As the secretary of defense promised, a diplomatic airplane picked me up at Danzig International Airport and after a flight without too much turbulence I touched down at Vlaanderen's airport, early evening. The pilot warned me of some trivial things, keep identification with me at all times, don't go around to draw attention, stay silent... Nothing I haven't done before and it's good to be back in an old-fashioned dictatorship again. Makes me appreciate my living conditions back home even more. How I long to experience the lack of wealth, freedom and then return home where everything those people do not have, is at my disposal again. Customs and other safety precautions were a formality for such a person like me; a diplomatic traveller on a mission, discussions with the Danzig embassy, talks with officials of the state, raise a glass of wine and toast to the continuation of glorious socialism in Batavië. To the Danzig government it's not a big secret many high ranking officials find their way to Danzig to funnel all sorts of ill-gotten gains, taxmoney or whatever they looted from the said wretches who somehow got on the bad side of the government. In this respect, Batavian officials tend to be more lenient towards people from Danzig, anyone that might jeopardise their offshore finances should be treated with the highest respect. Batavië isn't your regular dictatorship; it's a totalitarian wasteland. Their `Roerganger', Jaap de Graaf, the big kahoona so to say, is pronounced dead and the whole country is in turmoil. War is looming and people are preparing for the worst. When my driver, the person I could trust, took me from the airport to the embassy. The streets were literally blocked at every streetcorner by soldiers, black cars without license plates following us, random inspections despite the CD [Corpse Diplomatique] sign and Danzig flags but none of that swayed us from our goal and in the end the inspections weren't intrusive; all they wanted to know for sure we weren't taking some rebel or resistance leader to the safety of our embassy. And since those oaf security guards didn't check my baggage labelled `diplomatic documents', thankfully didn't find out what I was carrying. Highly illegal merchandise. A personal contact I've known since my days as a young cadet at the National Gendarmerie Academy. From there I went on to become a Secret Service officer but after I fell out of favor with my superiors I became a freelancer, taking a burden of risk but the jobs paid handsomely and I got to see, while putting all my expenses on the state's creditcard, foreign countries and cultures. My driver also evaded some more annoying patrols by the Staatsveiligheid service, the Batavian state security agency. They could demand to open up our diplomatic luggage, since they don't really bother with international law, and see some incriminating possessions. When I arrived at the embassy it was evening and the sky over Vlaanderen was turning from dark blue, a cold, steelish blue, to hard tones of orange and pink and city lights lit up the darkening sky above in a yellow hue. It was around 7 PM but I couldn't wait, I was too anxious to see my old friend. Last time I saw him was in Danzig, around 12 years ago and I know for a fact he'll still recognize me. What I remember, or what I've pieced together from old associates of mine still working at the National Gendarmerie and secret service, that he - Julien Gerlag - was detached in Batavië as a sort-of semi-official spokesperson for the Danzig community in Vlaanderen (my first question will be, of course, is there a Danzig community?) and offers private communication and arranges secret flights from and to Vlaanderen and Danzig. More importantly, besides these trivial and rather meaningless tasks, he knows some important people and last but certainly not least, he can get me in touch with resistance. During my brief stay at the embassy I got a folder with the remainder of my assignment. Top priority: get the government to contact Danzig armsdealers. Arrange several deals and phone some folks back home to say `we'll take it from here'. When the deals are done, supposedly, me and Batavië will part ways. However, in the same timespan I am also instructed to map the roads to the resistance, proverbially speaking. Speaking of which, a detailed map of the country wouldn't hurt either my assignment told me. Maps of Batavië are hard to find and scattered. Most pre-date the Revolution and are inaccurate at best. Trunks on attics or sniffing around in condemned buildings would be, if I could loosen the ties of the Staatsveiligheid, my best option. A gut feeling is telling that will probably be the hardest thing to do. First things first, Julien Gerlag anxiously awaits my arrival. Little over thirty minutes later I made my way to Julien's house. It was beaten down by the weather and disrepair - probably left to rot since the Revolution - and the windows of the lower floors are boarded down. Pro-government mottos were painted on the walls, crying death to all traitors, long live the leaders and more hollow phrases. At the embassy I phoned him to say I'm in Batavië and will look for him, today. He was happy to hear my voice and had foreknowledge of my arrival. My contacts have done a good job. I rang the doorbell and within a moment's notice he opened the door, before letting me him however, he looked down the street on both sides and even looked up into the sky if a small unmanned spyplane wasn't peeking down on us. After exchanging a few pleasantries he let me in, we walked up the stairs - those stairs had seen better days - and entered a room which was nothing less than squalid. The furniture was in a sordid state, there were more holes in the rugs than rugs itself, the wallpaper was dirty and stained by moist and on the ceiling, mold. Julien itself was still looking bright and healthy and his clothes were clean, unlike the miserable state of his apartment. He dropped himself on a couch and looked at me, waiting. `So Leon, now tell me, hows everything going in Danzig? I take it you aren't used to such impoverished conditions. But hey, we're living in the best country in the world. Or so we're told on every news bulletin.' Julien held a lighter in one hand, still looking at me. `Do you have what I wanted?' `Of course I have Julien.' I opened up my bags labelled 'diplomatic documents' and presented a carton of Danzig cigarettes, a bottle of liquor, cash (not the scrip they pay with in Batavië, but hard currency) and some other things, including some gold bullion, canned fruit, a Times of Danzig, some cigars, lighters, editions of The Free Press (a liberal monthly magazine dealing with freedom of speech, human rights, free thought, humanism and opinion) which was strictly forbidden literature in Batavië. My heart was pounding the whole time while I unloaded my stash of highly illegal material. `Now we're talking Leon... Thank you very much for doing this. He put everything prominently on the table in front of the couch, asked me to sit down opposite, on a similar couch, and proceeded to remove the plastic film from the carton of cigarettes, took one softpack, looked at the ridiculous healthwarning on the back with bloody lungtissue and laughed at it. He offered me a cigarette and I gladly accepted one. Julien inhaled deeply and while he started talking, he exhaled, puffing out smoke while forming words. `I haven't had such a good smoke in years. The stuff they sell here falls apart whenever you hold one vertically. Now now Leon, you're here for a reason. And my birthday was three months ago, so you're either running late or it's time to tell me everything. For starters, you still haven't answered my first little question, how's life in Danzig?' Julien gave me a firm stare and a small curled his lips. `Rather uneventful but life goes on I think. I can't speak entirely free here, God knows what sort of listening devices are placed around...' While I was explaining, in rough terms, without mentioning too much, my purpose in Batavië, Julien was inspecting some of the items I brought with me. He looked at the gold bullion, uttering things like `very nice' and `this'll fetch a nice pice on the black market.' I didn't tell a thing about the second part of my mission. Somehow, I cannot entirely trust Julien. My driver works for the Danzig embassy, holds a Danzig passport and can leave whenever he wants. But not Julien; he's a pariah in Danzig. He made crucial mistakes during a foreign operation and blew the cover of an entire safehouse. The operation was closed down and valuable information about an upcoming international conflict lost forever. As a reward for such incompetence, Julien was sent to Batavië to get rid of him so he could never trouble Danzig any longer. `So you want me to say who's who around here. That can be done. And since you've paid up front, I can compile a list. Just say you got it from me, lying makes no sense around here. Whatever you say, they'll look into it and find out if you speak the truth. The Staatsveiligheid has eyes and ears everywhere. Those buffoons tolerate my heresies because of my special position here and... well...' `Well what,' I asked. Just my luck, he's a double agent I'm sure. `You see Leon, sometimes there are things you must do even if you disagree with it, from a fundamental idea. Morals. But morals no longer exist in this country. They tolerate my crimes, my individualism, because I... Every now and then, I know where to point fingers at. Resistance figures, I can get in touch with them. Messengers and lowlives running errands are smalltime boys. Most of the time diplomatic agents come to me, because they know I'm in close contact with Batavian authorities. Resistance comes to me for the same reason. I bring them together, the Staatsveiligheid records the meeting and after enough evidence... another resistance cell folds. Getting to the leaders is very difficult. Diplomatic agents are nine out of ten times secret service agents of some country interested to see whats going down here...' He drew on his cigarette and continued `What I am saying is, in order for me to live a relatively normal life... Define normal... the Staatsveiligheid sort of blackmailed me into doing this.' `Yeah right Julien, blackmail at first, but then you got privileges and now it sounds like voluntary collaboration. What if the Danzig embassy finds out?' `Oh, they? The entire embassy staff knows of my exploits. None of them seem to be bothered. In fact, they even encourage it. It's a lubricant in relations between a capitalist paradise and a socialist utopia. Betrayal brought Danzig and Batavië closer together than any amount of money. Stability of the state and keeping the powers that be tranquil at night is worth more than billions.' I was starting to see a pattern here. Danzig makes sacrifices to arrange profitable, lucrative armsdeals with an oppressive criminal regime. Foreign nationals are used to burn innocent Batavian citizens at the stake by a Danzig pawn, an outcast, who acts like some sort of shady underworld figure - hence why Julien needs those magazines - to bait people into becoming familiar with resistance. Then, when some foreigners are present, the Staatsveiligheid takes pictures, collects evidence, gathers eyewitness reports (probably all faked) and then blackmails those people into cooperation. Eventually they'll get to the leaders of the resistance. To me, it became clear Julien wasn't going to lead me to any resistance leadership. But as Danzig embassy staff is actively engaged in betraying people, then why is it prepared to forge cozy ties with the resistance? A post-socialist Batavië? Put two opposing parties against each other and profit from financing both sides? I'll have to get back to the embassy and brief the secretary of defense.