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To Breathe Before Drowning


Sarah Tintagyl
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For all the talk of an Austria that covered the entire globe, the promises of the Hapsburg Royals seemed little more than veiled hopes and dreams. North America and the city in East Asia were supposed to be the jewels of the new Austrian Empire, Ehestadt was growing to become a beautiful diamond, but what had been Idaho-Montana had been nothing more than a constant headache. The new power in the region, Cascadia, seemed responsible enough but how long until they became fed up with having a figurehead who sat some six thousand miles away? In addition to the possibility of Cascadian revolt, there was always the chance that the nation might simply implode on itself. Previous incarnations of Cascadia had done so, what was stopping history from repeating itself this time? The territory could be secured by the Austrians, but it would be done so with help from the other Pacific nations, which left Austria unable to tend to it's own empire. Always needing help was no way to establish one's prestige, a prestige that Bridgette Saenger could barely understand.

She sat in her office at the Reichsratsgebäude, the Austrian Parliament building, tapping a pen against her cheek. The air inside her office, which was decorated in the style going back to the Eighteenth Century, stiffened her. There were papers littered across the desk and the chandelier's electric buzzing above her was maddening. Pushing herself out of her chair, she pushed open the window and took in the night air of Vienna, but still it did little to calm her nerves. The knock on the door that followed brought her back to her senses as she turned around and took off her glasses. "Come." Bridgette said, almost out of breath and leaned against the open window, letting the wind dance with her hair.

The man that walked into the bright office was middle-aged with graying hair. He had dark brown eyes and a thin mustache that messily hung to his tanned face. "I hope I'm not bothering you so late Madame Chancellor, but when you told me that we had urgent business to discuss, I decided not to waste time."

"You aren't late Sergej, in fact I would say you've come at the best possible time. My headache was returning, just before you walked in."

"Your headaches are the headaches of all Imperial Citizens, Madame Chancellor, I assume we will be following through with our plans?"

Bridgette walked away from the windowsill and dimmed the chandelier, it's brightness was hurting her eyes. Then shifting through the papers cluttering her desk, the Chancellor pulled out a thick world map printed on parchment and laid it out across the table. "All these fools. An army of what, two-hundred thousand men now, spread out across the world like this? The Empress has completely disregarded Parliament's desire for a moderate stance on foreign engagements. This government pledged to pursue a movement of neutrality and look what's happening. Vancouver Island, Kimberly in Australia, which could bring problems with the Oceanics."

"Not to mention Slovenia's own concerns." Sergej looked up at the Chancellor and grinned. "Many Slovenes are concerned that the government does not have our best wishes at heart. German Kings and Queens are nice as you know, Frau Saenger, but our own independence is nicer. Or at least being with our fellow Slavs."

She looked up from the map, her glasses reflecting the dim light of the chandelier as her eyes narrowed. "Why don't we worry about the primary concerns, before we go on about ethnic authority."

"I'm only mentioning the fact, my good Chancellor."

Bridgette turned back to the map, this time drawing her finger across Europe as she took another gasping breath of air. "Just like in this damn office, Austria is being suffocated. Not even in terms of land or of our own influence. But the influence of others. How many are there, spread out through this country of ours who see our destiny in-twined with Athens, or Germany, or Dalmatia, there are even those who look at China as the only viable stable force on Earth." She shook her head. "Damn the politicians and the nobility for this. Thousands were killed because we involved ourselves overseas and what does Her Majesty do? Claim Vancouver Island as a Protectorate. The peoples' voices need to be heard and if not now, then never."

The Slovene looked up from the map and crossed the room towards the window overlooking the capital. "And are the people ready for something as drastic as this Chancellor? I doubt even that Parliament would want to pass a vote of No-Confidence. The country has special ties to the monarchy."

"I love the monarchy Mr. Volkar, make no mistake, but sometimes leaders need to be reminded who they serve; the people, not themselves. Maria von Hapsburg has forgotten that."

"And her sisters?"

"Not an issue, at least not at the moment." Bridgette said looking up from the table. "This will not be a repeat of the French Revolutions, Sergej. We have already fought a civil war once before, we will not fight one again."

Sergej chuckled and looked back away from the skyline. "I think you are lying Frau Saenger, if I recall, you came to me to forge your family documents. Your father fought on the Nordic side of the Austrian Civil War, did he not?"

Bridgette closed her eyes. "My father was a brave man and I'll be damned to hear you talk about his accomplishments as if he were some kind of criminal. Those bloody communists took everything we had. Everything! Those ideals preached a unified Austria, but it was Austria first! Not some global-empire." She had clenched her fists to the point that her palms had become red, feeling the pain, the Chancellor sighed and returned to her normal stance. "That is what we're fighting for now. Austria above all else. These alliances, these forays around the world, they're dreams that will just be vanquished at a later date. What we need now is unity and as I said, if you dare cross me with Slovene Rhetoric, I will focus on you first Sergej, blackmail or not."

The Slovene bowed and touched the brim of his cap. "I will be curious to see what occurs in Parliament over the next few days. It should be interesting indeed. Have a good night, Madame Chancellor."

She nodded as he left the office and Bridgette turned over to the window and took a long breath of the night air. The division in Parliament was becoming stronger, somehow Progressives saw the Imperial Family as the rightful leaders of the Empire. How that worked, she hadn't the slightest idea, but she knew that the Reactionaries and Conservatives were already pushing for a pulling back of Austrian affairs overseas. Arguments had become heated and Bridgette found herself in direct conflict with the Empress, even to the point where she and Maria had nearly fallen to a yelling match. Though both of them made sure to keep themselves together. But if things didn't change, the environment would change itself, and there was nothing that Bridgette could do.

"It's in God's hands now. I'm sorry Your Highness. I'm sure I didn't warn you as I should have. But those deaths cannot go unseen."

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The eyes of the Empress darted back and forth in a flurry of energy as she read through the paper in her hand. Bridgette stood with her hands clasped behind her back and every breath she took quivered as she watched Maria's face begin to red around her cheeks. The air wasn't as thin here, but there was a different feeling that kept the Chancellor fro breathing easily and feeling comfortable, it was the look in the Empress' eyes as she scanned the parchment. Earlier in the day, Bridgette had arrived for her daily audience with Empress Maria and had brought the first of what would be many propositions from Parliament regarding Austria's foreign affairs and their effect on the homeland. The first draft asked for the acknowledgment of Parliament's concerns that Austria had moved too far out of it's comfort zone and while the Reactionaries and Conservatives only occupied a small majority, it was a majority they intended to use.

First it thanked the Empress for withdrawing from the Zurich Pact in a timely fashion and went onto praise her efforts to begin nuclear cleanup throughout the effected Austrian countryside. However, Bridgette could see the change of feeling in Maria's face when she got to the criticisms of the Imperial Throne. Many of the accusations were small, Austria's continued existence in the Mediterranean Union and the acceptance of foreign mercenaries to serve as the Austrian Imperial Guard. However, some, such as the accusation of Imperial ambition to extend the Empire while many were still hurting from the nuclear blast were damning. Parliament had put it's foot down before the events in Vancouver and the Majority Party was none to pleased to see the Empire's continual expansion, especially after the Throne had promised that expansion would dramatically slow or stop entirely.

Finally Maria took off her glasses, handed the paper to one of the chamberlains next to the throne and stared down at the Chancellor. "These concerns are rather blunt, Bridgette, don't you think? The language might have been phrased a bit more diplomatically."

Brigette looked up from the red carpet on the floor and up at Maria's dainty face. "I can assure you, Your Highness, that Parliament means to respect the Crown's authority, but many think that after the Vancouver Acquisition our language needed to be a bit more firm."

Maria's mouth twisted between a smirk and a frown as she pushed herself off the throne, the tails of her dress trailing behind her as she walked across the floor. "Walk with me Bridgette, we have to talk." The Chancellor nodded and followed the Empress as they passed through the doors of the throne room and out into the terraces that ran along side the gardens. They stopped at one of the balconies overlooking a small grove of trees with the sounds of burbling fountains in the background, the sounds of music from the nearby conservatory played happily, the sounds of aristocratic peace and beauty. Unlike the rest of the world, trouble and misery stopped at the gates of Palace Hofburg.

The Empress ran her hands along the smooth marble ledge and sighed. "What pray tell does your government expect me to do with that manifesto?"

"Majesty?" Bridgette asked as her eyebrows furrowed.

"I cannot simply just turn on the alliances that we already have and I cannot turn on Austria's momentum that we have overseas. Detachments have been sent to those areas effected by the blast and the amount of security forces to Vancouver Island is barely a fraction of our total soldiering." She turned to the Chancellor. "I realize that the government does want some response to the reforms that have taken place in Austria, but foreign affairs and military expansion are things I just cannot negotiate on Bridgette, you know that."

"Your Majesty, you know it isn't all about the military here, but Austria is being choked by our expansion, expansion that we cannot in good mind defend in the future." Bridgette stepped beside her against the wall. "Austria has a force of some two-hundred thousand men, almost half of which is your own Imperial Guard. Forgive me for saying, but many Representatives do not trust them. Pledging loyalty to you after what? A few months? It takes five years to apply for citizenship for the average immigrant and yet these men were brought into Austria without second thoughts. What if they would turn against us? What would we do then?"

"Germany, Athens, and Dalmatia would not let that happen Chancellor. You have nothing to worry about."

"But that is precisely why I worry, Your Majesty. Austria cannot in good faith take care of her Empire. In the Northwest we have to rely on the Cascadians and Chinese and in Europe our entire nation is being suffocated by the three spheres of influence that surround us."

Maria shook her head. "Would you rather isolate Austria from the world and not have the friends to help you when trouble presents itself?"

"I don't believe that Austria would find herself in trouble if we limited our sphere of influence, well, what little influence we have. The damages in the countryside would not have happened if Princess Angelika had not been dispatched to the Pacific Northwest." Bridgette sighed and looked out at the garden. "I apologize, Your Highness, I don't mean to speak out of line as I have and I am not saying that Austria should find herself without friends and comrades. I only think that we should draw away from these larger alliances. We don't have the strength to work along side them and our involvement in aggressive affairs hurts your reforms."

"The world is aggressive Bridgette, no matter where you look, nations are vying for empires. We just happen to be on the same side as the victors."

The Chancellor rolled her eyes. "All the more reason to draw away from the chaotic regimes of the world."

"Needless to say Chancellor Saenger, I cannot in good mind promise a withdraw from any of the larger blocs Austria is currently associated with, nor will a draw away from Austria's involvement in North America and the addition of the Imperial Guard will only increase the Empire's power exponentially. These men have families and their children will follow suit."

"Your Majesty, they're Muslims!" Bridgette spit with acid. "The only country in Europe that still prides itself on it's loyalty to Holy Mother Church and you're allowing Muslims into the military. You're Protector of the Faith for God sakes!"

"You speak out of line Chancellor. Mind your tongue." Maria glared as she stepped away from the balcony. "But you can return to Parliament with my proposals, if my government wishes to change my policies, I would ask that such manifestos be cast in a much friendlier light. You are dismissed Chancellor." Bridgette bowed her head and turned on her heels as she clicked away down the marble walkway, only to be stopped again by Maria's call. "However, I will contemplate Austria's position in the few blocs we are in."

Turning, the Chancellor smiled and bowed her head again before disappearing in through the glass doors as Maria pounded a closed fist against the marble.

---

[quote]
[i]Members of Parliament,

The sheer fact of our existence shows the amount of reform that is possible under leaders that embrace the ideas of liberalism and republicanism. Austria has come a long way since our recent past of absolute monarchs and communist usurpers, our Regime stands at the crossroads of Europe and the world. The Imperial Family has expanded Austria's borders and influence far beyond the Duchy that declared independence from the Germanic Union. Once again we have stood on our own two feet and like our ancestors we have made the ground shake between our heels. However, this kind of power is not possible without the support of both the Crown, Parliament, and the People's Will at home and if Austria cannot waver the difficulties that comes with Republicanism then we are not fit to command the Empire at our disposal.

As requested by you my peers as well as my constituents of Vienna, I have returned from an audience with Her Imperial Majesty, Maria Magdalena and have delivered the manifesto that we as members of Parliament drafted in good will and in the spirit of democracy and progress. I regret to inform you, members of Parliament, that the manifesto has been denied and while some reform may take place concerning Austria's involvement in the larger world blocs. Her Majesty will not bend on the acceptance of a large mercenary force within Austria's army nor will she bend on the continual expansion of Austrian influence in North America as part of the Austrian Commonwealth. Fortunately, the days of absolutism are over and this Parliament will not stand idea when the majority of representatives and thus the majority of Austrians are against the Imperial Proclamations. We must be clear, my fellows, that Parliament will not flake on these issues and give the destiny of Austria completely to Imperial Command.

In the spirit of compromise, however, Parliament should always be ready to allow for some concession so long as the Throne concedes on issues as well. That said, I will not stand idle as Austria is suffocated by her neighbors. It is clear that Europe has been divided into it is obvious sections, a German north, a Dalmatian east, and a Athenian south. This is a Pagan Europe, this is an aggressive Europe and while peace has come to the hills of the Alps and beyond, how long are we going to be able to keep our freedom as Austrians? There is a destiny for Austrians, my comrades, that is not tied to foreign powers. A destiny that is not tied to the marriages of leaders. Austria should be the only one to decide Austria's destiny and the Austria I speak of, my comrades, I speak of the people! I speak of you! I speak of me! I speak of the poor and downtrodden! I speak of the rich and flamboyant! I speak for the Imperial Family itself! We are all Austrians and Austria will have control of it's destiny, no matter what the cost!

-Chancellor Bridgette Saenger, "Destiny Speech to Parliament"
[/i]
[/quote]

Edited by Sarah Tintagyl
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"Would you look at that." General von Hess said leaning back on the plush chair in the basement of Hofburg Palace as the television blinked in front of him and his colleagues. The streets of Vienna were crowded with people, both the young and the old. They held signs in different languages and different slogans. Some where in German, others in a Nordlandic variation, others still were Slovene and even a few sported Italian signs with Italian colors painted within the lettering. The slogans, despite the languages, were nearly all the same, messages of 'Leave North America for the North Americans!', 'Austria First! Europe Second! The World Last!' Film crews that were reporting on the protests weren't doing a much better job at their duty to tune down the severity of the protests. Instead, Von Hess and the other generals gathered in the palace listened as field reporters spoke that this kind of political unrest had not been seen in Austria for sometime, perhaps not since the Communist takeover and the silencing of the press.

Chancellor Saenger's speech to Parliament had set the entire machine into motion. Before, it was easy enough to hide Imperial Ambitions around a veil of nationalism and restoring Austria's ancient position in the world. However, since Maine had pushed a bomb into the Austrian countryside, many of the citizenry who had once been strongly on board with restoring the empire and setting the Monarchy as the most powerful force in the state, had begun to withdraw. Saenger had only boosted her ranks of supporters with her rhetoric in Parliament, outlining that nearly all of Austria's moves were possible only with help from foreign nations such as China and Athens. That talk had led many people to believe that Austria's empire was little more then borrowed land that China, Athens, and others would soon recall much to the embarrassment of Vienna and her Empress.

"That's it, I've heard enough of this." Skimmel shook his head and clicked the remote. The room went dark except for the dim candle light and the illumination of the commanders' cigars. "A bunch of idiots who don't know the last thing about diplomacy. They're nothing more than spoiled brats, whipped up into a frenzy by a woman who knows nothing about politics. I never liked her, she has shifty eyes."

Von Hess chuckled and stroked his mustache. "She knows how to speak though and she knows how to spin news and evidence."

"She's a theocrat, Max, and an isolationist, nothing that Austria needs right now. Especially with Europe finally in a state of peace. The United Kingdom falls and now we have to deal with this problem. I wouldn't be surprised if her talk actually does get us into trouble with our allies."

"No," The General said shifting his body to his right and smoked a long drag from his cigar. "The Greeks and the Chinese aren't mad enough to act on the ravings of a politician. Not her alone." Then he shifted uncomfortably to his left. "On the other hand, if these protests continue and too many people begin to question our involvement overseas or with our allies. That could present a problem."

"This must be taking a toll on Her Majesty." Skimmel said with a bit of reverence in his voice. "She has been one of Austria's most popular rulers, to be turned on by this madwoman. Max," he turned and looked at the General with wide eyes, the light reflecting gently off of his monocle. "We should take this into our own hands. Travesties like this should not be allowed to occur, not when the Empire is finally reaching it's old reaches of success. Alexander may have been a technological genius, but Austria is counted as part of the world's most influential countries. If Saenger thinks she is going to ruin that, she's mistaken."

Von Hess laughed again as he stood from his chair and laid his cigar down beside a glass of whiskey. "I'm not saying anything one way or the other Skimmel. But personally, I agree with you, we need to teach Her Excellency, the Chancellor who her loyalty belongs too."

---

Bridgette smiled as she stepped out of her town car as it pulled up to the Bundeskanzleramt, her private residence as being Chancellor, and waved farewell to her driver. She had just given the third of a series of speeches to Parliament and a large crowd gathered outside the Reichsratsgebäude. Everyday brought more and more attentive people to her cause, people that wanted to get out of the dangers in North America, who wanted to see Austria as not only a solitary force in Europe, but one that was free of bias from the Great Powers of the world. An Austria for Austrians, she had said and the motto stuck. Actually, not only did it stick, but it began to grow into mottos such as 'Share the World, Save your Home!'. If pressure continued then surely the Hapsburg Government would be brought to consider the concerns and grievances of Parliament and a stronger Austria would result from the changes. Austria had a constitution, Maria Magdalena was not above that document.

"Chancellor." A petite maid with auburn hair opened the door as Bridgette walked through the entrance way. "I trust your speech went well?"

"As best as it could have gone, Klara, everything has been okay here?"

The maid nodded, "I gave most of the girls and the cooks the night off, if that's okay with you, since you've been out and there haven't really been any events here. All it takes is a little dusting to make the place run smoothly."

"Ah, of course, not a problem. Turbulent times calls for some relaxation, I think I'll take your advice Klara, I'll ask not to be disturbed tonight."

"Excellence, Madame Chancellor, have a good night."

The maid bowed and Bridgette continued up the flight of marble stairs towards her private quarters on the top floor of the building. Klara was right, everyone needed a bit of time to relax and Bridgette had run herself ragged over the past few weeks. As the bathtub began to fill and the bubbles steamed over the edge, she grinned and found herself forgetting time existed as the bubbles traveled above her eyes and hair. She was soon lost in bliss.

When she finally woke up, the bubbles had all vanished and the steamy water of her bubble bath had turned lukewarm. Shaking the fatigue and fog from her eyes, Bridgette pulled herself up from the bath and wrapped a white robe around her body and walked out, her wet hair clinging to her back. The Bundeskanzleramt was eerily quiet, she couldn't even hear the maids and butlers in their quarters downstairs. She hadn't really thought just how large the Chancellor's home was, how many rooms went without people living in them, that were just studies and waiting rooms. It also didn't help that the sconces on the walls hadn't been updated since the turn of the century and the hallway in front of her was dark and foreboding.

Reaching the doors near her room, Bridgette stopped at the sound of another footstep. "Klara, is that you? I though you'd be in bed by n-"

But when she turned, the Chancellor felt a leather hand spring out from the darkness and grab her throat forcing her down to the ground. Bridgette hit the ground with a thud and tried to scream, but the attacker's hand was too strong and she could barely make a squeak. Trying to make noise, she hit her hands against the hardwood floor, banging as hard as she could and thrashing about the floor.

"Now don't try to make noise, Madame Chancellor, if we wanted you dead, you would have been dead in your bathtub." The man in black said as he stroked her wet hair. "All I want to say is that there are those people who don't appreciate what you're doing. Those speeches, those rallies, all that stuff that is starting to make Austria look bad on the World's Stage. We don't like what we're seeing and some of us are starting to think that you've misplaced your loyalty. Do you love Austria, Bridgette?"

The Chancellor's eyes widened as she stopped banging on the floor and gently nodded her head. Though the man's grip was helping her decide.

"Good, because I don't want to come back here and have to teach you another lesson. Austria has a destiny, you are not going to interfere with that destiny. Is that understood?"

Again she nodded.

"Very well." Then with a powerful backhand he slapped her across the face and Bridgette's world went dark.

---

Hours later, her eyes opened with two of her butlers standing over body and Klara, the maid, holding an ice pack over her shoulder. She had been moved to her bed and the sun was shining brightly through the window. Bridgette groaned as she sat up, he throat and head aching terribly.

"Oh thank God, Chancellor, you're alright." Said the first butler. "We saw the man in black running down the stairs after we heard you scream. I don't know how he got in or who he was, but security has been beefed up around the entire complex. You're safe with us."

"Some Imperialist thug, God knows who." She said and fingered her eyes.

"Chancellor?"

Bridgette looked up at her servants and shook her head. "They said Austria has a destiny. They're damn well it does and they're not going to like what it has in store." She looked out the window at Hofburg Palace in the distance. "Has the Empress decided on any of Parliament's proposals?"

"No, not yet, the post this morning said that the Imperial Council was still in session."

The Chancellor sneered. "No, they won't like their destiny at all."

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[b]Imperial Palace of Caserta, Italy[/b]

A group of 5 men walked through the doors of the Imperial Palace, it was around noon and as always both monarchs would receive a state security briefing by officials from the Hellenic Army, Hellenic Navy, Hellenic Air Force, Federal Intelligence Agency and Committee for State Security. While normally the briefing would be short the look on the faces of the men suggested Valerio would be rescheduling some other meetings. In a specially redesigned conference room the 6 would sit at a table while establishing a video-conference with a similar meeting in Athens.

“Your Imperial Highnesses, over the last few days our political analysts in Vienna have seen a troubling development, the conservative wings in the Austrian legislative seem to be opposing recent moves by the monarchy, most notably the occupation of North American land and the way Austria’s Empire depends on the support of Athens, Berlin and the Chinese. Our reports indicate that the motion to pull back Austrian involvement globally enjoys support from the Chancellor and a majority in the legislative but not from the Hapsburgs. Combined with individuals protesting in public we may well be seeing a regime change develop in front of our eyes. With our strategic interests and the Western Emperor’s personal interest in Empress Maria we recommend action to be taken immediately”

The briefing visibly troubled the 2 monarchs. The 5 branches could almost never agree on state security but here they were, all united. “What do you propose we do?” Valerio asked.

“An intelligence gathering and infiltration mission by the Committee for State Security and increased presence at the Athenian embassy. The Federal Intelligence Agency should also look into maintaining our contacts among Austrian military and monarchy to have information even faster.”

Valerio nodded before he could respond Ariadne started talking. “I do believe all these measures hold merit, I also propose Emperor Moretti goes on a state visit to Vienna and talk to the Hapsburgs. However while I do give permission for all these operations you do need to keep in mind Austria is an ally. We can not undertake anything that might damage our friendships, in essence I do not want to read anything about dead politicians in the newspapers, understood?”

The advisors confirmed the order in unison, as the meeting ended Valerio walked towards his own office where pen and paper was waiting for him. He wanted to see Maria again for a few days but would have preferred different circumstances.

About 12 hours later the Ambassador to Austria would personally deliver the letter.

[quote]My dearest Maria,

First of all I hope you are doing well since the event in the Union of the Southern Cross, with the world at large cooling down I would like to request permission to come visit you in Vienna soon, both formally as the Western Emperor to discuss matters and informally as myself. Again I hope all is well and hope I will see you again soon.

Yours sincerely,
Valerio Moretti[/quote]

[b]Palace of Modena, Italy[/b]

While the CSS primarily focused on internal dissent its foreign duties were never neglected, when diplomatic contacts informed the committee leadership through the FIA several red flags were raised as such. While the threat was serious leadership in Vila Real had decided that the local department in Modena should handle it.

A young woman walked up the steps of the Palace of Modena, she had been called by the Federal Intelligence Agency to report to the palace and be brought back to active duty, while she knew of the existence of the Committee for State Security her knowledge on the organization stopped there. It had always been effective in keeping its affairs secret. Once inside the castle at the wing she had been told to report to a man wearing a black suit appeared from behind a desk.

“Signora Ferrari?” The man asked, the woman would simply nod.

“I will take you to signore Lombardi who is waiting for you.”

Giullia followed the man as they walked through several hallways and up several stairs after which they reached an office. Maintaining her silence she walked into the room where an elderly man was sitting behind a desk.

“Operative 948A23, Giullia Ferrari, wanted in 9 countries, infiltrated the Grey Wolf rebel movement and led to the arrest of the leadership. You have served your country well but we need you again”

The man said as he put the tablet on stand-by.

“You were originally born in Trento and are a citizen of the Athenian Federation, Germanisk Förbund and Austria. We have recently been informed of some disturbing development in the Austrian legislation, developments that could very well change the relations between Athens and Vienna and might even lead to war. You are an expert in infiltration, we need you to gain the trust of conservative Austrians using your previous cover as vocal opponent of Greek occupation of Italy.”

“What are my specific objectives?”

“Find out what the Chancellor is thinking, how far she is willing to go and if possible obtain a position of influence where you can continue gathering information long-term. Due to the established treaties we can not help you if your cover is destroyed. There will be no rescue attempts, you will only get a regular supply of money into an Austrian account. We have contacts in Trento and Vienna who can bring information back to Rome.”

“When will I be leaving?”

“Immediately, a car is waiting outside. We have booked a hotel room and provided clothing and electronics. No weapons as we do not want trouble with Austrian authorities before the operation can even start.”

The man walked towards Giullia. “Emperor Moretti has personally ordered this job and shown confidence in your skill, welcome to the Committee for State Security Agent Ferrari” He said giving Giullia the keys.

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Maria swirled her finger around the tea cup in front of her as she looked out at lines of chairs and desks in the Abgeordnetenhaus, the home of the Austrian Imperial Council. Unlike Parliament, this body of legislature was made up entirely of Austrian nobility and those men and women who had nearly been hand picked by the Empress for their ability and skill in Imperial Politics, along with those who had the strongest family ties going back centuries in Hapsburg history. The Imperial Council was able to pass laws much in the same fashion as Parliament and for laws to be enacted, both legislatures had to come to some form of agreement of compromise. While Saenger had a strong majority support within Parliament, the Imperial Throne dominated the Council and Maria was determined to see most, if not all, of the Chancellor's proposals destroyed at the Abgeordnetenhaus.

Picking up the gavel, she tapped the wooden hammer on the table in front of her a few times calling the meeting to order. "Most esteemed ladies and gentlemen of the noble houses of Austria. Our emergency convene of the Imperial Council will now begin. Chamberlain Hartig, if you would please begin the proceedings."

The Chamberlain rose from his seat and took his place at the center of the wooden podium. He cleared his throat and looked out at the crowd of aristocrats. "Members of the Imperial Nobility. We have been called here today, by Her Imperial Majesty, to deal with the rising concerns of Parliament and their desire for reactionary government that threatens the stability of Austria both in the fatherland and abroad. The Honorable Chancellor, Bridgette Saenger, has proposed the following reforms," he chuckled, "If you would call them such." The rest of the Council gave quiet laughs as the Chamberlain took out a sheet of parchment and adjusted his glasses.

"Firstly," he began, "Austria is to fully withdraw from any territories in North America and influence completely given to the Austrian Commonwealth nation of Cascadia. Secondly, the creation of Her Majesty's Imperial Guard must be submitted to Parliament for being unlawful under Austria's constitution and immigration laws. Stated, the Chancellor believes that great misgivings exist on the fact that many of these men have only been residents of Austria for a few months and because of the Empress' favoritism have been able to bypass normal immigration and citizenship rights. Thirdly, Austria is to severely cut back on her alliances overseas in the form of withdrawing from all large blocs and moving towards maintaining single, non-chaining relationships with nations who Austria has built strong friendships with. Stated, Austrian men and women should not be forced to die in nations that not even Her Majesty has had the chance to visit." The Chamberlain folded the paper and bowed his head. "Those are the Chancellor's proposals, Majesty."

"Thank you Chamberlain, you are relieved." Maria took a sip from her tea cup and leaned back against her chair. "With that report submitted, Your Excellencies, I now ask the Council what their opinions are on the recent moves of Parliament." A scattering of voices immediately erupted from out of the seats in front of her, as lords and ladies both began to talk amongst themselves, pounding their hands against each other, tapping on desks and scratched foreheads as looks of unease overtook their faces. Finally one of the men stood up from the commotion and bowed. "Yes, Your Grace, Von Krane, speak up."

"Your Majesty, if I may be blunt about this. There is no reason why your reforms, the reforms of this Council and of this country should be turned back several years. I believe everyone can agree here that Austria's recent growth does not solely rest on the shoulders of China, Athens, or Germany. Without the Imperial Family, this country would not even exist and Chancellor Saenger has you to thank for her position." A series of nods and agreeing groans filled the assembly. "So long as Austria is still active in the world then we will continue to prosper and grow. In truth, the Chancellor's prior proposals, our withdrawal from Zurich should have been shot down. With the collapse of the United Kingdom, Europe is once again safe and Austria and her allies can move without fear of reprisal. Chancellor Saenger is chasing after ghosts who are not there." Applause thundered throughout the council chambers as Von Krane returned to his seat, only to be replaced by an elder female.

"Baroness Künigl, you have the floor." Nodded the Empress.

"Thank you, Your Majesty. While I agree with everything that Herr von Krane has addressed, I do not believe that this Council should push away the idea of compromise. Yes, Austria and the world is safe, at least for a time. But Saenger and her followers feed off of the aggressive nature of many of our allies. I believe it is fairly easy to note that while the United Kingdom was a destructive power, Athens was not a country to move towards diplomacy and that it was Austria who served as the voice of reason for Europe while it seemed that every other country moved towards conflict. The power vacuum has only led to the flexing of English muscles as well as the recent doctrine by the Dalmatian, which Her Majesty has backed. Our relations with Slavorussia are now nearly non-existent and I do believe that if our only allies are those in the Sovereign Initiative, Austria may very well become an extension of the Athenian Empire." This was followed by a series of jeers and hisses, mainly from those surrounded by Von Krane, but even Maria shifted uneasily in her seat.

"You believe this could also have to do with the many responses to my possible marriage with the Emperor of the Western Federation?"

"I do not presume to judge, Your Majesty," Künigl continued, "But I don't think caution and compromise should be sacrificed in the name of stalwart reform."

"Would you rather have served with the United Kingdom, Anna?" Von Krane shouted from across the room. "Your Majesty, what compromise is there? These are the nations who have supported us from the beginning. These are the nations who surely defended us from nuclear holocaust in Vienna and in other cities. Who are we to now say that we no longer want or require their help? There is such a thing called friendship in this world. I think we should teach Chancellor Saenger what it is like not to have friends. Then she can learn what Austria would be reduced too with her reactionary movements."

Maria tapped her cheek lightly with her finger and finally pushed herself up off of her chair. "I believe that a compromise is possible with some of Chancellor Saenger's proposals. I know that Austria's claims in North America have been the talk of scrutiny, but the old Kingdom of Uralica has organized their nobility once again and are planning a reform. I received a missive from their unofficial ambassador two days ago asking for the return of Vancouver Island if Austria found it practical. We will return Vancouver Island to the Uralicans and in return deny the other proposals by Parliament. This should let Chancellor Saenger know that we are willing to compromise and work together with her hopes for Austria." She cleared her throat and continued, but after only speaking a few words, Frederich Kant, the Foreign Minister ran to her side.

"Your Majesty, I apologize for bothering you at this meeting," he whispered. "But there is a problem. Chancellor Saenger was attacked last night."

Maria turned to the Minister in shock and a fearful quietness overtook the Council. "She was attacked? What do you mean attacked?"

"Apparently a thug of some kind broke into the Bundeskanzleramt and bruised her. She's not hurt, only a bit winded, but the attacker is rumored to have Imperial Ambitions at heart."

"Has Saenger made this public yet?"

"With her black eye, its rather hard to hide it. She's furious. No accusations against the Imperial Family yet, but it hasn't suited well with the crowds, protesting in the capital has only increased. Oh!" Kant smiled, "A bit of good news though perhaps," he said taking out a letter from his suit pocket. "This arrived from Rome earlier today, from Emperor Valerio of Athens."

Maria took the letter and read through the few sentences and looked back at Kant worried. "He wants to visit Vienna. Can you imagine the backlash that would come from a visit like that right now? If Bridgette would find out," the Empress sighed, "She has so much material to use against us right now. Even with Athens and Dalmatia's defense, Maine was still able to hit us hard, politically and physically. I knew she was conservative, but I didn't expect this when she was elected."

"I am sure that Frau Saenger understands your personal life, Your Majesty, a friendly personal visit is nothing to be ashamed of."

She smiled and patted Kant on the shoulder. "You're right, I'll go reply to this now then. In the meantime, Frederich, I want you to do everything you can to find out who attacked Bridgette and offer her my sincerest condolences and promise her we will bring the assailant to justice."

"Very good, Your Majesty. Has Council finished deliberation?"

"Indeed, now we simply wait for Parliament to act."

---

[quote]
[i]Valerio,

No doubt you have already heard of the recent unrest in Vienna. It would appear that my most honorable government has decided to take matters into their own hands. At times I cannot blame them, but the way the crowds shout, sometimes I fear that we may be at the dawn of another Age of Revolution. It is always the problem of the world, when one region cools down, another one flares up in it's stead. While I would love for you to come to Vienna, if you do, come under caution. Chancellor Saenger and her Parliamentarians are wily creatures and their distrust of Athens, which I partially blame on your Empress Ariadne, could make the visit disastrous, not physically, I hope, but politically.

However I would like to see you and discuss what these reforms, changes, and unrest could bring to Austria, Europe, and perhaps even the world. If this is the dawn of a new Revolutionary Age, then we as the status quo must stand to defend our people against radicalism and reactionary movements.

I await your reply and arrival in haste.

With Love,

Maria[/i]
[/quote]

Edited by Sarah Tintagyl
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The sounds of rapid foot beats echoed off of the cobblestone streets in Vienna. Beads of sweat ran down the young man's face and loose spit flew from his mouth as he tried to catch his breath in a nearby alley grasping his heart and listening to the sound of crushing paper beneath his coat. He still had the letter, thank God, he thought, only risking sure death from taking the letter in the first place and then of course, there were pursuers, but their feet had long since echoed past him towards the outskirts of the capital. Reaching down into his brown coat, the young man pulled out another piece of paper with an address scribbled on it. Any information he was able to procure from the Imperial Government was to be brought to that address and now he had proof that Athens' involvement in Austria's politics was imminent. The young man held the letter written by Valerio Moretti to the Austrian Empress.

It was a stroke of luck that when the Foreign Minister had mentioned to the Empress that she should reply to the Athenian that Maria had left the letter on the desk. Phillipp Bohm worked in the Abgeordnetenhaus as a page for various nobles, but he had always taken Chancellor Saenger's message to heart and so after being approached by some of her associates, Phillipp took it upon himself to help her cause in any way he could.

Listening for the sounds of footsteps again and hearing nothing but silence, Phillipp sighed in relief and headed back down the streets of Vienna to the address given to him. After a fifteen minute walk from the alley, he had arrived. It was a fairly large apartment with a bright yellow color on it's side with bright white along the windowsills. At the doorway, two men in black suits were smoking cigarettes and talking quietly to themselves, but stopped their conversation as soon as Phillipp came closer.

"Can we help you young man? I don't believe you live in this apartment, we've never seen you around before." Said the first man.

"Well perhaps you might know who lives in this address." Phillipp said to the first. "I have a package for him."

The first man smiled and patted Phillipp on the shoulder. "You mean her. Come with me, we'll take you to see the Chancellor."

Since the attack at her home in the Bundeskanzleramt, Bridgette had decided to move the meetings she had with Reactionary sympathizers out of any chance of earshot of Imperial Agents. However, she knew that most of the Conservatives and Reactionaries in Parliament were being watched as well and it was why the meetings that she could arrange were small and nearly took all day to arrive. Every day became a rather long journey for Bridgette, wandering the streets of Vienna after speeches or her normal work in Parliament and audiences with the Empress, as she tried to escape the agents observing her movements. They were both a blessing and a sin. So while she could probably never be attacked again, unless the agents were working with Maria's thugs, they could also keep tabs on her and make sure she wasn't getting into trouble. The problem was, Bridgette was cause most of the trouble herself.

Sebastian Eberhardt's home, however, was the perfect place for a meeting. An obscure childhood friend of Bridgette's, a reactionary, and a dentist, he easily flew under the radar of Imperial Agents and the Chancellor could discuss her next moves in private with those close to her. At least those who were able to make it to the meetings.

"So the Empress denied two of our demands and released Austria's hold over Vancouver Island." Bridgette sighed and heaved her shoulders back against the plush white couch she sat on. Her right hand was wrapped around a bottle of dark German beer from the Low Countries and her left hung over the couch wearily and sore.

"You sound distraught Bridgette," Said Traugott, one of the moderate conservatives in Parliament. "I would have thought this would be good news. The Empress is finally willing to fold on our demands."

"Our demands?" She said as her eyes narrowed. "More like Uralica's demands. I was privy to the meeting between Empress Maria and the Uralican Ambassador. She was looking to get rid of it."

"And we don't want that?"

She sat up from the couch and glanced around the room at the other members of Parliament and Reactionaries. "The Throne has given up nothing here. Parliament is still at the Empress' beck and call and what's worse we don't have as much firepower for the decision to break off some of the other alliances and blocs that the country is tied down to. The Empress is still supporting the moves against the Russians and if we would perhaps join the Zurich Pact as was apparently promised with the 'Prussians', it would through the country right back into the collective community of Europe. Austrian nationalism would be a thing of the past, combined only with a hint of Greater Germany." Bridgette scowled at the thought, "Berlin praises us for our voice as an extension of what they don't have or can't do."

Traugott and a few others, mainly Slovenes shifted nervously in their seats. Sergej Volkar displayed is anxiety much more by biting hard down on his cigar as he leaned forward and spoke. "You're talking in possibilities Bridgette, there is a chance that none of these things could happen and that Empress Maria would take our words just as they are. In addition, you also have not made good your word on Slovene Independence. I said I would contain my peoples' feelings, but if you are unprepared to deliver."

The Chancellor's face reddened, but before she could speak a knock was heard at the door as the two men in black suits walked in along with Phillipp. As soon as Bridgette saw him, she smiled. "Herr Bohm. You've brought something?"

Phillipp nodded and reached into his coat. "I happened to stumble upon this after the meeting of the Council, it's a letter from Emperor Moretti of Athens to Her Majesty."

Snatching the letter out of his hands, Bridgette scanned the writing as her smile grew delightfully devilish. "Yes, this can be spun, especially if Valerio meets with Maria in public. If only that !@#$%* of an Empress was with him then that would set the population aflame. We need protest. We need desire. We need people to understand that they are fighting and arguing for their future. They're fighting for Austria's future where we are the influence, not the other way around."

"And where does Slovenia fit in with that?" Sergej rose from his seat and folded his arms. "Personally, Bridgette, I believe you're starting to over step your boundaries. You made my people a promise that unrest would be enough so that Slovenia could apply for it's own independence and then a Conservative Austria could go it's separate way with a Free Slovenia. The way you speak now it sounds to me that you have your own ambitions on Austria and it's empire. You're falling off your own path Chancellor Saenger."

She looked up from the letter and tilted her head. "You mean with blackmail, Herr Volkar? You know you're right, I haven't lived up to my promises, but to be honest, neither have you. All this talk of the Slovene officials demonstrating a desire for action and yet nothing happened. Slovene districts still remain as some of the most loyal to the Empress. I don't think your people would revolt if they wanted to."

"And that is where you're wrong Miss Saenger." Sergej fixed his coat and turned on her. "But I've had about enough of this, I don't need a rambling Austrian woman with a dubious background telling me what to do."

"If you step out of this room Sergej, I will make sure you wish you were never born and if the Slovenes move, your resistance movement will have to deal with a lot more than simply Imperial crackdowns. Are you ready to deal with that?"

"Is that a threat Frau Saenger?" The Slovene turned and chuckled.

"No, it's a promise."

"Very well." He chuckled again and began to exit with a few of the Slovene representatives he had brought with him, however, a handful in the parlor had decided to stay even after their comrades left.

When the door finally closed, Bridgette, standing in the middle of the room clasped her hands with the letter, firmly behind her back. She clicked her tongue against her mouth and sighed. "Well, maybe they're right, maybe I have lost base with what I really wanted to accomplish."

"Madame Chancellor?" Said a voice from the side of the room. The man was dressed in a green suit with a green and blue flag pin hanging on his lapel. He had dark blonde hair and bright green eyes. His face was friendly and he spoke with a twang synonymous with Northwestern America. "My name is Theodore Grasso, I once served under Count Randolph of Kaskadenland." Bridgette was about to yell at him before Grasso put up his hand in peace. "Please, I know what His Grace did in North America was wrong, but I don't think that you're too far away from his idea of a Greater Austria."

"What do you mean?" Her glare stuck to her face.

"I want to make your dream of an Austria for Austrians come true. In a way that the world will never forget."

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Kang was reading the international news reports with of glee. The news out of Austria was becoming more and more desirable by the day. He could not help but find amusement in this huge gold mine of embarrassment for Jia. The Imperator's wedding to his austrian whore was in a little over a week, and her family was running a decent chance of getting overthrown not long after that.

His aide walked in the door of his Hong Kong high rise office, "Mr. Kang, a Doctor Ming is here to see you." the woman said. [i]Ming?[/i] the thought sent chills down his spine.

"Send him in." Kang said curious to what he wanted.

As his aide left the office she cowered behind her desk as Ming's red eyes followed her movements, his face unchanging from an arrogant smirk. "Mr... Kang... will see you now." she said.

Ming arose from the visitor's couch smiling, "Thank you." he said walking into the office of Kang.

The mans eyes darted back and forth taking note of every detail of the room before his gaze was interrupted by Kang, "May I help you?" Kang asked. Ming smiled as he shut the door.

"Your plan sucks." he said simply. Ming smirked, "What you've done alone is not enough."

"What the $%&@ are you talking about?" Kang demanded annoyed at the man's arrogance.

"We both know what I'm talking about." Ming said looking out the window onto Victoria Harbor. "You are a poor poker player, or at least have been holding your cards out where I can see them. Do you think I do not know about your night job... or jobs?" he said.

Kang was seething with anger but kept his cool, "I do not know what you are talking about." he barked.

"Indeed." Ming said amused. "After all I am not your ally.... but I do have something for you. Take it or leave it. It is up to you. My interests are purely in science which will make the Federation more powerful, but sadly I cannot test it here. I've seen that the proper requisitions have been made for you and your Thai allies."

He placed a disk on Kang's desk, before leaving.

Several hours later Kang had not touched the disk. He could not help but feel it was some sort of trap, that Ming had other agendas. He was not sure if Ming was loyal to Jia, he doubted it in truth, but Ming was loyal to winning. Jia was still the best horse to be attached to. Nevertheless he couldn't help but be curious.

Making his way down to the basement to one of the secure computers which would be extraordinarily hard to install malware on he opened up the file. His eyes widened as he saw what was on it, he could not believe it. It was almost too good to be true... it had to be. A wide grin formed on his face. "Heheheh... hahahaha..... HAHAHAHAHA!" he started laughing as the blue prints of one design after another scrolled across the screen illuminating the dark room.....

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[b]Palace Gardens, Imperial Palace of Caserta, Italy[/b]

This time of year the palace gardens had always been a beautiful sight, it was spring. Everything was growing and new life could be found everywhere, it was during these days that most of the Imperial Court could be found outside. Valerio was no exception. After the response was received preparations were made, the Imperial Guard talked to their Austrian equals on security precautions and documents were signed for the cases where something went completely wrong abroad. In the distance he could see the state security advisor walking to him at a steady pace.

“Your Imperial Highness, a mistake must have been made but my office has received orders to not send any guards to Austria besides 2 unarmed ones and your personal lieutenant, sir.”

“No mistake was made advisor, I do not require any additional protection, the Austrian security is doing a good job and I am visiting one of our closest allies.”

“But, sir. There is a large opposition to your visit, sending you there without guards loyal to yourself is asking for problems”

“And what would sending an army with me do? These people object to this visit because the Federation looks like its pushing its authority on Austria, sending a force large enough to take over a village will not help. This is the end of the discussion advisor, I am leaving in 2 hours with the manpower requested”

“Yes, sir.” The man said reluctantly however at this point Valerio didn’t really care, he looked up at the sky which hadn’t been so blue in months. After a few minutes he walked back to the actual palace with a sigh wishing to enjoy the gardens more before having to leave.

[b]Vienna, Austria[/b]

After a very short flight from Rome to Vienna the plane of the Western Emperor would descend at the international airport in Vienna, during the flight Valerio had had time to review some more reports, specifically on the known past of the Austrian chancellor who amazingly had evaded most of the Athenian intelligence system. He had also been forced to make a decision on deployments which he had been postponing for a couple of days, Imperial Order 9623A, the deployment of 10,000 Thracians to the Austrian border to serve as border guards. While he had given permission the actual movements were postponed for 2 weeks at the request of the CSS for unknown reasons. However these relatively simple matters weren’t his concern right now.

“Your Imperial Highness, we have landed and they are awaiting you”

“Thank you”

After looking out of the window for a bit Valerio headed for the exit of the plane before walking towards the airport where undoubtedly people from both sides of the argument were waiting.

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Sitting in the Empress' study the next morning, Bridgette, for the first time, believed that she was changing. Everything about her was conservative and though she wasn't part of the Austrian nobility, she was still an aristocrat even if she never looked the part. While the ladies of Austria wore some of the most expensive dresses of blue, yellow, and red, the Chancellor preferred black and soft earth tone. She rarely styled her hair letting it hang free behind her back or in more formal meetings, she tied into a tight bun that clung to the back of her head. Her style of dress reflected on her attitude and the changing thoughts in her mind since the talks of civil unrest had gripped the Empire.

Perhaps Sergej was right, perhaps she did want too much out of her plans, but was that wrong? Was that unfair? Bridgette's dream of what Austria would look like out of the various alliance pacts and out of the responsibilities would be a new breath of fresh air for the state, something that Austria desperately needed. Every where she turned, the Chancellor saw outside oppression. Austria's moves being talked over and rewritten by the influence of powers and all sealed with a few kisses. She had seen how the Chinese delegation looked at the dinner party a few months ago, the hatred in their eyes when they saw Theresia sitting at the end of the table, when they were forced to converse with men and women they thought barbarians. Likewise, Bridgette had seen and heard various times of Maria's treatment during audiences with the Empress Ariadne of Athens. These weren't alliances, she thought, they were friendships of convenience and if Austria ever lost her silver tongue, the Empire was doomed.

That belief was what Bridgette fought for, she convinced herself, the security of Austria's tomorrow, her literal freedom from the rest of the world. A world that was filled with snakes. All one had to do is go over the observation transcripts in Zurich. After Dalmatia had proposed their doctrine, Livonia had forbid Slavorussia entrance into the alliance. It was a cutthroat world and no one looked after anyone. If Austria was going to survive it would have to look out for itself.

When the door opened to the study and Maria stepped in, her white dress flowing regally behind her, the Chancellor rose to her feet and bowed. Bridgette wore only light make-up so that the bruise of her eye was still seen under the veneer of rose.

"Oh, Bridgette, I hope you were able to get my condolences from the attack." The Empress said as soon as she walked in. "We're doing everything in our power to find that monster. This is a free society, people should be able to speak their minds and not have to worry about these kinds of things. I hope the added security detail has made you rest a little easier at night."

Bridgette smirked and looked at the ground. "You could say that, I don't think guard dogs could do a better job. I scarcely have a moment to myself."

"Well perhaps if you'd quit all this reactionary business we could get back to our normal lives." Maria chuckled, swaying back and forth as she sat down at her writing desk and began to shuffle through her morning reports. "So what is on Parliament's agenda today? Still trying to get me to call back on our alliances and send the Imperial Guard back to Sudan?"

"Surprises shouldn't be the business of politics, Your Majesty, I like to play all my cards face up."

"Is that so. Well Chancellor, you know both my opinion and the Imperial Council's ruling on those proposals and they are going to stay. The isolationist policy that you are preaching would literally destroy all of Austria's prestige and reduce us back to the point that we were at independence. One does not get around in this world without allies."

"Not when those allies govern the prestige itself and not when a foreign army is nearly just as large as the official Austrian Imperial Army."

Maria slammed her hand against the desk and glared fire at the Chancellor. "Frau Saenger! If you are not to try for compromise here then this meeting is finished. We have evacuated out of Vancouver Island, aside from the possible establishment of a small base in the vicinity of the south."

"So you do plan to stay then, if Uralica falls again, we can take back the land." Bridgette said keeping her cool. "It wasn't a compromise at all. It was a convenient bargain. The Crown gave up nothing."

"Bridgette, who's side are you on here anyways?"

"The People's, Your Majesty, the Constitution's."

Both women look at each other with unmoving looks as the door to the Empress' study opened slightly and Frederich Kant walked in, though as soon as he made it through the door and saw who he was interrupting, he regretted that Valerio had ever arrived. "Oh, I hope I'm not interrupting ladies."

"Nothing." Maria spat.

"Not a thing." Bridgette growled.

"Ah, well, good, because His Highness, the Emperor of Athens will be arriving at the airport in a few minutes and I've prepared a limousine to take you to meet him at your previous request. Shall I make room for Chancellor Saenger?"

Bridgette looked up and smiled devilishly at the Foreign Minister. "No, I don't think that will be necessary. I have other things that require my attention."

"No Bridgette, I insist, at least come along for the ride."

---

When Valerio would arrive at the airport in Vienna, he would be received by the Imperial Honor Guard albeit without the pageantry of his usual visits. The protesters, who Bridgette had alerted the night before of the Emperor's arrival were outside of the airport complex on penalty of imprisonment. Austria's diplomatic integrity with it's most powerful neighbor was at stake here and Maria was not about to let Bridgette ruin her relationship with Valerio if she could help it. However on the outside of the airport, the crowds had gathered in force displaying slogans such as 'Romance does not equal Political Union!', 'Respect Our Sovereignty!', 'Austria! First Slave of the Mediterranean!', and 'Pax Athene!'. In truth, Valerio was not hated by either the greater Austrian Population or Bridgette herself, but the behavior of Empress Ariadne was not lost on Athens' northern neighbor, the young Italian Emperor only had the misfortune of serving as Bridgette's scapegoat against the Eastern Empress.

Stepping off the plane, Valerio would be greeted by Maria at the end of the honor guard's line. However, on the walk down from the plane, if he chose to look up at the windows of the terminal, there would be another figure looking down at him. The Chancellor's thin smile could just slightly be seen from the distance of the runway as she stood judgmentally with her hands clasped behind her back. Maria had obviously made her move, international aid along with the maintaining of bases around the world. It sounded like a Louisianan modus operandi and was as clear as day that the Throne had no intention of respecting the wishes of Parliament. But Bridgette had made her own moves and the small protest outside the airport was nothing. In her right hand she held a small piece of paper, a threat from Sergej Volkar that promised the Chancellor that he would destroy everything she and Empress Maria had worked for and Slovenia would have independence.

But if Bridgette played her cards right then it would push Sergej's independence movement directly against Maria's rule and then when the two sides were nicely battered, it would be her turn. She bowed her head to the Empress and Emperor from the window and waved her fingers. "God save Athens."

Meanwhile, on the tarmac itself, Maria returned to her bubbly self as she wrapped her hands around the Italian, leading him towards the limousine. "You'll have to forgive me, Valerio, the entire country is in a state of confusion. I even thought of telling you not to come, but I need someone for comfort, Theresia's wedding is in a few days and Angelika, I haven't seen her for a week. These palaces get lonely when there's no one to talk to and when you look out onto the streets the people speak nothing except the desire to see all of your reforms taken back. The Empire was on the verge of coming back, domination throughout North America and then she had to go screw it all up." The Empress sighed, "I should have known, the Conservatives are all traditionalists and federalists, they want to bring back a past that hasn't existed for years. Republicanism," she shook her head, "An absolute waste."

Pulling him into the limousine, however, her mood brightened again. "But now that you're here, my mood will be so much better. We can deal with this unrest together." But as she turned on the television inside the limousine, Maria's face went white, a reporter was on the streets of Ljubljana where an open protest for Slovenian independence was taking place. A moment later the phone in the car rang, but she never answered it, already knowing what it was about.

Maria clenched her fist on Valerio's own hand. "No...they will not destroy this empire. So help me God."

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[quote][center][b][i]Economist Special Report on the Southern United Federation of the East:[/i] August Imperator Jia has Declared Personal Rule over Malaysia[/b][/center]

In a move widely hailed by the political elite as both bold and the possible first step in permanent imperial rule, August Imperator Jia declared Malaysia to be a direct Imperium. Rather than appoint a first minister and govern it through the bureaucracy, the Imperator has admitted it into the Federation under his direct rule. He has appointed the People's Liberation Army's Major General Ren Sazami to rule as his regent. In a statement Jia said:

"Under previous arrangements Malaysia has been a source of political instability and economic backwardsness compared to the rest of the Federation. Under the leadership of our People's Liberation Army and my office we will break the back of reactionary elements and bring about comparable development to its neighbors."

Thus far response has been muted with some limited demonstrations in Kuala Lumpur particularly from religious leaders. Among the recent controversies was the Imperator's outright ban on the more radical elements of islam introduced by Arabians at the end of the 20th Century. Further the Imperator has actively subsidized the widely considered more moderate islamic schools that were in the province historically. This is viewed as an act of religious discrimination by some, something the UFE has done less of in recent years. However, it is important to note it is also in response to previous terrorist acts within Malaysia. This newspaper will be especially interested in how this effects the underlying resentment of ethnic Chinese in the area that have for centuries been wealthier than their Islamic counterparts controlling the powerful silk trade.

This new governance model is unique in the Federation and could represent a major shift, the next province of note are the areas of Southern Thailand which have officially joined the Thailand Dominion but still have PLA troops governing them almost a month after re-annexation.[/quote]

Kang put the news magazine down looking out the window as his plane descended into the poppy groves below. It would be rare to see a man of his stature in such a junky aircraft, but he'd rather not be tracked to one of his Green Gang bases of operations. Billions in drug money had been used to construct a secondary research facility here deep underground which paralleled the official research done by his legitimate business Triyunican Heavy Industries.

Muscular men dressed in plain clothes and bandanas were brandishing fully automatic weapons as they escorted Kang to the entrance of the cave. He was met by a scientist there, "How are things progressing?" Kang asked.

"The design you gave us... its incredible!" he said. "How did you, its at least forty years ahead of its time."

Kang gave him a cold look turning the scientists face white. "Yes of course." the scientist replied meekily. As they entered into a large subterranean warehouse, their faces were illuminated by the azure light in front of them. The cackles of electricity rang out through the room only interrupted by the sound of mechanical legs marching in unison.

Edited by Triyun
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A few days had passed since Giullia had arrived at Trento, the package prepared had included clothing, money and a series of orders with different dates, most of them were in the future however one was due tomorrow. The last few days she had been polling the area and distributed leaflets directly opposing Imperial rule and calling for a different Austria where the will of the people was heard. While her name was nowhere on the leaflets she would make sure her style would identify her to resistance groups in the area, specifically those who would now be linked to the greater movement in Vienna. With local groups knowing about the author it would most likely be known to the key people too, however being known by resistance didn’t mean you would get into the actual movements. To do this she would need the contents of the package. The order that was dated for tomorrow would be about 10,000 Thracians moving towards the Austrian-Athenian border.

“My god, they actually are setting up military movements for an intel gathering operation” She said to herself while reading through the file. Wearing dark clothes, sunglasses and a cloak to make it impossible to identify her. Dressed like this she walked out with the files under her cloak. After walking for what seemed hours she stopped at a door in an alley. “This better still work” she thought, the same place had been used by the movements previously mentioned, it was her hope that the contact had not been arrested or anything like that. She would knock 5 times before keeping a short pause of 5 seconds and then knocking twice again. After about a minute the door opened.

“Who are you and what do you want?” A man behind the door asked.

“Alonso you fool, don’t you recognize your former boss when you see her?” She asked before taking off the hood and sunglasses.

“Giullia! Where have you been?” Alonso said before pulling her in and locking the door again, the place was still the same as before featuring several flags and several folders.

“Long story my friend, let’s just say that the Feds were catching onto me and Antarctica didn’t feel all that tempting. I’m back though and I have something your new bosses will like”

Alonso nodded “What bosses?”

“Don’t lie to me, I know you’re involved with the conservatives. Here are some fresh orders from Rome, don’t ask me how I got them. I’d have to kill you, anyway Rome is putting a division of Thracians at the border tomorrow and I want this to damage both Rome and Vienna. I’m back Alonso and this time there is no intelligence agency scaring me into hiding”

Giullia put the orders on the table and attached a note to them.

[quote]To whomever it may concern,

This information comes directly from sources within the command structure of the Athenian Federation and there is more. I would be happy to discuss a more specific cooperation. Send an envoy to the south side of the Piazza Duomo, Trento. Next Friday 3 pm. I will be reading the Thursday edition of the Athens Times, don’t be late.[/quote]

“It makes me happy to hear that Giullia, I will do my best to get this up the chain.”

“Good, now Alonso I need to get back to handle some other things, it was good to see you.”

As fast as she appeared she would leave the place again heading back to her hotel while making sure no one identified her.

---

Seeing Maria again made a good day even better, while he would have loved to show his affection right there he knew it would probably not be the best course of action right now.

“It is great to see you again Maria, I have missed your presence”

Valerio would follow Maria and the others to the car, he could hear the protesters however by now he had grown immune to assemblies against him. “Ignorant fools” He said to himself. From a distance he could also identify Bridgette who before a few weeks ago had never been high on the radar.

[i]"God save Athens."[/i]

Valerio would wave slightly at the Chancellor while in the back of his head fully realizing that neither he nor Bridgette were sincere.

[i] "You'll have to forgive me, Valerio, the entire country is in a state of confusion. I even thought of telling you not to come, but I need someone for comfort, Theresia's wedding is in a few days and Angelika, I haven't seen her for a week. These palaces get lonely when there's no one to talk to and when you look out onto the streets the people speak nothing except the desire to see all of your reforms taken back. The Empire was on the verge of coming back, domination throughout North America and then she had to go screw it all up."[/i]

Valerio put his arm around her while continuing to walk. “Don’t worry Maria, I came here fully understanding the situation and I don’t plan on leaving because of them. I will also be here for you the entire time. And finally the Empire will be back. They won’t win Maria, you’ve dealt with bigger threats than some insignificant old men and an overambitious chancellor. “

As he was pulled into the car and saw the television broadcast he fully realized there wouldn’t be much fun on this specific visit.

[i] "No...they will not destroy this empire. So help me God."[/i]

Valerio turned off the television and turned to Maria.

“No they will not, I promise you Maria I will be here to help you at every step and I promise you the Federation is. If you need specific help, and I mean any help at all I will make sure it happens” He said before giving her a kiss. “We will do this together and when it’s all finished we will be enjoying the French countryside”

Edited by Centurius
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By the evening the protests occurring in Ljubljana and Koper had not stopped, they hadn't even diminished slightly, in fact the protest had only grew as more Slovenes joined the crowd. Maria sat along with Valerio, General von Hess and his commanders, and a few nobles from the Imperial Council. She had specifically barred Bridgette from coming to the meeting deciding to deal with the Chancellor later. The relations between the two women had reached a breaking point and Maria was sure or at least thought that everything wrong occurring in the Empire was the Chancellor's fault, she had already begun to contemplate how to remove Bridgette and all reactionary Parliamentarians from power. It was shaky ground, flirting with absolutism, but allowing the unrest to prevail could create an atmosphere for revolution and she could end up losing everything for her country.

While everyone else watched the reports on the protests with intensity, Maria had withdrawn to the window looking out over her gardens. She could hear the reporter's voice from across the room. The sounds of chanting for Slovene Independence and the end of Austrian Oppression and it nearly brought tears to her eyes.

"Your Majesty," A quiet voice spoke up near her. Kant had gotten up from the news program, bringing Valerio with him, and walked to the Empress' side. "I don't mean to disturb you, but if watching these reports are causing you too much grief, the lot of us would be happy to go to another room to plan what we're going to do about this."

Maria shook her head and turned back towards the television. "No, it's not that Frederich, its just what I'm contemplating inside, scares me deep down."

"What would that be, Your Highness?"

"To disband this Parliament and take democracy back into Imperial Hands. It's fairly clear that so long as Bridgette Saenger is in charge of any Parliamentarian Majority, there will not be any cooperation between the Throne and the 'Voice of the People'."

Kant chuckled, "I hardly believe Chancellor Saenger is the voice of any person in Austria, she's just louder than most and that helps her." Then his voice became more serious. "Can you even disband Parliament? I'm not even sure that is in the Constitution."

"You're right, it's not, but I believe the Imperial faction, the Liberals, ironic as that sounds, still hold a majority in the country. We need to act soon so that those still loyal to the Throne and the hopes of a stronger Austria tomorrow are not lost to the Chancellor's side. Because I really do think, if Bridgette manages to get a majority of followers in the general population or even a fair amount of nobles on her side, then we'll have no choice but to submit to her reforms. She would be in charge of this country, not me, and I can't let that happen. The Hapsburgs are the rightful rulers of Austria, not as Valerio said, some overambitious chancellor who has power on the brain."

Then the television sparked and brightened as the generals and other ministers sitting in front of the screen leaned back in horror and fear. The reporter's screams blazed out of the sound box as she and the many other people on the screen began to run in fear across the streets of Ljubljana. When police forces, with support from the Imperial Army, had arrived on the scene and began to break up the protesters, a shot had rung out from the crowd. It was impossible to tell whether it had been a protester or a soldier who had fired the first shot, but where one shot was heard perhaps ten, then twenty, then thirty followed it. When the smoke cleared the protest had become a rout of citizens heading to wherever they could take cover. Others who had come with pistols and semi-automatic rifles fired back into the line of police and soldiers, only to be quickly mowed down themselves. The police and military had begun with non-lethal weapons, but when their own ranks had begun to drop by the sudden firepower of their attackers, what had started out as a protest quickly became a massacre and Austria's dedication to hold Slovenia within the Empire at whatever the cost.

Maria began to shake as she held her hand over her mouth and fell back into a chair near the television. Everyone gathered around her, massaging her hands, whispering reliefs into her ear and trying to console her as best as they could. Finally she pounded her fists against the arms of the chair and began to shake with rage.

"She's done. I want martial law declared across the country, these protests are going to stop, we're done playing games."

"Your Majesty, perhaps," Kant began trying to smooth over the tension in the room.

"No Frederich, when people die, action has to be taken. General von Hess?"

"Majesty?" The General said rising to his feet.

"I want you to mobilize the Imperial Guard and a few brigades of the army, these protests are to be stopped immediately and any problems can be directly addressed to Parliament and the Imperial Council."

"Of course, Your Highness, I wi-"

"I'm not finished." Maria said, taking Valerio's hand and closing her eyes as she sighed. "Bridgette Saenger is to found and placed under arrest for conspiracy against the crown. We'll see how her Reactionaries and Conservatives fare when they find their beloved Chancellor is nothing more than a traitor to the state."

"We have evidence of that Your Highness?" Said Kant nervously.

"Look at the television! Look at the people laying dead there! That's all the proof you need! Now find her and arrest her for God's sake."

Every man and woman stood up around the Empress, bowed their heads and began to scatter to complete their assigned tasks. Von Hess took Skimmel, the Colonel from North America to the side as well, well out of supposed ear shot of everyone else in the room as he whispered specific orders. "I want you to find Bridgette, you and a few Imperial Guards, then once you find her apprehend her and I want you to kill her, is that understood?"

"Kill her, General? Are you sure? I mean, I'd be delighted, but are you sure?"

"Quite sure, if you can, make her fight back and then we can say we were forced to kill her. But kill her nevertheless."

"Very good General."

And within moments military brigades began to pour out of barracks in cites across the Empire. Protests were quelled with surprisingly few, if any, casualties. While Colonel Skimmel and his men raided the Bundeskanzleramt looking for Bridgette, but when they found she wasn't there the greater search began to apprehend the Chancellor and bring her to justice.

---

As chaos was breaking out all over the Empire, Bridgette was in Trieste, standing at the harbor at four in the morning waiting like someone out of an old romance movie for her ship to come in. The harbor master was lucky someone who agreed with her politics and he was able to pay off the authorities to allow a ship come in with few checks While the whole business was shady, Bridgette had paid the harbor master fairly well to allow her deal to go on. People were always ready to make a quick buck, even if it was the buck that would spearhead Austria into a full-fledged revolution.

Fog was rising around her as the bells of ships rang in the early morning air. A few ragged men in overalls and caps walked past her, eying the well dressed woman in the trench-coat with some suspicion. Perhaps they would have even made a move on her, taken her back into the crates across the way, but she wore her pistol on her side and she could easily take down two and injure a third before they could get anywhere with the woman. In addition, the closer the sailors got, they realized just who they had been staring at. Everyone of them took of his cap and bowed in kindness.

"Good morning Chancellor."

She simply nodded and continued waiting for the [i]Spirit of Malacca[/i] to arrive and when the rusty barge finally sailed into the harbor of Trieste, Bridgette waited at the end of the gangway for the man she was supposed to meet. Finally a silhouetted figure began to walk down towards the dock and Bridgette pushed her hair back around her shoulder and smiled. Her teeth sparkling in the morning mist.

"I assume you are the associate of Mr. Kang? My name is Bridgette Saenger, it's a pleasure."

---

A few days later however, on the south side of the Piazza Duomo in Trent, Phillipp Bohm, smiled as he approached the young woman sitting on the bench outside the building, reading the Athens times. "You know, for someone who is supposed to be working against Athens and Vienna. You don't see like the type." He said and sat down next to the woman. "I understand you have information. We desperately need it now."

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Another man came out of the freighter. He was wearing a military issue trench coat reminiscent of the red army. Though European he looked distinctly from the East. His head was completely hairless save for a light brown mustache and goatee. He had a oddly shaped tattoo on his forehead.

"Good morning Miss Saenger. I am for now, not at liberty to disclose who I am, for now you may refer to me as Dr. Y." he said speaking in german with a distinct Ukrainian accent, stepping forward from the fog revealing an odd metalic device on the back of his head seemingly surgically implanted. Despite his frightening Frankensteinian appearance, the man was much more polite than Kang, "It is always good to see one of your kin, I am an old family friend. Marshall Kang and I have a business arrangement, as part of that I am to help you."

Behind him men in plain clothes were watching the port. A mix of eastern European and Asians, they were all obviously in very good shape. No weapons were obviously present on the ship in a civilian port, but by their demeanor it would be easy to see these were well trained look outs. Their eyes were vigilant, knowing in major ports as this one there was no telling who was watching. Proper security measures had to be taken, if the Austrians weren't tracking this ship, the UFE definitely soon would be if not already. Although it was not shown to Bridgette, below deck a high frequency sensor was operating which could detect the feint noise of UFE and Athenians surveillance drones that were close enough to bring actual visual information and facial recognition technology. Additionally men had been placed on a whole variety of buildings to spot those that may be observing. In many cases Yuri's men were the men who had trained some of the current world class teams in the field today but had gone over to the dark side for upper six figure incomes. They would be able to ring the alarm bells.

Dr. Y, motioned to the Chancellor, "Let us go below deck." he said. Below deck, many large containers were being loaded onto large freight trucks. "We have already begun offloading, obviously we will not be traveling in convoys but rather over time. These devices Chancellor can be assembled with our help from your men."

"Within a month, you will have a metal army to guards the mountain gates of Austria and beyond unlike any other in the world. I look forward to serving you and seeing it put into action!"

================================================

Ryu found himself wondering into the hall of Zhongnanhai for the first time. He could not help but notice the heavy guards all around him. It seemed that his reputation had come with a cost to his personal freedom. The master of the ancient ninjutsu arts had found himself surveilled by the Chinese since the first amphibious assault tank drove onto the streets of Tokyo from Yokohoma bay. Now he had been brought with the leaving army to Beijing.

As he went around the corner he found Jia waiting in a chair. "Mr. Hayabusa." he said rising from his seat. "I am August Imperator Jia, Supreme Leader of the United Federation of the East." he said getting up to shake the Ninja's hand. Several of the Imperial guard moved to raise their rifles at Ryu's head, worried that even through a simple hand shake the assassin could bring down their leader.

Jia chuckled, "Stand down." he said as Ryu met Jia's hand shake. "I myself have been out of the field for long enough it seems that even my own guards have little confidence in my abilities." Jia said self deprecatingly.

"I don't have to bow or anything, say your highness?" Ryu asked.

"I should hope not, I fancy myself more as the first citizen rather than as one whose birthright is above my people." Jia replied casually. "I was not born into nobility. I'd rather we discuss things like normal men having a beer."

Ryu nodded, "Fair enough, what are we discussing then?" he asked.

An aide brought two pints of ale for the men. "I understand you were hired by the Green Gang at one point." Jia said picking his up and taking a sip. "I would like to know more about them myself, and need someone to gather evidence for me."

Enjoying his own pint Ryu nodded, "Heh, ninja client confidentiality and all that."

Jia laughed, "You'll find that those particular payments ultimately come back to me. You are a man of honor, I know your traditions, you would prefer to be serving a lord rather than a criminal syndicate. I am offering you that. I will get right down to it: I am offering you the position within the Imperial Guard of the 'Left Hand of the Imperator'. You will be tasked with protecting my people, my family, and myself from the shadows. You will be a blade with a purpose."

Ryu pondered the offer for a moment before responding, "And you'll just trust me?" he asked.

"Do either of us have a reason to lie." Jia said.

Ryu shrugged, "I guess not, alright. So gather intelligence on the Green Gang it is."

Jia smiled, "Excellent."

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Valerio had remained an observer for most of the evening, he had maintained contact with Athens however. The situation caused as much concern there as it did here. At one point he could even hear honest concern for the faith of the throne in Ariadne’s voice, something which considering Greco-Austrian relations was quite noteworthy.

Valerio couldn’t understand the conversation between Von Hess and Skimmel however he could see it was serious. After a bit of hesitation he took Maria to the side.

“Listen Maria, I fully understand if there are some orders you do not want to issue, if you want to I will have forces deployed here to execute those orders for you”

He looked at the television again that showed how far the situation had devolved. “And if it becomes too risky here for you to stay you and your staff are welcome in the embassy”

---

While less chaotic than Vienna the palace in Athens had its share of chaos too, numerous conflicting reports were flowing in and after the 60th briefing from her advisors Ariadne was slowly getting enough of them. Just when she got out of another meeting a tall figure was standing at the window of her office. As she walked in she noticed him, his grayish beard and the uniform that belonged to a state long dead, run by a family out of grace for decades.

“Director. What brings you here? I thought the CSS advisor already briefed me on everything.”

Arcturus turned around revealing the front of his armor and the details on the sword.

“My apologies for bothering you your highness, however with the Western Emperor abroad I do believe command over the Third Army is transferred to you”

Ariadne walked towards the side of the office and filled a glass with bourbon.

“Correct, how so?” She asked before taking a sip.

“As you must know we have an agent attempting to infiltrate the Austrian movement, part of her operation is to share real combat plans and military movements that were set up. Another one is due the day after tomorrow and I would like it being executed.”

By now Ariadne had sat down at her desk.

“What order specifically?”

“The mobilization of the Third Army, the placing of the North Italian airbases to high alert and increased regulations at the strait of Otranto. “

Ariadne sighed, she didn’t like issuing orders simply to get one person in a position of influence however the intelligence directors probably knew what they were doing.

“Very well, I shall issue the orders the day after tomorrow, is there anything else?”

“No thank you, your highness.”

As suddenly and shadowy as he had appeared he would disappear again.

---

Giullia had taken the scenic route to the piazza avoiding any suspicion, like any good resistance fighter would do, considering the weather she couldn’t cover herself as much as she’d want too however she still made sure people wouldn’t be able to see her eyes. After walking around for 2 hours she took a seat at one of the benches. After looking up at the sky she looked at her watch and took the Athens Times, on the front-page would be an in depth article on the crisis developing in Austria.

[i] "You know, for someone who is supposed to be working against Athens and Vienna. You don't see like the type."[/i]

“Well sir, I like to think that the best surprises come from completely unexpected angles. Giullia Ferrari” she said extending a hand.

[i] "I understand you have information. We desperately need it now."[/i]

Giullia nodded and took a folder from the center of the newspaper. The words μυστικό – Segreto(OOC: Secret) on the cover.

“A small show of what I can give you, I have fought against regimes for 10 years, my first time in a prison was at the age of 15. In the meantime I have also met some good contacts, most made it to command positions within the Hellenic Forces and other important entities in both countries. I am willing to help you with this knowledge but I fear me simply handing over folders wont be enough. You need to know these people to beat them”

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Though she was put off by Dr. Y's physical complexion, he was the first foreign help who seemed to treat Bridgette as an actual person and not a potential pawn in their schemes. She had almost not come to Trieste at all because she figured that any sent by Kang would just be as miserable as the man himself. Dr. Y proved to be much more charming, despite him being especially hideous, it probably went along the lines of being a mad scientist in the first place. She followed him into the ship, through the metal corridors that blasted off steam and the stench of diesel fuel permeated throughout the vessel. The pathways were dark with a few orange lights helping the Doctor lead Bridgette towards one of the large rooms in the hall of the ship and when they arrived, Bridgette was shocked to see countless crates off all shapes and sizes being carted off the ship with trucks. Dr. Y seemed extremely proud of everything in front of them, saying that they were a metal army that would be at Bridgette's command whenever they were ready. Her eyes widened at the idea, such things were only possible in the fantasy world and yet she was being offered technology that she didn't even believe in.

"I guess I've misjudged Marshal Kang then, though given just how pleasant he was with me," she said sarcastically, "I wasn't expecting all of this." Bridgette walked over to one of the crates and laid her hand onto of the box. "Metal soldiers you say? In a month? That gives us plenty of time to get everything in or-" The sounds of Mozart's 40th Symphony interrupted the conversation as Bridgette shook her head and fumbled around in her pockets finally pulling out her cell phone. "I'm sorry, Doctor, I need to take this."

She walked a few feet away from the Doctor and flipped open the phone. "What is it Sebastian, I'm meeting with someone very important...All right, well if it can't wait, what's going on?...In Slovenia? A riot?...No, no I didn't expect that...Well surely they wouldn't...really?...What?...The Hell, is that true?...And they're coming after me?...Okay, alright, thank you for letting me know...Yes, we'll just have to lay low for a bit...Of course, when the time comes, Austria will be rocked like never before...Yes, alright, good night Sebastian."

Clicking the phone shut, Bridgette stood silent for a moment and gave a heavy sigh before turning back towards Dr. Y with a smile on her face. "It appears that the clock's been pushed a few hours ahead. The Throne is placing Parliament in lock down for a few days and I am under arrest for conspiracy against the Imperial Family." She rubbed her eyes and took a deep breath of the early morning air coming through the passage of the ship where the trucks were exiting. "Right now we're lucky. My Slovene friends, if you could call them such, have decided to take matters into their own hands and begin the rebellion early. Which is fine, it saves me from having to dispose of them later. But they've put the whole of Austria on high alert now and it might be a tad bit harder to move things around the country."

Bridgette stepped forward and tapped her fingers against her cheek. There was no going back now. She was a criminal and an open rebellion against Maria's rule was occurring in the south, in addition Parliament had been suspended and she was sure that reactionary minded people had been pushed to the breaking point. Now was the chance to strike, when the lines were clearly divided in who supported the Empress and who supported Bridgette's own rise to power. The Chancellor clasped her hands behind her back and exhaled, the cool air smoking up from her mouth towards the foggy sky. "That's what it's about isn't it? Power. Power to make your dreams a realization. Well you were right, Uncle, Democracy is just another name for a Dictatorship, everyone eventually turns to one person to make their desires come true. We lucky few just get that opportunity to change everything ourselves." She turned back around to Dr. Y and nodded, blushing slightly.

"Forgive me, I get carried away in my thoughts sometimes." Then turning around and looking at the lines of trucks spilling off into the countryside, she nodded. "There is a small village probably fifty miles west of Graz called St. Andra. For our purposes, the city is fairly loyal to me, much like the rest of Western Austria. Since you know my kin, if you studied the Austrian Civil War, it was the region that most opposed to the Monarchy. The problem with so many of my family though, Dr. Y, is that they fell in love with that crazy ideology of Martenicism, runes, and all that waste. I give Maria a lot of credit, her rule is a hell of a lot better than the Goths. Nevertheless, send your convoys to St. Andra and you can begin construction there. I don't know how much time you'll have before the first spark ignites, but we should have a few weeks at least."

Touching her forehead in salute, the Chancellor bowed to the Doctor. "But if you'll excuse me now Dr. Y, I'm sure you have a lot of work to get done here and I need to head north myself. Now that I'm a wanted fugitive I have to get word out to my colleagues. We're at the dawn of a new age Doctor and I want the transition to go as smooth as possible. In a month there will be a new flag flying over Vienna and from there? Well, I dislike drawing limits."

Bridgette stepped down the gangway of the vessel and back onto the dock where her car was waiting for her. Getting in the car screeched forward and took off towards the north just as the sun was beginning to pierce through the clouds in the east. With any luck she would be in St. Andra within six hours and could begin preparations for her own revolt when the time came, hopefully having given Dr. Y enough time to get these metal soldiers he spoke of, up and running. In the back of her mind she didn't believe it was true, but if it was, Maria and the rest of the world were both in for a rude awakening at what would become Austria's new power.

The Chancellor chuckled to herself as her eyes began to shut. She was bred for this kind of life.

---

"Phillipp Bohm, Signora Ferrari, it's a pleasure." The young man smiled as he extended his hand and sat down on the bench next to her.

[i]“A small show of what I can give you, I have fought against regimes for 10 years, my first time in a prison was at the age of 15. In the meantime I have also met some good contacts, most made it to command positions within the Hellenic Forces and other important entities in both countries. I am willing to help you with this knowledge but I fear me simply handing over folders wont be enough. You need to know these people to beat them”[/i]

Phillipp chuckled and hung his head back carelessly. "Listen, I don't need your credentials. People that tell me their entire life story. Well, it gets rather boring after awhile. Glad to know though that you're not some girl that just got a lucky break on some findings." He shrugged, "At the same time, it's a bit nerve racking to be in the midst of a professional. That all said, if folders and information aren't enough, you mind leading me in the right direction to make contact with your men in the field. Things are getting worse in Vienna and all over the country, from what I hear, there's going to be a revolt any day now. The powers that be would like to have outside information before, not after."

He smiled and turned to her. "And perhaps after we do that, perhaps the Signora would be kind enough to let me buy her a dinner?"

---

Meanwhile Maria was having her own doubts. Everyone had left the conference room, aside from Valerio and she was shaking in his arms. "No," she said to his last comment. "I can't allow Athens to do my work. Bringing in foreign soldiers would only boost Bridgette's ranks, it would show everyone in Austria that she was right and I can't let them think that. Also," she stood up from his grasp. "I will not leave my city, I would rather die than give up Austria to that woman. It's either me or her."

The door opened again as Von Hess returned and bowed. "Majesties. The army has been deployed to the south, operations should begin within the hour."

"Any sign of Bridgette?"

"None your Majesty, but the borders are closed and we have investigators in nearly every city in the Empire. We'll find her. She can't hide forever."

"Find her Maximilian, find her and bring her to me. The faster that we remove Bridgette Saenger from the world, the faster we can put all this behind us."

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[i] "At the same time, it's a bit nerve racking to be in the midst of a professional. That all said, if folders and information aren't enough, you mind leading me in the right direction to make contact with your men in the field. Things are getting worse in Vienna and all over the country, from what I hear, there's going to be a revolt any day now. The powers that be would like to have outside information before, not after."[/i]

Giullia passed on the folder she had been holding for a while. “They’re going to be mobilizing the 200,000 men Third Army and preparing aircraft tomorrow. The current rumor within Imperial Command is that a preemptive strike is going to happen if the Empress is removed. I can help you with other things than just information. I have the ears of North Italian resistance movements. I could set up something to keep Athens and Rome occupied while you do what you need to do.”

She looked around to be sure there still wasn’t anyone listening to what they were talking about.

“That said, I need some guarantees. Most of the men I know wouldn’t trust an Austrian for a bit and are afraid you would attack them in their back so they condone the Greek occupation of Italy. “

[i]"And perhaps after we do that, perhaps the Signora would be kind enough to let me buy her a dinner?"[/i]

"A very tempting invitation, one I can not refuse."

---

[b]Aviano Airbase, Italy[/b]

While the situation in Austria wasn’t critical just yet there were many concerns among Imperial Command about the security of the Emperor. To make sure he could be evacuated securely preparations had to be made. The 25th Sino Squadron was put on stand-by with the 26th serving as back-up should the former enter combat. In addition 6 Razor gunships and 4 Hermes transport helicopters were also moved to stand-by. Should it prove needed the force could quite effectively reach the Athenian Embassy in Vienna and evacuate it in full. Lower embassy personnel was already advised to head back to the Federation or another allied country before the situation in Austria deteriorated further. In general all Athenian citizens in Austrian lands were advised to head home and a negative travel advisory was issued by the Magistrate of Foreign Affairs.

---

[b]Embassy of the Athenian Federation, Vienna[/b]

While preparations in Aviano were made they wouldn’t be effective without similar ones on the actual embassy. The 50 Imperial Guard attached to the embassy had moved to high alert and were fortifying the embassy grounds. 3 XM1206s and 4 XM1202s were taken out of storage and placed near the gates for quick use if the Emperor had to be retrieved. While no one wanted a fight the Imperial Guard was fully prepared to fight to the death for their monarch.

---

[i] "I will not leave my city, I would rather die than give up Austria to that woman. It's either me or her."[/i]

Valerio nodded “I fully understand what you mean and in that case I will stay here to see it through with you”

Valerio looked at the screen, the situation wasn’t getting any better and it could only get worse. He sighed as he looked around the room.

Edited by Centurius
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Y grabbed the cell phone from Bridgette's hand and handed it to one of his henchmen. "This." he said simply, "is your radio collar." he warned sternly. "All cell phones operate on among the least secure electromagnetic wave lengths, and have satellite locators. This means that most major intelligence agencies can track you." He barked some orders in Chinese and the man nodded an headed off with it by motorcycle away from them.

He handed her a rather bulky box. "You plug this into any phone line, and it will be able to transmit securely so long as the other line is secure. It has my number plugged in. This system is not dissimilar to what most world leaders use to authorize a nuclear launch. You are on the run now, most civilian technology is your enemy."

He motioned to several tall men behind him, they were all blonde haired and had crew cuts. "These are former Crimean Spetsnaz." Y said. "They do not leave your side. You sleep, they are there. You even shower they or relieve yourself they are there. They do this because it is their job to accomplish their mission, it is now to protect you. Maria von Hapsburg may appear an innocent, and she could well be, but her allies are anything but."

"I will send word when we are ready. In the mean time, do politics as you know them, and leave security to the men who know that. If you do this, you will remain alive. Farewell." he said.

Walking away he left her with the new security detail. If it was possible to clone an army of Dolph Lundgren, Dr. Y clearly had found a way. They remained silent at attention, "Madame Chancellor, inform us when you are ready to move out." one said.

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Riding north, Bridgette sat with her hands delicately placed in her lap, eying the two guards in front of her curiously. Two sat in the town car with her, while the other contingent of eight followed behind in a green truck. They didn't move, just simply sat with their sub-machine guns at their sides, looking over the Chancellor's shoulder at any potential danger that might rise up from the road. The words that Dr. Y had said to Bridgette stuck with her as they winded across country roads towards St. Andra. She had never thought of actually being on the run, or being treated as a wanted criminal. In the books she read as a child, those types were always heroic, easily outsmarting the stronger villains of the stories, but they were romantic and survived on their wits. Bridgette on the other hand had ten steroid induced guards and an electric call box to keep her from being found or hurt. Realism was too gritty for her taste, but the Doctor had given her a much needed wake up call. Revolution and warfare was not just about standing up and making speeches, blood was going to be spilled very soon and she had to be ready to clean up the mess she was going to make. More so, she had to be alive to clean up the mess in the first place.

"You two don't talk much do you?" Bridgette finally said as she pulled herself out of her thoughts.

"Is there something you need, Madame Chancellor?" Said the guard seated on the right.

"Well your names would be helpful. After all, if you're going to be standing in my bathroom while I'm bathing. You guys should consider yourself lucky, if the situation wasn't so grievous, this would never happen. When I was younger, it took a year before I let my boyfriend to shower with me. I'm very self-conscientious."

"We would not ever think of violating your private space, Madame Chancellor, but we must protect you at all costs. That said," began the guard on the right. "I am Alek and my partner is Valentin."

"Nice to meet you both." She nodded, "Though if you don't mind me asking, you are protecting me at all costs, because your employer is paying you and the man who is paying him, I think hates me. So why the fervor to protect someone who doesn't mean all that much to your employer's balance in the world."

"We do not ask questions, Madame Chancellor," said Alek, "We are paid and things are what they are. It isn't our job or our care to ask questions or get involved with the larger political atmosphere that you are involved in. Your safety is our only concern."

"Of course, well I don't think we'll have all that much to worry abo-" A sudden jar of the town car pushed her forward into the chest and arms of Alek, who wrapped her tight in his hands as he kicked open the door of the car. Bridgette was barely able to tell what was going on before the sounds of gunfire screamed through the air. The convoy had been ambushed along a ride between a sloping hill leading into a forest and a ravine that lead into a small creek bed. Colonel Skimmel who, since his meeting with Von Hess, had been storming the countryside for Bridgette. Coincidentally, it was her cell phone call that had given her position away. He had dispatched guards to Trieste, but they would find no evidence of Dr. Y ever having been there. However, on the road to St. Andra he had caught the Conservative singing bird and as the General had instructed would kill her in one fell swoop.

The Chancellor on the other hand, felt her body swung around in the massive arms of Alek as she was thrown on the other side of the town car. She watched in confusion as her guards jumped out in force from the truck and poured a steady stream of fire into the Imperial Soldiers hiding in the ravine. Peering up from behind the car, Bridgette felt a stream of bullets pass over her head as Valentin pushed her head back down into the gravel. "Stay down!"

"Valentin!" Alek called over from behind the truck. "Get the Chancellor out of here! Get her to safety! Now!"

"Da Alek!" He nodded and Bridgette felt thick arms surround her body again as she was picked up and carried up towards the woods away from the crossfire.

"No!" She screamed as the low hanging branches ripped at her coat and face. "Where are you taking me? Put me down!"

"No, Madame Chancellor, we have to get you to saf-" Suddenly she heard Valentin groan as he lunged forward dropping Bridgette out of his arms. The Chancellor hit the ground and rolled over herself, stopping as she dragged her body against the dirt, landing a few feet from Valentin's aching body. His left hand covered his chest, where he was holding back a bullet wound.

"What? Where?" Bridgette sat up in fear and listened as a twig snapping echoed through her ear.

"I'm afraid this is the end of the life for you, Chancellor Saenger. " Colonel Skimmel said as he stepped out behind one of the trees. "I've been pursuing you since Trieste. You aren't making it to wherever you were heading. The train stops here."

"You're going to arrest me?" Bridgette said pushing herself off the ground.

"No, I'm under orders to shoot you dead. Without you, this revolutionary talk will stop, and Austria can return to it's path of reshaping the empire." Skimmel shook his head. "You were never after freedom or democracy anyways, I can tell by your speeches, you want Austria for yourself."

"Isn't that the same thing that Empress Maria has, she wants Austria all to herself, without Parliament?"

"Of course it is," Skimmel smiled, "But there's something called loyalty, which you obviously don't have."

A shot rang out and Bridgette closed her eyes, dropping to the ground. But after a second having felt no pain, she opened her eyes again to watch Skimmel sink to the ground. Behind her, Valentin had reached for his pistol before collapsing to the ground himself. Seconds later, Alek and five of the other guards joined them at the top of the hill. Placing his hand on Valentin's neck, Alek sighed and looked up at Bridgette, shaking his head.

"Oh, Alek, I'm sorry." She said, getting to her feet, brushing off the dirt and leaves as she walked over to them.

"Don't be, Valentin died completing his mission, like we all would have. Your safety is our highest priority. The car and truck are both damaged beyond repair, but St. Andra is only about twenty miles, we'll be able to make it there in a few hours." Bridgette, once again felt one of the guards' arms around her as she was picked up and placed on one of the men's shoulders. Soon they were moving like wraiths through the bright forests of Southern Austria. Which once again left Bridgette to her mind. Maria would know in probably a few hours that the attack on the convoy had failed and in a few hours Bridgette would be making a speech to her supporters around the country. She would make sure it was nationally televised and hopefully in a giant rally push Austria into the revolution it so desperately needed. If they were looking for her, there was no time for Dr. Y to build the robots to serve against the Royalists, Maria would have to be defeated by the very hands of those who she governed. However, Bridgette did expect that the foreign community would not be pleased to see their darling Austrian Empress, potentially deposed, that was where Dr. Y would come into play, keeping the Revolution alive.

And it was in St. Andra where Bridgette would learn that 200,000 Athenians were being mobilized against her movement, this would be the straw, she was sure, that would break the camel's back.

---

"Well," said Phillipp getting to his feet and gesturing for Giullia's hand. "Your revolution and mine are one in the same Signora. Perhaps it would be a promise enough to say that if the Austrian Revolution fails then likewise the freedom of Italy will never come to pass as well and vice versa." He sent a quick text message of the soldier numbers to his superior and then went back to courting the young woman.

"I couldn't imagine a more beautiful revolutionary that I'd rather die with. Now what are you in the mood for? Italian? Or German?"

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