Saturday, October 24, 2015

Episode Eight: Method To The Madness

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”- Author unknown

December 6, 2004,
03:06 local time,
Underground bunker,
100 km south of Carthage, Phoenician Vassal

“I’m sorry to have to pull you out of bed so early in the morning,” said The Bactrian, an older, slender but physically capable woman with lightly brown skin and long curly black locks who spoke with a sultry baritone that was at once both endearing and authoritative. “Unfortunately, as you understand, we cannot conduct business during normal hours.”
“Yes, yes, I’m fully aware of that,” said Coryender, the young, slender olive-skinned woman who had to scratch her eyes in a vain attempt to rouse herself from the fatigue that had been setting in, “though, truth be told, I haven’t slept a wink in months.”
“Don’t worry,” said The Bactrian, reaching across the table they were both sitting at and grasping Coryender’s hand, squeezing it momentarily causing some of the bracelets she had on both wrists to jangle. “I’m here to make everything better.”
“With all due respect,” said Coryender, adjusting her ankle-length tunic and the fur shawl draped around her shoulders, “I’m not quite sure that is possible.”
“I’m here to tell you that you have the full backing of the Soldiers of the Lord,” said The Bactrian, who, despite wearing jeans and a light blouse, wasn’t as affected by the chilly Carthaginian weather as Coryender was. “We’re here to kick the Phoenicians out of your city.”

Coryender was pleased to hear that, even though The Bactrian was really only telling her what she wanted to hear. The Soldiers of the Lord were sent to Carthage after the Phoenician state of Tyre- which controlled Carthage as a vassal state- passed a series of policies nationalising the automotive manufacturing business, preventing British Leyland from opening a factory in the territory. Intent on teaching the Tyrians a lesson, the ethnic Carthaginians and their anger at the Tyrian government for not creating jobs presented them with an opportunity to strike. Coryender, just barely a college graduate, had made a name for herself as a protester against Tyrian mistreatment, drawing the eye of the Soldiers as a candidate for the meeting with The Bactrian. She was carefully chosen, since her youth and her vigour gave her energy and passion, but also made her naive- she would be too young and too starstruck to ask why Virtue waited this long to assist the Carthaginians.

I’ve come here with eight of my associates,” said Coryender, disappointed the Soldiers did not bring more members to the meeting, “You’ve come here alone. Why should I believe you can handle the Tyrians?” She gave a glance to her bodyguards, six men and two women, all well-built, muscular figures, with the men shirtless and the women wearing sports bras to show off their muscles, who nodded back and knew what to do.

They coverged on The Bactrian, who knew what was happening and quickly got out of her seat. Despite the numerical superiority, in a few short moves, The Bactrian had Coryender’s bodyguards all bodyslammed to the floor, all lying there panting in an attempt to regain the wind that had been knocked out of their sails. One bodyguard attempted to jump The Bactrian when she wasn’t looking, but The Bactrian was equal to the task and again sent her to the ground, a signal to the rest of the bodyguards not to try their luck again.

“I'm the operational commander of the Soldiers of the Lord,” The Bactrian said, casually wiping the dust off her shoulders and sitting back down, having barely broken a sweat. “Is that good enough for you?”

“Not bad,” said Coryender, who fitted her jet black hair behind her jewelry-encrusted headband and nodded her head to hide her nervousness, though The Bactrian knew right away that she got to her. “All I know you mean business...but, I have one question.”
“Ask away,” said The Bactrian leaning forward.
“How does a woman get to lead a Nathanite militia?” Coryender asked.

The Bactrian was only too pleased to respond.

“I knew you’d ask,” she said with a wry smile. “Everyone seems to believe that the Nathanites are nothing more than a venue for man to promote misogyny, but it’s often forgotten that misogyny tends to be the cry of the weak. I may be a subserviant woman, but I am not a weak one. You see, feminists make the mistake of putting man on a pedestal, and insisting that women get to do what the man gets to do, because what a man does is ‘better’ than what a woman does. Not only does it outline their own hypocrisy, it fails to understand that a society can still be equal even if both genders have separate roles.”
“Yes,” said Coryender, “but Nathanism explicitly says that men control women and women don’t get to make a lot of life choices.”
“That is true,” said The Bactrian. “However, Nathanism also tells men they cannot abuse their wife, and that their control over their wife is merely for their own protection, out of the biological reality that men are stronger than women. The woman’s job is to provide and care for her family, the man’s job is to protect’s basic human instincts, and that is what Nathanism draws upon.”
“You’re not married though,” said Coryender, “and you just beat up six men.”
“I am subservient to the LORD,” said The Bactrian, assuredly, “and I have proven myself amongst the men that I have earned their respect, because, at its core, Nathanism is a religion about promoting strength...and that is what I wish to bring to you, Coryender.”
“We won’t have to convert, will we?” Coryender said.
“No,” said The Bactrian firmly. “You can keep your fact, your people will not even know we were here.”
Coryender nodded in appreciation. “I like that.” She then looked concerned. “So what happens next?”
“In nine hours, a band of Soldiers will dress like Tyrian soldiers, bring their guns and open fire at Hannibal Park. They will be told not to aim for anyone, but I can’t guarantee there won’t be any casualties. What I can guarantee is that there will be a panic, with people asking if the Tyrians are again oppressing Carthage. A few weeks later, another ‘Tyrian’ attack will occur, and then a few weeks later another ‘Tyrian attack’ will occur, at which point Virtue will condemn the attacks and you will reappear on the scene to do the same. By this point, you should have public favour and interest in a revolt. Should the Tyrians fight back you will have our assistance.”
“...and then what?” Coryender leaned forward, listening with bated breath.
“We will discuss more as the time comes. For now, sit tight.”

Coryender shook The Bactrian’s hand firmly, smiling as she did so, before getting up to leave with the meeting finished. As promised, over the next few weeks were dozens of attacks by Soldier operatives posing as Tyrians, which sent the public into a fury. The Tyrian government denied involvement, but no one believed them, especially since they’d targetted the ethnic Carthaginians before, and their propensity for piracy left them with few friends worldwide. Virtue denounced the attacks, at which point Coryender arose to take up the Carthaginian cause. An uprising occurred, and, with Soldier assistance, the Tyrians were routed in their own capital city, forced to acknowledge Carthaginian independence, which became official on October 19, 2005.

Coryender wound up setting up a parliamentary republic based on the old Carthaginian system. This meant that elections were promptly held for both the Carthaginian “Council of Elders” and for the posts of the Carthaginian shophets, or Judges. Ostensibly, the election was open to a diverse group of parties, but, in truth, the Soldiers provided Coryender and her friend Izabel with vast sums of money and resources, allowing them and their party to cruise to victories in the Council and as Shophets. As time progressed, the opposition would be made to look ineffective via a series of “scandals” orchestrated first by the Soldiers but soon cultivated at the hands of Izabel, with the svelte blonde proving quite adept at manipulation and winning over a crowd. Further undermining the opposition was Carthage’s economic prowess, which Virtue did everything it could to prop up. Sure, most people subsisted in “purely adequate” homes while the few rich people truly reaped the benefits, but few paid heed to any of that, because Izabel was so good at convincing the people that embracing the opposition’s brand of “socialism” was tantamount to allowing them to tax people out of their homes and hand the money over to people who’d “never contribute to society anyway.”

In return for Virtue’s loyalty, the Shophets opened the new Carthaginian Republic to the Family’s industries. As 2005 became 2006, Coryender’s unyielding loyalty led to Virtue to help her gain territory needed to grow as a power, with “show” battles taking place against England and Rif that allowed her to carve an empire in North Africa that reached the Atlantic and avoided needing to pass by the Roman-controlled Pillars of Hercules. Rome, though, wouldn’t back down from the new threat, and met the Carthaginian army in Rif, only for the Roman generals to underestimate their opponents and get trounced in battle.

A few other skirmishes between Rome and Virtue resulted, with Rome winning a few face-saving battles, most notably ones to preserve the state of Israel, which had come under threat after The Bactrian assisted Israel’s rivals in the Levant- the Jordanian states of Moab, Edom and Midian- in building their states to become capable threats to Judea. This resulted in the Treaty of Windhoek in 2007 that basically restored the status quo (except for Rome recognizing Carthage’s new territories), but Coryender got what she wanted in establishing herself as a world power.

August 14, 2015,
00:21 local time,
The Chancellor’s Mansion,
Nicosia, Cyprus, Aramean Empire

It was a dark and stormy night. Though it was typical for this time of year, Aramean Chancellor Aris Pomas still found sludging through it to be a nightmare, as if he didn’t have enough of those already. Following the February siege of Louisville, Kentucky, which saw a branch of the elite Aramean force the Knights of St. Peter attempt to undermine the efforts of Aram’s ally, Rome, to subdue a terrorist infiltration, Pomas has been under scrutiny by the Romans who have questioned his commitment to their alliance. The Petrine Catholic Pontiff, Sixtus VI (who doubles as Aram’s head of state), has been leading the Roman investigation of Pomas, looking to see if he was complicit in the treason. Pomas has insisted since the controversy began that his government had nothing to do with it, but his words had little leverage in the absence of proof.

Under this cloud was the one Pomas was asked to operate in, which made his situation all the more perilous. As he walked into the door, he greeted the doorman and the palace guards and walked to the kitchen. He grabbed a bottle of his favourite wine and a wine glass before moving into his study, where he sat down, opened the wine and poured himself a drink.

He was about to take a sip before the light went on, causing him to jump in his seat.

“You didn’t want to drink in the dark, did you Aris?” Jack Kent, the English Foreign Minister, said in his soothing but commanding baritone.
“Jack?” Pomas said, trembling, turning and looking at Kent. “ did you get in?”
Kent, unfazed, took a seat himself, relaxing as he grabbed his own wine glass and took a sip himself. “You know, if there’s one thing I like about Nicosian wine it’s that it’s got a really nice tempts you and takes you in, soothing you as it goes down smoothly...but then, at the last moment, the sparks fly in your taste buds and you’re jolted, because you’re reminded that Cypriots once had a spine.”
Pomas fumbled under his desk and drew out his gun, pointing it at Kent.
“Woah, woah, woah.” Kent paused to chuckle. “Let’s not get too rash now. After all, it wouldn’t look good for the cameras, would it?”
“Cameras? You forget, Jack, I run this place...what comes out of the cameras I control.”
“Yes, but you won’t be able to control the questions that would arise when I don’t make it out of here alive...and you’ve got enough of those already.”
Pomas sighed, putting the gun back into place. “All right Jack, tell me what you want.”

Kent smiled, relaxed as he sneered in Pomas’ general direction.

“I’m not here to ask anything of you,” said Kent, chuckling as he sipped his wine. “Rather, I’ve come to give you advice.”
“Advice?” Pomas snickered, shaking his head. “Why should I take advice from you?”
“You asked me how I got in here...well, I’m a Foreign Minister, and we have relations, don’t forget. Besides, I told your wonderful doorman that we’re friends.” Kent looked Pomas straight in the eyes. “We are friends, right Aris?”
Pomas took a deep breath and swallowed hard, panting a few more times before regaining his composure. “Yeah, sure we are.”
Kent snickered heartily. “Good!”
Pomas started to pant, with sweat gleaming off his wrinkled forehead. “What...what advice are you here to give me?”
“See, I know what you don’t want, and you don’t want the Pope messing around in your business.”
“’re right about that.”
“Yet I know you are reluctant to make any changes because you are afraid of republicanism.”
“You’re not going to sell me on me. I’m not interested in your Virtue gobbledygook. Your states are a failure.”
“Is that what you think or is that what Rome is telling you to think?”

Pomas took a deep breath and looked to the side, pondering Kent’s words.

“I’m listening,” Pomas said, turning back towards Kent and leaning forward.
“I’m not here to sell you on democracy,” said Kent. “I’m here to sell you on parliamentary republicanism, which is a profoundly different concept. One is about taking into consideration the opinions of people, the other is where you get to hire your own deputies to influence and coerce the opinions of the people.”

Pomas leaned back in his chair and gave Kent a quizzical look. “The people still have to vote for you,” he said. “How is that different that democracy?”
“In a direct democracy,” said Kent, “the people feel like they’re part of the system, that their ideas matter. Fringe ideas can be brought forward and flourish if they catch on, all because everyone has a voice. In a parliamentary republic, the people’s voices are not so readily available, since the only way the government can hear their voices is if their ‘representative’ brings it to their attention. In this way, the representatives can feel ‘distant’ and ‘unavailable’, making the people feel like their voices are hopeless. This will allow the representatives to operate solely on their own accord, and that accord can be yours if you pick the representatives yourself.”
“Won’t the people eventually catch on to what is happening and vote the representatives out of power? It’s too risky.”
“Quite the contrary. Because the people’s voices are so distant, they default to their emotions when making a choice, since reason is not an option available to them. This makes them highly suggestible and extremely easy to influence, which can work to your advantage if you play your cards right.”
Pomas nodded his head approvingly. “Manipulation.”
Kent smiled. “Yes, that’s it...the Conservative Party of England has managed to dominate elections for almost 40 years, all because we utilize the power of suggestion. If you use it too, you will find it can work many wonders for you too.”

Pomas sat silent, continuing to nod his head in approval as Kent got up and smiled, happy to see Pomas agreeing with his words.

October 19, 2015,
07:29 local time,
FBII Headquarters,
Buffalo, Roman New York

“Galla,” said North American Prefect Eva Avita as FBII Senior Agent Galla Claudia walked into the break room. “So good to see you.”
“Yeah,” said Claudia, surprised at Avita’s sunny disposition, “good to see you too.” This was Claudia’s first time seeing the svelte blonde woman, who, despite being middle-aged, looked remarkably younger, as her skin was a smooth ivory and her blonde curls flowed past her shoulders. Avita, though, spoke with a soft but commanding tone, a demeanour she shared with Claudia, who noticed it.”
Avita continued to beam. “I’ve heard a lot of great things about you. The Antivirus Task Force has really helped put a dent in crime here in North America...and that’s all thanks to you.”
“Oh, please, it’s all in a day’s work.”
“We arrested 50 people yesterday...busted a major tax evasion scheme that tried to pass itself off as a charity dedicated to spiders. Can you believe that? A charity dedicated to spiders? Who’d do that?”
“I think The Virus people know we’re coming after them now...and they’re grasping at straws.”
“It’s all due to your good work.” The two of them smiled and sipped their coffees before an awkward silence set in.

“You didn’t come to me to talk to me about the spider charity, did you?” Claudia said.
“No,” said Avita. “There are some people that would like us to talk about the drapes, but we have to talk about a man.”
“A man...okay...”
“George Walker...his hand was found washed up on a beach in Nayarit.”
“...and you’re wondering why the police report says that he was shot and killed in self-defence, right?”
“Aren’t you a perceptive one?”
Claudia took a deep breath and took another drink of her coffee.
“Galla.” Avita smiled as she put her hand on Claudia’s shoulder. “I don’t know what Lucius has told you, but you can tell me the truth.”
“I’m not falling for that.” Claudia was terse as she brushed off Avita’s hand with the two of them locking eyes intently.

“Call it a tactic all you want,” said Avita firmly, “but it still doesn’t change the fact that if the police report detailed what you said it detailed, there’s no reason why his hand would wash up on a Nayarita shore.”
“Maybe the morgue had a break-in,” said Claudia, weakly.
“You didn’t list a morgue.” Avita folded her arms, getting more terse with Claudia.
Claudia could only let out a heavy sigh, not knowing how to respond.
“Galla, stop playing games with me. I was an Agente...don’t you think I know every trick in the book?”
“Do you not understand the gravity of the question you are asking? This isn’t straightforward.”
“Well, it’s up to can keep digging your hole or I can help you get out of it.”

Claudia took a deep breath and regained her composure, deciding to accept her fate.

“George Walker is a Soldier,” said Claudia. “As you know, the Soldiers don’t like getting arrested...they kill the family of those that do. So every Soldier would choose to die instead of getting arrested. George held Jasmine Farhar and continued to hold the gun to her head...he was practically begging me to shoot him. Listen, I’ve been a detective for over 30 years, and I’ve only shot to hurt, not to kill. So I couldn’t bring myself to shoot him dead even though I could justify it. So Danny killed him and took the body...and I decided to protect him by claiming I’d killed him.”
“Danny,” said Avita, “as in Danforth Grayson?”
“Yes...he’s a valuable asset. He knows the criminal underworld.”
“As I understand.” Avita folded her arms and looked intently at Claudia, her derision no secret.
“I’m sorry.” Claudia did her best to fight off tears, but some still fell. She fumbled through her blazer for her badge and her gun before Avita put out her hand and stopped her.

“You can keep those,” said Avita assuredly. “I may be about keeping to the rules, but I’m not stupid. I know North America’s crime problem isn’t going to get solved without involving the criminals themselves. If we’ve got people so good at evading the police we have no choice but to have to enlist the criminals’ help...and I know that sometimes we’ll have to do things we shouldn’t accept. I don’t like it, but, I have to accept it. I care more about knowing if you’re as honest as you say you are...and, you are.”
Claudia smiled, relieved at what she heard.
“Now,” said Avita, smiling back, “this is a secret between you and I. If I’m ever to keep Lucius, Danny and Omega in line I need them to continue to believe that I’m on to them.”
“Which you are,” said Claudia.
“They can’t know I let this go...because I don’t want them to think it’s okay now to break the law. I need to keep them honest, and I need to know you will do the same.”
Claudia spoke assuredly. “Yes.”
“Good. If you ever need anything, you know where to find me.”

October 21, 2015,
23:29 local time,
Illinois Republican Residence,
Chicago, Illinois

Seth Marks couldn’t sleep. The well-built middle-aged white man took off his overcoat as he stepped inside the Residence, letting out a loud huff as he strode into his study. Like most of his days, the Illinois President was swamped with stress, not unusual for any governing figure, but the problem in Illinois was unique. Where most countries in North America could boast a political base that is largely homogeneous, in Illinois, the largely liberal Chicagoland clashed often with its mostly rural, staunchly conservative neighbours. Thus, even on the best of days, passing even the simplest of motions was sure to involve various sorts of arm twisting and negotiations, meaning legislation was often at a standstill.

Marks strode into his kitchen, doing his best to take his mind off another horrible day at the legislature. He thought about calling to his wife and kids, but figured all were asleep, so he didn’t. A conservative at heart, he was often the lightning rod for Chicago, who did everything they could to make things unnecessarily difficult for him. Today, he tried to pass a law reaffirming that the legislature’s parking garage was not open to the public, a complaint many in the legislature- including the Chicagoans- had brought up. However, because it was Marks who brought up the measure, the Chicagoans found several different reasons to oppose it, including the reason that it was scaring away the Yeti. Marks did a double take when he heard that one, because he thought that if the Yeti was actually being scared away by the legislators’ cars it would be a good thing.

He opened his fridge door and examined its contents when he froze in his tracks.

“Hello there, Seth,” said The Bactrian, speaking assuredly and standing right behind him.

Marks turned and looked at her, but he didn’t lose his composure. He looked around and grabbed a knife, turning to attempt to quickly stab The Bactrian, who made quick work of the Residence’s poorly trained guards several hours ago. The Bactrian didn’t flinch, grabbing Marks’ wrist and twisting it back, breaking his arm in several different places. Marks let out several yelps in pain and recoiled to the ground, panting heavily in a vain attempt to regain his strength.

“I wouldn’t be playing games here if I were you,” said The Bactrian, who calmly kicked away the knife.
“What do you want?” said Marks, still wincing in pain.
“What I want,” said The Bactrian, “is for you to stay quiet, because then this will go a lot quicker and easier.”
“This?” said Marks, confused. “What do you mean, ‘this’? Listen…whatever it is that you want, I’ll give it to you…you don’t need to hurt me.”

The Bactrian readjusted her leather gloves and laughed.

“Honey,” said The Bactrian, “I’ve been in this business long enough. I know that you only make those pleads so that when I leave you’re going to go straight to the police. Don’t try to tell me otherwise.”
“I won’t,” said Marks, panting, gulping hard. “I promise…really, I’d do anything…you have to trust me.”
“I haven’t trusted a single soul for over 20 years,” said The Bactrian, “what makes you think I’m going to start now?”

The Bactrian picked Marks up and dragged him into the adjacent room, breaking his right leg by hyper-extending it with force. The room he was dragged into was normally used as a boardroom for Marks to conduct business, but tonight all that was in the room was an empty space with a metal rod suspended across the ceiling. In one corner, Marks saw his wife, shot to death with a bullet to her brain, and a large box, one that he didn’t know contained his two teenaged daughters, Crystal and Jennifer, heavily sedated.

He began to hyperventilate, his breathing getting more rapid as he was going through the torrent of emotions knowing his wife was now gone but knowing he had to try to stay composed if he was to get out of this situation alive. Unfortunately for him, The Bactrian made sure that would be impossible.

She took the rope she had brought into the room and tied Marks’ wrists behind his back, before throwing the rest of the rope over the metal rod. She pulled at the rope and lifted Marks up, separating his shoulders as his arms moved upward, causing him even more pain. She then took his clothes and ripped them all off, so that he could dangle from the ceiling, naked. She took a look at Marks’ uncovered body, deciding to run her hands all over it as she was impressed with Marks’ physique. By this point, Marks was a complete mess, whimpering and howling uncontrollably, trying to contend with the immense physical pain he was going through that was only matched by the emotional turmoil that The Bactrian had put him through. Eventually, The Bactrian had enough of Marks’ crying, as she calmly applied a cleave gag to Marks’ mouth with a thick cloth, which muffled much of his screams.

The Bactrian then took particular notice at Marks’ penis, which caused Marks’ eyes to widen, gripped with fear. She ran her hands through his genitals, feeling through his testicles and then along the considerable shaft of his penis, and contemplated her next move. She could rip off his genitals in one clutch, but decided against it. It was an impressive set, and Marks was completely The Bactrian’s type, so The Bactrian wanted to have some fun with Marks before leaving him to his fate.

She fondled his penis, stroking it softly as Marks recoiled in disgust. She then decided to stroke it harder, rising the penis from its flaccid state into a strong, firm vessel, one where she could feel the blood throbbing in her hands. As Marks watched, wide-eyed, terrified at what was going to happen next, The Bactrian took out a condom from her coat pocket, placing it ever so gently on the erect phallus. Marks tried his best to scream in protest, but The Bactrian soldiered on, calmly ignoring Marks and lowering him so that she could mount him.

The Bactrian quickly took off her clothes and calmly inserted Marks’ penis inside of her vagina, which she kept tight through regular exercises. Marks momentarily enjoyed the feeling, since The Bactrian’s genitals were in the best shape he’s ever experienced, but soon remembered that he wasn’t a voluntary participant in any of this. The Bactrian then thrusted herself, moving her hips up and down to get a feel for Marks’ penis, first working slowly. She began to moan, with her moans getting louder as her enjoyment level rose, enough to muffle the sounds of Marks’ whimpering. It was here that the intensity level of her thrusts began to increase, and she moved faster and faster the more aroused she got.

She continued on for a few minutes before Marks’ libido had enough, as Marks climaxed as The Bactrian had just gotten used to her new thrusting speed. As she began to realize that Marks could no longer give her pleasure, she dismounted, disappointed.

“Premature ejaculation,” said The Bactrian, shaking her head. “No wonder your wife found pleasure with someone else.” She pulled the condom off, tied it and put it in her pocket, with Marks panting heavily fearing what would happen next. The Bactrian then calmly hoisted him back into the air, so that his legs dangled off the ground once more.

She felt along the backside of left leg, feeling for his femoral artery. Once she found it, she unsheathed her knife and stabbed his leg along the artery, cutting it open like cutting open a pipe. As she went down his leg, she angled her knife upwards, so that it became the tail of a “7”. Right next to it would be carved two more 7’s, so that the scarring would leave “777”- the sign of the Soldiers of the Lord- on his leg. A few minutes later, his leg bled out and he was dead instantly, a small solace for Marks after the terror he went through. The Bactrian smirked as she saw the life leave Marks’ body, enjoying how the once rich body became a pale husk.

October 22, 2015,
08:12 local time,
101.3 The Power,
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Province, Empire of New York

“Good morning,” said Esther Harmony, the perky host of “This Morning”, the Pennsylvania Province’s No. 1 morning radio show. “We’re back on this lovely Thursday Morning. I’m Esther Harmony, your host, and, once again, I’m happy to have you with us!

“Joining me this morning on the phone is none other than the Roman Emperor himself, Caesar Valerius IV Maderia, which is a real treat for us. It’s just so rare to have an Emperor this accessible! Anyway, good morning Caesar!”
“Actually,” said Valerius with a slight chuckle, “it’s afternoon for me, but thank you for the well-wishes anyway.”
“Oh...right,” said Harmony, slightly embarassed. “I totally forgot about the time difference. Anyway, I’m so glad you would chat with us!”
Valerius paused to pull the phone away from his ear momentarily, annoyed by Harmony’s high pitched wailing. “Well, it’s my pleasure, really. I’m here to serve the people, and what good is that if the people feel like they can’t talk to me? I’m not Diocletian, you know.”
“Yes of course! Right! So I think the question that’s on everyone’s mind right now is, ‘who is Eva Avita’? Is she our new Governor?”
“Let me state this in no uncertain terms- Eva Avita is not a Governor. She will have no power or authority over the administration of the North American states or the North Americn Union itself. The government will and its structure remain the same...this has nothing to do with that.”
“Oh, okay!”
“Eva is a Prefect...that means she’s in charge of the Roman forces that we have stationed in the NAU, who are there in full accordance with the agreements we entered with the North American states to ensure their protection. She is also in charge of the police services we provide for the NAU- the FBII- as well as being in charge of Agentes in Rebus and Agentes De Rebus operations within the NAU.”
“Agentes in Rebus and Agentes De Rebus...that gets complicated.”
“We just call them ‘Agentes’...makes them easier, although ‘AR’ and ‘ADR’ are acceptable.”
“ what will she do?”
“She’s just there to coordinate our operations, as well as liaise with the NAU regarding any cooperative exercises that may be needed...this used to be done with officials we have here in Rome but we decided given the situation of the NAU, it was more beneficial to have an official there. Coordination operations are much easier when you’re not dealing with an entire ocean and five time zones to cross.”
“That is true! So this is just about making things easier, right?”
“Yes, exactly.” Valerius smiled, although part of him worried there was a bigger question waiting to be asked.
“Because, you know, this ‘Virus’ thing really gets us all on edge…on one hand, it’s pretty scary, all these guys looking to cause havoc with all this crime…but on the other hand…Valerius, people are pretty upset with how things are going with the rebuild in North America.”
“I understand the frustration and the concern…I wish there was an easy answer that I could provide for you, but the truth is, there isn’t. There are no easy solutions. North America was devastated by the Third World War…that was hundreds of trillions of dollars in damage, if not more. That can’t be fixed overnight. We’re doing what we can but we have to stress patience. As for this ‘Virus’ thing, rest assured knowing that we have dedicated resources to fighting the problem and we’ve got it contained. Also, to any idiots that think violence is going to work- it’s not. In fact, the more you cause damage and havoc, the less likely things are going to get fixed, because no one wants to invest in a wasteland knowing some irrational lout is going to destroy it a year after it’s up. There are safer, saner ways to voice displeasure, and we ask the North Americans to use those channels to reach us, not wanton violence.”

The interview stopped for a moment while Harmony read some news that she was told to break on air.

“We’ve just received word,” said Harmony, who was rattled by the information, “that the President of Illinois, Seth Marks, and his wife Juanita were killed just a few hours ago, with their two daughters having gone missing. Authorities haven’t released a lot of details citing that the investigation has been very sensitive.”

Valerius sensed the gravity of the situation, which made his next move obvious.

“Esther,” said the Caesar, “it’s been fun. I’m sorry I’m going to have to cut this short, but I hope you will understand.”

October 22, 2015,
13:35 local time,
Roman Senatorial Building,
Rome, Roman Republic

“Caesar!” said Praetor Extraterritorialis Jana Woolley as she saw the Emperor emerge from his office.
“If you’ve come to tell me that President Marks is dead,” snapped Valerius, “I already know. In fact, a radio station in Philadelphia broke the news to me. Why is a radio station breaking this kind of news?” He folded his arms and looked sternly at Woolley, who sensed the Emperor’s anger.

“Sir, I was going to tell you, but I had to tell Antonius first,” said Woolley, referring to the Magister Militum, Antonius Mirus.
“The murder of the President of Illinois is certainly a huge deal,” said Valerius, “but why does our intelligence services need to be in on this?”

Woolley didn’t offer a word, instead handing Valerius a picture, which caused him to recoil in horror.

“The Soldiers…they…they,” said Valerius, taken aback. “They’ve struck…but, something doesn’t make sense about this.”
“Virtue’s been great at tip-toeing around their involvement in North America,” said Woolley, “and now they might as well shout it from every megaphone they can find. There’s nothing subtle about this.”
“Which is why we can’t outright blame them,” said Valerius, curtly. “There’s more to this game, I just know it…Virtue aren’t this stupid.”
“Besides,” said Woolley, “combined with the situation in Aram and our almost war in February, they’re just begging for us to make a move. They clearly want to destabilize us.”
“What happened in Aram?” said Valerius with interest.
“Oh…um,” said Woolley, surprised at Valerius’ question. “I’m sure you know about the Pope’s probe.”
“Of course I do,” said Valerius, “but there’s something else.”
“Jack Kent paid Aris Pomas a visit,” said Woolley.
“Really?” said Valerius, concerned.
“Yes,” said Woolley. “Aris won’t say anything to me, as I expected, but our intelligence services saw Kent leaving the Imperial Palace in Nicosia. Which leads to another question.”
“Why did Kent make it that obvious?” said Valerius, letting out a huff. “All right. I’m going to tell Antonius to step up his intelligence apparatus in North America and around the Virtue Family…we need to get as much information as we can to know exactly what is going on. Jana, what I want you to do is deal with Virtue and see what information you can get out of them…I know they’ll be cagey but you’re smart. We can’t blink, but we also can’t let them think we’re not on to them.”

“Slanders, sir; for the satirical rogue says here that old men/have grey beards, that their faces are wrinkled, their eyes purging/thick amber and plum-tree gum, and that they have a plentiful/lack of wit, together with most weak hams; all which, sir, though/I most powerfully and potently believe, yet I hold it not honesty”- Hamlet in William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2”, c. 1600