A Tiger and a Gem

This is part 5 of a series which follows on from The Crowning Moment (part 4), His Enlightened Reign (part 3), A Bingolian Invitation (part 2) and Better the Devil You Know (part 1).

A Tiger is Mesmerised
15 Waseem (July) 2021
Near Mahakatepa, the Kohatu Isles

The waters off the coast of the Kohatu Isles were pristine. They were as clear as crystal and warm. The beaches were white with soft sand and lined with tall coconut palms. Everything was surprisingly peaceful and laid back for a country that was the site of war just 3 years prior.

An hour’s drive from the Kohatuan capital Mahakatepa was a small resort town with villas along the beach. The wealthy came to this secluded paradise to enjoy privacy and rest. They came from every part of the world. Towering Ursines, adorable Lutrynes and the like were enjoying the drinks being served by a merchant under a large thatched umbrella-like structure, basking in the sun and surfing or swimming in the warm gentle waters.

A man with extremely pale and pink skin, punctuated by elaborate tattoos, was walking down the beach. He was a Feline; he had not a hair on his body but a few whiskers reminiscent of the adaptations of his ancestors. He wore shorts that went halfway up his thighs. He was lean, visibly muscular, and nimbly built. He strode both confident and carefree on the beach, sunglasses on his eyes. Not far away, were big Feline men standing stoic in the distance with suits in the warm sun, sweating, unyielding in their gaze.

“He must be quite important”, Jasper said as they ordered another drink from the vendor, keeping their eyes fixed on the mysterious and attractive Feline.

“Everyone’s important Mx Jasper”, the vendor replied.

Shirtless except for a bikini top over an otherwise flat chest and wearing a low-rise flowing wrap around their waist, Jasper Ray had come from the halls of the Kohatuan Legislative Assembly to have a rare and much-deserved rest. Three years ago, Jasper Ray was not far from this place, holding a heavy rifle and shooting soldiers of the Diamond Authority.

Now they freely used the pronouns they/them, wore makeup, spent most of their time politicking, and were referred to as “Mx” by a public that not long ago resented gender non-conforming people. It was remarkable how much could change in such a short time. Handsome Feline men from exotic nations were among the many changes that Jasper Ray came to enjoy about liberation from the Diamond Authority and the rule of the Oan Isles.

“I’m going to talk to him”, Jasper Ray said out loud, almost like they were talking to themselves.

The vendor replied, “Be careful Mx Jasper”.

Before the vendor could complete his statement, Jasper was already walking toward the stranger. Jasper stood in front of him, their own body with traditional Oan tattoos.

Jasper said, “You have nice tattoos, very exotic”.

The stranger replied in a very thick foreign accent, “You too, very tribal”.

Jasper laughed, “Very witty, are we? I’m Jasper, nice to meet you”.

Jasper extended a hand to greet the stranger. The stranger shook it and said, “I am Abu…”

“Nice name”, Jasper replied, “Can I interest you in a drink?”

Abu was surprised by the offer, but he did not let on. His sunglasses obscured the intention and expression of his face. He simply nodded and they walked together. Ever the conversationalist, Jasper was able to ramble about all sorts of topics and ask questions to which he gave short answers. Abu spent most of that time trying to make sense of what he saw and felt.

What an interesting person, he thought to himself as his eye rode up their caramel-coloured arms and body, taken captive by the strong, slim and youthful physique, and pretty androgynous face.

“What would you like, Abu?” Jasper asked.

Abu looked surprised almost like he had been transported to this unknown place. He had spent much of the walk being both confused and enamoured by this human who was so forward and confident and friendly and kind.

“A mimosa, please”, Abu replied.

“Ooh”, Jasper said, “A wise choice. I, myself am partial to a strawberry daiquiri”.

The vendor made the drinks looking at Jasper mischievously.

Jasper came closer to Abu, asking to see his tattoos. They barely touched Abu, hands hovering barely a centimetre. Abu felt, drawn like a magnet, listening to the swirl of words and questions, taking this person in like a drink of fresh water. It was like he was witnessing something both strange and familiar which he was certain was somehow important and necessary.

After over an hour of conversation talking about that bit of politics and current affairs, pop culture and trips to foreign lands and hobbies, pets and favourite colours, Abu said, “Can I take you out on a date tonight? Since you’ve made me feel so welcomed and bought me a drink, I think I ought to return the favour, to a lady as lovely as you are”.

Jasper’s face seemed to crease with confusion, but they quickly hid their expression, realising what had happened. Jasper was tempted to explain that they were not a woman by any estimation, but they thought, Why not? Let’s see where this goes.

Later that evening, Jasper arrived at the address whereat Abu asked them to come for their date. The gardens were beautiful and a burly feline man led Jasper to the back of the property. There, a picnic overlooking the beach had been prepared. There were lights that gave the scene a gentle glow as the sun began to dip its toes, its body and then its crown into the sea.

Jasper sat beside Abu who greeted them with a kiss on the cheek and a glass of Pinot Noir, grown in the Tumarid Highlands of the Shakar Province of Packilvania.

Jasper twirled the glass, inhaled the rich scent of spices and wood, watching the legs form on the sides of the glass and letting the red fluid sit on the palette. Abu’s jaw seemed to have slipped open as his eyes were fixed and unmoving on Jasper’s lips, with very few thoughts in his head other than how they might taste.

“Abu?” Jasper said, smiling softly, enjoying the fact that Abu was visibly taking a fancy to them. Abu kept moving closer until they were barely a foot apart.

“Can I see the tattoo on your hand?” Abu asked.

Jasper obliged. Abu stroked their hand and eventually held it. Jasper was surprised but calm and reciprocated with a gentle but sturdy hold. Abu touched Jasper’s arm, moving his face closer to theirs. Before their lips could meet, Jasper said, “Abu, I think there’s something you should know…”

“I don’t want to know anything other than whether you will let me kiss you”, Abu said at once, his breathing mixing with Jasper’s.

Jasper replied, “You may kiss me…”

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The Morning After
16 Waseem (July) 2023
Near Mahakatepa, Kohatu Isles

Jasper woke up on a large sprawling bed with wooden posts rising from floor to ceiling on every corner. Jasper’s eyes tried to resist their desire to wake up, taking their time to acclimatise to the early morning sunlight. After stretching, yawning and wiping their eyes, Jasper tried to reach out to the other side of the bed, expecting to feel the warmth of a man’s body. But the blanket was open like the shadow of where he used to be.

Jasper sat up in the bed and saw no one. They got out of bed and headed to the en suite bathroom which overlooked the mountains and forests, offering breathtaking natural vistas while the warmth of water spread over the skin. Jasper grabbed a bar of soap and a washcloth and began to lather, relishing the smells of cocoa butter wafting in the air. They got out of the show, covering their entire body with a cocoa butter scented lotion and drying their hair with a hairdryer positioned on a chair in the bathroom.

They proceeded to pick up their clothes from the bedroom and get dressed. They picked up their PrimPhone and opened the Pigeon app, checking for updates on news and celebrity gossip usually presented in funny 140-character-or-less posts. They then opened the Chatter app and searched for Moissanite, a member of the Kohatuan government and sent a message.

After dressing, Jasper got out of the room and began wandering around, wondering where Abu was. They saw a guard in the kitchen conversing with someone who was chopping vegetables in a language Jasper did not understand. When they saw Jasper enter the kitchen, the guard jumped to his feet and at the same time as the chef said, “Good morning, eh…”

Jasper quickly responded, “Morning. Where is Abu?”

The chef replied, “Who?”

The guard jumped in, answering, “He has some business to attend to and has asked me to take you home”.

“Hmm”, Jasper said, “It’s okay, I can walk”.

Jasper proceeded out of the gates and began the 25 minute trudge to their hotel, and posted on their Chatter stories “DL men, am I right? :roll_eyes:

A friend replied, “Pour the tea, sis :coffee::eyes:

Jasper smiled and sent a voice note explaining the entire situation.

Abu was in the gym on the third floor of his villa. He had his PrimPods in his ears, while his PrimPhone lay screen down on a nearby chair. Wearing nothing but a pair of shorts and sneakers, he sweated profusely as he lifted the weights, the sinews of his body rippling like water while the morning light made him look almost luminescent.

The guard entered and coughed, standing at attention until acknowledged by Abu. When he finally saw the guard, he took his left PrimPod out of his ear and asked, “Eh?”

The guard replied, “luMalhuza adun, Abu” (“A note for you, Abu”)

Abu looked at him angrily, and replied, “Dunomna min lunomenfi?” (“What did you call me?”)

The guard looking nervous and apologetic, replied, “Gaflaki min, Mamlukmne Abuyin”. (“Forgive me, Prince Abuyin”)

Abuyin took the note and read it. “Call me” was written with a number underneath. Abuyin put the note down and continued with his exercise.

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A Belated Happy Birthday to the Regent
17 Waseem (July) 2021
Sultana’s Palace, Bingol, Packilvania

Prince Abuyin checked his watch, straightened his thobe and took in a deep breath before entering the Dining Room where his family was having a meal together.

Other members of the imperial family stood up to greet him, except of course for Thumim. As the seniormost person in the room, Thumim outranked everyone including him. As such, he stood for no one except for the Sultan himself. Thus, Abuyin walked straight to him, and gave a bow, saying “Ashamiliya, brother”, while kissing him on the cheek.

“Ashamiliya, to you too. Not so much as a birthday card, brother?”, Thumim asked, smiling.

“Your birthday will soon become a public holiday so forgetting one won’t hurt”, Abuyin said with a smile.

“Hmm, be seated my brother and let us feast and be merry”, Thumim said dramatically lifting his hands.

Everyone laughed, taking their seats and Abuyin went round to acknowledge them. Eveyone around the table was eager to hear what the mysterious Prince Abuyin was up to in the far away land of the Oan Isles, especially the younger cousins. Princess Yadika had brought her children and husband, Prince Nakhim, to the dinner. Sultana Mebri was also in attendance. Abuyin sat beside his elder brother, the perfect picture of a brotherly alliance that did not last too long. Various topics were thrown hither and dither.

Particular fascination was paid to Prince Temadek, Princess Yadika’s oldest son, whose lanky construction, acne-ridden face and thick spectacles suggested that he was ever the book worm and wallflower. Though normally quiet, the questions that his uncle, the great Prince Thumim probed him with made him feel validated and seemed to give him the confidence to regale and fascinate the table with talk of particle physics, matters that Sultana Mebri had once said were both beyond her reckoning and beneath her station.

“So, you say that the General Theory of Relativity breaks down at the immense pressures and minute scales of the deepest bowels of a black hole?” Thumim asked, smiling with pride and holding his chin in interest.

“Yes, sir”, Prince Temadek replied, “It is not only within black holes but at scales of sub atomic particles like bosons and fermions that an entirely different discipline of physics called Quantum Mechanics comes into the picture”.

Prince Abuyin, having drank slightly too much wine, was prone to being slightly less agreeable than normal and had enjoyed far too much Shakarian wine tonight. In the midst of the jubilant conversation, he thrust himself into things, “Oh Temadek, what use will you have for talk of physics. You are a prince, you should be preparing to join the army and seeking a wife, not reading books and trying to study the sciences like a commoner”.

Prince Nakhim, cradling a hefty belly stared into the distance, avoiding the awkwardness that Prince Abuyin had created. Princess Yadika’s expression turned to deep annoyance but in the end it was Prince Thumim who intervened, “Now Abuyin, you leave the lad alone. I think it is a good thing that he pursue the sciences. A career in academia, studying the boundlessness of Noi’s creation is a pursuit as noble and important as finding a wife or fighting wars. These are things your parents will worry about for you, my boy”, Thumim said, “Put your mind on your books. Is it not written in the Bas Magdamar that Noi, may her light shine, said unto our Lord Pax, peace be upon him that, ‘Seek thee first my kingdom and the bounty of my creation and all else shall be added unto it’?”

Prince Abuyin said, “All that science is good for is teaching women that they should abort their children and that men and women are equal when that is obviously not true. If science is not growing the economy or building our armies, I do not see the use of it”.

Prince Thumim was becoming rather vexed at Abuyin, not understanding why he was acting like a brute and ruining the jovial mood. But he knew that everyone would be negatively affected if he showed frustration, so he remained calm, taking on each of Prince Abuyin’s arguments, “Now Abuyin, you know as well as anyone that our country is the most populated in the world and is projected to reach 2 billion people in a century. We do not have the resources to support such a large population. Thus, we need to give women the right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy and to ensure that they can do so safely”.

“For someone who talks a big game when it comes to scripture, I don’t understand why you’re adamant to support such a barbaric thing”, Abuyin said as he poured himself the Pinotage grown in the hills of Caltharus.

“Because, brother, I do not read the scriptures blindly nor take them lightly”, Thumim said, keeping as calm as he could, “The fact of the matter is that the teaching of the Magisterium is increasingly recognising the importance of women’s autonomy over their bodies including in decisions about whether to allow a foetus to grow in it. Scientific research points to the fact that women’s control over their bodies both increases their personal happiness, but enables nations to combat overpopulation better than anything else”.

“Perhaps, there’s too many humans and we should go back to the good old days”, Abuyin said laughing.

Thumim stood up, dropping all pretence of congeniality and loudly said, “Now you shut your mouth! We do not condone speciesm in my Empire, do you understand?”

Prince Abuyin looked away, trying to play it cool and seem calm. Prince Thumim repeated himself, “Prince Abuyin, do I make myself clear?”

Abuyin muttered something that vaguely resembled a “yes, sir”.

“You are never to utter such evil words in my presence every again”, Prince Thumim declared.

Another muffled, “yes sir” seemed to fall from his lips like a puff of smoke, disappearing so quickly as to be barely noticeable but enough that everyone at least suspects they might have heard it.

“Now you apologise to Prince Temadek for your unruly behaviour”, Prince Thumim commanded.

Prince Abuyin turned to looked at the boy who was visibly humiliated, his lugubrious face sucked of all the excitement and joy of the evening and everyone’s attention. Prince Abuyin, who despite his rancid behavior actually loved the boy and was moved to see that he had wounded him. He turned to him, reaching a hand from the other side of the table, “Hey, kid, I’m sorry. Still your favourite uncle?”

Prince Temadek gave a timid smile to which Prince Abuyin responded with “That’s my boy!” Lightening the mood somewhat.

“Sorry everyone”, Abuyin said, “Seems the wine got to me a little, too much excitement for one evening”.

Everyone except Thumim gave a little chuckle. Sultana Mebri seeking to capitalise on this lightening of hearts replied, “What an exciting dinner, almost as delicious as Princess Yadika’s Pax Fruite curry recipe!”

Everyone laughed a bit more, seemingly relieved that some of that tension that been stripped. Thumim was clearly not impressed, but seemed to simmer as well. Abuyin stood up and said, “Oh look at the time! I best be getting to bed, I’ve had a long trip and I need to rest”.

Abuyin quickly scadaddled but not before grabbing the 1981 Shiraz from the table, to Prince Nakhim’s dismay who had been eyeing the bottle after finishing a glass of 1991 chardonnay.

Abuyin slipped out of the room and went to the balcony, hiding under the stars far away from bright lights of palace. He took out his phone and inputed the number on the note that Jasper gave him. He sent a message over Chatter, “Habibi, hud?”

He waited a little for the three dancing dots that showed someone was typing to stop. Jasper’s message came through, “Hi there ,stranger haven’t spoken in a bit :upside_down_face:

Abuyin replied, “Sorry, habibi. Family dinner…”

A Good Check Does Much Good
18 Waseem 2021
Rulhan Royal Palace
Bingol, Packilvania

Echoes of a strange foreign language creaped from a little room further down the passage way. The voices of little felines liltfully bounced about the ancient walls of the Rulhan Royal Palace, the old palace which had partly been built by and belonged to rhe Rulhanite dynasty which had ruled over Bingol in the interregnum following the collapse of the Iktanite dynasty and before the Zubraynite dynasty, making parts of it at least 1,000 years old. The expansive estate was in part a public museum which the Bedonite dynasty maintained despite being a massive drain on resources. One would suspect that the government’s willingness to bequeath the imperial family control over these ancient white elephants was to drain enough of their resources to keep them in check.

As Abuyin got closer, the voices of the little ones formed into words and expressions rhat were somewhat coherent.

Ich habe Hunger. Du hast Hunger. Wir haben Hunger. Ihr habt Hunger”, they repeated in various forms different ways of saying that they themselves or someone else was hungry.

The second batch of phrases got louder as Abuyin approached, “Ich schlafe zu Hause. Schalfen Sie zu Hause? Schlafst du zu Hause?”

These bizarre foreign language lessons were hosted by the Prophet Rahajh Lyceum, a fancy private tutoring school run by the Museum to attract some funding. It hired highly capable foreign language teachers, including a human woman called Bisnaya from Fidakar who had lived in Ethalria for a few years.

Prince Abuyin walked towards her and knocked on the door. Smiling, he said, “Hello little ones, hello Ma’am”.

All the little kids stood up and said in unison, “Ashamiliya, muSheikh”.

Bisnaya greeted him and instructed the children to carry on colouring in the pictures she had given them to make visual associations with the phrases she was teaching them. She stepped outside with Prince Abuyin, out of earshot of anyone.

“Teaching Ethalrian, are we”, Abuyin asked.

“Well, your imperial highness, some of us must make an honest living”, Bisnaya said.

“Hmm, in between your other dealings it seems”, Prince Abuyin said in jest, “Nevermind that, so what did you find out about the Sheikha”.

“Well, she”, Bisnaya said, feeling ridiculous at the coded language that they were using to describe Abuyin’s seemingly male partner, “was a member of the Kohatuan Liberation Front that was involved in the fight for liberation against the Diamond Authority and subsequent support of the unification with the Oan Isles. She is now a member of their government. She is quite the social butterfly and social media darling. Her Pigeon account has some lively pictures on it for a politician. But, for the most part I think she’s harmless. Do exercise caution as always, this is the first high profile person you’ve introduced me to. The opportunities for mistakes are substantial”.

“Thanks, Teacher”, Abuyin said as he handed her a thick and heavy envelope.

“Pleasure doing business with you, sir”, Bisnaya responded as she peaked into the envelope, counting the cash inside.

Abuyin opened his PrimPhone with his fingerprint and saw a meme from Jasper. He smiled and said, “This is lovely, habibi :rofl:

Burden of Trust
6 Hayaad (August) 2021
Promontory Court, Chrysoberyl, Malachite City (Mahakatepa), Kohatu Isles

“Girl”, said Larimar as she looked at Jasper. She took a sip of her tea and placed her delicate cup back on the saucer. “Well, at least the tea was served hot, both figuratively and literally”.

Having been friends with Jasper for years and having worked closely in the liberation front for years, Larimar had come to know, respect and develop a deep bond with them. Now, they were ensconced in the comforts of modern life, coming to grips with all the minutae and details of not only being inhabitants of a democratic country but being free to pursue who they were. Jasper had long come out to Larimar as gender non conforming, but now they were living their truth. Part of the process of being new to things especially ones sexuality, was doubt, and confusion, amidst the excitement and drama. Jasper did not know how to navigate the relationship they had with a man they barely knew anything about. On one hand, they wanted to enjoy the experience, but on the other they wanted to be vigilant of any warning signs.

“As far as I am concerned, honey, this man is a walking red flag”, Larimar said while dropping a little vodka into her tea to enliven it as she had the habit of saying.

Holding Jasper’s hand, she said, “Honey, I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news but look at the facts: he only sees you when it’s convenient for him, he hardly texts you except to say Hi and ask how you’re doing. He’s barely told you a thing about himself”.

Trying to find common ground with Larimar and get her to see their point of view, Jasper explained, “But, babes, he listens to me, he asks me questions and when we do see each other, he’s always so kind and generous”.

“In more ways than one it seems”, Larimar said with a chortle.

Jasper feigned exasperation and had a hearty laugh as well.

“Honey, I am happy that you are having fun, but don’t let that man forget that you are the prize”, Larimar said, looking into Jasper’s eyes, “Don’t bank your hopes on him. Enjoy the ride but know when it’s time to get off”.


18 Waseem (July) 2023
Unknown location, most likely Packilvania

Darkness.

A drop falling in the distance and the sound of nothing except the whistling of the wind through the lid above. The air smelt of sweat. Jasper held on to themselves. They could barely walk as they were simply in a hole in the ground, a cuboid that was 4 metres in height made of smooth concrete walls barely 2 metres in width and length. There was enough space for a little pacing, but nothing else. Food would be brought in by a man who never spoke through the opening in the top before shutting the lid again. The slop was unpleasant, barely having flavour and being a frightening mix of vegetables, starch and meat. Jasper had long been a vegan but any notions of selective eating had flung themselves out the door as soon as they got here.

Once in while another man would open the hatch and for 20 minutes or more yell “This is Abuyin’s fault”. Jasper would yell as well rebutting the statement. But as days turned into weeks and as they returned Jasper back to the hole after failing to obey some arbitrary rule, the words would sink a little deeper. Everytime, the man would ask, “Who is your enemy?”

Each time without fail, Jasper would say “Thumim”. And each time they would close the lid and leave. Jasper would often play back conversations of the past like their conversation with Larimar on 6 Hayaad 2021 when she presented them with a choice. Jasper was starting to wonder whether their choice to follow Abuyin had been a wise one.

Jasper asked themself, “Was Larimar right about Abu?”

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Starting a Business
16 Hayaad (August) 2021
Palace of the Duke of Makobar, Bedonite Ducal Estate, Makobar, Kharyat, Packilvania

The board of trustees of the Amhoud I Family Trust was filing into a meeting room at the estate of the Bedonite family in the city of Makobar. The architecture was emblematic of High Packilvanian design and style. The buildings had vaults carved with intricate geometric patterns that scattered the light that fell through the delicate archways. This Palace was the home of the private family trust of the ruling dynasty of Packilvania.

The trustees were not actually members of the family. They were portfolio managers, accountants and lawyers from outside of the family who oversaw the prudent management of its substantial endowment to both grow and preserve it to ensure that the family had the resources that they needed to continue to maintain their lifestyles and pursue their projects. Prince Abuyin had made a rare request to the board of trustees to consider a proposal for a new business that he wanted to establish. With the help of his team, he prepared and distributed a 150-page explanation of his idea.

The board of trustees sat down around a round table. At the center of which was the chairman of the board of trustees, Khimayon Dohal, the son of lord and martyr Eron Dohal, one of the most notable figures in the struggle against Communism. He had been operating in the investment space for decades before his appointment to the position of de facto head of the trust. Princes often came to him pleading and threatening, wanting money for this purchase or that project, but he was unwavering in his commitment to prudent financial management even if he earned the deep irritation of some disgruntled and disaffected prince.

With the Bedonite dynasty hoarding so much money, he would not be the chairman to allow frivolous pursuits to result in investment decisions that would tear the whole thing asunder.

Prince Abuyin was very deferential to the board, bestowing on them praise for their “stellar management” of the trust and his confidence in their “financial skill and ethical standards”. While he knew that flattery would not clinch the deal, he at least wanted to make them less resistant to his proposal.

On a large screen he opened his Damehowe i8 processor laptop, which he connected to the screen using an HDMI cable. He grabbed a remote and pressed the first button. The first slide that emerged was a picture of an oil rig.

The trustees were confused and began to whisper among themselves, except for Khimayon who simply looked straight ahead, unmoved and unimpressed.

“The Oan Isles, a country in Aurora”, Prince Abuyin began, confident he had gained their attention.

Before he could continue, Khimayon interjected, “Yes, we are aware of the location of the country, Prince Abuyin”.

“Uh, yes, sir”, Abuyin said, giving a cough to dislodge the phlegm in his throat. He proceeded, “When they took over the Kohatu Isles after the 2017 Kohatu War, they accelerated the exploration for and subsequent extraction of fossils fuels buried deep beneath the ocean surface. Although their reserves are not as substantial as ours, they are enough to make the price of petroleum in that country extraordinarily affordable. Their government is currently pursuing a program to onshore as many jobs as possible in the archipelago where these resources are found. Thus, there are opportunities for us to both create jobs there and benefit from the investments here. Firstly, I want to establish an ammonium manufacturing company in that nation that will produce inputs for agriculture and industrial cleaning. As you will see in your information pack, the voracious demand for fertiliser and industrial cleaning present substantial opportunities for sustained long term growth. Admittedly, no business proposal is without its caveats and downsides. Of which, the most challenging is the cost of labour and the restrictive regulatory market. But these are factors we can ameliorate through building good relationships with the local government, efforts that are already at an advanced stage”.

Khimayon seemed to ease into his chair, seemingly more willing to listen and genuinely assess Abuyin’s proposal. Abuyin saw the man ever so slightly recline in his chair and took the opportunity to dig into his presentation.

He continued, “The Oan Isles has a large domestic market open to consuming these goods but there is an even larger market to which it has unhindered and unrivalled access: the United Nations of the Auroran Continent. External tariffs for the production of ammonia for the entire UNAC are determined continentally for nations within their Customs Union. Imports of ammonia have faced backlash for the offshoring of jobs and lobbsiding the carbon measurements for imported goods. While we all know the penchant of wealthy nations to offshore their carbon emissions, a small project like this could attract enough good will and overcome sufficient regulatory hurdles to make the entire investment pay for itself in 5 years”.

Khimayon Dohal raised his hand, which Abuyin was surprised by but acknowledged nevertheless, “Lovely. However, why are you pursuing this course of action, Prince Abuyin. I can imagine that there are economic opportunities in any sector. But I think you have not given us an adequate overview of the elements of a successful business that are really worth considering: the team. You have covered the the other two elements rather well: the market and the product. But, I presume that you will be the driver of this project, and last I checked you had no expertise in the fertiliser business and I do not see such expertise with us in this room. Lovely report you’ve put together but I need to see demonstrable credentials of the team that will lead this project before we go into projections about possible income”.

Abuyin had been caught off guard by that question but luckily not entirely unpreprared. He replied, “You are correct, Lord Dohal. I have no expertise in ammonium production but I have a vision where we can leverage the power of fossil fuels to feed millions especially in our country. Packilvania suffers from exceedingly difficult conditions for growing food. I have a vision to leverage the abundance in one nation to ultimately benefit our own. To this project, I bring passion. The team that will make it all happen is a group of scientists and industrialists from across Packilvania who have knowledge and the drive to succeed”.

Khimayon Dohal put up his hand and said, “Prince Abuyin, I think we’ve heard enough. Thank you for your proposal. We will take it under advisement and refer back to you”.

Prince Abuyin tried to interject, “But I’m not do…”.

“I think you are”, Khimayon replied, “I have read through this proposal and last I checked you only had one slide left. Up until this point, I have not read of even the building blocks of how this ammonia slash ammonium will be produced, where and by whom and for how much and to which buyers. Let us not apeak of the contradictions in how on one hand you say that the UNAC is your market but that Packilvania will be the one to benefit. We have not even gotten to speak of exchange controls, sourcing for raw materials and logistics for distribution. Thus, far, I see no reason to believe that this a lovely but ultimately vacuous project underpinned by nothing but dreams. Sure, there are startups with valuable ideas that have simple ideas that they can take further. But sadly, we are not a venture capitalist fund. Prince Abuyin, we invest in serious businesses here and I will need you to provide us with vastly more information. And this time, I suggest that you get one of the touted members of your team to present. Other than perhaps your vision, I do not see how much of a contribution you will be able to make. Thank you, that is all”.

Even as the second in line to the throne, the coffers of the Amhoud Trust were sealed shut. Abuyin tried to remain professional, composing himself and accepting Khimayon’s criticism. He had heard of Khimayon being on shows such as “Lion’s Den” on the PBC channel 5 where he tore through the half baked ideas of aspiring entrepreneurs. He had heard of him in investment briefings at majors firms tossing an investment analyst’s report at their face. To be the one in the firing was a different experience especially when you had grown up so entitled and self righteous.

Abuyin got a text from Jasper, in Staynish “Hi Abu, how did the presentation go?”

“Horrible, habibi, just awful :confounded:

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Happy to Help
30 Hayaad (August) 2021
Mahakatepa, Gemica, Kohatu Isles

Jasper had just ended a day of fierce oral combat in the committee rooms, interview booths and plenary sessions articulating policies, challenging arguments and humiliating political opponents. As the Chief Whip of the Kohatu Liberation Front, the largest party in the Kohatu Legislative Assembly, Jasper exercised significant influence over the voting of the members of the party by ensuring that members voted according to the party line. Sardonyx, the deputy party leader, and Opal Lazuli, the party leader and chief executive of the territorial government, were the only two people within the Kohatu political order who surpassed Jasper.

They enjoyed a latitude and importance in the local political structure that few could. In reality, the world was bigger still and they were a big fish in a small pond. But to the extent that they could wield sway over the decisions of tens of legislators, it was a sway they were willing and able to exercise. Part of Jasper’s brilliance was their charm and wit. They also had the astuteness to know when to joust and parlay.

All of that political acumen disappeared when Abu sent a simple “Hey Habibi” text.

Jasper seemed to revel in the attention that they received from an attractive, exotic, and mysterious man. Although Abu was visibly wealthy, Jasper had not yet grasped the full extent of who they were, enjoying the casual affair for what it was. Unbeknown to them, they were nursing and quietly cultivating feelings that seemed more deeply anchored than lust and more sturdy than mere curiosity.

Jasper was in the bedroom changing for the evening and getting ready to slip into a hot bubbly bath surrounded by candles. Abuyin sent a message saying, “Hey baby, can I talk to you?”

Jasper was surprised by the message, and despite the inability to discern tone from the text, they construed that something was amiss. Whether by instinct or dumb luck, Jasper had happened upon the mood of Abuyin’s call rather precisely.

Abuyin began explaining how he wanted to be closer to Jasper and to spend more time in the Kohatu Isles. He then proceeded to explain that he had wanted to do this by starting a commercial enterprise focusing on fertiliser manufacturing but was waiting for financial circumstances to be more accommodating (of course omitting the embarrassing botched attempt to elicit funds from his family trust).

“What can I do to help”, Jasper said, the words tumbling out of their mouth without a second thought.

“Well, my baby, I don’t know. I currently have a factory I want to rent, but I need a permit from the government and those can be hard to acquire”, Abuyin replied.

“Don’t worry”, Jasper replied, “Send me the details and I’ll see what I can do about it”.

“Habibi, are you sure”, Prince Abuyin asked, pleasantly surprised that he did not have to ask Jasper before they could act.

“Yeah, don’t worry about it”, Jasper said, “I’m happy to help”.

“Thank you so much, Habibi”, Abuyin said, “Even stars become faint when you’re around”.

A warm rush of blood seemed to rise from the head to the toes and back again. Jasper said their goodbyes to Abuyin and messaged their friend, Larimar.

“Friend!!” The first text went.

After a few moments, Larimar replied, “Call?”

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Skipping the Queue
19 Kharaat (October) 2021
Bingol Royal Palace

Abuyin hated queues. He was completely unaccustomed to waiting in them. The longest one he had ever waited in was the line of succession to the imperial throne of Packilvania and the only person ahead of him was Thumim V. Now, it was just him. Unlike many people who would have to wait at most a few days, he had to wait for years. It was a wait that he was settling in for. Even though Namdun III had by this time not formally abdicated, in practice, the man was on his way out and Thumim was taking an increasingly active and prominent role in running the country. Abuyin was supposed to be groomed to be the future Crown Prince, but there seemed to be hesitation from his parents and his brother.

He took this to mean that they did not want to be overt about his father’s eventual abdication. Abuyin had not expected Khimayon’s response to his request for financial assistance to be so mean. He had known that Khimayon Dohal was a tough cookie, but he had been surprised by who deeply and swiftly he had evicerated his proposals. Being a member of the Bedon Royal Family was weird. On one hand you were part of the richest family in the world. On the other, your access to the cookie jar was gatekept by people you barely even knew.

So, Khimayon put Abuyin in a queue for the family’s fortune, a queue in which he was not keen to wait. Jasper seemed to approach the task of expediting the approval of the purchase of the factory with enthusiasm. Conversations about purchasing machinery, submitting documents and going through screening, were interspersed with Jasper’s spirited allusions to being in a formal and public relationship and working towards building a life together in the Oan Isles.

Abuyin liked Jasper a lot and he had heard that queer males in other countries were prone to rushing into relationships. But seemed a bit fast paced for Abuyin by any standard. Jasper had made it a point to let Abuyin know that he would not rush him or nag him for information about his past. But his not so subtle allusions seemed to do tend towards nagging and rushing. Abuyin expected that given how much effort Jasper was putting into helping him get the ammonium factory off the ground.

The project was a fun sidehustle for Abuyin. Despite the challenges of getting to the family coffers, he was still flush and did not need the money from a quaint business. He needed a reason to keep coming here, but it had to be convincing. The Oan Isles was beautiful especially its territory called the Kohatu Isles in the Morstaybishlian Sea. It was also a place where he could be free to do what he wanted and pursue whomsoever he chose without being caught. Starting a business with reasonable chance of success would aid him in doing that. The fact that Jasper was well connected within the Kohatu space made it that much easier to get the ball rolling. Thus, Jasper helped him jump over and skip many queues that otherwise ordinary people would have to wait in.

They were able to get the papers to register the company and purchase the factory building filed and approved faster than most. They were able to get a bank loan assessment pushed through a local bank that serviced the affluent. And Abuyin simply rode on this waves, enjoying the trips to the Oan Isles that seemed to take up quite a bit of his time. The visits at first were unremarkable and seemingly invisible. With time, people who normally ignored his exploits and let him have his privacy starting asking things like “where are you going”, “what are you going to do” and worst of all “who will you see”. Abuyin was starting to get anxious and decided that perhaps it was best to stay in the Oan Isles for a couple of months in the name of building his business, so that the back and forth between there and Packilvania would not raise eye brows. Sadly, it had.

Someone Noticed
31 September 2021
Bingol, Packilvania

Prince Abuyin had long been familiar with the exploits of the Packikvanian intelligence agencies, having at one point been privy to information pertaining thereto. Nevertheless, even he was ignorant of the depth and length that their presence beyond Packilvania’s borders reached.

Although a Prince, a stint in the Packilvanian Armed Forces had introduced him to manual labour and physical discomfort. For a Prince accustomed to the blessed lifestyle that wealth and status afforded, the physical exertion had helped equip him to do physical work. This proved useful many years after that episode passed as he helped to carry boxes into his new office at the ammonium factory he had managed to get started with Jasper’s help.

He wore casual clothes and spoke Staynish. Whenever people asked where he was from, he would lie and say that he was from the Free Pax State and that his name was Abu Inaxe’mun. And that is the same thing he told Jasper. As their relationship became more serious, physical intimacy and going out were inadequate. The emotional connection and mutual support that a relationship brings had to be supplemented with information about each other’s lives. Jasper had been honest and forthcoming about their life (which was corroborated by information gathered by Prince Abuyin’s spy).

Prince Abuyin elected to lie. He fabricated an identity. With the aid of a wiry conman, he invented Abu Inaxe’mun with a fake passport, and ID. While this person had a bank account at the Standard National Bank he avoided making transactions, preferring to work in cash and through intermediaries. One benefit of owning this factory was that he could make transactions through it instead of in his own or assumed identity further obscuring who he was.

Unfortunately, for Prince Abuyin, no Prince of Packilvania can escape the prying eyes of his home state for long.

As he moved the boxes in his office, unpacking curated objects collected from Kuter Kebir and other places in the Free Pax State to advance the illusion he was building, one of his employees, Te Mahua, was helping him. Te Mahua wore traditional Oan clothing. With the weather being warm and humid, Te Mahua did not wear a top, allowing his caramel skin and intricately executed tattoos to show. He wore a short and simple traditional skirt as he worked. To keep his feet comfortable, and safe from falling objects, he wore traditional boots made from animal skins. He had this youthful face that vaguely reminded Prince Abuyin of Jasper.

He was flirtatious, leveraging wit and humour and an awkward but adorable disposition to cultivate a relationship with Prince Abuyin. They joked and laughed as Abu told invented stories about all the objects in the room, giving vague details and avoiding lengthy answers. As he worked, and enjoyed the company of his employee, Prince Abuyin felt like perhaps a life as Abu Inaxe’mun could have been the life for him.

Jasper knocked on the door seeing them laughing and working as said, “Kia Ora, I see we’re having a wonderful time”.

They walked towards Abu and gave them a kiss on the lips. Abu’s hand tensed. It was as reflex because he was not used to receiving or giving physical intimacy in public especially with a non-binary male-born person. Years of living in a queerphobic country can do that to a person. But to quickly conceal his discomfort, he put his hand on Jasper’s cheek and kissed them again, repeating the mantra in his head “Omihamiyal” (meaning, in Packilvanian, “I am safe”).

Te Mahua gave a faux cheer, “Okay you too, pop off!”

Jasper gave a smile and pretended to be shy. Te Mahua said, “Let me get some more things from the back”. He then left the room, closing the door behind him and leaving them alone.

“How have things been going, Abu? The last time we spoke you told me about how excited you were to ve moving into your new office” Jasper asked.

Abuyin responded, “Definitely, I am very happy with everything, habibi. The factory is better than I hoped for. And you?”.

Despite Abuyin’s valiant attempts at Staynish, he still struggled to express himself fully and often kept sentences short.

Jasper was not bothered by this and anyway had a lot to say for the both of them, “Well, my day was crazy! I had a convention this morning with the Women in Technology forum at the Mahakatepa Palace. The women there were so wonderful! These titans of industry and even up and coming stars were sharing all their work and inventions and experiences working in the tech sector…”

Abu simply smiled as Jasper went on. At the corner of his eye, he saw a flash of light out of the window on the factory floor. It was so small and far he assumed that it was the reflection of the sun on the metallic surface of one of the machines. Then the same light shined again. He decided to go and investigate.

“Sorry, habibi. I need to go and check something”.

He gave Jasper a kiss on the cheek and exited the office. He approached the source of the light and saw a shadow whose owner was hidden by a fully packed metal shelf. As he approached, he heard the pitter patter of feet like someone jogging and the shadow quickly receded like someone running away. He ran towards the source but by the time he go to the otherside of the long shelf, the person was gone. He was uncertain where that person went. He decided to go check uo on Te Mahua.

He found Te Mahua checking off items on a list, humming a song.

“Hey, Te Mahua”, Abuyin said.

Te Mahua replied, “Hey Boss, what’s up?”

“Did you see anyone else here?”, Abuyin asked.

Te Mahua answered, “No sir. Just me”.

“Hmm”, Abuyin said. He gave Te Mahua a nod and exited the room. Te Mahua sat quietly for a bit waiting for Abuyin’s footsteps to fade.

He took out his PrimPhone and started texting someone known as “The Silk Mother”.

“Hey”, he stated typing, “Got what we needed”.

The person on the other side started typing. They replied with a simply thumbs up, “:+1:”.

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14 October 2021
Used Only Once

Packilvania is built on a strange mix of political and economic interest groups who trace their lineage to the Communist Party and the Carriers of Mercy. With the dissolution of both parties in a negotiated compromise and through passage of time (and the subsequent loss of memory that it creates), the boundaries between different groupings was murky. While powerful, the ban on political parties and the rigour with which the security services intruded on the lives of the citizens, these different economic and political groups (despite possessing means and skills) lacked the confidence, mutual trust, shared identity or coherence to organise effectively. Thus, the Bedonite dynasty’s ability to balance these groups made them rely on it more for protection and fear its reprisal, making it unusually powerful. Of course, it would be naive to call the Bedonite dynasty a family in the typical sense. Instead one could more accurately view it as a small, but disciplined, well organised and ruthless tribal group that acted as the fulcrum on which the political forces of Packilvania turned.

Nevertheless, being in this position introduced vulnerabilities both to Packilvania as a nation and the Bedonite dynasty as a ruling “family”. While the line of succession was clearly defined and issues of inheritance were easily mitigated by the Council of State, it placed greater personal responsibility on individual members of the family for sustaining the political system. The person with the greatest and most unenviable responsibility was the Sultan. Below him, were those who stood in the line of succession. Unlike other nations where the questionable behaviour of a Prince would cause some uproar but ultimately mean nothing in the grand scheme of its politics, in Packilvania deficiencies in the candidates to the line of succession spelt serious trouble.

On one hand the Bedonite dynasty exercised real political power through economic, political and legal authority which they exercised by appointing themselves and their allies to positions of power in the government enabling them to control budgets, policies and personnel. On the other hand they exercised moral and cultural influence through strategic marriages, charitable and cultural patronage, and moral example. Thus, each member had the incredible task of displaying and embodying the stringent piety that exemplified them above all believers and adherents of ultraorthodox Paxism.

This entailed ritual purity in the form of prayer, participation in ceremonies and rites, public modesty in appearance, pilgrimage to holy sites, and abstinence from excessive alcohol and impure meat. But it also entailed moral purity in the form of abstinence from fornication, adultery, homosexuality, covetousness, inebriation, obscenity and disobedience. Beyond the weight of the decisions that they made about others, they also had to maintain and exude perfect discipline over themselves. This came easier to others. Thumim was the archetypal ultraorthodox Paxist man. He had no romantic entanglements before marriage, worked dutifully for his father and knew the religious law back to front and followed it perfectly.

Abuyin was, unfortunately for some and fortunately for others, not like Thumim at all. He was exuberant, experimental, eccentric and in love with a being who thwarted every notion of what being a good Paxist entailed. Jasper was everything that a Paxist should not be: non-binary, plurisexual of some strand, and suspicious of authority. These were the traits that made them incompatible with Paxist doctrine and ultimately unacceptable to the political elites and the greater Packilvanian public who looked to and expected from the Bedonite dynasty especially the heir to the throne, moral piety, prudence and strength of the highest order.

His personal failings, as the Packilvanian establishment would have perceived them, could not be permitted to escape. One person presided over ensuring that the failings of members of the ruling clan would be carefully managed and that was Prince Lohadek. He was a giant within the Packilvanian political system, the pitbull guarding the entrance to the home of the Bedonite dynasty, the keeper of the order and peace of Packilvania. No failing on the part of any member of the family was as great as the report he received that morning from a woman known simply as the Silk Mother.

She stood in front of him in his office at the Chancery Building in Bingol where the Department of State Security was housed. He read through the same 50 page report times before lifting his head to ask her, “Are you sure?”

Her face was covered by a cloth with only her chatoyant green eyes visible. She simply nodded.

“Who else knows?” Prince Lohadek asked.

“Only the spy I sent to watch them”, the Silk Mother responded.

“That’s ridiculous. Everyone who has ever seen them together, knows”, Prince Lohadek said, “Listen here and listen clearly, I do not want to repeat myself. You are to eliminate your spy and destroy the evidence. I will take care of the rest”.

Prince Abuyin had been the Oan Isles for a few months. He had been seen with Jasoer Ray at least once in public: the first time when they met on the beach. He had managed to steer clear of the public and avoid encounters with Jasper in public. But unlike Packilvania where information and the narrative could be controlled, it would only be a matter of time before someone made the connection between Jasper’s push for an ammonium factory built by a Packilvanian Prince on Oan soil would be exposed for what it was.

Once the Silk Mother left his office, he turned to a mirror above the small water fountain in his office. He stood on a chair and pressed a button under the frame of the mirror. The mirror opened and behind it was a safe. He placed his index finger on a scanner and inputted an alphanumeric code on a keyboard whose keys kept moving with every press. He took out a black folder. He stepped down from the chair and dialed the number written on a single piece of paper in the folder. He had been told by Sultan Namdun III that this was the one and only favour he would get, no questions asked. Once dialled the number could not be used again, and the line would be forever severed with no replacement or repair.

Hands shaking, the waited for the ringing to end. No voice answered. Simply the sound of breathing.

Prince Lohadek said, “I need a favour”.

21 October 2021
Show’s Over

The light of the stars gently entered through the glass of the windows. The blinds moved gently as the warm evening breeze entered the open windows, cooling an otherwise warm room. Jasper and Abu lay asleep together, with Abu’s arms around Jasper’s waist.

Abuyin’s PrimPhone began to vibrate. Abuyin decided to ignore it and went back to sleep. The device eventually quietened after vibrating seven times. His phone started vibrating again. Annoyed, he opened his eyes and turned, reaching for the side table with his hand. Once he grabbed his phone, he looked at the person who was calling him. It was Te Mahua. Te Mahua never called him.

Abuyin answered the phone, “What is it?”

Without preamble or pleasantries, Te Mahua replied, “The police are raiding the factory”.

Abuyin woke up with a jolt, waking Jasper from their sleep.

“What’s wrong, honey”, Jasper asked in a sleepy voice.

“Nothing, I just need to take care of something”, Abuyin replied.

He quickly put on his clothes. One of his bodyguards was on duty, his head bobbing as he fought sleep.

He was jolted to action when Abuyin yelled “Get up”

The guard got up quickly and ran to the car. He drove it to the mansion’s entryway and opened the door for Abuyin, then got back inside the car and started driving. Inside the car was the head of Abuyin’s security detail. Another car followed with five large men dressed in black suits and wearing black gloves. They got to the factory in a matter of minutes. The lights were on, and police officers were carting away documents in boxes, and bursting through locked doors. They had surrounded the front of the factory, their vehicles parked prominently in the front, forming a laager around the entrance.

Abuyin instructed the driver to park in a distant back alley while the rest of the guards used a secret back entrance to enter the building and either destroy or collect any documents or computers that they could. They wore balaclavas to conceal their identity and protect their nostrils from tear gas. As they entered, there was a commotion as policemen encountered the guards. The sound of gunshots permeated the air. Realising that saving the documents and computers was not feasible, the head of Abuyin’s security detail ordered his men to set the computers and documents on fire and fled the scene. The police feared that the fire would spread from the offices to the factory floor where it could ignite the ammonium. As the bodyguards fled, the police used the fire extinguishers to contain the fire.

By the time they had finished, Abuyin’s men had fled back to the mansion. They immediately started packing. Jasper woke with a jolt as burly men packed belongings, documents and devices into bags.

Jasper screamed, “Abu!”

Abuyin ran to Jasper and jumped on the bed embracing them, Jasper clung to Abuyin for safety and comfort.

“Abu, who are these men and what are they doing here?” Jasper asked

“These are my men”, Abuyin replied, “Habibi, I need to leave this country, immediately”.

“What? Why? Are you leaving me”, Jasper asked.

“It’s complicated, Habibi”, Abuyin answered.

“I’m not going anywhere, Abu”, Jasper declared in confusion and fear, “What the fuck is going on?”

“Habibi, I’m not who you think I am”, Abuyin said.

“What the fuck does that mean?”

“Please, my darling, my habibi, please just trust me”, Abuyin said, “You’re in danger here”.

“Fine”, Jasper said, “I’ll come with you”.

Jasper and Abuyin drove together in the same car, rushing to the Prince Uahana Te Ko Nui Airfield, where Abuyin parked his aeroplane.

Abuyin said to Jasper, “Stay, here!”

Abuyin went into the plane, and it began to taxi. Jasper looked out in horror. Before they could see any more, the Head of Abuyin’s security detail jumped in front of the back right passenger window and opened the door.

“Ma’am, eh, sir”, the man said in awkward confusion, “Come with me, the Prince has a jet ready for you”.

“The who?”, Jasper asked.

The man stopped dead in his tracks awkwardly and turned around to look at Jasper.

“What is going on?”

Before Jasper could ask any further questions or protest, one of the guards placed a cloth on their face laced with a sleep-inducing agent. Barely a few moments passed before they collapsed. The guard carried Jasper to the other plane. As soon as they were inside, the jet began to taxi and headed straight for Kuter Kebir.

Jasper woke up after an hour or so. They looked outside and saw thick clouds below them and the wing of a plane cutting through the air and lifting the jet.

“What’s going on!” Jasper yelled. They grabbed a bottle of wine that was on the table.

The guards jumped up, and the head of Abuyin’s security walked in and calmly said, “Jasper, I know that you must be frightened and confused. Please put the bottle down and let me explain”.

“No, I will not”, Jasper said, “Why did you kidnap me! Where is Abu”.

“The Pri…, I mean, Abu, is on a different plane, but he is certainly going to meet you where we are going. And we did not kidnap you, he rescued you. You are safe, here. Now put the bottle down and let’s get you something to eat, I am sure you are famished. My name is Khashnad Yamoud, I am the head of Abu’s security detail”.

“Why does Abu have a security detail? Is he a gangster? Answer me”.

“Abu is not a gangster, he’s just a well-connected businessman. How about we land safely and then he can explain everything to you? Alright?”

Jasper calmed down and sat down. Khashnad asked the attendant to bring Jasper something to eat, a warm blanket and a change of clothes.

They landed in Kuter Kebir where Jasper was driven to a mansion in the hills, outside of the city. The staff were all ordered to vacate the mansion but promised that they would continue to be paid and that their jobs were still safe. Only Abu’s guards and one helper were there to help Jasper get comfortable.

Khashnad ordered the guards to secure the perimeter of the estate. Khashnad kept reassuring Jasper, “You’re safe, now”.

“Where is Abu?” Jasper asked, their voice hoarse from the yelling of the evening.

“He will be here in a few days and he will explain everything”, Khashnad said.

“Unbelievable!” Jasper said pacing around the room annoyed. “Fine! Whatever. where is the bathroom. Please get me a towel”.

“Of course”, Khashnad said, “The maid is on her way”.

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Getting answers
Office of the Deputy Crown Prince
22 October 2021

Abuyin was furious! His skin turned red as he alternated from pacing around his jet and sitting in his chair. Everyone was careful to avoid irritating him. In times like these, it seemed he needed to be alone until he either tired himself or felt better. He took his phone out from his pocket. He was tempted to call Jasper and beg for forgiveness and try with all his might to explain what was going on. The truth is that he hardly knew himself.

He feared a few things. Firstly, he feared that Jasper had been caught when they were working on securing the necessary land and permits for the factory. Secondly, he was afraid that Jasper would be arrested for corruption and/or abuse of power. Nevertheless, there was a nagging feeling in his mind that perhaps Jasper had been responsible. He suppressed albeit failed to fully defeat the idea in his mind that Jasper could have sabotaged him and was a potential for his enemies. However, he quickly dismissed these notions because he had conducted a thorough background check on Jasper at the taxpayers expense and Jasper came out clean. He also had Jasper monitored by his personnel and there were no alarm bells raised.

He disembarked the plane. A car picked him up from their airport and ferried him straight to the offices where his staff were located. In this time, he was officially called the Deputy Crown Prince and thus, he was also a member of the Council of Ministers of Packilvania. This meant he maintained a department for various projects and programs that he worked on. Some of his staff were up early, sitting in the office, typing away. Despite his frustration and fear, he found the scenes of this building, where he felt he did good work, calming and reassuring.

The office was open plan like a start up. There were bean bag chairs and couches and a TV screen, popcorn machine, video game console and other amenities. In this space, he surrounded himself with young people from across the country. Being here filled him with energy. Admittedly, he did not always understand the project or legislative proposals presented to him by the highly educated people who had deigned to work in his office despite more economically fruitful opportunities in the private sector. However, he wanted to feed off their exuberance and modernity, choosing not to have an office for himself.

While forward thinking at the time, it failed to account for the fact that he needed to have private conversations and amenities far from everyone else. A sound-proof conference room would have to do. There he met, a sub-unit of his staff that nobody knew about. It was mainly a private contractor, Lashiya Saan, and her team. Although she described her services as “political crisis management”, on the street, she was known as the Fixer. Her job was to vaguely solve problems. As he entered, he saw her as well as her bodyguard, Najda. Najda stood at a corner while Lashiya walked around.

“You’re never seated”, he said as he closed the door.

“It’s easier to swing my fist when I am standing”, she replied.

After looking serious for a moment, they both laughed.

“It’s such a relief to see you Lashiya, I wish it could have been under better circumstances”, he said.

Lashiya replied, “You only contact me when you have a problem. I am perfectly happy to keep that is it is. I see too much of you already”.

“A sharp woman”, he said, “The Oan police raided my factory in the Oan Isles and I do not know why or what they found. My lawyers back there are currently devising a strategy to quash this and they’ll submit an application for an injunction as soon as the court opens, but I am not really bothered with that. I am more interested in what they were looking for”.

“Where is your…”, Lashiya asked.

“Safe, I made sure they wouldn’t get to it”, he replied.

“Everyone is a suspect”, she said somberly.

He stood and spoke firmly, “No! I want to eliminate all other possibilities”.

Lashiya lifted her hands as to say, “Alright, I accept that”.

She said, “The alternative is that the Oan police were tipped off about the factory. My team and I will get on it and find out what they are looking for and where they got it from. I’ll start wittling down probable scenarios and will get back to you”.

Lashiya started to proceed towards the door before she left, he said, “Thanks for helping me”.

She simply said, “I will send you my bill. For Noi’s sake, it’s four in the morning! I expect to be paid in full. I’ll tell you when to break radio silence. We’ll meet tomorrow at 3 AM, This time, don’t be late”.

“Yes ma’am”, he replied.

And she left. No goodbyes, no pleasantries. They were not here for games or socialising. This was a political crisis. The last time a senior leader in a Paxist country was found to have very particular and eccentric romantic tastes, an entire monarchy was overthrown (see Allegheny for more).

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23 October 2021
Tropical Betrayal Served with Filial Bitters

Lashiya and Najda were on their way to the Kohatu Isles, an overseas territory of the Oan Isles to get to figure out what was going on. Lashiya’s secretary Ayra had arranged flights, accommodation, a car and meetings with Abuyin’s lawyers and staff in a matter of hours. One thing about Lashiya’s staff, is that they were committed to their jobs and devoted to Lashiya personally. Her work ethic and lead-from-the-front mentality earned her their respect and admiration. The fact that she rescued each of them, gave them a life and a future, earned her their loyalty.

Ayra had been abused by her husband and was the victim of an acid attack that left her scarred on the face. When she collapsed in front of Lashiya’s house, fleeing the evil man who had once promised to love her, Lashiya took her in, mended her, and that man simply vanished. The last trace of him was a car found at the bottom of Khujhdameen River. Najda was an old boxer who was exploited by an unscrupulous manager who fed him performance enhancing substances that led to addiction, and mental health issues. Lashiya found him and hired him as her bodyguard, working with him to reconstruct his identity and wean him from the substances that defined him.

That is why when she called Ayra and Najda at 3 o’ clock in the morning asking them to help her on a case of this magnitude, she could trust them with her life and be confident that they would help her. Some might argue that Lashiya was manipulating them and exploiting her good deeds and their desperation to control them. That person may or may not be correct. But it begs the question how different their lives would be if she didn’t. In their minds, they had answered that question and were often asking themselves how best they could aid this woman who seemed to bear the weight of the political machinations of Bingol squarely on her slender shoulders.

They landed at the Mahakatepa International Airport where a driver waited with a sign saying “Lashiya and Najda”. He ran to them and helped them pack their bags in the car and drove them to Te Ukanui & Co., the law firm based in Tokapa but with a branch in Mahakatepa that oversaw Abuyin’s legal affairs. They received a status update on the application for the injunction which had been submitted before they landed. Nothing was surprising or different from the update that they had been provided by Prince Abuyin. These weren’t high end lawyers for nothing. They knew just as much as anyone that there were specialist services which were not available to regular paying customers. These were the services in which Lashiya was interested.

She wanted access to documents, places and personnel. While not expressly illegal, their maneuverings stood on dubious ethical grounds. They managed to get Lashiya a chat with the one of the police supervisors responsible for executing the search warrant. In a sun-lit cafe on the Mahakatepa waterfront promenade, he divulged that the police had been gathering information that pointed to the suspicion that the factory was potentially involved in corrupt practices. Nothing stuck until they got an anonymous tip off by an email belonging to an unknown server that when they traced the original IP address of the sender, kept changing.

After that she had arranged to meet The Mahua at his apartment in downtown Mahakatepa. She knocked on the apartment, but nothing came of it. A slightly pungent smell wafted through the door. Lashiya asked Najda to knock down. Using his power and strength, he rammed into the door, causing it to swing open. Te Mahua was like a chandelier. She ordered Najda to bring him down but it was too late, his light had gone out forever. There was no note, no letter. They search top to bottom for clues but found nothing. They closed the curtains and switched off the lights, sprayed every surface with a water based substanced and shined UV lights on everything. It revealed splatters of a substance that had been scrubbed away and footsteps of a boot walking towards the bathroom. The footsteps simply vanished.

Lashiya and Najda left things as they found them and left the apartment, with Najda quickly repairing and closing the door. Lashiya made a phone call using her burner phone to the police and quickly giving the address and suspected crime then threw the device into the street where the car they had arrived here in destroyed the device before the operator could ask who was calling. Lashiya and Najda often dealt with difficult situations such as these. However, this was a different brand of political intrigue.

Lashiya looked at Najda who was starring out of the window in silence and said, “We’ll let the local police handle it, there’s nothing for us to do here”.

Najda did not respond. He was a strong man, but he had experienced many difficult things that even the strongest man might find challenging to deal with. They returned to their apartment, gathering their wits and strength analysing the information before them and connecting the dots.

At 3 o’ clock, as scheduled, Lashiya was on the phone with Prince Abuyin, “Te Mahua is no longer with us. And it seems that the police received an anonymous tip off from a number that they could not even begin to trace. My guess is that there are powerful people who do not want you here”.

Shukraan, Lashiya”, Abuyin said, “I am grateful for your help. If I have political enemies, willing to go to these extents, I need reenforcements”.

When the call ended, Abuyin asked his secretary to schedule a meeting with the Minister of State Security, Prince Lohadek.

24 October 2021
Meeting the Big Fish

Abuyin arrived at the Department of State Security headquarters in Bingol where he was scheduled to meet with the Minister of State Security, Prince Lohadek. As the second in line to the throne, Prince Abuyin was the Deputy Crown Prince and was member of the Council of Ministers, the highest executive decision-making body in the country. Thus, it was fairly easy for him to get a meeting with the Minister.

On arrival, he was welcomed by Prince Lohadek’s secretary and offered tea and biscuits. The secretary returned to their desk while Prince Abuyin waited in Prince Lohadek’s office. The minutes ticked by and transitioned to an hour on the old mechanical clock perched on a shelf in a far corner of the office. Prince Abuyin became increasingly irritated, eventually exploding with rage over the secretary whose calmness annoyed him. He eventually grabbed the secretary by the collar.

As he did so, Prince Lohadek entered the room and said, “Stop!”

Prince Abuyin turned to look at him. Prince Lohadek commanded, “Put my secretary down, immediately!”

Prince Abuyin let go of the secretary’s collar and entered the office in silence. Prince Lohadek entered the office and closed the door behind him.

The two men shook hands and kissed on the cheeks. Prince Abuyin said, “I am glad to see you are in good health, Minister. But I should advise you not chastise me in front of your staff”.

Prince Lohadek replied, “You should not man-handle my staff”.

Abuyin then said, “You should not be late to our meetings”.

Prince Lohadek moved to his side of the desk and sat down, inviting Prince Abuyin to seat opposite him at his desk as well instead of the couches where they normally sat for long chats.

“I apologise for my tardiness”, Prince Lohadek said, “However, you demanded this meeting with me without considering the immense disruption to my schedule, which I have been at pains to reconcile to your preferred time. What may I assist you with, sir?”

Prince Abuyin replied, “All is forgiven. I have a problem: someone is trying to undermine me and harm my associates. I suspect a political plot is against me is at hand”.

“Oh my, Prince Abuyin”, Prince Lohadek said, “I will immediately deal with the security detail that you were assigned as to why they were unable to detect or mitigate this threat”.

Prince Abuyin was confused, and replied, “What do you mean? I haven’t had a state-provides security detail in months”.

“Oh, how could I have forgotten?” Lohadek replied, “You chose to cut yourself from the protection of the Packilvanian state despite the fact that you are an officeholder and your self management of your security exposed us to a potential crisis. Now that your sabbatical has been cut short by some minor inconvenience, I must help you?”

Abuyin was shocked and replied, “Sir, I am the Deputy Crown Prince of Packilvania”.

“A power that you used to get a waiver from my department’s security oversight through your influence with the Sultan himself, against my clear and obvious advice”, Prince Lohadek stated sarcastically, “Alright, Prince Abuyin, tell me what exactly happened? Where did this happen? Who were you with?”

Prince Abuyin replied, “I cannot tell you. I need you to provide me with manpower and resources to conduct the investigation, I will take over from here”.

Prince Lohadek took a moment to respond . He leaned in and said, “No. If you will not tell me, I will not help you”.

His jaw had a slight drop as he tried to comprehend, Lohadek’s open defiance. Before Abuyin could continue, he said, “I think our time is up. Please ask your office to file a formal application for the reinstatent of your security detail under the oversight of my department. That is all”.

Prince Lohadek began typing on his laptop and reading through his diary. Abuyin simply sat, surprised by what Lohadek had said.

Prince Lohadek looked up and said, “Ashamiliya, Prince Abuyin”.

So the Prince stood up and left, a bitter taste in his mouth. When Prince Abuyin sat in his car and called Lashiya, “We are on our own”.

Prince Lohadek watched from the window as the car left. He opened a file in the drawer of his desk. The bloodied face of an Oan man in grey scale filled a picture stapled to a set of documents. The tossed the entire file into a shredder. He opened a second file with the bloodied face of a woman wearing a hijab. This followed another round of shredding. He drank his tea, a content expression as though to say, “This secret dies with me”.