12 June 2022
The People’s Movement for Justice had not made a significant play since Luca Serban killed ten police officers and wounded nine more in a massive explosion on the largest road in Redmondburg. Since then, the city had been on complete lockdown, its strict curfew enforced by cops all too eager to beat, fine, arrest, or even kill any violators, depending on their mood, and what they could get away with. The Governor had additionally begun screening all movement in and out of the city. The reasoning was that the PMJ was likely operating from somewhere in Redmondburg, and if she could keep them trapped in the city, she could soon find them.
This action was met with stiff resistance from the Kritarchy. Chief Justice Stoker himself had flown in to meet with the Governor to discuss this. Many other governors were pressuring the High Court to declare such a ban outside the scope of her power. The economy of the country, after all, relied heavily on moving goods between major cities. Chief Justice Stoker, however, was less concerned with its effect on the economy and more concerned with how she made such a unilateral action without his consultation or approval. The smaller cities and towns of Aivintis could do what they want with their local power, even flagrantly disregarding some national laws, which some did, notably Grimreath and Wolfgard, which actually elected a city council. Large cities like Redmondburg, however, did not have such freedom.
The Kritarchy’s grip on the country was contingent on their power over the military, the economy, and the police in the major cities. Redmondburg’s police force, however, while ultimately aligning itself with the Kritarchy’s ideals of justice and order, did not answer to the Kritarchy. They answered to the Governor. It was a power struggle waiting to happen, and Chief Justice Stoker wanted to end it before it began. When he arrived, however, the police, who themselves had been highly militarised thanks to Stoker himself, blockaded the military bases in the city. The Governor met him with a smile, but she was threatening him. He could easily defeat her if she began a war, but a war would be bad publicity, not to mention the potential it could have to inspire other cities to begin resisting the Kritarchy’s rule. He diffused the situation, but left her with a little more autonomy than he liked.
The People’s Movement for Justice had been counting on this struggle to weaken the local police and the national government’s power. It did, but not nearly to the extent they desired. Something else had to happen to loosen the Governor’s chokehold. They could try more acts of terror, but the strict rules that were so threatening to the Aivintian economy were the same rules effectively preventing the import of more weapons and explosives. Doris argued for assassination, which may even have the benefit of causing more internal strife if blamed on the Kritarchy, but it was too risky. Aivcast News had already begun “reporting” on the “terrorism” the PMJ supposedly espoused, painting corrupt cops as valiant heroes and even fabricating the deaths of civilians. They had to prove the revolution was not something for the people to fear, but rather embrace.
Laurentiu suggested the protest. It was even more risky than the assassination, and Doris looked like she might try to take a vote to replace him as their leader, but most of the members seemed to agree it was necessary to fight back against the propaganda and shape the public image of the PMJ for the better. A peaceful protest, like the one Luca arranged, months earlier. Except this one would not be silent. They would be practically screaming for justice. Viorel and Florina offered to create untraceable social media accounts to talk about it, generate interest, generate virality. Bring the nation’s attention to the protest. If the people saw it live, the government would be hard pressed to distort the facts. Then, they’d livestream it across every platform they could. The government would take it down, systematically, but they were hoping that enough of it would be seen to change the tide.
Then there’d be the protest itself, in-person. The People’s Movement for Justice, for the first time, in the open. Undisguised, unafraid. They obsessed over escape routes and strategies. They chose an open location, a plaza, where the police would not be able to effectively block all public exits without weakening their response to the protest itself. They would not be using a public exit, though. Various store owners and workers had been befriended and secretly instructed how to leave a safe exit for the PMJ. If all went according to plan, the protest would be executed flawlessly.
It would just be the Redmondburg Cell participating. They could use the numbers of all the cells combined, but even Laurentiu would never allow that. To populate their protest, that meant, they’d need ordinary people. Everyone in the PMJ contacted every friend and family member in the city. If they were going public, those people would be in danger of association anyway. It was another risk, and in fact, the newest member, Kiril, ended up almost tipping off the police, something that left Laurentiu very angry. Doris had solved the issue, though. She asked Laurentiu if she could kill the man who had been planning to compromise their whole operation, but Laurentiu said to just capture him and hold him until the end of the protest.
There would be people in the plaza, too, that could join. They might even. There was safety in numbers. Only three participants of the silent protest at the beginning of the year were actually imprisoned, and even then it was for attacking police officers. Most of the protestors themselves were held for a short time, fined a small amount, and released. Now, of course, the story might be different, but not many Redmondburgians were sufficiently aware of the complexities of the power struggle between the Governor and the Regent, nor the increasingly violent attitude of the police, to prevent major participation. Besides, if the protestors were killed or even imprisoned on a large scale, Laurentiu reasoned, there would be a massive public uproar. The more moderate leaders of the country would decry it and demand justice, nevertheless. The international community might get involved. Stoker would have to bring justice to the Governor. It would still be a massive victory.
There was a lot of risk, but it was necessary. August Byrne was expecting a win in the public sector. The PMJ could provide that. Then, the ensuing internal chaos could create an opportunity for Byrne to influence the appointment of the next Governor of Redmondburg. Another moderate city would be instrumental in the shift of power away from extremism and authoritarianism. This domino had to fall, one way or another, and Laurentiu would not let him down.
He contemplated this as he stood tall, his gaze sweeping over the bustling plaza below. The PMJ was gathered around him, almost in a protective shield, one step down but still elevated. Already, the group was drawing curious glances and whispers. Laurentiu looked around once more, then nodded. There were a few police officers, but they were not expecting trouble and would have to call in back-up. Nearest station was ten minutes out, even without the roadblocks the PMJ had thrown together. They weren’t difficult to disassemble, and many were likely being taken down already, but they would slow and confuse the police. He lowered his head and told Doris to hand him the megaphone. She complied.
“People of Aivintis!” Laurentiu shouted, his voice filling the square. Conversations reactively lowered in volume, some shoppers and tourists even pausing to see what was happening. The officers whipped their heads around instantly, gripping their guns.
“I am Laurentiu Aldulescu,” he continued. “The state has accused me of a great many crimes. I fight for freedom, and they call it treason, terrorism. I am here to set the record straight.” A quick glance at Florina’s screen showed that there were already a few thousand viewers. It was impressive. “I am not a terrorist, although treason may be apt, for it is my goal to undo nearly a decade of oppression and suffering in our great country.”
The officers were speaking into their radios. Probably getting confirmation that he was who he said he was, before contacting the local station. Young officers were punished for mistakes so harshly that they were all afraid of failure. If they called in a full strike team to take down Aldulescu and it turned out to be some guy having a laugh, they’d be humiliated. It played in the PMJ’s favour. The culture of fear the Kritarchy had engineered would be its undoing.
“The people gathered around me are members of the freedom fighter organisation known as the People’s Movement for Justice. We are simple people, proud citizens of Aivintis, appalled by the state of this nation. Corruption reaches high into the offices of the government. The mafia runs rampant, unopposed, leeching off of the economy. Society’s elite, the wealthy, mainly, steer the country down a path that keeps their own prosperity at the sake of everyone else’s. The common man’s freedoms and rights are trampled over and over, violated and destroyed, in the name of law and order. In the name of justice. But no justice exists, and the guise of law and order is a mere sham. Crime stalks the cities of Aivintis in dark nights, and the police stand idly by, disabled by a bribe here or there, uninterested in the safety of the Aivintian people. The law is frequently disregarded by those meant to uphold it. The police rob, brutalise, and kill all who question their authority. The courts convict those guilty of no crime and expand the sentences of those guilty of minor crimes to laughable extremes in order to give the impression that they care to fix this nation.” By this time, many heads were turned, and digits were gathering on Florina’s screen. The police had seemingly confirmed his identity, and were clearly calling in back-up already.
Laurentiu paused, taking in the sights around him. Then he continued, emboldened by the curiosity shining in the eyes he saw. “This country is in desperate need of correction. We were written as a constitutional monarchy, yet our leaders parade in black robes and rule without checks or balances to limit their abuses of power. They are dictators. They are criminals. They are a disease, rotting away the very foundations of our country. The Emperors who came before would be ashamed of Chief Justice Stoker and his band of servants. The people of Aivintis will not let this stand!” Cheering erupted from the PMJ below. Some onlookers turned their heads, looking for the police. He couldn’t tell if they were concerned for him or wishing on his downfall. Then, some began to cheer as well, confident in their safety for the moment.
“The Constitution dictates that the people of Aivintis be afforded rights and freedoms. The freedom of speech. The freedom of protest. The right to a fair trial. These fundamental rights have been cast aside, as has the very Constitution the government claims to draw descent from. The Empress is dead! The Constitution is dead! Aivintis is dead! The Kritarchy, the so-called Justices of this land, sit in the Imperial Palace and pretend to be Regents. They pretend to be the Empire. They are not. They are a perversion of everything this country stands for. The Senate is no more. Elections are no more. The Imperial Family is no more. They are pretenders, scoundrels, maggots feeding on the corpse of what was once a great nation!” Some people were getting uncomfortable now, but others . . . something glinted in their eyes that was more than curiosity. Laurentiu fought the urge to smile. He didn’t need cheering. Not yet. He needed that.
“All is not lost for the Kritarchy! All is not lost for Aivintis!” Laurentiu claimed. He could hear sirens in the distance. They were getting closer. He looked around to see if the police lights were visible, but they were not. He noticed someone in the crowd, face partially obscured by a hood, watching him. That was strange. He continued nevertheless. “The Kritarchy can still change course! The country is veering towards doom, but with the help of those who do truly value the title of Justice,” he said, calling back to August Byrne’s interview nearly a month earlier, “we can return to greatness! The people of Aivintis can reclaim our destiny! We can reclaim our nation! We will sing and scream from every corner of Aivintis, crying out for our homeland! Reform the Senate! Stamp out the mafia! Return justice to our courts! Separate the branches of power! No more dictatorship! Democracy now!”
Some cheering. Some silent support. He nodded. “You have the power to take back your rights! You have the power to make this country rise from its knees to the peaks of greatness! You can be proud of your country once again! Reform the Senate! Justice now! Democracy now!” More cheering. More silent support. He could see the police lights now. “We are the People’s Movement for Justice! Even now, we stand unafraid! Even now, we stand up for our people, up for our nation! Reform the Senate! Justice now! Democracy now!”
The police were gathering at the exits. Some wise pedestrians had left. Others had stayed, determined to live up to the example Laurentiu was setting. More still were just minding their business. That was the problem with this country. Everyone kept their heads down while injustice reared its own ugly head. In doing so, they let it be. That’s how it had come to this, but Laurentiu was determined to change that. August was determined to change that. It’s why he was so willing to play his part. “We will not be intimidated! We will not be snuffed out! We will not kneel! Reform the Senate! Democracy now! Stand up for your country, my fellow Aivintians! Shout it from every corner of this country! Reform the Senate! Democracy now! Reform the Senate! Democracy now!”
And so the chant began, first in the PMJ members gathered around Aldulescu, but then in some of the passersby with fervour in their eyes. Then some more. Then some who weren’t as interested in the chant, but were more interested in fitting in with the crowd. That was okay. They would learn what it meant eventually. Hopefully, it would be a habit by the time they knew what they were doing was right. Many refused to chant, out of fear, maybe, or perhaps disagreement. Too many were willing to justify injustice when they thought it necessary, or unavoidable. Even that was all fear. Fear that justice would mean no more security, no more safety. That was okay, too. They would learn, eventually. Something about a crowd of chanting people, who the day before did not even know his face, gave him hope.
The PMJ dispersed within the crowd. Perhaps it was foolish, but many of them did not stop their chanting, when they did. The police pushed through them and others, headed straight for the centre. The exits were cut off. All according to plan. When they found their targets were no longer on the central platform, they began ID-ing everyone in the square. Chanting or no. Many shut up, afraid that they were going to face reprisal for their participation. They never did. The police were too focused on Laurentiu and the PMJ members they had seen only moments before. They would not harass the others too much. Besides, there were too many of them. It would be too much of a hassle.
The PMJ divided and slipped into the various stores, where back exits were awaiting. The police would think of it too late. By then, the PMJ would be gone, and it would be nearly impossible to find out who had helped them. Laurentiu breathed a sigh of relief when he came out into an empty street. “Come on,” he said to the others. “Let’s get out of here before they expand their search area.” By some measure of providence, the PMJ had succeeded and escaped. It would be a city-wide embarrassment. And if the numbers were anything to go off of, their broadcast had succeeded, in the parts where it was not taken down immediately. Their message had reached the wider population. August would be pleased.