Molten Sand

Kaleidoscope Air Center, Emberwood Coast

0628, October 26, 2019

“Finally got a positive ID, sir.” The agent proclaimed proudly, pivoting his screen to show Ikalima.

“Excellent work. Ira, get in touch with your contact in the UK, we need constant eyes on that compound.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Lance took a seat at the agent’s desk, studying the satellite image intently. “You said Lsamua? Fuck, of all the backwater hellholes-”

“I’m sure he just wanted a place as gross as himself.”

“Miss Interva, fancy meeting you here.”

Saturn made a rude gesture in the doorway where she had just appeared. “Don’t use my last name, you know I hate that. Also, nice of you to invite me, dick.”

“I know you’re on the defense committee, you just aren’t the ranking member-”

“Wait, fuck. You didn’t invite-”

“Hello, Saturn.” From behind the silhouette of a monitor, Young stepped into view, with a frustratingly neutral expression on her face.

“You slimy bastard, what did you do?” Lance stepped in and placed a hand on her shoulder.

“Look, you can’t fight in here-”

“I haven’t done anything, and I’ll have you removed if you can’t behave professionally.”

“She’s playing you, you know she knows how to push your buttons-!” Saturn’s face practically glowed red, contrasting wildly with her purple-black hair. She strained against Lance’s grip, finally quitting and  pacing away. She kicked a desk as she shuffled off to collect herself.

“I didn’t know you still had the hots for her. Must be hard without her here to-”

The two collapsed in a heap, Saturn raising her fist to strike before being grabbed by the wrist. Lance lifted her up and back, revealing that Young now sported a split lip and the slightest hint of a smirk. The rest of the room looked on in shock, and for a moment, the room beset by a thick blanket of silence, pressed down with a layer of unmanageable tension. Only Saturn’s rapid panting cut through the stillness, and finally she stormed out of the room swearing under her breath.

“I want her arrested for assault.” Young finally said. Lance gave no indication they even heard her, simply thinking for a moment. Slowly, the room resumed activity, and impatiently, she stuck her hand up to Lance; she was motioning to be lifted back to her feet, but still Lance didn’t react. Turning back to the monitor, he studied the parked plane in the center of the shot.

“How did they know.”

“Know what? Did you hear what I said?”

“They knew when she was leaving, what plane she took.”

“Does that matter? You aren’t listening to me-”

Lance glared at her and repeated themselves, “She was taking ex-jet 2, they wouldn’t’ve known to take that particular jet. It wasn’t the first or the only plane on the pad.”

“So? That’s not important right now, we need to get people to that location to-”

“We seem to have a leak, miss Young.”

“And? Doesn’t mean we don’t have to help her.”

Lance was quiet for a few seconds, then spoke. “Good point.”

“Why don’t you gather a team, and submit the plan by 8. I’ll meet you at the executive building.”

“Sounds good to me.” They agreed. Young smiled, in an almost amicable way, striding out of the room while discreetly wiping away the blood on her lip.

Lance swore and pulled out their phone, dialing Saturn and tapping one foot rhythmically.


Weichert Capitol Compound, Lsamua
Kingdom of Lapimuhyo
0857, October 25, 2019

“Rise and shine, honored guests.” Conroy sported a series of black and blue hills across the left of his face. The bruising failed to subtract from his sneer, as he growled out the words through wounded pride and flesh. None of the three made any move to react.

“Gentlemen, if you won’t come quietly, I’ll have to-”

“Are you fucking at this again? I’ve had it with you. Fucking had it.” Ulysses’ massive form loomed over Conroy and shoved him out of the way, forcing him into a goon who did his best to ignore the blow. “I supported your cult, I armed you. Fed your zealots. Funded your temples. Trained your men. Practically handed you a nation, and for what? You have a petty screed for gospel, a nonsensical ideology that’s just a platform for some… some misguided longing. Grow the fuck up.”

“You said you believed in the cause.”

“I say a lot of things. I’m not rich because I’m a principled holy man.”

“I won’t let you get in the way of my movement.”

Ulysses chuckled, his laugh growing steadily until it was a roaring guffaw.

“Move yourself to some other room.”

He brushed himself off and trudged away, disappearing through a door.

“Now.” Ulysses stretched his shoulders and pulled a smartphone from his back pocket. “To business.”

Nimona raised her head, glaring from the corner of the cell. Ulysses could barely place her but for the reflection of the cold morning sunrise off of the dusty floor of the basement.


“What could you want with me now?”

“Cooperation.” He strode to the bars of the cell and seated himself. “You’re here because I have a very important business deal. You know what I want already.”

“I’m here because you want a trade deal.”

“Don’t sound so excited.”

“I don’t think international food agreements can be signed under duress.”

“Sadly, I don’t need your signature anymore.” And I hate to be theatrical, but… well, I think you might want to see this.”

Tapping a few buttons pulled up a television channel. The camera was trained on an empty podium.

Sporting the presidential seal of Emberwood Coast. Nimona dropped her head down,

“…should be out any moment now, not quite sure what this delay means. Ian, do you see any activity yet from where you’re standing?”

“No, I… wait, there. It’s… shadow Young? I’m not sure where the president is, but I think Miss Harriet is about to begin-”

“Today, I woke up to terrible news.”

“No… no, Harriet… you can’t…”

“Quiet, madame president. The show goes on.”

The murmur onscreen quieted, and Young continued. “I’m going to cut through the rumors, and just tell you what we know. The president is missing.”

The audience exploded through the phone. As it wound down, Young continued.

“As stated in the national concordat, I am assuming her position until she is found safely.” Young looked down somberly, and went on over the noise, “There is no precedent in our nation’s history for this action, and I will be acting carefully to preserve the integrity both of my office and… the office I now temporarily hold. That is my promise to you, the Emberitian people.” She raised a hand before continuing. “This is not something that I was hoping for, and I trust that the legislature will work with me to bring about the president’s safe return, and work with me to keep the country running.”

Ulysses shut off the screen, cutting off the crush of journalists all bursting with questions. He let the silence sit for a moment, then continued.

“I don’t need your signature. I have hers. Now, you may ask, why am I showing you this?”

The cell was silent.

“I need you to help me afterward. Now, you and I both know this situation is not permanent. Your nation- addled with defense cuts as it is- will find you. And upon your retrieval, you are going to endorse my corporation’s agreement with your country.”

“Why should I?”

“I like that. Corporate. Financial.” He paused, considering her inactivity. “Perhaps you’ve noticed, you have two cellmates. I believe one of them may have tended your wounds, even. Again, I’m not one for theatrics, but sometimes I do. Have. To. Insist.” He waved a single finger, and a goon moved towards the cage.


He held up a hand, halting the soldier. “I’m listening.”

Weichert Capitol Compound, Lsamua
Kingdom of Lapimuhyo
2046, October 25, 2019

“Very good. I’ll finalize these papers, you’ll see confirmation and further details on shipping once you’re back at your office. Don’t… mind the noise.”

He chuckled to himself as he strolled away, gently tucking the tablet under his arm.

Trucks shuffled and fled the grounds in great . Shouting, revving, and metal screeching abounded. Shipping containers slammed closed. Gravel crunching under all-terrain tires. The brief, intoxicating wisps of gasoline ether through the barred window. Together it overwhelmed the small space, and the three who’d been forgotten within it.

“What did you agree to?”

Nimona shifted and replied warily, keeping her eyes safely closed behind the palms of her hands.“You’ve got a voice.”

Luna shifted in the dark. Headlights from the departing vehicles splashed daytime into the cinderblock alcove at odd intervals. Her eyes flashed with each pulse, not just headlights, but something more, too. “You’ve got a country. Better not have given it up for little old me.”

“I didn’t, nothing I can’t fix, I don’t think.” She looked up to face the two of them in the opposite corner, but was distracted by the central room. Shadows danced about, carrying nothing and staying conspicuously silent. Blinking twice, she gave up and asked, “Are there any guards behind you, like, pacing, or is that…?”

“I don’t see anything, are you okay?” Sophie looked concerned.

“Yeah, yeah. Fine. It’s… fine.”

Back into her hands she went. A solemn guard strolled up to them, rifle in hand, and unlocked the gate. “You. President. Time to go.”

She started to rise but was slowed by injury. As she gripped the bricks for support, she locked eyes with the guard.

“Not without them.” She panted.

“They’re not on this transport, they’ll-”

“Ulysses gave me his word, they stay with me.” She’d dragged herself up to her feet, cupping her ribs with her left hand. She gritted her teeth, limped towards the thug, and sneered, “Or do you want to take it up with him?”

He squirmed. “It’s not my call, my sergeant-”

“Are you gonna be the one who tells Ulysses Gold his deal is off?”

“Just… Fine. Don’t try anything.” Nimona went back down on a knee and helped Sophie get Luna to her feet. Together, the three made their way out of the cell together.

Everywhere she looked, fully laden semi-trucks and work vans raced around, mostly aimed towards the exit of the compound. Everything looked cleaned out, save for a few guards, and the anti-air implements still rotating threateningly at the sky. Every time she asked what the fuck was going on, the answer was, “Just get to the fucking truck, shut the hell up.”

“Terrible valet service.”

The answer to this was a shove to the back, which almost spilled Nimona, and by extension Luna, to the rocks. Her head felt off, almost like walking uphill sideways. The gravel tricked her as she traversed it, angling her foot at odd intervals, and extending the brief walk from the door to the transport truck into a marathon. Ulysses dangled an arm out of the hatch of a transport, motioning to their escort as they were loaded into the back of the vehicle.

Immediately as the hatch closed behind them, the truck lurched forward. Outside the armored hull, through the porthole windows, desert air began to whistle. The buildings began to blur.

But almost as soon as their final convoy began moving, the first bomb hit, and the APC was thrown onto its side.

As her eyes struggled to latch onto anything, only capturing a vague glimpse of the sky out the window opposite her; three jets screamed past. Unmistakable in their markings. Emberwood.