev was making himself understood well enough, even nuances like reiterating what may sound like a request, but was more of a demand.

Chiryatev continued around the traffic circle. "The domes and spires you see belong to the Palace of Justice, where the Supreme Court meets. It was built in the thirteenth century and is the oldest surviving example of Romanesque architecture in this country. The sort of thing tourists like pictures of."

Marchand inclined his neck to take in the full view. He hadn't bothered to pull out his camera, figuring there might be an issue. That didn't mean he had no intention of attempting some photography later. He knew Ibo would be taking everything in as the man had a nearly perfect photographic memory.

The absence of human presence continued to be just a bit unnerving as they followed Sbitnev Avenue. He wondered if Gugat would be this desolate at this time of day. Floodlights and barricades marked a checkpoint to get through. Canvas-sided trucks painted in the white stripes and blue lettering of the Krasny-Volnan Militsiya were parked on the curb, filled with surly, gray-jacketed policemen who looked none too pleased to have to have such a duty.

"There is a curfew on," Chiryatev said by way of explanation as the police sergeant waved him through without comment. He recognized the Secretary as he signaled that they should carry on. It spoke volumes to Philippe about how strict security was and also the import that Chiryatev carried near the seat of power. He filed that information away for his future report.

They were now approaching the end of Sbitnev Avenue, where it took an abrupt right southeast towards the highway - National Route 1 - to Belrovia and Igumnova further beyond. Ahead, Chorstad trailed off into the dense forest. Massive firs and spruces loomed over the city limits, sunlight cascading down towards the forest floor through a few scattered openings between the closely packed trees.

Alex Chiryatev put the jeep in park before a modest timber chalet with three massive dormer windows facing the street. "Your lodging, sirs. Right on the edge of the city."

Chiryatev looked genuinely stricken as he unlocked the front door and offered Philip Marchand the key, aware that a man of such stature was probably accustomed to far better. "There are no hotels in Chorstad so I am afraid this is the absolute best we can do." The younger man took a drag on his cigarette as he stood at some semblance of attention, waiting to be dismissed. "Shall I inform the minister that you have accepted her invitation to evening tea?"

"You may inform the Minister at your earliest convenience that we shall be there at 8 sharp this evening to partake in tea with her. We would not miss it..."
Ibo walked in and dropped his bag into an interior room. Marchand glanced around. It was as stark and empty in here as the capital streets were out there.
"I'd like to ask if you could send us a runner or low level assistant from your Ministry, hopefully with appropriate traveling papers..." He would reward the page handsomely for obtaining certain amenities for them, but it wouldn't be appropriate to mention that particular. It was likely that they might need to turn to the local black market, considering the lackluster welcome and accommodations.

"Also, I'd like to inquire as to where the nearest public phone might be..." He had some codes to convey to a certain HQ number, that would mean absolutely nothing to any eavesdropping ears. Mainly the call would be informing Intexa HQ that all was well and on track so far and they were safe.

"Lastly, I hope you will send someone to get us for any other meetings or summonsing with plentiful time for us to make such a meeting. Do not worry about waking us, as one of us will always be alert."
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Postby Krasny-Volny » Fri Oct 21, 2016 4:14 am

The corners of Alex Chiryatev's mouth turned up slightly when Philippe turned back to him, all business. He was pleased the other man had not seen it fit to dwell on the somewhat spartan accommodations nor objected to the somewhat unusual timing of the meeting. The minister was always full of surprises.

Perhaps this, in its own way, was a test. She was gauging how reliable the foreigners would be, seeing how many questions they would ask.

Of course, Yulya Kuzmych wasn't the only one in Krasny-Volny's gargantuan, overtaxed, and utterly useless kleptocracy who had a stake in this whole affair. Chiryatev pointed down the street towards the edge of the darkened forest. "Telephone pole," he said simply. It soon became clear he was indicating something at the base of the utility pole nearest to the house. What looked like a rotary dial on the face of a steel box peeked out through a mildewed window in a wooden cabinet. A handset was hooked on a shelf beneath the main unit, along with a moldy green pamphlet that could have only been the local yellow pages.

"The phone book is in Krasny, however. If you need a specific number for something please just ask. And speaking of which -"

Chiryatev dipped into the pockets of his jacket, frowned, then tried his trousers. "A local call should be two folles a minute." He came up with a handful of eight copper coins and held them out to Marchand. "Four per minute for out of country. You will want to change money as soon as you can, I am sure. But I am afraid at the moment this is impossible. Maybe later tonight. I can take you to a place when your business at the Ministry of Defense is concluded, however we will have to wait until after nine o'clock. For now you can take what change I have."

The secretary started to walk back towards the GAZ-69 on the corner. "I will personally return and take you to see the minister at ten until eight. We can discuss future traveling arrangements in greater detail during..." Then he stopped so abruptly he gave the appearance of having walked into a brick wall. All Krasny-Volnans - maybe even government bureaucrats in particular - had a sixth sense that was rarely out of line. "That is, er..."

Every inch of the sidewalk had been deserted minutes earlier. Now some of the shadows seemed odd, out of place, and artificial. Alex looked about, scanning the empty street and equally lifeless buildings. Nothing. He couldn't see a damned thing. But he knew that there was now an extra pair of eyes on him. Maybe more.

People in Chiryatev's position didn't believe in coincidences. The cliche "probably nothing" didn't exist in their vocabulary. And they never, ever disregarded their gut. For a moment he tensed, heart racing. A light sweat broke out across his brow. Then he was chiding himself, as usual. It wasn't him or his politics the state security service was interested in. They were just wasting no time keeping tabs on the two newcomers in town.

That was not an entirely unforeseen circumstance.

Look around at where you are. Routine surveillance is the new normal.

Chiryatev didn't doubt that Marchand had likely noticed the change in scenery, too. Old soldiers always did. His tone changed, became more rigid as he chose his words with caution. "I will forward your request for the proper travel documentation to the Ministry of the Interior when I return to the office, sirs. However I suggest you take it up with Minister Kuzmych tonight."

People had died of old age waiting for Krasny-Volny's bureaucracy to cough up anything at all.

Alex resumed walking towards the jeep, his steps uneven, all too obviously resisting the urge to hurry.

In less than thirty seconds he was gone.

* * *


With a slow creak, the double French doors eased open. The gesture was appreciated, for the room's occupant rarely liked to be disturbed when he was curled in the chaise chesterfield, atlas on lap. This was his quiet time.

"They have arrived."

"I see. When?"

"A few hours ago."

"News travels fast."

"Chiryatev is picking them up at eight to see Kuzmych, as scheduled."

"Good."

"I don't understand why that is necessary. It may not leave either side with the best of impressions."

"It just is. You may go now, Kozak."

As the French doors swung closed again, the reader went to the window. Night was falling over Chorstad, and the air was cooler than it was at dusk.

So, the first pieces were already falling into place.

It begins.
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Postby USG Security Corporation » Mon Oct 24, 2016 6:37 pm

The Secretary seemed to perk up at his responses and questions. That could only be a good sign.

Chiryatev pointed down the street towards the edge of the darkened forest. "Telephone pole," he said simply in response to Marchand's inquiry about a public phone. It soon became clear he was indicating something at the base of the utility pole nearest to the house. Philippe looked out in the indicated direction, locking onto the pole.
What looked like a rotary dial on the face of a steel box peeked out through a mildewed window in a wooden cabinet. A handset was hooked on a shelf beneath the main unit, along with a moldy green pamphlet that could have only been the local yellow pages.

"The phone book is in Krasny, however. If you need a specific number for something please just ask. And speaking of which -"

Chiryatev dipped into the pockets of his jacket, frowned, then tried his trousers. "A local call should be two folles a minute." He came up with a handful of eight copper coins and held them out to Marchand. "Four per minute for out of country. You will want to change money as soon as you can, I am sure. But I am afraid at the moment this is impossible. Maybe later tonight. I can take you to a place when your business at the Ministry of Defense is concluded, however we will have to wait until after nine o'clock. For now you can take what change I have."

Marchand took the handful of coins. He was going to dip into his bag to bring out an appropriate paper bezant bill to trade for the change, but the Secretary was already starting to walk out and back towards the GAZ-69 on the corner.
"I will personally return and take you to see the minister at ten until eight. We can discuss future traveling arrangements in greater detail during..." Then he stopped so abruptly he gave the appearance of having walked into a brick wall.
"That is, er..."

Marchand had been about to speak again. It seemed that Chiryatev misunderstood his request for a junior lackey to visit them later. Well, he would try again after their meeting with the Minister, or the runner he expected would show up. He wasn't too disappointed.
Just as suddenly as the native man's mood changed and he became hyper aware of a malevolent presence, Marchand and Ibo picked up on the change of atmosphere, as well. Their hackles rose at approximately the same time. Ibo glanced at a chair in the loaned apartment, and then back at Philippe. Ibo could break it in seconds, taking a chair leg in each hand to turn them into club like weapons, exacting his martial arts skills out on any attacker. Of course, they couldn't stop a sniper's bullet.

Marchand shook his head only slightly. No. Wait. Let's see how this plays out. Was the vibe he sent back. It was probably just over-zealous observers, after all.
The streets were deserted, but someone was definitely out there and there were eyes upon them. Chiryatev was reacting like a scared rabbit.
Marchand had no fear. Either this was his time, or his potential clients were scoping him out. In either case, there wasn't much he could do about it but carry on with business. He followed their current guide back down to the street.

Chiryatev spoke woodenly and carefully, "I will forward your request for the proper travel documentation to the Ministry of the Interior when I return to the office, sirs. However I suggest you take it up with Minister Kuzmych tonight."

"Very well. We will await your return. Again, please let her know that we look forward to speaking with Minister Kuzmych. Poka mai ney vstretimsya snovah."

Alex resumed walking towards the jeep, his steps uneven, all too obviously resisting the urge to hurry.
Then he was in the GAZ safely and gone.




Marchand still stood out on the street after Chiryatev had pulled away. He jangled the change in his pocket. He looked up at the window, where Ibo would be watching and made a motion of a phone to his ear with his empty hand. He felt the hair on his arms standing up. They were watching still. Well, let them enjoy the show.

He walked over to the phone box on the pole. He didn't need the crumbling, moldy phone book. He picked up the receiver and popped the coins into the slot. They would buy him plenty of time. He waited for the dial tone to disappear and dialed the number. It was to a nearby nation to Krasny-Volny, where the Intexa had set up some front operations during a previous contract. A phone rang in a dark office where travel posters hung and pamphlets of various locales in Teremara were spread across a small table and counter. It looked like any other tiny travel agency in any country you cared to name. The phone rang two more times, then Marchand quickly spun the rotary dial twice. A machine attached to the phone clicked into action, a reel to reel recorder started and the two lines were connected.
"This is Matti. We're going to see a local folk act tonight. Charro has yet to dance. Remind Uncle Max to feed my goldfish. Dos-vedanya!"

He replaced the receiver on the hook and stepped away, straightening his suit.
Within the next hour or two, the message would be checked and passed along to the Island by their man...woman, rather, in place there at the station.

He started to walk back to the apartment, still aware that eyes were upon him. He had placed the 'Hello number' call. It was a way for field officers to check in and let their control know they were safe, or in grave danger...or another state entirely.
A smirk came to the Intexa Director's face. He was a bit giddy inside, if he must be honest with himself. This was why he still occasionally spearheaded contract negotiation and intel missions, despite the work being well below his pay grade. He did it for this feeling right now. He re-entered the apartment to wait and prepare for upcoming events and visitors.
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Postby Neo Prutenia » Wed Oct 26, 2016 5:32 am

“Wake. Up.”

While there certainly was some malicious enjoyment in Elke’s voice, she didn’t mean any harm when she roughly stirred Rainer from sleep—a few drops of the icy water endemic to this locale, squeezed out of a kitchen rag she nipped for this express purpose. Rainar winced and grumped, flailing his hands to protect himself as the statuesque woman loomed over him, grinning, and threathening him with the dishcloth.

“Oi, quit that.” Stern, authoritative. “Otherwise… well, I’ll save you the trip to the bath.” She smiled.

“Fine.”

Rainer rose to a sitting position and watched Elke turn and toss the tatter in a bucket. She just gestured to the table in their room—a warm meal for two and two steaming, inviting cuppas on it—and mentioned him refreshing. He didn’t need to be told twice. After a few good stretches he jumped out of bed and immediately regretted the decision. Krasny, even during this time of year and especially by the standards of his hometown, was cold. Far too cold for his tastes. He didn’t get to shiver though, as Elke handed him a shirt, a clean towel, and woolen slippers, the latter for which he was immensely grateful.

After a few minutes, including every man’s morning agonising over how much and if at all the razor should be used that particular day, and after Elke conjuring something up from the near infinite amount of pockets she apparently had on every article of clothing, bag, and maybe even surgically attached and hidden on her body, Rainer was never too sure about that, they sat down together, smiled, and gave each other a nod. Elke held a few spices from home, basil, rosemary, cinnamon, a few others, and offered them to Rainer. The broth they were served was warm, and it even had diced meat and wasn’t shy on vegetables; it did need some flavor though. The fact it was warm was Rainer’s most important factor, with literary everything else coming second.

“So, what’s the lay?”

“Jasna told me we should give up on Chorstad.”

“What else is new?”

“You notice how many people tell us the same?”

“Elke, please. Our dear hostess—and as lovely as Jasna Bolshakov is and has been so far—is still a business owner and is running this inn. Of course she’d tell you to skip Chorstad and stay. We’re guests, paying guests, and foreigners. That’s great for business! Great advertisement. ‘Look at the silly-speaking tourists staying with me. Look people!’ Can’t blame her. I’d try and pull the same. Then again, I would also install some heating system in this place.”

“Perhaps, but she’s neither the first and almost certainly not the last person who told us to skip the capital.”

“Well, you say that, but the Lvova Lodge is our last stop before Chorstad. So… who do you expect to tell us to ditch Chorstad between ‘last stop before Chorstad’ and ‘the consulate’.”

“For one, the Bolshakov boy.”

“The bo… ah, her son. What about him?”

“He has a boat and is willing to take us up the river to Chorstad. Jasna said it will be fine, so there’s that.”

“Oh, that’s great!”

“And the police.”

“I’m sorry?”

“The coppers.” As Rainer stared still confused at Elke, she clarified. “There’s apparently police everywhere nowadays. Curfews, checks. The country’s in shambles.”

“So? We have all the permits. And an invitation.”

“Still…”

“You’re worrying too much. It’s going to be alright.”

“You worry too little.”

Having finished his meal, Rainer grasped the cuppa with both hands and inhaled the fragrance slowly, letting it fill his nose, spreading the warmth to his windpipe and lungs. “Ah, lovely. Hey, as long as I’m holding one of these there’s nothing to worry about.” He took a sip, audibly enjoying it. Elke appeared as if she’d roll her eyes, but she just joined him in their little tea ceremony.

***


Jasna Bolshakov’s country inn, the Lvova Lodge, indeed was the last stop the two had before the city. Rainer Götzbrech and Elke Kormeckwald, a pair of hanseatic industry scouts, had been in Krasny-Volny for quite some time now. In fact, they were just one of several such pairs, with their area of operation being the Krasny river—or as Rainer had christened it, ”the nation’s most developed infrastructure”. There was some weight behind that term, and not just according to Rainer. With Krasny-Volny being so severely underdeveloped, that river would form the core of any future investment and the start of any industrialisation or building projects, or at any rate, the basis for tourism perhaps. It all depended on many other factors and concerns, a chief one among them the attitude of the elites in Chorstad and the capital’s vicinity. Hence why the three of them, the two Prut Götzbrech and Kormeckwald, and the third being the young Bolshakov leading their boat to the capital’s piers, were now squeezed in the little thing.

According to Bolshakov, who apparently made these small trips semi-regularly, Chorstad was a dreary ghost town, and ‘bad for business’ essentially. Elke was inclined to agree, but Rainer would have none of it. He saw it as an opportunity—which wasn’t that shocking given him seeing literally everything as an opportunity—and he would often dismiss any naysayers. ‘Just a matter of saying the right words to the right ear, now pass me the blanket, it’s really cold here’ or something along those lines. But as they arrived in Chorstad seeing the gloomy landscape for the first time with their own eyes, even Rainer paused, and for one single spell toyed with the idea of reconsidering their venture. But that fleeting moment passed, and little else had changed save the tone.

They parted with Bolshakov amicably, promising to visit the Lvova Lodge again should they pass that direction. Now they were two strangers in Chrostad, and obvious strangers as well. Rainer was dressed far too warmly for this time of year in this locale, since he was unused to such tough weather. Elke descended from mountain folk, this supposed chill was nothing but a pleasant breeze to her. Maybe a bit wet, and somewhat biting, but nothing to be concerned about. However, she was rather tall, even by her people’s female standards, easily rivaling the also decently tall Rainer and being only two or three centimetres shy of winning. She did pay attention to not expose any skin, as would be her habit home; while Rainer had a good cold-weather jacket, a winter scarf, knit cap, thick trousers, and really good boots, she got by with a reasonably light waterproof coat, a turtleneck shirt, outdoors trousers and boots, and keeping her hair in a chignon. Their colours complemented Chorstad—mostly tones of drab brown, black, and the occasional eigengrau and taupe. Otherwise except probably for their height and general good health and nutrition, they could pass as locals, looking reasonably similar with light skin and hair.

“So, what now?”

Rainer pointed at the tall building, the bank of Krasny-Volny. “That’s where we’re headed.”

“Well, at least that won’t be easy to miss.”

Rainer nodded.

“By foot?”

“Rainer nodded again.

“How’s your Krasny?”

He raised a finger and was just about to reply to Elke before he winced and reconsidered.

“You didn’t touch the book, did you?”

“I skimmed over it. I mean, I speak Veleslav, it’s similar, and I’ve gone through the faux amis and the usual phrases. Things we’ll need. I know that ‘krasny’ here means ‘red’, and in Veleslav it’s ‘beautiful’. See? I looked a few things up.”

“Yeah, learning the meaning of pizda and skolko is going to be very important.”

“Yes! Exactly.” He didn’t even blush, just grinned and shrugged. “I see you’ve seen my notes.”

“Maybe I should talk.”

“Only until I get to practice it a bit more.”

Elke raised an eyebrow and crossed her hands.

“Oh come on, you know I can’t learn from those stuffy book and travel guides. Language is a living thing, and organic thing. It grows. It evolves, shifts, changes. I need to hear it, to feel it, talk with people. I’ll get the hang of it, you’ll see soon.”

“Sure, here’s your first opportunity.” Elke pointed at a group of uniformed men. “Can you handle asking those blokes if that’s the bank and how to get there quickly?”

Rainer squinted and stroked his chin. He snapped his finger, took out a pack of cigarettes—surprising Elke quite a bit by this, since he was a nonsmoker—and placed it in the upper left pocket of his jacket, very visibly so, as well as a new lighter next to it. Noticing Elke’s surprise and confusion, he elaborated.

“Bought a few back in Lvova; for bribes.” He grinned very satisfied. “Better than money in most cases, for such small exchanges and with groups.”

“If you say so.”

“Follow my lead. Also, take out that travel guide.”

Picking up their travel bags, and Rainer literally leading them, they went straight to the group and greeted them with ‘Health!’, with Elke chipping in after a few seconds in way better, if still strongly accented Krasny.

“He meant to say ‘hello’. We’re invitees, looking for the consulate. Is it that tall building and how do we get there?”

“Da. Bank!” Rainer pointed at the bank enthusiastically, being all amicable and subtly making sure they’d see the pack of cigarettes. Elke just held to her book and acted the interpreter.
Last edited by Neo Prutenia on Wed Oct 26, 2016 5:35 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Krasny-Volny » Wed Oct 26, 2016 9:32 pm

Night seemed to be encroaching early in Chorstad, as the afternoon sky was already a deep hue of brilliant amethyst, and a perpetual fine sprinkle beginning to dot the pavement. The rain the cool, thin air had been promising since Marchand's arrival earlier that day wasn't far off. Along Sbitnev Avenue, streetlamps began winking on - bathing the empty storefront and boxlike state offices with that same pale, indiscriminate luminescence, and some windows in the city began to glow with light from within. That mild, perpetual breeze which had lingered all morning and most of the day made the trees of the surrounding forest sway gently, moving in such measured rhythm that they seemed to be dancing in time to slow music.

The short, narrow-faced militsiya sergeant posted near Chorstad's flatlined heart seemed only vaguely aware of the couple he supposed were tourists as they approached from the nearby wharves. Few of his men paid much attention, either. They'd already seen a black man today, a black man with a shaved head in what looked like a Chairman Mao jacket, so anything short of a wood nymph emerging from the river itself wouldn't have elicited much in the way of an impression.

Elke Kormeckwald's accented Krasny caught the sergeant somewhat off guard, though. He gave her a look of frank reappraisal and frowned as though trying to place her origin. She didn't sound like a local. Still, her use of his language made him feel obliged to answer in kind.

"All diplomatic offices are located at the Bank of Krasny-Volny." The sergeant had now comprehended he was probably speaking to a tourist looking for their consulate. He nodded, gesturing at the tallest building on the skyline. "It is not far. Maybe six minutes walking from here. Just follow the street and you will reach Kurkov Square." His eyes began to focus on Rainer Götzbrech's left jacket pocket and the tone changed, became more official. "Now I'm afraid I must ask for your papers. Be quick about it!"

Cigarettes were not inexpensive items in Krasny-Volny. And neither were lighters. Aroused by their sergeant's voice, some of the other policemen drifted closer.

For the first time that day, the sergeant smiled. Even diplomatic papers could always be construed as forgeries. Perhaps then a quick trip to the city gaol, enough to ruin any tourist's day, and the potential of a large bribe paid by the conveniently nearby consul to spring their nationals.

Unless, of course, Rainer could save himself the trouble...

Behind them, a compact Fiat with a hood that looked like it'd been caught in a trash compactor careened around the corner and sped through the checkpoint. If they'd noticed the car, the police guards gave little indication. Some of their more active compatriots, more alert or less stoned than the others, yelled abuse at the driver in Krasny.

"Get a haircut!"

* * *


Alik Demenok didn't think his hair was that long, anyway, but in this country a man wearing hair past the collar and flared sideburns was still considered unusual. Demenok supposed it had something to do with generations of conscription and the conservative attitudes which had kept the country floundering about in the dark while the rest of the world moved forward. And Demenok was the sort of man who moved forward. He wore loud flowered shirts that stood out among the drab masses. He had an illegal customized car radio which he jealously defended from theft and from which he blared Blondie at full volume on cassette, even when he was racing the premier's motorcade past the government buildings on Sbitnev Avenue.

Most state officials considered Demenok an embarrassment at best and a social deviant at worst. He was a brother of the friend of a cousin of the Minister of Defense, or something equally convoluted, and enjoyed telling a different story about his relation to Yulya Kuzmych every time, a habit Alik picked up after getting lost himself in the lengthy, boring explanation. All the policemen knew was that he was the guy who stood around outside the offices in Kurkov Square and ingratiated himself with the male bureaucrats on their breaks while flirting with the young women. Everybody's friend. Alex Chiryatev, who disliked Demenok on principle, used him to run errands from time to time, if only to get him as far away from the minister as he could. In light of this he had the appropriate travel passes signed off by Kuzmych, and much as they despised him the fresh-faced, shaven-headed recruits manning checkpoints up and down the waterfront streets had no alternative but to let him by without giving trouble.

Chiryatev, of course, hotly denied having anything to do with Alik Demenok if questioned. But it was equally obvious he couldn't get rid of him - too many pencil pushers with influence liked him. The minister didn't like anybody but kept him around, no doubt as a favor to somebody else. He thought he was going places.

Demenok was there to be a minder to the bureaucracy, an unofficial solution to the problem of poorly paid, unmotivated state couriers who would otherwise be getting drunk and blowing their meager paychecks when they were supposed to be doing their jobs. Besides, that Fiat 125 was a good, solid car which he worked on himself - always a plus, given the increasingly pathetic state of the public service's limited motor pool. Poor quality gasoline, road salt, clueless mechanics, and bad roads in general saw to that.

The Fiat ground to a half before the two-story house on the edge of town and Alik studied it dubiously. He could've sworn this was Nikolay Perepelkin's address. Only one way to find out.

Two smacks on the horn did the trick. The sound echoed up and down the empty streets, and for a split second he saw something move in the dying light: the brief impression of a man clutching a newspaper he obviously hadn't been reading, and wearing a large scarf which no doubt concealed the throat mike into which he was instinctively turning to speak.

Well, this was the right place after all. Old Nikolay was under investigation by the security services last he heard. Bumbling idiots. Although come to think of it, Nikolay hadn't been seen around in weeks. Maybe that had something to do with why somebody else was staying in his house.

Demenok got out of the car and walked briskly to the front door, gave it three sharp raps. "Good evening. My name is Alik Demenok, and I was sent over by the Ministry of Defense. I have the appropriate travel documentation as requested, and am at your service."
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Postby USG Security Corporation » Thu Oct 27, 2016 5:57 pm

Old Perepelkin Apartment
Chorstad, Krasny-Volny


They heard a car pull up, which was rare enough in this neighborhood that it seemed to warrant their attention. This had to be the man that Chiryatev sent, or someone on government business, in any case. They heard the footsteps and then three sharp raps on the door of the apartment.
The door was opened by Ibo.

"Good evening. My name is Alik Demenok, and I was sent over by the Ministry of Defense. I have the appropriate travel documentation as requested, and am at your service."

The dark man held out a piece of paper for the runner to take, but didn’t say anything. Marchand was further in the room, digging into one of their bags.
He approached the door slowly with both hands full.
“Hello, Mr. Demenok. Thank you for coming here on such short notice. Please come in and shut the door....Thank you. You’ll notice a very special list on that paper…”

1 box of Fresh fruit - (As exotic as possible)
1 Case canned food goods
1 Case of R Series light bulbs
1 Large industrial roll of tin foil
20 meters of copper wire
1 35mm pornographic film
1 copy of the Kama Sutra
1 copy of the Qoran
1 ivory handled knife
1 pistol, 9X19mm parabellum with 3 full magazines
1 pistol, .40 caliber with 3 full magazines
1 hand grenade
1 vial of Opioid medication
50 grams of marijuana
1 uncut diamond
5 oz of gold
8 oz of silver
10 grams of ruthenium
1 pint of B- type blood
1 32 oz can of crude oil


“These are items I’d like you to acquire for us. Many of them are not readily available in most stores, I’m guessing even here in Chorstad.”
He was trying to heavily imply that most would need to be acquired on the Black Market, without actually using the phrase.
Ibo had strode back into the center of the apartment and hit the button of a compact cassette tape playing device.
The cassette played a loud hiss of white noise, with no discernible voice or music.

Marchand spoke the next words lower, and closer to the ear of the young Krasny-Volnan.
“What we need you to do is set out and get these things for us and have as many of the items on the list as possible to be delivered by two in the afternoon tomorrow. If you don’t feel that you can get these items and you need help, please feel free to enlist it. Be aware that I am willing to compensate you well for your troubles...but only you.”

It was then that Phil Marchand revealed the contents of his hands. One was a very big stack of Bezants in large denominations, in his other hand was an equally large stack of NS Dollars, also in large denominations. He hadn't said anything earlier when Chiryatev suggested that he visit a bank tomorrow, as he'd known he had no need to do so.
“This money should suffice to purchase the items on that list.”

This was a classic test administered by the Intexa, called The Marchand Test and also known as ‘The Black Market Shopping List’, that helped to determine the unreported economic strength of a potential client nation. It was a relatively simple and invaluable intelligence tool of high yield and low risk.
Despite the name, he couldn’t take credit, as it had been created by his father, Henri, back in the 1940’s during his stint as the Intexa Director. It had become a reliable tool that had been used dozens of times by the Intexa in nations that were both potential targets, potential clients, and potential safe havens from neighboring hostiles.

The test took several factors into account. Obviously, the amount and accuracy of the items on the list obtained by the deadline was a big indicator of the strength of the black market. Items on the list could be tweaked depending on the location on the globe of the nation the test was run in. What items were more accessible was also an indicator of scarcity or abundance within the nation.

The amount of help needed to be employed by the runner could also be monitored. Whether he told his employers or not and to what level of detail about the task given him by the foreigners was important to gauge the corruption level.
Along with that, did the government allow him to continue with the task, or even supply him with the items, knowing full well what the Intexa men were up to? Whether he accepted the assignment at all was an indicator of the motivation of substantial illicitly gained funds. Should he alert the authorities, the Intexa Director and his assistant would laugh it off as a joke, which rarely seemed to fail as a fallback.

It was worth the risk though, as they really wanted to know how able the government would be to pay the fees that the Uli-Schwyz would need to demand for this contract and any additional expenses. Such money didn't always come out of the regular operating budget of the government or its military.

He continued in his lowered, monotone voice in close proximity to the young Demenok,
“We will give you a substantial bonus aside from this, depending on how many items on the list you were able to retrieve for us by the set time. We won’t tell your employer, and we would appreciate it if you didn’t either. Can you do this for us? Can we count on you?”

Ibo bowed, keeping silent as was his custom. Philippe raised his brows and stood still, awaiting an answer.
Last edited by USG Security Corporation on Sun Oct 30, 2016 11:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Neo Prutenia
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Postby Neo Prutenia » Sat Oct 29, 2016 10:02 am

Krasny-Volny wrote:Night seemed to be encroaching early in Chorstad, as the afternoon sky was already a deep hue of brilliant amethyst, and a perpetual fine sprinkle beginning to dot the pavement. The rain the cool, thin air had been promising since Marchand's arrival earlier that day wasn't far off. Along Sbitnev Avenue, streetlamps began winking on - bathing the empty storefront and boxlike state offices with that same pale, indiscriminate luminescence, and some windows in the city began to glow with light from within. That mild, perpetual breeze which had lingered all morning and most of the day made the trees of the surrounding forest sway gently, moving in such measured rhythm that they seemed to be dancing in time to slow music.

The short, narrow-faced militsiya sergeant posted near Chorstad's flatlined heart seemed only vaguely aware of the couple he supposed were tourists as they approached from the nearby wharves. Few of his men paid much attention, either. They'd already seen a black man today, a black man with a shaved head in what looked like a Chairman Mao jacket, so anything short of a wood nymph emerging from the river itself wouldn't have elicited much in the way of an impression.

Elke Kormeckwald's accented Krasny caught the sergeant somewhat off guard, though. He gave her a look of frank reappraisal and frowned as though trying to place her origin. She didn't sound like a local. Still, her use of his language made him feel obliged to answer in kind.

"All diplomatic offices are located at the Bank of Krasny-Volny." The sergeant had now comprehended he was probably speaking to a tourist looking for their consulate. He nodded, gesturing at the tallest building on the skyline. "It is not far. Maybe six minutes walking from here. Just follow the street and you will reach Kurkov Square." His eyes began to focus on Rainer Götzbrech's left jacket pocket and the tone changed, became more official. "Now I'm afraid I must ask for your papers. Be quick about it!"

Cigarettes were not inexpensive items in Krasny-Volny. And neither were lighters. Aroused by their sergeant's voice, some of the other policemen drifted closer.

For the first time that day, the sergeant smiled. Even diplomatic papers could always be construed as forgeries. Perhaps then a quick trip to the city gaol, enough to ruin any tourist's day, and the potential of a large bribe paid by the conveniently nearby consul to spring their nationals.

Unless, of course, Rainer could save himself the trouble...

Behind them, a compact Fiat with a hood that looked like it'd been caught in a trash compactor careened around the corner and sped through the checkpoint. If they'd noticed the car, the police guards gave little indication. Some of their more active compatriots, more alert or less stoned than the others, yelled abuse at the driver in Krasny.

"Get a haircut!"


"Sure."

Rainer gave a nod and took out the pack, opened it and took out a fag and his lighter, pocketing them again, while juggling the pack in his fingers. Not so subtly, but rather visibly he produced a few big-looking Bezants, apparently from his sleeve, rolled them up and placed them right where the cig he took out was. This neat sleight of hand took about two seconds; he handed the pack the inquisitive militsya member.

“If you insist.”

He counted on Elke interrupting him, which she predictably did.

“He meant our documents, come on, even you understood that!”

He replied to her in Low Prut, after smacking himself softly with his hand. “Ah, of course.” Then continued in his Krasny to the policemen. “Here you go.”

This time his hand quickly disappeared in the interior of his jacket, rummaged there a bit, and out came a plethora of different papers. Prut were more than familiar with bureaucracy, hailing from a nation where every receipt was followed by another receipt for the receipt you just got, everything came at least in duplicates, and everyone pretty much swore that the entire administrative apparatus was a big scheme to subsidise the ink and paper industries. Hence why they used a particularly effective defence mechanism in any bureaucratic exchange—overwhelm your opponent with documents.

Pass, duplicate copy of the pass, travel documents, invitations, duplicates of the same, IDs, copies of the ideas, everything stamped and approved—both of them held their documetns next to each other’s and in front of the militsya member. Rainer counted on the policeman just taking the bribe instead of actually even bothering to look up all the papers they presented. He even jocosely asked Elke to check if anything else was needed.

“Officer, would that be all? We thank you for your help and thoroughness, but we need to get to the consulate, as we’re expected there, and my colleague and I would hate to hold up the local police with bureaucratic nonsense.”
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Krasny-Volny
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Iron Fist Consumerists

Postby Krasny-Volny » Wed Nov 02, 2016 5:08 am

Without missing a beat the unsmiling militsiya sergeant accepted the cigarette pack deftly, his attention all on Rainier now; Elke was conveniently ignored. While she made some sharp remark in Prut, he glanced down at the pack, eyes drinking in the roll of bills and making some silent calculations. More than enough. Any less and the trade would've included the lighter, too.

There was a scrape as the sergeant struck a match, the low blue flame shuddering in the draft. When he'd taken out one of the cigarettes and was puffing away he affected to study the duo's papers, the dull but palpable hostility fading.

That's right. Wait on me, continue to show deference, accept how important I am. For though I am nothing, right now at this checkpoint I have more power over your immediate future than you can ever imagine. Indeed, for the moment I am God.

"Prut," Sergeant Smoker ventured with a conversational tone, having given the ID documents a cursory glance without taking them or showing any real interest. "You two are a long way from home. But your Krasny is good."

It was unlikely any Krasny-Volnan could find the Prut Meritocracy - to say nothing of Neo Prutenia - on a map. The comment was banal, idle talk laced with boredom from an uneducated, barely literate peasant in an ill-fitting police cap who fed his children by standing around for days on end, rain, snow or shine, extorting bribes to pad his inadequate salary.

Perhaps in another life he would've taken genuine pleasure in his job.

But not today.

"You may both go. There will not be another checkpoint before you reach Kurkhov Square. The bank is located on the left side of the traffic circle. Take the elevator up and I think consular offices begin on the sixth floor."

The sergeant took another long, slow drag as he lifted his chin towards the street. Then he was turning back towards his subordinates, the two foreigners already forgotten.

* * *


Alik Demenok entered the darkened foyer, closing the door behind him as requested. He'd recoiled when noticing Ibo Inzara for the first time, wondering just what the hell was going on here. That buffoon Chiryatev had just told him he was going to meet a bunch of foreign businessmen, but the nation was in dire straits indeed if Makovetskiy's government was extending its begging bowl to fourth rate black countries.

Demenok stared at Inzara's outstretched hand, then took the paper being offered somewhat dubiously. He scanned it once, then stopped and very deliberately went over each item listed again.

Tropical fruit...canned foods...light bulbs.

Consumer goods. Difficult to acquire unless one knew the right places to look.

Roll of tin foil...copper wire...

Next to impossible to acquire. Those were materials tightly controlled by the state that would have to be stolen.

He stopped reading at hand grenade. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Western firearms plus their associated ammunition, explosives, drugs, and ivory products: these weren't just tightly controlled. They were downright rare. Scratch that, illegal. And more than a little bizarre. What was the point of this exercise again?

Philippe Marchand approached, hands full of neatly stacked bills. Demenok did a terrific double-take, then glanced at the door. He'd been a fool to come here without more information. It had finally happened. The sentry down the street, the obvious surveillance, the choice of Nikolay Perepelkin's home, the red flags were all too obvious: Krasny-Volny's bungling state security service was gunning for him. They couldn't even pretend to at least make their trap a little believable.

He had no idea what he'd done to piss off the cloak and dagger boys, but now it was abundantly clear they wanted him dead and buried by sunrise tomorrow...

Inzara switched on a cassette player near the center of the room, which began emitting periodic bursts of static. Marchand put his mouth to Demenok's ear, and his measured tones smoothed over the latter's rapidly rising blood pressure. Something about wanting the items on the list and being able to generously compensate him for his troubles. Come on, Alik. Is that a rat you smell here? If so, why the obvious precautions?

Shit. The money, though. Even if it was a trap, they'd buttered it well. Demenok was looking at more money than most of his countrymen got to see in their entire lives. Not just a pile of Bezants, either, but international currency. Hard dollars. In cash. With that kind of retirement fund he could sink this dump and go live somewhere nice, where there were no mountains or cold, gray, and unhappy cities like this one or corrupt, brutal cops. A sun-warmed beach with plenty of tropical beauties and enough beer and stereo money to last him the rest of a life he'd always wanted.

Krasny-Volny was a cemetery. Too small a canvas for the artwork of his ambitions to shine. Hadn't he always known he was destined for greater things?

Ibo and Philippe would've almost been able to hear the wheels turning in Demenok's brain. His well-oiled risk assessment machine was crunching the risks and coming out with the only obvious solution: if they burned him, they would burn him bad. But if this was just business, then he'd just struck the jackpot of a lifetime.

Substantial bonus? No meddling Chiryatev to demand his own cut, horn in on the deal?

Maybe, just maybe, they might really pull it off.

The courier's face had gone blank. At last, he seemed to have exhausted his menagerie of human expressions.

And in that instant Alik made his decision. One finger on the list.

"I will do what I can. But if I am to collect as much of what is required as possible, I need to leave immediately. Do you want these things brought here or to a more...discreet location?"

A bit of an overstatement actually. Demenok did even know what ruthenium was, let alone where to begin looking for it. And he had no idea where he was going to find crude oil. But if he was going to get as much of this list checked off as possible before two the next day, he had to hurry.

All this while stuffing the list and as much money as he could into his pockets. NS dollars vanished into the bulging pockets of the flowery shirt, the Krasny bezants into the trousers. After receiving his answer, the courier made a beeline for the door, already fumbling with his keys.

Down the street, a balding man in a cheerless blue scarf standing with his back pressed against the side of a modest brick cottage keyed his mike once.

"Dammit, Uri! What is the problem? What exactly are you picking up?"

"I cannot hear a word they are saying. I'm adjusting the frequency now."

Useless piece of junk! Blue Scarf tried his best to control the dismay in his voice, to little avail.

"Well, from the looks of things Demenok's leaving. Shit! We have no idea what they told him or where he's going."

Rage against his idiotic subordinates could wait. Right now, they needed to rectify whatever malfunction had occurred with their surveillance equipment. Blue Scarf tucked his newspaper under his arm and walked down the street towards a second agent behind the wheel of the nondescript Volga sedan parked around the corner.

"The courier is on the move."

"Do I follow the white Fiat, then?"

"No. Our job is to keep an eye on the foreigners. But until I figure out why our wire is picking up only static, we keep all eyes on the house."
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Compulsory Consumerist State

Postby USG Security Corporation » Tue Nov 08, 2016 5:16 pm

The two Intexa men watched the courier, Alik Demenok, very carefully. He had taken in what Philippe Marchand had said and was processing it all. They could see some of the emotion playing out in his face. A windfall, an immeasurably difficult task, a potential trap, a long stay in prison if things went wrong. He had a right to be apprehensive and calculate his chances and next move. They waited patiently for him to come to a decision.
The courier kept a finger on the list as he looked at them.

"I will do what I can. But if I am to collect as much of what is required as possible, I need to leave immediately. Do you want these things brought here or to a more...discreet location?"
He was stuffing the list and as much money as he could into his pockets while awaiting their answer. NS dollars vanished into the bulging pockets of the flowery shirt, the Krasny bezants into the trousers.

Marchand smirked, he continued to speak low so that the white static/noise tape could do a successful job of covering the conversation. He wasn't as close to the younger man's ear as he'd been before, but he had Demenok's full attention now.
"You tell us the best location to make the transaction. I'm sure we will be able to find it with some solid directions."

After telling them the place and how to find it, the courier made a beeline for the door, already fumbling with his keys. Either he was on board, or an exceptional actor.

When he was gone, Phil contemplated where they now stood. By all appearances, Demenok would do his best to fulfill the list. Alternately, he could take the money and run, as it was more than plenty to start anew, despite the promise of even more. He could get apprehended and tell all, or simply go straight to his superiors from the apartment. He could get eliminated and robbed by the unsavory elements he would need to deal with in order to obtain their 'items'. In which case, they would never hear from him, waiting in vain at the rendezvous until bugging out. The best they could do was wait and see. They would attend the meeting in a couple hours assuming all was normal.

Ibo walked over to the cassette player and turned it off. He returned and simply raised his eyebrows.
Marchand shook his head.
"We'll wait for Chiryatev."

Ibo nodded and bowed that he understood.
No recon just yet. The courier and the shopping list was enough of a risk for now. If they remained tomorrow night for further negotiating, perhaps then they would take the risk.

Ibo may stand out in such environments as this like a black dot on a very white piece of paper, but he had a knack for blending into the shadows. It was likely unnecessary a risk at this time, though. It would be risky enough finding an excuse to break away from their minders and get to the rendezvous point undetected.

Marchand went to review the files for the contract at an old beat up desk and Ibo proceeded to search for the listening and possible monitoring devices they knew had to be in place. He wouldn't remove them, but simply identify their locations for now.
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Iron Fist Consumerists

Postby Krasny-Volny » Wed Nov 09, 2016 4:59 pm

Click.

A single fluorescent lamp snapped on in the gloom of the secluded cellar, but the bulb was weak and it focused its meager light on the top of a very battered, very old stinkwood desk - revealing little else of the surrounding room or the faces crinkled in consternation around it. Four men seated on stools, chairs, and packing crates shifted uneasily as they listened to the man they knew only as Kupreeva sitting comfortably across from them.

"There is no way I can do this without you or your...connections," Alik Demenok was saying. "I do not even know where to begin looking."

Kupreeva puffed contentedly on his pipe and said nothing. Smoke curled from his nostrils.

Ivan Titarenko cast a sideways glance at Demenok. We're wasting our time. He hadn't seen Alik in almost two years and didn't appreciate being dragged into one of his schemes. Alik was unhealthy, though not in any physical sense. He didn't have a job title but he still walked around flashing money like he was the Grand Duke. Showed up at Ivan's doorstep earlier that evening, tossed a thousand bezants on the kitchen stove like it was nothing. His for the taking, and more where that came from if he lent just a minute of his time.

Idlers who walked around with that kind of cash were of interest to the state. Especially the premier's security police, at least when they weren't busy peeping through windows at your woman undressing or kissing the shoes of every politician that walked by.

At the same time, putting forward that much money up front meant whatever he had cooked up was real. And very well financed.

You see, Ivan was a good man. A greengrocer. A man who still made a good living and had him a beautiful wife, adoring children, and an honest job. Ivan had no vices. He did not take advantage of the poor peasants who bought things from him. He went to church and believed what the priest said. He owned the only truck in the village, a three and a half ton ZiS, and it was anybody's who needed it. A simple man yes, but a good man nonetheless.

As it happened, the only good man in the room, and perhaps the only one among us who could see no good would ever come of this.

Still, he came along. To date I have no idea why. My suspicion is that Ivan was a good man, not an infallible one. Very much like myself and gray-whiskered, balding Pirat Mironov, the other party Demenok had decided - for some inexplicable reason - to take into his confidence.

I did not like Mironov. He had a ruddy complexion from too much drink and worked at a textile plant in Gugat. The plant was buried in the alleyways of that city, away from the open streets and main boulevard where the principal buildings stood. Much like, I fancied, our Western counterparts in the great capitalist bastions of the world, he clocked in, was subject to long hours, and answered to a factory manager. But unlike in those infinitely more productive nations of the world, Mironov and his fellow workers produced nothing. He did no work. Except once a year when the factory labored for a few weeks to churn out bright-colored, gaudy uniforms for civilian marchers in the annual independence parades. This they did again the next year and the year after that, because no Krasny-Volnan in his right mind would wear that ridiculous parade costume twice. And besides, the Ministry of Trade and Industry needed an excuse to keep the factory open and go on sucking down funds for its continued operation.

In the meantime Mironov lived in the midst of the plant's narrow corridors, drinking and playing cards and picking fights and sleeping until they were needed, and somewhere in the bowels of a bureaucratic office in Chorstad an accountant churned out a series of fictitious production figures and profit margins for the plant and allowed the people in Trade and Industry to pat themselves on the back.

Mironov was not a good man like Ivan Titarenko. Not a bad man either, just a stupid one - his mind dulled by a lifetime of unproductivity and alcoholism. I mean, everybody was drunk in Krasny-Volny then - this was the '70s, when the socialists were still in power. No drugs, but plenty of whiskey and vodka. It was what we made of our unbearable condition, this crushing humiliation of a once proud country brought to heel by a troop of clueless and hopelessly corrupt idealogues. There was scarcely any food on the shelves. There was little work. The security police were everywhere, seeing royalists in their soup, probably because they were drunk also. When you took the train home everybody was more than a little tipsy and it stank like a brewery.

But now Mironov, he drank day and night whatever he could lay his hands on. It was the only way he spent his money, possibly the only way he could spend his money, considering the ration situation in 1978. And so he was nearly brain-dead and good for nothing. I don't know what Demenok saw in him, except maybe an animal cunning during his few moments of coherence which people sometimes mistook for intelligence.

I had known Alik Demenok since the summer of 1970, just before Duke Ulrich acceded to elections and Chorstad was more of a cheerful, overgrown village with lots of bustling shops instead of a stifling haven of humorless red tape and police checkpoints. He wore his hair well past his shoulders then. Those flowery shirts though - those were still the same. He was into transistor radios, instead of cassettes, bought name brands outside the country and then toted them into Chorstad and sold them on the street corners at inflated prices. I was old enough to drive without getting flagged down, so I took him across the border and back on his runs. When we were kids that was how we made our money.

Like Ivan, the last time I saw him had been two years earlier when he'd wanted to cut us in on some hairbrained new scam of his, something about setting up shop as unofficial couriers for the state and advertising our services to junior bureaucrats. I'd said thank you but no thank you and he'd gone off in a huff. What did he expect? I didn't trust him as far as I could throw him, never had. We would've made decent business partners and acquaintances, not really friends.

Then three hours ago he walked back into my life with a hefty stack of cold, hard cash.

"Sergey," he says as he tosses a thousand bezants onto my dining table, "I am going to make you rich."

What a great joke! I'd never been poorer in my life. But that sort of money is nothing to be sneezed at. Alik explained that he had a new client, all hush hush of course, who had given him a list of contraband to acquire. Some sort of spoiled, over-indulged, and depraved apparatchik no doubt. At my insistence he let me see the first part of the list.

Exotic fresh fruit.

Slowly, the seriousness of what he was proposing began to dawn on me. Ivan had been shown some part of the list as well, and as greengrocer he knew this territory. Importing foreign fruit meant filling out a long list of forms at the Ministry of Trade and Industry for each individual piece of fruit. Then you'd have to set aside a set amount to pay the exorbitant customs fees and bribe the customs officers not to pinch it. If you wanted to be extra certain, bribe their superior also to ensure he watched them on the job and guaranteed they didn't just make off with it anyway. The security police, who review all import orders for some reason lost on them, will then phone you and ask you a series of questions about your personal life and background that have nothing to do with the order.

Twenty minutes later, they will phone and ask the same questions again. Just to be certain your answers are consistent.

Needless to say the process was so taxing on both your time and finances that it wasn't worth importing anything remotely exotic into a country where nobody could afford it anyway.

Which is why I suspected we were now sitting in the dank cellar of a man Demenok informed me was a general supply manager for one of the ministries in government. Which one was irrelevant, the opportunities to skim were all the same. Trade and Industry was my guess though.

At length Kupreeva put down his pipe thoughtfully. Alik, Ivan, Pirat Mironov, and I had been sitting for quite some time, resisting the urge to smoke ourselves and hating the pungent whiff of the pencil pusher's unusual tobacco.

I watched as he lifted the list Alik had given him. I noticed only a few items were listed, unlike the original paper I'd glimpsed. That meant we weren't taking him into complete confidence, or there were limitations as to his usefulness with regards to the other articles specified.

"I can acquire some of these items," Kupreeva said. "And you say this for another state official?"

I looked pointedly at Demenok, but his face was a mask. "Who is to say?"

"Any chance I might know this person?"

"I doubt it."

"I must cover my own tracks, Alik. And some of this -" Kupreeva hefted the paper carefully. "Some of this is above even my pay level. This first specified item is more than a tightly controlled substance. There is only one place in the country where you might acquire some, and its absence will almost certainly be noted."

Ivan was giving me a confused glance. I just shook my head. I had no idea what Kupreeva was either, but that didn't sound good.

"Where?"

Kupreeva examined the rest of us minutely for a few moments, then thrust his chin towards the door. We filed out, leaving Alik alone in the darkened cellar.

"Ivan, what have we gotten ourselves into?" I wondered aloud, more to myself than to anyone else.

His eyes were wide in the moonlight as we milled around lighting our cigarettes, blowing smoke into the chilly evening air. "Let me tell you two something. Whatever Alik's up to now, it's something big. And very dangerous."

"You think he's in over his head."

"None of us are criminals, Sergey. Sure, everybody buys something illegally, but do you realize how hard they crack down on people found smuggling large amounts of contraband? We can still walk away now."

"Why aren't you then, boy?" Mironov spat out the words, his voice dripping with contempt. "Did you see how much money Demenok had on him? We'll be all set. We'll be as rich as politicals!"

He leaned in close, so close I could smell the whiskey on his breath. "He has stacks of currency. In several denominations."

"Yes, I saw that."

"Not bezants, you fool!" Mironov was slurring his words now. "Dollars. Real currency. Real money. You could sink a hole with what he's carrying around with him and live pretty the rest of your life."

I must confess that the thought of so much money was almost overpowering. Why should a sleaze like Demenok get it all? In a moment of madness, I had the sudden urge to propose we knock him out then and there and divvy up whatever we found in his car or clothes three ways.

Of course that wasn't how the real world worked. Once we had resorted to violence to take what we wanted from Alik, we would almost certainly resort to violence against each other. Greed can overtake a poor man just as easily as a wealthy one.

"You lie, you silly drunk. Lay off the bottle for a while and then we'll see."

We heard footsteps on the grass, and Alik joined us momentarily. He handed us each a piece of paper identical to the one he'd left with Kupreeva. "The old pipe smoking fool is on board. I knew it wasn't even worth trying if we couldn't get him."

"In exchange for a percent of our take?"

"He wanted half of all the money."

"What?"

"Calm down. Listen to me. I only gave him half of what he thought I had. It's enough to cover the goods he promised on having for me by noon tomorrow, plus make enough profit to do business with us again if the need arises. Haggling with Kupreeva would've accomplished nothing."

"These papers you're handing us...the list?"

"You three, myself, and Kupreeva are each holding one-fifth of the complete list. I assigned them based on how likely you were to have access to what I need. We'll cover more ground and make more efficient use of our time if we split up and acquire these things on our own. Meet me at the train station north of Chorstad tomorrow, at precisely one o'clock."

"Why there?"

"It's where I'm to rendezvous with the money men."

* * *


Ten minutes to eight, the landscape around Chorstad's forested outskirts was an abstract of black and soft, moonlit silver. Darkness reclaimed the green and red of the trees and encroached on the warm, inviting sunlight of another bright spring day coming alive after a long winter.

All the streetlamps in Chorstad were dim or hazy, the light soft, ebbing, and unfocused: painting hard realities with a delicate amber touch. Poor maintenance was inadvertently seeing to that. Buildings and storefronts remained cloaked in shadow, save for the ministry offices around Kurkhov Square, a brilliant shower of yellow radiance over an otherwise darkened city.

Unfortunately for Philippe Marchand and Ibo Inzara, a certain Nikolay Perepelkin had neglected his pay his electric bill since his arrest. A quick, upwards flick on any light switch in the house yielded nothing. There were candles in the kitchen near the wood stove.

Alex Chiryatev took his time as he turned onto Sbitnev Avenue in a black ministry car - a Pobeda he'd swapped out for jeep after returning it to the motor pool. He would have no issue navigating the checkpoints tonight, not because of rank or pulling power; after dinnertime most of the skeleton crew on graveyard shift wandered off and got wasted. Take, for instance, the one up ahead: just three policemen on the side of the road, engaged in a serious game of durak by lantern light. They studiously ignored him as he went past.

Chiryatev swung the Pobeda onto the curb of Perepelkin's run-down chalet, got out and regarded the woods suspiciously. He never liked getting this close to it at night. Reminded him too much of his village childhood, where forests were a place of witches and monsters. After a cursory glance about, searching for any obvious signs of surveillance, he started up the walk.

As Alex strode to the door, he idly contemplated whether Marchand and Inzara had found something constructive to do with their time. The secretary couldn't have guessed the latter spent some of it hunting for bugs.

Krasny-Volny's state security service wasn't particularly imaginative, nor were they accustomed to dealing with anybody versed in counter-surveillance. They'd nabbed Nikolay Perepelkin easily enough with the covert devices they had, and these were still in place. A plastic cylinder with fine antennae projecting two inches from one end, concealed behind the face of each wall socket. There were three scattered throughout the house, including one in the foyer by the door.

Then again Chiryatev was used to flying under the radar, doing what he was told, and being generally untouchable. Surveillance was not something he was accustomed to taking into consideration firsthand. He rapped the door once.

"Mister Marchand, Mister Inzara? It's Alexander Chiryatev. I am here to take you to your eight o'clock appointment at the Ministry of Defense."
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Compulsory Consumerist State

Postby USG Security Corporation » Fri Nov 11, 2016 8:26 pm

When it grew dark, Marchand reached to flick on the switch in the front room. Nothing. He calmly walked through the apartment and tried the other circuits with Ibo. Philippe blew out a blustery half laugh/half derisive snort.
"Typical."

Ibo had walked to the street facing window without framing himself in it. He looked back to Marchand who joined him near the window. His African associate was still very visible by some illumination. Looking out upon the street, scattered lights could be seen, including the street lamps. Also, a weak glow was discernible on the lower floor. There wasn't a power outage across the neighborhood, after all.
"Interesting."

Either they had cut the power to the apartment intentionally, or the power company simply was efficient at regulating flow and had promptly taken it off the grid upon the departure of the previous tenant to conserve cost and energy. No matter. It was a mere annoyance, no more.

In the time it had taken Philippe to process this, Ibo had found the candles in the kitchen and returned with them. He lit one and angled his head. Marchand followed. He pointed to the wall socket in what passed for a bedroom. Then proceeded to the socket in the kitchen. In both cases, there was a fine sprinkling of dust and paint flecks where Ibo had unscrewed the face plates, then replaced the bedroom one with a handy small pocket knife he kept for such occasions. The kitchen plate was still off. Philippe inspected the listening device attached into the wiring. It was a familiar and simple variant to the Intexa men.

Marchand nodded, then raised his eyebrow. "More?"

"Yes. Same." As in likely in identical locations in the sockets throughout the domicile. Ibo Inzara did in fact have a fully functioning tongue and vocal chords to speak when he felt it necessary. He just rarely felt it was necessary. He could wax poetic in eight languages, including English, with nary a trace of an accent, but few people in so many years had ever witnessed such an event.

Ibo hadn't had time to uncover all the bugs, if there were more than two. He'd searched some other likely spots such as light covers, window frames and carefully pried away molding. He shrugged. They would assume there were at least a couple more. The exercise was to confirm they were being monitored, not to remove the devices, anyway.

"Very well."
Marchand organized his files back into his bag after checking his watch. Ibo replaced the other socket face and cleaned up his traces with a slightly damp rag. Time was growing close to their meeting with the Minister.

As if on cue, there was a knock.
"Mister Marchand, Mister Inzara? It's Alexander Chiryatev. I am here to take you to your eight o'clock appointment at the Ministry of Defense."

Ibo opened the door after they both grabbed light satchels. Aside from documents that might be pertinent for the meeting in Philippe's bag, they also had everything tucked away in them that they didn't want rooted through in an expected secret police search while they were gone. Like more stacks of currency.

Marchand smiled.
"Right on time, Mr. Chiryatev. Please, lead the way."
Last edited by USG Security Corporation on Thu Nov 17, 2016 1:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Krasny-Volny
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Iron Fist Consumerists

Postby Krasny-Volny » Mon Nov 14, 2016 5:57 pm

The night was cold, and Chiryatev was wearing an overcoat. For that split second before the door had been answered, he'd been standing on the step, shoulders drawn up and hands thrust deep into his pockets. In a few short minutes the gently stirring breeze had been replaced by a harsh northern wind, hissing and howling along the deserted streets like an abandoned domovoi. Some people thought it was the devil himself, calling for his dues.

Alex sniffed the air, noted it was heavy with rain. As they emerged from the structure he looked Marchand and Inzara over, observed they were each holding a satchel. For their sales pitch, he supposed. With another one of those sweeping gestures they'd seen more than once already, he indicated the black Pobeda on the curb. Out of courtesy the rear passenger door had been left ajar.

Chiryatev slid behind the wheel. Sbitnev Avenue was just as empty as it was a few hours earlier, a patchwork of unabated shadow and weak, jaundiced pools of yellow light from the sodium-vapor lamps. No other cars out at this hour either.

That much was good, there wasn't any way they'd be late. What happens to people who aren't punctual for their appointments with the Minister? An abrupt and otherwise unexplained dismissal. No word of warning, no three strikes and you're out, just pack your things and you're being transferred to the people in Trade and Industry who are always late to begin with.

It was the same with bureaucrats who wore suspenders, too. There was no written rule against it, but Yulya Kuzmych ran a tight ship that was subject to her every preference.


No point in reveling in the vicious, uncanny silence this time though. Chiryatev reached over and twisted the dial on the radio as they sped towards Kurkhov Square. Ah, the same low, almost muted alto sax the KVSBC always played just before the eight o'clock news - which was just as quickly drowned out by the roar of a spring downpour. Fat, opaque raindrops tapped the roof of the old Pobeda, drummed against the windows, nailing the night to the city. As they passed the militsiya checkpoint Alex caught a glimpse of the three policemen on the roadside dropping their cards and sprinting for the cover of their truck. Like before they paid him no mind.

His windshield wipers weren't doing a good job of cleaning the glass, and the rain was obscuring the world beyond. Chiryatev hunched forward as he tried to see the road ahead through the oily film. He was now rather chuffed he was no longer driving an open-topped jeep.

The traffic circle was bathed in the harsh glow of portable floodlights. Two attendants holding umbrellas trotted out to meet them as Chiryatev pulled to a stop at the curb. They came around the car and opened the rear passenger door, umbrellas extended.

Every lamp and light in the official building which housed the country's ministries of justice and defense was blazing; Alex blinked against the glare as he led the way up the short flight of steps and past the mirrored revolving entranceway into the unfurnished lobby. Three stories high, the structure was gray and unpainted, giving it a dour facade that was even more obvious up close. There was precious little to recommend its spartan interior either. A colorless, threadbare carpet worn thin by what looked like a hundred years of use. Not much noise, unless you counted the lonely clatter of a single typewriter, and the occasional rustle from a boom being pushed by an elderly, apathetic cleaner as it nudged the faded institutional furniture. This place had that surreal, burned out atmosphere of every office building by night - the same ubiquitous stink of floor polish and stale cigarette smoke, too.

Somewhere in the distance a telephone rang and went unanswered.

Chiryatev dropped his own sopping umbrella by the door, turned to Inzara and Marchand. "The Minister's office is on the second floor. If you will follow me, please."

A white-helmeted security guard, wearing a heavily starched khaki uniform, stood at parade rest by the elevator doors near the edge of the lobby. He snapped to attention and pressed the call button as the three men approached. The elevator ground open, and once they were all inside slowly creaked upwards in a tense silence only broken by the shriek of rusted, over-exerted metal.

When the doors opened again, they were at the end of a vacant corridor painted the same fading tan as the lobby. Paintings depicting the most famous battles in Krasny-Volny's storied history hung from the walls at regular intervals.

One showcased knights in gleaming suits of armor, slaying scimitar-wielding barbarians under crosses of gold in the skies, flanked by the figures of the holy saints and a dazzling array of heavenly warriors. Another still captured the defiance displayed by the lone standard-bearer, surrounded by bayonet-tips and the bloodied corpses of his comrades, preparing to fight to last with pistol and saber. Others portrayed desperate sieges of forts and castles, gallant charges being broken up by artillery and massed rifle shot. Krasny-Volny had endured dozens of petty feudal conflicts during the medieval age, all the way up through the late nineteenth century. Civil conflict had probably killed more Krasny people and resulted in far more devastation than any act of external aggression ever had, so it was telling that they were represented as protagonists and antagonists alike in equal measure.

Chiryatev did not pause to elaborate on the artwork. There were important things at hand, and if questioned about the context of some of these paintings he could only offer a shrug. The battles had names. The wars rarely did, and there were so many. Before the country had a single, strong monarch there were hundreds of barons and lords and nobles who jockeyed for power and had their own little fiefdoms. Even Koroscova Province used to be its own principality.

But that was in the past. The Krasny-Volny of today was unified, peaceful, orderly, and most importantly, democratic. She was a country with the rule of law rather than the gun, one Alex Chiryatev was equally proud to serve.

They had reached an office at the end of the corridor. "This way."

Inside that room, a metal table topped by a typewriter and two telephones guarded the doorway to another office. Black Cyrillic lettering on the old-fashioned frosted glass informed them the office belonged to 'Yulya Kuzmych, Chief Minister of Defense'. Chiryatev picked up one of the phones. "Minister? Those Intexa executives are here." He listened to a brief response, put the phone down, and nodded at Philippe Marchand. "You two may go in."

The second room's sole occupant sat at an sprawling oaken desk facing the two other wingback chairs in the room, surrounded by stacks of folders, loose paperwork, and bound documents. Where visible the desk surface appeared to have been scarred, burned and gouged by countless hot drinks and cigarettes. More paper filled the shelves and tottering filing cabinets on either side.

The woman at the desk was of indeterminate age and ethnicity, withered and bloodless skin stretched alarmingly taut over her face, drawing her sharp cheekbones and eye sockets into sharp relief. It gave her the expression of a gaping skull - a resemblance only deepened by a shaven head and a dead fish stare. Her blouse was shapeless, plus as devoid of color as her office.

Yulya Kuzmych smiled, showing a mouthful of extraordinarily white, even teeth. She rose from the desk but did not initiate a handshake. Her English was precise and articulated. "It's a pleasure to meet you finally, Mister Marchand." Ibo went unacknowledged bar a curt nod. It was obvious that she understood who was going to do most of the talking.

"Welcome to Chorstad. And thank you for coming. Please, have a seat. I trust your arrival has been as smooth as anticipated?"
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Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Neo Prutenia » Tue Nov 15, 2016 5:27 am

The trek to the bank building was slow, deliberate, and executed in wending, round-about maneuvers—if nothing else, then to avoid any further check points and patrols and whatever else the state apparatus allowed wandering through Chorstad’s dispiriting streets. Elke, while not minding this approach, was visibly peeved about something, with Rainer being able to pretty much guess the exact origin of this miff but not the exact reason. As the silence got louder, he gave her a cue and just cleared his throat. Her tone was cold and stern, if a bit amused.

“Did you have to show half the militsya that you’re a cardsharp?”

“That’s why you’re in a foul mood?”

“Rainer Götzbrech, my dear colleague, would you kindly cease being evasive? Those trade tricks you’re so fond of won’t work with me—not the way you intend them to anyway. Drop the pretense.”

“Point taken. What’s the issue exactly?”

“Dear colleague, I find your handling of the previous incident to be somewhat dodgy. Care to explain yourself?”

“Of course, dearest colleague; I merely wanted to assess the moral integrity of the local constabulary, their modus operandi, local quirks, and see how open to exploitation they might be.”

“By showing them your pickpocketing skills?”

“Hey! I didn’t palm anything from them! Just pulled a little stunt. For good reason.”

Elke raised an eyebrow and then just smiled. If she could have done so, she’d have tapped on some firm surface, or rapped her fingers preferably on a table, but she was forced to just cross her arms to get the point across and nodded, encouraging him to continue.

“Well, the way I see it, we’ve learned several things from this encounter. First, and despite being rather obvious, the militsya is thoroughly corrupt, overstaffed, nonqualified, dangerous, petty, and barely functional.”

“Sounds about right. This is going to be a headache further down the line.”

“This can be used to our advantage, but I’m afraid in less than savoury methods and circumstances.”

“Is that so?”

“I’m not saying organised crime.”

“Just inferring it.”

“What an odd interpretation, dearest colleague. Very odd indeed. I merely want it officially stated that we’ll need to add adventitious judicial fees to our expenses. What I was inferring… well, we’ll have to consult with the delegate in the consulate first.”

“Agreed.”

“As for the performance, I honestly just wanted to see if they paid any attention at all. To be frank, I’m fairly certain I could have shot fireworks and played bagpipes and the ‘officer’ wouldn’t have had noticed anything except the money. Probably could have pocketed his service arm and…”

Hevensonne, please don’t!”

“Relax.” He gestured with his hands raised, reassuring. “Just saying I could.”

Elke shook her head.

“And finally, given the state of the militsya, the disinterest from the locals, and the enormous amounts of red tape, there’s an elite at play we have to get buddies with—either a very well-organised crime syndicate, or a military-political complex would be my wagers.”

“I feel like they are both really.”

“OK, right… fine, but our angle will have to change depending on which way they are leaning.”

“The Hanse won’t be pleased to work under such circumstances.”

Dearest colleague, the Hanse would tolerate these people impaling their firstborns on meat hooks and eating them raw if it means at the end of the day there’s more black ink than red ink in the books. And that’s our sole concern; assure that there can and far, far more importantly that there will be more black ink in the books. Everything else is just an externality to be dealt with as we see fit and as the local partners prefer.”

***


It took about three minutes after getting to the bloody bank building to find pointers to the consulate office. No one really paid attention to the two, probably due to their rustic, backpacker looks and almost certainly everyone assuming they were just a pair of unimportant tourists. One does have to wonder though, how many tourists did Krasny-Volny see a year, and especially how many would check up Chorstad. Rainer made sure to note that down for further market research—everything, everything was an opportunity after all. They took the stairs, up they went, and they ended basically in front of the office they were looking for, which turned out to be some forgotten corner in a mostly ignored and unvisited part of the storey. Not that many Prut in the land to begin with, and as the militsya implied earlier, most locals were barely aware of what the PM was, let alone find it on a map. But, that wasn’t their fault of course. That was just another thing, another opportunity, that Rainer wanted to change, hopefully for the better.

In front of the office were three men; two were apparently at the tail end of a good talk and were just about to say goodbye, and the third sitting on what was apparently a barstool at a high table being engaged in a rather immersive game of Patience. That last one was a bodyguard, given the almost imperceptible glance he threw Rainer and Elke, followed by an approval of their presence, and a subtle warning—he shifted his weight and position and his weapon holster bulged a bit. The other two, well, one was the consul, given his bearing, tone, and body language; all Prut, all Prut were born and raised with a stick up their bottom, paying far too much attention to posture, propriety, and poise. This man didn’t have a stick up there, but a titanium rod; the mark of a diplomat of the PM. The other officially looking guy, the not-diplomat, he just recognised an old acquaintance.

“Götzbrech?! Rainer Götzbrech, here in Chorstad. Colour me pleasantly surprised.“

„Phull.“ Said in the same manner you’d repeat ‘castor oil’ after your chemist right as he prescribed it.

“Still Ruprecht von Phull, thank you very much. Always cheeky, aren’t you.”

Right as the delegate wanted to clear his throat, Ruprecht took the initiative.

“Herr Bomhever, may I have the pleasure of introducing an old school friend of mine, Rainer Götzbrech.” Both raised their hands and gave a nod in acknowledgement—shaking hands was a foreign, and disliked custom among Prut. Bomhever, the diplomat, reacted quite interested in the last word Ruprecht said, but he was given no opportunity to interject. “And I’m afraid I can’t do the same for Rainer’s respectable company, Frau…”

Elke considered leaving him hanging there, a small faux pax, sure, but a fair payback for the slight to her colleague, but Ruprecht had a certain charm that was difficult to outright dismiss.

“Elke Kormeckwald. Well met.”

“Likewise, Frau Kormeckwald.” Ruprecht said her family name with respect and reverence, recognising the prefix. He then continued in his fast paced manner.

“And here I was just about to leave Chorstad for good. Rainer, old bean, what brings you here?”

“Oh, are you done? No spiel left to give?” He winced. “I could ask the same thing of you, Phull.”

“Ah, business, Rainer. Business of course.”

“Same, Phull. Same with me.”

“Official business.”

“Hanseatic business.”

Bomhever just smiled, somewhat amused, but mostly curious where this was going. Elke interjected, per protocol.

“If you two are about done—could either explain what’s going on, or can we get back to busi… the task at hand.”

Ruprecht and Bomhever laughed at the almost lapsus, Rainer rolled his eyes. Bomhever then seized the opportunity.

“I’m sure you two have lots to catch up on, whatever your history and relation with each other is. I trust Herr Götzbrech is just a bit tired from travel and not in the mood or state to appreciate seeing Herr von Phull. Herr Götzbrech, Frau Kormeckwald, I welcome you. You both seem to have had quite a journey to visit me in my little abode.”

“Right. Thank you, Herr Bomhever.”

“If you’ll permit me just some slight curiosity…”

“Feel free.”

“Götzbrech, Kormeckwald, old names. Very old. Well, Götzbrech is.” He nodded in confirmation. “Herr Götzbrech, I must now, are you from the Vineta or Königsteen branch?”

“Fredericksborg.”

“Oh.”

The apparent verbal slap in the face was only inferred by the shift in tone. Whatever enthusiasm Bomhever had was now gone for good. Ruprecht seemed amused.

“Well, you can’t be faulted for that, can you? I trust the good kwen, Frau Roswitha, is fine?”

“Nearing her 86th birthday and still as lively as ever. Lively and lethal.”

“Huh, true, so true. The old girl will outlive us all.” Pretty much everyone heard the missing silent ‘a shame’ not said at the end of the statement. Three of the five people in the group also apparently agreed on that.

“Well, one can always hope for the best.”

“Yes, of course.” Bomhever turned to Elke. “Now, Meckwald is pretty common, no offence of course. I served in the Ash alps, so I met quite a few good Meckwalds. But Kormeckwald, now that’s rare. Would you by any chance be familiar with a Walther Kormeckwald?”

“From Solbrück, by any chance?”

“Yes, exactly that one.”

“That would then be my elder brother.”

“Oh, I so apologise Frau Kormeckwald, I should have asked directly. You both share your mother’s stern eyes and lovely smile. I didn’t have an opportunity to visit Solbrück for several years. I hope everything’s fine there, and that Walther is doing fine as well.”

“Not just fine, great even. He retired early and he now manages the family estate and fields. Mother kept the forest for herself, sister runs the properties in town; Walther is tending the garden, fields, and brewery. Really took a liking to his new job. On his way to become a master brewer.”

“My, what noble company you keep, Rainer.”

Rainer didn’t answer Ruprecht. Bomhever was visibly delighted at everything Elke said.

“That’s great. As soon as I’m done with this assignment, I’ll have to visit Walther. If nothing else, I should at least try his beer.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, Herr Bomhever, where do you two know each other from?”

“Oh, we both served in Veleslavia during the 60s, and before that during the Gruesomes, which is where we met. Tough guy, righteous, really good at fighting.”

“Runs in the family then.”

“Is that so? What branch are you?”

“Served in the Sonders, Nachtjäger. Now in the reserve, of course.”

“A Nachtjäger?! Someone of your height?
I’m impressed, Frau Kormeckwald, you don’t look the sneaky type. Sniper, spotter, tracker?”

“All of the above, I guess. Tracker and markswoman mostly.”

“Lovely. I was Intelligence, Military Police, and later went to the Diplomatic Service.” He pointed at Ruprecht. “My colleague here, and apparently your acquaintance, Herr Götzbrech, is also Intelligence, and Navy.” Ruprecht confirmed this with a smile. “What about you, Herr Götzbrech? Also navy?”

“Actually, now I’m curious. Why is a Prut naval officer here, in Chorstad? It might be related to our own business here, and I rather be informed.”

Elke got the hint and chipped in. “Yes, that would be good to clarify. Herr von Phull, you mentioned you were about to leave. Not wanting to indispose you, but would you mind granting us a minute to address this potential issue.”

Ruprecht sized up Rainer, nodded, tilted his head slightly, and said: “I’m afraid I can divulge anything. It’s official business, on a need to know basis.”

“I need to know, Phull.”

“Do you?”

“Well, Phull, from citizen to citizen, of this great Prut Meritocracy we’re both identifying with, yes, I do need to know, and I insist we address the issue.”

“I’m sorry, chap, but I don’t share that sentiment. Anything else, but my obligations are my obligations.”

“Phull, you didn’t understand me. I said citizen to citizen. I’m invoking the consensus of accord.”

“Are you now? Seriously?”

Ruprecht’s shock was genuine, as was everyone’s surprise.

“Rainer, you’ll find little purchase for our customs outside the borders of the PM. If you insist, fair’s fair, but I’m very uncomfortable with this and rather disappointed.”

“Dully noted.” Rainer turned to Bomhever. “Would you preside? You’re the most senior citizen present.”

“If both accept.”

Both nodded in agreement.

“Citizen Rainer Götzbrech, please state your concern.”

“I have reasonable concerns that my duties and the duties of citizen von Phull might impede each other; due to the nature of our work, and the interests we represent, I would prefer we clarify if such is the case, and if issues are discovered, that we resolve them right away.”

“Will you abide by my ruling on the matter?”

“Yes.”

“State clearly, truthfully, and without deceit or ulterior motives what your duties are and what interests you represent.”

“I’m here on behalf of the Hanse, scouting for potential economic and industrial opportunities for the Prut Meritocracy. Military or political efforts of other parties of the PM are a clear concern and jeopardy for hanseatic interests. I at least need to know if anything or anyone is off-limits, and what areas Ph… von Phull’s duties are concerned with.”

“Citizen von Phull?”

“I represent the Pruwam, that is the Prut Armed Forces, and similar to my colleague…”

“No weasel words, Herr von Phull. State it clearly, truthfully, and without deceit or ulterior motives.”

“The Pruwam is exploring the possibility of adding Krasny-Volny into the network of Prut naval infrastructure, mostly as a potential service hub for our high seas fleets operating in the vicinity.”

“So, you’re seeking fleet basing rights?”

“Primarily. You’re seeking trading rights?”

“Primarily.”

“Seems our reasons for being here align then. No issues, no conflict.”

“Thank you, Phull.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Both satisfied?”

“One question, Rainer.”

“Shoot?”

“Why invoke in a hallway?”

“We’re speaking Low Prut, are far away from any prying eyes and ears, and you were about to leave?”

“Alright.”

“So, there’s a Prut fleet in the vicinity?”

“Isn’t there always a Prut fleet in the vicinity? What water hasn’t seen our vessels?”

“No, I mean… never mind, Phull.”

“Herr Bomhever, Frau Kormeckwald, goodbye and farewell.” He paused for a moment. “Rainer, stay out of trouble. Believe me, this boondock isn’t worth it.”

“Wait and see.”

***


The office was modest, every available space used as economically as possible and rather efficiently, with records, books, maps, all sorts of things being carefully and comprehensively arranged. Bomhever, despite his posture, role, and seniority, wasn’t arrogant nor snobbish—after seating his guests he was working the electric kettle he had handy and he offered Rainer and Elke their choice of tea from a box filled with various herbs, blends, and brands they were already intimately familiar with. Rainer picked hibiscus, Elke went for red raspberry, while Bomhever took a black tea. After about twenty minutes everyone was comfortable and enjoying their hot beverage of choice. Bomhever held the initiative now.

“An interesting proposition.”

“I’m glad we’re one mind then, Herr Bomhever.”

‘Don’t get me wrong, Herr Götzbrech. I literally just stated that the idea is interesting, not that I agree nor that I explicitly offer support.”

“Why not, Herr Bomhever?”

“Honestly, I’m inclined to agree with Herr von Phull. Krasny-Volny is… difficult.”

“Nothing insurmountable. Besides, the legwork is mine to do.”

“But for what? The infrastructure is underdeveloped, the economy is barely functional yet alone stable, the political situation is hazardous, the resources are unexplored, unexploited, and in bad need of a proper survey, analysis, and mapping, the labour force is unreliable… everyone living here is unreliable, and the only work they’d be qualified for, resource extraction that is, is uneconomical due to nothing of note being available for development. I mean, I did analyse Krasny myself, you know? And I mean everything basically literally. Not counting importers, that is smugglers, and the establishment, the economy is limited to impoverished peasants, small shopkeepers, minor service providers, one sausage factory next to Ivan’s pig sty and shoe shop, and another factory that probably doesn’t produce anything, is haunted, and sees less use than a freezer in the south pole.”

“Nothing not subject to change at a future point.”

“So, you have a plan? Lay it on me.”

“The river. The Krasny river is an artery to and from the trade hub downriver. The area around the river is reasonably fertile. With the right cash crops and commercial farming, along the river, we’d raise enough funds to invest further in auxiliary industries and make a huge profit. There’s no need to invest in the local infrastructure beyond that, nor educate the labour force—we could basically pay them with cloth threads, bread, and beer. They’d work for real cheap, making nearly anything they grow profitable.

I have contacts, and if not direct contacts, then I know people who know people, the Hanse is expansive, interconnected, and keenly interested in profit. I could arrange transport barges, the initial capital for the commercial farms, and later organise the expansion. It could be a three to five year project initially, with basically endless options for renewal. Picking up the goods downriver for international transport will be the easiest part.”

“But doing the groundwork will be arduous and thankless.”

Bomhever leaned back and sipped his tea. The cogs were busy for several minutes, yet it didn’t test either Rainer’s or Elke’s patience.

“I can arrange a few meetings. You’ll definitely need to convince the ministry for trade and industry. If, and only if you manage to get a foot in, I’d be willing to get properly involved. Convince them, and you’ll enjoy my support. Otherwise pack up and don’t bother. We need their support first, or the bribes will get astronomical—not that I understand what they are taking them for, there’s nothing of value to buy with the money. Not in Chorstad anyway.”

“Well, that’s basically what I came to ask for. I can’t expect more than that. But, citizen to citizen…”

“Don’t you invoke another one now. I still recall very vividly how it went with Herr von Phull.”

“Citizen to citizen, do we have each other’s back?”

“I’ll do my duty, yes, but honestly, as of this instant, you have little to offer me. I’m sorry, Herr Götzbrech from Fredericksborg.”

“Oh.” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Oh, of course. I understand the concern. I wasn’t trying to be presumptuous—when I ‘get a foot in’, you’ll have my back.”

“Absolutely.”

“When can I expect my first shot at fame and fortune?”

“How about you two stay with me for now, and I’ll inform you directly. Maybe even invite a functionary for dinner tomorrow-ish or the day after. You do know there’s no lodging in Chorstad, yes?”

“I’m still puzzled over that.”

“Well, you’ve found probably the only place more miserable than Fredericksborg, no?”

“What Chorstad? Hevensonne no, not even close. Worse than Fredericksborg, certainly, but still better than Raavsteen.”

“What isn’t these days.” Elke interjected. “So, staying with the good Herr Bomhever? Sound good, Rainer?”

“I’ll have to call the Bolshakovs, but I’m fine with it.”

Bomhever smiled and handed him the phone.
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Postby USG Security Corporation » Fri Nov 18, 2016 7:53 pm

Ministries of Justice and Defense
Chorstad, Krasny-Volny


Chiryatev led them out to the vehicle and they headed out into the night. The two Intexa officers glanced at each other as their guide turned on the radio. Between the two of them, they spoke 4 Slavic languages, although Krasny wasn’t one of them, they could probably piece enough together to get the gist of it. Hearing a news report would be informative.
It started raining and Chiryatev didn’t turn up the radio to compensate. Just as well, Marchand thought, I need to focus on the upcoming meeting.
Conditions would definitely be much scarier with the foggy windows, had there been any significant traffic on the road. Both Marchand and Inzara could tell that Chiryatev was struggling to see out the windshield.
Luckily, they’d reached their destination.

Chiryatev dropped his own sopping umbrella by the door, and turned to Inzara and Marchand. "The Minister's office is on the second floor. If you will follow me, please."

Both men had also packed and taken umbrellas with them, but not had to take them out because of the courtesy of the provided umbrellas of the Ministry aides. They followed him into the building.

A white-helmeted security guard, wearing a heavily starched khaki uniform, stood at parade rest by the elevator doors near the edge of the lobby. He snapped to attention and pressed the call button as the three men approached. The elevator ground open, and once they were all inside slowly creaked upwards in a tense silence only broken by the shriek of rusted, over-exerted metal.

They were hit by the familiar sights, smells and general atmosphere of large bureaucracy. They observed the paintings on the walls as they strode past them. Like those in the Command Center on their base island and Intexa headquarters, they depicted a history of conflict from spears and swords to guns and cannon. The Krasny-Volnans were no strangers to war, but they might be to the rapid modernization that most nations had made through the decades. It was that edge that would keep them from falling victim to their neighbors or internal strife. That was why they were here.

All the while, as they progressed down corridors, the two representatives of the Uli-Schwyz continued to observe and take mental notes. Chiryatev didn’t seem very talkative tonight, other than giving direction, but Marchand didn’t press, even though he could possibly glean more information from the man pertinent to the contract.
They had reached an office at the end of the corridor. "This way."

Inside that room, a metal table topped by a typewriter and two telephones guarded the doorway to another office. Black Cyrillic lettering on the old-fashioned frosted glass informed them the office belonged to 'Yulya Kuzmych, Chief Minister of Defense'. Chiryatev picked up one of the phones. "Minister? Those Intexa executives are here." He listened to a brief response, put the phone down, and nodded at Philippe Marchand. "You two may go in."

Marchand and Ibo both nodded. What awaited them on the other side of the door was not quite what they had expected, but they both were very professional to the point that any shock or surprise would’ve only shown on their faces for a mere split second. The woman was as stark and skeletal as Chorstad had revealed itself to be, so far. She sat at a large, functional, well worn desk in a matching austere office filled with mounds of paperwork.

The woman smiled. She rose from the desk but did not initiate a handshake. Her English was precise and articulated. "It's a pleasure to meet you finally, Mister Marchand. Welcome to Chorstad. And thank you for coming. Please, have a seat. I trust your arrival has been as smooth as anticipated?"

Marchand didn’t miss a beat. He smiled back.
“It’s a pleasure, as well, Minister Kuzmych. I think everything has gone as expected, yes. Chorstad, and your people, have been very accommodating. I look forward to doing business.”

He and Inzara moved forward to the chairs indicated and took their seats, setting their satchels down next to them. It occurred to Marchand that they hadn’t actually eaten in some time. He looked forward to partaking of a meal afterwards, but for now hunger would be just a mere distraction.
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Postby Krasny-Volny » Sat Nov 19, 2016 7:14 pm

Pirat Mironov stood under the low overhang of the rotting wooden porch, listening to the ceaseless, rhythmic percussion of the rain. Peals of thunder rolled across the dark sky as he raked the damp hair away from his face, grumbling.

"Hurry up and open this door, you miserable bastard. It's raining out here."

"Just a moment. Keep your trousers on."

Mironov snarled and muttered under his breath. He pounded on the door, withdrew his identity card, waited with his shoulders hunched in the blowing rain, then pounded on the door again. Georg Rodkina was an idiot, it was true, but he was also a useful idiot, which was why people tolerated his paranoia. Sometimes, on chilly, stormy nights like tonight Mironov found himself thinking rather unkindly that Rodkina might genuinely believe he was the only man sitting on a stockpile of lucrative merchandise, and that everybody who came to his door was an informant for the security police or another dealer trying to blow his brains out.

When Rodkina's door opened, it was on a heavy metal chain. Half of a suspicious, scarred face peered back at him: long strands of matted dark hair, pockmarked cheeks, eyes that never stopped moving, a nose like a pistol sight for looking down on people. "What do you want?"

"It's Mironov. Do you have what we agreed on?"

"I always have what we agree on. Do you have the money?"

"Yes."

"What guarantee do I have?"

Mironov flashed a wad of soggy bezants at the opening. "Take a good look, pretty boy."

"What guarantee do I have you are who you say you are?"

Mironov was ready for that, too. He held up his identity card, waited. "Now can we can cut the shit?" Rodkina squinted at the card. Everybody knew he couldn't read.

"Okay." The door slammed shut, and Pirat listened as a key turned in a padlock and the chain was disengaged. He pushed his way inside; Rodkina stepped back, waiting. "Money first." Mironov looked around, eyes adjusting to the dingy gloom, then shook his head vigorously. Packing straw and splintered wooden pallets littered the bare hardwood floor. "Must we go around and around like this every time we do business, Georg?"

"Do you take me for a fool? Where did you get money like that anyway?"

"I have my sources."

"Well, it's only wasted on you. You'd just drink it."

"Can we pretend to agree I care? Now give over."

Ten minutes later, they'd dragged out two dusty crates from the top floor of the house. To his credit, Rodkina had dozens of identical crates throughout the house, each painted with its own four digit numerical code, and he knew exactly where to find the ones he needed. The two men pried them open with crowbars.

"Looks good." Mironov reached down, picked up an incandescent reflector bulb with a blackened, frosted face. "Where did you get these?"

Now it was Georg Rodkina's turn to grin.

"I have my sources."

The other man nodded, regarding the rows of lightbulbs contemplatively. He didn't need to see the other crate. As long as these were in good nick and none of them were broken, this is what they'd settle for.

None of them worked, of course. These bulbs had burned out a long time ago. But that was the beauty of Mironov's plan. It just so happened that a very similar bulb type was used in the textile plant where he was to report in the morning.

Now, this being Krasny-Volny, you couldn't march down to the store and take your pick of electrical appliances. Why, that would be anarchy! Consumers didn't exist in the ostensibly classless utopia the SKVPC hoped to achieve one day. Only the state and the workers did. And so the first step in the long march to scientific socialism involved ensuring the supply of everything from radios to toasters to lightbulbs was tightly controlled and regulated, and buried under a mountain of bureaucracy.

Mironov smirked. Right. What it really meant was that the government became very efficient at replacing and maintaining the light fixtures in its facilities while everybody else sat in the dark or found ways to game the system.

You know what wasn't difficult to imagine? A cunning public worker at a certain textile plant in Gugat stealing all the lightbulbs. He couldn't simply take them of course, because then he would almost certainly be arrested and lose his job. But if he could replace them with identical, non-functioning bulbs nobody would be the wiser. They burned out all the time, so what? The plant would simply send somebody over with a few new ones within the week.

Rodkina was now looking visibly peeved. "All right, all right, you've had a chance to see what I have. I'd like the rest of the bezants we agreed on now...please."

There was no mistaking the menace heavy in his voice.

It didn't matter. Mironov was feeling so good not even an idiot like Georg Rodkina could ruin his mood. "Certainly, my friend. But first a drink..." He lifted the flask of plum brandy from his coat pocket, raising it to his lips. "To a productive business relationship, and more underhanded dealings in the future!"

"You stupid, drunk -"

Mironov was still smirking pleasantly as he brought the bottle down on Rodkina's head, hard. Glass shattered, and blood mixed with the liquor pooling on the floor. The dealer's eyes went dull as he staggered, went down on one knee. "Pirat...." He got a boot in the ribs for that.

Still not down for the count? Mironov raised the neck of his bottle again. Rodkina had been forever paranoid about the envy and greed of others.

Who'd have guessed it? For once in his sorry life he was right.

* * *


At precisely eight o'clock each night IIya Fornalev, Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, folded his newspaper and took his size tens off the desk. Unlike most of his predecessors, and indeed most of the other civil servants, Fornalev took great pleasure in reading the government gazettes. Work force changes, production schedules, and profit margins were his bread and butter, and though as of late they'd been increasingly fabricated to meet the state's own lofty image of what it believed was a robust economy they were still what kept the cogs in the Krasny bureaucratic machine turning.

Government gazettes also contained other useful information for people on the inside. Take, for instance, the subtle hints at new infrastructural projects here and there, which meant potentially big transportation and construction contracts. Information like this - and a little ability to read between the lines, sort the fact from the propaganda, was invaluable to one's friends sitting on large stockpiles of bricks, mortar, and other materials, just itching to sell them to the state at bargain prices.

Fornalev scowled. Not as of late, though. Premier Makovetskiy was a fool. A fool his immediate superiors were more interested in kissing up to than presenting with hard facts and figures. Makovetskiy's wishy-washy attitude towards the private sector had wreaked havoc with Fornalev's own attempts to encourage foreign trade and investment, and to stem the growing brain drain of local entrepreneurs as they deserted the sinking ship. Makovetskiy didn't seem to realize that his rhetoric and stifling policies were having very predictable results on the real world. You had to keep the businessmen happy. They weren't happy when they were being asked to gamble with long-term financial commitments, especially since Fornalev could give them no assurance that their assets would be protected from arbitrary seizure. Investor confidence was at an all-time low.

The deputy minister stood at one of the grime-streaked windows of his office and watched the torrential rain descend on Chorstad. Beyond the sheet of cascading water he could make out the pale yellow glimmer of the other ministry buildings and the outlines of unlit storefronts against the otherwise impenetrable darkness which seemed to flow from the surrounding forest. Another hour and a half before he usually left the office, and even that would be an hour earlier than some of the other bureaucrats who worked late.

What was the point?

"Soniy, I'm leaving for the night. Be certain and switch the lights off when you clock out."
IIya never believed in wasting power, regardless of what the norm was for everybody else in the building. He closed the door to his office behind him, began shrugging into his overcoat. Driving home through this weather wasn't preferable, but then again he only lived a short distance away.

"Of course, deputy minister. Do you still want me to return the call to the Prut consulate?"

"What?" Must have slipped his mind. Fornalev vaguely remembered his secretary saying something earlier about a diplomatic legation in the building asking to meet some one from Trade and Industry. "Oh yes." It wasn't as if he was exactly covered up in work.

"The dinner appointment tomorrow? Tell them I'll be there. Get a time, and mark it on my schedule."

Fornalev had a gnawing suspicion the meeting would be like all the others, an exercise in telling them what they wanted they hear. Not that it mattered anyway. Once the truth about just how difficult it was to get anything done between the byzantine web of intrigue, competing ministerial interests, and red tape most foreign trade delegates wouldn't touch him with a ten foot pole.

* * *


Yulya Kuzmych took her time resuming her seat, then shifting some of the clutter on the desk to one side. Beneath the jumble of partly completed forms, inventories, and spreadsheets was a beige scrap of notepaper on a blotter, filled with the minister's prim, economical handwriting. The notes were in Krasny, of course, but there were only so many ways to spell out a few words like 'Uli-Schywz', 'Intexa', and indeed 'Panzermmee', or 'Crescent Bay'.

Without taking her eyes off the paper, Kuzmych reached between two stacks of bound record and picked up the receiver of a white porcelain phone. "Chiryatev, where is the tea I sent for?" There was a note of irritation in her voice.

"On the way, minister."

She replaced the phone, then turned and regarded her guests as if noticing them - again - for the first time. "Things in this country move slowly sometimes, Mister Marchand. That is, if they move at all. However..." A slow, deliberate glance around the office. "I understand your people may be of some assistance in that regard."

The door to the office swung open, and a pleasant-looking man wearing a short white jacket and matching gloves entered, juggling a teapot, cups, and a tray of almonds and cashews. Kuzmych closed her eyes, saying nothing while the servant poured the smoky dark liquid. When he was finished she dismissed him with a flick of one hand.

"I will do you the courtesy of speaking plainly, gentlemen. You're in the business of solving problems by working with governments whose armed forces lack the resources or the expertise to do things themselves. This country, poor as it is, needs those services that your firm can provide." She leaned forward, and for the briefest of moments a fiery gleam flashed in the minister's eyes, although her tone remained flat, even noncommittal. "I put out feelers to Intexa for a reason. We're prepared to offer the Uli Schwyz Regiment first refusal on a training contract for the Armed Forces of Krasny Volny, or AFKV."

Kuzmych slid a document across the desk towards Marchand. "This is a summary of the general military situation as of last week, with my own predictions of long- and short-term requirements."

The briefing paper described the background to the situation: a short-term contract to train an airborne unit of the AFKV, with instruction focused on the company and battalion levels. The unit had thus far received only the rawest of training and possessed no equipment to speak of. It was to be thoroughly reorganized, kitted out with what was on hand, jump trained, and gradually increased to brigade strength. Specialist instructors would be needed for specialist instruction, such as corpsman and heavy weapons training. A parallel course was to be established for officers of the new unit, including the formulation of a syllabus for future airborne officers in the AFKV. Due to a shortage of NCOs, the contracted party would be expected to provide platoon leaders from among its own ranks until Krasny-Volnans could be trained to replace them.

Additionally, ground support in the form of logistics for the new unit would be provided by the contractor, including a contingent responsible for maintaining cargo and transport aircraft. The contract being proposed was open-ended, but due to the current government's preference to only depend on foreign military personnel in the short run, was expected to last no more than a year. However if all sides were satisfied more contracts could be awarded in the future.

Most Krasny-Volnans were clueless about how anything resembling an army for hire might choose its clientele, and Kuzmych wasn't nearly arrogant enough to imply she was an exception. It was a fair assumption that Marchand and Inzara would want to consult with other executives and department heads before committing to any decision. A board of directors too, unless they'd already examined the prospects of a contract in Krasny-Volny and given it the green light. Not that this was an issue. Intexa didn't strike her as the sort of the company that would objected to business over the most trivial humanitarian or diplomatic concerns. "I assume you were interested, or you wouldn't have made the trip. But that's just a rough outline of what needs doing, and what any contract with this ministry will entail. Obviously if your company chooses to accept it, you'll be working closely with the AFKV on the details of timetables and implementation."

Kuzmych bisected Marchand with a frank gaze of appraisal. "Now, within the context of this proposal I'd like to hear about Uli-Schywz's capabilities and what types of operations you can conduct."
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Postby USG Security Corporation » Wed Nov 23, 2016 11:01 am

Yulya Kuzmych took her time resuming her seat, then shifting some of the clutter on the desk to one side.
While she seemed to focus on a particular paper, Marchand and Inzara also settled into their seats, pulling them up to within reach of her desk. Ibo went to his very mechanical, but at ease sort of way, eyes focused ahead, while Philippe pulled his satchel closer to the front leg of the chair so that he could reach into it for the proper documentation without much fuss. He then locked eyes again with Kuzmych to show her she had his full attention, or rather locked onto the top of her head.

Without taking her eyes off the paper, Kuzmych reached between two stacks of bound record and picked up the receiver of a white porcelain phone. "Chiryatev, where is the tea I sent for?" There was a note of irritation in her voice.

"On the way, minister."

She replaced the phone, then turned and regarded her guests as if noticing them - again - for the first time. "Things in this country move slowly sometimes, Mister Marchand. That is, if they move at all. However..." She took a slow, deliberate glance around the office. "I understand your people may be of some assistance in that regard."

Philippe didn’t say a word just yet, realizing that she was working her way up to the main proposition and subject of the discussion.
The door to the office swung open, and a pleasant-looking man wearing a short white jacket and matching gloves entered, juggling a teapot, cups, and a tray of almonds and cashews. Kuzmych closed her eyes, saying nothing while the servant poured the smoky dark liquid. When he was finished she dismissed him with a flick of one hand.
Both men accepted their tea as is, without dressing it up. They didn’t sip right away as the steam pouring off indicated they would scorch themselves in the process.

"I will do you the courtesy of speaking plainly, gentlemen. You're in the business of solving problems by working with governments whose armed forces lack the resources or the expertise to do things themselves. This country, poor as it is, needs those services that your firm can provide." She leaned forward, and for the briefest of moments a fiery gleam flashed in the minister's eyes, although her tone remained flat, even noncommittal. "I put out feelers to Intexa for a reason. We're prepared to offer the Uli Schwyz Regiment first refusal on a training contract for the Armed Forces of Krasny Volny, or AFKV."

Kuzmych slid a document across the desk towards Marchand and he latched onto it, tilting it up at a proper angle in order to view it. "This is a summary of the general military situation as of last week, with my own predictions of long- and short-term requirements."

The briefing paper described the background to the situation: a short-term contract to train an airborne unit of the AFKV, with instruction focused on the company and battalion levels. The unit had thus far received only the rawest of training and possessed no equipment to speak of. It was to be thoroughly reorganized, kitted out with what was on hand, jump trained, and gradually increased to brigade strength. Specialist instructors would be needed for specialist instruction, such as corpsman and heavy weapons training. A parallel course was to be established for officers of the new unit, including the formulation of a syllabus for future airborne officers in the AFKV. Due to a shortage of NCOs, the contracted party would be expected to provide platoon leaders from among its own ranks until Krasny-Volnans could be trained to replace them.

Additionally, ground support in the form of logistics for the new unit would be provided by the contractor, including a contingent responsible for maintaining cargo and transport aircraft. The contract being proposed was open-ended, but due to the current government's preference to only depend on foreign military personnel in the short run, was expected to last no more than a year. However if all sides were satisfied more contracts could be awarded in the future.

"I assume you were interested, or you wouldn't have made the trip. But that's just a rough outline of what needs doing, and what any contract with this ministry will entail. Obviously if your company chooses to accept it, you'll be working closely with the AFKV on the details of timetables and implementation."

Marchand let the paper lie and prepared to take an initial sip of his tea, assuming it would be cooled off enough by now. He steeled for the worst but hoping for the best. He’d had so many varieties of what various cultures called tea, as well as the Eastern blends popular in these parts. To his pleasant surprise, the tea was in fact palatable.

Kuzmych bisected Marchand with a frank gaze of appraisal. "Now, within the context of this proposal I'd like to hear about Uli-Schwyz's capabilities and what types of operations you can conduct."

Philippe put his tea down. He was ready for this moment, but gave the contract request one last glance over before returning his attention to the Minister.
“Yes, of course we’re interested, Minister. Looking over this Request for Tender, I will say that it is about exactly what we expected, as per your preliminary contact letter and subsequent phone calls. In the broadest terms, we can fulfill all these requests and more. Our capabilities are pretty wide ranging and we practice well integrated tactics where all manner of firepower and combat arms are used in conjunction as much as possible, especially when it comes to air and land. It is rare for a mercenary firm, or private military contractor as we prefer to be called, to employ an air wing, but as you may have been told, we do in fact have a few squadrons of both aggressive and logistical or supportive nature. We have done so since before the last Great Wars that rocked the lands. We do not, however, maintain a marine based force, although we have some amphibious trained troops. In this case, that’s not even an issue as your government doesn’t seem to be requesting such services or training...So...all the other training requested most certainly can be fulfilled. Airborne training, battlefield first aid, heavy weapons, leadership, and so on.”

He paused and settled back in his chair.
“Logistics are usually built into each tactical regiment in the Uli Schwyz. In fact, we already had one tactical regiment mobilizing and preparing for the contract, but I think we may downgrade that as we may only need two companies at the most for this brigade of yours to be trained. We also tend to hen peck personnel from other of our units that may be of value in such particular contracts. In this instance, we will be able to pull together a couple mixed companies of personnel that are excellent instructors as well as airborne focused...

As for a timetable and implementation of different phases of the training and organization, I will have to consult with the officers of the Regiment, as that is particular to their field and they will need to make their own assessment, with my input, of course. As you mentioned, I do also need to run this Request for Tender by the Uli Schwyz commander, General Meier-Toft, and by the Uli Schwyz corporate board, but tacit approval has already been granted, barring any unforeseen problematic addendums. A simple phone call back to headquarters and a borrowed direct line to which I could receive the answer would negate any need for additional travel to consult and delays.”
He did have the authority to ink a simple training contract on the spot, but it never hurt to call back and ensure that the situation for the Regiment hadn’t changed and that the terms were generally agreeable.

“We will need to discuss fees. I understand that this project might stretch the budget of your ministry, or whatever other government sector the funds are being acquired from. We will make it as reasonable as can be and do our best to cut some financial corners where possible, but be aware that the figure might still be a bit steep in comparison to other projects taken up by your military...Especially as we are talking about a contract duration of approximately a year.”

Marchand held up a finger in order to signify that he had more to add, but he took a quick break to quench his thirst with some more tea. Ibo leaned over and took a handful of almonds, then settled back into his chair.
“...Delightful. So, I do have some questions for you, but most importantly this...I think that it would be helpful to the Regimental planners to know where they should gear their training exercises towards. What threats does your nation face, both foreign and domestic, and what are the capabilities of these potential threats? While we’re being practical, I will be frank in saying that they will want to know for reasons of the security of our own personnel, as well.”
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Neo Prutenia
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Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Neo Prutenia » Wed Nov 23, 2016 6:00 pm

Most Prut, certainly not all but most, tended to be larks in the old ‘larks and owls’ analogy; it was and has always been a cultural tendency. Elke, Bomhever, they were typical examples of this culture. It was very early morning, both were sitting comfortably, drinking tea, and chatting, and just enjoying the wee hours of daybreak. Unusual in this picture was Rainer, who was neither a morning nor evening person, but rather a fleshy vessel who’s caffeine system was oversaturated with blood. He was working steadily on his second cup, preparing to kick into full gear.

Bomhever had confirmed the night before that their targets got the message and responded reasonably well if not reasonably quickly. Dinner at Bomhever’s it was. They settled on 18h00, figuring it being a good excuse to leave the workplace early—at least as they would perceive work—and be puckish and in the mood for a fine meal, a hot beverage, and talking about business. It also gave any guests a good window to be fashionably late, a custom Prut founded detestable, foreign, and terribly common outside of their zone of influence. Everything else had to be organised, prepared, and carefully planned out today, and several hours in advance if Rainer got his way. Thankfully, Bomhever liked the idea of playing host, so he guaranteed that at least that bit of the evening will be covered.

By late morning, just a bit before noon, they had settled on the presentation, gift, and procedures. With several hours left, most just went to relax, or work on side projects. In case of Bomhever, he predictably went for his books, being a voracious reader. Elke went drawing, mostly putting on paper images of what they’d seen so far and illustrating a few choice encounters, including the first vulgar display of bribery in Chorstad she witnessed. And Rainer had seemingly vanished, until later on Bomhever and Elke discovered him seriously practicing his pitch in passably decent Krasny.

“You have to roll your ‘r’s. Softer, but stressed.”

“Frau Kormeckwald is right. And you’re confusing dative with the instrumental case.”

Rainer raised an eyebrow, then squinted. He wanted to comment, going as far to raise a finger in protest, but gave up on it right at the moment he was just about to send both of them to hell. He flipped a few more times through his guide, then placed it aside.

“Been at it for three hours. I deserve a break.”

“Tea?”

His answer was a nod. The three of them were soon at a table, plotting.

“He’ll be polite, Elias, but not the most motivated fellow.”

“As long as he’s willing to listen and can be convinced, we’ll be fine.”

“That good a pitch?”

“Just a matter of presentation.” Rainer poured his cuppa down his throat and demonstratively and audibly placed it on the table. “Are you sure he won’t respond to greed?”

“No, I just recommend you play it straight. An impression I got from him. Or rather, the few times we did interact, he seemed frustrated with the system. Doesn’t mean he won’t accept some palm grease, nor that he has the best interest of the people at heart.”

“Right.”

Rainer toyed with the now empty cup.

“Elias Vornallew. IIya Fornalev rather.” He smiled. “We’ll figure it out soon enough." A moment later he went back to the phrase book. "Ha! Skóro"
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Krasny-Volny
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Founded: Nov 20, 2010
Iron Fist Consumerists

Postby Krasny-Volny » Sun Nov 27, 2016 2:46 pm

Looks are deceiving. Never take for granted the appearance of a cynical washout, for instance, on her last legs slaving away in some dead-end office, driving with all abandon towards what looks to be an equally inglorious end to a mildly accomplished career.

Nobody fades willingly, and although she looked as bleak as the gray, rain-filled night outside, Kuzmych still had high hopes for a happy ending, a sunset she could walk into while she still could. The prospects weren't encouraging. She was shorthanded, overworked, presiding over the monumental task of trying to rebuild a military establishment already demoralized and angry at what they perceived as an undeserved, unwarranted attack on their influence by toffee-nosed politicians.

We must remember that everybody had dreams in Krasny-Volny then. Maybe they even still do. In hindsight Yulya Kuzmych was not unlike the other pre-SKVPC officials still hanging on like driftwood when the tide of an absolute monarchy had subsided. Many of them had become card-carrying members of the new party. The ones that licked Makovetskiy's shoes salvaged their jobs and careers, and in spite of everything, a few like Kuzmych even thrived. It's anyone's guess as to why the politburo took to her the way they did. Perhaps because she was a woman, and the party had campaigned under a platform of classless, sexless equality. It helped encourage the delusion that she was entitled to high hopes for a continued future within the Cabinet, and had yet to reach the pinnacle of a political career that already spanned three decades.

From a seat on the city council in Chorstad, Kuzmych rapidly scaled the ranks to become a judge on the Krasny Supreme Court during the mid 1960s. Her appointment as Minister of Justice in 1971 shocked all, and gave ammunition to those critics who pointed to how quickly he'd nailed her flag to the mast of the socialists when they'd swept the 1970 elections. Against this backdrop Makovetskiy's decision to give her the portfolio of defense - after slashing the ministry's budget and announcing the beginning of the political purges in AFKV - may be seen as something of a setback. Together, they'd taken the AFKV on a dizzying witch hunt in the name of weeding out the Grand Duke's puppets and toadies, but good soldiers were much harder to replace than bureaucrats.

Kuzmych was not a soldier. She was still having to deal with people all the time who thought it was absurd, a female minister of defense. The rank and file treated her with cold indifference, and most of the officer corps hated her guts. If she couldn't ride out the current teething problems and restore some semblance of professionalism to the AFKV she, and her starry-eyed fantasy of occupying a place on the politburo one day, were finished.

The party had noted her continued loyalty, but at her age the minister was acutely aware she couldn't outrun scandal or failure.

Which is why she'd brought Intexa to her door. And incidentally....

"We may speak with frankness on the issue of money, Mister Marchand. I accept that your people are in this to make a profit, and I give you my assurances that a considerable amount has already been set aside for covering the retainer up front. You will be paid in international currency...dollars, not bezants."

Time to put the cards on the table. Marchand and Inzara had been promised plain speaking, so plain speaking it was. "I have mentioned the state of this country's finances. Which is precisely why we cannot afford to offer you a large contract involving more equipment and personnel. Rather, our needs will be addressed one at a time - as and when we can afford the solutions. You'll note that in the tender document I've left the future open for more contracts if all goes well. Naturally these will also be on a smaller scale."

And where would the money for the current contract come from? Wave a magic wand, and it would appear? Well, almost. No man, or woman, spent eight years in the upper echelons of the SKVPC without tapping into the cash flow. Now all it would take was a phone call to authorise a bank transfer from one of the many offshore accounts registered to one of the many party enterprises. That money was off the books, at least far as the state was concerned, and the product of nearly a decade of looting the treasury, liquidating nationalised assets, and careful laundering.

"The funding for this contract has been made possible with grants from a group of companies, including one or two foreign donors. As I'm sure you understand, this is a delicate matter in view of longstanding contracts and relationships and until a decision has been formalised, I am required to retain their anonymity."

A white lie. A necessary one, however, since Kuzmych had no intention of revealing that information before she was absolutely certain the contract was proceeding as planned. The account she had in mind belonged to an overseas shell company of the Consolidated Krasny-Volny Trust, an unlisted conglomerate which also happened to own Group Krasny Civil Aviation. SKVPC officials used it to smuggle the bulk of agricultural products out of the country, bypassing their own fixed rates that kept the peasants poor and fetching higher prices in NS dollars abroad. The Consolidated Krasny-Volny Trust also specialized in shipping or flying back goods which could not be imported legally, such as used tires and second-hand clothing; these were then sold to dealers who dabbled in the black market.

While socialist politicians were reasonably well-paid in Chorstad, they were never going to get rich - unless they moonlighted. So they became closet capitalists.

Dipping into the treasury of the Trust was a decision any minister would have to run through the politburo first, since it was regarded as dipping into the treasury of the party. Kuzmych had to call in every favor she had to squeak that by, but the end result was never in any doubt: the fat cats didn't want to hear about problems; making problems go away by throwing Krasny-Volny's dwindling cash at them was what they did best. Her gamble paid off and she'd received the necessary authorization accordingly.

Marchand had also asked about defense priorities. Kuzmych absently drummed her fingers on her desk surface, mimicking the patter of the rain outside.

"Well, of course Krasny-Volny is a peaceful nation, Mister Marchand. We have no quarrel with our neighbors. However, there is a history of civil conflict and sectarian violence. And though most of that is behind us, I think we must be prepared for that eventuality in the future."

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

"You see, there are people that oppose this government, individuals who do not wish for our policies to succeed. Their motives are complicated. On top of the political rivalries we have everywhere, there is our own, unique set of complications. Some are historic, some are ethnic. These greatly eroded the professionalism of the AFKV to the point that we have been forced to disband entire battalions and demobilize large numbers of personnel. But that is where Uli-Schywz comes in. For the first time in our history we'll have an elite unit trained by a neutral party that lacks political interests - a truly elite unit, which is technically competent and capably led without the baggage of of partisanship. A unit whose first loyalty is to the country rather than a specific faction. Do you follow?"

In short, taking the first step to professionalize the armed forces. And by building up a strong, apolitical AFKV loyal to the government, reducing the potential for unchecked civil conflict.

Marchand had asked a question about tactical priorities, and Kuzmych had given him an answer about strategic ones. But she had also hinted at the very real possibility they were discussing a defense agenda more oriented towards getting on top of internal political affairs rather than force projection. "Now, that aside the AFKV currently works with the security services on contingencies for piracy and terrorism. Thus far we've been fortunate to be spared from both."

* * *


About seven miles past the outskirts of Chorstad, buried within the uncut, virgin timber northeast of Bessbertnaya is the modest estate of General Nikolay Fedorovich Khoven, encompassing about three hectares. A short, well-worn path meandered from the main road up a gentle rise before curving onto the flat, parklike country beyond. The house itself was a great pile of rusticated white stone with granite quoins and window lintels, two stories, several outcropping gables, and a mansard roof: rough-hewn, simple materials catered to a nobleman's extravagant tastes.

General Khoven was descended from a noble family that settled in Koroscova Province during the late seventeenth century. He served not without distinction as a vakhmistr of the dragoons, being showered with promotions, first to brigadier, then major- and lieutenant general, and gold crosses until retiring due to ill health in 1808. This being in the day before institutionalized banks, when cash was relatively rare, the people who had amassed land and livestock acted as creditors. Foreclosures on unpaid loans led to Khoven's accumulation of property - and slaves - all over Koroscova. In his latter years the general also served as one of the region's most prominent guarantor of surety bonds. All that greasy wheeling and dealing led to his accumulation of thousands of legal records, which necessitated their careful filing in his home's impressive muniments room.

A pity his progeny had been made of lesser stuff than he. The falling out between the SKVPC and the Koroscovan monarchists had serious repercussions for the landowning elite of Krasny-Volny. In 1973 the government ordered the Ministry of Lands to conduct a thorough survey of the Khoven clan's properties in response to accusations that they owned too much and paid too little in taxes. Over the course of a year the Khoven real estate empire crumbled as more and more land was gazetted for state ownership. Sensing the handwriting on the wall, the remaining Khovens had taken flight, fleeing the country with all the hard assets they could take.

The SKVPC had promised to redistribute the assets of the aristocrat elite, give them back to the people. In this case, most of the land went to their MPs. And the house itself? Well, that was seized by the state too, but nobody wanted it - all the politicians already lived in bigger, fancier abodes anyway. In the end it was put up as a diplomatic residence.

"And you say the man who lives here is...." IIya Fornalev fumbled with the mass of papers on his lap. "Bomhever, the Prut consul?"

"Yes. And there are two other Prut nationals he departed the office with yesterday. I presume they are staying here."

"No surprise, that. The last inn in the Chorstad area closed almost eight years ago after being expropriated. It would make sense that they'd stay with their countryman. What are their names again?"

"Götzbrech, Rainer Götzbrech. And Elke Kormeckwald. They entered the country on diplomatic passports. Occupations stated as commercial attachés. Definitely here on business rather than pleasure."

Fornalev nodded. He was looking at a dossier which included photographs of the duo and a list of recent travels, as well as copies of their visa permits. Well-traveled, always on business and in an official capacity. Probably career diplomats. "And the Prut consulate makes a call asking to meet with Trade and Industry just after their arrival. Too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence. Do you think they have something to propose?"

"That, deputy minister, is for you to find out."

"What do we know about the Prut Meritocracy?"

"Well, they're pragmatic. They do business in a lot of places. Or more accurately, the commercial interests known as the Prut Hanse, which comes on the heels of any diplomatic relationship looking for opportunities. Not very discriminating as far as we can tell."

Stuffing the dossiers and paperwork into his briefcase, Fornalev checked his appearance in the rearview mirror, straightened his necktie. "I take it that's supposed to mean they're not quite picky about who they rub shoulders with, as long as money's flowing in." He paused, half tempted to just take the direct approach in the upcoming appointment. Just tell it like it was: this country was a money pit, and one that was growing all the time, sucking in anything that made a profit. "At least then this will be quick and painless. Nobody runs from me like a pragmatic businessman."

Cold silence greeted his attempt at humor. Obviously the driver was not amused.

"What do we know about Bomhever? I think I've run into him a few times at the bank building, nothing I'd remember well."

"Well, he does work for the Prut Diplomatic Service, but doesn't spend protracted periods in every country he gets assigned to."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning, Bomhever probably clears the groundwork for somebody more experienced, then gets rotated out to his next posting."

"Ah, so Krasny-Volny is his new project?"

"It would appear so. Bomhever's last posting was as diplomatic charge d'affaires in Mozgúl, where he served four years."

The parallels were obvious: the same state-planned economy, bureaucratic nightmare, and Marxist-Leninist rhetoric. After his time in Kaitjan, Bomhever was obviously regarded by his superiors as well-equipped for anything an insignificant little blot like Krasny-Volny could throw at him. But at least the Kaitjanese were industrialized, possessed enough economic and military power to make them a diplomatic heavyweight, and were commendably efficient to boot. Krasny-Volnans were for the most part still isolated, superstitious, and stuck in the Stone Age. The Prut consul was probably counting down the weeks until he could return to civilization.

Fornalev peered out the window as the dark Pobeda swept past the faceless stone wraiths guarding the edge of the Khoven estate. Those were boundary markers, constructed with a dual purpose in mind: to ward off evil. Gearshift grinding, the car followed the steeply rising road and came to a halt before the blunt nineteenth-century facade of General Khoven's onetime address.

"This is your stop. It's a minute or two past six."

"Thanks for the ride, but there's one more thing I will ask, Kozak. Why is your employer so interested in what happens here today?"

"Krasny-Volny needs to advance, deputy minister, regardless of who occupies the seat of power. Remember what you said about the Prut not particularly caring about who they rub shoulders with, as long as the cash is flowing? That's an invaluable characteristic, one that is becoming all too rare in the world we occupy today. We must use that to our advantage."

Kozak put the Pobeda in park. "Now get out. Enjoy your dinner. I'll be waiting under the porte-cochère when you're finished inside."
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USG Security Corporation
Envoy
 
Posts: 278
Founded: Sep 19, 2016
Compulsory Consumerist State

Postby USG Security Corporation » Fri Dec 02, 2016 12:32 am

Ministries of Defense & Justice
Chorstad, Krasny-Volny

"We may speak with frankness on the issue of money, Mister Marchand. I accept that your people are in this to make a profit, and I give you my assurances that a considerable amount has already been set aside for covering the retainer up front. You will be paid in international currency...dollars, not bezants...

I have mentioned the state of this country's finances. Which is precisely why we cannot afford to offer you a large contract involving more equipment and personnel. Rather, our needs will be addressed one at a time - as and when we can afford the solutions. You'll note that in the tender document I've left the future open for more contracts if all goes well. Naturally these will also be on a smaller scale...

The funding for this contract has been made possible with grants from a group of companies, including one or two foreign donors. As I'm sure you understand, this is a delicate matter in view of longstanding contracts and relationships and until a decision has been formalised, I am required to retain their anonymity."


Marchand blinked in mild surprise. He was feeling the hint of a conflicting message here. They had locked in foreign investment for hiring on private contractors to train their military, yet there was not much obvious sign of foreign investment to improve the rest of the government or towards their economic sector, for that matter. It was a very curious thing. Whoever these foreign backers were, they had a very narrow focus as to what and who they threw their support behind. That was a big signal in itself.

Kuzmych absently drummed her fingers on her desk surface, mimicking the patter of the rain outside.
Philippe and Ibo didn’t react to the drumming, instead remaining focused on Minister Kuzmych and letting her continue.

"Well, of course Krasny-Volny is a peaceful nation, Mister Marchand. We have no quarrel with our neighbors. However, there is a history of civil conflict and sectarian violence. And though most of that is behind us, I think we must be prepared for that eventuality in the future...

...You see, there are people that oppose this government, individuals who do not wish for our policies to succeed. Their motives are complicated. On top of the political rivalries we have everywhere, there is our own, unique set of complications. Some are historic, some are ethnic. These greatly eroded the professionalism of the AFKV to the point that we have been forced to disband entire battalions and demobilize large numbers of personnel. But that is where Uli-Schywz comes in. For the first time in our history we'll have an elite unit trained by a neutral party that lacks political interests - a truly elite unit, which is technically competent and capably led without the baggage of of partisanship. A unit whose first loyalty is to the country rather than a specific faction. Do you follow?"


Marchand nodded, but prepared to qualify her statement with his own. He then realized she had one last bit to add:

"Now, that aside, the AFKV currently works with the security services on contingencies for piracy and terrorism. Thus far we've been fortunate to be spared from both."

Philippe looked over at Ibo, who only managed to slightly raise an eyebrow then go in for another scoop of almonds. Marchand cleared his throat then began,
“Right...Well, I do follow what you’re saying, Minister. I...We...are glad to know that you have been able to secure the monies to pay for our contract. With a full contract ready to sign and initial fees to be paid, we would be happy to fulfil whatever role we can within our means. Of course, as you want us to train a unit that is ultimately answerable to the government as a whole, we will do our best. We are loyal to the faction paying us...You and your superiors. That bias might be passed on to the unit we train, unavoidably, but we will do our best to instill loyalty to the whole government.

So, it would be ideal that this brigade and some of the trained units to follow had allegiance to the entire Krasny-Volny government, but as you have outlined that there are numerous political factions, we must look to the eventuality that fractures may happen, whether by legal means or violence. We need to have them aligned with the faction that will best keep the nation intact..."
As well as keep us paid and ensure our security within your nation, he added in his mind.
She mentioned disbanded military units. Were these ex-military personnel being kept gainfully employed in other sectors? It was a definite worry that they might have a future problem of a core of rebels with some modicum of military training that opposed government forces and formed another faction, or threw their lot in with the fore mentioned pirates and terrorists, to complicate the modernization of the military and in a broader sense, the whole of Krasny-Volny. He filed it away for later discussion.

"As to piracy and terrorism, such counter-terrorist tactics might be better suited for other of your elite units than an airborne brigade, but... Perhaps that is what you were referring to with the renewal and expansion of the contract towards training more units of the military. If so, then we look forward to that time.”

Marchand sat back and took the last gulp of tea he had left in his cup. There were many layers here under the surface he would not even begin to broach in this meeting with the Minister. It was no secret that there were levels of intrigue and she had alluded to it and been as open about it as she could be. All details would be revealed in time he was sure, but for now, there was still much more mystery than he was comfortable with during a contract negotiation.
Last edited by USG Security Corporation on Mon Dec 05, 2016 10:22 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Neo Prutenia
Minister
 
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Founded: Oct 21, 2009
Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Neo Prutenia » Fri Dec 02, 2016 4:03 pm

“So, we still a few minutes. No rush”

Elke gave a nod and crossed her arms.

“So, Frau Kormeckwald, where’s Herr Götzbrech?“

„Practising his Krasny.”

“One has to admire his dedication to his craft.” Bomhever thought about it for a moment. “Practicing his Krasny?”

Another nod.

“In the kitchen?” Bomhever, seeing Elke’s raised eyebrow, quickly added: “Well, that’s where I last seen him headed.”

“Wait, did he say ‘jazýk’ or ‘rečʹ’?”

Bomhever smirked. “Of course.”

As if on cue, Rainer joined them, grinning. Behind him a staff member scampered, giggling as she disappeared behind a corner. He was dressed sharply—displaying all the sartorial arts his people were known for; elegant, dark grey linen trousers, light, black cotton shirt, dapper jacket complementing the trousers, and rather expensive looking leather shoes. A few choice buttons and pins, of white gold and silver, tuckered here and there, subtle with a hint of cheekiness, finished his look. Elke on the other hand went for lighter, ecru hues, a pinstriped pantsuit, functional business shoes with no heel, and with her beloved chignon; and alas to the chagrin of every possibly impertinent gazers décolletage was absent, and deliberately hidden beneath a tasteful shirt with a low, but very appropriate neckline. Both of them had their necks bare; no jewelry, ties, or the sort. Bomhever was in his diplomatic uniform; a three-piece suit, but sans the bowler and jacket. His waistcoat was not a standard issue, however—usually they looked somewhat dull, uniform, as they were supposed to, and dignified and dry, in slate grey colours like the rest of his expected kit—it was burgundy, apparently satin or velvet, and with fine, delicate embroidery of red gold or copper of various shapes, most of them very traditionally Prutonic in nature. The chain of an obvious pocket watch, silver, clean but unpolished, visibly sturdy and well-made, could also easily be spotted. His sleeves were pulled back to his elbows, leaving his forearms bare.

All in all they turned out a rather colourful bunch; they each approved. Silently, just with a nod. Fine feathers make fine birds was very much true in Prut lands. Or at least it’s taken seriously enough that other folks do tend to joke about it.

”Wait, are you wearing the g…”

“No, of course not. That one is still intended as a gift. This one’s one of mine; they just look similar. This one is clearly a silver-platinum alloy, while the gift one is white gold. Obviously.”

“Yes. Obviously.” She turned to Bomhever, who was still grinning about the recent staff incident. “What’s the plan?”

“Your mark, my guest, the good Herr Fornalev, will arrive here by car, almost certainly alone. Well, not alone alone, with a chauffeur of course. By now he had not only time to look you two up, brush up on the, shall we say five times we bumped into each other unknowingly in the bank building, and relay information, but everyone in Chorstad had the same opportunity; so, either he’ll be here for a free male and wine from lands that see sunshine more than three days a year, or he’ll have an agenda.”

“I’d wager the same, and most likely the latter.”

“Why do you think so, Herr Götzbrech?”

“The general state of the economy of Krasny-Volny. If nothing else, someone within the regime will want the capital. Honestly, I don’t even think we need to convince Fornalev, just put the word out, wait, and someone will take his role.”

Bomhever very visibly disapproved of this train of thought, prompting Rainer to reconsider.

“Just stating the facts. I do intend to wheedle him, not play this game for the next several months. As agreed.

“Good. I don’t want you getting involved in Krasny internal politics too much. Not right now anyway.”

“Fair enough. It will come naturally. Anyway, having a minister…”

“Deputy minister.”

“Minister, deputy minister, doesn’t matter; having one on our side right away will expedite things immensely. We can help the regime to create jobs and provide an independent flow of money, as well as access to the Prut market, possibly even Prut support. A more enticing offer they’ll never get.”

“Do you intend to say so directly?”

“Yes, after the dinner of course.”

“Well, of course after the dinner. Seems like a reasonable course of action.”

“Ah, the vehicle just entered. Excellent. I’ll greet the guest, you wait in the foyer, we’ll introduce each other, and continue to the table. Agreed?”

Both nodded.

“Perfect.”

***


IIya Fornalev was greeted by Bomhever. The man had a lovely and serious voice, always managing to sound like someone’s elder brother. Whether it was trained or natural few could tell, and less even cared; fact was, he could parlay that into a good show, displaying gravity without condescend.

“Deputy minsister, Herr Fornalev, it’s a pleasure to finally formally meet you. We won’t count the few chance encounters here and there; neither included sharing a glass and a warm meal. Please, come inside.”

Bomhever introduced himself by name and title, for formalities sake, Karl Berens Bomhever of the Civil Diplomatic Service, recently appointed to Krasny-Volny. He gave Fornalev the same opportunity, and continued. He used both hand for the handshake; firm grasp, good, slow shook, and keeping his left hand over Fornalev’s hand.

“Allow me to also introduce you to two other guests, who’ve travelled quite a lot for quite a while in quite some manner, I must say, to meet you.”

In the foyer the two hanseatic scouts waited. By Prut custom, the most senior female had to be introduced first.

“Frau Elke Kormeckwald, of the Solbrück Kormeckwalds.“ Bomhever very quickly and discretely whispered in Fornalev’s ear. “Old family, very influential, very respectable..” letting them shake hands.

As they did, he gave a subtly gave a signal to s staff member, then went on to introduce Rainer.

“And of course, the good Herr Rainer Götzbrech, of the ‘Fredericksborg’ Götzbrech!” He added the last bit in the manner one would clarify that someone just shared a name, or a surname in this case, with a famous superstar or perhaps royalty, but that the person clearly wasn’t one of them. A lot of things a proper diplomat could tell with a slight shift in tone and emphasis of just one word. Rainer got his whisper too. “Clever lad. One of Roswitha’s.”

The effect of Bomhever previous gesture could now be felt too. A warm, enticing fragrance poured into the foyer; the food was ready, and smelled inviting—the door to the kitchen had been opened and a staff member let the scent in.

“Ha, perfect timing, Herr Fornalev. Your arrival couldn’t have been more precise. Commend the surveillance team, they did a marvelous job predicting the dinner readiness.” He joked of course, friendly and cheery. Although, this being Krasny-Volny, there was a kernel of truth there.
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Postby Krasny-Volny » Mon Dec 05, 2016 2:02 am

Marchand had finished his tea. Inzara had raised a single eyebrow ever so delicately, and if the two men had exchanged anything more in that glance of passing between them Kuzmych couldn't discern it.

From Marchand's response, they both seemed to be waiting for her to say something, to elaborate on the potentially explosive Pandora's Box she had opened. The minister said nothing yet, only sipped her tea quietly and listened to the low rattle of the cold, grating wind outside. It was obvious that neither of the duo had seen anything which would - as of yet anyway - jeopardize the contract she was proposing. They had both appeared to be as open and as straightforward with her as anticipated, and Marchand's mention of the board's tacit approval for the proposed contract was promising.

Regardless, Kuzmych had no intention of keeping them both in the dark if they hadn't yet grasped the full extent of the partisan dimension in the AFKV or indeed, the existing political establishment. She had her own reasons for ensuring there was no misunderstanding there.

"Mister Marchand, I appreciate your candor. We have an expression here that a man's politics does not matter more than the color of his money. But the contract being proposed - as noted on the briefing paper - is between the state of Krasny-Volny and the Uli-Schywz Regiment. It can only be honored by whatever party or individuals occupies the seat of that government and controls its organs. No other factions, whether political or otherwise. I understand one of the written guarantees incorporated as standard into your contracts is that Uli-Schywz may not be asked to change allegiances or loyalties. So look at it this way: if the state of Krasny-Volny, to which the regiment will answer for the purposes of this contract, loses its integrity...said contract is terminated."

The rest was left unspoken but Kuzmych hoped she was making herself clear. It was in Uli-Schywz's best interests to ensure the integrity of the government as necessary. And that meant no double-dealing. An agreement with her ministry would be by the book all the way.

"That being said, are you familiar with the phenomenon of praetorian guards?"

Kuzmych waited for Marchand to answer before continuing. She had a suspicion the disturbingly common cliché of elite units whose loyalties often shifted with fatal consequences was nothing new to the Intexa executives. "Well, this country has at least one praetorian guard of its own. Perhaps several more. As a direct consequence the AFKV doesn't have a single battalion of troops, anywhere, which is not currently a potential threat to the power structure. We do not need another praetorian guard. I understand I'm taking a politician's perspective here, but what's important is that the airborne brigade under discussion will be strictly operational rather than political. Its formation will be the first step on a long walk towards professionalizing the armed forces. Hopefully, you can now see why we wanted it trained by an outside party."

What else had she brought up about the AFKV's tactical priorities? Piracy and terrorism?

"On a related note, that's incidentally the reason I want this unit also versed in basic counter-piracy and counter-terrorism measures. It may have to double in these roles simply because we have nobody else..." Kuzmych caught herself, cleared her throat. "That is, nobody else reliable to send. With time it is my intention to develop more specialized forces but for the time being we must make do."

* * *


Within the first minute and a half of crossing into the old Khoven residence IIya Fornalev decided he was somewhat under-dressed for dinner. Through the shimmering lights of the foyer Karl Bomhever came forward to greet his guest, and before he knew what he was doing Fornalev found himself clasping Bomhever's hand like an old friend. Almost instinctively, the deputy minister moved out of the doorway as he initiated his own introduction. Nobody in Krasny-Volny shook hands under a threshold. That would've been a poor omen.

"Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, IIya Fornalev. We've met, but yes, not that I've had the pleasure of a formal introduction, either." As befitted a government bureaucrat from Chorstad, everything about him was black: a black jacket and tie, recently hemmed black trousers, and black shoes; even a black hat atop his straight, sandy hair. It wasn't a matter of taste, IIya simply didn't own any other clothes worth displaying. The state had paid for his suit, and as a representative of Trade and Industry - or indeed, the Socialist Krasny-Volnan People's Congress - he was always expected to be dressed for business rather than pleasure. Bomhever was decked out in what looked like hues of dark purple, with elaborate gold embroidery, and that - coupled with his voice, warm and sagely, made him feel like a valued envoy being summoned to the court of a foreign khan.

Bomhever got Fornalev's name right on the first try. A good effort.

The deputy minister shook hands with Elke Kormeckwald and Rainer Götzbrech in a typical Krasny manner: firm and brisk. He introduced himself by his title first, then his Christian name and surname. They matched the photographs in the dossiers Kozak had given him to a tee. Elke even had her hair done up in the same tightly coiled chignon.

"I do try to make the appointments I think are worthwhile," Fornalev responded to Bomhever's crack about his punctuality, altering his tone to match the joviality. He could appreciate a humorous jab at the security services when he heard it. However, he was visibly more interested in the scent of the food emanating from the kitchen. Most civil servants didn't eat until late in this country. It would be refreshing to break habit once in a while and indulge.

Fornalev had no idea whether it was Prut custom to discuss business at the dinner or immediately afterwards, but his experiences with other foreign diplomats and trade delegations in the past allowed him to be flexible. Right now, the only thing on his mind was being shown to the table.

Besides, if Kozak was right, there was plenty they needed to talk about, and plenty of time to do it. He was only just starting to appreciate the possibilities offered by doing business with the Prut Hanse.
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