Tales of Valour

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Re: Tales of Valour

Postby Srf » Sun Feb 03, 2019 2:52 pm

The following is an extract from the book "The War Tourist" by Milan Marković, which follows the author's time in famous NGO WorldAid International during the Crataean upheavals of the 1990s and 2000s.

Mingruucha, August 2001

The building looks innocuous enough on the outside, a squat dusty half finished something surrounded by the usual detritus of a building site anywhere in the world. My escort, Gan, beckons me round to the back of the building where a big piece of metal has been placed over a hole in the ground and weighted in place with big grey stones. Gan rests his gun against the brick wall and moves the bricks and the metal while some other men with guns watch vacantly, smoking cigarettes. Under the metal is a staircase that leads down into the darkness, and an evil smell rises up like an angry fist to hit me straight in the nose. I cough and turn away, and catch Gan's eye. His eye is saying that he knows and he's a little bit sheepish about what's down there.

I pull a torch from my pocket and flip it on and start to climb down the steps, being careful not to knock myself out on the low ceiling designed for squat little Sharfic people. I reach the bottom and the torch beam is suddenly stopping three inches away from me, and I track upwards and see dozens of pairs of eyes filling the tiny basement space. Gaunt yellow faces start back at me, saying nothing but saying everything with their starved and dehydrated faces and bleary infected eyes and tattered remains of government army uniforms. Some are topless and their skin hangs off their ribs and open sores cover their chests and backs. When I walk through the mass of people trying to count them they shift like a shoal of fish and clammy dead-feeling hands and arms brush against my own. I don't understand how they can breathe in this little room because they certainly can't sit down and there is barely enough room for them to stand up. I think to myself there must be at least fifty men in here. I decide I have seen enough and go back through the human sea to the stairs and climb faster than appropriate up into the light. I take a deep breath and look at the men with guns who were smoking cigarettes as they wordlessly drag the metal over the hole and put the rocks back. Gan looks at me and waits for me to say something. I am trying to decide what to do. Okay.

We drive back into Mingruucha to Gan's officer, a self-declared lieutenant called Mon who has occupied a grand house in the city centre as his headquarters. When I come into his office he is sat behind the desk, wearing the stupid hat and reflective aviators that he loves despite the way they make him look like a horrible little fly. I tell him about the prison, as if it wasn't him who put all those men there, while he half listens and plays with a bayonet. I tell him I need permission to take the prisoners to the WorldAid field hospital on the other side of town and treat them because if I don't they are going to die. Lieutenant Mon sighs theatrically and tells me that it's impossible, security concerns mean they need to keep those soldiers imprisoned until they reach a peace agreement with Vorga. It is exactly what I was expecting but it was worth a try.

I leave Gan at Mon's house and drive the land cruiser a few streets north to the Ulannic Hotel, which was once a five star establishment. On the bar terrace I find Commander Naran smoking a cigar near the pool and I buy two beers and walk over and ask to join him. Naran smiles and says of course Mr. Markovish, how are you finding Mingruucha? It is quite a city, I reply, and drink some beer. Do you have plans tonight commander? No? Well I would like to bring you to dinner at my house if you don't mind. Yes, that would be lovely. Okay, see you at eight.

I have broken all the organisational rules and if my colleagues see me hosting a murderer like Naran they would have my job but I don't care. I drive home and give the cook 100 Oryontic dollars and tell him I need something incredible for tonight because the Commander is coming here. He returns a few hours later with some goat meat, some noodles, and two bottles of Wallasean whiskey. When Naran comes over we eat fried goat noodles with vegetables and drink the whiskey on my balcony, which he tells me many times is absolutely incredible. The night draws to a close and Naran goes to leave and I give him the other bottle of whiskey and he says thank you Mr Markovish, if there is anything I can do for you you simply must let me know and I tell him that is really kind, now that I think of it I went to a prison today with at least fifty government soldiers locked up and I need to take them to our hospital, but Lieutenant Mon told me it wasn't possible, could you pull some strings? He would never say yes to me in public but this is my home, and he is my guest, and I have fed and liquored him and he has no choice. Speak to Gan in the morning, he says, everything will be organised.

Naran leaves and I go inside and have a long shower. Then I go back to the balcony and drink another beer and chain smoke cigarettes and wish to Oswin that I never have to spend so long entertaining such a bloodthirsty man again. I dream about swimming with crocodiles until they turn on me and rip me into little pieces. Then I wake up and speak with Gan and the soldiers get taken to our hospital. Two already died last night.

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Re: Tales of Valour

Postby Crave » Mon Feb 04, 2019 6:13 pm

"One more pass..."

The young man winced, but did his best to hold still, as Mikhail plunged the needle into his flesh and drew the two sides of the gash closed with a suture. The young man was a Flamaguayan private who'd had a bad run in with the forces of gravity, and a worse run in with an angry Zegoran.

The private's commanding officer, a lieutenant who was barely three or four years the soldier's senior, slouched in a metal folding chair with his hands in his pockets as he watched the doctor work. The poor wounded man - nay, still a boy - stared at the blood stained floorboards in silence. Mikhail could tell the private was still disoriented, but wasn't sure if it was because of the hit to his head or the cheap Questarian rum that was stinking up the room. He at least knew that the kid would turn out fine after having checked him over.

The main clinic for the field hospital at Camp Aurora was located in an old shack that seemed sturdy enough, and was surrounded by mostly empty triage tents. It was a calm night, so the only real noises were the cicadas and the crickets chirping away in the distance. Occasionally, a group of soldiers returning from the bars in town stumbled past, but they talked among themselves in hushed voices. The stale air was humid and thick, which gave the old floorboards a porous feeling under your boots. They moaned as the Flamaguayan officer adjusted his weight in the metal chair.

"Did you think you'd spend most of your time patching up cuts and scrapes on drunk soldiers when you came here?" the officer asked, breaking the quiet. The officer, Orlando, spoke near-perfect Saratovian - if not for a slight lisp that most Flamaguayans had, Mikhail would have easily mistaken him as a native speaker. Mikhail always appreciated his company, as he was one of the few foreigners here who could converse so well in his native tongue. The base saw a few Saratovs pass through with convoys every few days, but otherwise Mikhail was the only one in this camp.

"This is my second time in Motappaland - and it's been much more uneventful than my first," Mikhail answered without taking his eyes off the soldier's brow as he prepared to cut the thread loose. "While I didn't expect it, I'm certainly not complaining - the less locals I need to work on means less violence all around. As you know I was placed much further inland up north last time, and the interior is still a nasty place."

This region of southern Motappaland had been under CNF+ coalition protection for some years now - probably going on 30 or almost 40, as the peacekeepers set up here sometime in the early 80's. Within the past two years, diplomats had managed to broker a ceasefire between several of the major warlords in the area. There were occasional bouts of violence, but nothing on the scale of years past. Mikhail, a doctor for the International Red Palm Movement, spent most of his time now tending to soldiers who had the misfortune of stumbling on their way back to base.

This soldier in particular had the misfortune of drunkenly running his mouth - supposedly in fluent Zegoran, although it was likely the rum that helped him get the words out - at a group of Zegoran soldiers in a pub in the nearby village. The CNF+ coalition joint command sprinkled international units across Motappaland's many camps and bases, and it seemed they always made it a point to put Flamaguayans and Zegorans together. It must be some sort of attempt to improve cross-cultural communication, Mikhail thought. Zegorans had a reputation for greeting the Flamaguayans by their fists, and Flamaguayans were usually no slouches at returning the favor. This soldier's comrades had the foresight to bring him back to base instead of let the bar break out into a brawl, and Orlando had the tact to not push the issue with his command. Putting the incident on record would just cause headaches for everyone, and he believed the private had learned his lesson the hard way already.

"All done," Mikhail told the private. Mikhail didn't really speak Flamaguayan, but he had picked up enough words over the past few months to get by. The soldier bowed his head in thanks, and got up to take his leave. Orlando stayed behind, hands clasped behind his head.

"Not sure what the kid was thinking," the Flamaguayan officer said in Saratovian, "Everyone here knows by now not to mention Pitino to a Zegoran. Though according to his friends, the Zegerinos started it. It's funny really. The Zegorans blame Flamaguayans for Pitino being 'occupied.' For one, that war was so long ago that even my father doesn't remember it. And two - what about the Prekos? They came in and took land too, but the Zegorans never say anything about them."

"Do you think Zegora and Flamaguay will ever settle the dispute over Pitino?" Mikhail asked. His second volunteer deployment with the IMRP had been working in a hospital in a Zeogran part of Pitino, so he was very familiar with the bloody history there.

"No. The Zegorans are too thick headed to ever come to their senses. I know that they still hold talks every year, but nothing will ever come from it."

Mikhail nodded and turned back to the open medical kit as he replaced the supplies he had been using. He covered the tip of the needle with wax so it lost its point, and tossed it into a biowaste bag next to the gurney.

"Do you think it will ever come to a war again?"

Orlando paused to think for a moment.

"Our government seems to think so - but I don't buy it. CNF has done too much to humanize them. Too many Flamaguayans go to Zegora now, and too many Zegorans come to Flamaguay for whatever reason. We may not like each other, but the thought of killing each other again is too much. If anyone would set a fire on Pitino now, it would be the Prekos."

The peaceful songs of the cicadas and crickets were broken by a sudden, shrill whine in the distance - almost otherworldly. It screeched as it gained in pitch, before it was accompanied by the sound of the air being chopped at regular intervals, first slowly then gaining speed. It were as if a great swordsman were swinging his claymore in circles with the intent of dismembering the wind. Whump..... whump.... whump... whump whump whumpwhumpwhumpwhump. Mikhail perked up at the noise, and turned to Orlando.

"There aren't any sorties planned tonight, are there?" he asked, glancing at his watch, "It's already past 11 o'clock."

There was some commotion outside as soldiers began moving around, but all was still relatively calm. The insects continued to sing - the jungle beyond the fence was apathetic to the mechanical screech of a helicopter starting.

"What do you mean?" Orlando asked as he paused, then he heard it too. "Oh, yeah - one of the helicopters is spinning up. I don't remember anything on the schedule for tonight."

Then a second shrill whine, and the chopping doubled its interval - a second helicopter had started.

Another few minutes went by, and a Fantasian Fallschirmjäger officer - a major by the name Klaus - poked his head into the clinic through the open front door.

"Ah, lieutenant -" he said, starting in Fantasian then effortlessly switching to Flamaguayan. Mikhail couldn't pick up the conversation, but Orlando solemly nodded as he straightened up in his chair and removed his hands from his pockets. Klaus then turned to Mikhail, switching back to Fantasian.

"Herr doktor," he began, "We just received a distress call from a village to the east. They've apparently been the target of a serious attack. We're scrambling two helicopters to assist evacuating wounded, so round up your staff and prepare for some arrivals within the hour. The village elder made it sound like there are many wounded."

Mikhail nodded - "I'll set up the triage unit. We'll be ready."

"Good - thanks," the Fantasian quipped, slapping the door frame twice with satisfaction, "If you need anything I'll be in the command tent, just holler."

Orlando stood up to take his leave, and explained the orders he'd been relayed by the Fantasian.

"My unit's rolling up with the relief column on the ground to secure the village. If you'll excuse me I need to round the children up and make sure they're ready for a fight. We're leaving in less than twenty minutes."

Mikhail clasped his hand and brought Orlando in for a brief embrace.

"Stay safe out there friend. It's been a while since there's been anything like this, so who knows what's lurking in the bush."

The Flamaguayan grinned with the cocky arrogance of youth. Referring to his soldiers as children was ironic in a way, because he himself was no older than 24 or 25.

"Perhaps it's been a while, but it's like riding a bicycle."

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Re: Tales of Valour

Postby Crave » Tue Feb 12, 2019 6:53 pm

An excerpt from the documentary program "Three Valleys of Blood: A Legacy of the Pitino War" from the Saratov Broadcasting Company
as uploaded to DumTube in violation of copyright by user vivaFlamaguay69

The narrator begins:
"Of course, the CNF was formed in 1975 as a direct result of the war. As part of its founding charter, the CNF is committed to bringing about a political resolution to the conflict between Flamaguay and Zegora. But just what progress has been made towards that?"

"Absolutely none," a balding man with a neatly trimmed gray beard and piercing blue eyes says matter-of-factly. A nameplate appears at the bottom of the screen: Dr. Anatoliy Rezhnov - Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Petrograd State Polytechnical University. "Every year, CNF diplomats meet in Sertolovo, where the founding charter was signed. And every year, Zegoran and Flamaguayan diplomats get an all-expense paid vacation to a picturesque seaside town with the finest vineyards Saratovia has to offer, all on their governments' dollar."

The view cuts to shots of a peaceful village on the southern coast of Saratovia. Blue skies shine over crystal clear, azure blue waters. The tide gently laps at a fine sandy beach.

"You see, both sides refuse to back down here. The Flamaguayans insist that the Zegorans unjustly took advantage of their plight during their civil war back in fifty-one when they occupied the land. The Zegorans, likewise, argue that the Flamaguayans illegally invaded rightful Zegoran territory, and had taken it illegally after the Great War anyway. And all this time, NOBODY is talking about the Prekovites!"

The image cuts to archival footage and still images of Prekovite armored columns entering the northern part of Pitino, which was promptly annexed in the aftermath of the war.

"For the last ten years, the Saratov diplomats have tabled the same proposal. And for the last ten years, either the Flamaguayans or the Zegorans have found a reason to shoot it down. I recall meeting one of the lead Saratov diplomats who led the negotiations a few years ago, and he described it like this to me: 'We've settled on this solution because we realized both sides have such a visceral reaction to it, they both HATE it. When you find a solution that both sides find abhorrent, you've probably found a good solution.' He even said that, behind closed doors, both sides seemed to come around to it a little when they were told that the opposite side hated it even more than they did. They still won't budge though."

The narrator continues, as images of Pitino in the present day are shown: "The proposal that Dr. Rezhnov refers to here is for an independence referendum. The Saratov government has been pressuring both Flamaguay and Zegora for the past ten years to consider the idea of creating Pitino as a new, independent, multi-ethnic state."

"The Saratov proposal is to hold a referendum in Pitino - that being both the Flamaguayan and the Zegoran parts, and in a perfect world, the Prek part too - where there is one question:"

The image flashes to a map, with Pitino outlined in red. Gradually, the flags of Flamaguay, Zegora, and Prekovy fade in, overlaying the parts that they control.

"'Do you believe that the region of PITINO, the borders of which as defined in the 1974 Treaty of Sertolovo and the umbrella agreement between the Flamaguayan Hegemony and the Republic of Zegora and Bogatovia, should be reunited as one entity and created as an independent, sovereign state under the joint protection of the CNF?' It's a yes/no question that would be administered in all of the major languages of the region. The proposal is for the Poláčeks to run the vote and count the votes - and everyone knows they're neutral in the issue. It's a real referendum - not some rigged vote in a Prekovite veche. It would be transparent, and it would be simple."

Rezhnov throws up his hands.

"Neither side wants to lend legitimacy to this idea, though, because it's a zero-sum game. If Zegora agrees and Flamaguay doesn't, then Zegora basically gives up its claim to Pitino. Likewise if Flamaguay agrees and Zegora refuses, their government loses a lot of popularity at home. It's political suicide. And it's the only realistic option to settling the dispute. Heck, it's not even like it'd be immediately binding. For all we know, Pitino would vote to stay as-is!"

The image changes to an external shot of the Rose Palace in downtown Petrograd; the headquarters of the Saratov Foreign Ministry.

"The Saratov government does have an ulterior motive here," Rezhnov explains as the camera zooms in on the tricolor waving above the pink baroque building, "Should the referendum pass, note the language - that Pitino would become a sovereign state under the joint protection of the CNF."

The camera returns to Rezhnov's face, who flashes a wry smile.

"Joint protection? That sounds an awful lot like a collective security agreement. Something Saratovia's been pushing for for a long time for all of Southern Wallasea. This would be the first step toward making that dream a reality."

The image changes to CNF headquarters in První, where all of the member states' flags fly at equal height around the blue banner of the CNF.

"Saratovia wants its cake and to eat it too - it wants to solve Pitino, and protect the south from Prekovy, all in one fell swoop. Unfortunately I don't foresee a scenario where anyone takes the bait."

The video comes to an end. The highest rated comment, with over 1000 thumbs up, is from a user with the alias ZegMan1488. His comment reads, in broken Flamaguayan: "JAJAJAJA U STUPID FLAMSTINK U R THE WORST. UR COUNTRY IS A BEATDOWN MACHINE. ZEGORA IS STRONK AND WILL DOMINATE. THE VALLEY OF TEARS IS FOREVER ZEGORAN CLAY. GIVE BACK ARE CLAY.

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Re: Tales of Valour

Postby Preston » Thu Feb 14, 2019 6:30 pm

Excerpts From Embrea, Part I: The Apathetic

It’s 6 AM, and my alarm is going off. Hit the off button, brush the sleep from my eyes, and get ready to begin my day. Wednesday. The weekend creeps closer, close enough to make out in your mind’s eye, but not so close as to distract you from the fact that it’s Wednesday.

Hop in the shower. The whole point of waking up at 6 AM. Strictly speaking, I don’t have to; I’m not expected in til 9, after all. But I’ve discovered that if you get up before everyone else, you can usually get a steady pressure and hot water in your morning shower. Before everyone else wakes up, and strains the ancient water boilers in the basement floor of our apartment block. There’s probably some rule against this, the pettiest form of self-worship, but to hell with it. Nobody’s ever been arrested for wanting a warm shower. I’m up and dressed by 7. Time for breakfast. Fry up a bit of sausage, butter a few slices of bread and set them over the pan on a rack. I don’t have a toaster, but this works just as well. The last time it occurred to me to get one, the appliance shop was out. Go figure. Probably for the best, anyway. Nothing but a waste of electricity.

7 AM. The morning news is coming on, turn on the TV. Another waste of electricity, in my opinion. Damn thing cost me 800 lire, almost an entire paycheck. For what? Because everyone else had one, and the last thing you want to be is Different. This is Embrea, after all. The news, all of it, all garbage. The Director-General will visit Prekovy later this year, apparently. A bunch of figures about new housing construction and power plants and other things that, I suppose, must matter to someone. I listen for a few minutes, and shut the tv off. I’ll get a bit of reading in, before I leave for the bus.

An old Varnian novel, about war and peace, a giant of a text at over a thousand pages. Twists and turns, mystique and subterfuge, romance and loss. They should make this into a television program. Then maybe I’d watch. Books are my entertainment. For whatever reason, the government doesn’t care too much about them, at least not the ones I’m interested in. Maybe it’s because they’re classics, and whatever political points they might have are a few centuries from relevance, at least. Maybe the bureaucrats just don’t read. Maybe they don’t know how. Nothing would surprise me. I look at my watch; time to go. I hear the rain pattering outside my window, and grab my raincoat and umbrella.

The bus arrives, on time as always. One of those new solar-hybrid ones, covered in panels, looking like some space ship from an old comic. I greet the driver, scan my card and take my seat, chuckling to myself. Solar panels. When my dad was my age, they were illegal. He used to tell me about how people would buy ‘em off the black market, kits imported from Flamaguay, and put them in their back windows, away from the street, to catch a couple hours worth of rays and stretch their allotment a bit. Now the government practically forces them on you. Bright Sun, Bright Future, the slogan goes. Plastered on everything green and economical. We haven’t had a blackout in about a year, though, so I can’t complain. My block is supposed to get panels next month, they say, assuming there isn’t a shortage again. We’ll see about that.

The bus arrives at my stop. It’s a short walk to the building I’ve worked in for about 5 years now; same as every day, I swipe my badge through the access gate and stride through the corridor toward my cubicle. Being a payroll manager at a paper factory isn’t what I dreamed of doing, when I was young, but I can’t complain. The work is easy, it pays my bills, and I get on well enough with my coworkers. From the desk on the end of the row, a voice greets me.

“Good morning, companheiro*, a good day to work, isn’t it?”

Luis, the new guy. Definitely Section 40**. They always stick out like sore thumbs; nobody says companheiro anymore, except at Movement functions. Still, it doesn’t do to put a target on your back. “Good morning to you as well, companheiro, and a good day indeed, work is dignity after all” I reply, giving the salute for good measure. Anyone with eyes can see it’s an act, and a poor one at that, but he seems satisfied for now. I’ll make a note to keep on his good side; like most of them, he’s probably a self-important pissant, puffed up on the smoke they blow up their backsides in training. Sword and shield of the National Directive and all that. Play the game and they’ll leave you alone, usually. So far, it’s worked for me, and I’m almost 30.

The day passes more or less uneventfully as they all do. I get up for some coffee and join my coworkers in some water-cooler talk. Today the subject is cars; Marco is picking his up this weekend and won’t shut up about it. Hasn’t been able to for weeks. Cars. Another thing everyone else wants except me, seemingly. Almost an entire year’s salary to purchase outright, which nobody ever does. You buy them on credit, but if you’re not a Movement member, forget about it. Down payments through the nose and on the hook for longer than the thing will last, most likely. Not to mention fuel, parts, repairs, licensing taxes. Forget it, give me the bus or the train. Not like I need much else in the city anyway. But I understand why Marco bought one. They’re a status symbol, for Movement members. Access to the National Directive Loans help; a down payment of practically nothing and minimal interest, if you qualify. If the Movement vouches for you, in other words. He’ll owe his ass to the Movement, and the State Bank, for 10 years, but doing so is a privilege, in its own way. What can I say, this is Embrea. It makes sense if you’ve lived here.

Before you know it, it’s 5 PM, quitting time. I catch up with Hector on the way out. Hector works in Inventory, and I’ve known him since school. When my old job, at a cement factory, got eliminated in a restructuring, it was Hector that pulled the strings to get me an opening here. Needless to say, we get on fairly well; he’s a Movement member, unlike me, but that’s about our biggest difference. Truth be told, I could join the Movement fairly easily if I wanted to. Hector and my coworkers would vouch for me, my national service record is clean. Mario, the department supervisor, is up for retirement in a few years, and if I joined, I could probably take his job once he retires. But it doesn’t appeal to me; not that I’m against Directivism or anything, but I just can’t get excited about scrap metal drives and paper drives and conference planning and everything else the Movement expects you to do in your spare time. Maybe I’ll revise my opinion in a few years, when Mario gets closer to retirement. I certainly wouldn’t be the first to join for the wrong reasons.

Hector and I don’t talk politics though, not usually. Today, it’s our shared interest, football. Redondo, our team, play Sporting Club this weekend. We’re going to get killed, of course. That’s what happens when you play the team the Director-General likes, that conveniently gets all the best players in the league. Hector’s optimistic, of course, and reckons we might be able to win, if we can neutralize Adriano--which is to say, if we can stop the sun from rising. We’re still going to go, of course; have a few beers and a choripão, meet up with friends, make a day of it. Maybe go clubbing later on. Monday to Friday belong to work, and Sunday to God, but Saturday, Saturday is ours. One day out of the week where you can, mostly, forget all the craziness and bullshit that you navigate in this brave new world of ours. One day, that makes the rest of it worth it.

* = lit. "companion," a class-neutral form of address associated with Directivism.
* = Colloquial name, of uncertain origin, for the secret police detachment of PIDE, the state intelligence organization

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Re: Tales of Valour

Postby Srf » Mon Mar 18, 2019 5:56 pm

Qorman jumped down from the ancient tank under a hail of gunfire and ran through the shattered façade of a former noodle store, where a group of compatriots were also taking shelter. There were five or six stood around in mismatched uniforms, waving their rifles in the air and shouting at him. The youngest may have been seventeen - the oldest, most likely pushing sixty. Nothing unusual.

The most senior of the group made himself heard above the others. "Where have you been? We've been held here for days, we called command yesterday and they said you were coming. They already pushed us back three blocks, they have tanks and artillery and hundreds of men."

"So do we now" said Qorman, gesturing at the tank outside as its exhaust burped and it trundled down the street. "Where are they?"

The old man pulled out a street map and a marker pen and drew big red circles around the buildings they had identified as enemy strongholds. Qorman nodded, grabbed the map and started toward the rear of the shop.

"Wait!" shouted the elder. "Where are you going?"

"Hold position, I am going to deal with these", Qorman said, brandishing the map without turning around. A stream of curses aimed at his arrogant Qorboq people followed him as he exited the building into a back alley and moved away from the front line. The crack of small arms fire was muffled by the high-rise residential buildings surrounding him as he made his way through the narrow alleyways, but the loud bangs of artillery and explosive rounds rang out intermittently over the rooftops and into courtyards.

Qorman emerged into a medium sized plaza, where a few howitzers had been lined in formation pointing toward the late afternoon sun. Some more troops were disassembling a rocket launcher and carrying off the tubes one by one. A tall, olive-skinned man in body armour walked to meet Qorman in the centre of the plaza. "Brother Qorman".

"Brother Altus" Qorman replied, grabbing Altus' hand. He motioned over to the troops carrying off the rockets.

"They ran out of RPGs", Altus replied. "So that's our direct fire support in the fourth district until tomorrow".

"I just came from third" Qorman passed Altus the map and pulled off his helmet.

"They lost the tank you came in on" Altus said, as the two men walked toward a small gazebo near to the howitzers. "Pushed up too far unsupported and got hit by an atgm. Catastrophic kill". Qorman snorted.

"They should know better than that by now. What do you think of the targets?"

Altus glanced at the map. "Makes sense I suppose. Height advantage over the intersection, buffer zone of smaller buildings defending the lower floors, seems like a valid sensible assessment. I think your instructing may have finally paid off. I'll get these zeroed in".

Qorman left Altus talking to the gunners and walked over to another gathering of angry-sounding soldiers who were congregating around a truck and pile of crates at the corner of the plaza. The voices grew louder as he approached. "What's happening here?"

The men parted and Qorman saw an open crate full of new uniforms. The rebels' leader was arguing with the poor kid tasked with distributing them, and now turned to Qorman.

"We don't want these! These have no power. Ours have power. They have holes and they are old, and we don't look the same, but the power is there. You northerners don't understand these things" he drew himself up and faced off Qorman. "I have killed twenty men in these clothes."

Qorman looked him in the eyes. "I have killed hundreds of men. This is my fifth uniform. They are clothes only. And you are a real soldier now in a real army. Put them on."

A tense few seconds ticked by before the other man blinked. He turned and grudgingly snatched a set of new Dumani-style fatigues from the kid at the crate, and was soon followed by his colleagues.

Across the plaza deep booms erupted as the howitzers fired into the air - seconds later, even deeper bangs as the large calibre rounds exploded. Qorman looked over at where Altus was standing. The Dumani raised his hand in a V sign and grinned.

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Re: Tales of Valour

Postby Preston » Sat Jun 15, 2019 6:30 am

Mauricio liked flying. From thirty thousand feet up, the whole of the land and sea blended into one another. The hills and fields and forests below painted a palette of greens, yellows and browns, dotted by the anthills of small towns and the molehills of larger cities, their highways and suburbs snaking out in all directions like so many arteries connected to a heart. It was the view that God saw, when He spread his presence over the Firmament, his Sunday school teacher had said. Her husband had been a pilot. Had. One weekend, long before Mauricio was born, he had left on a flight, as always, and had not come home. It was an unacknowledged fact, in the congregation of Sao Leandro Apostolic Church, one known by all but never spoken of. To speak was to speculate, and each speculation brought fresh fear and renewed shame. Pilots, the Sunday school teacher had said once shortly after that, need God most of all, for they are most tempted to usurp His place in the order of things.

Twenty years later, Mauricio could see his old teacher's point. Pilots were certainly treated with some measure of Godhood by the Directorate. Demi-gods perhaps; not quite untouchable, not quite immortal, not like the inner-party, but not of the hoi polloi either. Flying for Air Embrea paid well, very well, for Embrean standard at least, and the job came with a government-issued car and a subsidized (and heavily bugged, no doubt) flat near one's base airport. The primary expenses of living thus relieved, pilots were known for living large, to the extent one could in the Directorate. All the women wanted them and all the men wanted to be them, as it were.

Most importantly, being a pilot meant the government trusted you. To go abroad, represent the Directorate, interact with foreigners, and come back as committed a Directivist as you were when you left. That was the real currency, Mauricio thought, upon which the Directorate functioned. Trust. The most vital national resource, carefully doled out, jealously guarded, and always conditional. The PIDE saw to that. It did not do to become too comfortable, to assume today's trust was permanent. It didn't work that way, not for the Director General himself, much less for an easily replaceable pilot.

Today's flight was to Petrograd. A six hour hop, ferrying a plane full of Saratovian tourists back home. Most of his flights were filled with them. Few Embreans, sometimes none at all. Mauricio understood why. Getting a passport endorsed was difficult, and expensive, unless someone vouched for you. The higher up, the better. Ideally, an employer. Most weren't so lucky; most didn't particularly mind either way. A plane of tourists it was, then. Always, a plane of tourists. Today, Saratovians; in three days, a ferry flight to Jesselton, then a plane full of Dharmans and Malays, most likely. Mauricio never understood this. "Visit Intriguing Embrea" the posters read, in every language he had seen throughout the world. Someone at the Sub-Directorate for Culture and Tourism had gotten a promotion for that one. He had asked, once, what brought tourists to Embrea. "For the novelty," a fat Malay had replied. For the novelty. The words stuck with him as the man deplaned. That night, a PIDE man had visited him. He had not asked the question since; it was not a prudent question.

He began his landing approach, with the copilot handling things, a young man by the name of Tito, just out of his service in the Air Force. A bored sounding ATC man crackled to life on the radio. "Trinity one-seven-two-two, regret to inform you of delays, there has been an incident in the terminal. ETA three-zero minutes, over." "Acknowledged, will hold and await instruction, one-seven-two-two," Tito responded, exchanging a look with Mauricio.

An "incident" at the Air Embrea terminal, that meant only one thing. Someone had done a runner. Idiot. Saratovia would repatriate him, and then he would be shot, or imprisoned. That was the way of it, for most of the continent. The Saratovians and Zegorans would send you back. The Flamaguayans too, although the PIDE were more likely to get you before the Flamaguayan police got involved. Nobody quite knew what the Prekovars or Cockays would do. Only the truly desperate would contemplate either. Only the Polaceks, ever the open-minded cosmopolitans, would take in an Embrean who no longer wished to be. Little wonder Polacekia was the hardest country to get an endorsement for.

Thirty minutes passed. Tito guided the bird down to earth, coming to rest with the gentlest sway. A beat later, and the plane was docked to the gate of a terminal with only one occupant. WELCOME TO SARATOVIA -- ENJOY YOUR STAY, the sign proclaimed, in Saratov and in Embrean. Saratov customs screened the passengers. Plainclothes PIDE watched the watchmen, and the odd Embrean among them. The crew were the last off, the terminal deserted save for a few bored check-in clerks and the PIDE men. A fool's errand, to make a run for it here, but there was always a fool to be found.

Tomorrow, Mauricio would have a day off, to reset his hours. Three days later, deadheading to Jesselton, to pick up a plane full of fat Malay tourists, off to visit Intriguing Embrea. Mauricio liked Jesselton. In Jesselton one could disappear, and never be found.

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