Cut the grass, drive out the snakes

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Srf
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Cut the grass, drive out the snakes

Postby Srf » Sat Jun 08, 2019 3:49 pm

The office of the Army Intelligence Bureau was a monolithic, imposing structure situated in down-town Vorga, across the street from the ministry of defence to which it purportedly answered. Despite being a new, post-war construction it emanated a low level of sinister energy - locals tended to cross the street rather than walk under its blank façade, and would tell each other in hushed tones that they believed the building to be cursed. Despite it being almost ten at night, a passer-by would see many of the lights on the upper floors still stubbornly switched on, all manner of clerks and analysts working furiously behind identical desks.

A Dumani-imported town car pulled up to the parking lot of the building - recognising the number plate, the guard didn't bother to wait for a formal identification and hurriedly lifted the security barrier so the car could pass. Inside another soldier was waiting to spring into action and open the rear passenger door, snapping sharply to attention when the occupant climbed out.

"General Chulbasan, sir".

The general returned the salute and headed into the elevator, heading straight to the top floor. He took a moment to give himself a once-over in the mirror, adjusting his army fatigues and brushing a few crumbs of hurriedly eaten dinner off of his lined, craggy Crataean face. He was getting older, he thought. And thinner. And he looked tired. Better put on the cap. He stepped out into the corridor and walked into the situation room, ignoring the dozens of men working diligently at their desks on all manner of espionage and headed directly to the URGENT SITUATION section. Four officers were staring deeply into their monitors, and when they tried to jump up to salute him he dismissed them with a wave.

"Good evening boys. I need an update".

"Sir. 50% of Oki Dar detainees have entered Hakara via Freiburg, and another three hundred are expected to arrive within the next three hours. They received weapons from a depot on the Hakaran border".

"And the Taihei?"

"Eighty kilometers from the eastern suburbs of Dashan, and continuing to advance".

"Very good, boys. Keep at it". the General rapped one of the desks twice with his knuckles, and left the room. He walked all the way to the end of the long corridor before stopping at a nondescript metal door surrounded by CCTV cameras and a fingerprint scanner. A small, brushed aluminium sign simply read "Enhanced Operations". Chulbasan pressed his left little finger to the scanner and walked inside.

There were far fewer men in the EO room. Only two, of notably higher rank than those in the situation room, lounged in expensive office chairs talking on phones and tapping at their keyboards. Such was their seniority that they merely raised their eyebrows to Chulbasan as he entered the room.

"Tell me we are still secure, Ogun?" Chulbasan said as he walked to a table in the corner and poured himself a coffee.

Ogun sighed and leafed through a thick pad of notes on his desk. "I haven't heard from our man in the Presidency since I got back from Freiburg, actually. He usually checks in daily. He's very good at that. We have a meeting tomorrow morning, but if he doesn't show then we are blind. Dorzhi, look..." Ogun leaned forward. "If the BSS find out about this..."

"We knew what we were risking" Chulbasan replied. "I will most likely die for this. But I have been sentenced to death for my country many times before. Here I am, still standing."

He turned to the other man. "And you, Mermud? What do you have to report?"

Mermud nodded twice, as if to himself. "Our friends remain loyal. Scattered, but loyal. Their troops are mixed. We are working on a strategy to bring them into line in a worst-case scenario".

"Worst case scenario", Chulbasan repeated. "That would be quite something indeed. Right. I am heading to the Wolohannic embassy now for an event. Ogun, come to me immediately after your meeting with our man tomorrow. Immediately. If you hear something tonight, call me. This is of the utmost importance".

Ogun nodded. "Dorzhi, it will be fine. We are all professionals here".
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Re: Cut the grass, drive out the snakes

Postby Srf » Sun Jun 09, 2019 12:32 pm

Ogun looked left and right as he stepped into the underpass running beneath the Avenue of the Federation. An unseasonably heavy June storm had just broken over the city an hour ago, and small pools of water were beginning to overflow from the clogged drains and collecting at the base of the steps. The fluorescent strip lights along the sides of the underpass were gently strobing, the city grid under strain from the torrential rain battering the power lines outside. To Ogun's left a homeless man sat cross-legged, stained coffee cup in front of him, quietly singing to himself and scratching absent-mindedly at the wispy grey beard covering his jaw. No sign of the source yet. Ogun pulled out his phone and scrolled through a news article.

Footsteps echoed on the tiles and Ogun looked up, where a soaking-wet man in a grey suit was walking towards him and retracting his umbrella. Ogun turned to the homeless man, and threw a note his way. "Go now", he said. The homeless man grinned a toothless smile and got up, gathered his belongings and started walking away. Ogun raised a hand in greeting to the suited man. "Tumas, you slippery bastard, you are suddenly difficult to get a hold of!"

Tumas laughed in reply and opened his mouth to snap something back at Ogun, before the passing homeless man suddenly pulled him close and drove a knife into his stomach. Ogun yelled in surprise as the attacker pulled away, ripping the knife free and sending a bright stream of blood splashing across the underpass tiles, and reached for the pistol in his waist holster. An explosion of noise stopped him, and he found himself face down on the floor in blinding pain. His jacket was wet and he realised he had been shot. Fuck. As Ogun groaned and writhed on the floor he became aware of a presence behind him. Rough hands flipped him onto his back, sending a fresh burst of white hot pain searing through his shattered collar bone.

"Good evening colonel Ogun. How was Freiburg? I hear it is lovely this time of year".

The speaker was a well-build man dressed in a tracksuit, with a large pair of reflective aviator sunglasses perched on a hooked nose. His hair was buzzed short in a military fashion, and as he smiled a gold tooth glinted in his mouth. He was flanked by two other men wearing similar attire, in a vain attempt to appear inconspicuous. Ogun recognised him instantly.

"Fuck you Keshan" he spat, propping himself up on his good arm. "Even you BSS fucks aren't bulletproof enough to get away with shooting AIB officers".

"Ha-ha!" Keshan replied, still brandishing a heavy Questarian-built pistol in his hand. "Ogun, you idiot. What are you talking about? Haven't you heard street crime is getting worse in Vorga?" He motioned behind Ogun with his eyes, and Ogun turned to see the grinning tramp digging a wallet and mobile phone out of Tumas' pockets. Ogun turned back to Keshan.

"The police might believe this shit. But we won't. You don't know what you've started".

Keshan laughed again and took a step forward. "Ogun, I feel a bit sorry for you. Here you are, meeting an informer in a deserted underpass to learn more BSS secrets. I expect if I sniffed you I could still get a hint of Oki Dar and Commonwealth stink on your clothes. I haven't started anything. But I am finishing something".

He raised the pistol and shot Ogun again. This time it was through the head.
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Re: Cut the grass, drive out the snakes

Postby Dumanum » Thu Jun 13, 2019 4:38 am

The guard scrutinized the ID card, while his colleague scanned the road behind Lucius, and another pair circled the vehicle with a dog and bomb-sweeping mirror. He'd been commuting to this facility for the better part of six months, and still got nothing more than a "Please present your identification," and "Thank you, sir," from these four.

They were Antarterans, each a head taller than most of the locals and near twice the width- they could be relied upon above all others in this place to lack any local sympathies that could prove compromising -and professional to boot. They did not wear any insignia over their grey shell jackets, though discussions with his colleagues had suggested that all of the security personnel at this facility were contractors. Housed within a recently built but otherwise unassuming walled compound in one Vorga's now defunct light manufacturing districts, far from the monolithic towers that speared out from the city center- they liked putting their facilities in these sort of districts as they typically had quite good linkages with the local highway system -few would have suspected that the Bureau of State Security operated a joint tactical operations center with CORE in such a place.

The guard looked up from scrutinizing the identification card, and stared expressionlessly at Lucius, now scrutinizing him. He'd long given up trying to figure out these men- they might as well be automatons. There was nothing behind those those narrow brown eyes, and while that vacant stare had sent a chill down his spine for the first week or so, he was well over it by now. He looked down- properly looked, not glanced -at the ID for another several moments before returning it to him.

"Thank you, sir. Have a pleasant day."

Lucius nodded and rolled up the window. The steel gate slid open in front of him, permitting his car into the compound. Thirty foot walls surrounded it, enough to conceal what went on within from prying outside eyes. Not that it was particularly necessary in that respect: all it hid was the lower portion of an unassuming 4-story drab-colored office building, and an equally unassuming parking area. It could have been the compound of any one of several dozen developers- perhaps one of the newcomers looking at these outer areas, having gotten to the party too late to glut themselves on the inner city's real estate when it was still cheap.

The lobby did not keep up that charade: the metal detectors, X-ray machine, and gaggle of additional guards with assault rifles dispelled any notion that this was any startup developer's local headquarters. Again, he and his ID card were scrutinized before he was allowed to pass through the metal detector and his briefcase and sidearm were handed back to him.

He was ushered around a corner toward a long hall, at the end of which was an elevator. It was almost a little too on the nose, he'd thought the first day. It no longed fazed him when instead of up, the he felt the elevator begin to descend. Not too deep- perhaps three stories. Deep enough to resist artillery fire, or a truck bomb detonating above. He'd asked about that his first week, and had been told in no uncertain terms that they'd learned the hard way to fortify these more remote outposts so well.

Lucius Philosirus did not work for CORE, but nor did he work for the BSS- he was no spy. He was actually a software engineer by trade, formerly of Rationova, one of their star pupils in fact. That was, until the Occulta Custodia had decided they'd like for him to come work with them. He'd been told in no uncertain terms by his former employers that he should accept the opportunity to serve the State, and that there'd be a job waiting for him when he was done. He'd later learned that the company had an arrangement with the government, as part of their contracts on various SIPON-related software, to provide them with personnel trained on development, maintenance, and operation of the systems. The Occulta Custodia, unlike CORE, did not like to use contractors in these sorts of capacities; instead, they made an offer to the recruit, and, if they accepted, performed their own security screenings and shipped them off to Campus Angimannia for Disciplina Primus.

Their offer had actually been quite a bit less than what he was making at Rationova, but the prospect of earning Citizenship doing the same job he was doing in Ostium was too good to pass up. Those kinds of deals were rare, and not publicly advertised. His parents, naturally, were not thrilled- Citizenship was all well and good, but he was educated (on their dime, they reminded him) and employed in a high-paying position at a gigans, and besides they'd not had a Citizen in the family for two generations. Why would he simply go throw that all away? He could not tell them who it was he'd really be working for or what he'd be doing, and so he'd rattled off the usual civics class rhetoric about his desire to take personal responsibility for the defense of his people, culture, and State. His mother was certain it was really about some girl. His father, on the day he left for Angimannia, had taken him aside and told him that he- and his ancestors -were proud of him.

That had been about a year and a half ago. Now, he found himself striding through the coolly lit work floor toward his office. With thirty foot tall ceilings and over a dozen work cells- a colorful admixture of besuited BSS and CORE personnel- spread over the room in an open layout, and a movie theater sized projector screen at the far side, it felt positively cavernous. He was one of the few personnel with a private office, housed in a mezzanine on the opposite side of the room from the large overlay.

He was the Occulta Custodia's sole employee at this facility: they had by far the most experience in the operational use of SIPON in security operations and its limitations. He reported directly to the facility's director, the illustrious Tribune Gnaeus Didius Aquatus. The Tribune, he had been told, was tough old bastard. That hadn't been Lucius' experience- of the same Quardacian stock as Lucius, he'd been thrilled to learn his new tech guy had grown up in the same municipality as he had. And so, rather than death stares, he'd gotten invitations to dine with the Tribune and his family at their Vorga luxury tower residence.

Today, however, he was definitely giving off a tough old bastard vibe.

"In my office, now," he'd called down from the gantry.

Lucius really had to piss, but he did not want to make an issue of it.

"Things have gone to shit with the AIB and that bastard Chulbassan," he'd said, sounding as if he'd not slept in the past day or so. "I hope you brought a change of clothes, because you'll be here awhile."

He hadn't.

The order of the day was targeted killings and renditions. A list of names had come down from headquarters, with a red or blue checkmark next to their name indicating whether they should be taken alive or killed, and they were to first determine who was in their assigned area of operations (the entire city of Vorga) and then action them, in order of prominence. This, Major Hakakian of the BSS had told him, would be executed concurrently with an assault on AIB headquarters. Their own unit had at their direct disposal its own organic strike team of BSS special operators, as well as tactical teams from the Presidential Guard stationed in various sectors of the city to permit for rapid action.

Excusing himself from the two senior officers, finally took a seat at his desk, logging on and pulling up his tickets. There were several dozen of them already. He still needed to piss. He'd knock out a couple of these and then go relieve himself.

Pulling up the first, he sighed. It was that moron Hafuz again: "Need phone recordered 'Ashur Tursun' of AIB for target, please action at earliest," the ticket read. He'd shown Hafuz how to pull cell data on a target at least half a dozen times.

He had to stop himself from storming down to the floor and having words. No, that could wait: there was actual work to be done right now. He began chattering away at the keyboard to run the search: Three clicks later and he had the data Hafuz (he assumed) wanted. A few more clicks, he had geolocation. A few more, CCTV of the general area. SIPON picked him out of the crowd. Tursun had stepped out of AIB headquarters to grab coffee. This one had a blue checkmark. They'd want the family too, no doubt. He forwarded the info package to Hafuz and CC'd his manager, who was well aware of his problem child, as he ran that search. Fuck it, he really had to piss.

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Re: Cut the grass, drive out the snakes

Postby Srf » Sat Jun 15, 2019 3:20 pm

Tursun put the beer down on the table and waved the waitress over toward him.

"Girl, what's the special?"

"Yak meat stir-fried in chilli sauce" she replied, with typical Sharfic service industry curtness. Tursun nodded and took another swig of beer as she walked off, shouting toward the kitchen.

Outside the dining hall, figures of people dashed up and down the street in another torrential downpour. The rain was hammering against the dining hall's tin roof, doing a most admirable job of drowning out that week's latest pop release wailing from a tinny speaker. Tursun looked left and right at the other diners, sitting on little stools and slurping down bowls of peasant soup.He shouldn't really be here. He had only left the office for a coffee. But who wanted to drink fucking coffee, when he had just been told such grim news. Ogun was dead. Those Dumani lapdogs in the BSS were behind it, for sure. No, he needed a beer. It was going to be a long day.

The girl came back out of the kitchen holding Tursun's soup and set it down in front of him. He looked up to thank her and caught sight of two skinny men in bomber jackets walking into the dining hall. In one motion he pulled a fat metal pistol from his holster, but they were faster. Three shots rang out - two sent Tursun flying off his stool, while the third caught one of the BSS men in his stomach. The survivor walked past his stricken colleague and the screaming waitress to shoot Tursun again as people ran outside, before disappearing himself into the monsoon.

______________________

Desperate hammering on the sealed door brought Mermud out of his reprieve, where he had been staring intently at Ogun's empty chair. He stood up and opened the door to the face of a terrified-looking analyst.

"Colonel, it's the BSS! They're here! They've brought everything!"

Mermud blinked. "That's impossible." He ran straight down the hallway and into the break room, which overlooked the street outside. The road was being sealed off by APCs painted in the black-and-grey camouflage of the Presidential Guard, parking across multiple lanes to stop any vehicles getting past. At the foot of the building, more APCs were driving onto the pavement and disgorging dozens of black-clad police commandos.

"This is impossible". Mermud turned around to the analyst, who had followed him into the room. "Where is the General? Where is he?!"

The analyst stammered. "He has been out all day sir. Nobody has heard from him..."

The power went out. Mermud grabbed the analyst by the shoulder.

"Call him now. Tell him to stay away. Use the secure line" Mermud told him, before running into the situation room.

"Everyone! Drop what you are doing and listen to me right now!" he shouted. His voice received instant attention. "The BSS are here. They are preparing to storm the building in force. Burn everything under URGENT SECTION right now. Everything".

Mermud called out the last word as he ran out of the room, down the hall.

______________________

Major Hakakian had stayed at ground level while the AIB operation was underway, listening in on his tactical teams as they cleared the building room by room. It had only taken about ten minutes of shooting and flash grenade explosions for the first captives to be dragged out into the rain, rubbing heir eyes or moaning in pain at the dull aches in their ears. Hakakian followed their progress by watching the building's façade, seeing the muzzle flashes lighting up windows higher and higher up the building. In all, the operation took about thirty minutes total before all his troops were accounted for. He walked up to one as he stepped over the shattered glass of the lobby windows, busily removing his combat helmet.

"Any trouble, Keshan?"

Keshan pulled the helmet off of and stared at the ground for a few seconds, breathing heavily, before meeting Hakakian's gaze.

"Not much. A few hold-outs here and there. But they weren't ready for a fight. They didn't even have automatics, most of them". He sniffed, wiped a small river of sweat and dust off his face, and spat on the floor.

Hakakian pushed on. "And Chulbasan?"

"The rat wasn't there. No sign of him". Keshan spat again. "And they burned the Oki Dar files".

"The latter means nothing. The former means everything. Shit, he was supposed to be here". Hakakian stamped on the ground and grimaced. "Why wasn't he here?"

"Ahh" Keshan replied. "I may be able to answer that for you". He gestured at the building's stricken doorway, where two more officers were dragging Mermud's limp body onto the street. "He's still alive, fucking Mermud. He'll know what we need to know".

"Right then" Hakakian put his hand on Keshan's shoulder for a second before walking off. "Get him to the villa. I'm going to brief the Presidency".
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Re: Cut the grass, drive out the snakes

Postby Srf » Sun Jun 23, 2019 7:09 am

Keshan was on the veranda, drinking a beer and tearing into a steak, when Hakakian's car pulled in to the Villa below him. Keshan watched the car for a second before taking another bite, and another swig, and waited for the Major to come find him.

It took only a few minutes - Hakakian, looking unusual and out-of-place in a short-sleeved linen shirt rather than his usual BSS fatigues, strolled toward Keshan across the veranda.

"You didn't come to meet me, Keshan. You're getting insubordinate".

"I was enjoying the view" Keshan replied, mouth full of meat. He gestured with his knife-holding hand in front of him where, from the Villa's location on the slopes of Mount Qagaqalaman, they could see many kilometres of semi-untouched tropical forest giving way to the stark, ugly grey-and-brown-and-silver sprawl of Vorga. "What can I do for you, sir?"

"You can tell me what you learned from the raid. And from Mermud".

"Oh, um" Keshan put down his cutlery, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and stood up. "It's not good news, sir".

_______

"How did this happen? What is this?!"

Hakakian paced back and forth in the small cell, fuming, as Keshan lounged against the bare concrete wall. The Major was almost never this angry. Still, it wasn't his fault.

"It wasn't his first time here, sir. I think he didn't expect us to keep going. I think he was expecting to be broken out".

"Keshan, this is barbaric, even for you" Hakakian spat, pointing angrily at the limp, naked, mutilated corpse of Mermud that was still strapped into a metal folding chair in the centre of the room. "There's blood on the ceiling. What did you do to him? Never mind - I don't want to know. Did you not learn any finesse in Urbs Dumanus? Did he tell you anything? Anything at all?"

"Nothing. Only what he would do to our mothers".

Hakakian shouted and kicked the wall. Then he stormed toward Keshan, getting within an inch of his face, pointing a finger at his neck.

"This was a fuck-up, Keshan. You fucked this up. You. If any more blood is going to be spilled from this mistake, I will see to it that that blood is yours".

_______________________________________

It had been raining heavily earlier, but in the last twenty minutes had slowed down to only a gentle drizzle. The raindrops were barely even audible as they hit against the brightly coloured, beer- and energy drink-branded parasols that cluttered the small courtyard. Beneath them old women stood behind wheeled grills and gas burners, illuminated by bright white and blue fluorescent strip lights, cooking all manner of meats and vegetables and chattering and laughing among themselves.

The market was crowded, with hundreds of workers leaving their jobs in the multinational offices of Freiburg's Zone One and grabbing dinner before heading home to the outskirts. Zitar was a little taller than the average Sharfic, but he still had a hard time forcing his way through the mass of people. In Vorga, he mused, people would part like fishes for anyone with purpose - here, everyone was too convinced of their own importance, and refused to budge.

His target was an old concrete town house that overlooked the market, and when he looked up he saw the light in the bathroom was on. Good, the occupant was home. He pushed on through the crowd, climbed a flight of rusted steel stairs and banged against the door. It opened and he slipped in.

"General Chulbasan sir, nice to see you" Zitar said, shaking the general's hand. He looked unwell - thinner, and more tired than ever, with some of the energy in his eyes faded. But there was still plenty of fire burning in his dark pupils.

The two men headed to the kitchen, where Chulbasan had brewed some tea. They made sure to finish at least one cup before getting down to business. Zitar spoke first.

"What happened? We only know what they put on the news. They say that terrorists took over the AIB and killed everyone inside"

"That is somewhat correct" Chulbasan replied. "The Presidency is consolidating its power. They found out about our joint operation and used it as an excuse. They've crushed the AIB. No doubt they'll formally dissolve it in the coming weeks. Zitar..." Chulbasan leaned foward. "I know that the Aimagate was not a fair country, at all. But at least we were ourselves. We were proud, weren't we? Now what are we? Dumani puppets. Well, not you, I suppose. But across the border we are. But I have a plan. I have many supporters in the Aktoi Republic. In the army, too. Not too far from here actually. If I could get back to them I could organise something. Some kind of pressure. We need Qacha out. He's a puppet and a snake. He..."

Zitar raised a hand, halting the flood of words from Chulbasan. "Spell it out for me. What are you asking for?"

Chulbasan looked into his eyes. "I am asking for you to take me back into the Federation".
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Re: Cut the grass, drive out the snakes

Postby Srf » Fri Aug 02, 2019 3:02 pm

"I haven't been here in years".

It was an overcast moonless night, and the tiny boat pitched violently as it rode the surf rushing into Beryngol, but Chulbasan knew that the city of his youth had irrecoverably changed. From what was once a sleepy and nondescript fishing town dozens of modern high rises now emerged from the darkness, their presence given away by intermittent flashing of large aircraft warning lights on their summits.

The captain said nothing, keeping the tradition of their two day journey across the Tairendian Sea, and brought the boat alongside a seemingly abandoned stone pier that jutted awkwardly from the beach. More shadows moved around on the stone and suddenly men were visible, wearing dark clothes and peaked black caps that hid their faces. They silently got to work bringing in the boat, securing it in place, and one bent down to grab Chulbasan's arm and bring him ashore. The captain watched, ever-silent, and made no effort to acknowledge the General as he walked past toward the shore. Chulbasan looked down as he put his first foot onto sand. He had been away from his country for over a week, the longest in more than 60 years. He never wanted to leave again.

Chulbasan and the two men hiked through the sand dunes for over an hour - the older man tiring quickly, but refusing to show it - before reaching a half-rusted pickup truck parked in a lay-by. One of the other men opened the door, allowing Chulbasan to ride shotgun, and took off inland, parallel to the city. Only once the truck was underway did anyone speak.

"Welcome back, General sir" said the driver, pulling the cap off his head. "Apologies for the long walk. We can't risk going into Beryngol. As I'm sure you know, sir, it's full of Dumani soldiers and Federals garrisoning the port. We're taking you to Muluu. You have many friends there".

"I understand" Chulbasan said. "Thank you.

He looked towards Beryngol as they drove into the endless dark interior of his country. He was born in that city. His family still lived there. That was really home, he thought. Was a country a home? No, people are home. He hoped Muluu could become home, in time. Because he doubted he would ever walk in Beryngol again.
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Re: Cut the grass, drive out the snakes

Postby Srf » Mon Aug 05, 2019 4:46 am

For the first time since in almost ten years, Chulbasan was woken by the strangled, throaty cry of a cockerel. He groaned and shifted in the small wooden bed, turning to face the window. The offending bird was perched on the frame, and they locked eyes for a few long seconds. The bird sized Chulbasan up with his beady orange eyes, decided he was no threat, and enthusiastically crowed again into the bedroom.

"Oh Gods" Chulbasan sighed, and pulled himself out of bed. His back, angered by hours of bumpy unsealed roads and a night on hard wood, made its displeasure known. He swore and stepped on to the balcony of the house. Mist was clinging to the peaks of lush green hills surrounding the town, yet to be burned off by the morning sun. Below him the women of the house were chattering away as they poured fluffy white rice into a wok full of oil and eggs and chilies, the cockerel's mistresses hanging around and darting in to peck at the grains that fell on the floor. Somewhere in the town, the temples were ringing the prayer bells. Chulbasan didn't want to pray, so instead he lit a cigarette. He stood and smoked it for a minute, watching the town wake up, until someone knocked at his door. A short, wiry man wearing a clearly second hand Flamaguayan university sweater entered the room and did a small bow.

"Good morning, Dorzhi-Seguder. I hope you slept well?"

"Thank you, Qadan. Your hospitality in housing me is well-appreciated. Truly".

Qadan shuffled. "You are always welcome, Sir". His eyes lingered on the pronounced gaps in the wooden boards of the house, the bare bulb hanging from a socket in the ceiling. "I can only apologise that it is not the General's usual standard of residence".

Chulbasan stepped forward, and placed his hands on Qadan's upper arms. He looked him in his eyes. "You have given me food, and lodging, when the powers of this land scream for my blood. You are a very brave man, Qadan. Brave, and clever. Perhaps I would have been as clever as you, if the good living of Vorga did not make me soft. Perhaps I would have seen what was coming for me". He released his hands and smiled, ending the moment. "Now, your guest is honour-bound to inform you that he is very hungry. And he saw the delicious breakfast his host's wife and daughter are preparing outside. So perhaps we should join them?"

______________________________

The town hall was decrepit - rats ran amok in the ceiling space, clearly exposed by missing tiles and water-damaged holes, and the walls were smeared with unidentifiable stains accumulating over decades. It was also full to capacity - hundreds of plastic chairs had been crammed into the mid-sized space, each one occupied by a hard-eyed man of the town. Still more crowded along the walls, or sat on the window-frames. The women clustered outside, under the shade of a mango tree.

Chulbasan walked to the front of the hall, where a podium had been quickly built for his use. He tapped it, and began to speak.

"All of you are my people. We share the same blood, the same history. The same victories and defeats. We are proud Aktoi people, descendants of Bartu and Jaghatid and Aktoimup. But this is not my land. This town - these hills - are not my home. So I ask you to hear me out. And if I will complicate your lives, you must ask me to leave".

He felt a ripple of shifting in chairs throughout the room as people silently approved of his opening statement. Chulbasan, they would think, what a respectable man. Of course, they would never ask him to leave. He was a guest.

"That being said. I am sure you have heard the terrible news. My institution, the Army Intelligence Bureau, has been destroyed by enemies from within the state itself. My people are dead. I myself am hunted by those in Vorga. I failed to see the conspiracy against me. That which our people warned of, during the Struggle, has come to pass. Our country has been seized by foreigners. The Northerners, and their Dohmaan allies, are in complete control."

"We were promised freedom. We have not had it. We were promised peace. It has been taken away from us. We were promised development. Well... Some people have benefited from its effects. Have we? No! I know that some of you in this very room were tossed from Beryngol to make way for Northerners. Your land, given to you by God, has been blocked by fences and walls, and despoiled by concrete. Here in Muluu, where are the construction trucks? Where are the schools, and the hospitals, and the jobs we were promised?When we agreed to holster our guns, it was for a better future. Now we are slaves in our own land."

Chulbasan closed his eyes, and felt the energy of the crowd. They were angry, frustrated. They were listening to him.

"Across our lands I, and you, have many brothers who fought in the Struggle. Who have had promise after promise broken while they wallow in poverty and shame, emasculated by the arrogance of the Northerners. I will bring them here, and I will rebuild an army of the Aktoi. We will fight the invaders, and we will retake our land and our dignity. And we will have a state of our own."

Some people in the audience cheered, and threw up their fists. Chulbasan continued.

"There is a saying in our language - the victim holds the knife. Are we the victims? Or will we slaughter our attackers? Either way. We will spill their blood".
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Re: Cut the grass, drive out the snakes

Postby Srf » Mon Aug 05, 2019 7:49 am

You felt it before you heard it, and you heard it before you saw it. A deep throb, rising through the pavement at regular intervals, quickly joined by erratic, schizophrenic sounds of electronic music drops. Then you turned the corner, and saw it - an unassuming courtyard, with a doorway wreathed in fake plants. Two impossibly large bouncers in matching t-shirts, with matching angry expressions and crossed arms. A sign above the doorway gave a name - I N T E N Z - and then a flight of stone steps took you downwards.

Qaritaxus, CORE liaison officer, stepped into the club and breathed in, catching the distinct fresh smell of dry ice. A tall and thin DJ, Wallasean or Arteran, was jumping up and down on the stage, flanked by green and blue and purple laser beams, in front of a densely packed crowd of young men and women waving their hands in the air.

Qaritaxus sighed and headed straight to the VIP area. He pushed a fat teenager out of his way and there was Keshan, the butcher, spread out on a velvet sofa with a bottle of whiskey dangling in his hands and a handgun stuffed into the waistband of his jeans. He clapped and threw his fist in the air with every drop, imitated by his young entourage of junior BSS agents. Beside him lounged an incredibly beautiful girl, clad in the typical black clubbing dress. Qaritaxus stepped forward and Keshan spotted him, cheered, and beckoned him over.

"Qari, bro!" he yelled, leaning close into Qaritaxus' ear to make himself heard over the thunderous music. "Let me pour you a drink, man!"

"Come here" Qaritaxus replied. Stepping away from the sofa. Keshan stumbled to his feet and stood beside him. He had his hand on Qaritaxus' shoulder in a seemingly friendly manner, but was using his comrade to keep himself upright. "You're a mess, man".

"Fuck you" Keshan slurred. "It's my day off. You see that girl? Her grandad was a Uirian King... Fucking Uiriain dog. I'll have her like a dog, too, hahaha".

Qaritaxus looked back at the girl, tapping away on her phone. Poor thing. He turned back to Keshan.

"Listen. Chulbasan is back home. He's raising friends. He's going to come for you, Keshan".

"Haha! I hope he does", Keshan grunted. "I'll break the old man's neck. He won't fuck with BSS again. He learned his place".

Qaritaxus sighed again. "Drink some water and come home with me, now, Lieutenant, or I'll shoot you myself".

Keshan stood quietly for a minute, like a slow computer processing information. He put the whiskey bottle on the table. "Let me take a piss".

______________________________

"Good evening again, Mr Keshan sir!" said the toilet attendant as Keshan stumbled into the bathroom. "The usual for you?" He raised a small dark bottle of cologne from the silver platter he had set up by the sink.

Keshan grunted in reply and unzipped himself, steadying his body with a hand against the wall. "I need a lot. I'm sweating, hahaha. And I'm bringing this girl home. You should see her".

"Very good, mr Keshan sir" the attendant replied, as Keshan headed to the sink and started to wash his hands. "Some paper?"

He approached Keshan, hunched under the tap and drinking water, with a paper towel. Half a meter away his hands shot out and smashed Keshan's head into the bathroom mirror. A man in a floral dress shirt burst from one of the toilet stalls, wielding a butterfly knife, and charged at the BSS man. Dazed but still alive, he roared and threw his fist into the attendant's face, sending him clattering. Dress shirt swept at Keshan's stomach and caught him in the side - he howled and kicked dress shirt in the knee, forcing him to the floor. The attendant was back on his feet, and swung a roundhouse kick into Keshan's back and put him on his knees. The blood loss from the slash to his abdomen and the glass in his head was beginning to have an affect.

With one last effort Keshan barreled toward the attendant, grabbing him around the waist, and drove him through one of the toilet stall doors while the attendant rained blows on his head. He reached for the pistol in his waistband. Dress shirt leapt forward with the knife and stabbed Keshan in the back and sides at least twenty times, piercing deep into his organs. As the BSS man collapsed, gasping, on the floor, the two assailants dusted themselves off and left the bathroom.

It took five minutes for Keshan to die, bleeding out on the floor of the filthy club bathroom. The "out of order" sign placed outside by his attackers made sure he was left undisturbed, until a suspicious Qaritaxus burst into the room with his own gun drawn. By then the killers had climbed into a stolen car, waiting for them a block away, before disappearing into the night.

The victim held the knife, and was making sure to use it.
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Re: Cut the grass, drive out the snakes

Postby Srf » Mon Aug 26, 2019 7:18 am

It had been raining, and clear beads of water dripped from the thick green ferns and mosses that coated the hillside at regular intervals. Two men in green-and-grey fatigues crouched among the leaves, having comfortably locked their bodies into a Crataean squat  for the last four hours. No talking, no moving - just squatting, for hours and hours, occasionally slipping a handful of shredded kratom leaves into their mouths.

When they heard a deep roar in the sky above them they looked up. Two wide-winged, stubby jet planes flew in formation high above the valley, leaving thick white trails in the early morning air. One man looked to the other.

"You see that?" he said. "You see. That is the third air patrol since yesterday morning. They are hunting us, Zar".

Zar nodded, and spat another bitter green globule of chewed kratom into the dirt. "They are guarding the convoy. But they won't see us down here".

He turned back to the east, where the hill dropped sharply into a wide valley. The thin brown scar of a dirt road cut through the valley floor. At one end lay Muluu, the other - eventually - Beryngol and Vorga. Zar put a pair of binoculars to his eyes - up the valley road trundled four or five trucks, deep green with canvas covers. Each would contain at least twenty soldiers. Following the trucks was an armoured vehicle, Dumani-built, that belched thick black diesel fumes as it churned up what was left of the road.

Zar watched the convoy as it took a sharp mountain turn, and crossed an old concrete bridge over a waterfall. The lead truck was at the far end of a bridge when the structure exploded into a thick cloud of dust that enveloped the two trucks crossing the water. It was at least two kilometers away - Zar saw the explosion long before he heard it. By the time the dull bang reached him on the hillside, the first truck and a few chunks of concrete could already be seen tumbling into the water. By the time the billowing smoke had cleared, and the two jets had come around for another pass, Zar and the second man were gone.
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Re: Cut the grass, drive out the snakes

Postby Srf » Tue Aug 27, 2019 7:05 am

Dry, bare, grey-brown crunched against Major Hakakian's riding boots as he shifted his weight to the left hand side. The monk had not heard him, and continued with his low rhythmic chanting as a circle of blue-robed novices emitted a deep whistling, humming melody from the depths of their throat. In the midst of the circle, on a centuries-old rounded platform built from mountain stone, the corpse of BSS Agent Keshan sat erected, cross-legged in a position of meditation. From here, Hakakian thought, it looked dignified. He was glad the death robes covered the ghoulish scaffolding of sticks and hooks spread across his torso, freezing him in the correct position. Everyone knew it was there, of course, but better to pretend not to see it. Keshan's parents could do without that.

The monk finished his chanting, and approached the body. Into the left hand he placed a stone, taken from a summit of Qorbochqa's six holy peaks. Into the right hand he placed a plain earthenware cup filled with river water. Then he clapped, and the funeral party began walking down the dead, windswept mountaintop and back toward Qorbochqa. Hakakian looked up at the sky, where the vultures were already descending.

__________________________

Keshan's mother sniffed quietly as she poured green tea into Hakakian's waiting cup. He smiled and thanked her, and she acknowledged with a small twitch of her mouth before retreating again to the kitchen.

"I am sorry" said the father, "this is hard for her".

Hakakian nodded, and sipped the tea. He looked around the balcony, at the pastel red-and-blue-painted wooden walls and thick yak skin blankets hanging from hooks, ready to engulf a cold guest. Beneath them was the street, so narrow that the Keshan's balcony almost touched that of the house on the opposite side, which was usually filled with vendors hawking all kinds of barbecued meats. Hakakian wasn't from the city, but he had seen them when his bodyguards cleared them out. How only they lurked in the streets below, sitting on abandoned tables and chairs and cradling their stubby sub-machine guns. He sipped some more tea.

"Sir, I was your son's leader. I bear responsibility for his death". He pulled a knife from his belt, and handed it to Keshan's father. He pointed his face to the ceiling, exposing his neck. "If you so wish, you have the right to extract a blood price".

The old man sighed. "A blood price is all I want. But not from you".

In a fluid motion, he slashed open the soft flesh on his palm, and then Hakakian's. He squeezed their wounded hands together, and looked the Major directly in his eyes.

"Crush the Ulannic dogs who butchered my boy. Scatter their remains across Crataea, so they can never pass into the afterlife. Burn their towns and villages, and slaughter their people. Do this and your debt to me is paid".

Hakakian nodded. "I will do it".

__________________________

As he was walking out the house Hakakian signaled to his guards, who smoothly moved into position surrounding him. One produced a medical gauze which the Major quickly wrapped around his sliced hand.

"Take me to the military hospital before we fly back to Vorga", Hakakian ordered his driver as he climbed into a jeep. "I need a new set of jabs. Who knows what awful germs these mountain people have".
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