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Subtleknifewielder
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Soon after she got back from negotiations with the Citadel, General Hannah Asgeirsson would find a hand-written message deposited on whatever she used for a desk in this period of transition.

TO: General Hannah Asgeirsson
FROM: Subtleknifewielder

I hear you have an interest in meeting me face to...well, face, so to speak.

You may come to meet me in Alice Springs any time within the next week.

P.S. Don't worry about the restrictions on bringing weapons across the border. I will have them waived for you. Also enclosed in this message is the address of the building in which I will meet you.

Edited by Subtleknifewielder
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Hannah folded up her hands touching her mouth, looking down in a stone stare at the driver of the jeep. The constant running around was draining, she didn't feel physically or even mentally tired, just kind of spent as if she wanted to just sit back and relax or do something fun again. 'That's it.' She thought, she was tired with meeting leaders already, though not the same way Sarah hated politics, Hannah just hated meeting them and their constant flamboyance. The Potentate would sit annoyed in the Inner Sanctum as diplomats from neighboring nations, particularly the recent meeting with the Queenslander Prime Minister she wanted to get out of Apophis for a little bit and a more informal meeting with Subtleknifewielder would just be what she needed to get out of this funk. Something that hopefully had nothing to do with politics and maybe just a chance to sit back and relax.

The armored jeep thundered down the dusty road towards the Promised Land border, after passing through the Hanseatic checkpoint and bringing over two other convoys of Hanseatic marines. They drove out onto the five mile stretch of desert that separated the border between the Hansa and Promised land. Hannah cracked her knuckles as she sat back and let the warm air of the morning sweep over her face. She took a deep breath and looked up at the hot sun above them while the dust rose around them. Finally they passed over another dirt hill where the Promised Land check point opened up in front of them. The three armored cars drove up to the gates and stopped as a Promised Land guard walked out towards the car. Hannah reached into her uniform and handed the letter to the guard as she glanced over at the weapons her Marines were carrying.

"I am the Hanseatic Potentate, on my way to Alice Springs to meet with Subtleknifewielder." She said with an emotionless voice. "There shouldn't be any problems, so if we could skip the regalia and pomp I would prefer to be on my way."

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The guards in the checkpoint, had a superior officer seen them before the general arrived at the border, would have been at the very least been disciplined with a...less desirable job. Both of them had actually been lightly napping, until they heard the jeeps coming. They managed to put themselves in order before she actually saw them. Their appearance might be a little disheveled, but that could be explained simply by the fact that this area of land was hot and dry, making it difficult to keep up any sort of pristine appearance.

The sun had only risen about an hour previosly, but already the air was heating up, and a very fine sheen of sweat lined the brow of the male soldier that stepped out to greet the Hanseatic Potentate. The female soldier that remained in the booth wasn't much better off--the air-conditioning never worked very well in these checkpoints.

The letter would mean little to either of them, as they had never seen anything written by the man. If it had been signed by Richard Anderson, or if they had actually been given direct orders from above to let her pass, there would have been no trouble. But they had not.

"I'm sorry, it's a standing order that weapons aren't allowed past the border without confirmed approval from a higher-up. If you'll just wait a moment, please..." the guard returned to the booth, confering with his partner even as he called their immediate superior.

Sheepishly, after about ten minutes of having his ear chewed off by the Sergeant he'd called, the guard, red-faced and nearly unable to speak, managed to stutter out an apology and waved them on through.

She and her escort would have no further trouble between here and Alice Springs.

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From the checkpoint to Alice Springs was over a six-hundred mile drive and given that it would be driven right through the Australian Outback, the Hanseatic convoy decided it would be best to wait until the cool of night to cross the desert, there was no point in being uncomfortable for a drive that would take well over ten hours. Resting in the town of Winton, Hannah and her guards passed the time by frequenting a few restaurants and talking amongst themselves and for the first time in a long while the cold gaze of the Potentate was broken by conversation. It was true, the apathy was only a guise and beneath the stone outcropping was another girl that cried out to the heavens for peace and solace, it was just the way she wanted to reach world peace was controversial.

After the sun began to go down, the entourage returned to the armored cars and set out across the Outback towards Alice Springs. As they drove Hannah kept her eyes glued to the window watching the sun disappear behind the distant hills and trees to the west. She sighed at the sheer beauty of the nature around her. When she had come to Australia for the first time after the destruction of Helsinki she hadn't appreciated the beauty of Australia as she should have, everything in her heart bled for her to return to Finland and she had shut herself up in her duty as a rising Hanseatic general, never leaving Brisbane and traveling as often as she could from her adopted homeland. But as the world continued to grow darker and darker she began to Australia a great deal more. Finally after realizing that the Europe, which she had watched grow from Australia and Belarus, was nothing but an illusion, she had no desire to return to where her parents graves stood alone in the Finnish Wilderness.

Now Hannah's eyes stuck to the Plexiglas watching the night animals come out from their hiding places onto the terrain of the earth. While the dim hum of the car's engine sang the Knight a lullaby as she felt her eyes begin to close and she slipped off into another world. That world, where things actually made sense.

Some hours later, Hannah was gently shaken on her shoulders as her eyes fluttered open to the smile of one of her guards. "Lady Hannah, we just reached Alice Springs. I sent in Lieutenant Wellach to the municipal building to tell them that we've arrived. I'm sure Subtleknifewielder will be around shortly. If you wanted to stretch your legs?"

Hannah nodded softly as she pushed herself out of the car and stretched her arms into the air looking up at the dawning sun in the east. "Fitting." She said. "Meeting the most mysterious of men in the daylight." Hannah grinned, a twisted feeling creeping over her lips. "Now lets see who this mystery being really holds himself to be."

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The twon of Winton wasn't particularly large as towns or cities went, but it had enough people that not everyone knew everyone else. it was a waypoint for travelers, and had its own modest tourist attractions. So the passage of the Hanseatics didn't arouse too much comment, and few people missed them when they were gone.

Alice Springs was abit more populous, explaining why Subtleknifewielder had chosen this place. it was easier to remain anonymous amongst a larger group of people.

Just as they'd left Winton when the sun was going down, Hannah arrived in Alice Springs as the sun began rising. Having been alerted by Lieutenant Wellach of her presence in the city, two anonymous anonymous agents, both female and dressed in plain clothes, would greet the General and then escort her to the building in which they would be meeting, interestingly enough not too far from the head office of the Central Land Council. A tour group was just entering those offices as she was taken inside another nondescript building for the meeting she was here for.

Once inside, she would be escorted down a hallway to a door rthat appeared no different than any of the others in that hallway. In fact, other than for who was behind it, it was not.

The man known as Subtleknifewielder preferred it that way, and he turned in his seat as she entered, his posture indicating a relaxed mood, and as the door closed behind Hannah, he gestured silently to an armchair that looked worn, but was still quite comfortable. it was clearly an invitation to sit, if she so desired.

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As Subtleknifewielder turned in his seat, a grin immediately broke over Hannah' face. The Promised Land mysterious head of state had the appearance that Sarah had always talked about him having. A black mask over his face, a black derby hat firmly planted on his head, a black suit and tie, what would appear as a pristine leader except of course for the fact that he was completely masked away from the world and her eyes. "Well well." She said taking his offer for the seat. "I finally get to meet Subtleknifewielder himself and yet I am greeted by nothing more than a black mask, quite interesting, quite."

She tilted her head back before her eyes met to where the masked man's yes would have been. "So much for meeting you face to face. Anyways, I'm glad that I was able to meet with you, one of the few allies the Hansa has in this world, it would have been a pity for me to continue through my life and not every lay eyes on the piece of cloth that covers your face. I guess you have a lot to hide. But I won't pry. So I have to thank you first for helping me deal with the Dranaggians in Brisbane, this unfortunately is not over yet as I am not about to just let something like this go, just something that I have to look into a bit further. However Subtleknifewielder, what can be done between our own countries to bring us back to the level of friendship that existed during my predecessor's period?"

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He almost laughed at her enthusiasm--it was certainly interesting seeing the reactions of the few individuals who met him face to 'face' (or face to mask, as some people had said in the past). He could certainly have used the benefit a laugh would have brought. And though he had serious issues on his mind, most had nothing to do with this meeting, so he allowed himself a small chuckle.

Just before she'd entered, he'd made sure that everything was in place, the hat, the mask, the sunglasses. And a new contraption attatched to his throat, hidden by the collar of his suit. He was told it should alter the tones of his voice sufficiently that anyone who knew his secret identity would not recognize him that way, either.

As she sat, he stared at her...not that she would know exactly where his eyes was, but she could definitely figure out he was looking at her, since his head was pointed in that direction.

"Well well. I finally get to meet Subtleknifewielder himself and yet I am greeted by nothing more than a black mask, quite interesting, quite."

He nodded to acknowledge her words.

"So much for meeting you face to face. Anyways, I'm glad that I was able to meet with you, one of the few allies the Hansa has in this world, it would have been a pity for me to continue through my life and not every lay eyes on the piece of cloth that covers your face. I guess you have a lot to hide. But I won't pry. So I have to thank you first for helping me deal with the Dranaggians in Brisbane, this unfortunately is not over yet as I am not about to just let something like this go, just something that I have to look into a bit further. However Subtleknifewielder, what can be done between our own countries to bring us back to the level of friendship that existed during my predecessor's period?"

"Not many get to meet me like this, though seeing as they are usally not my equals, this is rather refreshing for me, General. Or would you preferred I called you by some other title or name? In any case, not even Sarah Tintagyl knew who I was when I first met her, and you're right, I keep this identiy hidden for good reason. I thank you for not trying to pry."

He folded his hands and rested them on his lap as he continued speaking. "Rest assured, plans are in place to eventually deal with the Dranaggians once and for all, and I didn't even have to put them in place. It's nice to have competent underlings like Anderson in place. As for the friendship..." he shrugged. "Our soldiers have already fought side-by side. I'd say that is a goood start; wouldn't you agree?"

Despite the device on his throat, something about his voice would nag at Hanna. Had she possibly met this man somewhere before? If it were not for her more highly-attuned hearing, she probably would not have even noticed, but the fact remained, a hint of something familiar was there.

Edited by Subtleknifewielder
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Hannah's ears were constantly perked throughout the entire conversation, the familiarity in his voice as though she had heard it multiple times before continued to hark on her mind, so much in fact that it took away from the conversation in general and she was barely able to concentrate on what the masked man was saying to her. Until he talked and brought her out again from her thoughts into reality.

"Not many get to meet me like this, though seeing as they are usally not my equals, this is rather refreshing for me, General. Or would you preferred I called you by some other title or name? In any case, not even Sarah Tintagyl knew who I was when I first met her, and you're right, I keep this identiy hidden for good reason. I thank you for not trying to pry."

"Well Sarah always was the lucky woman, you don't make friends with half of the world over night. Though I think she was a bit too trusting with some people. As to titles, General works more than fine, its what I have been called the past six years of my life and to change it suddenly I would get confused myself Excellency." She nodded at her agreement not to pry into his life, but flashed a smile. There was a way to get to the bottom of this mystery and Hannah promised herself she would overtime.

"Rest assured, plans are in place to eventually deal with the Dranaggians once and for all, and I didn't even have to put them in place. It's nice to have competent underlings like Anderson in place. As for the friendship...Our soldiers have already fought side-by side. I'd say that is a good start; wouldn't you agree?"

"Precisely, I'm glad to see the alliance as strong as it use to be. Though to be honest Excellency, the new foreign policy of the Hansa will stop this kind of thing from happening indefinitely. As I said before, Sarah was far too trusting of foreign nations a curse that I unfortunately do not have, but I have my own reasons for hating the world which I would rather not discuss here and now. However, the Hansa has her close allies, you, the Welsh, the Yuktobanians, and honestly that is about it. I would be weary venturing further from the confines of Australia for the sheer fact that I believe we are not as well liked as a country whether led by the Lady Protector or myself. I would love to see more Australia first policies coming from our nations, in addition to the Welsh. But naturally there is time to talk about this later."

Hannah leaned back in her seat. "I have to ask you, you sent the letter to me, so you must have had a desire to meet to talk about something other than congratulations on Brisbane and surely it wasn't just so that I could lay eyes on a black mask. Or is it that simple?" She perked her ears up again, closer and closer Hannah got to figuring out who this mystery man was.

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One did not spend decades in the profession that he had chosen (or to be honest, the profession that had chosen him--he hadn't really had as much choice as he'd believed when he became an assassin) without learning to read subtle cues--the tone of a person's voice, the slightest shift in their posture, a barely perceptible shift in their facial expression.

She was curious about him. But such was natural, and he would deal with any overt or covert attempts to unmask him I, and ONLY if, they happened or he could sense they were about to happen.

"Well Sarah always was the lucky woman, you don't make friends with half of the world over night. Though I think she was a bit too trusting with some people. As to titles, General works more than fine, its what I have been called the past six years of my life and to change it suddenly I would get confused myself Excellency."

The smile she flashed there, was one of those possible cues.

"Perhaps she was too trusting, yes, but I think that was in part what made her so many friends. I myself don't find it easy to trust others, for certain...obvious reasons." He indicated the mask, glasses, and hat. "However, I have noticed a curious phenomenon. The people that give their trust without reservation tend, more often than not, to have that trust returned. I have yet to figure out why, but it is so. Perhaps someday, when I have more time, I might invest some into figuring it out." He hadn't thought she would ask to be called by anything else--she did seem the type to not put up with much nonsense, but he had had to ask, for courtesy's sake.

"Precisely, I'm glad to see the alliance as strong as it use to be. Though to be honest Excellency, the new foreign policy of the Hansa will stop this kind of thing from happening indefinitely. As I said before, Sarah was far too trusting of foreign nations a curse that I unfortunately do not have, but I have my own reasons for hating the world which I would rather not discuss here and now. However, the Hansa has her close allies, you, the Welsh, the Yuktobanians, and honestly that is about it. I would be weary venturing further from the confines of Australia for the sheer fact that I believe we are not as well liked as a country whether led by the Lady Protector or myself. I would love to see more Australia first policies coming from our nations, in addition to the Welsh. But naturally there is time to talk about this later."

"And I'll be honest in return, I also believe Australia should come first for nations like our own." Subtleknifewielder leaned forward in his seat. "And if you can keep this in the strictest confidence...be wary of the Welsh right now. You may not be aware of it, but it is not currently the rightful government in place right now--the triumvirate was blackmailed in order to force them out, and they currrently reside in my nation. It is unclear who the real power is there right now. It certainly is not their President."

"I have to ask you, you sent the letter to me, so you must have had a desire to meet to talk about something other than congratulations on Brisbane and surely it wasn't just so that I could lay eyes on a black mask. Or is it that simple?"

"I'll admit, curiosity played no small part in why I invited you here. And you yourself expressed an interest in meeting me, I am told; that, too, was a factor. The biggest thing is that I'll be extremely busy soon, so I won't have much time for meetings any time in the foreseeable future. If we wanted to talk face to mask," he said deadpan, seriously enough that she couldn't be sure if he intended it as a joke or not, "this week was the only time available for it."

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She nodded as he talked, still listening closely to his voice, the tunes and pitches, rising and falling trying to pinpoint where she had heard this man before. Finally after she finished his spiel, Hannah leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs, rubbing her eyes and coming back into focus with the man sitting across from her. "Yes Sarah did receive a lot of trust and I have already made contact with many of her former allies, however what I have seen of many of her 'allies' that they only respected the woman that I believe they used as nothing more than a puppet." Hannah sighed. "I saw her many, many nights Excellency, crying her life out onto a thin sheet of pillow and cloth. The Nords used her as their President, the Communists and the Europeans both to find peace with themselves and after the fall of Europe the world pulled her this way and that criticizing her every mood, everything that she did. How do you think that life would have felt." She closed her eyes, remembering the time at the airport where she had thrown a paparazzi onto the ground where she proceeded to beat the living snot out of him after snapping her picture with Sarah at her side. "I don't have her trust, I will never have her trust, and I don't bother to figure out that world. People can be left to their own machinations, eventually they'll pay for them in their own time."

"As to the Welsh, there is a diplomat down there now talking to their President so as to trusting them fully. The Hansa owes them for a great deal of our land and our current stability. We are a Finno-Welsh people after all, but I appreciate you felling me in on their current problems at the moment. I'll be sure to look further into it."

At this final remark she only yawned and tapped her fingers gently on her cheek. "So you've met me and I've met you. Now where do we go from here? Or was this just a meet and greet and be on our separate ways?"

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Absently, he reached on hand to his throat, as if to scratch an itch, but in reality to make sure the device was still where it was supposed to be. it wwas, and he could still gfeel it was warm against his skin, meaning it was on and working.

So why was he still getting the feeling she suspected something? Unfortunately, there wasn't anything he could do about it, so he put off the distraction until such a time as he could properly analyze and deal with it.

"Yes Sarah did receive a lot of trust and I have already made contact with many of her former allies, however what I have seen of many of her 'allies' that they only respected the woman that I believe they used as nothing more than a puppet."

"I still struggle to understand why she stuck with it, even when it was never what she wanted..." he quietly commented, almost to himself, but he nevertheless listend as she continued saying her piece.

"I saw her many, many nights Excellency, crying her life out onto a thin sheet of pillow and cloth. The Nords used her as their President, the Communists and the Europeans both to find peace with themselves and after the fall of Europe the world pulled her this way and that criticizing her every mood, everything that she did. How do you think that life would have felt."

"Definitely torn, that's for sure. It's a sign of her true strength, I think, that she stuck with it as long as she did. She might have been a little naive, but she could be stubborn when she felt she needed to be. If someone had told me, upon my first meeting with her, exactly what was going to happen and how she was going to deal with it all, I would have didsmissed it as the ramblings of a madman or woman. I admit I admire the strength I did not at first see."

"I don't have her trust, I will never have her trust, and I don't bother to figure out that world. People can be left to their own machinations, eventually they'll pay for them in their own time."

Subtleknifewielder folded his hands together again, offering up a sigh of his own. "And if we're lucky, they don't bring others down with them. But that's a thought for another time. we can only do so much in the time we have."

"As to the Welsh, there is a diplomat down there now talking to their President so as to trusting them fully. The Hansa owes them for a great deal of our land and our current stability. We are a Finno-Welsh people after all, but I appreciate you felling me in on their current problems at the moment. I'll be sure to look further into it."

He did not, of course, tell her that the blackmail material used was a threat of going public with his actual identity. "As I said, it's not their President who's the real power. Just be on your guard, and you should be fine. If anyone is in danger from that, it's me for harboring the Triumvirate."

He couldn't resist another chuckle at her last remark. "It's certainly a meet-and-greet. Even us shadows cannot fail to be curious about our neighbors. But you were right, that wasn't the only reason. I told you I was going to be busy...but I did not tell you why. My agents have been giving me disturbing reports lately. My nation may soon be embroiled in some internal strife, and I wanted to warn you to guard your borders carefully, because I don't know how well I will be able to contain it."

At that, he stood. After a moment's hesitation, he removed his gloves and offered her a hand to shake. "It was nice to meet you, General. Before you leave, was there anything you wanted to ask or tell me?"

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Hannah was silent, dead silent as she listened to him finish. She couldn't help but portray a slight sign of annoyance, it seemed if she watched the news or went to meetings she was like the middle sister. Always finding herself caught in the rays of sunlight that Sarah inspired. Not that it was a bad thing, what the Lady Protector had done with the ten years or so of her administration had made it possible for this country to even stand on two feet, Hannah was here to lead the country some extra muscle. As he began to talk about the Welsh again, her boredom increased, if the government was going to be toppled, it would be toppled and really she didn't have much to worry about. The Welsh-Hanseatic border in the south was the most heavily fortified place in the Commonwealth, stemming from the fact that still two-hundred fifty thousand troops were garrisoned in the city, it was when he mentioned that he had his own border problems that she gave a bit more thought. 'He could have just sent me a missive.' She thought to herself thinking of the thirty hour drive back to Apophis, 'And we could have met some other time.' But it wasn't her place to judge and she hadn't minded the ride.

"Well its only a matter of moving a few thousand troops from the south to the west. I don't think there will be a severe problem with that Excellency. It'll take some time, but I think we'll be able to hold any insurgency that would dare try and cross into our borders. As of right now, the Promised Land-Hanseatic borders are now strictly closed." She said with a grin.

After which he stood up and after thinking twice removed the right glove from his hand to shake her own. Hannah obliged and stared down at the skin, another attempt to see if she could figure out who was behind the mask. She had an idea from the familiarity in the voice and the color of the skin and a hypothesis had been made, but it would take a bit more time to fully conclude her thoughts.

"It was nice to meet you, General. Before you leave, was there anything you wanted to ask or tell me?"

"You make it seem as it we're sharing secrets Excellency. You're a mystery man no doubt changed by the winds of time and me..." She chuckled. "Well I'm barely human anymore. Nevertheless, it was a pleasure meeting you Excellency, one day I hope to see you without the mask."

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As he had explained befpre, it had not been any one reason why he had invited her here to talk face to face, but rather a combination of the things he had mentioned. And he couldn't be absolutely certain of any method of providing the warning other than telling her personally.

Apparently the rot originating from that traitor General Orlov had not been as completely eliminated as he had thought, as he doubted any other organization, other than the Red Guard, would have the capability of managing to hide from him to this degree. And those self-styled terrorists actually did their best to avoid civilian casualties, so at worst they were a severe annoyance.

But there was no need to explain all that to her right now, all that mattered was that she had pronounced the borders closed.

"Thank you. That's one weight off my mind, believe me."

Though now he had to add another. He was clearly dealing with someone equal to himself in analytical skill. He wouldn't be surprised if she figured out his identity before he had a chance to decide if he wanted her to know.

"You make it seem as it we're sharing secrets Excellency. You're a mystery man no doubt changed by the winds of time and me...Well I'm barely human anymore. Nevertheless, it was a pleasure meeting you Excellency, one day I hope to see you without the mask."

He tilted his head just barely in the manner that indicated he was curious, even as they shook hands firmly. She didn't feel human anymore? "Perhaps you will, in time, know who I am, just as your predecessor discovered the secrets I hide. Just make sure you keep your promise not to pry unduly. I may not be a general, but I am just as capable a soldier on my battlefield of choice."

A clear warning. She might be an excellent soldier and warrior, but when it came to espionage and shadow plays, he had advantages she did not.

"Make sure to drive safely on your way home," he said. Just as he was turning away, he stopped and turned back, as if almost forgetting something. "You know, once the dust is settled from all this unrest, there is one thing we could do to tighten the bonds of friendship between our nations. Something your Lady Protector even agreed to once. We could hold some wargames." He shrugged, turning away fully this time, staring out the tinted windows at the city that was now buzzing like a hive of busy bees. "Something for you to think about on your way back home."

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"Yes, perhaps, war games are always a bit helpful. If I recall I was not able to participate in the first set of war games due to my station in mainland Asia. Maybe now I'll finally get my chance." She shook his hand firmly before dropping her own to her side and smiled at the Promised Land leader. "But seeing we're done here, I will be on my way, it was a pleasure meeting with you personally Subtleknifewielder and I look forward to our second meeting." With that, Hannah turned on her boots and left the office wringing her hands as she shook her head. 'This really did not need to take place in person.' She thought.

Leaving the municipal building Hannah sighed, it was too early in the day to start her journey back to Apophis and so there wasn't much to do but as they had done in Winton, tour Alice Springs. The advantage to this, Alice Springs was a bit bigger of a city. The town itself, much like Winton was not large and did not have a great deal of urban distractions, the beauty of the region lay outside the city boundaries where the orange ground of the Australian Outback stretched off in the horizon for miles and miles and so this is what they would do with the rest of their day here. They journeyed to Australian Aboriginal tribe settlements and for the first time Hannah was able to really involve herself in a culture so different from that of her own. She immediately fell in love with the primitiveness of the Aborigines, their language, their art, and their legends and stories. Even to the point of procuring a few vases and rock paintings that had been created just as they sat around a crackling campfire, talking about the native environments that existed on the edges of the Commonwealth.

Finally as the sun dwindled away in the sky, Hannah, in an amazing mood for the first time in a week or so from the problems effecting the Commonwealth. She happily walked back to the armored convoys to begin the drive back to the Hansa. As as darkness over took the Outback as the red lights of the convoy moved like fire out onto the black horizon. Hannah sleeping quietly, her head resting silently on the shoulder of one of the Marines sitting next to her.

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"Yes, I look forward to our second meeting too," he breathed quitly when the door was shut. "Thank you for a pleasant chat in the meantime," he added, despite the fact that she would not hear him. By now, she would be outside, and he actually watched from the window as she walked away from the building. He even managed a small smile under his mask...a pleasant interlude. But his smile disappeared as his thoughts turned to his current problems. A potential terrorist insurgency brewing, and the tensions brought on by the pacifistic Adventist movement and Anderson's response to it were foremost in his thoughts...

--------

For the first few miles, nothing would seem out of the ordinary. The city behind them was just beginning to go to sleep for the night.

The airport about nine miles south of the town was likewise feeling sleepy, thought the air-traffic controller remained awake, few others there did. he did take his eyes off his instruments for a couple minutes to get a cup of coffee. Had he not done that, had he been more vigilant, the following events might have been averted...

--------

Cold eyes stared at the convoy travelling through the night, closer and closer to their positon. the owner of the eyes would almost have smiled, except not much made him do that anymore. Not since his father was executed in cold blood.

He heard the engine of approaching subsonic jet engines, and that did make him smile. Everything was going according to plan. He absently made sure the suit he wore was firmly in place. He hadn't used it before, so he was unsure of its capabilities.

As the convoy passed his position, their world was about to be turned upside-down...

--------

The first warning the drivers might have of anything amiss was a loud rumbling noise, but they could easily dismiss it as an aircraft coming in for a landing at the nearby airport, and it would, after all, be a logical assumption to make. The airport might only be a local one, but it saw its fair share of traffic, and several had come and gone during the day they had spent in Alice Springs.

However, the noise of the engines grew louder over the next few seconds. The drivers would have little time to react as a fully-laden 747 crash-landed on the lead elements of the convoy, exploding violently and sending shrapnel in multiple directions...

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Hannah's own armored car immediately swerved to the right to avoid the blazing inferno that was engulfing her two other armored vehicles, the plane, and everything else around them. The heat from the fire was immense and as the Hanseatic's jumped from the their car, they could only look in horror at what was transpiring in front of them. There were no bodies trying to run from the inferno, though there were the sounds of a few screams, agonizing screams, painful screams, Hannah only shielded her face from the blast and watched as the plane continued to burn into the night sky. There was nothing they could do and so they would wait, wait until the Promised Landers could arrive and they would be witnesses to the crash. Hannah got down, sitting on her knees and as she could feel tears begin to well up in her eyes, she could only think of what Subtleknifewielder had said.

"So this is what he meant by internal trouble."

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The eyes that had been watching had vanished as the plane descended. He had to be in place to ensure he arrive at just the right time.

He did spare a single glance at the massive fireball as it lit up the sky, and sighed regretfully that he had had to hurt anyone to achieve this. But sacrifices had to be made.

----

It wasn't more than two minutes after the impact that the first sign of the outside world being aware of the crash made itself known, as three vehicles sped down the road toward the site of the emergency. When they pulled to a stop as close as they dared for reasons of safety, it was clear they were armored military vehicles, APC's, which was only reinforced as about half-a-dozen troops filed out of two of them. The third disgorged a more unusual passenger, a figure seemingly encased by some kind of armor.

This was, in fact, a Trax exoskeleton developed by Cochin (adn exported to allies) for use in extreme emergencies such as this.

But upon their arrival, things actually got worse.

All of the troops, once their feet touched the ground, began collapsing soon after. One was close enough for Hannah and her soldiers to see he had a dart sticking out of the place in his neck his hand had briefly reached up to cover.

One dart glanced off the armored figure before the tranquilizer weapons were turned on the surviving Hanseatics.

Whoever the ambushers were, they were completely unaware that this would have no effect on Hannah. If they had, they might have been more wary...

OOC: Sorry if it's a little disjointed. I wanted to get it posted before I got kicked off the computer and lost what I had done...

Edited by Subtleknifewielder
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"The hell?" Hannah said as she looked up at the Promised Lander guards after they had arrived and began falling towards the ground. Then the crackling sound of darts being fired around them came from across the hillside and the Lillian Guard to her left screamed in a bit of agony before collapsing to the ground. They were under attack. Hannah jumped up from the ground and pulled a pistol out of her holster as the rest of her guards fell to the ground, succumbing to the drugs in the darts, finally the inevitable pain struck the Potentate in the neck as she stepped back a bit from the shock. Immediately the drugs began pumping into her throat, but Hannah felt nothing that perhaps what a few shots of weak alcohol would do to her. Ripping the dark out of her neck, she squeezed it in her hand, crushing the glass into tiny pieces before looking out into the dark and focusing her eyes.

"There you are." She grinned and raised her pistol at one of the ambushers just out of the light of normal human vision. They truly had no clue of what they were up against. Hannah fired the shot aimed for the mans head and after the bullet was discharged she was already running towards the ridge where the darts were coming from, pistol in one hand, a Lillian Saber in the other. It wasn't going to be easy for them.

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The man who'd fired the dart at the Hanseatic potentate had just time enough to widen his eyes before the shot drilled into his brain. The others had been smart enough to actually hide behind cover such as bushes or rocks, so hannah would have to search each individual out. Once her escort had been dealt with, all fire would be turned on her.

The one behind all this, the one who had been watching before the explosion, had to admit to himself that he was impressed. 'Increased metabolism, heightened night vision, excellent reflexes...what other tricks have you been given, General?'

The armored figure dashed in the same direction as Hannah. He was actually closer, and so arrived first. The first man he came across hesitated for some reason, but he knocked them out with a blow to the head just before the General arrived...

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With a series of jumps, Hannah bounded up the mound into a grove of trees where the second dart had come from. But when she pierced through the darkness shrouded by the leaves, the man with the dart gun lay on his side, the gun tucked safely between his arms. She reached down to grab him, but he had been knocked out cold already which made her immediately jump back seeing the armored figure as she looked up. The Potentate clenched her fists and with her right hand reached down, drawing her pistol pointing it at the figure's head. "So I'm guessing you're the person that knocked this !@#$%^& out? You here to help or just make things worse?"

Her finger steady on the trigger.

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'And such strength and agility, too. Not many could have gotten up that quickly and still be steady on their feet. Impressive, General.'

The person in the armor turned to her, not speaking right away. They did, however, hold up both (armored) hands to show no weapons held there.

"Relax, would ya lady?" they finally said, and the voice, though distorted through the external speakers, sounded annoyed. It could have been anyone, though the person was hoping she would remember he'd arrived with Promised Land troops to investigate the explosion. "Is this how you treat your rescuer?"

Finally they shook their head and lowered their hands, taking a step closer. "If you shoot me, you're going to have to explain yourself to the Administrator, and General Hammond."

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Hannah dropped the pistol to her side and stared at the men in armor. "Rescuers eh? Well do you have any idea who this !@#$%^& is?" She reached down and yanked the dart gun from under his arms. "My men are currently unconscious because of him and his little friends and this happened almost immediately after that plane was brought down on my convoy!" As she held the dart gun in her hand, it snapped into as she clenched her fists shut. "Over ten dead from my Guard along with lord how many dead in that plane and now we have this going on when they're trying to knock us all unconscious. So you see why I'm pissed off."

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "I want to get to the bottom of this as much as you gentlemen do and grind the person that did this into a pulp. So if there's anything I can do..." Hannah grinned in a twisted manner. "Just ask."

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'Even stronger than I thought...'

If she could have seen the expression underneath the helmet, she might have wondered, just for a moment, what he was smiling about. What could he have been smiling about, with the results of violence and death all around them?

"I have no clue who this is, and yes, I can see why you'd be upset."

While she was focused on the unknown atacker, and the one who had incapacitated him, a curious thing was happening down on the road. Two of the soldiers lying on the road stirred, then sat up. They had had night-vision goggles hanging from their necks, which they now put on. They had been last out of the APC's for a reason--these two were marksman working for the one behind this, and he hadn't wanted it to be too obvious that they had never been shot.

Each of them raised their weapons, as they were told not aiming for Hannah herself, but for the weapon she carried. The force of a bullet would, hopefully knock the weapon out of her hand, but at the very least should prompt her to turn and see who had shot at her.

Once her eyes were completely off him, the armored figure would make his move, aiming a punch at her temple, a blow amplified by the suit to have at least three times more power than the unaided human could possibly have...

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"Well are you going to help me look or wha-" Suddenly the pistol flew from her right hand as the echo of a bullet sounded through the air. She turned her head to try and find the snipers but after the armored man was behind her, a bashing pain hit into her skull as the girl dropped towards the ground. The world went blurry for a moment, the trees around her were spinning and a vomiting sensation over took her as she tried to lift her body off the ground. It was all a trap and they were all working together. Hannah groaned, she was losing focus quickly and the punch was working its way through her body, blacking out from an amplified attack like that was inevitable. Pushing her arms against the ground, the General slowly began to pull herself back up to her feet, much to the dismay of the armored figure who had bent down to examine his victim.

Without saying a word, she only glared at the figure as she punched her fist into the helmet. The first punch cracking the glass, the second breaking it, and the rest of the flurry of punches the figure would fall back to the ground, his face to be mangled as Hannah continued her assault, screaming in agony as her own fist was reduced to a series of cuts and gashes. When the armored figure was finally still, his unrecognizable, Hannah pulled her fist from out of the helmet and looked at her bleeding hand. She started to laugh, a horrible cackle that echoed across the outback. Then the world began to get fuzzy again as she felt herself falling forward across of the body. The last words out of her mouth, "!@#$%^&."

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'Much stronger,' the figure thought to his dismay. That blow should have been enough to put anyone instantly out. 'I'm going to feel those tomorrow, that's for sure...' was his final thought before blacking out. The suit might have been a loss, but it had in the end saved his life.

Though his face would never look quite the same...

--------

His followers had been drilled on what to do, so they didn't need his instructions. They loaded the tranquilized 'troops (in reality they had all been working for him, but a semblance of realism had had to be there to prevent her from being suspicious until the real trap was sprung.

When she woke again, she would be in a sparsely furnished cell. Above her, too high to reach, was a single, lit light bulb that let her take in her surroundings.

The walls were apparently made of concrete, but if she tried breaking through that, she would only get bruises and scrapes for her trouble--they were reinforced with several inches of solid steel. The door was completely made of steel.

The only thing between her and the floor was a mattress that was actually, surprisingly comfortable, and draped across her was a quilt to prevent her from getting a chill. She was still in the uniform she had been in when she was taken.

Other than these things, there was nothing at all in there, and nothing that could be used as a weapon.

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