The House Built of Pain aka "The Scandian Mega"


#1

Nations are built of corpses.
-Old Scandish saying

What you lookin' at? You all a bunch of fuckin' assholes. You know why? You don't have the guts to be what you wanna be? You need people like me. You need people like me so you can point your fuckin' fingers and say, "That's the bad guy." So... what that make you? Good? You're not good. You just know how to hide, how to lie. Me, I don't have that problem. Me, I always tell the truth. Even when I lie. So say good night to the bad guy! Come on. The last time you gonna see a bad guy like this again, let me tell you. Come on. Make way for the bad guy. There's a bad guy comin' through! Better get outta his way! -Tony Montana, Scarface

In 28 WR, when it was created, the Scandian League had an adult literacy rate of less than twenty percent. On average, its people consumed only a few hundred calories of food a day; a tenth of the entire population starved to death in that year. No government authority existed to catalogue crime, but it was believed that murders in Scande itself alone were greater than murders all of Tasnica’s major cities. Only a handful of buildings had electricity. People died of diseases that children in Tasnica, Crystal, and Esper were regularly immunized against. There was no military to speak of. It was widely believed that it was destined to be consumed or dominated by other powers.

In 46 WR, the Scandian League’s adult literacy rate approached 99 percent. Although the fare is simple, no man, woman, or child went hungry. The number of murders in all of Scande’s major cities was less than the murder rate of Olivawk. Electricity and heating were to be had throughout the League. Scande was slated to host the Interdimensional Medical Association’s conference this year. It had one of the Web’s most powerful militaries, particularly the ground forces. It was one of the Web’s Great Powers, the bedrock that allowed Web communism to be built.

_________________________+

I. DRAMATIS PERSONAE

All-Union Communist Party (of the Dragon Dimension) nomenklatura

Travin Rumanski, General Secretary of the party and supreme dictator of Scande

Boris Dalienin, Commissar for Agriculture, Chairman of the Council on Economic Planning, leader of the Organization of Winter

Euley Benetov, Chief Commissioner of the Solidat

Nikolai Serchenko, Commissar for External Affairs

S/31

Ivan Gletkin, Chief of S/31 and high-level member of the Organization of Winter

Sonya Hellcova, S/31 agent, time mage, and pawn in the Organization of Winter

Mynx Lantra, S/31 agent, former Red Star, named “the Betrayer” because she sided with the Communists against the il’Bleu

Scandian League Combined Military Officers

Halder Skalice, Chief of Staff and overall commander of all SLCM operations

Dorath Haggard, Superintendant of the Crucible and high-level member of the Organization of Winter

Candice Kornski, Tribune in the SLCM and commander of Task Force Garm

Jendon Fel, Commander in the Dracoforms Service, the original Dracoforms arce

Sheila Sporr, Commander in the Dracoforms Service, the “Iron Maiden”, winner of the first robotics tournament; assigned to SLCM-Space as punishment for insubordination

Sven Zerekovski, Commander in the Dracoforms Service, the “Fist of Gunta”, Dracoform ace currently serving a tour as chief mecha instructor at the Crucible

Kreyta Rodenko, Tetracom in the Dracoforms Service, a promising younger pilot; nicknamed the “Ice Queen”, just shy of being accorded official ‘ace’ status

Yellow Turbans

Sud Bloodbane, “the Priest”, leader of the Yellow Turban rebellion

Gekar Cloudwalker, a powerful Silver Wyrm, patron of the Yellow Turbans

Makita Antares, one of the last of the il’Bleu Red Stars

Tryna Reharda, Matriarch of the il’Bleu

Others

Grimlock, a Crystal Golem; the Hand of Travin

Alfred Chekhov, a Celpo Minder

Yuri Sporr, Sheila’s physically disabled brother

Imbehl, a Graulemn imprisoned by the Organization of Winter

Erin Koonman, a Tyranid employed by the Organization of Winter

Tess Dalienin, Boris’s wife

‘Dawn’ Characters
Presidium
Creetak Bragsworth, representative of Tantar and Tuntar; claims to be a nobleman

Ruvin Ulan, former GA Hauptmann, representative of Spring

Roberto Ropeg, Auria

Allen Bole, Bleak

Plok Polk, Gramor; too old to really know what’s going on

Communists

Titodov Penganin, Founder, President, and primary ideologue of the All-Union Communist Party (of the Dragon Dimension)

Marhsa Polenko, Vice President of the Party

Others
Gunther Krupp, CEO of Saeder-Krupp Industries


#2

II. A Usual Briefing

(Note: some of the stuff in this post, particularly Re: OZ contradicts the NP. I figure those events deserve their own post, but I had them in mind when I wrote the NP, so I went ahead and put them in the NP. I will deal with the change of Governors in the OZ in a separate post.)

Halder Skalice had his own car on the train to Scande.

It would have been faster to fly, but koyzha had insisted the Chief of Staff of the SLCM take the train this time. Skalice had just completed an inspection of the Zavod imeni Rumanski in Gant, the largest manufacturing facility in the League, to assess its suitability for increasing production. He had just been in Albrook, at the invitation of GA generals to participate in war games. Travel for Halder outside the League was rare, so he accepted.

Halder shifted uncomfortably in his cabin. It was, like so much built in Scande, designed for function over form, and with what seemed to be an explicit indifference to personal comfort. At least it was well-lit; the train was making its long circuit through the tunnel through the mountains around Scande. Scande itself was surrounded by both a mountains and water on all sides; it its inevitable that this nearly perfect natural fortress would come to dominate the dimension.

In this time, Halder passed the time by reading intelligence dossiers. He was, after all, going to Scande to brief Comrade Rumanski on the status of the League’s security. Halder specifically requested S/31 work up psychology profiles and extensive files on high-ranking commanders in the other great powers.

Mountbatten, Rycar Koln. Admiral Supreme, Republic Aerospace Fleets, Tasnica Republic. Very talented, very ambitious. Attacked a Dark Wrath cruiser with his mere destroyer in the Great War. Tasnica’s resident space visionary, and the large force behind Tasnica’s increasing military space presence. Clearly he desired Tasnica to dominate all of space, if not the whole Web. A passionate collector of art who writes philosophy in his spare time. Tried to reform Oberkommando der Republik, is rumored to have designs on being Prime Minister. No children, one divorced wife; married to his job, Halder could understand that. Was rumored to be contemplating a run at public office, either Senator or even Prime Minister. Did he push for Tasnica to get into the war out of belief, or the chance for glory? Skalice couldn’t know for sure. Typically Tasnican in his desire for flash and attention. Still, very talented, very ambitious.

Sir Toadus, Patron of the Order of the Frog, Captain of the Knights of the Square Table of Guardia. Known throughout the kingdom as a paragon of chivalry and honor. During the Syndicate Wars he threw the Knights behind Doan, making him King. His honor is his life. Helped lead the stand against Rajaat. Was cursed with amphibian form; whether it bothered him or interfered with his duties, Skalice could not say. Helped Medina get back on its feet. A strident adherent to ideals of nobility that few believed even existed anymore. Known throughout the kingdom as a paragon of chivalry and honor.

Halberg, Theodore Orville. By far the thickest file Skalice had, and the most often-read; Skalice probably knew many of the significant dates in the Esperian Marshal’s life better than the Grand Marshal himself. Born of wealthy Marandan aristocrats, his prestigious military career stretched back to the Imperial military of Gestahl, where he served under such distinguished men as Torstensson Lenart and Leonard Robenstein. He served in Tasnica’s Republic Expeditionary Force in the war against NAMAC, commanding a cavalry regiment under General of Cavalry Rolf Julian. One daughter, Alice, who by all accounts he loved dearly, by his childhood sweatheart. He had received military decorations from more different governments than any commander in the Web save Celiose Cole. Regarded not only as the savior of the Esperian nation, but as the man who saved the Web from communism. Was now the de facto leader of the Esper Union. In all the pictures in the folder, Skalice was always struck by how proud Halberg seemed, how full of energy and confidence he was. Halberg was the sort of man who could rally and inspire diverse peoples, and make them believe that they were one nation, the nation of Esper. By far the thickest file Skalice had, and the most often-read; Skalice probably knew many of the significant dates in the Esperian Marshal’s life better than the Grand Marshal himself.

The train pulled across the night, over a bridge of the water, and into the station. Halder gathered his belongings and disembarked.

The exit or entrance of every building in Scande had a small terminal; every person in Scande had a small card to swipe at that terminal. This allowed the government to track the comings and goings of every person in the League; a feat of computer engineering made possible only with the assistance of the Ticonderans. Halder didn’t think too much about it when he swiped his card at the exit of that station. A man in a yellow uniform stopped him.

“Papers,” he said.

Halder looked at the man from the Solidat bemusedly; the state police rarely stopped people in military uniform. But then, maybe they were a bit on edge these days. Halder produced his identification papers without complaint, complete with biometric identifiers proving he was indeed Halder Deyos Skalice, Chief of Staff of the Scandian League combined military.

A little embarrassed, the Solidat man waved him on. Halder met his transportation, a treaded Roach general purpose vehicle. Scande was a singularly ugly city; buildings were masses of concrete and bricks, and the urban landscape was a slate grey. Buildings like schools, crèches for orphans, hospitals, government administrative buildings, and housing units all looked essentially the same. There were lots of signs in Scande; without them, it would be easy to get lost in the interchangeable buildings.

The Headquarters of the All-Union Communist Party (of the Dragon Dimension) was actually well outside the heart of the city. It was not a towering or imposing building, but it was surrounded by guard posts and barbed wire. Most of the complex was underground. It was mainly distinguished by the large letters of the party slogan:

Soldiarity.
Socialism.
Collectivism.

Halder exited the Roach and entered the building; he knew his way to Travin’s office, and he was expected. The Crimson Guard stopped him, and took a moment to verify he was who he said he was and check for weapons. Skalice had to check his sidearm with them; no one but the Crimson Guard was allowed to carry a weapon within the presence of Rumanski, not even the person in charge of all the League’s military forces.

Travin’s office was large, but sparse. Halder was aware it had its own closed-circuit life support system if necessary, and had additional reinforcement. These depths of the Party Headquarters were designed to withstand an Ultima attack. Travin had a television, and a computer terminal, and ever-present guards; there were only a handful of seats in the room to accommodate visitors.

Comrade Rumanski, master of nearly an entire dimension, was getting really rather pale these days; he rarely left the city of Scande, and it seemed that he left the bunker less and less. Increasingly, he trusted only a small circle of advisors. The short list was Skalice, who was Chief of Staff of the Scandian League Combined Military; Ivan Gletkin, who was head of S/31, Scande’s intelligence service; and Boris Dalienin, who chaired the Council on Economic Planning. Presumably there were others; definitely someone from the Solidat and members of the Invisible Order.

“Comrade Skalice,” acknowledged Travin. “I’m sure your time is valuable, so I don’t believe you’ll mind if we move straight to business.”

“Of course not, Comrade Rumanski,” replied Skalice. He paused for a moment, wondering where to begin; but then he decided it was most natural to start with the Esperians. “Our counterinsurgency efforts in the Occupied Zone continue,” he said. “Introducing more light infantry has increased some success, but—“

Travin waved his hand. “My dear Comrade Skalice,” he said. “our war in OZ will continue as long as there OZ exists.”

“Yes, of course,” nodded Skalice. He shuffled papers in his folder uncomfortably. “The Esper Union itself has been forced to respond to a situation in Doma. We believe that  they will be too preoccupied take advantage of our current situation. We have been able to pull some troops off the line at Hostluftgrad to make up deployments elsewhere.”

Travin nodded. Skalice continued.

“The Tasnicans have completely bought into our deception plans. They believe that our military capacity is significantly larger than is the case. It is unclear to what degree the other powers concur.” Halder allowed himself a small smile; the SLCM had been busy, almost overworked; things could get very risky indeed if the rest of the Web realized that. Powerful though it was, even Scande’s military might had its limits. “Eblan seems committed to helping Guardia with its Merge operation,” Halder continued the summary, “so the prospect of it threatening Mysidia is low. Meanwhile, our participation in Ticondera continues.

Travin nodded. “What of our progress in Medina?”

Halder was prepared for the question; Travin always seemed very interested in anything that helped the allies, or potential allies. “We’ve established sea patrols and are working on rooting out some of the syndicates,” said Skalice. “We have also helped train six new regiments.”

“Excellent,” said Travin. “By my reckoning, we now come to the heart of things.”

“Indeed,” said Skalice. “In terms of ground forces we can risk sending little to Merge at this point. Keeping them here, in the Core, as a chance to strike at Guardia itself is a more effective deterrent than sending a large force to Merge. I should add that we do not have the space transportation capacity to move a large force to Merge if we wanted to, or adequately defend such a convoy should the Guardians strike. The Guardians outclass us in space, but we’ve got them on the ground; if they catch our ground forces in space, our advantage will evaporate.”

“A prudent course of action,” nodded Rumanski Alkar was going to get a beating; that was inevitable. The black mage was getting uncomfortably uppity anyway; he would only survive this war because of his friend in Dragon.

“We are doing are best to level things out in space, of course,” said Skalice. “S/31 has a few things planned. We’ve even sent out a few feelers to the Unbound.”

“Excellent,” said Travin. And then,“Do you think Derik will start a Second Leviathan War?”

The directness of the question forced Skalice to consider for a moment. “Derik is capable of anything,” he replied.

Travin chuckled slightly. “Not a bad reputation to have,” he said. “Our position is a precarious one, Comrade Skalice. We are literally the eye of the storm; we are at the center, and yet we are a picture of perfect calm. Good work, Comrade Skalice.”

“Thank you, Comrade Rumanski.” And with that the briefing was ended.

“There is one more matter, Comrade Rumanski,” said Skalice. “I think we ought to consider bringing up the issue of grain shipments in the Alliance Congress.”

“Oh?”

“Yes,” said Skalice. “As you are aware, Guardia’s blockade of Merge has forced us to increase food rationing. Our position is somewhat precarious at this time. We still have food coming from the FTSR. And we have stockpiles, of course, but those are limited. We’re not down to the subsistence level we forced the people to in the Leviathan War yet, but…but I don’t think we really want to tempt fate.”

“We are launching some new programs in aquaculture to alleviate the situation,” said Rumanski.

“Raising this issue in the Congress would be of great advantage to us,” argued Skalice. “At a minimum we raise awareness of our plight. We might be able to get the Congress to vote us food aid; perhaps some of the individuals nations would be willing to help us, as well. We have been technically neutral in the war in Merge; Guardia’s actions are harming noncombatant civilians. We might even be able to raise enough of a stink to get the GA to intervene outright.”

“Or we could encourage our enemies with a show of weakness,” said Comrade Rumanski. “The Esperians might be shocked out of their stupor to intervene, and the dangerous hardliners in Tasnica will argue that if Scande is so near collapse, they might as well pile on. No, Comrade Skalice, I don’t think we will be showing our bellies to the enemy so readily.”

Halder clenched his teeth. “It’s a brittle thing, this League of ours, Comrade Rumanski. Very hard, very tough, but very brittle.”

“I know that better than anyone, Comrade Skalice,” Travin said. “You are dismissed.”

Skalice turned to leave. He stopped for a moment; there was something he wanted to say, something at the edge of his conscience, a fleeting thought; but as quickly as he had grabbed on to it it was gone.

_____+

III. Dawn: In the Beginning

The period immediately following the Great War was a time of hope in the Scandian League. It was a new nation, unbounded from the failures of the old countries of the dimension. It would be more than the Scandish Empire or Aradia had ever been. 

No other area in the Web suffered quite so much as the Dragon Dimension. It was a battlefield of some form or another for almost all of the Great War’s thirty years, and changed hands so numerous times, with the retreating side almost always using scorched earth tactics. In 26 WR with the GA finally moving towards its inevitable triumph, rather than launch a ground invasion of Scande they razed it from the air with Luftwaffe Tacfortresses. The Dark Wrath, determined to deny the GA anything useful and destroy all native resistance, poisoned much of the farmland and groundwater of the dimension. 

Dragon, by Core standards, had always been a hardscrabble dimension; in terms of magilyte, the mineral that was making the Web go ‘round, it ranked last. GA soldiers moving in to take control after the end of the war described the dimension variously as a ‘wasteland,’ a ‘shithole,’ and ‘hell on earth.’ Burzmale Julian was tried for war crimes in Scande because that was where the Dark Wrath’s general had perpetuated the greatest destruction; some people believed his tomb poisoned the ground.

But in the Web generally there was a feeling after the Great War that a new era of peace and prosperity was right around the corner, and in the new nation of the Scandian League people believed things could only get better. After all, things could scarcely be worse. 

There was an ill-defined plan to move the country towards democracy, a form of government hitherto completely unknown in the dimension. At the top would be an executive council, or Presidium, which would be responsible for creating a legislature, a constitution, providing for the defense; in the Presidium all the powers of a postwar government were vested. In theory, the eight members of the Presidium were elected, but the state of postwar Scande made holding elections impossible. 

They were a bit of a hodgepodge. Plok Polk, of Gramor, was an elder Gramorian; he was nearly blind and deaf, but in the gerontocratic society of the mole people he was the natural choice. Itlen Sandeye was a Draggoneth religious leader; he dreamed of declaring himself Sultan of a new Aradia. Ruvin Ulan was supposedly of Carmen; the human male was a GA Hauptmann, and had spent most of the past several years outside the country. Creetak Bragsworth laid clam to some lineage of nobility in the Forest Clan. Roberto Repeg, of Auria, was wealthy and powerful, and had managed to maintain wealth and whoever was occupying Auria. Allen Bole, of Bleak, was selected to represent that region after several of his rivals died under mysterious circumstances. 

There was one more person on the Presidium, representing the city of Scande itself. He was not a nobleman, he was not wealthy, and he was born in the darkest slums of a poor city racked by destruction. For the past three years he had waged a campaign of urban guerilla warfare against the Dark Wrath. It was said that during the final uprising that he ripped a Graulemn’s face off with his bare hands. He was poor, uneducated, rough-hewn, taciturn, used to being spat upon and abused. 

They called him Travin Rumanski. 

______________+

IV. No God but the Dragon

The largest public square in Arad was dominated by a giant portrait of Comrade Rumanski. Once, this place had been a Draggoneth temple, but when the communists came to power it was bulldozed. Arad was a strange patchwork of older-style Arad buildings with light walls and adobe construction and the newer buildings of ugly bluntly functional concrete. 

It was a blistering hot may day in Arad, the kind of day that made the air bend and swelter with heat. The human in the city had to wipe sweat from their eyes every few minutes or else they could not see. The Arad dwarves, mere yellow eyes underneath their robes, seemed unaffected. 

Six men, clad in robes head to toe, strode up to the giant portrait of Travin.. With some spray paint, they defaced the likeness of the ruler:

There is no God
But the Dragon

The guards, the yellow-clad Solidat, stood in shock for a moment. The audacity of the act was so great, none of them believed they had actually witnessed it. They didn’t know if they should move to arrest the men or gun them down outright. In full view of dozens of guards, and in the footprint of several cameras, there was no way these men would escape punishment. 

But the policeman did not move; they just stared. What could cause someone to do such foolishness?  Why would these men throw their lives away?

According to Draggoneth, the Six Prophets of the One Dragon God were martyred by the terrible Giant King Aluqah. For years many in Arad had kept the faith, had endured the suffering and sacrifice of living under a regime that suppressed all organized religion because faith demanded it. Now, to these six men whose names would be lost forever, their faith demanded action.

In unison they pulled lighters our from their robes and hit up a spark. The small flames from the lighters wafted in the breeze for a moment, but only for a moment until the men’s gasoline-soaked robes ignited on fire.

The whole city could but watch. The men did not scream. There was not a word, not a sound besides the crackling of flames as their robes and skin peeled away and they collapsed on the ground, six burnt, charred cinders.

All that was left were the words, written over the face of Rumanski; the Solidat were too stunned to cut it down.
There is no God But the Dragon

____________+

V. Many Voices

Wisdon was the legendary birthplace of Bleu, as well as the place where the Six Prophets were supposedly tortured and killed. The magical barrier of the city had for years preserved it as a holy site for two of the Dimenion’s major religions. In a way, it was a point of truce; the barrier prevented either the Draggoneth or the il’Bleu from dominating it, and so both worked to preserve it and allowed the other to make pilgrimages. 

The Great War utterly destroyed it. The annihilation of Wisdon was so total that no one could even locate the city after the war; and the Communist government had no interest in rebuilding it anyway.

This made it the perfect base for Scandian dissidents. They located the city, managed to reactivate the barrier (the Priest claimed it was faith), began holding meetings, and began a pirate transmission in Scande’s airwaves, the Voice of a Free League. 

The Leviathan War had made the dissident movement possible, in a way; without the deprivations of the Scandian people caused by the war effort the common man would never have supported them, and without much of the military fighting the Esperians Travin’s control had weakened. They had made their first broadcast; since then they had become increasingly sophisticated, bouncing transmissions off of Tasnican satellites in orbit, even seizing a Scandian radio station themselves at one point. Every so often they would drop pamphlets from the sky; the Leader had a connection with someone who could fly. They even hijacked the feed for the coverage of the tenth anniversary of the Dawn Revolution. Anything that could be had to express a view of dissent from Travinist control.

Travin had responded, predictably, with more repression. The Solidat, the identity cards that had to be swiped through at every building; both new since the Leviathan War. Scande had never been a model of personal freedom but the level of resources Travin had invested in spying on the people reached new heights. Resources that could have gone to raising the standard of living in Scande.

There was also the Hand—Grimlock—Travin’s personal Crystal golem. Enrika had to believe that the Hand was responsible for the death of the Thief; the wily bastard wouldn’t have gone out any other way.

Travin’s squeeze had largely been successful; he had managed to root out most of his detractors. Today the core leadership group of the Voice of the Free League had only three people when once it had five. And the Voice had never been more than a voice. Although the Priest and his group had amassed some weapons covertly, the Solidat and the Hand were able to root out many of the hidden stockpiles. Attempts to contact intelligence agencies for

“Now is the time to act, you know that,” said the Priest., whose name was Sud Bloodbane. “We’ve pissed away better opportunities than this.” The Arad dwarf was a swirl of robes, only his yellow eyes visible; he reminded Enrike Epyon of the black mages she had studied with in Merge.

“We’ve had this argument before, Priest,” said Enrika, the Voice of the Free League. 

“Project Bleu is finally complete,” he spat; he did not like that one of their secret weapons bore the name of a false deity. “The Hand got to the Teacher, though. We shouldn’t be surprised; the original designer of the Dracoform was obviously under close surveillance.” The Teacher had turned out to be no less a personage than Konstantine Nevsky, the Father of the Dracoform. He had become appaled that his creation had become a symbol for such an oppressive regime.

“I thought the point of us using names like “the Teacher” and “the Priest” was so we couldn’t betray each other,” said Enrika. “You seem to know quite a lot about the rest of us…who is the Leader, then, Priest?”

The Leader—whose face was always covered by a ski mask—chuckled. “All in time.”

Enrika shook her head. “This is madness. The Leader could be a double-agent, for all we know. Like that RFIA man that got the Thief.”

The Thief had been a great loss to the group; he had all kinds of connections with Priman smuggling organizations and Tasnican corporations. He had been able to move weapons into Scande, including the difficult-to-acquire material necessary for Project Bleu. He had managed to contact the RFIA, and, for a time, the RFIA gave the Voice valuable information; but eventually it became clear that these initial ploys were only a ploy to earn a measure of trust, as anything they told their RFIA contact fed to the Solidat and the Hand. By the time they realized what was happening, the Thief was supposedly en route to Tasnica to speak with high-level Tasnican officials; he never returned.

“Although my working for the Solidat would be the easiest way for me to avoid capture, I have other means, I assure you,” said the Leader. (Who, in fact, was Gekar, a powerful Silver dragon.) “But, I agree with the Priest.”

“I say your fools. Give me more time to work on Halder—“

The Leader raised his hand. “Ten years?” he said. “You’ve been saying you need more time with Halder every one of our meetings since the Leviathan War. If he has not been turned now, he is not going to be turned ever.”

“If Halder was with us, we would overthrow Travin easily,” said Enrika. “It’s just…so very hard to tell him.”

“You’re afraid,” said the Priest. “You’re afraid he will betray you, or maybe just afraid that uttering those words in his presence will bring you to the attention of Travin.”

“I don’t think my courage is subject to debate, here, Priest,” she said. “Back in the Great War Hal and I fought off an entire company of Dark Wrath soldiers, just the two of us.”

“How romantic,” said the Priest. “And has he renewed his attentions towards you?”

“That spark is…gone,” said Enrika. Halder seemed obsessive, brooding, depressed; much more interested in the Last Romantic than romance. “But he is still my friend.” 

“How nice,” said the Priest. “You will need to bring him to one of these, some time. If he does right by God in what follows now, we might allow him to stay in this life.”

“I can’t believe you’re doing this <I> now </I>.”

“I can’t believe I didn’t do it earlier,” said the Priest. “It’s been almost twenty years since the Dawn Revolution. Twenty years of living as an infidel, Dragon forgive me. The simple fact of my castration (as the Dragon commands of all His priests) would be cause for me to death. I have not been able to give of my blood to the Dragon for twenty years, though I know He sees the sacrifices I make and will forgive me the omission of the symbol. I have lived in a <I> jahili </I> entity. I see my people growing up without their God, without knowing His awesome power and love. I fear they will never ascend in the next life.” He paused.

“Is this old religion really worth it?” asked Enrika. 

“Perhaps you dream yourself too sophisticated, and imagine ‘my’ God a mere superstition,” said the Priest. “But I have lived under a regime that would kill me for my beliefs, and I assure you, I would not be killed over a superstition. I feel a great swell of pity for those who dream themselves too intelligence for God; there is no purer form of solipsism.” 

The Leader waved his hand. “The Priest is entitled to his beliefs, as are you,” he said. “Although you may not have much love for his religion, I think we can agree that the government that oppresses it must be stopped.”

“But…why now?” said Enrika. “Why not wait?”

“Waiting has not worked for us before,” said the Leader. “Besides, there are certain…opportunities available to us now.”

“Like what?” asked Enrika.

Neither the Priest nor the Leader spoke.

“What, you don’t trust me?”

“Well, you do have a close relationship with the Chief of Staff of the SLCM, who we will have to fight…”

“But I am the Voice of the Free League!” said Enrika. She frowned, although they could not see it. 

“We have to be careful,” said the Leader. “I’m sure you understand.”

“Fine, keep your secrets,” she said. “If you really plan on doing this, I’ll try to talk to Halder about it. See if I can convince him stop being so terrified of foreign monsters he sees the one at home. Hell, this shock just might be what he needs.”

“We need only to act,” he said. “God will do the rest.”

#3

VI. The Yellow Turban Rebellion

In Draggoneth, Sunday was traditionally a day of fasting and prayer, and so it was on Sunday, at high noon, that the Yellow Turban Rebellion began. In Arad and the outlying villages, Draggonethi ate an early lunch, and did something prescribed by the religion that no one had done for many years: at their meal, they set aside a small portion in honor God. It was lean times in Scande, and it pained them greatly to make that sacrifice, but they knew it was just going to be the first of many. Their suffering would purify them.

Then, these loyal Draggonethi donned yellow turbans. They then visited carefully hidden stockpiles, beneath the desert sands, blindspots in Solidat’s surveillance net, and returned to the city and their villages.

The Solidat were caught unawares; more and more police flooded the streets, armed with Supervolt rifles, to try to suppress the rebellion. The bystanders of Arad were shocked—was someone really doing this? Really trying to revolt against the communists? The blood-curdling war cry of the Draggonethi resounded throughout the desert. 

The Solidat realized that it was out of its league, here, and requested help from the local SLCM-Ground garrison; fortunately the nearby presence of the Crucible, SLCM’s officer training academy, guaranteed a strong SLCM response. Dorath Haggard, who was Superintendent at the Crucible obligingly rolled Platinum tanks, Grizzly ISVs, and Julian Infantry Carriers through the city. The revolt had begun at lunchtime, and by dinnertime it looked like it was over. 

The Crucible’s Command Center was usually used for wargames and trainings; with all the maps of Arad and markers for troop movements spread in front of him, Haggard could hardly believe that it was used for an actual pacification operation. Sitting deep in a bunker, surrounded by walls of concrete, it he stifled a chuckle at the thought that the rag-tag band of religious zealots could overthrow the most powerful national military in the Web. “The miracles of the path of the Dragon, indeed,” he snorted. “In the end, it is all cheap trickery.” The command bunker was filled with instructors and senior cadets; right now most of them were attending to the details of maintaining martial law. Each officer had been assigned a section of the city, and had their own desk with communications equipment to monitor the situation and command their soldiers. The Crucible was slated for a mainframe computer upgrade just as soon as the Ticonderans were finshed upgrading Central Command, but right now they just had to make do with lots of radios, telephones, and boots on the ground.

Haggard was speaking with Commander Sven Zerekovski, who right now was head Dracoforms instructor. Sven had recently returned from a tower in Ticondera, where he had been nicknamed “The Fist of Gunta” for his role repulsing the Viper incursion into the small town. He had positioned his Ahzam Long Range Attack Dracoform in a perfect sniper’s nest where he fired volley after volley of Luminaire cannon into the Viperese advance.

Sven shook his head and took a drink, his large Gantian hand delicately holding the teacup. His dust grey uniform blended in almost seamlessly with the background of the concrete bunker, save for the large red cloak of a Dracoforms Service Ace. “It’s sad, really,” he said. “I wonder what they were thinking.”

Haggard shrugged. “These rebel types are all foolish romantics,” he said. “Seen one too many contraband capitalist movies where the small, ragtag band defeats the evil empire. Such things only happen in a galaxy far, far away.”

“Did you know they had children in their ranks?” frowned Sven. “Eleven, twelve years old.”

Haggard waved his hand dismissively. “Never met a soldier who wasn’t <i> someone’s </i> child. Even Celiose Cole has a mother.” Haggard pointed to a large scar on his cheek. “Got this fighting Dark Dragons back in the Big One. I was eight.” Then he pointed to his left arm, revealing a discolored patch of skin. “That part of the burn never healed. I was at the business end of a Tacfortress raid. I was a teenager, by then.”

“I have my share of wounds, too,” Sven said. “But, Comrade Haggard…your generation fought war, and my generation fought war…I have a son…should I expect the same for him?”

“He will become a soldier,” nodded Haggard confidently, “and you will be proud of him, I think.” He stopped, and then added perfunctorily, “well, perhaps by then we’ll have conquered capitalism. Tell you one thing, though, I would not want to be Comrade Benetov right about now.” Comrade Benetov was Chief Commissioner of the Solidat; having this sort of minor flare-up happen on his watch would certainly end his career.

Sven frowned, and carefully sipped his tea.  

One of the officers swiveled back in his chair; Area 4, responsible for the outlying southern part of the city. “Commandant Haggard,” he said urgently, “I’m getting reports of magitek armor. Multiple contacts.”

“Maybe the damned Fascist Esperians have aided them,” frowned Haggard. His troops were spread out throughout the city to maintain order; they were ill-positioned to fend off a large mechanized assault. 

“No,” said the Area 4 commander, “they insist it’s M1190s. GA magitek armor. Piloted by Arad dwarves in yellow turbans.”

Haggard shouted something in reply, but a large explosion outside muffled it as to make it inaudible. “Whatever Gods we don’t believe in damn it all, that was an artillery shell!” he shouted.

The Area 8 commander turned around in his chair, as well. “Sir, my biker scouts are reporting they’ve picked up contacts of Tilly Tracked Assault Guns northeast of here. They’re shelling the city.”

Haggard looked around and his twenty-odd area commanders. “All those who have Grand Army equipment reported in their sectors raise their hands.” 

Areas 1-8, the outlying sections of the city, all raised their hand.

“It appears we’re surrounded,” said Haggard. 

The Area 8 commander shouted, “I’ve got Leo IIs heading right towards us, Commandant. No King Leos reported.”

“Commander Zerekovski, I think you should get your fellow instructors and the senior cadets together and attempt to put a stop to this,” said Haggard. “All other Area Commanders, I want you to concentrate your forces around the Crucible. If we can combine our forces we can hold out here, in the Crucible, until reinforcements arrive from Auria.”

Auria was where many SLCM soldiers were these days; it was, after all, the staging point for a potential invasion of Truce.

Sven Zerekovski nodded, and put down his tea.

_______________+

VII. Choice

The cockpit controls of a Dracoform were of bewildering complexity, designed to give the pilot maximum control over every aspect of the mecha’s operation. Capitalist pilots, the Scandians like to say, were spoiled by automation.

An Ahzam had excellent sensors, like many Scandian vehicles, and Sven Zerekovski used them to survey the battlefield. GA-built tanks in the north, running hot; he lined one up in his sites and unleashed the white death of triple Luminaire cannon.  The Ahzam was deployed only recently, with access to Mysidian Magilyte; with its powerful magitek weaponry, it was a bit of a luxury, but it outranged even the Zog. He swiveled his torso around, to the right, cameras on maximum zoom into the city itself.

Fighting had spilled into Arad; this time, the Yellow Turbans had GA gyrocs, not the needle weapons they had used earlier, and SLCM-Ground was sparing no effort in suppressing them. A Grizzly ISV spewed airburst detonated fragmentation grenades from its automatic launcher; the shrapnel turned the unarmoured turbans into so much chunky salsa. The collateral damage to the ancient stucco house nearby was incidental. A Platinum II tank, outmatched by a Leo, beat a hasty retreat and crushed the civilian in the way. A Julian III APC, lit on fire, its killer emerged from hiding; clearly, a young man, with a bazooka almost the size of his body. Smoke everywhere; SLCM-Ground used lots of smoke, to confuse laser guidance and provide mobile cover, though their own excellent sensors could see through it. The whole city of Arad looked like it was burning as a result.

Shoving such thoughts aside, Zerekovski turned his torso back north. There were not many cadets graduated into the Dracoforms Service each year; it was an elite force, and standards were very high. Nonetheless, he had managed to piece together almost a brigade. The long-range Ahzams, close combat Ryus, and assault model Zogs were holding the perimeter against the tanks. Zerekovski allowed himself a light smile as he narrowly dodged an incoming shell. This was mecha vs. tanks, although he and his men were trained pilots of an elite unit and the Yellow Turbans probably had little more than the tutorial on their tanks.  He was a little disappointed—he had hoped for more against GA equipment. 

Zerekovski shook his head at the thought. Was this what his enjoyment in life had been reduced to? A transitory thrill from engaging a foe? Target in the center, switch. Target in the center, switch. 

Although the Dracoforms were holding, other elements of the Crucible’s defense were not so lucky. Grand Army vehicles had <i> energy shields </i>, big guns, and a full tactical datanet that rivaled even those used by the FTSR. And there were rumors happenings that could only be attributable to magic; a squadron of Valiant bombers that was supposed to run a support mission had been wiped out by a sandstorm.

Was this all there was—hold the line here until you die? For what? For Travin Rumanski? For the League? For Communism? 

Zerekovski turned his sites on a Zog, tangling it up on the front with some Leos. It was badly damaged but giving as good as it got, slamming 75 mm electromag shells from its Demolishers into the turrets of the enemy tanks. Its legs didn’t work; with his knowledge of Dracoforms, Zerekovski knew exactly where to place his shot to take the leg off.

Target in center, switch.

The Zog lost its left leg. The pilot was just a sophomore cadet; a more experience pilot might have been able to manipulate the wings and internal gyros to stay balanced on one leg, but someone in just their second year of Dracoform training had no hope. The mecha fell over, and exploded.

He focused on another Dracoform, a Ryu, its crackling supervolt whip kicking dust into the air with static electricity. The whip lashed out and cut through the barrel of a Leo. 

Target in center, switch.

The Ryu was not well as well armored as a Zog; the triple Luminaire blast knocked it flat on its front. Zerekovski waited for his weapons to recycle, and let loose another volley to finish off the immobilized Dracoform.

A radio transmission crackled through to life. “Zerekovski, this is Haggard. What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

Zerekovski shook his head. “It’s one war after another,” he said. “Great War, Leviathan War, Ticondera. It has to <i> end </i>, Comrade Haggard. And it’s not going to end with Rumanski; he’s just the superlative exponent of all this.”

“You want your son to know his father died a traitor?”

“Comrade Haggard, if I were you I would review the progress of the battle. Or should I say, the war. While we’ve been defending the Crucible I’m sure the Yellow Turbans have seized control of the outlying towns…it’s what we would teach our cadets to do, anyway.”

Well aware he was soon going to be designated a target, Zerekovski re-evaluated his sniping position, finding a nice, sloping bank that would conceal him from the rest of his company.

“And you think the One Dragon God will end the cycle?” asked Haggard.

“Maybe, maybe not,” said Zerekovski. “But I know that Rumanski will continue it.”

_____________________+

VIII. Dawn: Corruption

After just a few months in the Presidium, Travin Rumanski was distinctly uncomfortable with the crowd he was running with. He much preferred his street gang in the ghetto to the ostensible executive council of the League. Ruvin Ulan, representing Carmen, was somewhat tolerable; the ex-GA Hauptmann was the only one of the lot Travin could stomach. He didn’t actually know anything about the Dragon Dimension, but supposedly he had done some very impressive things in Trianble. Plok Polk was blind and deaf and never seemed to know what was going on. 

The Presidium meant in a high tower in Scande, lavishly attended by servants and food eaten with gold-plated implements. He had a hard time enjoying the small talk.

“Yes, yes to these taxes, they will let me make a fine addition to my place in Tantar,” said Lord Bragsworth, the Forest Clanner who claimed to be a noble. He smiled wolfishly, and chuckled, “this government business is quite fine.”

“Indeed it is,” said Allen Bole, from Bleak. “Nothing quite gives me so much satisfaction as cracking down on the smuggling cartels in my home city.”

“Your competition?” asked Rumanski.

“Mr. Rumanski, why do you always have to be such a wet towel?” asked Roberto Repeg, the Presidium representative for Auria. “It’s a new golden age, an age of freedom. Let’s enjoy it. You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Well,” said Travin, longing for a day when he could be rid of such imbeciles, “on my way here I saw something disturbing. I saw two men in a fight, a terrific brawl, but awkward; both were emaciated, neither had eaten in days. At first I assumed that the spat must be over food. Eventually, one was victorious; he was a better fighter, maybe he had fought in the War. Then, he claimed his prize.”

“What?” asked Roberto. “Scraps of meat? A loaf of bread?”

Rumanski shook his head. “The corpse of the other man’s dog.”

“Was that necessary?” asked Bragsworth. “We are <i> eating </i>, Mr. Rumanski.”

“That was out of line,” agreed Roberto. “Look, Mr. Rumanski, we all know things are bad down there. But it’s a transitory phase. The Dragon God knows what the war put us through, and we’re recovering, with the help of foreign investment—“

“What did you give the Guardians?” interrupted Travin. “Mr. Skalice was very pleased with the antipode weapons and other technology, though in his report he asked for the resources to actually mass produce them.”

“My deal with the Guardians benefited the League.”

“And you, Mr. Bragsworth—“

“Lord Bragsworth to you,” interrupted the forest clanner. “I know on the streets such formality doesn’t matter, but—“

“How much did that man, Gavalian, give you for the rights to strip mine our largest known magilyte vein?” said Rumanski. “Am I the only one here not on the payroll of a foreign power?”

“Gentleman, please,” insisted Ruvin Ulan, “we must move on with business. Please,” he gestured to a servant, “let Mr. Krupp in.”

The man from Tasnica was impeccably dressed in a suit and tie, like all the people from Tasnica; Travin’s rough-hewn tunic was clean at least. (Bathing and clean water were a luxury of his position he allowed himself). “Guten tag,” he said, “I am Gunther Krupp, CEO of Saeder-Krupp Industries.”

“Yes, Mr. Krupp, have a seat, we’re pleased to have you here,” said Bragsworth, smiling. In 28 WR Saeder-Krupp was still the largest corporation in the Web, even if it was burdened by legacy costs, weak management; some speculated that S-K was ripe for takeover. But even they still had plenty of money to throw around, and plenty of interest in the Scandian League. “I understand you have an interest in the lumber rights to the forests north of Tantar and Tuntar.”

“Ja,” he said, “ve have been having trouble mit zhe local gruppen.”

“I’m hardly surprised,” said Bragsworth, “many Forest Clanners want to preserve the forest. Using it as a hunting ground is part of our tradition. We’re natural hunters, you know,” he smiled, baring teeth, “better than human hearing, an incredible scent of smell…why, our military Chief of Staff, Halder Skalice, stalked a Dark Wrath general across half the continent, from just the smell of a bloodstained piece of cloth.”

Gunther Krupp felt incredibly awkward. These Scandians were somewhat more…macabre than his usual business partners. 

It was Plok Polk, the Gramorian, who broke the silence. “WHAT?” he shouted. “Who interrupted my nap?”

Gunther Krupp valiantly attempted to continue his attempt to plunder the resources of this weak nation. “I vas vondering if this group could assist me,” he said.

“The Presidium is the elected executive of the people,” said Ruvin Ulan, who had maybe spent a grand total of one year of his life in Spring. “I don’t believe we’re in the business of overturning them.”

“I must concur,” said Bragsworth. “Although we must have deliberations in closed council on this matter, at this time your chances don’t look promising.”

“I see,” said Gunther, and sighed. He snapped his fingers; assistants came in, carrying several large crates. “Vell, then, I hope you get back to me. These crates, they are filled with hundred-GP notes. I am sure you will do the right thing.”

And Gunther turned and left, and the members of the Presidium, all save Travin, descended like a pack of hungry sharks on the crates. Sure enough, it was filled with hundreds of thousand of geld. Travin was aghast.

“Don’t be such a sourpuss, Rumanski,” said Roberto. “Your alternative is to be the guy on the street with nothing.”

Rumanski shook his head. “There is another way.”

“What?” said Roberto.

“Solidarity. Socialism. Collectivism.”

“Communist, eh?” said Roberto, and shrugged. “Well, I like to keep many mistresses and a few young boys, so I guess I’ll just let you have your little vice, too.”

______+

IX. The Nomenklatura

The conference room was spacious. There was little luxury to be had in Scande, and so they often substituted spaciousness for it; that did not change the fact that in the center was a solid stone table, and the walls were concrete. This was in a deep level of Party Headquarters; for this many of the <i> nomenklatura </i> to gather, a secure location was necessary. Those that carried weapons had been forced to give them up; the Crimson Guard was out in force, and Comrade Rumanski would be arriving soon. Halder Skalice could not remember the last time he had seen so many of the ruling <i> apparat </i> assembled. There was himself, of course, along with other representatives of the SLCM: Georgi Tarkov for SLCM-Sea, Mikhail Zolitsky for SLCM-Space, and the newly appointed Dalia Rina for SLCM-Air. (Halder, in addition to being Chief of Staff, represented SLCM-Ground.) Ivan Gletkin, Chief of S/31, was there, no doubt aware his agency would now have to focus closer to home; Commissioner Benetov, in charge of the Solidat (for how much longer no one could tell); Boris Dalienin, Commissar for Agriculture, and a number of other members of the powerful Council on Economic Planning; Nikolai Serchenko, Commissar for External Affairs, who was probably here to reassure everyone that the rest of the Web wasn’t invading just yet; and there was another, a Crystal golem Halder didn’t recognize at first, but soon realized that the shimmering gemstone giant had to be the so-called Hand of Travin. Skalice had thought it merely a rumor.

There was no food on the table as the leaders of the All-Union Communist Party (of the Dragon Dimension) milled about awkwardly; Halder had hoped there would at least be something light, he had come straight from Central Command and hadn’t had a chance to eat all day. There was only a samovar filled with vodka; more than a few people in the room needed a drink after the events of the past twenty-four hours. 

When Comrade Rumanski entered the room, people did not stand up, did not salute; Travin was not, after all, technically a military man, and neither were the majority of people in the room. There was, however, a pall in the room; a silence imposed itself, forcing a stultifying vacuum. Some of the men awkwardly began to take seats, thinking that now would be the time for business.

A voice came over the speakers. “Please rise for the anthem of the laboring masses.”

Everyone stood as the static vocals of the Scandian League anthem blared over speakers. It was solemn, martial, always sung by a full choir. Halder supposed it was only appropriate; a meeting of this many high-level officials didn’t happen often.

Afterwards, everyone continued to stand for a moment, until Travin took his seat at the head of the table. Then, everyone followed.

Travin Rumanski began. “I will recap, so we are all on the same page,” he said, “although many of you already know at least parts of what I am about to say. A radical terrorist faction seeking to destroy the League, the very society which has been put in place to protect and support them, has begun a revolt centered around Arad. They control the city of Arad and several of the outlying villages; their control over the surrounding desert is presently being assessed. They have no pushed north to Bleak or Auria, although we believe that will be a primary objective for them—Comrade Skalice will discuss that in more detail later. This group, the Yellow Turbans, seeks to restore Draggonethi rule to the region.” Travin paused. “What I am about to say is the most important thing that will be said in this briefing, so I want all of you, dear comrades, to listen to me very carefully.”

“<i> No one must know of these events. </i> News of the revolt has been suppressed, and will continue to be suppressed. We have jammed all Yellow Turban communications and severed all telephone links to and from Arad. It is imperative that the rest of the League not learn of these events. Although the Yellow Turbans are an isolated group, we do not know for certain that there are not other, similar groups who would be emboldened by the opportunity to strike; perhaps remnants of the il’Bleu, for example. If news of these events spread, it could mean the end of all we had worked so hard these past two decades to build. Also, at this time our official story to the rest of the Web if we are asked about events in Arad is that it is a large-scale military exercise. We conduct military exercises with the Crucible often enough that this is fairly credible. If the sharks smell even a hint of blood from this small cut on us, well, it will merely be a race between the other Great Powers to see who can carve us up the fastest. Even the détente with Tasnica would be moot.”

“We could probably count on the National Alliance for Peace to protest,” said Ivan Gletkin, the S/31 Chief. “Pacifists are such useful idiots.” Travin glared at the intelligence head for interrupting; Halder’s forest clanner ears detected a gulp in the man’s throat.

“Allow me to reiterate: we operate under a great veil of secrecy. Beyond those who absolutely need to know, we will inform nobody. Suppressing news and information about the Yellow Turban Rebellion is a primary consideration.”

“Comrade Rumanski,” said Skalice, “don’t you think the people will become alarmed that Arad has been sealed off and no one can phone anyone there?”

“Maybe,” said Rumanski, “but we can determine a suitable cover story later. Perhaps a major mechanical malfunction, a disease, or sabotage on behalf of Guardian agents. Besides, I think by now people know better than to ask too many questions about certain things.”

“…of course, Comrade Rumanski,” said Halder, defeated. "But what about afterwards? We can't deploy military force on this scale and expect every soldier to keep his mouth shut about what they did."

Travin smiled ghoulishly. "Afterwards, it doesn't matter," he said. "In fact, if word gets out to the people after the revolt is crushed, so much the better, because they will hear that a massive uprising was utterly and mercilessly destroyed. No one would be so foolish as to try again."

Travin's word, in all things, was final.

“Well, then,” said Travin, “with that in mind, I turn things over to Comrade Benetov, Commissioner of the Solidat.”

“Of course, Comrade Rumanski,” said Benetov. Benetov had had quite a bit of vodka before the meeting; he was a little overweight (by Scandian standards), and was sweating profusely. “We have identified one of the leaders of the revolution as Sud Bloodbane, an elementary school teacher. We are fortunate that many in Arad wish to see a return to Communism; this operation leaks like a sieve. We believe he maintained contact with a large underground network of Draggonethi fanatics from a hidden base in the city if Wisdon.”

“Impossible,” snorted Serchenko. “Wisdon was destroyed in the Great War. No one knows where it is. Besides, it moved about aimlessly.”

“That is what concerns me, Comrade Serchenko,” contuined the Solidat man, nervously adjusting his bright yellow uniform. “We have heard rumors that Sud has a great power behind him.”

“Who or what, exactly?” asked Skalice. “Guardia? Esper? Not Tasnica, they don’t have the balls.”

Benetov frowned. “Not that kind of great power. More like a…higher power.”

Skalice laughed, grimly, “The Dragon God?”

“I do not know,” said Benetov.

Halder heard someone say, “useless, worse than useless,” but it was too low for anyone not a Forest clanner to hear.

“I have just one more thing to say,” said Benetov. “The Solidat will be conducting political screenings of all SLCM soldiers to be deployed in this operation.”

“That’s outrageous,” snapped Skalice. “These are people who are going to lay down their lives for Scande. I should think that any questions as to their loyalty would be settled by that fact alone.”

The Solidat man got a big, ugly grin. “You’ve heard of Sven Zerekovski, the ‘Fist of  Gunta’? We have heard that he has joined the rebels. If such an esteemed ace of the Dracoforms Service betrays us, no one is above suspicion.”

“Well, then,” said Halder, sarcastically, “I was planning on heading out to Arad as soon as possible, but I suppose I had better wait for my political screening to verify my proper loyalty.” 

Halder said the statement fully expecting Rumanski or someone to insist that such a thing was naturally unnecessary for the Chief of Staff of the SLCM (entrusted as he was with the military forces of the whole country), but no one did. After a moment, Benetov simply said, “yes, you had better.”

“Is this all you have?” said Gletkin, angrily. “I have only recently deployed some S/31 agents to infiltrate the movement; domestic intelligence is not usually part of our purview. I expected Solidat to have much more on the Yellow Turbans. Perhaps, Comrade Benetov, you can explain why the Draggoneth have Grand Army weapons? Or is this just the province of the Dragon, hmm?”

“I can speak to that,” said Comrade Rumanski, “I spoke with the Generalissimo personally in regards to that matter just before coming here. He was reluctant to say very much about the situation, and I naturally appreciate his need for discretion in this matter. We have very similar interests in that respect, and Celiose has agreed not to share this information with other GACA members or the Alliance Congress; it is, after all, a matter of national security for us, and a major embarrassment for GA base security, similar to when the New Wraith managed to acquire an Ultima missile from a GA facility.”

“Comrade Rumanski, perhaps rather than talk about how no one’s going to talk about this, you should tell us what Celiose said,” said Skalice. It was as if a small bomb had went off in the room; only Skalice could afford to be so blunt with <i> koyzha </i>.

Travin gave a light chuckle in Halder's direction. “Celiose claims that there may be a group inside the GA working with the Draggonethi,” said Rumanski. “This is obviously a source of great alarm for both of us, as naturally the Grand Army is the protector of all of its member states and should not meddle in politics.”

“Are we fortunate enough to have some assistance in suppressing this revolt from the Grand Army?” asked Gletkin.

“As a matter of fact, yes,” said Rumanski. A man dressed in the white-and-silver of the Celpo entered the room; his uniform was identified by a flashpatch with a psi insignia. “This is Alfred Chekhov, a Celpo Minder.”

People in the room were already on edge, but the appearance of a Celpo agent, one who could read minds, definitely heightened the tension.

“Chekhov,” said Dalienin, “a Scandish name.”

“That was a long time ago,” said the Celpo man. “These days, I’m Everywhere and Nowhere. I have been attached to your…operation as GA liaison, and to provide assistance.”

“Like what sort of assistance?” asked Benetov.

“Like, reading people’s minds,” said Chekhov. “It’s quite handy when you’re trying to locate something elusive. Resistance headquarters, Espers, Seraphim—things of this nature, as Kenny might say.”

“That’s it?” said Benetov. “That’s all the GA sent to aid us?” The Solidat man was clearly unimpressed; if Chekhov was miffed, he did not show it. Then again, the psionic was certainly unsurprised; reading the surface thoughts of the people of the room was as simple as sweeping his eyes around. Easier. In fact, proper training and discipline were needed to keep the screaming thoughts of the mundanes <i> out </i>, to keep him from going insane as he had been when the Celpo had found him. 

Benetov continued, “No regiments?”

“I’d take one Celpo operative over a regiment,” said Ivan Gletkin. Like most spymasters in the Web, the S/31 chief had a healthy respect for the Celpo.

“Well, I don’t need to be psychic to know that this is a little awkward, so I’ll just go back to the next room over.” Chekov the Minder smiled. “Be seeing you.”

The mood in the room lightened somewhat when he left; like many in the Web, the Scandians were pleased to have Celpo on their side, but really did not like dealing with them. Still, there was tension as Comrade Rumanski announced that Comrade Dalienin, Commissar for Agriculture and Chair of the Council on Economic Planning was next to speak. Dalienin was powerful; the only member besides Rumanski of the original Committee for the Revolution still alive, and the master of the League’s economy; if Rumanski died tomorrow, Dalienin would probably be the successor. (Or the nation would collapse utterly.)

“As you know all too well, Comrades, this Guardian blockade of Merge has strapped our food resources,” began Dalienin, “although we have recently forged links with the Unbound and have been able to mitigate that somewhat. I ask you, Comrades, to imagine our economy as a plane with three engines: grain from the FTSR, grain from Merge, and oil from Arad. If you lose one engine, you will run into problems, but the plane will still fly. Lose two engines, and things begin to get somewhat rough, comrades. Although power production is somewhat secure—a deal with the Tasnicans for some uranium allowed us to build excess capacity for just such a problem—transportation, military operations, and a number of other important functions still rely on oil. We have stockpiles, and are taking measures to conserve oil usage, of course, but our oil is still largely produced and stored in Arad.”

Skalice chimed in, “Our military operations have been halted in Mysidia and Ticondera.” Pity, too; the Viperese were on the ropes, and this halt would give them a chance to re-form their lines. “The anti-drug smuggling operations in Medina continue.” As per <i> koyzha’s </i> personal order; Medina was somewhat on the fence, and Rumanski did not want to lose face in front of them. “Also, all SLCM-Space ships are returning to port. I point out that we are doing this so we have enough fuel to fight the coming campaign against the Yellow Turbans…as well as any other emergency actions.”

Dalienin continued, “Nonetheless, comrades, I wish to convey to you the…fragility of all this,” he gestured around the bunker, “if Guardia gets wise to our smuggling operation, and this campaign to suppress Arad goes on for a long time…well, we could be reduced to conditions comparable to those of the Leviathan War. And I don’t feel as though I need to remind everyone here of the necessity of avoiding <i> that </i> experience.” That experience, after all, was what had allowed the Voice of a Free League to form, which is what had brought the current debacle on them all. “In summary, comrades, right now we are fine, but we are very, very close to crossing a line where we will be very…not fine.”

“Thank you, Comrade Dalienin,” said Travin. “And now, Comrade Skalice, would you like to speak as to the preparations to put an end to this Yellow Turban Rebellion?”

Halder looked around at the assembled high-ranking members of the party; they were nervous, and a little bit rankled. Large speeches were not usually his style, but he felt the need to at least attempt to reassure them somewhat. “Comrades,” he began, “I have fought as the insurgent and the counterinsurgent in these campaigns. I think I can safely say that being the insurgent is romanticized and overrated. The guerilla attains victory the same way anyone does: by destroying his opponents will to fight. Prima facie, we possess crushing advantages: large and numerous mechanized forces, aircraft and spacecraft, a modern transportation and communications network, a powerful navy, and the best mecha forces in the Web. Comrades, these are not only our advantages; they are our disadvantages. To the guerilla, these are targets, and because are advantages are seemingly so great, that any defeat, any setback, can become hugely magnified. We might occupy a town and lose only a few tanks, but in the guerilla’s scheme of things, it becomes the heroic fighters against insurmountable odds that managed to destroy a few weapons of the awesome war machine. In other words, comrades, we battle a game of expectations; if we win nine out of ten battles, the battle we lose will be the one we hear about.” He smiled slightly, slightly self-aware at the analogy he was about to use, “The guerilla fights the war of the flea, and we as his opponent suffer the dog’s disadvantages: too much territory to cover, and too small, quick, and nimble an opponent to react against.”

“That was…less than uplifting,” said Gletkin. “What do you intend to do to crush this rebellion?”

“Slowly but surely, Comrade Gletkin,” said Skalice. “I have spoken with Legate Candice Kornski, in charge of Task Force Garm,” he said, “as some of you may know, Task Force Garm was on position in Auria, our forward staging area for an invasion of Truce should their forces in Merge push up against our Light Horse regiment in Exodus.” The sole regiment of SLCM ground troops in Merge was there as a sort of “trip wire”; the Guardians were well aware of what pushing that far north would mean.

“Comrade Skalice,” asked Benetov, “why not use our bases in Medina for such an operation?”

“Because that’s exactly where the Guardians would expect it,” said Skalice.

Rumanski added, “Further, our Medinan friends would be completely embarrassed. There is no question of us using the Medinan bases for anything other than suppressing drug smugglers. Comrade Skalice, continue.”

“My point, comrades, is that the force we are employing against this revolt are comparable to those we would use against another Great Power. Comrade Kornski has a background as an Assault Engineer, so we discussed the strategy we will employ, known as “encastellation”. We will occupy the hamlets and villages, moving south and west towards Arad. Our Assault Engineers will put up quick foamcrete installations in each village. These will provide bases of operations for biker scouts to conduct search-and-destroy missions; we will also have a reserve of light tanks for heavier targets. Meanwhile, our main mechanized force will continue to chug on, slowly and inexorably, to Arad itself, even to Wisdon, if the city exists.”

“That’s it?” said Gletkin. “That’s somewhat…inelegant. Especially by your high standards, Comrade Skalice. There’s nothing to knock the enemy off balance, no rapid strike, no—“

“Comrade Gletkin,” interrupted Skalice, “I don’t like it any more than you do. But I should point out that as long as we keep the borders sealed, they have little chance of ultimate victory. GA weapons have one major weakness: they are supply hogs, and we fight an enemy that does not have the luxury of a lavish train of supply trucks backing it up. Even in engagements they win, they expend irreplaceable magilyte and missiles to do so. It is weakspots and blindspots that allow guerillas to thrive, and the slow and inexorable occupation and fortification of the countryside is the best solution.” There was a pause. “I wish, most of all, to put your minds at ease over this matter. The idea that a bunch of religious fanatics in turbans can defeat the most feared military in the Web is romantic and overrated. They will only win if we let them win.”

“Thank you, Comrade Skalice,” said Travin. He gestured at the crystal golem. “Grimlock will accompany you, to supervise your command of the operation.”

Halder was stunned. He was the Chief of Staff of the SLCM; there should be no one in the League who would supervise HIS command of a military operation. Nonetheless, this crystal golem, this half-rumored Hand of Travin, had just been appointed his commander. Before he could respond, Travin continued to speak.

“These are detestable rebels,” said Travin, “they seek to wage war against they very society and order which is designed for their benefit. Comrades, I have no doubt that the people of Arad will realize the foolishness of the Yellow Turbans and welcome us back with open arms. Everyone—except Comrade Benetov--, you may leave, to attend to your duties.”

Halder’s forest clan ears heard the Solidat Commisioner’s <i> gulp </i>; he looked over at the man, sensing an emotion he wouldn’t quite call courage.

After everyone was out of the room and the door was closed, Halder’s forest clan ears heard something else: a silenced shot.

______________+

X. Dinner with a Friend
Halder considered canceling his dinner plans with Enrika, but he rarely got to see her these days. Even if he did have a lot of work to do, it would be nice to talk to her before he left for the front; he had precious few friends these days. He didn’t mind too much, most of the time; he was able to keep busy, and at fifty-six (somewhat old by Forest Clan standards; his fur was getting whiter by the day, and not the white of those born with that color, either), he was fine without many social entanglements.

As a high-ranking member of the nomenklatura, Halder Skalice had the luxury of his own, small house. Like every other building in Scande, it was a droll slab of concrete; it looked more like a pillbox than a house. But he had a living room, his bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchen; privately, he felt a little bit guilty at such excess. Most Scandians lived in large worker’s dormitories, with larger dwellings reserved for families with children. The place always choked his lungs with dust; he was rarely ever there personally, he was almost always on the move, and almost every night of the year he slept in some SLCM base or another. 

He changed out of his uniform, being careful to not let it get wrinkled. He changed into “civvy” clothes; after a week in Ablrook with its garish Tasnican-influenced styles, the simple cottons and linens that were the norm in Scande were easy on his eyes.  He wasn’t quite looking forward to the food for dinner, though; intellectually, he realized that kelp and other aquaculture could be the food solution that would save the nation, but he still didn’t like the taste of it so much.

Halder’s doorbell rang, and he fetched it to open for Enrika. He smiled when seeing her; even though she was getting up in the years, too, it was not impossible to remember the younger days, even if it was only puppy love. 

“Hey, Hal,” she said. “Nice place you’ve got, here.”

“Oh, you know me, give me the forest under the stars, any day,” he said. As soon as Halder said that statement, he immediately wondered how long it had been since he had actually slept in the forest, under the stars, with the sounds of birds and trees and other life; not at all like the spinning metal of cities and military camps. He shoved that thought out of his mind; one thing Halder Skalice excelled at was shoving unpleasant thoughts out of his mind. He gestured for Enrika to have a seat, trying to focus on having a pleasant dinner with an old friend and not on the fact that in less than two days he was going to be commanding armies and crushing rebels.

“I brought something,” she smiled, and produced a bottle of white wine. 

“Man, how many marks did that cost you?” asked Halder. Luxury goods were expensive these days; only vodka was inexpensive. 

“I’ve been saving it,” she said, “for a while, actually.”

“What’s the occasion?” asked Halder.

“Do I need one, Hal?” she asked. Halder walked to his kitchen and grabbed his glasses. “Sorry, I don’t have proper wine glasses.”

“Who am I to stand on ceremony?”

They sat, and began to eat their salad of sea kelp. Enrika poured the wine. “To the Health of the Men of the nation,” she toasted.

“Yes, indeed,” said Halder.

“How was your trip to Albrook?” asked Enrika.

Halder had to muster his thoughts; his trip to Albrook, just last week, was something he could barely remember. “You know, it was quite an honor to be asked to participate. To meet Celiose Cole.” Halder smiled, excitedly, and ran to his room and put something on the counter.

“<i> How We Win Wars </i>,” she read, “by Celiose Cole.”

“Yes, it’s the introductory training manual used at GAMA, as well as the Crucible and a half-dozen other military academies,” explained Skalice. “When Celiose was starting out in charge of the REF, he had to rebuild the force after the debacle in Norther Viper, so he published some writings to help him train his troops. <i> Supply and War </i>, <i> A Theory of Combined Arms </i>, and, of course, his seminal classic, <i> Small Unit Leadership </i>.”

Enrika opened the cover. “From one soldier of the Great War to another. C. Cole. Signed personally by the Generalissimo. Very impressive.”

“I even got to play a wargame against him,” said Halder. 

“Did you win?” asked Enrika.

“No,” said Halder. “No, I lost pretty badly. At one point I thought I had him pretty good.” He added pridefully, “I think he actually had to think about it pretty hard. To beat me.”

“Ah,” said Enrika. “I don’t get to travel abroad so very much these days.”

Halder smiled, “Well, I rarely get to travel abroad unless it’s with regiments of tanks in front of me. It’s nice to visit a city that’s not in the middle of active combat.” He stuck his fork into his kelp salad, and ate dutifully. He could never get the salt right. It was either too salty, or not salty enough. 

“They’re selling this stuff everywhere,” Enrika said. “Halder, during the last war…things were pretty bad. Tell me straight, will you? I know what the official news says, but I’m not stupid. I know we get food from Merge, and with the war there it will be harder for us to get food. Well, will it be like the Leviathan War?”

“Even the Leviathan War wasn’t as bad as before the Revolution,” said Halder, a little bit defensively. 

“Hal, during the Leviathan War I had three loafs of bread a day. Nothing more, nothing less. It wasn’t until the end of thirty-seven that I could actually buy any <i> meat </i>.”

“You made it through, didn’t you?” said Halder.

Enrika smiled politely. Halder and herself had had this argument dozens of times before. Not about food and the Leviathan War, but the argument that was at the heart of things in the Scandian League, and each time it was just beneath the surface; they couldn’t discuss it openly, because everyone knew who was watching. Which was exactly the problem, at any rate.

“We’ll get by, we always do,” said Halder. <I> We will, anyway, if I do my duty correctly. </i>

“I think I’m going to be eating a lot more kelp,” said Enrika. “But I suppose you’re right. It’s better than nothing.”

“One thing I never get when I travel abroad,” said Halder. “Rimmel Coward and his wife Kitty were in town when I was there—apparently they kick by to visit every so often. Celiose had work that night so they were kind enough to invite me to dinner with them; Shana was there, too. I never understand these foreigners; they finish a meal, and throw leftover food away. Like it was nothing. But the restaurant they wanted go to; well, they drove through Mictown.”

“Mictown?”

“Exactly what it sounds like,” said Halder. “During the war, many Esperians fled south, to Albrook. Mictown is their ghetto. I tried to hide in the back seat. They didn’t seem to understand.” He shook his head. “Here they were, talking about what an honor it was to host such an esteemed soldier such as myself, and we drove right in the midst of the refugees that I was responsible for, and they said not a word. Like they didn’t even know.” 

“Hal, do you ever wonder,” asked Enrika. “well, Hal, these people in Mictown, how were they living?”

“Destitute,” said Halder. “It was the slum. Kitty was driving and she got us lost; no one wanted to go there. The <i> smell </i> of the place.”

“Well, Hal,” said Enrika, “do you feel…feel proud of the war?”

There was an awkward moment of silence, during which time both Forest Clanners could hear the clockwork of Halder’s watch ticking off second. 

“Of course,” said Halder, nodding. “Of course. Served the League, served communism, I saved the Web from Fascism.” What was it the capitalists always said of TO Halberg? <i> TO Halberg, who saved the Web from Communsim. </i> “Besides,” he added, “it was them or us.”

Enrika suppressed the urge to sigh; Hal always did this when she tried to press him. Maybe the Priest was right. “Do you remember, Hal,” she said, “when I used to put up silence spells around us, when we were hiding in the bushes, so no one could hear us?” she said.

“Why do you bring that up?”

“Because I just cast that spell,” she said. “We’re not being listened to, by anyone. Anyone at all. Because Halder, I have to know – knowing how the Esperians suffered, how our people suffered…are you proud of the war?”

“Proud?” said Halder. “I don’t think any soldier’s all that proud of his achievements as a killer. But you have to understand, Enrika, if we didn’t fight, the war would come here, to Dragon, and then it would be <i> really </i> bad. Like the old days. I’m not going back to the old days, Enrika. I like being able to take for granted the water I’m drinking is clean, or that when I flip a switch I will have light that turns on, or that children are being educated instead of starving.”

Enrika thought, <i> How much is all that worth? </i>. She wished she had said it, but held her tongue. “Hal…well, I guess I had better go.”

Halder looked at Enrika with great concern. “Enrika,” he said. “Be….careful. I understand that…well, that nothing’s perfect. But…well, I just want you to be safe, is all.” <I> I don’t want your questions to be taken the wrong way by the Solidat. </i>

“Well, Hal, I’ll do my best,” she said.

Halder sighed. “Sorry, I just…I suppose that your life is dominated by one thing, one fact, you get a little worked up over it.” He smiled. “I was hoping to get a little break from it. I’ve not so many friends these days.”

“I’ve not so many friends these days, either,” said Enrika. “You take care of yourself, too.”


#4

XI. Husband and Wife

Reeducation Center 654 was, by Scandian standards, a nice prison, the kind of place the League kept prisoners whom it had a passing interest in keeping alive and relatively unharmed. Other criminals, those not so fortunate, were put in the Vagrant Legions, or exiled to the snowy wastelands of the southern ‘antarctic’ continent of the Dimension. But RC654, hollowed out from under a mountain near the city of Scande itself, was well-lit, air conditioned; besides the prison bars and the fact people weren’t allowed to leave, it actually looked much like the dormitories the majority of the Scandian population lived in.

Boris Dalienin was here to see his wife, Tess. The guards let him into her cell, and then left them alone. Boris knew that he was only being left alone physically; his conversation was certainly being monitored and recorded. For members of the nomenklatura, paranoia was not a pathology, but a requirement.


Tess’s cell had a simple cot; it was clean. She was getting older—both of them were—but still, it was good to see her. “Hey, love,” he said. He shook his head; he was Commissar for Agriculture, Chairman of the Council on Economic Planning, supreme architect of the economy of a Great Power in the way no other human being in the Web was, leader of the Organization of Winter and one of two surviving members of the Executive Committee for the Revolution—and yet his wife was in prison. 

“I don’t understand why I’m here,” said Tess. “Why…why am I kept here?”

“Because he can,” said Boris. There was no doubt who ‘he’ was. “And because he doesn’t quite trust me yet. Old guards like me are risky.”

Tess shook her head. “I don’t know why he just doesn’t kick you out of the nomenklatura and be done with it.”

Boris didn’t say that when Travin kicks you out, it’s with a bullet, but certainly the fate of Benetov came to his mind. “It’s because I’m useful,” he said. “I keep the people fed. I made a deal with some Unbound smugglers to bring in more food. I launched the aquacultural program. I’ve done better in this position than my predecessors.”

“You’re nervous about something,” said Tess. She smiled; his wife could always read him. “Something’s happening, out there.”

Boris was well aware that he could no share the news of the revolt in Arad, even with his wife. So he simply nodded; his wife understood that he was not allowed to freely discuss such things. 

“Don’t worry, my dear wife,” said Boris. “There is a project in the works that will convince <i> koyzha </i> once and for all that he can trust me. Something that will change the order of things in the Web permanently.”

“That sea kelp?”

Boris chuckled, and nodded; it was better she didn’t know the truth, about the Organization of Winter. “Yes. Sea kelp. I assure you, with a little bit of butter, it’s not bad at all.”

______________+

XII. Dawn: The Party

The Three Pillars of the All-Union Communist Party (of the Dragon Dimension):

SOLIDARITY! The Scandian people is one people. Whether black human or white human, Gramorian or Arad dwarf, Forest Clanner or others, they are, first and foremost, above all else, Scandian . Conflict between the races must come to an end. We must stand united as the Scandian people!

SOCIALISM! Imagine a world where there is no need to worry about hunger, a world where there is no need for money. Imagine if you knew that you would be taken care of today, tomorrow, five years from now, ten years from now, that you would be taken care of when you are sick or injured. This is our future; this is the society we will build. Through the power of science and efficient central planning, we will make it possible!

COLLECTIVISM! We are building a grand society for the whole of the Scandian people; this society is greater than the sum of its parts. Selfish desires not undertaken for the goals of the group are corrupting and self-destructive. The goals of the group, the goals of the people, and the goals of the party are transcendent!

Taken together, they inform us of a simple but essential truth: WE ARE ONE.


Travin put down the Party pamphlet, written by Titodov Penganin. He had to concede, he was eager to meet the man. This was a big gathering for the party, in a sports stadium in the city of Scande. It was the “All-Union” party because it included representatives from the various trade and industrial unions of the League; Travin was a delegate for the Steel Workers’ Union, even though not himself a steel worker, they gladly gave him a sport.

It was a large gathering; delegates from across the League were here. Mostly, the people were just milling about bellyaching. Part of the purpose of the meeting, though, was to select the nationwide leaders. Although no one said as much, because to say it out loud would be treason, the crackle of electricity was in the air.

“Mr. Rumanski?” came a voice. Travin turned around to see a bulky man with brown hair, brown eyes, and medium height.

“Allow me to introduce myself,” said the man. “I’m Boris Dalienin.”

Travin smiled. “Really?” he said. “ The Boris Dalienin? You organized the Mine Workers Union.”

Boris chuckled. “Mining’s all I’ve done,” he said. “Turns out I’ve a bit of knack for organization, too. But really, Mr.—excuse me, Comrade—Rumanski, the honor is mine. Most communist party meetings don’t have high-ranking government officials.”

“Maybe they should,” said Rumanski.

“Is it really as bad as they say?” asked Dalienin. “About the corruption? I was talking with Penganin earlier about it, and I think he was overstating things.”

“Worse,” said Travin. “I don’t need to know how bad he says it was. It’s worse. The ones who know what’s going on are on the payroll of foreign powers.”

Boris offered Travin a bottle of water. Travin eyed it suspiciously. “Don’t worry, it’s clean,” said Boris. “Clean bottled water. Definitely not from what passes for the local water system. You looked thirsty.”

Travin accepted, and had a sip of water.

“So, I suppose you want to meet the man of the hour, eh?”

“Penganin?” asked Travin. “Yes, I’m certainly interested in meeting him. I’m just not sure about one thing—where was he during the war?”

“Centwerp, if you can believe that,” said Boris. “Apparently he’s a scion of a noble Scandish house. Official party propaganda doesn’t mention it, of course. He kicked around in exile in Tasnica and Figaro and other places during the war; he became something of an intellectual, a dilettante. But he’s met Comrade Caidin in Ticondera. It’s just he’s, well…you’ll see what I mean.” Boris turned, and Travin followed him.

They entered a hallway of the stadium, and walked to a place with a skybox. There was a bearded man with wild, crazy hair and fiery eyes; Travin recognized him immediately as Titodov. “Well, well,” he said, placing his arm around a woman in the room. “Marsha, we have the opportunity to meet a member of the corrupt pig state itself.”

Boris frowned. “Don’t insult Comrade Rumanski,” he said. “He’s here to help us.”

“Of course,” he said. “Allow me to introduce everyone. I am Titodov Penganin, President of the All-Union Communist Party (of the Dragon Dimension). This is my lover Marsha, who is Vice President, and Alexei Polovoi, also Vice President of the Party. The three of us have been kicking around the exile community for years, ever since the Dark Dragons took over.”

“That was almost thirty years ago,” said Travin.

“Yes, we were lucky to flee. But returning home, things aren’t quite what we’d imagined.”

Boris coughed.

“Oh, well, I suppose you’ve already met Boris Dalienin, who is Chariman of the Party. And you, my dear Comrade Rumanski, will have the honor of serving as General Secretary of the All-Union Communist Party.”

“General Secretary?” asked Travin.

“Yes,” said Titodov. He chuckled. “We need a local, I guess is the best way to put it. I love my theory, love the dream. Picture it, Comrade Rumanski—a society free of hunger and disease. A society constructed on the principles of science. We can engineer cars, computers—, Gate even has sentient thinking machines! We can engineer a perfect society, as well.” Titodov smiled. “You’ve read Antarion? And Caidin’s new additions?”

Travin blinked. “It’s…on the list.”

“Pity. Caidin makes a compelling argument adapting the original theory to nations suffering from post-Great War stress; although our nation was born from the Great War, I think it fully applies here. That evil capitalist death machine of the Grand Army will soon feel the rise of the people it oppressed in the war.”

Marsha giggled; she was attractive, Travin admitted, if perhaps a bit young. “You’re ranting again,” she said.

“Ah, where are my manners,” said Titodov. “As General Secretary, you are responsible for sorting the organization of this party out. Making local party chapters, promoting those bosses, that sort of thing.”

Travin suppressed a frown; it was easy to tell that Titodov considered such work a distraction, and regarded ‘General Secretary’ as a somewhat unpleasant but necessary task. “Theory aside, I look forward to an era where there will lots of food and order,” said Travin. “I don’t think we’ll have a hard time seizing control. There were hunger riots in Carmen and no one could stop it for days. They sent Skalice in to set up martial law.”

“Well, then, I see you guessed this purpose,” said Titodov. He stepped up, and walked across the room to shake Travin’s hand. “Welcome, Comrade Rumanski, to the first meeting of the Executive Committee for the Revolution.”

______________+

XIII: The Sermon

The Priest, Sud Bloodbane, pricked his thumb. Then, he tossed it into a bonfire. Thousands of people followed him in ‘giving blood to the Dragon’. The symbolic sacrifice was important; sacrifice and suffering were soon to come in abundance, and this was there way to dedicated it to God. The bonfire was held just outside the local Commissiariat for Oil Production; the largest local building, and until recently home to the Party official responsible for keeping oil from Arad flowing. The building was grey, blocky, ugly concrete and brick, like every other Scandian-built building. It was, however, the largest local building, and therefore became seat of the de-facto government of what Bloodbane and the Yellow Turbans hoped would become Aradia again.

Sud smiled slightly at the Leader, who seemed content to let the Arad Dwarf be the front man. The Leader had ditched his cape and cloak and was now revealed to be a tall, noble-looking human with silver hair known only as Gekar. His motives and origin were still unknown, but Sud knew that he wouldn’t have gotten this far without his help.

There was also Sven Terekovski, the Gant Dracoforms pilot who had chosen to side with the Yellow Turbans against the Scandians. Although his own Ahzam was badly torn up in the battle, Sud was grateful to have a pilot for Project Bleu; indeed, it seemed divine providence itself that one was delivered to him. Sud had spoken with the Gant briefly before coming here; although not a follower of the Path of the Dragon, he had chosen to find his own way, chosen to break away from being a soldier of an evil empire. Sud realized he had to take all the help he could get; already the SLCM was striking back with a vengeance. They began by sealing off territory, and now, slowly but surely, they were pulling the noose tighter and tighter.

Nonetheless, Sud was excited; here he was, in Arad itself, about to give the Word of God to his followers as Sultan of Aradia.

“There is no God but the Dragon,” he began.

“There is no God but the Dragon,” came back the echo.

“Today, we give our blood to the Dragon through this fire. In the coming battles, we will give our blood to the Dragon by other means,” said Sud, his voice amplified by speakers throughout the city. He had wanted to transmit the message throughout the desert, even throughout the Web, but Scandian jamming had made it impossible.

“All among us remember a time when such a public display of faith was impossible. The Scandian League is a jahili nation, a nation created by man; our nation will be blessed as a creation of God, living in accordance with His sublime will. I know many of you have hatred in your hearts towards the Scandians. Many of us are tired of the senseless wars, the relatives suspected of holding the faith vanishing in the night, and constant, crushing dread. I must ask all of you, in His name, to purge your minds, bodies, and souls of hatred for the Scandians. We must not fight them from hatred or a desire for vengeance. Only once you have made your spirit free can you see what the Scandians truly are: a test from God.

“The Scandians are a great enemy brought from the ends of the worlds to oppose us and set against us. They have horrifying weapons and terrible war machines. They are a Great Power, perhaps, even, the greatest power on earth. But no earthly power can stand before the might of God. We will prevail, however, in our Faith. Noble Aradians, most holy warrior Yellow Turbans, the vaunted SLCM little knows our strength. They will send their mecha, their airplanes, their generals, and they will all fall, and the false god in Scande himself will wonder, ‘Why? I do not understand how such a thing could happen!’ For men such as him cannot understand the awesome power and righteousness of God. His kind knows only one way: destruction. We rise up in God’s name, and Travin’s only response is to crush us. We will rule in God’s name, and His Divine Word, revealed to the Six Prophets, will grant our rule wisdom, justice, and legitimacy; the communist’s only source of legitimacy is to crush the people, again and again if necessary. Eventually, the logic of violence will undo itself.”

There was a pause, Sud smiled, aware that he was about to do something which had not been done in over half a century.

“As Sultan of Aradia, I hereby issue three Rulings,” he said. “The first Ruling is that any who die while fighting the Scandians shall be forgiven their crimes in this life, and shall bypass any other cycles of reincarnation and go immediately to the highest state of existence: the oneness with God Himself.

“The second Ruling: We will accept all who oppose Scande as part of our people, whatever their religious beliefs. Although we seek to build a nation under the law of the Dragon God, we will forgive the misunderstandings and transgresses of any who oppose the evil communists. These include SLCM soldiers who wish to fight with us, groups in other parts of the League who are themselves not Draggoneth, and even il’Bleu. The children of Bleu have suffered as much under this terrible regime as the followers of the Path of the Dragon. We must unite, as we did in the past against the evil Goddess of Destruction and Desire, Tyr.

“The third Ruling: Any Scandian soldier captured, any who oppose us, shall meet with their end, but not before being tortured as the Six Prophets were. They will have their bones broken beneath the Wheel, their skin flayed from their bones, their tongues burned by hot irons—all the torments—so that they will be purified through their suffering and fit to pass on into the next life.

“So it is God’s will. So let it be written. So let it be done.”

_____________________+

XIV: Arad Operations

Halder’s temporary headquarters were in a foamcrete bunker a few miles into the start of the desert proper; not very for from Auria. Foamcrete was a wonderful innovation; sprayed and sculpted by moleforms like so much whipped cream, and then hardening into fortifications after applying a catalyst. It presented a hardened target, a safe place for Halder to meet; there were a handful of tables, and an ammunition crate provided a makeshift table. He had a telephone wired up here; a side affect of the heavy jamming blanketing the Arad desert was that Scandian radio and remote communications were as useless as those of the Yellow Turbans, and they had to rely on telephone wire and even messengers for communication.

Halder was meeting to discuss the progress of the war with Tribune Candice Kornski, S/31 Chief Ivan Gletkin, and Grimlock. The Hand of Travin had followed Halder everywhere since leaving Scande; the crystal golem had even tried to follow him to the latrine. Gletkin was also making himself a nuisance; perhaps since the S/31 Chief had now committed operatives, he knew that his fate was on the line, here, and did not what had happened to Benetov to happen to him. 

And then there was Tribune Candice Kornski, the commander of Task Force Garm, which comprised the main thrust of the force. Halder didn’t like the Gramorian because she smiled too much. Her sunny demeanor was positively un-Scandian. When she entered the room, she extended her right claw to shake his hand. After an awkward moment of hesitation, Halder accepted.

“Tribune Kornski,” said Halder. “I believe you’re familiar with S/31 Chief Gletkin. This…fellow,” he said, gesturing to Grimlock, “is on special assignment from Comrade Rumanski.”

“You should take anything I say as coming from the General Secretary himself,” said Grimlock. Halder thought he detected the hint of a boast in the golem’s even tone. 

“Pleased to meet you!” said Tribune Kornski. “I am pleased to be working with you.”

“Comrade Kornski, your prior assignment was Military Attaché to our embassy in Tasnica, correct?” asked Gletkin.

“Yes, that’s how I know you, I filed several reports,” said Kornski.

<I> Figures, </i> thought Skalice. </i> she wouldn’t be the first to ‘go native’. Someone who smiles that much is just creepy. </i>

“Comrade Skalice,” began Kornski, “I am pleased to report to you that the invasion is on schedule.”

“’Operation’,” corrected Halder. “After all, Arad belongs to us. We’re not invading anywhere.”

“I stand corrected,” said Kornski. “however, both the northern and western borders of the desert are sealed off. We are moving in, town-by-town. The reinforcements from Mysida have been most useful.” Biker scouts had been moved in from Mysida; the mobility and counterinsurgency skills of the Light Horse were in high demand these days. Pulling troops out of Mysidia made the most sense; Eblan had committed a lot of troops to Merge; and SLCM-Sea’s command of the oceans made an attack there almost impossible.

“Further, the pipelines to the desalinization plants on the coast have been severed. The Yellow Turbans have responded by cutting the local sewer system,” said Kornski.

“I am sure the local population will welcome us with open arms when they realize we are bearing communism and flushing toilets,” said Skalice.  

Gletkin chimed in, “the Yellow Turbans are using less GA vehicles and more captured SLCM vehicles.”

“That’s to be expected,” said Halder. “Historically, a guerilla’s main source of weapons and resupply has always been his opponent.”

“This is…fortunate,” said Kornski. “The town we are in now was defended by a handful of King Leo tanks.”

“King Leos?” asked Skalice.

Kornski shook her head. “Yes, unfortunately. The Yellow Turbans appear to have only a small number, though they tore our Platinums to pieces. Our shells merely bounced off the shields of the vehicles. Eventually, though, the King Leos ran out of fuel and we were able to occupy the town.”

Skalice nodded. It was just as he thought: the Yellow Turbans did not have the resources for a protracted campaign. The Mech Cav would comb the desert, the biker scouts would hunt down the strongholds, and the light tanks would provide the killing blow. It was sort of like hunting geese, actually, with some people beating the ground to scare the geese into the air, with the other hunters poised to make the killing shots.

“Are you alarmed at his call for other groups to rise up?” asked Grimlock.

“No group has risen yet, and we have suppressed communications,” said Gletkin.

“Can you be certain?” asked Grimlock.

“In war, nothing is certain,” said Halder. 

“And what will you do if revolts break out elsewhere?”

“Our campaign here is predicated on the use of overwhelming force. If it becomes necessary for us to deploy more troops elsewhere, I think we may need to consider pulling troops from Ticondera or Esper,” said Halder.

“Unacceptable,” said Grimlock.

Tribune Kornski’s eyes widened in shock at seeing the golem contradict her commanding officer, indeed, the commander of all the SLCM.

“This ‘other rebellion’ is purely hypothetical,” said Skalice. 

“You must have a plan, Skalice,” demanded the golem. “I want to see it tomorrow.”

“I would like to point out that I am in the midst of directing an operation against a very real rebellion,--“

“Tomorrow, Skalice,” said the golem.

Halder clenched his mouth; he did his best to suppress the low growl that he wanted very badly to give. He didn’t think the others heard it. “Very well,” he said. “I will draw up a contingency plan.”

__________+

XV: Winter

Ivan Gletkin and Boris Dalienin met in Gant. The senior leadership of the Organization of Winter were sans their third component; without Dorath Haggard things seemed strangely incomplete. Nonetheless, he was still fighting a battle in the Crucible near Arad, still holding out against the Yellow Turban’s heavy GA-produced artillery. It was a sparse room in a newly built factory; the production lines hadn’t started rolling yet. Abandoned, empty, and with a slight draft, the two members of the nomenklatura could well have been members of some night construction crew.

“Are you sure this is secure?” asked Dalienin, Commissar for Agriculture and de fact leader of the Organization of Winter.

“Yes, it’s secure,” said Gletkin. “I’m Chief of S/31, our nation’s intelligence agency. I should know when a place is bugged or not.”

“But…well, are you positive?”

“Comrade Dalienin, before I was S/31 Chief I worked as an operative specializing in operations in the Esper Union.  I have a lot of practice fooling E-CID. You don’t make it in the Esper Union unless you’re good. If you’re compromised, you’re expected to take your own life – no S/31 agent has ever been captured alive. Most field operatives have a toxin capsule in a tooth compartment or even surgically implanted in their bodies that they can trigger with a mental command; the poison is quick and painless, which is better than what the Esperians would do with a captured operative.” Gletkin shook his head. “Missions to Tasnica are so much simpler.” He chuckled. “They don’t even search hotel rooms rented to foreigners. But I digress. I swept the room for bugs three times. This factory has yet to go on-line, which is why the Solidat hasn’t activated monitoring devices yet. And at the moment, they have better things to do than stake out a factory no one uses.”

“Point taken, Comrade Gletkin,” said Dalienin. “Forgive me if I’m nervous. You’ve been at the front…things in Scande are very tense. Half the <i> nomenklatura </i> thinks <i> koyzha </i> is going to shoot the whole party leadership and start from scratch. No one yet, besides Benetov of course, but he had it coming. I’m a little concerned that his stepped-up paranoia might turn his attention towards our group.”

“But we’re not seeking to overthrow Comrade Rumanski,” said Gletkin. “Indeed, this is in <i> his </i> name. This is for communism, for the League.”

“True, but he would never approve of what we’re planning to do,” said Dalienin. “Until, of course, we are successful. The Tasnicans have a wonderful saying: ‘Nothing succeeds like success.’ Once we have gathered all the keys and completed the ritual, Travin will accept our victory for communism.”

“Are…you sure this is wise, Dalienin?” asked Gletkin. “The Goddess Tyr is famous for corrupting people’s desires and wishes. Perhaps raising her is not the best option. After all, all the destruction, all the lives, all the effort of the Great War happened to banish her kind from this world.”

“Having second thoughts, Gletkin?” asked Dalienin. “It’s what it will take for our nation to be <i> safe </i>. We tried military superiority, and it didn’t work; the Leviathan War is proof of that. Now there are some in our government who believe this détente might actually pan out, that talking with the capitalist powers might actually secure our future. I had hoped Travin had executed all the idealists in the Party after the Revolution. But with the powers of a Dark God at our disposal, none will dare oppose us.”

“What about GACA? What if they unleash the Grand Army on us?”

Dalienin chortled. “The Grand Army’s coasting on Celiose’s reputation and their old glories. There are cracks—why do you think some of their weapons fell into the hands of the Yellow Turbans? It’s not the same Grand Army that once held the whole Web in fear, I can assure you of that.”

“This is a terrible risk, Dalienin.”

“The Tasnicans have another applicable saying: the riskier the road, the greater the profit. Think about it, Gletkin; with Tyr at our disposal there will be no need for all the fear, all the machinery of security and military suppression. We can make Scande fertile. Our people will be able to eat well. They might even be able to own nice shoes and computers.”

“But Tyr—“

Dalienin waved his hand. “The god hasn’t been born who can stand up to a determined atheist,” he said. “Besides, we will have the keys. The Tyranid we’ve recruited assures us that that will give us control.”

“I trust her as far as I can throw a Dracoform,” said Gletkin. “She was a little too helpful once we explained our goals. All the Tyranids we’ve encountered since the war have been much weaker than they supposedly were in the War. And I trust that Graulemn in captivity even less.”

“Imbehl? Well, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. I think we should let him go,” said Dalienin.

“Are you insane? He’s an enemy of the state.”

“He also knows where one of the keys are, and won’t tell us,” said Dalienin. “We’ve tried drugs, torture, everything—you know that. Nothing will compel a priest to the King of Lies to tell the truth. But if we let him go, he’ll bring it to us.”

“We’ll find them all without him, in time.”

“Weren’t you listening?” chastised Dalienin. “We may not have much time. Rumanski will grow suspicious. We have two keys already—one I found so many years ago, one from Our Friend in the Celpo.”

“I don’t trust him, either,” said Gletkin. “I was a spy. Not trusting people is in the job description.”

“Whatever the reason, we have two keys. Reputedly there’s a key in Wisdon; Wisdon is hidden, it moves around, but the Yellow Turbans use it as a base; I’m sure the SLCM will track it down, sooner or later. Assuming Imbehl’s key is a different key, that gives us four of the six keys. Then, all we need to do is find the other two keys, and we will be able to secure the safety of our nation—forever.”

Gletkin shook his head. “In for an ounce, in for a pound,” he said. “Fine, Dalienin, we’ll follow this as far as it goes.”

“Do you remember the revolution, Comrade Gletkin?” asked Dalienin. “It was a time of idealists, a time of dreamers. Some believed we could perfect our society, that we could create a new way of living that would allow all men to live in peace and harmony.”

Gletkin chuckled lightly. “And you think this will help us create it?”

“Perhaps,” admitted Dalienin. “The alternative, that we are doomed to a flawed existence and the cycle of imperfection, is too depressing for me.”

#5

Organization of Winter
il’Bleu to Arad
Halder and Travin-Dawn revolution
Dracoseraph unleashed
Sonya’s dream – Ichiro, the Graulemn, and Tyr
End of Presidium
il’Bleu to Winlan
Gekar—defense of Arad
Imbehl unleashed
Sporr past I
Capture of Arad—they are cheered
Imbehl kill’s Sporr’s brother
Travin takes supreme control (Dalienin finds key)
The case for Détente- Serchenko at Oberlin Institute
il’Bleu arrival in Winlan
Sporr past II
Wisdon and Those Orders
Trial of Haggard
Halder and Enrika again
Dawn Revolution-The Dragon Walks
Skalice Day—“To the Greatest of All Men, Comrade Rumanski”

Halder’s Response
Corruption of the League
Halder again
In Arad-temple
The Party
Halder-the attacks begin
Halder on board—“What kind of people?”
The Revolution
Travin takes control
Those Orders
Arrival in Arad—we are cheered
Woe, I have become the man


#6

Oh man! I remember this and talking about this with you! I loved delving into Halder’s point of view – he was one of my favorite characters – and where it was going. I’m guessing it never finished?

It also really firmed up the hardcore totalitarianism thing, and made Travin into a force of nature. The first parts of this were when I really got why people were so terrified of him.


#7

Badass. I loved reading what you had there.


#8

Travis.

This: kupop.shoryucant.com/CityOfMoogles/comic11.html

:slight_smile:


#9

…how was it pronounced, anyways?


#10

Yes.


#11

Cellulose.


#12

Sealeeyoise


#13

Tolkien pronunciation: Keh-lē-ōs


#14

Sell-ye-ose.


#15

Silly-oyz


#16

This is the closest to what I think I had in mind, though sometimes I went with two syllables (Sell-yoys).


#17

This is the closest to what I think I had in mind, though sometimes I went with two syllables (Sell-yoys).[/quote]

lol You do know that, in the heads of everyone who has ever been to/read Kupopolis, literally nobody pronounces it like that, right?


#18

No! You don’t get to take away my cel-ye-ose pronunciation victory away from me! For once I’m saying something correct and everyone else is wrong! Haha :smiley:


#19

No! You don’t get to take away my cel-ye-ose pronunciation victory away from me! For once I’m saying something correct and everyone else is wrong! Haha :smiley:[/quote]

::drops a 4-sided dice::

Hey Mike, can you pick that up for me?


#20

No! You don’t get to take away my cel-ye-ose pronunciation victory away from me! For once I’m saying something correct and everyone else is wrong! Haha :smiley:[/quote]
Wait, that wasn’t a typo?