Alirio’s War (conclusion)

Alirio hurried down the concrete passage, ostensibly following Koya though there was nowhere to go but straight ahead. Koya had ignored a few dozen identical metal doors that lined the halls down here, below the Taskmaster’s compound. Between them, Jean Claude groaned and let himself be dragged along.

“Where are we going?” Alirio gasped out between breaths.

“We have less than ten minutes before surveillance on this level is back up,” Koya’s head made a jerk and he sped up, making Alirio stumble just a bit as he tried to keep pace, “before that happens we have to get out of the compound.”

“You know a way?” Alirio asked.

Koya nodded, “There’s a service elevator the Johns and Janes use. Leads to a tertiary launch site for emergency use. Sensors in the bay have been out for about a month, but it’s not a priority repair. Nobody worries about Does.”

“What about the one who helped you?” asked Alirio.

Koya smiled, “That’s my Jane. Nobody sees my Jane coming.”

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No Story This Week

So I was hoping to keep my every other week schedule for a bit, but I hit a small snag this week.

I was on a camping trip this past weekend, and being away from my computer, I made sure to bring a notebook to get the story done anyway. Unfortunately, the notebook fell afoul of some water during the camping trip. Completely soaked, ink running, and my story progress lost.

I’m re-writing the story now, but between school and work, I don’t plan to have it up until next Monday.

Because I want to try and get back on my schedule though, I’m gonna be doing two weeks of stories in a row this time. So expect a story next Monday, and the Monday after.

Sorry for the delay, and thanks for reading. 🙂

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Operation Caesar’s Folly (part XXIII)

Issac considered for a moment that he should feel the urge to smile right now. His plans were working perfectly, after all. The meetings had picked up at 11, and Gavrilović had immediately started in on his earnest plea for compromise: Istria and Dalmatia, for Tripoli and Tunisia.

“I’m afraid that’s entirely unacceptable!” Ricci exclaimed.

“I beg your pardon?” Gavrilović asked, taken aback.

“That’s almost twice the territory we ask for,” Ricci barked. Issac wasn’t sure that was true.

“Hardly,” Gavrilović waved a hand, “And besides, it is mostly desert. You, on the other hand, ask for rich green lands. You ask for quality, and we for quantity. It seems very reasonable to me.”

Ricci frowned, but sputtered and failed to come up with an adequate reason he must refuse. He had to refuse though. Italy had fought hard for its North African holdings. Perhaps not as brutal a campaign as the Turkish had fought for their territories during the Islah Savaşi, but conquest was conquest.

Ricci tried to talk around the issue, offering to talk trade whilst he came up with a reasonable excuse beyond “I don’t want to,” but then it was the Turkish turn to make accusations about avoiding certain topics.

Gavrilović looked to him at one point, silently asking what the hell Issac had gotten him into, and Issac made a small show of incredulity directed at the Italians.

“I’m as confused at this reaction as you are,” was the message he was trying to convey. He hoped it worked.

The shouting was quieted by another reminder from Issac that everyone was a friend here and if anyone wanted to shout they were welcome to try and be heard over the sound of 0sc4r’s whistle. The Turks reluctantly agreed to table the Africa swap for a time being and focus on trade, slightly bitter since this was the very thing they’d suggested this morning (not that they were complaining!).

Oddly enough, the trade discussion was at least somewhat productive. They very nearly talked right through lunch on establishing mutually low tariffs on Mediterranean trade. Issac took copious notes on who wanted what. He wasn’t sure it would be any use to him, but the Skymarshal or somebody back in Intelligence might find it all very fascinating, so he keeping jotting down lines in the simple cypher he’d chosen for the conference.

All the most pedestrian issues were making their way around the table. Things like shipping rights, tariffs, port fees; though none of these discussions ever reached concrete numbers, since the question on who would own which coastlines was still a bit in flux. A point they had very nearly returned to, courtesy of an Italian aide’s slip of the tongue, when Sig. Baroncelli stood and addressed the room.

“My goood Gentlemen and Ladies; let us adjourn for lunch on this high note, shall we?”

The release of tension was palpable as the territory issue was narrowly avoided yet again.

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Alirio’s War (part 3)

“Nobody escapes,” Alirio said, very sure of it.

“Shaysh who?” the soldier smiled. Or tried to. His attempt made his face even more terrifying.

“Nobody ever has,” Alirio shook his head as he said it.

“Eshcapesh happen all the time,” the soldier insisted, “Maybe not from thish island, not in a long time, but they happen.”

“Surely we would know…,” Alirio started to say.

“Why? ‘Caushe the Mashtersh would be real eager to sshare that with their shlaves?” the soldier made his horrific smile again.

The soldier picked up his helmet, examining the rim and the visor before speaking again.

“Look. I’m gonna make it shimple,” he put the helmet on, his voice replaced with the deep, clear tone that characterized the Taskmaster’s soldiers, “You do exactly as I say, and I’ll help you and your lover escape.”

Alirio narrowed his eyes, “This is a trick.”

“No tricks,” the soldier stood, “Either I blame you for breaking your friend out of here, or…” the soldier made a gesture with his hand, as if implying the rest of his sentence was obvious.

“Or what?” Alirio asked

“Or,” the soldier rested his hand on his pistol, “I could just kill the both of you.”

Alirio looked to the door.

The soldier shook his head, “I wouldn’t.”

Alirio slowly nodded, “If you think you can…I mean…I’m not even sure what we’d do with our freedom.”

“Anything you want,” the soldier said, “That’s the idea.”

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Operation Caesar’s Folly (part XXII)

The Admiral was not a man to believe in coincidences. He was certain they happened, but in an abstract sort of way, the way one is aware that somewhere someone will win the lottery. It will happen, but almost certainly never to you.

“The price of grain is down in the Americas,” he mused to no one.

He was alone in his carriage of course, but the thought came aloud unbidden.

“Grain is down and tensions are high in the Americas,” He said to the empty seat across from him. He imagined himself seated there, retorting, “so what?”

“Low prices on food means surplus; means more spending money; means happier people. Happy people don’t start wars on a whim. So why the trouble at the border?” the Admiral explained, (still to no one).

“Best reports say armed Spanish farmers crossed the border first. The most likely culprit is racism,” his invisible double replied, “The oldest excuse. The Spaniards have always resented the resurgent Inca, and blamed them for Bolivar’s success. Seems simple enough to me.”

“Farmers?” the Admiral was frowned, “Racism maybe, but racism as a rallying cry for something more mundane. A farmer is the only man to resent a surplus of his crop. Lower prices means a thinner margin. Thinner margins makes a man resent his competition. Hatred born of sour grapes but justified by racism. All the more ridiculous given the Inca don’t grow the same staples as the Spanish for the most part.”

“And yet that Spanish Admiral,” the ghost mused.

“And yet the Spanish Admiral. This could get out of hand very quickly if cooler heads don’t prevail,” the Admiral tapped his cane on the floor of the carriage as this thought.

“Our operation in Panama will help, no doubt,” the empty seat said reassuringly.

“Forestalling the inevitable, I fear,” the Admiral frowned, “The peace in the Americas was never built to last. Stop gap after stop gap, but the Inca and Spanish are destined to fight the next great war over some damn stupid thing in Colombia.”

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The Fleet [Scene of the Crime]

I turned the body a bit and got a better look at the boy.

It was a boy. Not old enough to call it a man.

Hair was shaved, and the scalp was tattooed like the kids down the Spine like to do. Complicated swirls, bioluminescent in parts, probably others only revealed under UV or other uncommon light. Tendrils of ink came down to coil around his eyes, and and down his neck where they disappeared beneath his shirt. Clothing was loose, good for grabbing, another hallmark of the Spine.

There were scars running down his forearms. Multiple suicide attempts. Again: common down the Spine.

His pants were stained. Blood and other bodily fluids most recently, but older grease stains spoke of industrial work.

And finally, the knife.

What a knife. Neon green plastic. Fabricated from some jailbroke maker probably. Not easily traceable, though I hoped I’d get lucky. Maybe find the killer had used a public maker and forgot the cameras.

It was in his gut. Multiple stabs.

Facing his attacker?

Why? Mugging?

Unlikely. Nothing a spine-rat could afford would be worth stealing.

If he was a spine-rat. Dressing like one and being one were not the same thing.

Without an ID, it would take a few hours to find out. If the kid had ID, it was broken, since I was close enough to touch him and not picking anything up.

“Nic?” the woman behind me asked. Ana, 42, widowed, 2 kids officially, 2 surrogates. Artist; amatuer drug dealer; hates the smell of Rondôn’s preferred cleaning solution.

“Yeah, yeah, almost done,” I told her.

“I don’t mean to sound callous,” she assured me, guaranteeing whatever she said next sounded callous, “But I’ve got customers coming in soon. Nobody’s gonna come into a place with a body out front.”

“Ok, ok,” I said as I stood, “Rondôn?”

Yes? The ship signaled, What can I do for you officer?

“Let’s get the body out of the street,” I whispered to the ship.

Requesting confirmation from Civil Authority.

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Alirio’s War (part 2)

The pain made everything a blur. Alirio could tell he was being dragged somewhere, then hefted onto something, but it was all a vague, broad strokes sort of awareness. All the details eluded him, as even with the implant off, his entire body was still howling with the lingering pain. He could hear somebody whispering over him.

“…knows what it’s about?…the other one…no chance….I’ll sign the order. The Johns won’t question it…”

Alirio couldn’t be sure, but he thought it might be two voices. He blacked out, somewhat aware that he was in a bed, but not in the slave quarters.

When he came to, he was in a room filled with tones of beige. Everything from the walls, the floor, even the sheets of his bed were some variation of a sandy color. A small drone, smaller than Alirio’s head, hovered near the door.

“Good Morning,” it chirped, “Please do not move, as you may injure yourself further.”

Alirio didn’t move. He dared not defy the drone now.

Moments later a human entered the through the door behind the drone. Not a slave, this one dressed in one of the collaborator uniforms.

“Hello, Alirio,” the man said, more chipper than the drone, “My name if John Doe, but you may call me John if you’d like.”

Alirio still didn’t move, just watched the man as he pulled a chair from the far wall over to Alirio’s bed. He was short, with milky pale skin and brown hair, and the back of his neck was covered in small bits of metal poking through his skin. Some flat, some indented into his neck, and a few that stuck out like needles themselves. Alirio had seen this on some of the other collaborators. Most of whom looked just like John Doe. The pale man set a small case down on the bedside table, opening it to reveal several needle tipped devices.

The terror must have reached Alirio’s face, because John Doe smiled at him. “Don’t worry, I’ll just be probing your implant a bit. You will feel a negligible amount of pain.”

John removed one needled device, pulling at the end to reveal a meter’s length of slim cable that somehow had been concealed within the pencil sized implement. He then rolled up his sleeve, revealing more of the metal sticking up through his arm. He held the end of the cable up to one of the little bits of metal on his skin, and there was a click as they came together. He took the other end, holding it exactly like a pencil, and with his free hand pulled the collar of Alirio’s shirt down just a bit.

Alirio cringed as he saw the needle coming closer to his flesh.

“Excessive movement could damage the probe, or yourself,” John Doe said, still smiling, “Please try to be still.”

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Operation Caesar’s Folly (part XXI)

“Absolutely unacceptable!” Minister Ricci was shouting.

Issac watched the man stomping furiously back and forth across the room. He looked over to Stein, who rolled her eyes. Baldrik Frey was merely nodding in agreement.

“It is my opinion, Herr Schultz,” Baldrik said, turning to Issac, “That the Turks are indeed being unreasonable. I doubt they plan to part with Istria or Dalmatia, at any price.”

“They named a price,” Issac said, shaking his head, “Sig. Ricci is merely unwilling to pay it.”

“Herr Schultz,” the minister said, trying to calm himself, “I should think a man such as yourself would understand. We cannot allow ourselves to be bullied by these…these…” he struggled to find the appropriate insult, “Muslims!” was the most he could manage.

Issac had to fight to keep the frown off his face.

“Be that as it may,” Issac couldn’t help but growl, “You’ve laid out an offer, they’ve laid out a counter-offer. All that’s left is to haggle and meet halfway.”

Issac looked to Balrik, and Stein, gesturing with his eyes for them to back him up. Stein nodded, Baldrik did not. Stein had been right after all; Baldrik’s bias would no doubt be an ongoing problem for negotiations. Good, Issac reminded himself, the point is sabotage, remember.

He did remember. And yet, if he sabotaged the potential for peace…he began to realize how many might die because of this mission. But then again, how bad would a war between Britain and an alliance of Germany, Italy, and the Turks. There was likely to be a death toll no matter how things went here. How many lives is peace worth?

“Herr Schultz?” Issac shook his head, Ricci, had been talking.

“I’m sorry, say again,” Issac mumbled, “I was distracted.”

“Herr Schultz, you cannot expect the Italian crown to pay so much,” Minister Ricci said, absolutely incredulous, “Thirty million goldmarks maybe, but forty is impossible. Even if His Majesty was willing, there isn’t enough in the discretionary budget for that.”

“Well we wouldn’t want to go over budget,” Issac mused sarcastically.

Baldrik, oblivious to sarcasm, enthusiastically nodded, “Of course. So what is the solution?”

Issac gave a dissatisfactory grunt, buying time to think. Maybe it was time to switch dance partners.

He stood. “I think I’ll go see our Turkish friends. See if I can’t get them to see some kind of reason. 0sc4r?”

“Yes *click*, Sir.”

Issac excused himself, assuring Ricci that he would not mention that the Italians couldn’t afford forty million goldmarks, “I wouldn’t want them to think we’re unable, just unwilling. You understand?”

“Of course,” said Issac.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like an escort, Herr Schultz?” Stein asked, who remained seated, “That janissary certainly makes me uneasy.”

“Oh…” Issac started, but failed to finish his reassurance. He had almost forgotten the janissary. “I imagine I’ll be fine. The monster may be intimidating, but we are all friends here, yes?”

Stein nodded, that small smile back at the corner of her mouth. It made her look mischievous, full of an energy undiminished by age beneath that veneer of German professionalism.

So Issac left the small office Minister Ricce had set aside for their little meeting, and headed down the beautiful halls of the palace toward the rooms set aside for the Turkish delegation.

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Alirio’s War

Alirio heaved the skid forward, throwing all his weight into the ore laden package along with three other slaves.

He didn’t know their names.

More than thirty slaves had died in Alirio’s barracks in the last month.


The Taskmasters had sent in a doctor with a cure, eventually. Curing the disease took mere minutes with the Taskmasters’ medicine, but the doctor had stayed for three days delivering a series of lectures about cleanliness, protocol, and a ‘heartfelt’ speech about how the world outside the slave barracks was full of horrors like that.

The fact that the first three infectees had been sneaking extra food into the barracks had surely been a “coincidence.”

It was important to follow the rules, the Taskmasters’ doctor had said, apropos of nothing.

They’d brought in new people to fill out the empty bunks yesterday. Most of the new arrivals came from the mainland, far away from the Ascenseur, and most of them had spent the evening gawking at the massive pillar of carbon and metal that went from the ground, all the way up beyond the sight of human eyes.

All the way to space.

One had been caught staring up at the thing during the march from their transport to the barracks, and stalled the line. Two the Taskmasters’ soldiers pulled him aside and beat him for that. They didn’t even bother to use the compliance implant, just threw him to the ground and kicked him till he was coughing blood.

With a final groan of effort, the four of them finished pushing the skid up the ramp and into the cargo hauler. A security drone hovered just inside the door, demanding the four slaves pause for scanning. They did, and Alirio felt a brief but sharp pain in his chest as the drone tested the compliance implant. It cleared them and they finished securing the skid inside, next to a hundred other skids full of tungsten ore.

Alirio didn’t know what they needed so much tungsten for. He doubted he’d ever know.

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Operation Caesar’s Folly (part XX)

Victoria opened the door into the infirmary and walked in, much to the alarm of nurse Lewis and Major Barrington, who seemed to be stepping away from each other very quickly.

“Skymarshal Winthrop!” Lewis squeaked, hastily distancing herself from the major, “I…What can I do for you, ma’am.”

“Just looking for our guest, Ms. Lewis,” said Vic.

“In the back, Skymarshal, with the doctor,” the young girl pointed to the door that led to the operating theater.

“Very good,” she said walking past the two of them. She didn’t intend to mention the kiss that she had interrupted, or the location of Major Barrington’s hands when she’d entered. Instead, she meant to join the ruse, pretending she’d seen nothing. There were rules against this sort of fraternization aboard an airship, but Vic had never felt a great need to enforce them. Royal Airborne Division ships could spend months, sometimes a year, on assignment, and it was common for airmen to get close in that time. There was the official stance yes, but Vic had never met a captain who really believed in it. Of course, that sort of attitude may have been what led to Beth’s problem in Gibraltar, and her eventual blackmailing. Perhaps now more than ever, it was best to take a firm stance, “Major, I’m sure you have duties to attend to down in the hanger.”

“Ma’am?” Barrington asked.

“Dismissed,” Vic said, not unkindly she thought, but both the major and nurse looked a bit crestfallen. She put it out of her mind, unsealed the theater’s door and entering. A tech had rigged the theater’s door on her order, so that it only unlocked from the outside. The ship was too small to have a proper brig, much less one with an infirmary, so the infirmary was forced to double as the brig today. Doctor Catalina de Silva, ship’s surgeon, stood over the table at the center of the room, reapplying bandages over the tiny splints for the spy’s broken fingers.

“Doctor,” Victoria said, announcing her presence.

“Skymarshal,” the doctor replied without looking up. She finished tying off the bandages, wiped her hands on a small cloth, and turned to Victoria, her prosthetic leg whirring as she pivoted, “What can I do for you, Ma’am?”

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