True Justice

Democracy Now

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.

Science and Technology

23 June 2022


Nerana Prisel, Representative of Auravas: I’d like to propose formation of a science research agency within the council to carry out scientific research and advise the Council on science policy. This organisation would help make Gondwana a scientific competitor on the world stage and contribute to the accessibility and furthering of scientific knowledge.

Co-Chairperson Jonathan Gillespie, Representative of Aivintis: Member States of the Council of Gondwana, please consider this meeting called to order.

Mohammad Abdi, Representative of United Malordia: I agree, as long as regulations exist, such as that the agency may not be for military use, but solely for scientific advancement in the civilian sector.

Nerana Prisel: Exactly what I was thinking, Mr Abdi. This would be mainly focused on increasing scientific knowledge and literacy for academic/civilian purposes.

Krásta Sórle, Representative of New Leganes: This is a great opportunity that the Commonwealth will certainly support.

Yoko Katsura, Representative of Nagato: The opportunity to further Nagato’s exploration into space is too good to pass up. If this vote does pass, I advise the council to use Nagato to launch all rockets from, as this will allow the maximum use of Urth’s rotational speed.

Nerana Prisel: The best place to launch most rockets would be on the east coast at the equator, placing this in United Malordia. Of course, other things must be taken into account, and these can be discussed once basic plans are finalised.

Þayne Whitby, Representative of Wessæria: It really should not be my job to ground these discussions, but space? Really? You want us to pay our membership dues and ignore the ever-increasing difficulties in maintaining an adequate standard of living so we can put people in metal cones and fire them into orbit? Did the Space Race not end more than half a century ago? Do you intend to resolve your wish to see us hurl men into the void above before we are even close to food security?

Nerana Prisel: I would like to remind the council members that the proposal is for a science research agency as a whole, not solely a space organisation. Wider scientific knowledge can create job pathways and stimulate the economy through technology and innovation. The more information the public can access, the more opportunities they have as well. Scientific research has many applications in a variety of things like agricultural research, climatology, botany, biology, and so on.

Þayne Whitby: I am not inclined to oppose scientific research into practical work, such as agriculture and epidemiology, but I must be blunt and say that Wessæria has neither the means nor willingness to fund frivolous, flashy projects like space travel, and if such an organisation demands we do, we will be placed in a position where it must be opposed. We pay our membership costs with the acknowledgement that such funds will go towards the betterment of our people, and the wealthy countries firing their own into space does not serve that purpose.

Nerana Prisel: It is perfectly understandable that you want to only support scientific initiatives that support the people. However, you are mischaracterizing some scientific endeavours. Astronomy and space exploration is not simply launching people into space. Satellites, for example, provide extremely important climatological, oceanographical, and meteorological information. Observation of astronomical bodies and phenomena provide information that fuels physics research and leads to innovation. Not to mention all the jobs that investment in research would create, and more opportunities for the people and nations of Gondwana to compete with others on the world stage.

Þayne Whitby: To whom, exactly, do you think these jobs are going to? Do you expect work in astronomy, or in the high-level engineering positions needed to construct satellites, to be offered to the countries without the access to higher education the wealthy nations here seem to take for granted? Will the agricultural worker of Southwest Gondwana feel relieved to know he contributed to allowing others to be paid more than he will ever earn creating accurate data that he will never see? You claim innovation, but to innovate in areas such as this offers us nothing but your pride.”

Jonathan Gillespie: I remind the Wessæric ambassador that no extension of the COG is required for any members.

Þayne Whitby: If this extension fails to serve anything besides the temperaments of the wealthy states while discounting the areas of research that would actually assist the people of Gondwana, so it must be.

Nerana Prisel: The agricultural worker of Southwest Gondwana will feel relieved when the economic situation of their nation improves through innovation and can support a higher citizen wellbeing. This is by no means an organisation for the wealthy to throw away their money, but one which would invest heavily in many different varieties of useful research.

Rachel Amber, Representative of Mizore: My fellow ambassador of Wessæria, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us nations of Southwest Gondwana. The chance to increase our economic growth will help our citizens and even increase what we can achieve as small as we are.

Þayne Whitby: Should the nation of Mizore wish to throw funds leeched off of Nagato to further scientific advancements that will never be in their hands, do as you will.

Jonathan Gillespie: And should the nation of Wessæria wish to throw empty insults to further political goals that can never be achieved through hostility, do as you will as well.

East Cerdani Representative: We would be more than happy to assist with any scientific organisation. We already have launch facilities and have been conducting launches for decades. We would be happy to assist other nations in their space-related endeavours as we have done before. In regards to agriculture as well, we believe a scientific organisation could allow for large advancements to be made in that sector.

Hala Sirasikar, Representative of Serramal: I must concur with my Wessæric counterpart in that Serramal cannot at present dedicate resources to such an agency.

Nerana Prisel: We can work out the details of the launch facilities after basic terms are finalised. I’m excited to see the support for this project and I remind those who abstain from joining that they still can join at any time.


A Steering Hand

1 July 2022

Mr Fielding lived in Rilanon as part of his assignment to the International Forum as the Aivintian Empire’s official delegate. Many of his staff did as well, although a number of others were temporary interns, visiting for the summer while university was not in session. He was very rarely visited by members of the Committee on International Policy, and even more rarely by members of the Foreign Council. This fact, combined with the fact that he was not under the man’s command and had never met him, rendered Mr Fielding shocked, speechless, in fact, when His Excellency Justice August Byrne appeared in his doorway.

“You know who I am?” Justice Byrne asked, simply.

“Er, yes. Your Excellency,” he added quickly, remembering that formality was important. He had only ever met one Justice - Her Excellency Justice Lupu, who herself was an oddity among Aivintian leaders for her collected calm and general quiet - so he was not quite sure how to proceed.

“None of that,” Byrne replied.

“Uh, Your Excellency?”

“Precisely. No need for formalities,” he sounded tired, perhaps jet-lagged from the journey. “Just call me August, or Mr Byrne, if you’d prefer.”

“Of course, Mr Byrne. Mr Byrne, I’d like to just tell you, I am honoured and humbled by your presence.”

“I’m sure you are,” the Justice replied, seemingly sarcastically. “I sent your receptionist away. I don’t want anyone listening to our conversation. Are there any recording devices, cameras, or other form of potential espionage in this room or within earshot?”

“No, Your— Mr Byrne. Cameras are posted at all entrances and exits, but not inside. Committeemember Crane valued his privacy when he was Ambassador, and I have not bothered with alterations.”

“Good.” He seemed to relax more. Mr Fielding got the impression that his demeanour was more controlled when he had not just taken a flight halfway across the world, but he did not fault the Justice for this. “Right. On to business, then?”

“Yes, of course!”

“I had some concerns which I require your assistance in alleviating,” Justice Byrne said, seemingly dancing around the issue.

“Of course, Mr Byrne, I’m happy to assist. What do you require?”

“I need you to protect my interests in the International Forum. I’ve received word that you’ve been given some freedom in the topics you bring motions on, as long as they align with the nation’s foreign interests, and so I’d like you to see if you could get some policy enacted on certain matters which, domestically, are under my jurisdiction, but internationally, can only be achieved with your help.”

“Sure! Have you drafted resolutions, or do you just have a list of topics for me?” Mr Fielding knew that being compliant and uncomplaining was the key to advancing politically in Aivintis. He didn’t intend to be sitting on an island in the centre of the world forever.

“The latter. Cancer research and net neutrality. I know cancer research is something of great importance to our nation, given the condition causes most Aivintian deaths, and if my guess is correct then you’ve already been assigned to encourage international funding for research into prevention and treatment. I’d like you to move that higher on your list. Net neutrality, on the other hand, seems a minor issue, but it means a lot to me personally. I’d like to note that some Committeemembers may not like it very much if you help me on this, but, then again, I’m a Justice, aren’t I?”

“Yes, Mr Byrne. I’ll make notes to address these issues as soon as possible,” Mr Fielding replied. He didn’t mind if he ruffled some feathers in the Committee as long as Byrne was in his corner.

“I’d also like to give you some advice. You see, I’m privy to certain information that you or the Committee might not know. I do know that Justices Grigorescu and Lupu both consider the anarchy in Strazsko to be thorns in their side, for differing reasons. If you make a move in the IF to respond to it with, say, a peacekeeping force, you’ll be on both of their radars. In a good way. Consider that part of your reward for helping me, the other part being, of course, my own favour. Don’t let me down, now Mr Fielding.”

“I don’t intend to, Mr Byrne.”

“Good. Oh, and one more thing,” Justice Byrne said, as nearly an afterthought.


The Justice’s face suddenly darkened. Gone was the lightheartedness and veiled promises of political bounties. He now seemed more threatening than helpful, and Mr Fielding began to feel very afraid. “Do not tell a soul what I asked of you today, or even that I was here. If I find out you did, your political career will be over. I don’t care if Chief Justice Stoker himself marches into your office and holds you at gunpoint. You don’t say a word. Am I clear?”

Mr Fielding frowned. Suddenly, he wasn’t so sure that being compliant was the best move for him. “Yes, Your Excellency.”

Suddenly, the menacing undertone melted away. “Good,” the Justice replied. “I’ll be looking forward to tracking your progress.”

Justice Byrne left quickly, but gracefully. Mr Fielding wondered idly why the man wasn’t wearing his robes, but his thoughts quickly turned to the events that had just transpired. His emotions were a cocktail of fear, befuddlement, and opportunistic greed. He knew that if he did as Byrne asked, he would have a lucrative career. What mattered was whether the consequences of getting involved in such an affair were worse than the consequences of refusing. He wished he wasn’t put in such a situation, at least not so soon after being appointed to his position. His thoughts were conflicted, but he pushed them aside. He knew, in the end, he would do as the Justice asked. Whatever mess he had gotten himself involved in, he was already knee deep in it. The best thing for him was to do as he was told and hope it all worked out.

August Byrne, of course, was counting on that. He knew, before stepping back into his private jet, that he would have no trouble manipulating Mr Fielding. For such an important chess piece, he was remarkably easy to flip. He didn’t even have to know what he was getting into, what he was supporting. August was so grateful that the complexities and mistakes of bureaucracy had left the IF Ambassador, the individual with the single most power over the international community at large, as a lower-level position, at the same level as a regular ambassador, so that simply flashing his authority was all it took for Justice Byrne to put a steering hand on international policy.

“Has anyone noticed my absence, yet?” Byrne asked the pilot, who, for the duration of the meeting, had remained in constant contact with the loyal members of the Judicial Security Force currently keeping Byrne’s absence a closely guarded secret from all of Aivintis, including Chief Justice Stoker.

“No, sir. Couple low level fools tried to contact you, but they were the type easily dissuaded by claims of you being too busy to meet with them.” The pilot was a former Air Force captain turned mercenary, a perfect hire for a Justice in need of someone who could fly him anywhere he pleased with discretion and operational security.

“Thank you.”

“No problem, sir. I had them make a list so you can talk to them when you get back.”

Byrne nodded. “Very well. No trouble in the airfield?”

“Nothing that couldn’t be solved with a wad of South Hills Dollars and some reassurances that you weren’t a terrorist.”

“I’m glad. Everything seems to be going smoothly. Take me home.”


Pit of Vipers

13 July 2022

The Trade Council of the Aivintian Empire was perhaps one of the most self-serving institutions in the country. Though Arthur Frost was the only actual businessman present at Council meetings, many of the Councillors invested heavily in the businesses they favoured in these meetings. Some of them even took bribes to see certain agendas realised. Former Justice Crane had been more than willing to allow that corruption to fester, but August Byrne would not tolerate it. He had to do something that would appease the business elite and make a show of honesty and accountability in the government. It was a difficult line to cross.

As of this moment, Justice Byrne had removed a number of Councillors whose corruption was too deeply rooted to allow any semblance of compromise. These, he had fired, but upon the timely and anonymous release of key evidence by Justice Groza, they had begun to face trial for their crimes. Byrne was unsure how he felt about that. Groza’s work was central to his plan, but if he was associated with covering up these crimes, with silently dismissing those guilty instead of pursuing justice, then his entire operation was at risk. He glanced over at Arthur Frost, who dutifully sat in his council seat. He wondered if it would give him away if he had Arthur keep Groza out of his business, or if it would be too unconscionable for the other Justice.

Probably one of the two. So it was out of the question. Which meant Byrne could not keep toing this line. If he did, he risked having to make regular corrections when Councillors stepped out of line, corrections which would not go unnoticed by Groza. He needed the public to see him as a purifying agent. Moreover, he needed Groza to see him as a kindred spirit. He had big plans for his fellow Justice. All of this meant that he had to make some changes. Not wanting to rival the entirety of the Council at once, Arthur and he had already convinced a small number of Councillors to sell their shares, in exchange for a larger salary, of course. He wasn’t sure how he felt about openly associating with Frost, but the situation called for it.

“This meeting of the Trade Council is hereby called to order,” called Martin Costiniu, the Trade Council Chair. Under Chief Justice Whitcher, it was customary for every Justice to serve as the Chair for each of their associated councils, but as the regime stabilised, that became less necessary and more impractical. So, each took the chair of one, typically the most important. Crane chaired the Trade Council, but Byrne saw the opportunity to earn himself a powerful and loyal supporter in Martin Costiniu, younger than most Councillors, but also more ambitious and more determined. He took to his assignment well. “The first item on the agenda is the permit for the construction of an oil refinery on Ostrow. The Chair recognises Darius Petrescu, Trade Councillor.”

Darius Petrescu was an older Councillor, but he had a good head on his shoulders. He had the intelligence to figure out what Justice Byrne wanted from him, and the wisdom to give him exactly that. “Thank you, Chair,” he said, more as a formality than out of true gratitude. “Following the terrorist activity of the PMJ, our oil production has been very lacking. The Energy Council, under the guidance of His Excellency Justice Groza, has authorised the construction of new oil rigs to replace it, most of which are located off the shore of Ostrow, where terrorist activity is low. They need refineries close by to maximise efficiency.”

Arthur Frost was the first to respond. “One of those rigs belongs to an international company, doesn’t it?”

“LegaPetro,” Justice Byrne offered, speaking for the first time since the Council assembled.

“Right. That. New Leganes is an Aivintian economic and diplomatic ally, yeah, yeah, but do we want to make it easier for foreign companies to undercut Aivintian prices?”

“Come on, Arthur,” replied Elena Stoica, another Councillor and, coincidentally, an investor in LegaPetro. “The free market demands we give foreign corporations a chance as well. Nothing makes Aivintian businesses better. Nothing dictates that we put our knees on the throat of the free market just because some companies here would like it.”

“Oh come on, Councillor, don’t you think that’s perhaps a bit dramatic? All I’m saying is it could help Aivintian wealth if Aivintian corporations did better, which we can make happen by inaction. It’s simple cause and effect. Not to mention the land it would save in Ostrow for other ventures.”

“Such as your company?” Victor Tarus chimed in. He was one of the few Councillors who did not have any investment in corporations affected by his policy-making. “Besides, LegaPetro is just one of the companies that this proposal would benefit. It would also benefit Nemes Oil and Idrun Energy, who were also involved in the Energy Council’s new deal. It would benefit the Aivintian construction firm chosen, and the Aivintians whose jobs would be created by the endeavour. You’re oversimplifying the issue.”

Arthur Frost gritted his teeth together. “I’d like to remind the Council that my company does not have any vested interest in Ostrow or the oil business. My opposition has nothing to do with any potential benefit for me and everything to do with the fact that the government shouldn’t be encouraging foreign takeovers of our local markets. LegaPetro is already a massive international corporation. Its executives won’t starve if we decided to deny this permit. Not to mention we’d be upholding decades of noninterference with Ostrow’s development. Aivintis has historically let every city decide for themselves what permits they allow and what they do not. Just because Ostrow has weird districting and is an island doesn’t mean we should throw that all away. Laissezfaire baby. Leave it to the cities and the companies. Don’t get the government involved.”

“Stubborn refusal to change is not wisdom, Councillor,” Tarus pointed out.

Councillor Stoica nodded, although it was hypocritical for her to do so. It’s why she did it nonverbally. She wasn’t on the record. Councillor Petrescu noted it, but ignored it when he spoke. “Councillor Frost, I understand your concern, as an Aivintian businessman, about foreign companies dominating the market. This, however, is not what you think it is. It’s just allowing all companies to maximise their efficiency and have an equal chance at the economic dream. Isn’t that what we’re here to do?”

“We’re here to regulate the economy,” Tarus mumbled.

“Councillor Tarus, do you disagree with this proposal?” Petrescu responded, knowing full well he didn’t.

“No, Councillor. I think we should approve the permit.” Victor wasn’t one to make enemies of allies. He’d make his point at another time, likely when Darius opposed one of his own policies.

“Good,” the proposing Trade Councillor said with satisfaction.

Justice Byrne looked around, then nodded. “Looks like discussion is over. For the purposes of the vote, I will be acting as a Councillor.”

“Noted,” Martin replied, his tone flat. “All in favour?” Ten Councillors raised their hands. The vote would pass. Justice Byrne counted himself among the supporters. Regardless of the clear majority, Costiniu asked, “All opposed?” Arthur Frost raised his hand. “Let the record reflect two abstentions,” the Council Chair instructed the recordkeeper. “Onto the next item on the agenda. The matter of reforming Council regulations on membership.” Many Councillors looked confused. This was not something they had known about, nor prepared for. “The Chair recognises His Excellency Justice August Byrne.”

Justice Byrne nodded graciously. He smoothed his black robes, and began to speak. “Thank you, Chair. Trade Councillors, today I bring to you a very important resolution. I understand that some of you may initially feel opposed to this measure, but I trust, in time, I may convince all of you of its value. I wish you all to know that I could have simply enacted this measure unilaterally, but I did not, even knowing it would be a hard-won vote. Despite being a Justice, I still value the Council as more than a formality. As a true policy-making institution. I hope you all keep this in mind as you consider my proposal. The specifics of this reform would ban all Trade Councillors from making policy based on their own economic interests, and from investing more than a hundred thousand crowns in any company. New Trade Councillors would be prevented from investing at all until holding two years of membership in the Council. I considered the details of this proposal very precisely, and I believe this is a fair and just policy.”

Victor Tarus started laughing.

“Excuse me, Councillor Tarus? Is something funny?” The Chair asked. Justice Byrne watched, his face expressionless.

“No, no, sorry. I apologise, Chair.” He seemed to have gotten a grip on himself.

“Apologise to His Excellency Justice Byrne,” Chair Costiniu replied.

“Yes, yes. Of course. I apologise, Your Excellency. It’s just— I’ve spent a few years on this Council, and all too often I find myself advocating for impartiality in dealing with the economy. I’ve been met with strict opposition at every turn, I could hardly believe it when an actual Justice proposed the very thing I’d been preaching to a blank wall for so long.”

“I believe we know where Councillor Tarus stands,” Justice Byrne said simply. “Any other comments?”

The spell of silence seemed to have broken, and suddenly nine people were speaking over each other all at once. Some were angry, others were just inquisitive. Justice Byrne, Chair Costiniu, Arthur Frost, and Victor Tarus were the only ones who did not speak. Byrne and Costiniu did not react, but Frost smiled slightly, and Tarus looked like he was still suppressing laughter at the absurdity of the hornet’s nest His Excellency just roundhouse kicked. Byrne gave Costiniu a look, and the Chair nodded, before shouting, “QUIET DOWN!” They complied, but Costiniu continued, “Ademar give me strength, are we not respectable politicians? Show some decorum! If I have to throw you all out for breach of the Council’s guidelines, I’m not sure you’ll be happy with the vote that ensues.” Once the offenders were suitably chastised, and Councillor Frost’s smile had grown a little bit larger, discussion resumed, or, rather, began.

“Your Excellency, as a point of practicality,” began Gabriela Vladu, a Councillor whose own investments were already somewhat limited, partially due to her enjoying wealth enough from her former noble family and from previously holding an executive position at a company that stopped existing shortly after she left it, “would this apply only to new investments or would we have to sell our existing shares down to a hundred thousand crowns worth?”

“Good question, Councillor. The latter. If every Councillor was grandfathered in, the policy would have no real effect.” Justice Byrne’s calm was commendable in the moment. Already, multiple Councillors were looking at him with murderous intent. It took bravery to take such a bold stance. He would certainly be praised for it in the media, if Chief Justice Stoker didn’t decide he was playing around too much, and force him to drop this matter. Which wasn’t extremely likely. Stoker trusted Justice Byrne greatly. Even if he didn’t like this, which he probably wouldn’t, given the precedent it would set, he wouldn’t take a stand here. He would give Byrne the benefit of the doubt for a little longer. It helped that Groza, another trusted advisor, would almost certainly take his side if consulted.

“I’d like to declare my support for this policy,” Arthur Frost stated. “I believe it is high time this country be more impartial in decisions affecting the entire economy. If we continue to allow this Council to be biassed in its decisions, we risk the economy collapsing under the weight of our own recklessness. This is not just necessary, it’s long overdue.”

That stunned the Council even more than Byrne’s proposal. Arthur Frost would be the most affected by this decision. He’d have to either resign from the Council and give up his power to influence economic policy altogether, or abandon his hugely profitable company, along with all the influence it went along with. Neither outcome seemed very plausible. Many began immediately formulating theories for why Frost would be so supportive of such a clearly detrimental measure. It couldn’t be just to kiss Byrne’s ass, although he did seem to do that plenty. Perhaps he knew something they didn’t. The confusion gave space for someone else to speak. Darius Petrescu, the sponsor of the previous resolution.

“I also support this policy.” This, the Councillors thought, was more likely an example of ass-kissing than Frost’s support. “I urge you all to vote in favour.”

This was beginning to concern Councillors like Stoica, who would suffer greatly if this proposal were to pass the vote. Frost might have to give up a lot of his influence following the vote, but he still had it. Darius and Tarus, too, had friends in the Council, and if Vladu, a Councillor with a reputation for being level-headed and smart, ended up voting in favour as well, the entire vote could shift in Byrne’s favour. Especially if the Chair, who normally abstained, but very publicly owed his position to Byrne, voted for, many might flock to power, the way they might already do with a High Court Justice bringing this proposal. August Byrne had caught everyone off-guard, but he had already seemingly won. Of course, enough were fearing this outcome to be a majority in the Council, but they didn’t know that. As far as each and every Councillor knew, Byrne already had a majority.

Councillor Stoica, keeping her voice steady in spite of her fear and anger, asked, “How much time would we have to do this?”

“A week,” Justice Byrne replied. His immense calm only solidified his victory in the Council’s minds. He introduced his argument with a surprising level of pleading, but now he spoke confidently and almost smugly. It was as if he knew every word that would be said and every vote that would be cast.

“Is there any chance we can negotiate it up from a hundred thousand to a million? Some of us depend on investment for our income and economic stability.”

The Justice gave her a regal, but judgemental, look. “The average Aivintian makes less than half of your salary working in the Trade Council. Most of you have generational wealth as well. You do not pay taxes. Many businesses charge you less, or even nothing at all, simply for being on this council. You do not depend on investments for anything. If you would like to, I can certainly see about revoking some of those privileges.”

Stoica silently glared at the unconcealed threat. Arthur Frost’s smile had grown even larger by now. The Council was already treating it like it was a foregone conclusion. They already thought it was inevitable.

“Is there any more discussion?” The Chair asked. No one was brave enough to speak. “Very well. All in favour?” Seven hands, including the Chair’s own. Frost’s smile threatened to split his face in half. “All opposed?” Zero. It wasn’t worth it now. “Let the record reflect six abstentions. The next item on the agenda is the representation of Aivintian businesses on the Trade Council. The Chair recognises His Excellency Justice Byrne.”

Stunned silence again, as Byrne spoke, carefully enunciating. “The decisions made in this chamber affect millions of Aivintian citizens and thousands of Aivintian businesses. I believe it is only fair to allow some of those businesses, selected for their importance to the economy and relevance to the decisions being deliberated upon, a say in the future of the Aivintian economy. These representatives may be non-voting or voting, depending on the will of the Council and its Chair. There may be permanent members or temporary members, selected ad hoc to represent certain sectors of the economy. The companies we select will choose their own representatives.”

Suddenly, everyone understood Arthur Frost’s smile. The silence persisted as the entirety of the Council considered whether they wished this to occur. Immediately following the previous decision, some were already thinking of accepting bribes from certain companies in lieu of their investments’ profits, and this would make that increasingly difficult. On the other hand, August Byrne didn’t strike them as a man who would allow such bribes to continue, and this was a chance for them to still have certain interests represented. The companies of their friends and families could be favoured over others. Not to mention, it would allow them to enter the political arena with influential businesses, which could mean political deals and favours aplenty, as well as the benefits of association with such powerful figures.

Finally, the Councillors considered Justice Byrne’s angle. He clearly wasn’t as committed to changing the status quo as he initially appeared. This proposal showed that he was someone they could be willing to work with. Additionally, his earlier threats had not seemed idle, and six Councillors had just crossed someone who had proven a very capable manipulator and a very powerful force. Their abstentions were practically equivalent to voting against, and their opposition was surely noted. They underestimated August Byrne, and they were not willing to do it again. All this and more was coursing through each and every Councillor’s head as they weighed the costs, the risks, the rewards, and the possibilities all against each other. No one spoke for a full three minutes before Martin’s voice echoed in the chamber.

“All in favour?” They didn’t mind that he did not ask for further discussion. All thirteen raised their hands. August Byrne finally let the hint of a smile across his face. He glanced over to Martin and nodded. Almost in reply, the Chair said, “Let the record reflect zero votes against and zero abstentions. This motion passes.”

August Byrne rose from his seat. “This Council is adjourned. Remember to comply with the new guidelines. You are all dismissed.” Then, he swept out of the room, his robed figure imposing in the face of the events that had transpired.

1 Like

Byrning Question

1 August 2022

“Thank you all for coming.” Laurentiu Aldulescu’s voice echoed throughout the meeting room. About ten of the twenty assembled chairs were occupied - the ten most senior members of the PMJ. “As you all have noted, we have had great success in recent times. The government is scrambling like a headless chicken, unable to stop us from spreading our message. We have faced trials in the last few months, but make no mistake: we are well on the path to freedom. I brought you all here so that we might discuss the future of this movement.”

He looked out to the faces of those assembled. Representatives from cells in Derrim, who had been successful in bringing light to the inability of the government to address criminal activity and the greater corruption of the state, Castenor, who protested openly without much opposition as the new Governor focused on actual governance rather than the suppression of freedoms, Marnacia, whose revolutionary flame burned brightest of them all, and Westhafen, whose idea this very meeting was, were all gathered. Doris and he represented Redmondburg, but also the PMJ as a whole, including those cells who could not afford to send representatives. Doris was his counterweight, keeping his extremism in check as he did hers. She was the perfect second-in-command.

“I do not see the need for a meeting such as this,” called Elias, the Marnacian Cell leader and the son of the city’s Governor. “We should continue as we have. Secret attacks against government offices and officials to destabilise the regime and public protests against their abuses to rally support from the people. This is the example your cell here in Redmondburg has set. I see no reason to change course.”

Some muttered agreement, but Laurentiu shook his head. “We can be doing more. We can accelerate our timeline.” He spoke literally, as August Byrne expected a warm welcome by the citizenry by the middle of next year, but they, of course, took it to mean metaphorically. None of them were aware of the actual timeline, or the PMJ’s actual role in the revolution. They would not lead the charge, they would set the foundations.

“We risk getting stamped out if we grow too bold,” Elias persisted. “Already, my esteemed parent is growing annoyed at our activities in their city. Stoker is breathing down their neck, and they have been forced to institute harsher measures. They’ve ordered the police to shoot any suspected traitors on sight.”

“It is a similar story in Derrim,” one woman offered. “The Governor is paranoid that someone’s out to get him ever since the assassination of Governor Ristic. The mafia is breaking bones to find out if there’s an assassin on the loose, probably because the Alpha has figured that humouring him leads to a smoother relationship. We’ve had to be even more careful so that some mob enforcer doesn’t stumble his way into a conspiracy to overthrow the government.”

“All the more reason to strengthen our attack,” Doris said. It was rare that Laurentiu and she agreed, which lent credence to her words. “The best defence is a good offence. They see the smoke of our campfires and come to investigate, we set a bigger fire in their house, and they’re gone from our tail in no time.”

“That’s not quite what I’m suggesting,” Aldulescu interjected, “but the general principle is sound.”

“What would you suggest?” a different Derrim representative asked.

“Ah. I’m glad you asked,” the former lawyer replied. “We’ve been fighting Aivcast’s propaganda spree for a while now. Wouldn’t it be easier if we had propaganda of our own?”

“Excuse me?” Elias asked, incredulous. “Do you mean to suggest we infiltrate Aivcast News?”

“No! No, no, of course not.” Laurentiu explained, “All we have to do is set up posters, graffiti, social media posts, etc. Spread the truth.”

“What would these posters say?” The Warrisian leader asked archly.

“Various calls for democracy, reformation of the Senate, transparency in the government, etc. Demands, one might say. We could end up making dozens of different types, each exposing one facet of the government’s lies and crimes. We could post it on international sites, which the government struggles to control, and Aivintian sites where we might be able to block their censorship for longer. We could plaster it on trees, walls, statues, warehouses, government offices, military bases. If we make enough, and we manage to discreetly get them up, we could turn the tide of propaganda. None of it would be lies, none of it would be altered or manipulated for our own good. Just the facts.”

“Sounds like it would just be a minor annoyance to the government,” Elias commented nervously. “A waste of their money, perhaps, but a negligible waste. Even if it takes a few days to get it down, that would be months of work gone in days. And then we’d what? Do it again? Give up? This frankly seems very inefficient.”

“I have to agree with the lad,” Doris chimed in. “Unless we could prevent them from being taken down at all, there’s nothing we can do.”

“Well . . .” began a female Castenian representative by the name of Sorinah, “I’m not sure Castenor’s new Governor would bother. He might get shit from Stoker, or maybe even his old boss, Byrne—” at that, some Warrisian heads shot up, which concerned Laurentiu greatly, “—but his unwillingness to bother with the PMJ could prove to be to our advantage. The tides are changing. Maybe a few bribes here, a few threats there, we could keep posters up until the Chief Justice marches down and tears them down himself.”

“That seems extremely shortsighted,” Doris remarked, interrupting the Warrisian leader before he could speak, possibly ruffling some feathers Laurentiu would have to soon smooth. “I mean, I know your Governor’s been slacking, but he’s not going to let us pull off a move so big. Underestimating the Kritarchy is what gets us killed.”

Laurentiu held up a hand for silence, again frustrating the Warrisian cell’s lead representative. “I agree with Doris, that’s perhaps too optimistic, but at the very least we could manage to extend the length our message stays up, and I believe that even that temporary burst is worth the time, money, and risk. We’re winning hearts and minds. We don’t have the resources or power to expose the people to our mission over and over. The best we can do is pique their interest. That’s all we need. If even one percent of the country researches the abuse we found, that’s still almost eight hundred thousand people. If half of that finds the truth, and half of that decides to take up arms because of it, that’s two hundred thousand people. Hearts and minds, friends.”

“Your calculations make less sense than you think,” someone stated. Laurentiu looked at the man in confusion. It was another Castenian. “There’s eighty something million in the country, but in the cities we have influence over, there’s what? Can’t even be a quarter of that, can it? So take that one percent again, and half it twice again, that’s generously saying fifty thousand. Even that, though, doesn’t account for the complexities of city life and geography. Not to mention the fact that people who would be receptive to our propaganda drive would also be receptive to our protests and such. Sure, we’re in this for hearts and minds, but is it really cost-and-risk-effective to have a short burst of publicity that won’t even bring back a good ROI?”

Laurentiu would have frowned if he was a lesser leader, and slapped the man if he were a lesser man, but instead he kept calm and neutral. This wasn’t the end of this idea. Even if it was, the greater plan would survive. “Perhaps you’re right,” he conceded. “But on the off chance that we even get a thousand more than we would otherwise get, I believe this is a risk worth taking.”

“When we’re lying face up in the streets with bullets in our brains and the Imperial flag hoisted above our corpses, see if you feel the same,” Doris snapped.

Laurentiu privately shot her an annoyed look. She didn’t care. He sighed. “Does anyone else have anything to add, before we vote?”

“Sir,” the Warrisian leader said, perhaps a little too quickly, “the Warris cell would like to discuss how the appointment of Justice Byrne affects our organisation.”

The Movement President hid his surprise well, but not well enough. Not fast enough. A couple of faces darkened in what might be suspicion or might be confusion. Aldulescu clamped down on his growing panic. They could assume what they wished, enough of their brains would justify or forget the affair that nothing but increased caution would result from his blunder. Having collected himself, he answered, “How do you mean?”

“Well, some of us have begun to suspect that our movement will be rendered obsolete in the days to come.”

This time, Laurentiu didn’t even try to hide his surprise; he let it wash over him as a practised reaction. This surprise was, in fact, reflected by most in the room. All excluding the Warrisian representatives, who likely were already familiar with the idea, and Doris, who didn’t even look surprised when she was given a kill order on one of the most powerful individuals in the country, were in various degrees of puzzlement. Perhaps a little too sharply, which he winced internally at, the man questioned, “Why?”

Sensing his anger, the other almost didn’t continue, but decided to regardless. “Justice Groza has a reputation for honesty, trustworthiness, and respect for others. Justice Byrne has a history of the same, but also a respect for the will of the people. With both on the big bench, the country’s headed in a more positive direction than ever. Lupu’s still Lupu, and Grigorescu’s still hot-headed and war-hawkish, but Groza and Byrne together could make real, lasting change for the better. Not to mention, if Stoker dies, it’s looking more and more likely that one of them takes charge next. They’re newer, sure, neither into even a year on the bench, but they’re an example of good governance, they have the people’s adoration, and the Chief Justice seems to prefer them over the old guard. Lupu would never allow herself to become CJ, and between Justices Grigorescu, Groza, and Byrne, the scales seem to be leaning towards Groza and Byrne. If that happens, well there’s no telling how much the country will change. Maybe they’ll do it.”

“Do what?”

“Reform the Senate. Bring back democracy. End corruption. Everything we’ve wanted. Maybe our work is already done.”

The room was already silent, but something seemed quieter about the contemplative faces surrounding Laurentiu Aldulescu. He tried to think fast. Their hope was so inspiring, and he hated that it was now his duty to crush it. He couldn’t explain to them the plan, then it would all fall apart. August had been very clear about that. Their hope was inspiring, but it was misplaced. Stoker wasn’t a fool. He’d let Groza and Byrne into his inner circle because the country was vulnerable. He wouldn’t just hand them the reins. It would be years before they could take control. That wasn’t good enough. Years of suffering would not be worth it. Democracy now. Not to mention, Laurentiu himself was secretly afraid of the power corrupting even his old friend. They just couldn’t wait.

“No.” Firm, swift, and confident, his voice came.

“What?” The Warrisian exclaimed. At the same time, another from the same city replied, “Excuse me?”

“No,” he repeated, in a softer tone. “We can’t stop now. Hope is what keeps us fighting, but daring to hope that our fight is not necessary is too great a risk. We cannot rely on the Kritarchy to right itself. Even if, as you say, Groza or Byrne becomes Regent, and begins to transition back to the Empire as it was or forward towards a full democracy, our fight will be necessary. We need not be so violent, of course, but our voices must be heard. We must continue to rally support for our freedoms, and pressure the government to listen. Let’s say August Byrne becomes Chief Justice, Regent, Chief Minister, all the empty titles that summate to dictator, today. Let’s say he immediately announces that we will become a Republic. We need to make him keep his word, to make good on that promise. Even if we were already a democracy, that doesn’t mean the people should lay down arms in the eternal struggle for freedom. If the people get content, get complacent, that’s when the next George Whitcher strikes. Or the next Aeternus. Or the next Order of Enlightenment. The cycle needs to end here. Now.”

It hurt his soul to see their eyes lose light, but he had no choice. He pushed on. “What if this is what he wants? Name two Justices that could realistically save our country, so we stop, so we surrender. Keep them always at arms length from the Empty Throne. So close. Tantalisingly close. Almost as if a promise. ‘Soon.’ The people stop protesting, rioting, fighting, struggling. We fall in line. ‘Soon’ never comes. We can’t risk it. We can’t let it happen.”

At this point the Warris cell’s delegation was downcast. For the others, it was a fleeting hope that he had crushed. With them, it must have been deeper. He wondered how long they had fancied it, played with it, resisted hoping, as they argued and deliberated before finally accepting with a light heart and tears of joy that their work was done. He wondered how much damage he did. He could not help but see what he had done as an act of evil, even for all the good it would cause by allowing August’s plan to succeed.

“I’m sorry. I know how much you wanted it to be true. I did, too.” His voice was nearly a whisper. Their silence thickened like a fog. “Come on, let’s get back to the topic at hand.” His voice was a light touch on their backs, comforting, telling them he was here and he saw them and he heard them. It was an offered hand, pulling them to their feet. They had allowed themselves to dream, and he had softly shaken them awake.

Elias was the first to nod in agreement. “Alright. Yeah.” The rest soon followed. They discussed it more, and the idea was shot down, but the idea wasn’t why they were here, and it was not what had truly failed. No matter. Laurentiu could not let his conscience prevent the plan from being seen through. He needed to keep fighting. He had known it would be hard. It would all be worth it. When he saw August Byrne standing behind a podium, unchaining his country and his people, he could deal with the consequences of his sins. For now, the People’s Movement for Justice needed him.

The Ends of the Urth

10 August 2022

There were two men meeting in an open plaza. In the centre of the plaza, a statue of Toma Nord stood tall and proud. In life, he was a General, and then a King-Consort. When his husband died, he was then a King. He created the first Parliament in Aivintis. Now, in death, he was a symbol of democracy. One man was seated in the plaza already, dressed himself in the regalia of a General, his white dress uniform adorned with medals of honour and rank. He stared absently at the statue, unaware of his comrade’s approach.

“Hello, Marc,” His Excellency Justice August Byrne greeted warmly, though the poise of politics never truly left him. His robes were shed, only his crisp suit remaining.

“August! Good to see you!” Senior General Marc Alupei was always so boisterous. August found it somewhat charming. As he did the lack of formal address. Almost everyone who referred to him by his first name did so because he asked it of them. S.G. Alupei just took one look at the new Justice, in his flowing robes, and called him by the name he always did. He’d smiled, then. He smiled now.

“Enjoying the monument?” Byrne asked, playfully, offering a quick glance to Toma Nord’s likeness.

“Eh, just thinking. I didn’t much notice the stone block.” As he said it, he began to do so. “Hm. I wonder why he hasn’t taken it down? Or why she hasn’t.”

August himself looked back up at it. “I’m not sure. I don’t know if she has the guts. Toma Nord’s a national hero. She’s just a footnote. I’d be surprised if anyone remembered her name in a hundred years. Him, on the other hand . . . maybe he likes the irony, or maybe it’s to keep up the sham.”

Marc quickly turned to August, hyper-aware of the potential treason his friend had committed. He shot him a warning look, then looked around with suspicion.

“Please,” August dismissed. “None of these people are spies for the Kritarchy. Even if they were, it wasn’t actually treason. I’m not saying the sham is bad. I’m saying it’s a sham. It is. It’s just also useful.”

“Even still . . .”

“Relax. If anyone asks, what did I say?”

“You didn’t say anything. I didn’t hear anything.”

“See? You’d be good at politics. If you tried.”

Alupei scoffed. “You need to talk to someone that isn’t a politician. To keep your ego in check.”

August laughed. “I keep telling you, you are a politician. A Senior General has as much influence as any other Councilmember. Or Councillor, if you’re in Trade and you want to feel different. Stoker was a Senior General, you know.”

“I’m not interested in politics. The backstabbing, the lying, I’m not comfortable with it all.”

“Don’t you think that’s what we need in politics? Someone tired of its evils?”

“Even if it makes me good for the people, it also makes me bad for the job. Tell me, and don’t deny that you know, was I ever considered for Justice?”

“I—” August trailed off. Unwilling to lie, he asked, “Why do you think I would know?”

“High Court Records. Surely, you’ve read them.”

August nearly laughed at his own forgetfulness, but it would be a bitter laugh. He was so busy concealing what he knew that he hadn’t remembered the things he should know. That was something to keep an eye on. “Oh. Right.” In answer to the actual question, he said, “Here’s the thing. The reason you weren’t considered is that you don’t want the job.”

“How’s Her Excellency Justice Lupu nowadays?”

“Oh come on, that’s different and you know it,” Byrne protested. “It was her or one of the worst people on the planet.”

“Then I’ll wait until it’s either me or Arthur Frost.”

“Arthur’s not that bad, if you get to know him,” August replied, although the other did not seem convinced. “He’s very strange, and can be annoying, but he’s not a bad person. He’s nothing like who Justice Lupu was up against. He hasn’t— he doesn’t— he’s nothing like him.”

“Let’s change the subject,” Marc advised. “Have you heard how Aivcast speaks of your recent stunt in the Trade Council?”

August let out a short laugh. “Funnily enough, having that much coverage wasn’t even my idea. I think Chief Justice Stoker was genuinely impressed at the show of force it represented. If I didn’t know better, I’d say I won his respect.”

“I don’t think that man has respected anyone in his life that his station didn’t make him. Do you remember the look he gave Duke Nicholas when he visited the palace in ‘09? God, it was almost worth the week of grovelling it took to get me on his honour guard.” Marc’s eyes shone with nostalgia.

“Before the Witch. When times were easier.”

Marc smiled. “The best part about His Exalted Excellency Chief Justice Stoker becoming Regent is that we can make fun of George Whitcher again without getting shot.”

“Now we know how Teodor Radu felt when he overthrew the Aeternus,” August joked.

“God-On-Urth, he was probably itching to make fun of the man’s statuary,” Marc added.

“Did you hear about the whole thing where the Aeternus statue in the Royal Palace had its wings broken off after the takeover?”

“Uh yeah, I think I read it somewhere online. It’s not real, is it?” The Senior General found it hard to believe that the first King of the Radu Dynasty was so petty.

His friend shrugged. “I like to think it is. Makes history more fun.”

“We’ve done it, we’ve found the only thing Historical Revisionism is good for,” Alupei bantered.

Byrne laughed, then grew a little more serious, before asking, “How’s your assignment going? How’s Redmondburg treating you?”

“Well, I’m mainly here as a threat, which means I have to be ready at all times to go to war with the police, but I also will likely never actually get to do it. I mean, not that I want to have to fight other Aivintians, it’s just that it makes me anxious to have my lips on the Gjallarhorn at every waking moment. I’ve been sleeping less.”

Justice Byrne nodded in understanding. His voice was more stately than before when he asked, “Would you like me to put you in for a transfer?”

Marc frowned. “You’re asking as His Excellency Justice Byrne, not as my friend August.” It wasn’t a question. He could tell immediately. It wasn’t the first time it happened. It had been happening more and more lately.

“. . . yes.” His hesitation was the only show of humanity he allowed. The response, when it came, was level and confident.

“You will expect a favour?” It was more of a question than the previous, but it was clear the Senior General had an inkling of an answer.

“Not yet.” The Justice’s face betrayed nothing, but Alupei knew he was planning something. The fact that he would not even let him know what his part was meant that it was bigger than any plan Byrne had ever executed.

“August . . .” he said in a warning tone.

“Yes, Senior General?” He couldn’t afford to let Alupei in on this, not yet. The plan demanded compartmentalisation. It demanded shadow.

Marc didn’t allow it to sting. He understood the separation of work and life that his friend needed to maintain. “Be careful.” His voice was soft. The separation could wait. This was big, and he needed to know his friend would not martyr himself.

“I know what I’m doing.” With anyone else, the statement would have sounded arrogant and distant, but Alupei understood it was August Byrne’s own way of accepting and appreciating his friend’s concern.

“Who will take my place here in Redmondburg?”

“It is not my decision.” Marc hated it when August was cryptic. It annoyed him to no end.

“But my own assignment is?”

“Yes.” Justice Byrne paused before adding, “We may not need a replacement.”

“Ole Governor’s stepping down?” There was slight humour in his tone, but the purpose was plainly probative.

“I didn’t say that.” Even more cryptic than before.

“Right. You didn’t say anything. I didn’t hear anything.” He was trying to shake his friend’s formality.

It worked. The Justice couldn’t help but smile. However, it quickly vanished. Before Marc could ask, he elucidated him. “This favour I will ask. It is no small thing.”

“It never is.”

“You understand my meaning.” They both knew this was different from the other political favours he had asked in days past.

“I do.”

“Good. When I ask it of you . . .”

“I will heed your call.”

“No matter what it is?”

“No matter what it is.” The trust in that one statement warmed August’s heart.

“If I ask for his head on a platter?” It was dangerous to ask this, not just for the fear of treason, but for the threat of S.G. Alupei discovering his actual plans.

“You won’t.” Such surety.

“If I do,” Justice Byrne pressed.

“You will have it.”

“You know I won’t ask for that.” The Justice was gone, and Marc’s friend had returned.

“I do.”

“I have committed a great many sins, Marc. I am planning to commit a great many more. I am putting you in harm’s way. I am asking much of you. I want you to know, I wouldn’t if I had any other choice. I do not want to take advantage of your friendship.”

“Understand, August, that I the Senior General stand behind you the Justice just as I the person stand behind you the same. It was the Justice asking. It was the Senior General answering.”

“Good,” Justice Byrne said, reassured. He stood up.

“Wait.” The man complied. “Where will I be assigned?”

“Greater Asluagh, Templar District.”

“The Imperial Palace . . .” There was awe, but suspicion as well.

“Nistor Grigorescu commands its garrison. Chief Justice Stoker has decided it is time for a change. You will answer solely to His Exalted Excellency. None other is your superior. Your place in the Council is unaffected by this. Do you understand the weight of this assignment?”

“His Exalted Excellency will allow a friend of yours in the assignment? Isn’t that as dangerous as keeping His Excellency Justice Grigorescu in control?”

“His Exalted Excellency has approved of your assignment,” Justice Byrne confirmed. “Choose half of your best officers and a quarter of your best soldiers. The existing garrison will offer the other half of the officers and the other three quarters of the soldiers. The rest of your current assignment will be reassigned ad hoc. The details of your assignment are confined to you and the officers you choose. None other may know. They will be informed with the rest of the public. Am I clear?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Your Excellency,” August corrected. “Against my wishes, my better judgement demands that we maintain proper formality in public as a result of the gravity of your assignment.”

“I’m not so sure I want it now.”

“Of course you do,” the Justice said. At that, he departed, leaving Marc to contemplate the truth of his parting words.