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.

Ebola.

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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Let’s Get Political

So let’s talk about something terrible.

Over the last week or so, I’ve seen a renewed concerned over a possible Muslim registry, especially in light of the ban on entry from some Muslim majority countries. Now this is horrible, and very likely not super legal, but quite a few people have announced, and many made this announcement the very day such a ban was even suggested all the way back in 2015, that they would help to defend the Muslim population of the US by registering themselves as Muslims if this should happen. I’ve seen this compared to a story about the King of Denmark, Christian X, who allegedly wore a Star of David in protest of Nazi Germany’s policy of forcing Jews to wear the same badge identifying them as such. Snopes says this story is false, but the sentiment is a good one.

Unfortunately, there is a problem.

There will be no ‘registering.’

If this does happen, and I’m not saying it will (but it could), it won’t be something you get to sign up for.

If the orange man, or congress, decided to implement this database of Muslims in the US, they won’t ask for cooperation, because they won’t need it. They will simply use the tools of data collection already available to them. They will look up who the people going to mosques are, who the people buying halal are, who is googling passages of the Quran, and who follows any prominent Muslims on twitter.

The state of data collection is currently such that not only could they do this with zero cooperation from the populous whatsoever, they may already have done it.

The orange man has been the executive for over a week now, and he could have asked for such a list day one.

And the worst part? The orange man didn’t have to do anything but ask, because we did this.

This is the surveillance state we built since 9/11.

We should be proud of ourselves for that, I suppose.

There are still ways to muddy the water. It is still doable, but you’ll have to make a real effort.

First and foremost, you can’t talk about it. If you utter a word of your intention to anyone just about anywhere over the internet, then that’s almost certainly the end of it.  Next you’ll have to stop going to whatever your current (if any) place of worship is, and start going to your nearest mosque. No I’m not kidding. You’ll need to start reading and following Muslim authors and thinkers, you’ll need to make professions of faith, you will have to start being a Muslim in all visible ways.

And even this, even essentially converting to Islam, may not be enough, because we built a surveillance system so pervasive and powerful, and all in the name of keeping Americans “safe.”

Not a happy thought, but this is the state of things.

Good luck to everyone.

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Software

Allison was in a room with green carpet. She found it hard to believe that any government office would ever put in lime green carpeting, but her brain wouldn’t process R values anymore. Everything else was fine, but no matter what she tried, she couldn’t get her vps to see red anymore. She’d been surviving on community patches for years, ever since the UI update in ‘29, which she hated. The legacy OS she ran had great user support though, and an awesome community, so she wasn’t worried. Still, nobody could figure out the R value problem, so it was probably time to upgrade. And so she sat, as far as she knew, on a black (or red) plastic chair, in a room with green (probably more brown) carpet, teal (off-white maybe?) walls, and a stars-and-stripes flag in corner, which to her eyes as black, white, and blue.

She contemplated her number, ‘85,’ as she looked around the waiting room. The people looked even weirder than the carpet. Filling the allegedly black chairs of the room, waiting for their own numbers to be called, sat about a dozen beings colored variably turquoise to almost forest green, like extras from a cheap science fiction show.

“Number 83, please report to room 2,” called a musical, synthesized voice over the intercom.

One of the bluish-green aliens around Allison stood up and walked back to the offices. She settled into her seat, checking her feeds. There was a lot of really nice words of encouragement from friends and family on her social media. Her son had mentioned her brain augment problems to a friend and word had gotten around. Her feed was also full to bursting with ads for upgrades and brains-transfer services though, so part of her wished Leon had kept his big mouth shut. Though her grandkids had already offered to help her crowdfund for a transfer if Medicare didn’t cover her particular issue, and it was nice to know little Sarah and Leon jr. cared enough to offer.

She googled her problem again. She’d done it a half a hundred times, but she wanted to be informed when she was talking to the social worker. She check a few forums again, looking for any quick fix or some user made patch. Still nothing. She could barely find anyone with her issue at all. The closest was one user who made a post five years ago. Same augment brand and model, and they got a few suggestions, responded saying none of them worked, then stopped posting, without leaving any post about the solution. Either they gave up and just transferred to a new brain, or never bothered to post the solution they found. Poor forum etiquette, as Allison understood it.

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Operation Caesar’s Folly (part IXX)

Admiral William Caldwell, Commander of His Majesty’s Third Fleet, leaned back in his chair as the analysts from Intelligence laid out the situation in the Americas.

“Our sources on the ground are reporting more skirmishes along the Spanish border with the Inca. The IHS Kon and Apocatequill have been deployed from Vilcabamba and are headed North. In response the Spanish are mobilizing their El Cid battle group out of Panama City.”

“What’s the composition of El Cid?” Asked Admiral Black, Commander of His Majesty’s Second Fleet.

“Three Barclay class heavy battleships, one Isabella class carrier, seven Conquistador class destroyers, and about a dozen lighter support craft,” answered another man from intelligence reading from an open folder.

Black shrugged at Caldwell, “They might have a chance.”

“How serious are they?” Caldwell asked.

“We can’t be sure,” the intelligence man who was standing in front of his projected map said with a slanted tone. Implying he had a very strong opinion.

“Best guess?” Caldwell pressed.

The man with the folder looked over to the corner of the room, where a gentleman with a cane nodded, and the folder man answered, “We don’t think El-Cid is under orders to engage, but we have a detailed profile of their commanding officer, and we absolutely expect him to do something foolish if he meets the any Incan ships, no matter the size.”

“So the Inca and the Spanish have another spat, how is this news?” Lord Admiral Anderson said with a yawn.

“The Americans,” The man with the cane said with flatly.

“What’s that? Can’t hear you from all the way over there M,” quipped Anderson sarcastically.

The man in the corner chuckled, tapped his cane and nodded to his man at the projector.

“Yes, sir. Slide please,” the man said to the secretary at the back of the room. The slide that replaced the map showed a high altitude photograph of a river valley. “What you see here, ladies and gentlemen, is troop movement in First Nations territory, mostly Kwahare militia near the Mexican border. No airships in play as yet, but we have a source that says the tribes are meeting, as we speak, to answer an ambassador of the Incan Hegemony on whether the First Nations will back them if it comes to war in Central America.”

“Oh, bloody hell,” Anderson sighed.

“And how do we expect that to play out?” Black asked, absently straightening her sleeves.

“Unclear,” said the folder man.

The projector man continued, “We suspect they’ll tentatively commit to the Inca, but how much that commitment will translate to in terms of manpower or aide is…very uncertain.”

“Very well,” Anderson stood, collecting himself. Black and Caldwell followed suit, but the fellow in the corner did not. “I assume you want something from Airborne or we wouldn’t be having this meeting. So what is it?”

“Intelligence would like to propose the Seacole battle group be deployed on a training exercise,” the folder man said.

“A ‘training exercise?’” Black asked.

“Yes, Ma’am,” he replied.

Caldwell felt he had to ask, “How will that do anything other than escalate our problem? The last thing we want is another war in the new world.”

The projector man answered, “We only need the battle group to put a ship fifty miles from the coast of Panama. After that we…,” The man was interrupted by the tapping of a cane. He continued, “How much do you wish to know, Lord Admiral?”

“That’s plenty I think,” Anderson said removing his glasses to rub the bridge of his nose, “I assume Seely has signed off on this?” Both men nodded. “Then fine. We’ll send the order out within the hour. Will that be all gentlemen?”

“Yes, thank you, Sir,” both men began gathering up their materials.

The man in the corner came to his feet and addressed William, “Could you hold back for a bit? I have a quick question for you.”

Black gave Caldwell a look, but all Caldwell could do was shrug to her.

As the rest of the Admiralty vacated the room, the man with the cane opened a small box, wound up a crank inside, and then set it on a window sill to tick down softly.

“Still paranoid, Admiral?” Caldwell asked smiling.

“Always, but more so in the last few days,” the man, Melville, whose official codename was ‘M’ but most in the Airborne simply referred to him as ‘The Admiral’, returned to his seat in the corner of the room and spent a good five seconds looking at Caldwell, “I had the most intriguing conversation with the Secretary of State for War last night. Seely had the most vivid memory of you authorizing the deployment of two of our chatter-code cylinders for private use.”

Caldwell shrugged, “And?”

And,” the Admiral parroted, “I’d like to know where they are.”

“Vice Admiral Vasquez sent me a request for them. One for the Falkland base and the other for his residence on the mainland. It didn’t seem untoward, and Vasquez is a man we trust. I understand he has a little brother aboard that little pet project of yours.”

The Admiral nodded, “It’s true, Vasquez is a man we trust, and you noted as much in your request. But when was the last time you actually spoke to Vasquez?”

Caldwell felt a chill run the length of his spine. He searched his memory frantically, it couldn’t possibly have been that long ago. “I…I don’t actually recall. I couldn’t have been that long ago.”

“Six months ago at the Falkland base inspection was the last time I recalled seeing you together,” the Admiral said, his tone serious and his frown obvious, “I on the other hand spoke to him on the wireless earlier this morning. I asked him about those code cylinders, and he had no idea what I was talking about.”

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Saghir de Oppara

This is a story I may or may not come back to. It’s a shameless fan-fiction if we’re being honest. I believe I’ve mentioned before that I play a lot of tabletop rpgs, and this is a bit of story featuring a character I played awhile back. If folks want to read more I might have to finish this, but for now it’s just a short one page excerpt of the character’s life. Saghir de Oppara (aka Samwise Turnbull Hunter; aka Alsaghir Mukrah) who believes himself to be more competent and a far bigger deal than he actually is. Still, he has gotten around a bit, and has friends (and enemies) in some very unusual places. Scenarios like the one below, are not all that uncommon for him.

The first thing that hit me was of course the floor. The second was that I had been thrown there from my cot, and anyone who throws a sleeping man to the floor is not waking you to have a pleasant chat. I fumbled for a knife at my belt, not remembering at the time that I had pawned the knife to by more shiver, and unleashed a torrent of scathing curses upon my attacker. I couldn’t see who they were or how many through the dim lit haze of the den, but I can curse in seven languages and almost everyone takes equal offense to a well placed barb about their mother. I yelled and flailed with a free hand whilst fumbling for the knife, until a young lady in heavy plate armor kicked me soundly in guts. I presume to prevent me from further embarrassing myself.

Gasping for breath, clutching my well bruised stomach, and still shaking off a night of shiver induced dreams, I politely declined to resist when she grabbed me by the arm and hauled me over to a chair.

“Saghir de Oppara?” she asked in a voice low and gruff.

I coughed once unintentionally, then thrice more in an attempt to stall for time. I had hoped the span of three coughs would be enough to spot an easy avenue of escape. No such luck. The windows of this particular travesty in Taldane architecture had been boarded up by the locals, and I don’t care what you’ve heard from whatever storyteller you’ve heard it from, it is not a simple thing to dive through a boarded window. That left the stairs, before which stood the hulking woman in front of me, and at least one person in similar garb. Black cloaks over dull, beaten armor. Instead, I just lied. “I have never heard that name. My name is Sam.”

She stepped on my foot.

She was wearing very heavy boots.

After an undignified shout of pain and the biting back of a few tears, I confessed. “I am Saghir. Sorry, I’m not quite awake yet. ”

“Good,” she knelt down, putting her eyes on a level with mine, “Is it true that you once spent a year in the court of the Queen of Lamasara?”

The fog around my mind cleared just a bit, replaced by a chill down my spine. I looked at these two I had taken for thugs a bit more closely. The cloaks were a cliche, to be sure, there was no hiding all that armor, but black cloaks still meant something. A black cloak in the night was the universal language for “I do not wish to be seen, and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll go about your business.”

That armor under the black was something too. No gold, so not Eagles. No spikes, so not Hell Knights. Just cold, grey steel. And well used too. Not the sort you send to deliver a message. These two were the sort you send to kill a man.

I started looking at those boarded windows a bit more carefully. The building had only been abandoned recently but the boards on the third window facing the street must have been when they ran out of good wood. They look at least a little bit weaker than the rest.

“Answer my question,” The gruff woman insisted.

“Well, you see-,” and I bolted for the window. And though I shall never know for certain, I maintain that I would have been able to break through. The one who hadn’t done any talking yet got me. They tackled me to the floor, and were kneeling on my back pressing my face into the splinters before I was even halfway to the window. The woman who’d been talking stood up slowly, walked casually over to her companion who was pressing a metal clad knee into my back, and crouched down to my level again.

“I will ask again: did you serve in the court of Lamasara?”

Cooperation was, at long last, my only real option. “I may have spent some time there, many years ago.”

“Good,” the woman nodded, “We have questions.”

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Operation Caesar’s Folly (part XVIII)

“You cannot possibly expect us to give up territory for such a small sum,” Gavrilović scoffed.

The Italian side of the table began loudly grumbling, but fortunately 0sc4r’s whistle was still ringing in their ears, which kept them from breaking into a new shouting match. The Italians, having laid out their proposal, wanted Istria for a start, the coast of Dalmatia, and the islands in between. In exchange, they were prepared to offer an amount of money that Issac had almost actually gasped at. He knew that matters of state involved the movement of millions of pounds, naturally, but it is one thing to be aware of the fact, and quite another to be in the room whilst it was being spent. He wasn’t entirely sure where the pound was in relation to the mark these days, but he thought the figure was somewhere around 15 million pounds. This seemed like quite a lot to Issac, and the Italians clearly thought so too.

“I hardly think 25 million goldmarks is a small sum,” said the Italian foreign minister, a man named Ricci who looked like a bank clerk, “Especially for so little territory.”

“The Sultan regards all his holdings as precious to his empire,” Gavrilović said frowning, “You might as well name a price for one of his own children.”

“I wonder how the people of Istria would respond to being referred to as the Sultan’s ‘children,’” Ricci said, hardly making the tactful effort to disguise his sarcasm. Gavrilović chose to ignore it.

“We are prepared to offer a deal where Italian ships may conduct business freely, without taxation, at a sizable number of ports in Istria and Dalmatia. It should allow your people access to that which they desire while keeping the border unchanged and uncomplicated.”

“You’re changing the subject,” Ricci snapped, “Trade is well and good, but it is the view of His Majesty’s government, and mine personally, that these people are Italians! We cannot abide seeing their land occupied and the their citizen’s mistreated.”

“Mistreated? What are you implying?” It was the Turkish side of the table on the verge of shouting now.

“Imply? Nothing,” Ricci snapped his fingers. An aid brought him a folder of papers, and Ricci made a grand gesture of opening it and flipping through the pages. “We have reports of the widespread seizure of property, the burning of pro-Italian publications, and the assault and jailing of those advocating Italian sovereignty.”

“You cannot dress up police actions against terrorists as oppression of an Italian state that does not exist.”

“So you do not deny these accusations?”

“I refuse to dignify them with a response.”

This went back and forth for some time. Ricci would focus on Janissary atrocities, Gavrilović would deflect to talk about trade concessions. Issac was reminded of the worst of the his college’s debates he’d ever attended. Meetings nominally about one thing, but all parties clearly there with very different things they intended to discuss. Though at university, the worst case scenario was bruised egos and six months of departmental drama at most (Save the case of Professor Bullsworth and his etheric field calculations, which was still a point of heated discussion around Cambridge some five years on). Here though…nations hung in the balance.

This can’t be how it works, Issac thought, bitter men in back rooms, having two different arguments. Is this how wars start?

“Gentlemen, please,” Issac said standing. He took a moment to compose his own answer, which he noticed added a small, but nicely dramatic, pause between when the room went silent and he started speaking. Whether this was because of his alleged position as an emissary of the Kaiser, or another dividend paid towards the threat of 0sc4r’s whistle was anyone’s guess , “Let’s try to be civil. We are after all, here to defuse the situation. Now; Minister Gavrilović, our Italian friends have offered 25 million German goldmarks for the territory. Is the problem the price or the territory?”

“Both,” Gavrilović said, nodding to Mr. Ricci, “The territory is too vast, and the price is too low.”

“How much territory is acceptable then?” Issac leaned over the table, bracing himself lightly against its surface with extended fingers.

Gavrilović thought for a moment, “Istria, for 40 million goldmarks.”

“That is half the territory for almost double the price. Unacceptable.” Ricci shouted.

“Gentlemen, please!” Issac bellowed. That’s a start, we can negotiate from there, Issac thought, before remembering that he was here to prevent consensus, not create it. “It has been a trying morning. Shall we take a brief recess?”

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