Harvest Red [Greater Olympus]

A staging-point for declarations of war and other major diplomatic events. [In character]
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Nova Sylva
Posts: 1397
Founded: Nov 11, 2013
New York Times Democracy

Harvest Red [Greater Olympus]

Postby Nova Sylva » Mon Apr 12, 2021 3:05 pm


On New Years Eve in Csongrad, the snow was coming down in droves. Some people were in the streets, celebrating the change from 2008 to 2009. Most hoped, not without reason, that 2008 would prove a better year for themselves and their country than 2009 had. The two men and one woman in the downtown apartment felt the same – but far from celebrating, they were plotting. The one man who led the meeting had a shaped jaw and piercing green eyes, handsome features that stuck out despite his age.

Vaclav Cernik, the future President of Sylvakia, had fought in every war his nation had endured since its independence. Fighting in a militia brigade as a child during the Rozpad Wars, he knew firsthand the sacrifice and horrors of battle. His experience and obvious intelligence had given him a spot in the Kralovice Military Academy, where he had studied and become an officer. Leading a brigade in the 2008 Karpat War, Cernik had become a national hero and household name – the only successful commander in a conflict that had ended with his nation ceding the province of Karpatya to their centuries-old rival, Vlachavia. The defeat had cost Sylvakia dearly in terms prestige, economy, and internal domestic stability.

Throughout his military service, and especially in the Karpat War the year prior, Cernik had developed his own ideas about his nation’s future. These ideas, on New Years Eve in 2008, finally took shape into a manifesto with the help of the other people in the Csongrad apartment. They called themselves Obrana Naroda – National Defense. Amongst them: Saviley Sedlacek, leader of the minority National Party in Parliament and future Vice President, Josef Kasparov, the future Attorney General, and Katerina von Steuben, sole owner and executive of the von Steuben Mining Corporation. Far from plotting to help stabilize the unstable Sylvan democracy, each of these people would play an integral part in its destruction.

Crown Hill
Kralovice, Sylvakia
April 2010

What do you think of this tie, Katerina?” Vaclav Cernik rolled his shoulders and let the suit set a bit better. In front of him, Katerina von Steuben parched her lip. With gentle hands she tied a perfect double Windsor knot with the silky red tie, before feeling down the suit.

“Bright red. Either you're a communist, or a patriot.”

“Who says you can’t be both?”

“The millions of dollars I donated to your campaign, that’s who,” Katerina said with a smile, and Vaclav snickered.

With a friendly, but not intimate, pat on the shoulders, Katerina departed, and Cernik took a deep breath. His campaign manager came up did a last minute mic check. “You're on in sixty seconds, sir. And may I say, congratulations,”

He smiled and shook his manager’s hand. He, like all the people of his campaign, had been instrumental in getting him elected. It didn’t hurt, of course, that his competition had become the subject of just about every internet meme in existence after asking in a debate what Avondale was the capital of. It also didn’t hurt that his fiancé and political connections allowed him to outspend the opposition by a factor of three times. But none of that mattered now. He was here, and it was official. He could hear his cue coming soon on the speakers.

He took a moment and looked around him. Crown Hill, in Kralovice, the seat of the executive branch of the Republic’s government. It was almost surreal to think about! Who could have guessed that the son of a high school professor would end up leading twelve million people?

“...Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, the President Elect of the Sylvan Republic, Colonel Vaclav Cernik!”

The cheers and applause was legendary as ever. Putting on his best smile and ignoring the sickly feeling in his gut, Cernik walked onto the balcony, hand waving at the crowd that filled the lawn of Crown Hill. About a mile ahead he could see the glowing blue waters of the Viery River. Between that and the Hill, however, the perfectly trimmed lawns, sectioned off by pine trees, was roughly ten thousand of his most fervent supporters. He took the stage, the applause still rolling.

He motioned for them to be silent, and after a few seconds, it died down. He went over the opening lines of the speech for a second, then took a deep breath and straightened his shaking hands. He hated public speaking, but unfortunately, it was a role he would have to get used too.

“My fellow Sylvans. These last years have not given us much reason to celebrate. Our armies and nation was humiliated in 2008. Our economy has struggled and stagnated, and our internal politics have resembled more a drunken brawl than a civilized nation. No, we haven’t had much to celebrate indeed.

“But it is always darkest before dawn. The fact remains that our most valuable resource – you, the people of Sylvakia – are no less ingenious, no less hard working, and no less patriotic than you were a decade ago. The same Sylvan traditions that carried us from the collapse of Panlarova into an independent nation, I am sure, will guide us into a future more prosperous and glorious than we have yet seen. I have absolutely no doubt, brothers and sisters, that this nation’s greatest achievements lie in her future, not her past.”

Cernik had never been known for his charisma. But when he spoke, he did so in a way that made others listen – carefully and calculated. The crowd seemed to be listening to every word as he continued anew after a short breath.

“Under this administration, I promise to guide the country based on the principles on which you elected me for. They are the same tenets that have guided me through my lifetime of service to this nation, and as I have now attended its highest office, that service shall continue manifold. These come down to three simple words. Sila, Svoboda, Solidarita. Strength, Freedom, and Order. Strength – that we, as Sylvakia, must be ready to fight for our independence. For centuries, the great powers of the world and our neighbors have regarded us as an appendage to their empires. Our history, and indeed, our recent conflict, shows that we must fight to protect the way of life we hold so dear.

“But that life itself is manifested in the freedoms of the individual citizen. Nowhere in the world can the individual intellect and work ethic of a citizen be turned into personal profit and national pride. The ability to worship who you wish, love who you want, and engage in the business which you desire – these freedoms are the cornerstone of Sylvan life and history, from the Kapilist Wars until now. This freedom, however, does not apply to those who would destabilize our Republic. Above all, a house divided amongst itself cannot hope to stand to a strong wind. We must get our own house in order – stopping the rising crime rates, enforcing the laws of this land, and returning to a stable political status quo.

“For far too long, we have been considered second class by the nations of Lira, and I dare say, by those of the world as a whole. This troubles me deeply. The Republic is not just a nation which deserves respect – it must command it. We will get the respect we deserve! Sylvakia won’t be just a regional backwater. We will be a continental superpower!”

The applause broke out before he could continue. He tried to speak, only to be drowned out by the cheers and claps from crowd. He couldn’t help but to smile.

Objekat Military Complex
Black Mountains, Sylvakia
November 2010

Down the corridors in the underground bunker which served as one of the Armed Forces primary command centers, two pairs of footsteps could be heard.

“You know, I’ve always wondering why Jaskowski kept the military so small.” Cernik said, his voice echoing along the corridors. “Increasing its size would have massive benefits to our economy. We can draw several hundred thousand young men and women into employment, not including the additional manpower required by the military-industrial complex. I was worried that it would drain our economy, but it might as well have the opposite effect after all, as long as we can foot the bill.”

“Jaskowski didn’t want the army to become too big,” replied Bernard Kornicek, the newly-appointed defense minister. “Because a strong Sylva means an angry Lunderfrau and an angry Ackesia. Both of them have always looked at the Larovans as their backyard playground, and us as their playthings. Jaskoswki was way too interested in keeping the so-called Great Powers off his back.”

“Oh yes, but now they have their own problems. And we’re on the rise,” Cernik said.

“Ackesia, despite its posturing, has its own domestic problems to deal with. And with the Velk making noise in the east, their attention is firmly focused elsewhere.” said Rudolf Hintner, the newly-appointed defense minister. “Lunderfrau proper is making some noise about our military buildup, but so far its just noise.”

Cernik smiled at that. “Let them complain, it’s not like they’ll be able to do that for much longer. Isn’t that why I’m here?” With that, he showed his ID to the guard, who opened the door to the situation room. Awaiting him were the familiar faces of the General Staff and accompanying officers. As a veteran himself, and a decorated one, he had always advocated more funding and expansion of the armed forces, something which made him popular amongst the army’s top brass who’d welcomed the change in leadership.

“Slava na Sylvakia,” Cernik began after everyone had settled down, giving the customary half greeting, half salute which he had introduced to the country upon his ascension to power. “In light of the changing international landscape, I believe that our defense apparatus is long past due some significant reform. In the view of our foes, Sylvakia is no more a harmless dog with no bite. It is time we show them otherwise.

“Two years ago, our Republic was forced to its knees, and its integral lands amputated without anesthetic. The Vlachavians and their great power backers imposed the impossible ceasefire agreement on us. This treaty will form a central part of our foreign policy from now on, as I will seek to recover what has been lost. In Grenzaria, we have almost a million Sylvans and hundreds of square kilometers territory in foreign hands. But most importantly, in Karpatya, we have over two million starving Sylvans suffering under the yoke of Vlachavian oppression who cry for liberation.

“Let us take a look at the map. With Karpatya under Vlachavian occupation, they are in a prime position to strike at our central industrial centers, or could drive south into the Viery and our farmlands. But I don’t care about the status quo ante bellum, or regaining strategic balance. If we do that, we will just be fighting again in another twenty years. No. The only way we can secure our future for the Sylvan people and nation is to destroy Vlachavia entirely. Make no mistake, gentlemen. I seek the complete and utter destruction of the Vlachavians as a sovereign nation. And after that? Then we can our attention to Grenzaria.”

Murmurs of agreement rose up from the ranks of the Generals. To most of them, this was exactly what they wanted to hear, and exactly what they had been pushing for over the past decade. However, they had to admit that the armed forces simply wasn’t strong enough for that yet.

“You – we - will have ten years to prepare for such an eventuality. I want to have an army that is capable of bringing not just the Vlachavians, but the Grenzarians to their knees. For that, you will have the necessary funding. Thankfully, while they are not obliged to assist us in the event of a preemptive offensive, the Boagans and Velkanians have agreed to provide us with a significant amount of low-interest loans. If absolutely necessary, we can double our defense budget.”

The generals around the room shared shocked but approving glances. Doubled expenditure! That was more money than they been able to utilize in decades.

“I will set up an independent commission to monitor your progress. By the end of these reforms, I want the continent to tremble at the renewed might of our military. We should have a proper strategy within this month which we will discuss in our coming meetings, so that you can properly prepare and train your units.”

“But if we suddenly start this huge build-up, won’t we alert Lunderfrau? I assure you that this will be practically impossible to hide.” The man who spoke up was generálporučík Ludwig Stejskal, who had been Cernik’s superior officer during the 2008 war.

“Ah, yes,” Cernik said. “But that’s not your concern. What do the nations of Lira care about the Larovans? They have always regarded us as a backwater, and when they do pay attention, its only to garner themselves unbalanced trade deals or to sell some antique tanks. And with the noise that Velkanika is making internationally, nobody will pay Sylvakia a second thought.”

Nods and murmurs of agreement sounded in the room. Cernik, having said all he wanted to say, thanked the staff and exited the room. War was coming to Lira again, that was for sure. But this time, it would be on his terms.
Last edited by Nova Sylva on Fri Apr 16, 2021 4:51 pm, edited 8 times in total.

User avatar
Nova Sylva
Posts: 1397
Founded: Nov 11, 2013
New York Times Democracy

Postby Nova Sylva » Tue Apr 13, 2021 8:36 am

Zeljava Military Base
Viery Territory, Republic of Sylvakia
July 2011

Major Koloman Surovy looked out the command hatch of his tank as the formation of machines tore up dirt and grass in their wake on the endless expanse of Viery farmland. Fortunately, this base had a lot of dirt to chew up. It occurred to Surovy that with all the dirt and smoke the machines kicked up, the smoke dischargers on their turrets weren’t even really necessary.

The tank he drove was an old model – it had been old during the 2008 Karpat war, but now, it was coming up on becoming an antique. They had stopped production of this model of tank in the mid 1990s, and since then, it had only deteriorated. The 2008 war had shown just how inadequate the Vojenska had been equipped. Nobody could doubt their fighting spirit, but without the modern weapons of war, spirit got you nowhere but six feet under.

A 4x4 in military camouflage bounced across the farmlands toward the experimental model. One of the soldiers inside the motorcar waved to Surovy. When he waved back, showing he’d seen, the man held up a hand to get him to stop.

He waved again, then ducked down into the turret. “Stop!” he bawled into his headset.

“Stopping, yes, sir.” The answer was tinny but understandable. The tank clanked to a halt.

“What’s up, sir?” Sergeant Oliver Jahoda, the tank’s gunner, was insatiably curious—more than was good for him, Surovy often thought. His wide face might have been that of a three-year-old seeing his first airplane.

“I don’t know,” Surovy answered. “They’ve just sent out a car to stop the maneuvers.”

Sergeant Jahoda’s wide shoulders moved up and down in a shrug. “Maybe the powers that be have gone off the deep end. Wouldn’t surprise me a bit.” Spending his whole adult life in the Vojenska had left him endlessly cynical—not that he didn’t seem to have had a good running start beforehand. But then his green-blue eyes widened. “Or do you suppose…?”

Surovy’s mind followed the same track. “It would be sooner than I expected if so, Sergeant. When was the last time the Army delivered anything on time, let alone early?

“I don’t know, Sir,” Jahoda replied. “But a lot of things are changing around here since Cernik took charge. He’s a man with his head on straight, that’s for damn sure.”

As the platoon came to a halt, Surovy dismounted from the tank and walked over towards the 4x4. Even from twenty meters away, the roar of the tank’s diesel engines made the conversation hard to understand. As he approached, and returned the officer who met him’s salute, the pair had to yell to hear one another.

“Sir, your gonna wanna come back to the auto shop,” the officer said with a smile. The auto shop was the nickname that the Armor officers had for the tank depot.

“Why’s that?” Surovy asked, but he had a feeling that he already knew the answer.

When the officer’s grin only widened, Surovy smiled and ran back to his tank.

Sergeant Jahoda whooped with glee when Surovy gave the order to break off from maneuvers and go back to the auto shop. “It has to be!” he said. “By God, it has to be.”

“Nothing has to be anything, Sergeant,” Surovy said. “If we haven’t seen that over the past ten years and more of this business . . .”

…Sure enough, when Surovy returned to the auto shop, there were a company’s worth of brand new, shiny tanks being unloaded from their transports. The crews and personnel of the armored battalion all surrounded the transports, and muscled and shoved one another for a good look at the new toys. All of them were smiles and laughter, like children at Christmas.

“Holy shit,” Surovy said, as he got closer. The men moved out of the way for their commander as he walked towards one of the tanks that had been unloaded already. “What a beauty she is.”

The tank that Surovy had driven in the 2008 war, and indeed, earlier today, was a copy of a Velkanikan design. It had a smooth, rounded turret that sat low in the hull, and double fuel canisters on the rear with steel sheets around the tracks and a machine gun on a small cupola atop the turret that sat beside an infrared searchlight.

The new machine, though, really made the old one show its age. Gone was the infrared searchlight, and commander’s machine gun – instead, what looked like a thermal imaging system replaced it, and a remote-control weapon system with a grenade launcher and machine gun replaced the commander’s weapon on top. He liked that better. He could shoot from inside the turret using an electronic control system. The armor around the turret looked to be a composite, rather than steel, and bricks of add-on ERA surrounded the turret and hull of the tank from front to rear. The rounded turret that had made the old model so iconic was gone – replaced by a menacing oblong shape from which the cannon protruded. And the cannon! It looked to be several calibers larger than the 122mm he was used too. What was it? It had to be at least 140mm! If he had looked at a woman with the same awe and stare as he did the new tank, his wife would have had sharp words for him.

As he climbed up and into the machine, he realized that if the outside of the tank was foreign, the interior was absolutley alien. Electronics and computers replaced the mechanical interior he was used too – and the auto loader and ammunition storage at the back of the turret seemed completely redesigned as well. Instead of storing the ammo inside the turret, which had led to a number of “decapitations” when the turret had taken hits, the ammo was now firmly and securely in the back of the tank, near the engine block.

He also noticed though, with some tanging of nostalgia, that the tank smelled much different. The stench of burnt oil, worn leather, and one too-many bleach cleanings was gone, replaced by a new aroma that was both unfamiliar and foreign. The old machine was outdated, yes, but it still would hold a place in Surovy’s – and indeed, the nation’s – heart as the workhorse of the military for the last twenty years. As such, he was somewhat dismayed when they began loading the old tanks up on the transports to replace the new ones coming off. “Where are you taking our old vics?” Jahoda asked, evidently reading Surovy’s mind.

“Back to the factories,” one of the transporters said. “There is an upgrade package we are going to install. Same sensor and add-on armor this new tank has, just on the old model. It won’t be as good, but it’ll be a lot better than they were.”

Surovy nodded his head in approval. That was a very Sylvan thing to do – reuse and upgrade until it literally fell apart. As a society, Sylvans were extremely frugal, and that feeling evidently permeated into the military. The difference now, was that in Jaskowski’s era, frugal had meant no upgrades at all – now, under Cernik, all that was changing.

Crown Hill
Kralovice, Republic of Sylvakia
September 2011

Cernik’s press secretary, Jami Hradeck, was a fussy little fellow, but good at what he did. “Everything’s ready now, Mr. President,” he said. “By this time tomorrow, everyone in the Republic of Sylvakia will know you’ve signed this bill.”

“Thanks, Jami,” Vaclav Cernik said with a warm smile, and the little man blossomed under the praise. Vaclav knew Hradacek wasn’t exaggerating. In the modern age of mass media and instant news, everyone who was anyone would know what Cernik had done.

At a gesture from the communications chief, klieg lights came on in the main office of Crown Hill. President Cernik smiled at the camera. “Hello, my fellow Sylvans,” he said into the microphone in front of him. “Slava na Sylvakia.. I come to you today with important news. One year ago, I promised you that I – we – would bring this country back from the brink. As part of the fulfillment of that promise, I’m now signing one of the most important bills in this nation’s history.”

He clicked his pen and signed on the waiting line. Cameras rolled as the photographers did their job. Vaclav looked up at the camera again. “For years, successive governments have followed a policy of allowing our economy to be dictated by a select few oligarchs, without regard for the country as a whole, who look instead to line their own pockets at the expense of our nation. Ackesian companies, Lunder companies, all of them - they pay Sylvans below the minimum wage and enjoy tax-free and tariff-free trade. And for what? Because previous governments were more interested in handouts for the next election than the well-being of the Sylvan citizen. That ends today,”

“Mr. President?” A carefully prompted reporter from a national paper stuck his hand in the air. “Ask you a question, Mr. President?”

“Go right ahead.” Cernik was calm, casual, at his ease.

“Thank you, sir,” he said. “But isn’t it true that section four, article eleven of the constitution states that the central government does not have the authority to override private business? So its nationalization, therefore, is unconstitutional?”

“This bill is integral to our nation’s future,” Cernik answered. “The Republic is committed only to using nuclear energy to replace old coal and oil plants. This bill will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, lower the cost of energy for every Sylvan household, and give our nation the independence that it both needs and deserves.”

“But won’t the Supreme Court say this law is unconstitutional?” the reporter asked again.

Vaclav Cernik looked into the cameras as if looking at a target through a sniper’s scope. He had a long, lean face, a face people remembered. “Let me make this abundantly clear. I was elected to make this nation better, stronger, and more prosperous. If the Supreme Court wants to get in the way of that, I say that’s unconstitutional.”

He took no other questions. He’d said everything he had to say. The microphones went off. The bright lights faded. He leaned back in his swivel chair. It creaked. Jani Hradecek came back into the room. Before he could ask, his head of communications said, “I think that went very well, Mr. President.”

“Good.” Vaclav nodded. “Me, too. We’ve fired the first shots, now lets brace ourselves for the counter-battery.”

Kasparov, the attorney general, had got to the office faster than Vice President Saviley Sedlacek. Sedlacek was tall and blond and good-looking and very much aware of how good-looking he was. He’d headed up the National Party till the Obrana Naroda swallowed it. One look at his face and you could see he still wished things had gone the other way. Too bad, so sad, Vaclav thought. Sedlacek wasn’t so smart as he thought he was, either. He never would have taken the vice-presidential nomination if he were. The vice president of the Republic couldn’t even fart till he got permission from the president.

One year on the job, and Saviley still hadn’t figured that out. He went right on laboring under the delusion that he amounted to something. “For God’s sake, Vaclav!” he burst out now. “What the hell did you go and rile the Supreme Court for?” A Karpatyan accent filled his voice. “They’ll throw out the bill for sure on account of that, just so as they can get their own back at you.”

“Gosh, do you think so?” Vaclav sounded concerned. He watched Kasparov hide a smile.

Saviley Sedlacek, full of himself as usual, never noticed. “Think so? I’m sure of it. You did everything but wave a red cloth in their face.”

Vaclav shrugged. “It’s done now. We’ll just have to make the best of it. It may turn out all right.”

“How can it?” Saviley demanded. “Somebody’s gonna sue. You can already hear Jaskowski’s Centrists licking their chops, slobbering over the chance to make us look bad. Whatever district court gets the law’ll say it’s no goddamn good.”

“Then we’ll take it to the Supreme Court,” Kasparov said.

“They’ll tell you it’s unconstitutional, too, just like that reporter fellow said they would,” Saviley predicted. “They’re looking for a chance to neuter us. Once they get those black robes on, Supreme Court justices think they’re little tin gods. And there’s not an Obrana Naroda man among ’em.”

“I’m not too worried, Saviley,” Cernik replied, dismissively. “This is a popular bill. The people know what this country needs. And the country needs it bad. People won’t be happy if the court tosses it in the fire.”

“I tell you, those fuckers don’t care,” the vice president insisted. “Why should they? They’re in there for life. . . .” He paused. His blue eyes widened. “Or are you saying they won’t live long if they try and smother this bill? God damnit, Vaclav. This isn’t Karpatya. You aren’t at war. You can’t rightly go and shoot everyone who disagrees with you!”

Josef Kasparov snickered as Saviley left the office in a flustered storm. The attorney general was one of Vaclav’s oldest comrades, and as close to a friend as he had these days. “Stupid Saviley.” He said. “I almost feel sorry for the fool. He doesn’t even know he’s boxed out.”

“They’re all a pack of damn fools,” Vaclav said scornfully. “Saviley, Jaskowski’s people, they’re all damn fools. They proved that in 2008. If we can let the Supreme Court make a mess of this, and get them out of the way, the way forwards is open.”

“I’m just worried, is all,” Kasparov said. “Taking on the Supreme Court? It’s a huge gamble. And if we lose this one, it threatens everything we’ve worked so hard to accomplish.”

“This is a classic David versus Goliath,” Cernik replied, confidently. “People love an underdog story. And in this case, David wants to give everyone new jobs and cheaper electricity. And Goliath doesn’t. Its perfect. And I’m sure that Hradecek will get the newspapers and people to see it that way too.”

Kasparov hesitated, then asked, “So you’re sure you want one of our people filing suit against the law?”

“Hell, yes, as long as nobody can trace him back to us,” Cernik answered without hesitation. “Whigs’d take weeks to get around “to it, and I want this to happen just as fast as it can.”

“I’ll take care of it, long as you know your own mind,” the attorney general said. “You know I’ve always backed your play. I always will, too.”

“You’re a good fellow, Josef.” And Vaclav meant every word of it. “If we’re gonna do this, and do it right, I’m gonna need you at my back. Threats are gonna come from everywhere, and it’ll be up to you to sort them.”

“When we started out, and met for the first time – the first Obrana Naroda meeting in that Csongrad apartment,” Kasparov said reminiscently. “Did you ever figure, back in those days, that we’d end up here?” His wave encompassed the presidential mansion.

“Hell, yes,” Vaclav replied without hesitation. “That’s why we created this: to pay back the bastards who lost us the war—all the bastards: Jankowski and his clucks, and not to mention the Vlachavians.”

His comrade laughed. “We weren’t the the only ones. Those first few weeks after the war, a thousand different parties sprang up, and every goddamn one of ’em said it’d set the country back on the right path.”

“We’ve got some old bills to pay, you know,” he told Kasparov. “We’ve got a lot of old bills to pay. About time we started doing that, don’t you think? We’ve looked meek and mild too long already. That isn’t our proper style.”

“Had to get this bill through Congress,” the attorney general said. “One thing at a time.”

“I know. You’d best believe I do,” Vaclav said. “Pretty soon now, we have some things to tell the Vlachavians, too. Not quite yet. We’ve got to put our own house in some kind of order first. But pretty soon.”

“First we take care of this other stuff.” Kasparov was not a fiery man. He never had been. But he kept things straight. Vaclav needed somebody like that. He was shrewd enough to know it. He nodded. Kasparov went on, “Besides, the next step puts the whole country behind us, not just the people who vote our way.”

“Yeah.” Vaclav nodded again. A wolfish grin spread across his face. “And I’m looking forward to it.”

Kralovice, Republic of Sylvakia
December 2011

“Kralovice!” the conductor bawled as the train pulled into the station. “All out for Kralovice! Capital of the Sylvakian Republic! Kralovice!”

Katerina von Steuben grabbed a carpetbag and a small light suitcase from the rack above the seats. She was set for the three days she expected to be here. Once upon a time, she’d traveled in style, with enough luggage to keep an army in clothes (provided it wanted to wear the latest styles) and with a couple of maids to keep everything straight.

No more, not after she and her family had lost their entire business. The von Steubens had been the leading mining conglomerate before the 2008 war, but the majority of the company’s holdings had been in Karpatya. Karpatya, now, was in the hands of the Vlachavians, who had nationalized the graphite and rare earth metal mines that had made her family rich. She still had money, of course, and had spent a hefty chunk of it to see Vaclav Cernik and Obrana Naroda elected. But as far as she was concerned, that was an investment. An investments demanded returns.

On the train, and through life, she thought. Aloud, the way she said, “Excuse me,” couldn’t mean anything but, Get the hell out of my way. That would have done well enough for her motto. She was a tall, blond woman with a man’s determined stride. If any gray streaked the yellow—she was, after all, nearer fifty than forty—the peroxide bottle didn’t let it show. She looked younger than her years, but not enough to suit her. In her twenties, even in her thirties, she’d been strikingly beautiful, and made the most of it. Now handsome would have fit her better, except she despised that word when applied to a woman.

“Excuse me,” she said again, and all but walked up the back of a man who, by his clothes, was a drummer who hadn’t drummed up much lately. He turned and gave her a dirty look. The answering frozen contempt she aimed like an arrow from her blue eyes made him look away in a hurry, muttering to himself and shaking his head.

Most of the passengers had to go back to the baggage car to reclaim their suitcases. Katerina had all her chattels with her. She hurried out of the station to the cab stand in front of it. “Royal Hotel,” she told the driver whose auto, a domestic Tatra with a dented left fender, was first in line at the stand.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said, touching a finger to the patent-leather brim of his peaked cap. “Let me put your bags in the trunk, and we’ll go.”

The Royal Hotel was a great white pile of a building, just across the river from Crown Hill. Katerina tried to figure out how many times she’d stayed there. She couldn’t; she only knew the number was large. “Afternoon, ma’am,” said the doorman. He wore a uniform gaudier and more magnificent than any the Vojenska issued.

Katerina checked in, went to her room, and unpacked. She went downstairs and had an early supper—A warm and hearty goulash with some perogi and applesauce—then returned to her room, read a novel till she got sleepy (it wasn’t very good, so she got sleepy fast), and went to bed. It was earlier than she would have fallen asleep back home. That meant she woke up at half past five the next morning. She was annoyed, but not too annoyed: it gave her a chance to bathe and to get her hair the way she wanted it before going down to breakfast.

After breakfast, she went to the lobby, picked up one of the papers on a table, and settled down to read it. She hadn’t been reading long before a man in a Sylvan Army uniform strode in. Anne put down the newspaper and got to her feet.

“Madam von Steuben?” asked the man in the butternut uniform.

“She nodded. “That’s right.”

“Slava Sylvakia!” the man said, giving the greeting that had become the norm, and then, “Come with me, please.”

When they went out the door, the doorman - a different man from the one who’d been there the day before, but wearing identical fancy dress – opened the door for the pair. The Army man, smiling a little, led Katerina to a waiting motorcar. He almost forgot to hold the door open for her, but remembered at the last minute. Then he slid in behind the wheel and drove off.

Crown Hill lay just beside Kralovice Castle, the old center of monarchical government. The grounds were full of men in camouflage uniforms, heavily armed – more so than she supposed they needed to be, but it wasn’t her place to decide policy.

“This here’s Madam von Steuben,” her driver said when they went inside.

A receptionist—male, uniformed—checked her name off a list. “She’s scheduled to see the president at nine. Why don’t you take her straight to the waiting room? It’s only half an hour.”

“She had the room outside the president’s office to herself. Too bad, she thought; she’d met some interesting people there. A few minutes before nine, the door to the office opened. A skinny little Jewish-looking fellow came out. Vaclav Cernik’s voice pursued him: “You’ll make sure we get those new jet fighters delivered, Rudolf?”

“Of course, Colonel—uh, Mr. President,” the man answered. “We’ll take care of it. Don’t worry about a thing.”

“With you in charge, I don’t,” Cernik answered.

The man tipped his hat to Katerina as he walked out. “Go on in,” he told her. “You’re next.”

“Thanks,” Katerina said, and did. Seeing Vaclav Cernik, an army man, behind a desk that had had only two civilians sitting at it up till now was a jolt. She stuck out her hand, man-fashion. “Good morning, Mr. President.”

Cernik shook hands with her, a single brisk pump, enough to show he had strength he wasn’t using. “Good morning to you as well, Madam von Steuben” he answered. Almost everyone in the Sylvan Republic knew his voice from the wireless and newsreels. It packed extra punch in person, even with just a handful of words. He pointed to a chair. “Sit down. Make yourself at home.”

Katerina did sit, and crossed her ankles. Her figure was still trim. Cernik’s eyes went to her legs, but only for a moment. He wasn’t a skirt-chaser. He’d chased power instead of women. Now he had it. Along with the rest of the country, and perhaps the continent, she wondered what he’d do with it.

“I expect you want to know why I asked you to come up to Kralovice,” he said, a lopsided grin on his long, jawlined face. He was handsome enough, not model or movie star so, but the fire burning inside him was much more prevalent and attractive than his facial features. If he’d wanted women, he could have had droves of them.

Katerina nodded. “I do, yes. But I’ll find out, won’t I? I don’t think you’ll send me back to my estate without telling me.”

“Nope. Matter of fact, I don’t intend to send you back to Eposz at all,” Featherston said. Eposz was the province bordering Grenzaria, where Katerina and the von Steubens had lived for generations.

“What…what do you intend to do with me, then?” She almost said to me.

His smile got wider, and he asked: “Parli parthoni?”

“Si, fluentemente.” Katerina answered automatically, even though, by the way Cernik pronounced the words, he didn’t speak Parthonopian himself. She returned to English to ask, “Why do you want to know that?”

“How would you like to take a trip to Ancona?” Cernik asked in return.

“Ancona? I hate the idea,” Katerina said crisply.

Cernik’s eyebrows leaped. That wasn’t the answer he’d expected. Then he realized she was joking. He barked laughter. “Cute,” he said. “Cute as hell. Now tell me straight—will you go to Parthonopia for me? I’ve got a job that needs doing, and you’re the one I can think of who’s best suited to do it.”

“Tell me what it is,” she said. “And tell me why. You’re not naming me ambassador, I gather.”

“No, I’m not doing that. You’ll go as a private citizen. But I’d rather trust you rather than the politicians I have over there now. They’re all leftovers from Jankoswki’s regime, and they aren’t a fan of my plans for Parthonopia. The bastards want to ‘keep the status quo,’ and ‘not upset the balance.’ Fools. You know what’s good for the country, and you know what’s good for you, too.”

“I . . . see.” Katerina nodded again, slowly and thoughtfully. “You want me to start sounding out one of the petty kings about an alliance, then?”

She saw she’d surprised him again. Then he laughed once more. “I already knew you were smart,” he said. “Yeah, that’s pretty much what I’ve got in mind. Alliance likely goes too far. Working arrangement is more what I figure we can do. Probably all they can do, too. They’ve got problems of their own, domestically. But this Carlo figure – he leads one of the kingdoms, you see – and I like him. He’s brash, and arrogant, and bellicose, but also determined, charismatic, and calculating. I suspect he looks at Lira in the same way that we do here.”

Katerina refreshed her memory. “Carlo…yes, he’s a brash one, for sure. I saw him at a dinner a few years back. But your analysis is correct. And he’s been building his little army for years now. What exactly did you have in mind?”

“If Carlo has designs on being more than a petty king, we should do all we can to further his agenda. A united Parthonopia would draw the ire of the rest of Lira – and more importantly, draw it away from us and the military buildup we’re going through. Furthermore, if we help him and he succeeds, he will owe us a favor. And it’s a favor I intend to collect.”

“And I’ll have full authority to negotiate as a plenipotentiary?” Katerina asked, pursing her lip. “If I’m going as a private citizen, I’ll still need something official or they won’t let me through the door.”

“Of course,” Cernik said, waving his hand, as if the simple motion of his wrist made it happen. Hell, with Obrana Naroda in charge, it probably did.
Last edited by Nova Sylva on Thu Apr 29, 2021 1:55 am, edited 14 times in total.

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Nova Sylva
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Founded: Nov 11, 2013
New York Times Democracy

Postby Nova Sylva » Thu Apr 29, 2021 1:54 am

Ancona, Commonwealth of Parthonopia
February 2012

The Duke of Ancona studied the painting with a curious and critical eye. His pose was so languid and exquisite, Katerina von Steuben thought, that he should have been wearing knee breeches and a frock coat, not in a dinner jacket and bow tie. His perfectly refined accent only strengthened the impression of aristocratic effeteness: “Upon my word, Madam von Steuben, we surely have here an extraordinary series of contrasts, do we not?”

She brushed back a lock of pale gold hair that was tickling her cheek. “I can think of several,” she said. Starting with, why the Duke had entertained Katerina for the last month with a flurry of receptions and events, and never once spoken about her reason for visiting. But to say that out loud would have been impolite and, however often she flouted the code of an aristocratic gentlewoman, she still adhered to some of it. And so, not a hint of worry showed in her voice as she went on, “Which ones cross your mind, your Grace?”

Duke Carlo pointed to the canvas he had been examining. “First and foremost, hanging this painting – Reply of the Sylvan Kapilists to Emperor Ludwig - in this hall strikes me as making contrast enough all by itself.” He examined the painting once more, then grinned impishly. “And to think I bought this piece for only three point five million.”

“A very good deal,” Katerina replied, with less frost in her voice than she would have liked. Reply was perhaps one of the most famous Sylvan paintings in the world – definitely the most well known. The fact that it found its home in the art collection of a petty Parthonopian royal instead of the National Gallery in Kralovice was proof enough that things needed to be fixed in her maidan country. She went on, “but such important historical treasures cannot be measured by monetary value alone, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Why, of course, Madam. I didn’t buy the painting because I liked Dvorak’s brush style or color palette. It’s what it represents. A collection of nobodies from a frontier province telling the most powerful man in the world where he could stick it – pardon my language, madam – there’s something wonderfully delightful about that. And I must say, I see something of myself in those religious rebels.”

“I believe you and President Cernik have that in common, your Grace.”

“On that note, I have no doubt that there is an extraordinary amount that the President and I have in common as well. You would not find yourself in such places without the possession of certain characteristics or traits. Ways of thinking for that matter,” the Duke paused and looked back upon the artwork they were discussing, seemingly briefly in thought at that moment, “the Reply isn’t going anywhere, however, but our lunch is presumably getting cold. Come, we can talk of contrast and similarities at length, sitting down.”

Ballgown flowing behind her, Katerina followed the Parthonopian deeper into his manor. Servants came to attention as he passed them, and the royal made no move to put them at ease as he led her into a dining room that was much too big for twenty people, let alone the two of them. Nevertheless, the table was set in the perfect cotillion fashion, with a silver cusp hiding the food from the world around it. Carlo pulled out a chair for her, and she graciously accepted, as was the custom, before letting him sit and begin the meal.

“Ah, mussels fra diavolo,” Carlo said, salivating. “Yet another contrast. You see how -” he paused to take a bite - “how the sauce retains its spice even down the throat? Now wash it down with this Cabernet, and you will see what I mean about contrast. Mmmm. Perfecto.

Katerina nodded politely, but remained silent. Carlo, for his part, broke from the near trance induced by his meal and looked back at his guest. He made a production of wiping his face, taking a sip of wine, and physically preparing himself for the conversation ahead. “Madam von Steuben. Surely you must think me mad - circumventing your meaning and purpose for being in Ancona with my talk of art, and food. Forgive me - it is the Parthonopian way. But alas, let us talk, madam.” He gestured for her to begin.

“His Excellency, President Cernik, has instructed me to negotiate an arrangement, your Grace. An arrangement regarding a united Parthonopia. It is fairly clear to all that a united Parthonopia would upset the balance of power in Lira and Olympus beyond, but us Sylvans depart with the RESP way of thinking that this restructuring of the world order is inherently negative.

“I will speak plainly. Your forces and holdings at the moment are one among many Parthonopian kingdoms and states. You lack the strength and tools necessary to unite these many kingdoms into one, but if they were, and if you did, Parthonopia would overnight become the pre-eminent land power on this continent. Us Sylvans are ready and willing to help you realize this goal. Troops, equipment, military advisors - we can help you unite Parth.

“While I will not pretend that the President harbors the same reasons for wanting your people under one banner as you do. It is our hope that after its unification, the -” she paused, looking for words - “fluctuations of the geopolitical realities of Lira will be to Sylvakia’s advantage.”

Carlo had sat calmly listening as she had spoken, attentively nodding his head as necessary to assure that he was providing his full attention. After concluding the proposal, there was a brief pause while she awaited the Ancona duke’s response, only to be met with a moment of silence. The look upon his face was still the one he had as he was listening, until raising his eyebrows and looking up to the ceiling with a surprised expression.

“Unification! That would be thought impossible, Signora Von Steuben, in this day and age. Lira balks at the idea of it, and I couldn’t even fathom how quickly the Guinot or Porduzi would rush to stomp out even the thought of it. Surely you’re pulling my legs? I was not expecting this, Madam,” he shook his head and retrieved his silverware to continue the meal he had put on pause for the business talk.

He looked over to her, just as his fork touched the plate, and erupted in a thunderous laughter that echoed in the hall. Placing back down the silverware and regaining his composure, he returned to his more somber gaze and leaned forward as he spoke.

“I must say, there are some very attentive people in Kralovice, perhaps a similarity to account for, that the President and I share. The more apparent similarity, however, is the possession of lofty goals. Of course there is a vision of a united Parthonopia, any attentive observer of the politics of Orthuria would have spotted the winds of that idea blowing as early as a decade ago.”

He cracked his knuckles and placed his forearms on the table. Throughout her stay in Ancona this luncheon had been the first time she had seen the nobleman hosting her cast away his apparent public facade. This was a glimpse, perhaps, of a more honest view of what Carlo dell’Ancona truly acted, as he began to ditch some of the more formal trappings of high class discourse.

“Please, let us speak plainly,” he lifted a hand as if to gesture that she does so, “I want a united Parthonopia. More importantly, the people want it as well. You are correct in saying that it would be a restructuring of the world order opposed to RESP goals, and I can agree that it is certainly not inherently negative. That is not to say it lacks disadvantages, if I were to not tread lightly while trying to reach these goals, I am liable to see occupations of the region return.”

“Signora von Steuben, I appreciate immensely the offer, and may only guess as to why our visions may align, but it would be best to not question it, yes? I must, respectfully of course, say, do you intend to hand me Parthonopia? There is a lot of work to be done, and I am thankful for your time here, but troops, ah, we are quite a ways from that. No one wants a war in Orthuria, I certainly don’t.”

“Of course not,” Katerina replied, concealing her perplexion behind her business face, a hint of her slight annoyance by Carlo’s seeming rejection slipping out with her response. It came off almost as a joke, the duke’s last line, a war in Orthuria was something of a Liran tradition, a significant one occurring regularly at least every half century. The signs of Carlo’s motives, the movement behind unification, were more than apparent and he was the most viable of contenders. Why dismiss assistance when it is offered?

They were both interrupted when a servant entered the hall and approached the two of them, stopping and standing at attention a few feet away from the table. He waited for the Duke to address him, bowing gently before informing them of his message, “My lord, the Duchess wishes to inform you that her father will arrive within the next two hours.”

With a nod of acceptance, Carlo waved him off, waiting for him to leave before returning to his discussion with Katerina. He looked upon her and nodded, “Advisors. They could certainly be of use. Equipment. I must be blunt, however, I am not fond of accepting favors. They always need to be returned, at some point, and I dread having such obligations haunt me.”

He leaned across the table and picked up her wine glass, refilling it, as well as his, with the last of the bottle of cabernet on the table. He returned the glass and took a sip of his, dramatically giving a satisfied ahh afterwards.

“A working relationship, that is another thing. We can both assist each other, obviously the President sees this as well. But, let us not rush head first into anything too, uh, too drastic. You are a graphite heiress correct? My wife, her father are quite the businessmen. One of the wealthiest in Orthuria, I owe much of my more recent accomplishments to his generosity. Maybe, I see a way that we may test this relationship of ours. If I were to be able to repay some of his generosity, perhaps…”

She raised an eyebrow. “What exactly did you have in mind?”

Prigorodki, Republic of Sylvakia
July 2012

The path up the mountain had been freshly paved, though the road through the twists and turns of the Black Mountain foothills was far from a comfortable ride. Katerina von Steuben turned to her Parthonopian business partner, Duke Egidio Massana, who looked visibly ill in the backseat of the SUV. “Don’t worry, my Lord Duke - the facility is just around the bend here. I apologize for the remoteness of the location, but mineral deposits are scarce. They aren’t called rare earth metals for nothing, after all.”

“I must confess, I thought we had mountains in Parthonopia - but they pale in comparison to what you have here, in Sylvakia.” From the look on his face, Katerina doubted that he meant the words as a compliment. She looked out the window at the rising peaks of the Black Mountains in the distance. Yes, they were impressive, all right - she could even see Mt. Kriváň in the distance, the highest peak on the Liran continent, its summit hazed by clouds and snow.

“I had other facilities that were perhaps better suited for this project of ours,” she said, “But regrettably, they were in Karpatya,” she pointed out the window, down into the valley and towards the horizon. She looked longingly at the forested valleys and winding rivers of the foothills below. The border was a mere ten kilometers away, and it still tanged her that things had changed so much. Most of her life’s work, and her family’s work for generations, had been in graphite mining in those idyllic forests. In the span of less than a month, armed conflict had cut her and her company’s net worth by almost eighty percent while Vlachavia nationalized her family's assets. The thought sickened her more than the bumpy car ride could ever do to Duke Egidio’s.

The SUV pulled up to a large, imposing mining complex that was situated in between two peaks. The forest cover that had evidently covered the valley floor was gone, replaced by piles of machinery, raw aggregates, and construction equipment. Adjacent to the mining complex was a much newer structure, which was much larger than the original mine and had obviously needed terraforming work to fit into the valley itself. Several large smokestacks protruded from its base, and an unfinished railhead led from the valley into a tunnel, which was evidently still under construction. “As you can see, construction is well under way. I spoke with the contractors this morning, and we are actually ahead of schedule. The blasting equipment you shipped in from Ancona is being put to very good use.”

“Excellent,” Egidio said. “And what about Dr. Rossi, and the other specialists we sent over? How are they holding up?”

“Fantastic. We will be meeting Dr. Rossi for a tour of the facility today, but his technical expertise has been imperative in making this project a reality for us.” Dr. Rossi was a Parthonopian national. He held three doctorate degrees - one in material sciences, another in metallurgical engineering, and a third in chemistry. He was part of a team of half a dozen such individuals that had come to Sylvakia on the direct instruction of the Duke of Ancona, Duke Carlo, whom Katerina had met with a few months before. The specialists, as well as a large financial investment by Duke Egidio, Carlo’s father in law, had made this endeavor in the Black Mountain foothills a possibility.

“As you well know, Duke, my family’s business was - is - graphite. The Steuben Mining Corporation,” she corrected herself, “sorry, the Steuben-Amalia Mining Corporation, once accounted for almost seventy percent of the world’s graphite production - and its used in everything from pencils to moderators in nuclear reactors. Vlachavia took a large chunk of that away from me - from Sylvakia - after the Karpat war, but they don’t know the business. Despite having most of my company’s old facilities, they are struggling to reach even half of the production levels we had before 2008. Anyways,”

The car pulled up to the front gate where a guard waved them through. Parking the vehicle, Katerina and Duke Egidio exited the vehicle. She handed him a hardhat and put one on herself. As the pair walked towards the new building, they were stopped by another security patrol, which checked Katerina’s ID and the VIP pass that had been issued to her guest. She didn’t chastise them for checking, even if she was the CEO - she would have rather them be on top of their game then to allow anyone they recognized to pass.

The pair walked inside the newer structure and Katerina began explaining as they entered the main production floor. “For the longest time, my company has been exclusively concerned with the extraction of graphite, rather than its applications. But thanks to your very gracious investment, as well as the, uhm, new realities that face the company, we’ve shifted gears.” They rounded a corner and approached a man in a white coat who was overlooking a clipboard. He was startled when Katerina called out to him, and took a moment to push his glasses up his nose. “Madam von Steuben,” he said, bowing, then again, in perfect Parthonopian, “Buongiorno, duca Egidio,”

“Dr. Rossi,” she offered her hand, and pleasantries were exchanged. “Could you be so kind as to give myself and Duke Egidio a tour of the plant? And provide the Duke here with a better understanding as to what we are trying to accomplish.”

“Not trying to accomplish, Madam, accomplished. We can already produce the graphene in small quantities, but with the full opening of this facility, which I expect by the end of the year, our production quotient will increase dramatically.”

Egidio looked proud of the doctor. From what Katerina understood, the Duke had paid in full for the man’s tuition in university as part of a larger donation to the Parthonopian scientific community. But, just like everything else in the world, it hadn’t been philanthropic - it had been an investment, and one that the Duke was now collecting on.

“Graphene has the potential to revolutionize the world as we see it,” Dr. Rossi continued. “It is a single layer of pure carbon atoms bonded together with sp2 bonds in a hexagonal lattice pattern. As of now it's the thinnest material known to man at one atom thick. And yet, graphene is stronger than steel and Kevlar, with a tensile strength of 150,000,000 psi. It moves electrons 10 times faster than silicon using less energy, and can absorb 2.3% of white light, which is remarkable because of its extreme thinness. This means that, once optical intensity reaches saturation fluence, saturable absorption takes place, which makes it possible to achieve full-band mode locking.”

Katerina and Duke Egidio shared a look. Neither of them understand what “saturation fluence” or “full band locking” was, but Dr. Rossi did, and that’s what mattered. “In practical terms,” Katerina interjected, “What are the applications for this?”

“Everything from microchips to body armor, madam. Even fields like biochemical engineering, filtration, and batteries can potentially be revolutionized by this material. The only thing stopping us, of course, was production - in early tests, my partners and I discovered graphene by exfoliation - we took scotch tape, peeled off a layer of graphite, dissolved the tape in chemicals, and then tested on what was left over. But this method is extremely inefficient and cannot produce the graphene in the quantity that we would need. Hence, this facility.”

“And many more like it,” Katerina added.

“Yes ma’am. With this facility, we’ve begun using chemical vapor deposition to separate graphene from graphite. In very simple terms, the process involves placing an often reusable thin metal substrate into a furnace heated to extremely high temperatures - we’re talking between 900 and 1000 degrees celsius. Decomposed methane gas that contains the necessary carbon and hydrogen is then introduced to the chamber, resulting in a reaction with the surface of the metal film substrate that leads to the formation of the graphene.”

“And the best part of all of this,” she said. “Is that we’re the only ones who know how to do it. RESP and the IPR will catch up eventually, that’s for certain, but in the time it takes them to develop their own industries from the ground up, we will be exporting the stuff by the trainload.”

“And raking in the profits,” the Duke added.
Last edited by Nova Sylva on Wed May 05, 2021 6:30 am, edited 2 times in total.

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