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Marshal Malan goes overseas


Botha
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Field Marshal Petrus Malan sat down and relaxed in the private in-flight lounge as engines of the Afrikaanse Lugdiens Boeing 747 began to whine up. He buckled himself in just as the plane lurched forward and began its take-off run down the tarmac. The plane had only been acquired a few days earlier as the old Boeing 707 aircraft normally used by Afrikaanse Lugdiens would not make the trip non-stop across the Atlantic from Europe to Tahoe.

There was silence – and then a thud – the plane was now airborne, the landing gear retracted. Malan peered apprehensively out the window next to him. He could see the suburbs and townships of Johannesburg below him.

This would be only his second trip outside the Republic since seizing power in April, but the brief foray to the Kingdom of Serca for a conference with Somal did not compare to the lengthy tour he was about to undertake. He was now on his way towards Arctica – his first stop. Also the destination which gave him the most grief, as no doubt he would come under criticism from their free press – something he did not seriously have to worry about back home. The occasional complaint against the Republican Military Government scribbled up in the Johannesburg Free Press, but the national mouthpiece Transvaler Daagikse Nuus and Radio-Transvaal which everyone – friend and foe alike – read, were both solidly under government control and parroting the news which the government handed it.

The plane began to level off and reach its cruising altitude. The flight to Arctica was three hours long. Time for a light meal and then a brief nap before landing.

Malan wondered what laid ahead for him. His first destination was Arctica. Diplomatic relations had soured since the military took power in Pretoria, although the transfer of some island specks in the Indian Ocean two days ago he hoped would hopefully warm the Arcticans up to him. Probably unbeknownst to the Arcticans, this would not be his first visit to their island. During the intervention in Madagascar, he had made around half a dozen visits last spring [september] in his capacity as commander of the Raketkorps to oversee deployment of V-2 missiles used to quell the rebels.

Then he would head to Italy and meet with the fascist leader Junio Borghese – a man who seemed to share kindred spirits and graciously signed a trade agreement to provide much needed marble and wheat to Transvaal after the Karma War. After Europe, it was then onwards to America to visit Tahoe. Like Arctica, this was a return visit of sorts as he had once briefly visited Tahoe but during an officer training exchange programme.

The in-flight steward approached the marshal with his lunch and a flask of hot coffee. Malan ate his meal and then dozed off to the quiet drone of the jet engines. He was around an hour and a half from landing - the steward would wake him around 15 minutes before landing so he could quickly freshen up and prepare for the descent.

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Malan's plane touching down in Arctica

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Instead of starting the tour in the capital city of Oceana, Malan was directed to land at Ivato International Airport in the city of Antananarivo, which was where the legislature met despite it not having any official status as a capital. The city was also chosen for the tour because of its long history as a major city and capital of the island.

antananarivo01.jpg

Antananarivo

Malan was greeted at the airport and taken to a limousine where a man introduced himself as Gabriel Ramanantsoa, the mayor of Antananarivo.

"Welcome to Arctica, Marshal Malan. It's my honor to be guiding you through my city." As the limo pulled into the road, the mayor mentioned that he was born and raised in the city.

The plan was to drive Malan along a carefully planned route, showing him historical sites and various improvements Arctica had made to the city. Later, the tour would end with Malan being brought to the Congress building to meet with Vedran, who was in town for the day. There were no members of the press waiting for Malan at the airport, but they would be present when he entered and left the Congress building.

As the limousine went deeper into the city, the mayor pointed out landmarks. In between landmarks he told Malan of the city's history. "Antananarivo, meaning City of the Thousand in Malagasy, was founded in 1625. As the capital of the early kings and those that came after them, it grew very quickly, eventually becoming capital of all Madagascar." Throughout the history lesson, Malan would notice that significant improvements had been made to the city since Arctica took control of the island. Roads were well maintained, buildings were in good repair, many people had cars, it seemed like any modern city. These were things that many first world countries took for granted, but they were things that were missing from life in Madagascar for a long time.

antananarivo09.jpg

The limo drove past some government buildings, secondary schools, a zoo featuring some of Madagascar's unique fauna, and countless storefronts and construction sites. There were many patrolling policemen and police cars, a little too many in fact, but the police presence along the tour route was increased that day.

Edited by Vedran
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Meanwhile in Oceana, something went terribly wrong. A rundown hotel had become a crime scene after hazmat crews had been called in and cordoned off the surrounding area. Two dead bodies. One was an old lady, a maid, who had apparently found the first body - a Transvaler man registered under the pseudonym name of Jan Smits.

In Smits' room the hazmat crews found traces of nerve toxins, soman to be precise. It appeared that Herr Smits had accidently killed himself when he dropped a nerve gas cannister in his room and it went off in his face. Not enough to spread on its own, but a rather deadly dirty weapon if combined with the explosives also found in his room. The unfortunate old woman only had seconds to run out of the room and scream in panic before she dropped dead from convulsions.

Also in Smits' possession were documents detailing an assassination plot against Malan. It appeared the sudden diversion of Malan's plane to Antananarivo had thrown off the timing of Smits' plan and he was moving location.

Investigators would find one seemingly innocent memo written on Transvaler Interior Ministry stationary, signed by someone named Uys Rooyan de Ruijters.

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After the investigators examined the assassination plans and the official-looking memo, things went quickly. It was no longer an isolated incident, but for all they knew, part of a larger plan. Among other things, they could have been looking to remove both leaders in one move. Whatever group was responsible for this may have cells in other cities. Even if they didn't, it was imperative that measures be taken to ensure the wellbeing of both Malan and Vedran. Since a nerve gas attack was assumed to be a terrorist attack, the hazmat team were employees of the Bureau of Internal Investigation. Which meant that unlike the local police, they could contact Antananarivo without the usual bull and delay.

Thanks to some fast-acting BII agents, only fifteen minutes had passed from the time the papers were discovered to the time Mayor Ramanantsoa's description of a monument was interrupted by his cell phone ringing.

"What is it?" he snapped as he flipped it open, expecting it to be one of his aides who was miraculously unaware of the Marshal's visit. But soon his face stiffened as if hearing some grave news. "What, when?...yes, right away." Ramanantsoa opened the small window between the back seats and the front seats. "Frederic, drive to the BII field office. On 16th Street. Quickly." The driver hesitated for a moment, but changed directions. The mayor slid the window shut and turned to Malan.

"Marshal Malan, there's been an incident...I'm not sure what happened, but it's severe enough that the tour has to be cancelled. We're taking you to a place you can stay until this is cleared up."

In the Congress building, Vedran's guards evacuated him by helicopter to the military base near Antananarivo. Additionally, a full evacuation of the building was ordered. While the legislature was not in session that day, the place was still crowded with press and spectators preparing for Malan's arrival. Police cordoned off the area. A bomb squad and hazmat teams arrived to begin searching the area for possible devices. Knowledge of the assassination plans and the official document found in Oceana was kept secure, and thus the media would not make any connection between the events there and the events in Antananarivo for some time.

The BII field office was actually several buildings arranged around a traffic circle with two entrances; the road that led through branched off from the main roads so all traffic that entered the circle was either meant to go there or was the occasional lost tourist. The entrances were barricaded as the limo pulled in, but the armed men manning the barricades quickly got out of the way to let it pass. The driver parked it in front of the main building, where four agents were waiting. One of them stepped forward and nodded to Malan. "It's best if we speak inside, sir." They led Malan and the mayor into the building; somewhere on the way in, they got separated and Malan soon found himself in a conference room with three agents. Two of them were seated farther away holding faxed photographs and messages. The lead agent stood closer to Malan, introduced himself as Agent Vukov. Malan would probably recognize their sort. They weren't spooks, not technically, but they were certainly close to it.

"Marshal Malan, 40 minutes ago an Afrikaner man was discovered in a hotel in Oceana, dead from coming in contact with soman, a nerve agent. Documents were discovered in his room detailing an assassination plan against you, along with a memo from the Republic of Transvaal's Interior Ministry signed by an Uys Rooyan de Ruijters. Is this name familiar to you?" As he spoke, the other two agents slid photographs to Malan: one of the would-be assassin's corpse, one of the assassination plans (unreadable from the range the photograph was taken), and a last one of the memo in an evidence bag. Mostly unreadable, but the signature was perfectly visible.

Agent Vukov watched Malan's face for any subtle hints as to his thoughts.

Edited by Vedran
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Malan responded to Vukov with an expression of incredulous surprise. “You must be completely mad, Uys Rooyan de Ruijters is dead! He committed suicide back in October during the Paraguayan colonial war.”

The field marshal looked distressed. He undid his tie and military tunic. Angrily he barked at no one in particular “But you know, if you ask me, this is probably the work of Jakob Hertzog and Paul Cruywagen who are hiding out here in your country.”

Malan then regained his composure and reluctantly glanced at the evidence which Agent Vukov had presented him. He first looked at the photgraph of the corpse. “This man, I have never seen him. He could be anyone, for all we know.” Passing over the unreadable material, he then held the evidence bag close to his face and peered intensely at the memo.

“That is strange. I have never seen De Ruijters’ signature so I have no idea whether this is a forgery or not, but the memo is printed on Republican – and not Federal Republican - stationary. If this really is De Ruijters’ writing, then we have a quandary because the new Republican stationary has only been out for a couple of months, if that – and certainly not back before October before he died...”

Petrus Malan thought for a minute. “I wonder if Interior Minister Van Zyl would be able to shed some light on this – he could verify through our archives whether this is truly De Ruijters’ signature. Could you arrange for one of your agents to fax him a copy of this letter so he could investigate it?”

Malan then sighed, before turning to Vukov. “You know, De Ruijters was known to be involved with some very unsavoury characters. I am talking about the old Dark Hand terrorists from Slavorussia – using nerve gas and all, this has all the hallmarks of being one of their jobs. They could be using De Ruijters name as a calling card to send a message or distraction. I would also suggest contacting the Slavorussians and see if they have any records of recent Dark Hand activity.”

As Vukov began to make his way out of the room, Malan called out to him one last time. “Oh… and while you are at it, you should arrest Hertzog and Cruywagen”.

Vukov could not tell whether the marshal was making some kind of dry joke or being dead serious.

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Vukov was just about to turn the door handle before that last remark by Malan. He took his hand off the handle, turned, and walked back to Malan. He was not particularly a politically motivated man, but he knew the stir that arresting Cruywagen would create among his countrymen.

"We will certainly look into this, but Hertzog has been granted asylum here and Cruywagen's status as ambassador grants him diplomatic immunity which precludes us arresting him without evidence of a serious crime." Vukov thought over the charge against Cruywagen and Hertzog. He knew that while Malan's suspicion of them was likely his desire for weeding out the opposition, but also that using a Dark Hand MO and the name of a dead man that was connected to them was just the thing to do to throw off suspicion, so he really couldn't dispute Malan's charge either.

And since the discovery months ago that Van Zyl had no records from before the time De Ruijters died was made by Info Command and not the Bureau, Vukov couldn't possibly know to warn Malan of the man's suspicious background.

"There is a telephone in here, and I can get the number for your embassy in Oceana so you can remove Cruywagen from his post. Our agents there can then detain him until your own security forces arrive. However, we cannot take action against Hertzog without evidence."

Some time later, Van Zyl would be faxed a copy of the Interior Ministry memo. A Slavorussian internal security official would also receive an e-mail from a Bureau address.

To whom it may concern

Evidence of a botched high-profile terrorist attack has been found in Arctica matching known Dark Hand MO. I would appreciate any information regarding recent Dark Hand attacks in Slavorussia, especially those involving the use of soman (O-Pinacolyl methylphosphonofluoridate), or any significant quantity of soman detected missing from labs or stockpiles in the past 6 months.

Regards,

Pavel Vukov

Arctica Bureau of Internal Investigation

Thanks to the high number of press present at the Congress building even before hazmat teams arrived, news coverage of the search was extensive, and before long, it was being broadcasted around the world. "Official visit cancelled as authorities close off building," "Rumors of terrorist attack threaten visit," and other headlines were seen across Arctica.

"We were informed by a credible source that the visit by Field Marshal Malan today might be the target of a terrorist attack," a BII spokesman said, but declined to elaborate. An hour later, the close timing between the arrival of hazmat teams at a hotel in Oceana and the arrival of the bomb squad and hazmat teams at the Congress building in Antananarivo was noticed by major news networks in the country, and they began piecing together the story. Everything from "Accidental death leads police to suspect terrorist attack" to "Mad bomber might not be alone" was run, depending on who you listened to.

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To whom it may concern

Evidence of a botched high-profile terrorist attack has been found in Arctica matching known Dark Hand MO. I would appreciate any information regarding recent Dark Hand attacks in Slavorussia, especially those involving the use of soman (O-Pinacolyl methylphosphonofluoridate), or any significant quantity of soman detected missing from labs or stockpiles in the past 6 months.

Regards,

Pavel Vukov

Arctica Bureau of Internal Investigation

To: Pavel Vukov
From: The Slavorussian Committee for State Security

We’ve been tracking a few people in Slavorussia with known Dark Hand connections. We have reason to believe that one of our weapons storage facilities, which stores some of our weapons and research level nerve agents, may be supplying the Dark Hand with weapons. We have enough evidence to detain a number of the workers there for interrogation, but so far we don’t have solid evidence that the Dark Hand is connected.

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Malan called Vukov’s bluff. “No, that will be quite alright, I won’t need to use your phone.”

The Arctican BII agent’s strong words made an impression on the field marshal. Vukov was right, thought Malan – the man was smart and on the ball, although he didn’t show his agreement. If he really wanted to remove Cruywagen’s influence over the exile community, all he had to do was replace him and try to call him back to Pretoria. And he acquiesced that there was little to be done with Hertzog now that he was outside of Transvaal and outside of government influence or pull.

“Perhaps we should move on to Oceana now…?” said the marshal. “I don’t want to see this leg of my visit completely ruined by these unfortunate events.”

- - -

Meanwhile in Pretoria…

Interior Minister Karl van Zyl was on the telephone with his opposite in Arctica. He did not sound too concerned that someone had tried to assassinate Malan. “I appreciate your concernss and for the fax of this sstrange letter you found. And as you probably know, there are all ssorts of communistss, radical liberalss, and freemasson sschemerss that would love to ssee him dead. However I must categorically sstresss that it must be a complete and utter forgery as Uys Rooyan de Ruijters hass been dead for quite some time. I can asssure you of that fact.”

Before handing up, Van Zyl added: “Of coursse, if you do uncover anything further on thiss matter, you will keep me informed – won’t you?”

Edited by Botha
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Vukov was surprised at the Marshal's suggestion that they continue, but his face did not show it. He remained silent as he considered it. It was still too early to know if the assassin was working alone, or if more devices had already been set. It would look dismally bad for the Bureau - and the country as a whole - if they could not even provide protection for a foreign leader. But then how would it look for the Bureau - and for him - if they continued the tour even after the terrorist risk was discovered, and finished it without incident? It would look very good. But promising Malan something like that was risky, especially since the government was planning to send him to Italy right away in light of the assassination attempt.

Finally Vukov nodded. "Very well. My men will escort you to the airport." He would have to contact the Sovereign with his plan and they would have to prepare for Malan's arrival all while he was en route. He did not like the idea of going over the Sovereign's head like this, and would very likely be reprimanded for it later, but if he was successful he might just earn himself a promotion for his quick thinking.

---

"Yes, yes I will keep you informed" said the Arctican interior minister before setting down the receiver. He did not particularly enjoy Van Zyl's creepy voice, his lisp, or the odd attitude toward freemasons that Transvalers seemed to hold, but he knew Van Zyl would be a help in uncovering the truth behind these events - or so he thought.

---

Later that night

To: Committee for State Security, Slavorussia

From: Pavel Vukov, Bureau of Internal Investigation, Arctica

Please keep me informed if you come across any additional information that may aid our investigation.

Edited by Vedran
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Malan suddenly felt vulnerable. Now that some sort of plot was afoot against him, he started to think that this trip was a mistake – or a ruse simply to get him out of the country. Most of the civilian members of the government thought that he should make the trip to help reinforce Transvaal’s recent isolation in the world. The Karma War and military junta had done much damage to the Republic’s international standing.

Case in point were the Arcticans – who had the audacity to severe diplomatic relations with Pretoria in protest to the Republican Military Government. Thankfully Paul Cruywagen was somehow able to retain at least a consular office in Oceana. Malan did not trust Cruywagen; no doubt the former Krygsmagte commander did not appreciate his ‘retirement’ from the military at the hands of one of his junior officers. But then again Cruywagen had always disliked political office.

No… he was not so much a threat as was Jakob Hertzog. While Herztog’s bumpkin ways and poor command of the English language often rolled many eyes in embarrassment to the Transvaler Government, the foreigners more than any other prime minister seemed to love him. Hertzog and Cruywagen together were a dangerous combination – as the former marshal could still command some support in the military. Not as much he might think he could, but any coup attempt would be bloody for the army as the RMG had packed most ground units with supporters of RMG’s social policies.

“When will be arriving in Oceana?” he asked Vukov in a distant manner, as if he really wasn’t paying attention to what the agent’s answer would be. He was trying to break the severe tension of silence which had built up between the two men, now that Vukov was accompanying Malan as extra protection while they made their way to the Arctican capital.

‘Nerve gas’, Malan thought to himself. That was definitely not something he could ever envisage Hertzog and Cruywagen utilizing. No, regardless his differences with the men, those two would always opt towards legalistic means to try to dislodge him from power. They regarded themselves too ‘democratic’, although Cruywagen did have two successful coups under his belt.

But it was difficult to believe that the Dark Hand was operating again in Southern Africa – especially since their operative De Ruijters was now dead. Malan thought back to some of De Ruijters’ schemes, such as when he tried to betray Transvaal to GOONS or when one of the major chemical plants in Bloemfontein exploded. Then there was the time De Ruijters almost assassinated Emperor Justinian of Slavorussia when the Imperial Family was in exile in Transvaal. Even when De Ruijters was still alive, his ties to the Dark Hand had pretty much been quashed after his release from prison.

‘Perhaps when I am in Italy, I will meet with Ambassador Van Matteus. After all, De Ruijters was allegedly the father of her daughter. Maybe she can shed some insight into this. At the very least it would give me an excuse to check up on her.

“Yes, if there were ever a schemer, it was her.”

Vukov asked, “What was that, Marshal?” The agent looked up from his magazine he was casually reading.

“Oh nothing” replied Malan, who realized that he suddenly had spoken out loud.

Edited by Botha
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Earlier

"...that's good thinking. But if you ever go over my head like this again, Vukov, you might find yourself out of a job." Vedran hung up the phone and sighed, looking across the room at his guards. Vukov's idea didn't give him much time. "Plans have changed. The tour will continue. I'm going back to Oceana; you catch up when you can."

Vedran left the room and found himself in a busy airbase. Malan's 747 would be taking off soon, so there was really only one option left to him if he wanted to be on time. There was one plane he knew how to fly. He walked across the runway and entered one of the hangars. Ignoring the looks of the surprised mechanics, he strolled over to whoever was in charge and explained himself in simple terms. "I need to get to Oceana, and I'm in a hurry. How fast can you get an F-16 ready?"

The head mechanic pointed. "That one's almost done fueling up..."

...

Vukov looked at Malan for another second before lifting the magazine up to his face again without a word. He decided he was going to have to listen more closely in case it happened again.

Since the F-16 and the 747 had a similar cruising speed, both Malan and Vedran would reach the capital at around the same time, but at different places. Vedran would land at the air force base at the outskirts of the city while Malan would land at Oceana International Airport.

Security in Antananarivo was more relaxed, but after the incident, the Arcticans were taking no chances. The Mercedes limousine that waited for Malan at the airport was not only more luxurious, but also more safe. It was one of the special models built by Nord-Auto Arctica, a former Nordland enterprise which had been taken over after one of the nation's many collapses. Among its safety features were bulletproofing, bullet-resistant windows, automatic fire extinguishers, EMP protection, an explosion-resistant fuel tank, run-flat tires, its own air supply...due to the high cost and the lack of a market for the model in a small country like Arctica, only a handful had ever been made, mostly sold to high-ranking government officials or corporate officers.

Agent Vukov followed Malan into the car. Apparently he would be giving the tour. The limo pulled out, escorted by two large black SUVs full off armed BII agents.

Malan might have seen the city in person before, but it was very different from last year. Much construction - and reconstruction - had been done. Oceana was the largest and most modern city in the country, looking more like a European or North American metropolis than an African city. It was clear that a lot of effort was put into the place. They passed many high-rise apartment buildings and even passed through downtown. The financial district was still under construction; there were a few skyscrapers, but the skyline was not that impressive. They also passed the stock exchange. Vukov pointed out all these things, though his description was not as colorful as Ramanantsoa's. The small convoy left the center of the city and passed through residential areas before turning onto a road that, while obviously being part of the city's freeway system, did not have much traffic at all. This road led to a 2km-long bridge to the island just off the shore. The bridge also barely had traffic. The island beyond was the home of the executive branch of government and the military, holding the workplaces and homes of the Ministers and generals, when they were not needed elsewhere. There was an armed checkpoint at the bridge. Security was heavy but it was tightened even further after the terrorist group Green Flag announced itself to the world.

After a check, the vehicles were allowed to pass. Soon they arrived at the island. It used to be forested, but now it was almost completely developed and built over, save for a few parks for the enjoyment of the occupants. It was technically part of Oceana, but it was practically its own little town. In the center was a skyscraper. Its official name was the "Central Government Building" but it was commonly known to foreigners as Oceana tower and to residents of the city as the tower. After the first one was destroyed last year, a new one had been built in its place. Its floors were mostly residential space or headquarters for the various ministries and departments.

The armed escorts were no longer needed, since there was a heavy security presence and virtually zero crime on the island. Vukov led Malan through the tower's lobby and into an elevator. There were 88 floors. Vukov pressed the 60 button and they were on their way.

Vukov led Malan through the 60th floor and to a door marked "Vedran". He knocked, and the door opened to reveal a spacious office with a large window and a desk directly opposite the door. Vukov and Vedran exchanged glances before Vedran nodded to him. "Thank you, Agent. You may leave now." He left and they were alone in the room except for the two silent guards at the entrance. Vedran did not look like he had just rushed here, but Malan could see the worry in his eyes that disappeared as he exhaled in relief upon seeing the Marshal enter.

He stood and shook Malan's hand before sitting. "Welcome, Marshal...welcome. It is a shame what happened today, but at least we are both alive and well, and this leg of your journey is nearing its conclusion. No doubt you have had a hectic day, so please sit down. It is good to finally meet you."

"So tell me, what do you think of my country? Assassins notwithstanding."

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Earlier…

During the flight to Oceana, as Vukov wandered away for a moment to make his way to the washroom for a break, his cellphone began to ring. It was that creepy Interior Minister Karl van Zyl on the line.

“Vukov…? I cannot seem to get through to Malan on his private line on the 747. He must have it turned off.” The Arctican could hear a tinge of desperation - or trepidation - in his voice. Also that annoying lisp had seemed to have strangely disappeared.

“Can you pass on to Malan that labour protests have broken out again? All our major industries have walked off their jobs again… and there has also been some violence in Johannesburg. At least 2,094 protesters have been… err, killed in clashes with military troops – mostly natives fro the townships, nothing really to worry about. However we believe that 2,000 of our own soldiers have also been killed… err, we used some new crowd controlling gas on the protesters to suppress them quickly and unfortunately the wind changed course and blew back towards them before they cou…”

There was some static on the line, and then a silent pause, followed by “…are you still there Vukov, did you get all that?”

OOC: lost trade and 7 of my bonus resources; had to demobilize some soldiers as a result

- - -

Some hours later… in Oceana

As they drove through the main thoroughfare into the downtown heart of Oceana, Malan stove to identify some recognizable features for familiarity sake – but to little avail. Occasionally, a small restaurant here or some store there, but by and large it appeared the city had recovered from the damage it incurred during the war fought here last year. Malan spent very little time in Oceana, as the city had constantly remained under government control and was never occupied by the Transvaler interventionist troops. His previous forays to Oceana had been brief meetings to coordinate air strikes to the south so that loyalist troops allied to Transvaal did not get hit by friendly fire. Once or twice he even flew over the city in command of his B-1 Lansier – as he originally was an air force pilot, mostly reconnaissance missions during that particular conflict, before promotion to colonel and reassignment to missile ordinance.

- - -

After giving him a deep bow out of respect and then exchanging pleasantries with Sovereign Vedran, Malan sat down in one of the exquisite and comfortable chairs which were found in Vedran’s office.

“First off, Sovereign... I must thank you for the gracious welcome which you and your people have given me during my brief stay in your country.”

Malan decided to brush aside the whole assassination incident as he did not want to appear that its affected him. ‘I must keep a strong face’ he thought.

“Yes, I know I have my enemies, and what they did today does not surprise me the least - but your people handled the situation with expert professionalism. I do not want it to tarnish this visit or our close relations between our nations, so let’s leave it at that, shall we?”

“I must say that on my way from the airport, I could barely recognize the city since my last visit – which was back during your civil war. I was stationed with one of the Lugmag reconnaissance units, then later re-assigned in the south to manage our V-2 launch sites.”

Then to change direction, Malan then began to earnestly question Vedran about Arctica’s reconstruction – it’s difficulties and success stories. He was genuinely interested as he wished to avoid any similar difficulties back home as Transvaal dealt with its own reconstruction from the ravages of war.

(When asked why he always refered to Vedran by his formal title, Malan replied that it was something ingrained in him while stationed in Arctica: “We were instructed by, umm… Marshal Cruywagen to always refer to you in the most respectful terms as we were guests in your country – despite the fact that we governed much of it through our Vrystaat administration.”)

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JOHANNESBURG FREE PRESS: Jakob Martin Hertzog, Fredrick Geldenhuys, Peter Stellenbosch, and Gert Boersma – all prominent members of the Transvaler exile community in Arctica – called on Sovereign Vedran to denounce the recent government violence in Johannesburg.

“Almost as many people have died now under Marshal Malan’s misrule as did during the Karma War – the man is drowning in blood” stated Peter Stellenbosch, the former foreign minister for Transvaal.

Hertzog and Geldenhuys, leaders of the National Party and Demokratiese Barakke Party, have agreed to work together in a coalition government once free civilian elections take place in Transvaal – should they ever occur.

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On the plane, Vukov glanced back at Malan on the other side of the cabin as he took Van Zyl's call. He entered the small restroom and heard a short burst of static. "Alright then, I'll tell him." He ended the call. Vukov was about to put the phone up but dialed the number for Vedran's office and left a message informing him of the strikes and the death toll. Vedran would hear the message while Malan and Vukov were crossing the bridge.

After returning to his seat, Vukov relayed the news to Malan.

---

Vedran listened to Malan silently, trying to gauge his attitude. First impressions were important to him, especially when meeting someone that was a factor in what direction Arctica's foreign policy would take. If he got even the most basic idea of how a given leader's mind worked, it helped that much more when deciding how to deal with them. It was a simple theory that wasn't always reliable, but one that he paid attention to.

"Ah yes, the reconstruction. It was a trying time. Thanks to your country's assurance that the southern part of the island wouldn't slip from our control while we focused on the north, the reconstruction went faster than it would have otherwise. As I'm sure you know, we suffered grave damages during the war. We might have dropped into a depression, but we were able to avoid that by diverting funds that had already been set aside for a number of government projects.

Defense spending accounted for a large portion of our budget at that time. We had allocated money to several large projects that was not spent at the time the war began. The loyalists were disorganized around the start of the war, and the Herons could not access the money for themselves because I had taken measures, while in Cyprus, to ensure that they could not use it to fund their effort. So it was that when the war ended and we needed cash to rebuild, there were untapped reserves remaining. The funds were intended for various projects; research, missile programs, the navy...but the most expensive of them was our nuclear weapon program, and work had barely begun, so the accounts were virtually untouched.

At that time, thanks to the Vrystaat, the military had much less land to defend and a nuclear program was not very important when the people needed housing and electricity. So we postponed many of those projects, drained the accounts and diverted the money to critical industries: construction, agriculture, healthcare and the like. Some industries were also temporarily nationalized to ensure those worst affected by the fighting received priority attention. We also greatly reduced the size of our military during the Vrystaat period. Soldiers were discharged, construction of new naval ships and repair of existing ones was delayed, equipment was sold off...we sold some armored vehicles to those Kyokujitsu people - of course they weren't as troublesome back then - and they shipped us a submarine full of gold. Of course, we put it to good use.

Our reduced defense capability wasn't much of an issue given that the PAC was still going strong back then...something that I wish was still true. Anyway, the downside to diverting so much money from military projects was that it took a long time to recover and get back to being a regional power. Indeed, we only recently completed our nuclear program. But I would say that other than our infrastructure still needing some work, we are back to pre-war levels in most areas, and exceeding them in some."

"If I may, Marshal Malan, I've noticed that you keep addressing me by my formal title..."

“We were instructed by, umm… Marshal Cruywagen to always refer to you in the most respectful terms as we were guests in your country – despite the fact that we governed much of it through our Vrystaat administration.”

"I see..." Vedran couldn't determine if Malan was being so polite out of genuine respect or was simply using empty flattery. While he did not discount the former, he was definitely leaning towards the latter, given the differences between the two men. He then decided to change the subject and measure Malan's reactions to get his answer.

"Now, I've been informed that another few thousand protesters have been killed following strikes in Transvaal. Thousands of soldiers also died, apparently something went wrong?" Vukov had told him of the gas backfiring, but Vedran didn't mention this to Malan since he thought that would likely be classified information, and didn't really feel like explaining why he knew Transvaal state secrets.

Vedran sighed. "I understand that you have to keep your primary industries running, but why the heavy-handed tactics? Thousands of workers are killed every time they go on strike. And yet they keep striking, indicating that the underlying problems remain. Dead workers are no better for the economy than striking workers...have you considered addressing their grievances?"

---

Meanwhile...

After dropping Malan off, Vukov decided it was time for a break. He was satisfied with his performance this far, but his work was not done until Malan's plane was taking off for Italy. Still, the meeting between him and Vedran would probably take long enough for Vukov to get something to eat. The elevator deposited him on the 10th floor, which contained one of the tower's restaurants. Since it wasn't close to dinnertime, he chose a more casual one. As he sat down by a window and the waitress went off to get his food, he dialed Van Zyl's office.

While he was waiting for the man to pick up, he suddenly remembered that Van Zyl's lisp was not present when they last spoke. It couldn't have been any interference from being on the plane, he could swear it was absent. Was his mind playing tricks on him? Was Van Zyl faking it? Vukov didn't have time to complete his thought, because the soft ringing in his ear stopped and he heard someone pick up.

Edited by Vedran
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Malan seemed uncomfortable about the news of the recent protesters clashing with the military. He wasn’t uncomfortable with what transpired – he had little time for short-minded liberals and rioting natives who could not comprehend his master plan. But not everyone outside Transvaal understood that sometimes the end justified the means and Transvaal was now finding itself at a critical, social crossroad.

Therefore, he chose to deflect the blame:

“Our labour problems have been caused by interruptions and cancellations of our foreign trade agreements – and it always triggers resource shortages and such in our industry. When we don’t have the materials to run our industry, of course workers become idle. These cancellations have been beyond our control and whenever that happens, the population gets upset – not realizing the full extent of our nation’s economic troubles. How soon they forget that we were in a war which we lost. Of course the state cannot currently maintain the comfortable standard of living we had pre-war, however we are making strides and should be close to rebuilt by the spring (October). We have already rebuilt out technology to almost pre-war levels, but our infrastructure has not caught up yet. That is probably why these strikes are breaking out, misinformed and restless workers who have no doubt been polluted with liberal foreign concepts of communism. We cannot afford to lessen the grip of authority for the time being, as our government is involved now in a social, internal conflict so to speak.”

The field marshal then said “Is there anything else you wish to discuss? After all, I should probably be making my way soon to Italy.”

- - -

Meanwhile in Pretoria, the phone rang at the Interior Ministry. Karl van Zyl calmly picked it up. “Yesss? Vukov, what do you want? Do you have more newss for me?”

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"Nevertheless, I will be issuing a public statement after you leave condemning the use of deadly force against the striking workers.

The BII will escort you to the airport."

---

"Minister Van Zyl, do you have any new information on that memo that was faxed to you?" Vukov was just getting done with his food when his pager went off. It was time to take Malan to the airport.

Not wanting to lose the signal, Vukov took the stairs on his way down.

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Meanwhile, in Italy

In preparation for the visit by Field Marshal Petrus Malan of Transvaal, the center of Milan is being transformed into a high-security "Green Zone", sorrounded by roadblocks and checkpoints set up by the army. The leaders of Italy and Transvaal will be entrenched in an area mounted with barbed wire and cameras, complemented by an air exclusion zone extended 50 kilometres into the skies.

Additional expenses include the wages and overtime of 1500 soldiers assembled from across Northern Italy, who will provide around-the-clock protection for the two leaders meeting in Milan.

Even this is not enough, however. To prevent protests against the meeting and to intimidate demonstrators, General Junio Borghese and Defense Minister Rodolfo Graziani are working togheter to draw up a range of repressive measures which would warm the hearts of most authoritarian rulers.

These measures began today with a series of coordinated army raids carried out across the country involving 500 soldiers in 3 italian regions. Army searched buildings and offices occupied by opponents of the meeting and seized any kind of propaganda material. The raids were organised by the Ministry of Defense and justified on the basis of Italy’s anti-terror laws.

Edited by Junio Borghese
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COUP IN PRETORIA?

The capital of Transvaal has been blanketed in a major power outage as rumours broke out this afternoon that Field Marshal Petrus Malan has been overthrown in a coup.

According to scattered independent reports gathered through cell phone usage, gun fire has been heard in the vicinity of Government House and the Interior Ministry located across the street from the seat of power.

Transvaal’s major international airport at Johannesburg has cancelled all incoming and outgoing flights for today.

Edited by Botha
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Vukov stopped between the ninth and eighth floors. "Van Zyl? Van Zyl, are you there?" He looked at his phone. Five bars, but he'd suddenly stopped hearing Van Zyl. He put the phone away and continued down the stairs. "Odd."

---

Just as Malan and Vedran were exchanging goodbyes, heavy knocking was heard at the door. One of the guards opened it. A hurried aide entered the office, holding a piece of paper, and made his way toward the two leaders. Vedran simply stopped and stared at him. If the news he was bringing turned out to be unimportant, then Vedran would reprimand him, but not before. What worried him was that the aide was not at all surprised or embarrassed that he'd just walked in on the meeting.

Vedran took the paper from him as soon as he got within reach. When he was done reading it, he handed it to Malan. It was a copy of the news report that had been sent out of Transvaal.

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Whether Malan was surprised or not by the coup, Vedran could not tell. The marshal kept his cool while he read the dispatch.

"I must return to Pretoria to take command of the situation and re-exert the authority of the RMG. It is obvious that without me, the country is unstable."

Malan then turned to Vedran and shook his hand. "I sincerely thank you Sovereign for your kind hospitality during my visit here, I hope that any difficulties between our two governments can be repaired in the future. However, I now require the fastest car you can find for me as I need to return to my aircraft immediately and head home."

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Vedran hesitated, then nodded. "Very well. A car will be waiting for you when you exit the building." Indeed, a black BII sedan was waiting for him out in front.

It was equipped with a siren, as Malan noticed when the driver activated it upon driving onto the bridge. The bridge checkpoints had been notified ahead of time, so the driver just sped through them. He chose the quickest route to the airport and soon enough they were on the tarmac next to Malan's 747. The driver was good at at least two things: safely weaving through traffic at high speeds, and inducing carsickness.

Shutting off the siren and leaving the engine on, Vukov got out and opened Malan's door. "Have a safe trip, Marshal."

---

Later

Vedran was relieved when he heard that the plane was on its way. The Field Marshal was not someone he held in high regard, and he was glad that Malan's safety was no longer his responsibility.

He was, however, curious as to why Van Zyl would attempt a coup.

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