Tiger's Claw

Somewhere in central Airbus UK – Kaphuket village
04:37 AM

Sitting on the grass, William ‘Swordfish’ Norrell grabbed the canteen, but then he gave up. Drininking would have been a good idea… but in that moment he couldn’t stomach it. He was just waiting for his scouts to come back. Possibly, to come back with good news. Just to change routine, for once. Just not to be forced to face a too horrible truth.

«Swordfish… Librarian and Terminator have come back» raising his glance on his aide, the Archangel Lieutenant thought the tone didn’t seem optimistic at all. That was a statement, nothing else. Usually, people rush to report good news. If they don’t, there’s a good chance the news is not good at all. If they do not say anything… it’s usually really bad news. That seemed to be the case.

«Arrange some kind of assistance for the villagers… no, I do not have the slightest idea on what this is supposed to mean. Do something. Anything. Put on a red nose and some jokes, if you’ve nothing else. Tell Librarian and Terminator to come… and above all, tell Gypsy to repair that radio. I do not care if he’ll have to use a fork to replace the antenna or if he’s supposed to forge a new shell… I want the radio. And then, call me the Iustitia Implacabilis. I want Raven… and nobody else. I do not give a damn if it’s four o’clock in the morning. Either he’ll answer me or I’ll cal New Irem myself… and this is not a negotiable request»

As his aide simply nodded, William Norrell rose on his feet. Now, there was just one thing which could have made things worse. Rain. A moment after, a thunder echoed between the thick clouds.

Somewhere in central Airbus UK – Kaphuket village
Twenty minutes later

«I do not care about political implications. Nor you should, Raven. We have enough information, now. We cannot hide our heads under the sand… because we are responsible towards… do NOT chat with ME about the general scenario and other crap like that, Colonel! I’ve been behind the enemy lines for six months with my guys. I am not supposed to know anything about the damned scenario. I do not know anything about scenarios! I just know what I’ve seen, and I just know we cannot stay here doing nothing! Forward… go the hell, Colonel! I’m wearing the purple talons! I do have no fu**ing chain of command to respect! And I’m ready to be martial-courted, on this. Forward the snapshots to the Antares and then up in New Irem. ASAP. This unit cannot do anything to solve the situation, while you can! You have to! Swordfish out»

Turning the comm link off, William Norrel glanced at the Archangel in charge of the communications, who nodded back. Transmission completed. The Iustitia Implacabilis had received the photos. His rage still boiling inside him, the Lieutenant started barking the orders for his men.

The Northern Grand Duchy – New Irem
The Fortress – Reziel’s rooms – Thirty minutes later

Putting down the receiver, Grand Duke Elistar Reziel sighed. Not because the phone call had forced him to such an early wake up. That wasn’t a problem at all. The problem was the news coming from the Archangel Commander in Airbus UK.

Since the take-over of Port Jennifer, some ten months before, the New Iremians’ efforts had been aimed at one goal above anything else: calming down the situation in order to cool down the international fuss the attack against Airbus UK had provoked. To be exact, no nation had formally complained with the Grand Duchy for what had happened… but it was obvious nobody had been too happy of the situation. International relations had improved and new projects of cooperation had developed… but the shadow was there anyhow. Unspoken words, rumors. Comments. Behind-the-stage insinuations.

That had been the reason of the unofficial order sent by New Irem just after the take over: strengthen the garrisons, assume full control of the northern strip to protect the Dovakhanese borders… but nothing else. No more hostile actions against Singh and his troops. At least, no more aggressive ones. Consequently, blueprints for the take over of the whole nation had been classified… and then archived, sent to languish on some forgotten shelf. The priority had changed from the crushing of the Singhians’ resistance to the achievement of some kind of stability in the south… enough stability to give them the chance to pull out with a shining ‘Mission Accomplished’ tag.

It had worked. To a point, at least. In that very moment, the situation in Port Jennifer had had a relevant improvement. Formally, there wasn’t a Government… yet. Secret talks with the so-called Resistance had been started, and despite the fact the former President was unapproachable somewhere in Free Pacific States, a pacific co-existence seemed to have been reached. There were problems to be solved, of course, but there seemed to be a chance.

But now, the chances to go on with that project were feeble at best. Obviously, there had been preliminary warnings, but the news hadn’t been officially confirmed. Rumors, nothing more. Now, they had an Archangel Lieutenant witnessing what was going on. William Norrell was a man of honor… and a good soldier. The chances he was simply exaggerating were… inexistent. No. The head-under-the-sand policy couldn’t go on anymore. Singh was a problem. Bigger than what they had expected. Something had to be done.

Sitting in front of the personal computer and waiting for the boot to finish, the Grand Duke dialed a number on the phone. Twenty seconds after, the sleepy voice of his personal aide answered him.

«A number of calls, Luke. Lachdanan , first of all. I want him in my offices within… no. I want him in my rooms now. After that, alert the Archangel HQ. Arrange an emergency meeting at 06:00. Then… have as much rest as you can, because they’ll be difficult days, from now on. At 08:00 call me the FPSian Embassy. I still owe Ambassador Bellhaze a fishing day: I’m sure this is the right moment. Luke… this is not an official convocation, but I won’t accept a ‘no’ answer, so try to be as persuasive as possible»

Pausing for a brief moment, Reziel glanced at the photos he had just received on his encrypted e-mail account. Holy Ki’jo.

«Uh? Uhm… no. One thing more. At 12:00 I’ll have to meet Lady De Corde… yes, it will be a very short fishing day, Luke. Very well… Dragonhunter out»

Sighing again, Reziel allowed himself a sad smile. Luke wasn’t an Archangel… but despite that, he had closed the communication using his battle nickname. Freudian lapsus.

Christie Island – The Rezielan Consulate in Rillanon
07:13 AM

Opening the armchair, Codric smiled in relief. The high uniform had already been returned by the laundry. After having received the orders coming from New Irem, the Rezielan Consul to the Government of The East Pacific thought that was good news… probably the best he’ll have had in weeks. Slightly shaking his head, the young Consul thought it was such a pity. So much diplomatic work, so many talks and negotiations… and now, everything was at risk.

Hearing the door of his room opening, the diplomat turned back and smiled at the young woman on the threshold.

«Good morning, Eileen. As you have probably imagined, this will be a busy day. Postpone everything on my agenda… next week will be perfect. Not before. If possible, later will be even better. After that, uhm… no: before that, call me my sister in Tasman. I do not care if time zones work against her… that’s life. However, do not be too worried: I suppose they’ve already received the news, so there’s no chance they’re sleeping anymore. Finally… I need the limo. I’ll have to attend a meeting at the EPTO headquarters, today. To this purpose… phone Major Trevalin. We’ll give him a passage»

A bit bemused by the enormous amount of orders she had just received, something definitely unusual from the Consul, the secretary simply nodded before hurrying to the phone.

Free Pacific States – Tilden Island – Garneldo Naval and AF base
Communication Office - 07:56 AM

When he stormed inside the room, the New Iremian Captain’s face was dark to be generous.

«What the hell does it mean? Orders from New Irem? The Archangel HQ? I thought we were formally assigned to the EPTO, so if you gentlemen will be so kind to…»

Without being bothered too much by the Captain’s reaction, the Archangel simply handed him the sheet of paper he had just printed.

«It’s not the HQ, Sir. Dragon’s nest will not step on your precious EPTO toes, do not worry. The message comes straight from the Duke himself… whose authority do overcome the Treaty, at least according to what I’ve understood. However, I suppose you’ll find all your answer… if only you’ll mind reading»

Incinerating the Private with a fiery glance, the EPTO officer took the sheet. Second after second, his face began to become a bit darker. When he had finally finished reading, he took a deep breath.

«I’ll accept the Duke’s explanations… but I’ll want the confirmation from Rillanon anyhow. And I suppose we’ll have to hear something from Liberty City, too. Anyhow… I suppose I can take all the necessary steps to comply right now… but let’s just make things clear: not a single EPTO ship or plane will move until we’ll not have received clearance from the High command»

«I suppose that’s acceptable»

Nodding, the Captain turned towards his assistant.

«We move to DefCon 1. No need for klaxons, so try to be discrete. Should we receive questions from the FPSians… try to arrange something believable, but do not become mad about it: I suppose they’ll have all the needed infos pretty soon»

The Northern Grand Duchy – New Irem
Reziel’s offices – 08:00

As soon as the electronic digits on the clock display moved to 08:00, Duke Reziel’s personal aide dialed the number of the FPSian Embassy in New Irem… the behemoth, as it was friendly nicknamed. The largest Embassy of FPS in the whole region. Now, the Rezielan will have seen if it was just as efficient… at least, efficient enough to locate the Ambassador throughout the two hundreds rooms or so. He was still chuckling when a female voice brought him back to his job.

«FPS Embassy, how can I help you?»

«Luke Gardol, Duke Reziel’s personal aide. The Duke would like to talk with Ambassador Bellhaze. We’re aware this is being a rather early phone call, but it’s a matter of urgency»

«Hold on, please. I’ll check if the Ambassador is inside his office. May I just ask you to spell your surname?»

«G-A-R-D-O-L… but I think you can report him it’s the Duke’s personal aide»

«I’m sorry, Sir. According to internal procedures, we’ve to file a brief form to save the relevant data of whoever calls the Embassy. So, could you please…»

«I am sorry, my Lady… will this take very long? I mean, I do…»

«Do not worry, Sir. I’ve already forwarded your request to my colleague, who’s actually waiting for the Ambassador to answer. As soon as he will have, we’ll put the two of you in contact… providing we’ve finished with the form. So… could you please spell your first name?»

«Ki’jo…»

«Pardon?»

«Uhm… nothing, sorry. My first… sure. L-U-K-E»

The Northern Grand Duchy - New Irem
Residence of the Ambassador of the Free Pacific States
“…what?” Mark Bellhaze didn’t even bother to roll over, instead crushing the phone into the pillow, so that he could continue half-sleeping while speaking to his aide.

“Sorry to wake you, sir, but you’ve an important call…”

“Important call?” Bellhaze asked, grogily. “What time is it?”

“8 AM, sir.”

“8AM?” Mark demanded, aghast. “My God! Who would ever call the embassy this early? No one in this city wakes up before noon!”

“Sir…this nation’s entire government is made up of military officers,” the aide responded, after a few moments. “They all wake up at 5 AM.” He didn’t mention that the entire embassy staff, with the exception of Bellhaze, woke up that early as well.

“Oh…right.” The ambassador stated, pulling himself up in bed. “Who is it?”

“The Duke.”

“Oh, Reziel! Well, you should’ve told me that! Put him through!”

“Uh…you wouldn’t rather…”

“No, no, I’m fine. Put him right through.” Bellhaze glanced at his wife, who was glaring at him from her place on the other side of the bed. “Reziel is calling, dear!”

“Tell him I say hello.” Margaret Bellhaze replied, before turning over and covering her face with the pillow.

“Will do.” Turning his attention back to the phone for a moment, the Ambassador waited for the audible click of a connection being made, before clearing his throat, and speaking in the most formal tone he could muster. “Good morning, Duke Reziel. How are you fine morning?”

«Uhm… I am sorry, Mr Ambassador»

Luke was aware the FPSian didn’t like being referred to with the ‘Lord’ title.

«I’m Luke Gardol, personal aide of the Duke. I’ve realized right now I’ve told the Duke wanted to talk with you, but that’s incorrect. To be exact, this morning Lord Reziel has instructed me to contact you as soon as possible… which happens to be now»

Hearing a surprised grumble, Luke went on with his explanation.

«The Duke… he wants to remember you he still owes you a day of fishing along the shores of the Amur. He’s… he’s aware it’s pretty soon, but it seems this could be a great day. And fishes are incredibly hungry, during the morning. Well… so he says, at least. However, he hasn’t phoned you himself because he’s already busy with the organization. You… you know the Duke, I suppose. First-hand double-checking, even when it comes to hobbies»

“Probably trying to convince the Archangels to let him use grenades,” Bellhaze mumbled.

“What?” The aide asked.

“Oh, nothing.” Mark quickly replied. “Yes, yes, that’d be fine. I’ll come over immediately. Thank you. See you in a short time.”

Hanging up, Bellhaze laid back down for a moment, before sighing and rising. “I’m going fishing,” he said, dryly.

His wife stared at him for a moment and then laughed.

As soon as the FPSian Ambassador hang up, Luke chuckled between himself. Dialing another number, he acknowledged he hadn’t understood the whole sentence… but he was pretty sure he had heard Bellhaze saying something about grenades. Which meant he knew Reziel. He was still chuckling when a voice answered.

«Duke Reziel… Lord Belhaze has accepted your invitation and… no, no objections, my Lord. He has told he’ll come over in… what? Oh… I understand. No problems, my Lord Yes, my Lord. I’ve already alerted Lady De Corde for you meeting at 12 o’clock. Have… have a good day, my Lord. At least… sure, my Lord. I know, my Lord»

Hanging up, Luke finally allowed himself a moment of relax. Everything was alright. Two jeeps had already left the Fortress to reach the residence of the FPSian Ambassador, with Reziel himself on the first one. They’ll have given Mark Belhaze enough time to get ready… but not so much, after all. In the end, timing had a fundamental importance. If everything had gone the way it should have, in that very moment the Garneldo Rezielan/EPTO base on Tilden was probably reaching its DefCon1 battle stations. Informing the Ambassador of what was going on was mandatory. No: informing him as soon as possible.

Somewhere in central Airbus UK
Tiger’s Claw secret base - Meanwhile

Stretching to reach the fountain pen on the other side of the desktop, the Airbusian private unwillingly touched the cup full of coffee. For a brief moment, he saw the mug trembling… and then, he observed the coffee spilling right onto the two-inches thick pile of fresh-printed sheets. When he raised his glance on the other soldier, he already knew what will have happened.

«Idiot! That was General Singh’s personal copy of the report! We were supposed to send it within the next hour. What the hell will we do, now? We cannot…»

«We… we could print another copy, can’t we?»

«Another… you brainless idiot! You know the number of copies is strictly controlled, to avoid possible divulgations! You should…»

«We haven’t yet registered the printing, have we? I mean… if we could simply put this envelopment inside the shredder and then make another copy, nobody will ever know. I… they check the registers, don’t they? There’s no automatic check inside the printer»

The other soldier frowned, thinking. On one hand, he could have simply denied the suggestion. The copy would have been sent just as it was… coffee or not coffee. After all, it was the other one, who’ll have got in troubles. But then… the general was a bit unpredictable, lately. There was an high chance both of them would have received some kind of harsh punishment.

«Very well… destroy this copy. We’ll make another one. And try to be more careful, next time, you dumbass!»

Nodding, the younger soldier rose on his feet, grabbing the ruined sheets. Odds were against him… but it had worked. A whole copy of the report on the ongoing operations. A precious document, in the right hands. A copy the shredder will have never received. A copy which had to leave the base as soon as possible, whichever the costs.

“Good morning, Mr. Ambassador.”

Flipping out his sunglasses and putting them on, Bellhaze nodded to his aide. “Good morning, Jimmy. Did you reschedule my meetings.”

“Donna is on it now,” the aide replied, referring to Bellhaze’s assistant.

The ambassador laughed. “You know, I had less of a staff as the second in charge of the region. Shall we get going?”

“…actually, sir, we’re not taking your car, I don’t think.” The aide stated, slowly.

“What makes you say that?” Bellhaze asked, glancing longingly at his sports sedan.

The aide grimaced. “They do.” He stated, pointing towards the right-side gate to the ambassador’s circular driveway, at which two military jeeps were parked.

“Ah.” Bellhaze stated, nodding. “Yes, yes, I can see why. Well, um…follow us in the car. Just to make sure I’ve a ride home.”

“Will do,” the aide stated, but the ambassador was already walking across the compound.

Reaching the gate, Bellhaze motioned for the marine guard standing just outside to open it, and grinned at Reziel. “Always have to arrive in style, don’t you?”

Despite the mess and his own worries, Reziel allowed himself a smile… something he was grateful to Mark Bellhaze for. He was aware the FPSian had already noted something was worrying him, but it didn’t matter. Since they had met for the first time, back in Rillanon, Reziel had decided he was a trustworthy man… and one he could get very well, moreover. In the end, that had been his main reason to insist for Mark’s assignment to the Grand Duchy.

«My friend, you know how we are… therefore, be grateful I’ve not come with a hundred armored knights or so» he chuckled.

As the Ambassador laughed and got in the car, the Grand Duke signed the Archangel they could go. Silently nodding, the soldier started the engine and the car moved.

«So… let me explain the reason of my urgency, Mark. Yesterday evening, a group of our scouting Archangels has come back reporting me about this fishing place. According to them, it’s simply wonderful… and trust me: the Sergeant who was telling me about it is definitely the best fisherman I’ve ever met. However, it seems…»

The tale of the beauty of the spot went on for some minutes. Suddenly, when the car had just left the city, the driver coughed to catch the Duke’s attention.

«My Lord… we’re distant enough. Should I proceed?»

«Go with it»

The Archangel did nothing else but pressing a button near the one of the air conditioner. The lights of the display flicked slightly, then the solider nodded as to confirm everything was ok.

«Uhm… sorry for the military approach, Mark. Joint… joint Kangarawan-Iremian tech. The best jamming device we’ve ever experimented… just to have a confidential chat, far from indiscrete ears» grinned the Duke.

“Of course,” the ambassador stated, nodding once in Reziel’s direction and smiling. “I’d expected as much, though I had honestly hoped for that fishing trip.”

Sitting back, he eyed the Grand Duke. “So what is it that you need to have such a…completely confidential chat about?”

«My Lord, should I…» interjected the driver.

«No, Thunderball. We move on»

«As you wish, my Lord»

Reziel took a deep breath, glancing outside the window for a brief moment, then turned towards Mark.

«My friend, the chat had to be confidential because I wanted to left both you and Terrus complete room to maneuver… independently of what the Grand Duchy will do, I mean. Had I officially convoked you… well, you would have probably found yourself into a worse situation. This way, you could always pretend you weren’t informed»

Frowning, Mark stood silent, even if his face was telling many things.

«Ok… let’s go straight to the gist of the problem. You’re fully aware of the situation down in Airbus. We control port Jennifer and the immediate surroundings, together with a large strip up in the north, near the Dovakhanese border. The areas are now safe… relatively safe, at least. Allow me complete honesty, my friend: the Archangel Singh butchered on the ship… he was an old friend of mine. So… yes, I’ve wanted the Airbusian’s head. But then… Terrus has made me thinking. The consequences of a total war would have been devastating… and so, I’ve given my orders. They’ve not been liked too much by the Iremian hawks, but they won’t dare going against me. Not even now. And considering the Iremians are the backbone of the military… well, my word becomes the line of action of the Grand Duchy, Parliament or not»

«Someone would say this is not exactly the concept of a modern democracy, Elistar»

«You’re right… and indeed we aren’t. Not yet, at least. We’re too young… and too tainted by our former experience, to give up old habits and old fears. But this would drag this discussion too far away»

Nodding, the FPSian signed the Duke to go on.

«Well… as I was saying, my orders. We’ve basically suspended hostilities. We’ve not lowered the war flag… but no major action has been carried on against Singh. Of course, we have troops behind the… front… and just as obviously our scouts do enter Singh-controlled areas… but you know what I’m trying to say. And I suppose FPIA could confirm it»

«It could» nodded the diplomat.

«Sure… well, that strategy is a direct consequences of a simple assumption: as fool and evil Singh can be, his madness would anyhow damage the Airbusians less than a real war. And with real I mean the battlefield, leaving aside all craps about intelligent warfare and limitation of risks and so on. When you move, you find yourself in the mud, no chance to avoid it. The one question is how much is the mud deep»

«And it has just become deeper, hasn’t it?»

«Yes»

«What has happened, Elistar?»

Grabbing an envelopment from under the seat, the Grand Duke handed it to the FPSian.

«This night, a group of Archangels has reached a small Airbusian village. There has been a minor clash… and the Airbusian have been neutralized. But the problem… well, that’s it»

The Grand Duke paused for a brief moment, observing the face of the other man becoming darker by the moment, his lower lip slightly trembling of both rage and horror.

«That’s it. We had heard rumors… but we’ve wanted to believe they were nothing else. After all, we’ve also heard the Kandarinese are supporting Singh, but that’s not sufficient to complain with the Federation. This… this change things. We cannot hide our head under the sand anymore, because we no have the proofs we lacked. The first ones… they’re photos taken by our men. Our men there, I mean. The others… satellite snapshots. Probably less shocking… but they give a more realistic idea of what’s going on. Mark… we cannot allow it. We do not know if it has happened for a while or if it has just started… but surely our presence in Airbus has given Singh the chance to speed up the process»

«Mass graves» muttered the FPSian diplomat.

For a few moments, the Ambassador merely sat there, staring at the images. It wasn’t shock at what he was seeing that made him freeze up…the man had attended university and had endured a long career in the diplomatic service. He was quite used to having to deal with horrific images. Taking a breath, the diplomat glanced at the Grand Duke. “Reziel…I don’t think Terrus’ response to this will be any different privately than it would have been publicly.”

Mark couldn’t help but smile a little. “In fact, I’ll bet it’ll be…”


Liberty City - The Blue House
The Spherical Office
“…EVEN WORSE!” Terrus roared, already moving across his office. “Sally, get Chris on the phone, tell him to get his ass over here! NOW! Bring the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs! And get the FPIA Director over here too!”

“Uhm, Mr. President, I’m not sure…”

Matt didn’t bother to let Boris finish. “I DON’T GIVE A DAMN WHAT YOU’RE NOT SURE ABOUT! LET ME TELL YOU WHAT I’M SURE ABOUT.” Half-running back to his desk, Terrus grabbed the images, and threw them onto the lap of the Secretary of International Affairs. “THOSE ARE DEAD CIVILIANS! MASS GRAVES, GODDAMNIT. AND I’M NOT GOING TO STAND HERE…”

A knock came at the door, as the Secretary of Defense stepped into the room. “Hey, Matt, I was already in the area, what do ya need?”

“Strike plans.” The President stated, flatly. “What I need are strike plans.”

“Uhm…against who?” Herfield asked, glancing at Kresnov.

“Against Airbus.” Terrus replied. “I want to know the quickest way we can completely decimate Singh’s military forces.”

The Secretary of Defense paused for a moment before nodding. “I’ll get right on it.” With that, he turned and left.

Before the Secretary of International Relations could begin to object again, Terrus began speaking. “Boris, I want you to get together everything we have on Singh, everything evil, and take it to both the EPTO and the Magisterial Assembly. Start contacting our allies as well. I want a coalition effort here.”

“Hey, Matt, I was wondering…”

“Henrik, perfect.” Terrus stated, as the Vice-President walked into the room. “I need you to head down to congress and start getting support for a resolution declaring war on Airbus UK.”

The Vice-President blanched. “You want what?”

“Just do it! NOW!”

“Uhm, right, right.”

As the Vice-President left, the President turned to the Secretary of International Affairs. “Well? What are you waiting for! I need to start getting to work on a national address…”