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The Revolution

Implaria

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"To the back of the line, Himyari. Your traitor kind eats last."

Amadi Nwadike lowered his head and looked sideways. He had been here for only a few days, but he had quickly learned not to pick any fights with the white inmates. To them, he was both a traitor and a negro and though they weren't sure what's worse, they knew Amadi was fair game. Neither the other prisoners nor the wardens would protect him.

He was thousands of kilometers away from his home in the so called Free State of Orashi. A protectorate of the Implarians it was officially independent, but curiously enough, the Implarians themselves made little pretense about it being anything but a colony. The President even appointed a colonial governor to the Himyari territory.

Amadi hadn't been much more than a child still when he fell in with a crowd of independence fighters. The 16 year old boy had been tasked with transporting letters between units and the rest of the group kept him far away from any actual raid on the Implarians. He was too young, too inexperienced.

Ultimately, this saved his life.

When the Great War unfolded, the group saw their chance to stage an open rebellion. They had heard of the brutal fighting abroad and figured the Implarians were too busy to reinforce the colonial garrison. They had never received news that their overlords weren't actually participating in the war.

Eventually, the rebellion was short, brutal and futile. Most of Amadis comrades were hanged, but the judge was lenient with Amadi: 20 years in prison for the 16 year old boy. A long time, but he could still have a life after that. Amadi breathed a sigh of relief back then.

He hadn't known that prison would be in Implaria, that he'd serve his time in between whites who despised him, that he'd spend 20 years eating potatoes and corn until he had forgotten the taste of yams, that he'd freeze in the winter and speak and hear only Engellish for 20 long years.

As told, he had turned to the end of the queue and when it was finally his turn to get dinner, only the scraps from the bottom of the pot were left. A grimey, oily gruel that made him yearn for his mothers beef stew. It was still food nonetheless and he was hungry, so he took his serving and scurried to the far corner of the mess hall where a table had already emptied, leaving him space to sit alone.

As he sat down, another white man approached him and Amadi had to repress a flash of anger at the realization that he wasn't even allowed to eat without being humiliated first.

"Hey, Himyari."

Amadi said nothing as the man sat down across the table from him.

"You're a rebel, I hear? A real freedom fighter?"

Again, Amadi said nothing, but he knew that was just as likely to get him into trouble. It didn't matter what he did, if the whites needed an excuse, they'd make one up.

"I understand that Henry and his boys gave you some trouble earlier? They're a nuisance, but they are also cowards. If you need any help with them, just tell me. They don't dare touch someone from a Union."

"Amadi looked up and only they now noticed the man smiling at him. It was a warm, honest smile. Perhaps the first of its kind he had ever seen on a white face.

" A... union?" He asked in bewilderment.

" A labor union, kid! Most of us here are card carrying socialists, organized proletarians, revolutionary workers... you get the idea. The union protects their own, even within these walls."

The union-man spread his arms wide in a welcoming gesture.

"Question is: are you one of us?"
 

Implaria

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An August storm was raging outside, sweeping the now empty streets of Westport and hitting the windows of the presidential villa with intense rain. General Howard King had noticed a crack in the window in front of him and the intense winds were forcing raindrop after raindrop through the tight space, the water now seeping into the building. It had formed a small puddle already on the polished wooden floors of the office he had been waiting in for fifteen minutes so far, as a glance on his pocket watch confirmed. The President was late. Again.

"General, welcome. How good you came."

President Hart never apologized for his recurring delays. He was a politician. Politicians dont apologize, King thought to himself and sighed exasparated below his breath.

"You called me here, Mr. President. Of course I came."

King stood at attention and watched the President stroll casually across the room towards his desk, where he proceeded to pour himself and the general a whiskey. He knew the general would refuse, he was a teetotaler. Instead, the President would offer him a drink because he thought his sense of hospitality demanded it and when the General politely declined, Hart would down the drink himself in one swoop. King had often wondered whether this absurd ritual wasn't really just no more than a good excuse for the President to have an additional drink.

"Now, General, remind me again of the last war you fought in."

"Sir, with all due respect, if you called me here to tell you of my service history, you could have just asked for my personnel file instead."

"Please, General King... Howard, entertain me. I promise this is going somewhere."

I've seen his type before, the General thought to himself. Men under his command, not dissimilar, but usually much younger. They tended not to grow old in the military. Jovial, friendly, a natural charisma that engulfed most men except those few who felt put off by the casual display of intimacy that had not been earned. He could easily see why two parties that had been used to smearing each other in the press were able to rally around someone like Hart as a joint candidate.

"My last war would have been the 2nd war of Orashi. A counter-insurgency campaign in Himyar. Short, but brutal."

He had also seen what happens to this kind of easygoing characters such as Hart if they faced true hardship. They panicked easily and when panicked, they tried to assert authority they didn't have, tackled tasks headfirst without possessing the necessary skills or acted without thinking things through. Throughout his career, General King had commanded a handful of soldiers similiar in character to the President. They didn't even have the decency to die alone in a corner when they inevitably lost their head in battle. Instead, all of them had somehow caused the deaths of others, of decent, brave men with families to return home to. King couldn't stand the President and these memories were the reason.

"You have been complimented on your service in Orashi by my predecessor. Without your skills, that little rebellion might have easily gotten out of hand. Now Implaria herself is facing crisis, so we need to be prepared. General, I want you to draw up an emergency plan for the deployment of military forces to contain unrest should the growing socialist menace launch an attack on our great democracy."
 
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Implaria

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As he saw the policemen walk towards him, Jesus Morales quickly switched to the sidewalk on the other side of the road. The police weren't approaching him, they were just on patrol and he had done nothing wrong, but Jesus knew better than to risk coming close to them. Not while he was in downtown Alcázar, the playground of rich Implarians who came to Artemisa to drink and gamble. Locals like Jesus risked upsetting that glamorous furnishing the city had carefully cultivated to attract the rich visitors.

Not that he had anything against drinking and gambling. Those were, after all, the reasons he too had strayed downtown. Especially at the end of the month when he received his wages from the cannery he was working in. He'd take a fistful of cash with him and start on the outskirts of the old town, at Union Street for example, where the cheaper bars and casinos cater to locals. On lucky days, such as today, he'd make a killing at the Craps table, a game that was perhaps too exciting and provoked too much yelling and shouting to be palatable to the hoity toity Implarians. Its only downside was that, being played only by locals, the stakes tended to be limited.

So Jesus had made its way further into the city, approaching Liberation Square as the night approached, where the most expensive and exclusive of hotels were located. Fortuna had smiled upon him all evening and after a couple of casinos where he'd wager on roulette or blackjack, his pockets were bursting at the seems with big dollar bills. As long as he had those, he'd be welcome everywhere, even as someone born and raised on Artemisa, as someone who was only resident, not citizen, of the Implarian Federation.

Had he known to stop now, Jesus would have lived comfortably for quite a while. But this wasn't the first time and once he managed to get ahold of lady luck, he refused to let her go. Tonight it was the Azure Lagoon, a ritzy casino just two streets away from Liberation Square. He had gotten far tonight, but that was, where his luck ran out and Jesus Morales the patron reverted back to Jesus Morales, the drunk nuisance. After he had bet and lost his last chip, he had pestered others on the table for a loan and quickly ended up outside the backdoor of the establishment, a sizeable bruise on his left cheek and reeking of piss and rum.

So Jesus strolled back home, trying to avoid any further trouble that night. It wasn't his first night like this, it wouldn't be his last.
 

Implaria

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The group of a few dozen workers from the dockyard were the first to arrive on the open yard in front of state parliament. They were union men and women, rallied to protest the eviction of a 'Hartville' a few days ago. These shantytowns comprised of tents and shacks had sprung up everywhere over the course of the last few years, as rising unemployment had spiralled into an homelessness crisis the government was unwilling and the organized left unable to tackle. Most Hartvilles had been left alone, as dispersing them had the tendency to cause trouble down the road, not just in terms of protests from the socialists but also in the form of roaming, desperate people with no means to go anywhere else.

Things were different in the state of Kent, however. As the first workers flocked to the site of their rally, they found the area cordoned off by military forces. Governor Atwood had made it a habit to make displays of force against the socialists whenever possible. He was a hardliner from the Implarian National Party who had proclaimed that he'd give "not a single inch" to the left and thus far, he had largely kept his promise. Where other governors had tried appeasement and cooperation to blunt the anger that much of the political momentum of the Social Democrats depended upon, Atwood had taken to strongman politics.

Seeing the line of soldiers from the National Guard, the protestors hesitated. A few days ago, Atwood had already sent in the military to clear the Hartville. Many on the left had expected the ensuing scandal to weaken Atwoods position, but outside the Social Democrats there had been little outcry against this blatant use of force on Implarian citizens. As was usual, once they felt sacred laws of private property endangered, liberals abandoned the democratic principles they used to tout and in that vacuum stepped authoritarians like Atwood, emboldened.

The guardsmen had spotted the small group and correctly identified them as union workers. Immediately the soldiers began charging, bayonets first, into the opposing crowd. They had their orders to disperse any sign of protest and arrest as many as possible. This was how Atwood had already won his reelection once: rally the force opposed to communism to his side with displays of brutal force while locking up as many organizers and voters from his Social Democratic opponents as possible.

-

The deployment of the National Guard was overseen by General Samuel Beckman, an ambitious and flamboyant man who spoke six different languages, had travelled every continent, owned three factories he had inherited from his father while already a Colonel, had shot a man even before entering the armed forces and was personal close friends with Atwood. When he had made the decision to deploy the military against the Hartville, Atwood had specifically asked for Beckman; and when he decided to deploy them again, there was no better choice to him than Beckman, again.

Beckman had more than just the personal trust of the governor to qualify him for this task. He had earned his spurs under General King in Orashi, fighting insurgents, stopping riots, controlling a populace during an uprising. Back then he had been the right hand of the General (hist left hand being another man who'd make it to General: Franklin Callahan, now commanding the garrison in Orashi). General King was a man he greatly respected and whose strategic and tactical genius he had studied closely. The counter-insurgency tactics pioneered by King in Orashi now proved useful against the socialist menace at home as well, Beckman found.

His forces had succesfully dispersed any attempt at staging a public rally and large groups had been detained. Over the course of the next days, police forces that had been temporarily placed under military command for this operation would raid homes and offices belonging to Social Democrats. Whether they could be succesfully convicted remained to be seen, but incentivizing the courts to do so was Atwoods job, not Beckmans. So was dealing with the political fallout from two deaths during the dispersal of the protests. Both men had been aware that deploying forces against a mob always ran the risk of someone getting short, but Atwood had assured his friend that he was prepared for that eventuality.
 

Implaria

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Sunday evenings were a ritualized affair in the Presidential villa under the Hart presidency. The cooks and waiting staff had the day off and the first lady took control over the kitchen; her way of "keeping the feets on the ground", as she liked to phrase it. Meanwhile the president made sure to invite an ever changing host of dinner guests to celebrate the sunday with them in a small, private circle over a roast dinner. It was Harts way of keeping the reins of government by maintaining a direct line to a number of powerful men in the state.

"Martha, it tastes excellent, as always." The man complimenting the first wife this evening was Martin Van Hoover, judge on the Supreme Court. Dining alongside him was also his wife, a dutiful and unassuming woman named Clarice, as well as the Remingtons, Richard and Marianne, two of the richest bankers of the Implarian Federation.

"It is truly an excellent piece of meat," Richard concurred. "Is it imported?"

"I'm afraid so," the President said with an apologetic shrug. "We usually prefer Arvum raised beef - for political reasons - but as if this year hadn't been bad enough already, the drought is hitting the state hard. You just can't get any decent quality from this country right now."

"No need to apologize. We had the same trouble, that's why I was asking."

"Alas," President Hart continued, "It's really not a good look. The rurals in Arvum were always a solid and reliable voting bloc. Now with the draught, the socialists are making inroads with the farmers and my government can do hardly anything about it, what with the economy being what it is right now."

"What we need right now isn't some overbearing government programme to aid the farmers," judge Van Hoover chimed in, "though I agree that we shouldn't let Arvum fall to the reds unopposed. Christian goodwill and charity ought to suffice to ease the plight of the country. Money given out of goodwill has always been more impactful than money stolen through taxes, I found."

"Whether charity or redistribution, Martin. The money you are looking at will come out of the same pockets all the same. Ours." Marianne had always been famous for her sharp tongue. Only the fact that this kind of wit belonged to a short, thin woman with a gentle smile prevented proud men like Van Hoover from lashing out against her, giving her leeway to say things others couldn't.

"My wife isn't wrong. Why even fight the socialists anymore if the general assumption is that we ought to pay up anyways?"

"Now now, no one here disputes the right of the Remingtons to do with their property as they please. I have always defended your constitutional rights and will continue to do so in the future. I am just asking, what's the alternative? If we can't appease the lower classes, the only alternative left it seems is rather messy."

"I haven't gone to lawschool," Marianne shot back. "But if I am not mistaken, the job of the state is to defend the rights of its citizens. Whether it's messy or not."

"It is easy to wage war from an armchair, mademoiselle." Unlike everyone else on this table, Van Hoover had actually fought in the military when he was still young.

"Let's not forget," Richard jumped to the defense of his wife "that all this is your fault."

The honorable judge was taken aback, but the banker elaborated his accusation.

"If memory serves me right, it was your vote that gave suffrage its majority. Now womenfolk can vote and who will most of them vote? Socialists."

"In the Supreme Court I can not hinge my judgements upon political considerations," Van Hoover shook his head. "Yet I also think you are far too scared of the reds. Their propaganda will not reach the heart of most women, who are by nature a timid and subservient lot. The nature of their gender causes them to seek stability and order to protect their families. I think you will find, coming election, that they have no stomach for politics, much less the revolutionary kind promised by the left."

"I do hope you are proven right about my inherent subservience," Marianne hissed, but Van Hoover remained unimpressed by her sarcasm.

"There are exceptions, of course. Ambitious women like you, probably with a dash of royal blood in their line somewhere. But that's one in three women at most."

As if to underscore his claims, Mrs. Van Hoover had turned away from the conversation at some point in the middle and was now engaged in a passionate discussion with the First Lady on the topic of rose gardens.

"Most women are like my good wife here," Martin Van Hoover wrapped his arm around Clarice and pulled her closer towards him, interrupting her conversation in the process. "Whom you'd rather find in the kitchen than the voting booth on election day." Clarice gave her husband a flattering smile, then slowly slipped from his grasp to resume talking to Lady Hart.

"Besides," judge Van Hoover then concluded. "Like you I believe in the individual, not the state. It's not for the state to prevent women from voting for a bunch of rabblerousers. It is the duty of their husbands to ensure that reason and common sense prevail. If the men of Implaria can not even control their womanfolk anymore, they don't deserve to have their freedom protected by us anyways."
 

Implaria

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Governor Atwood was generally considered to be a very attractive man. He had a sharp, angular face and full black hair which he liked to wear neatly kempt back. His brown eyes were bright and clear, a shade of amber that worked well with the spotlights of a stage and his teeth were in perfect condition, shining white. Most guessed him far younger than his 50 years.

In addition to his natural gifts, Atwood was very particular about his appearance. Only the finest Remarian suits, custom tailored to his fit, were deemed good enough. Wherever he went, he was perfectly clean shaven, tidy and smelled of cologne. His vanity had served him well on the political stage, his distinct appearance giving him his own recognizable brand early on.

Of course he had ambitions to become president after Hart. Or after the Social Democrat Strickland, he did not really care either way. For the moment he was safe in his state of Kent, whose flag was to his right in this moment, addressing a crowd of journalists. The Socialists hated him like no other, but that served only to endear him to his supporters. Atwood had proven that one can win elections by suppressing the leftist vote. He probably could shoot a man on the street and it would only cause his voters to love him even more, Atwood figured. The more he humiliated the left, the more of its voters stayed at home, feeling powerless. And more of his voters flocked to the polls to feel like they took part in their humiliation.

"The deaths of two men during a political protest is an unacceptable crime and will not remain without consequences," Atwood began his press conference, his opening statement taking the journalists by surprise. Murmuring filled the room, but the smartest members of the press were already suspecting that this was a cruel joke, not sympathy for the deceased.

" Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are fundamental rights guarantueed by our constitution. These rights are not to be treated so disrespectfully as the Socialists have treated it this weekend, recklessly endangering and ultimately costing the lifes of Implarian citizens."

Atwood was a smart man and he was a strategist, not a madman. There was method to the leaps in logic and the ironic jokes he liked to play on his political enemies. While they would still be busy getting riled up at him toying with words, he was already three steps ahead, dismantling his enemies.

"To prevent further tragedies, I will enact an emergency measure, banning political rallies and protests for the foreseeable future and until the political tension has calmed down enough that we can expect no such tragedy to repeat itself. Thank you for your attention and may god bless you. "
 

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"It's a declaration of war is what it is."

Discussions in the central committee of the party tended to get heated, but even in the passionate environment of the innermost circle of the Social Democrats, Nikola Pugachev was infamous for his short fuse. He had immigrated to Implaria but a few years ago and his rise through the ranks was meteoric, having found a rare niche within the expansive apparatus of the labor movement it seemed only someone like him could fill. In Kurkhazia he had been a soldier once, before some minor, forgotten conflict left him permanently blind in one eye and with a piece of lead still rattling in his cranium. Some say that had affected his ability for self-restraint, but mostly behind his back.

"We have to meet this challenge. Let me mobilize my men to Kent, stage a massive rally and if Atwood wants a fight, he will get one. One that he will lose."

Pugachev bellowed his challenge across the table as if he were adressing the governor of Kent himself, but it met only the solemn faces of the other members of the committee. After his injury, Pugachev had dropped out of the military and for a while, he had drifted across Europe, doing odd jobs to keep himself afloat. Eventually he fell in with the organized labor movement and found his calling as professional brawn for the socialists. He defended strikes and public gatherings from attacks, he intimidated scabs and participated in militant action. And as he realized that one thug alone was not enough to meet the demands for physical power to be weilded by the labor movement, he began training and organizing other men for this task.

"I would bet my own daughter that's what Atwood expects us to do. What he wants us to do."

Opposing Pugachev was a middle-aged woman named Emilia Roth. Like Pugachev, she had but recently risen to the ranks of the central committee and like him, she had done so by finding her own niche in the labor movement, doing something seemingly no other could do. Yet where Pugachev had built up a number of small, disparate self-defense groups into what was effectively a paramilitary militia at this point, Roth was no great organizer of men, nor did her influence stem from the threat of physical violence. She worked alone most of the time and achieved her results through intelligence and oratory skill. Roth was the proletariats top lawyer, a nickname she had earned after winning her case for womens suffrage before the Supreme Court.

"We have a genuine shot at the presidency right now, but we must be careful to maintain our campaign," Roth warned. "If we march the PSD on New Tibur," the PSD being the Proletarian Self-Defense units under Pugachevs command, "Atwood will gain the chance to incite a war that benefits him, not us, even if you manage to gain the upper hand on the streets. The discussion will shift to the question of violence and anarchy and Strickland will be defeated at the polls."

Some of the men and women at the table nodded in agreement. Strickland was one of the longest serving members of the central committee and even though he could not attend the meeting himself, being busy with the election campaign and spending his time on the road, most members knew him well enough to expect him to agree with the point being raised.

"We have to keep the public focus on the real issues. Homelessness, unemployment, the dismal state of the economy and the fact that we kept the country out of a desastrous war," another member of the committee chimed in.

"If we don't answer Atwoods challenge, we will look weak. The workers will wonder how we intend to defend their interests if we can't even defend our own people. Two men died," Pugachev hissed that fact through his gritted teeth. "They weren't some anonymous newspaper headline. They had names. Carl and Stephen were our comrades. Shot down, butchered and now slandered by the bourgeoise press with impunity. You propose we sit idly by and just forget them?"

"I have forgotten no one," Roth replied with a cold, steely voice. "And I intend to meet Atwood and the press on the field of battle. But I propose we meet them on my field of battle. Let me drag them through the courts, where no one else has to bleed but their beloved bank accounts." Her eyes fixated on Pugachev. I can win this, they seemed to say. Let me fight this battle.

Pugachev relented. "If the committee believes this to be the preferable choice, I will follow your lead." Truth be told, a part of him was happy enough. Despite all his underlying anger issues, his short temper and his eagerness to fight, he was also proud of what he had built the PSD up to be. The men of the PSD had given him the nickname 'Sarge' and he had worn it proudly ever since, aware of the immense trust put into his leadership. And even though he was aware that one doesn't forge a weapon to then not be ready to weild it, he still knew he had an obligation not to have his men march into prison - or worse - senselessly. There was another way to confront Atwood and he was content with that.

"I do ask that the party cover the costs of the funerals, though. They are our martyrs and we should signal to the country that we all mourn their deaths."

The whole of the committee nodded their heads in agreement.
 

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The rhytmic rattling noise of the train tracks had a soothing effect on James Strickland. He, his wife and the campaign team were enroute to the city of Illumination in Santee, and even though they had been on the road for a while already it was still a few hours before they would arrive - Implaria was a vast country - and Strickland was growing tired. Having just eaten one of his wife Alice's excellent turkey breast sandwiches didn't help either. A full belly and a tiresome journey, James was close to dozing off.

"We will have to skip fairview for the funeral," Alice stated, matter of fact. Her long brown hair was tied up and she was wearing her reading glasses while bent over a number of timetables and schedules for trains. She was the organizational mastermind behind the election campaign, a task her diligence and modesty predisposed her towards.

"The earliest we can squeeze in a new date for Fairview then is December, but we will lose two free days, not just one and will spend a night on train."

"No use complaining," James shrugged. "The visit is important, but we can't skip the funeral either. We should try to do it with as little staff as possible, though. I don't want the rest to work overtime for this."

"You know how they are," Alice replied. "They will refuse to not come along and help. Especially for the funeral. I think the twins actually knew the victims, too. They're from New Tibur, after all."

"Have you taken a look at my eulogy for the funeral yet?"

"I only skimmed over it, but have some suggestions already." Alice began flipping through her papers until she found a stack of notes with some handwritten comments on the sides of the pages. "The first half seems fine, setting a good tone, but then you become too defensive. I'd say, don't dignify the attacks from the right with a response, especially not at the funeral."

James nodded in agreement. "Anything else?"

"Some of the phrasing is off, but I'll give it a more thorough read later and give you my suggestions then." She looked at her husband and gave him a gentle smile. "You're tired, aren't you honey. Why don't you take a nap. You have a long day ahead of you, I will take care of the rest while you sleep."
 

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It's been a few years now, but Amadi had settled into prison life eventually, knowing that he'd be around far longer than most. He watched his comrades in the union come and go for minor offenses, while he established himself as a force of stability in the prison. He'd help new arrivals settle in, mediate disputes and defuse conflicts between inmates and even with the guards. Amadi had even helped establish a form of counseling for union members to cope with the stressful experience of prison life.

His efforts had gotten him some recognition by the guards and even the warden, who saw a reduction in violence even as the number of inmates steadily rose and considered Amadi a positive influence that made his job easier. In turn the Himyari had earned a number of freedoms, a steady paid job in the laundry and ultimately even the right to send and receive letters. He had written his parents numerous times, but had gotten no reply.

Still, where the warden saw Amadis work make the prison run smoother and keep the inmates disciplined, that was only half the story. Because Amadis goal wasn't to help the guards or even establish a position of power for himself, he was helping the union members survive prison as best as they could. Discipline helped avoid becoming the target of unnecessary reprisals, which in turn helped making smuggling of contraband and other illegal activities much easier.

For example when one of his comrades celebrated their last night in prison after four years, the union had brought in chocolate cake and whiskey to celebrate. Gathered in the mans cell even past lockdown, they drank and sang socialist songs and wished their friend and comrade all the best. The guards turned a blind eye to such flagrant violations of the rules as part of the unspoken contract that avoided the physical violence and prison riots common in other institutions.

Following such nights, the benevolence of the guards usually even went as far as to allow Amadi to sleep in. It was thus a highly disturbing sign to him when one of the guards began rattling his baton against the door of his cell, shouting "Himyari" and "wake up!" Had the fragile peace between the union and the prison been declared void?

"You have mail," the guard just grunted and handed him a letter.

He could see right away it had come from Orashi. A reply to his many letters at last, Amadi was instantly awake and excited. Yet as he read the letter, the smile slipped from his face and an empty feeling began to arise from his stomach, slowly creeping into the rest of his body. He could feel a stream of hot tears suddenly running over his face, exiting from the corner of his eyes at first, but soon enough fliwing freely from his nose as well. Sobbing, howling, wailing animal noises exited his throat against his will and finally, Amadi collapsed unto his bed while still clasping the letter with one hand.

-

Dear brother,
I hope this letter finds you in good health despite your circumstances. I had presumed you dead, so it was joyful news to receive signs of your life regardless. You see, the letters you sent to our parents were sent to me as they couldn't find their intended destination. Which forces me to be the bearer of grave news you have obviously had the fortune to be ignorant of all these years: our parents are dead, along with most of our village. A price paid for harboring rebels during the last war, I am afraid.
I wish I could have spared you this knowledge, but you deserve to know why none of your letters were answered. I hope you take your time to mourn our parents as I had the chance to do a long time ago. And when you have shed your final tear, please write again, so I may have the chance to exchange happier words with you, my lost but found kin.
In love,
Your brother
 

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"I didn't know Carl and Stephen..."

James Strickland spoke with a clear voice, loud enough to carry his words into the farthest corners of the great hall of the union building of New Tibur. Hundreds had gathered to say their farewells to the men who died in the protests a week ago. Not just their families and friends, but the entire top brass of the Social Democrats, local, state and federal. It was for political reasons that James Strickland had been invited to eulogize two men he had never even met.

"I did not know them, but they were my brothers all the same and I will miss them. I will miss the chance to talk with them. I will miss the chance to work with them. I will miss the chance to build a new world with them."

His words would later be printed by the Red Flag, the party's national newspaper. They would surely give his presidential campaign a boost. Millions read the Red Flag, not just the most enthusiastic socialists, but many working class citizens who spent more energy and thought on their everyday lifes and their families than on political matters. Motivating them to turn out on election day was crucial.

"To many of you, Carl and Stephen were brothers in a more tangible sense. You had laughed and talked and fought together with them on numerous occasions. It must be almost an insult to you that they weren't killed for being Carl and Stephen, for any reason that made sense of their deaths. Their deaths were a message to us all, nothing more. Atwood sent his bloodhounds after them for the sole purpose of turning them into the parchment he would write a letter on... "

-

The union building was private ground. Technically, the assembly wasn't in violation of Atwoods emergency measure banning public gatherings. General Beckman had to laugh when someone in his staff pointed that out. The Socialists probably felt very clever, but when he had learned one thing in Orashi it was that technicalities didn't matter, but results did.

Once again he mobilized the National Guard, but instead of dispersing his enemy on the way to their assembly, he let them arrive without harassment. The entire leaderahip of the Socialists in one place, that was a godsend. It reminded him of the raid on Afaha where he and Callahan decapitated the leadership of seven different militias who had assembled to unify. The entire region was quiet for years after that.

So, on orders of General Beckman the military surrounded the union building only after speeches had began inside. Still they found the entire compound swarming with armed members of the PSD, ensuring a tense standoff that was just waiting for someone to fire first. Beckman wasn't in a hurry, he believed himself in the more advantageous situation. Eventually, the siege would wear them out and the Socialists would have to surrender.

-

Strickland had finished his speech with wet eyes and the mood in the hall was a somber mix of sadness and fightful defiance when someone informed him of the situation outside. Without hesitation he ran to the main entrance, shouting towards the soldiers posted across the street he wanted to talk to their officer.

"I admire your sense of duty," he continued, directed at all soldiers that could hear him. "You obey your superiors and carry out your orders dutifully. But I ask you to stop just for a second and consider that you are not facing an invading army, but citizens of Implaria.

If polls are to be believed, come January, I myself will be President of the Federation. Either way, I am a senator of our proud republic, as are about a dozen other men and women in this building. There are hundreds more who are representatives in federal congress or state parliaments in there. By all laws governing our nation, by the rules laid out in our constitution, you have no rights to lay hands on them.

Ask yourself carefully: if your orders are to arrest us or even shoot us, are these orders lawful ones? And if they aren't, how willing are you to take the blame once, inevitably, your superiors have to find a scapegoat for their apparently criminal orders?"

-

Van Hoover residence was a beautiful villa on a hill, some kilometers away from Westport. One could see the sjyline of the city, but the hustle and bustle of the city didn't reach it. Instead, the colorful garden surrounding the building was filled with the chirping of various kinds of birds and the humming of bumblebees tending to its many flowers.

The honorable judge had taken a seat in the terrace, enjoying the last rays of sunshine of the day with a glass of freshmade lemonade and a fine cigar. Soon, he would have to wrack his head over another case, but for the time being, he was enjoying his vacation.

"Darling, the phone. It's for you."

His wife disturbed the peacevand quiet, but he could hardly blame her for it, could he? When they both had been younger, he would often find the need to discipline her. In those days, he'd grab her by an arm and bend her over his lap. She had often been impertinent and coarse in those days, a spoiled girl from a wealthy family. These impulses had long since left her and it had been long since he had to lay his hands on her. Occasionally, he missed having to do that.

"Why would that red whore call you on a Saturday evening like that," Clarice said angrily as her husband came walking in, but he shot her down with an annoyed look on his face.

"How should I know," he said, thinking to himself how her unneeded jealousy remained an issue he had yet been unable to fix. Maybe he would get to discipline her again after all.

"What is it?" He picked up the phone.

"Honorable judge Van Hoover. Emilia Roth speaking. I am sure you remember me," the woman on the other end of the line sang, her voice filling Van Hoover with a number of contradicting emotions.

"I should have expected this call, but so soon? You want my vote again... Do you have so little faith in the courts in Kent? Or do their judges just have better taste in women." Van Hoover sighed, then continued angrily after making sure his wife wasn't within earshot." You really have no shame, do you, trying to blackmail me twice for the same thing. I should have known that night wasn't as forgotten as you said when I gave you my vote."

"You misunderstand me, Martin. I destroyed the evidence, as promised. This isn't about that at all. Consider the following my thanks for a fruitful partnership," Roth said jokingly.

"You see," she continued, "I am in New Tibur right now and it seems Atwood is in the process of massively overplaying his hand. He has the entire funeral surrounded with troops. It's all a mess waiting to happen and I imagine it'd be an ever greater mess having to sort out the consequences of his gaffe."

" I imagine this would all be very much in the interest of your party. Why try to stop Atwood when he is about to hand you the election."

" Because we are winning either way, Martin, and I have no taste for martyrdom. This a win-win for both of us."

Judge Van Hoover hesitated for a while, thinking." I will make sure the Supreme Court orders Atwood to withdraw the troops," he finally replied. "For a price."

"What do you want?"

"You know what I want."

"I am not in that line of business anymore, Martin." Emilia Roth said, but there was already resignation in her voice. "But fine, if you get the troops to withdraw, I will make an exception just this once. Just... try not to be too rough this time."
 

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This Sunday the Harts had decided to serve a Turkey dinner. Mrs. Hart hadn't quite gotten it right, the meat was a bit too dry and even the plentiful gravy couldn't salvage that fact. Not that any of the guests was rude enough to mention that fact. The guests, that were once again the Remingtons and, seated across the table from them this time was General King, who was a widower and thus attending alone.

The Remingtons had brought a bottle of wine for the dinner party and, seeing as how the meal was a little disappointing, it had been met with great enthusiasm at the table.

"It's from the Small Countries, of course," Richard elaborated. "A rare vintage. An excellent one, too, of course. From the first year of the war, when the vintners found themselves with once in a century conditions, but a severe labor shortage so they couldn't actually pick all grapes." He laughed. "A tragedy for lovers of good wine throughout Europe, but a minor inconvenience for a billionaire."

Richard winked at the general, who understood the gesture. Be grateful, it suggested, your military pension won't afford you such luxury.

"It is a fine vintage," King conceded. "Though I'd probably enjoy it more if I knew nothing about it."

"I always found it curious you could afford such sentimentalities in your position," the president chimed in, genuine curiosity in his voice. "Doesn't it make it rather difficult to command men into battle?"

General Hart took another leisurely sip from his glass of wine, but his back visibly straightened as he replied.

"I am, first and foremost, a man of duty. I have sworn an oath to the people of this country, as has every soldier under my command. If necessary, I will lay my life on the line to fulfill that duty and I expect my soldiers to do the same. That being said," he hesitated, taking a moment to consider his words. "That shouldn't mean I am ready to do that carelessly. Quite to the contrary."

"Prepare for war but wish for peace," the president concluded. "A beautiful sentiment."

"One incredibly hard to maintain at this day and age," Marianne said. "We talk as if the governments of Europe were pursuing the policy of war at all cost left and right, but it was peace at all costs that brought this country to near ruin."

Hart nodded in agreement. "In a just world, the Socialists would have lost votes over that stunt of theirs. Instead, they are gaining them as a result of the economic havoc they caused."

The no to loans for the war in congress, made possible by a number of anonymous defectors from the National Liberal bloc. It was hour zero for the troubles that have plagued Implaria in the last years, the point when neutrality became burdensome and expensive instead of being a boon for business.

"We lost millions in stocks on that day alone," Richard complained and Marianne added: "Not to mention the recession that followed."

"To this day I still don't know which members of my own coalition handed them a majority that day," Hart grumbled. "And as long as I don't know, I risk repeating that humiliation. As we speak, Gran-Occidentia is falling to Anarchy and we can't do anything about it because we can't trust our own congress on military matters."

"I have three children," General Hart began to elaborate. His position on the Great War and Implarias neutrality was no secret and he perceived the discussion as a whole in this moment to be directed at least partially towards him. "Like any father I love them dearly. When my son decided to follow in my path and become an officer of our army, it was the proudest day of my life."

"But," the general continued, "I also dreaded the day I had to send him into battle and possibly his own death. Whatever else I may think of the Social Democrats, for this they have my eternal gratitude, that they kept us out of the war."

He sighed in slight frustration. It was something neither the Remingtons, creatures of financial power, nor President Hart, a man of political ambition, could truly comprehend. "There are millions of fathers like me in this country. What is a bit of an economic downturn against the lifes of our children? If you can't understand that, you will have a tough time against the left."
 

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There was a bitter taste of defeat to the fact that Atwood left his state now, of all times. Of course, his vacation had been planned long beforehand. It's not something one can do spontaneously as a flight of fance. His secretary would have killed him, as would have his entire staff, had he not announced his absence months in advance and planned meticulously for things to run smoothly while he was gone.

And of all the moments in time, it had to be the days leading up to his vacation that the Supreme Court must decide to meddle in his state. Now it looked as if Atwood had tucked his tail between his legs and run off to Artemisa.

The governor sighed. There was no use beating himself up over a defeat like that. He had earned his days under the tropical sun, as did he the drink in his hand. Kent would still be there for him once he returned and for the time being, he left it to Beckman to solve the matter should the reds try anything funny. Just in case, he had decided to give the General control of the police force as well. It made his friend more flexible and gave him more options that the Supreme Court would not find as distasteful as his constant deployment of the National Guard.

From his hotel room, Atwood had a pristine view over the old harbor and out onto the Thaumantic sea. It was a view to die for and few in Implaria had the means to afford a hotel as exclusive. It would have lend itself handily to a story in the boulevard press, the small folk loved empathizing with those richer and more powerful than them, loved displays of grandeur and opulence. It made them feel as if they took part in it, which made them willing to fight to the teeth for those above them.

Alas, Atwood had ensured that no one would know he was here. His times in Artemisa were just for his own enjoyment and he had always travelled there under false names, even long before he had entered the stage of national politics. Not least in the number of reasons for such secrecy was the young, naked man lying on his bed. A local delicacy he had picked up earlier, Atwood mused to himself.

His passion for the same sex wasn't exactly illegal in the Implarian Federation, particularily in Artemisa where money could get you out of any legal trouble, but it wasn't exactly well respected either, especially amongst the constituency he was cultivating. And quite frankly, it was no ones business but his own that he spent his vacation with prostitutes and what exactly those prostitutes had tucked between their legs. No, what he did on Artemisa would stay on Artemisa.
 

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This was it. He had hit rock bottom. Lady luck had finally left Jesus Morales.

It had all started when the cannery had laid him off, citing the need to cut costs due to decreasing sales overseas. Jesus, unable to find new employment, had tried to compensate for his loss of income the only way he knew how: gambling. He was certain he could make it work, he had a system after all. First, he would cut on frivolous expenses, like drinks and whores, while hitting the casinos. He would try to limit his bets and stop earlier when he had a winning streek, so as to take money home to his wife.

His plan quickly fell apart. Once he was winning a few games, he would grow too confident of his luck. He'd still drink himself into a stupor, he'd place big bets that lost him all his earnings with a single stroke of bad luck. Eventually, he'd even drown his sorrows in the arms of a prostitute on the exact same day he had gotten evicted from his home. To make matters worse, his wife had then seen him pick up that 'professional'. Jesus would never see her again, though he had managed to receive news that she moved back in with her mother. When he showed up to talk to her his mother in law, who was a fierce woman who spent her life as a worker in a slaughterhouse, sent him flying on the pavement and gave him a concussion.

Battered and homeless, Jesus then resorted to a mix of begging for money and tricking people out of it with random games of chance on the sidewalk. An illegal activity, not least because of the competition it offered to licensed gambling houses, it would prove another step down for Jesus. Considering that the established businesses had ties to the criminal underworld to get rid of unwanted competition, Jesus could almost have been thankful it was a police patrol that put a stop to his last lifeline - though, at that moment, he considered the result to be no different from being drowned in the harbor by the mafia.

He had tried to run, of course, but an unfortunate mixture of not having eaten properly in weeks and having substituted much of the meals he could have had with alcohol left him frail and slow. The police quickly caught up with him, grabbing him by his coat, which in turn caused him to tumble to the floor. From there, Jesus defiantly spat at the two men who had caught him and showered them in expletives. A last act of defiance against a world that had turned very suddenly and very harshly against him. A defiance that was answered with one of the cops clubbing him over his head.

When he awoke, Jesus Morales and his two concussion were in a prison cell, awaiting trial.
 

Implaria

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El Yungue - or the Janky, as the Implarians pronounced it - was a tiny pub near the Westport docks. It was a decidedly working class bar run by an Aurarian immigrant who catered mostly to varying degrees of left-wing workers. The fact that it was located in close proximity to the main office of the Social Democratic Party helped solidify its status as favorite locale of the Socialists and even many high-ranking members of the party beuraucracy were regulars at the Janky.

"One of these days, I'll get Strickland to join us," Nikola Pugachev joked. He had decided to join Emilia Roth for a friday evening drink again, which had become a bit of a ritual for the both.

"That will never happen," Emilia laughed while she loosened her hair. During the working day she preferred to tie it up into a tight knot, but it was friday evening now, she wanted to relax. "If you get Strickland to drink, I'll pay for all of us all night," she teased. It was a well known fact that the Stricklands, both James and Alice, didn't just not drink. They were vehemently opposed to what they considered an insidious poison weakining the moral fiber of the working class.

"Their loss," Nikola relented and raised his glass. "More vile poison for us!" He drowned his first beer in one go, something he liked to brag about to Emilia as a sign of pride in his Kurkhazian heritage.

"You have to answer me one question, Emilia." Nikola ordered his second beer with a wave of the hand to the waiter. "What on Earth do you have that allows you to blackmail the Supreme Court? I mean, first women can vote and now you get them to reign in Atwood? You gotta have them by the balls somehow."

A grin ran over Emilias face for just a second. She couldn't hide it and Nikola noticed. Truth was, she felt flattered. Flattered that Nikola had paid enough attention to her work to notice it, flattered that he was impressed by her achievements. That steam engine of a man wasn't easily surprised, much less by feats of intrigue instead of raw strength.

"It's Van Hoover," she said.

"That dried plum of a man?"

"I happened to know an embarassing secret of his from way back. We had met back when he wasn't yet a Supreme Court judge and I was still attending college," she elaborated. "It was sheer coincidence, but my silence on this matter was worth a lot to him," she continued, remaining vague as to the exact nature of his secret. Then she shook her head. "I don't know why I am even telling you this."

"Yes, you have a surprisingly loose tongue for a lawyer," Nikola teased.

"And we haven't even cracked open the harder stuff yet."

Emilia didn't knew, but Nikola had more knowledge of her past than she expected. He was aware that she had financed her studies by selling herself to her richer fellow students and even the occasional professor. It didn't take much for him to conclude that the dirt she had was some evidence of Van Hoover visiting her when she was still a prostitute law student. It didn't particularily bother him, though he understood why she would want to leave it unspoken. He had met his fair share of prostitutes in his time and befriended most of them. Still, part of him just had to wonder, against all logic, if the two were still meeting.

"So..." Nikola pondered. "You have Van Hoover in your hands?"

But Emilia answered: "No. What I had has been used up to achieve what I managed to achieve. I don't think there will be any further deals to be struck with the honorable judge. Not that we need him anymore. Trust me, I am yet to truly go on the attack against Atwood."

Nikola breathed a sign of relief, unnoticed by Emilia. "Let's get some vodka," he announced.
 

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Amadi Nwadike had had some rough days, ever since learning of the death of his parents. He had blamed himself over his ill-fated participation in an even more ill-fated rebellion and he slowly began to slip into a depression. It was now that the self-aid structures he had built amongst the prisoners began to pay a dividend to one of their central figures, as his comrades in the union dragged him into the counseling system he himself had helped set up. There, he had to talk about his family, recall happy memories he had already forgotten existed and, most importantly, he had to accept it wasn't his fault.

"What, you're letting the people who pulled the trigger off the hook like that? You're taking their blame upon yourself?" The words of the counsellor were harsh, blunt and direct. He wasn't a professional, just some felon who was good at talking. Yet his words worked and slowly, Amadi began to return back to life, finding stability and structure in the life of service to other prisoners he had established for himself.

That's when they heard of the developements outside of their prison, in the state of Kent, and they hatched a plan of their own. They had dutifully coordinated it with the rest of the union and the Social Democratic Party leadership and everyone was in agreement, now was the time for a big breakout. The governor already was on the defensive, it would be another embarassment for the "strong man of Kent". Meanwhile it would mean freedom for a few dozen men imprisoned by him and these men would be loyalists to the socialist cause, showing others that it pays to be in the union.

Everything was well planned out. A weakpoint in the walls would allow for an escape, safe houses had been set up to hide for a few days and the guards would be distracted while a large group of prisoners would make haste through the collapsed outer wall and cut fences. There was only one question left, who would stay behind and offer up a distraction? Who would occupy the guards and draw their attention and, more perilously, face their wrath once it occured to them that they had been duped?

"I'll do it," Amadi said while another member was already preparing straws for drawin. "It's not like I can't really hide amongst the general population here anyways. I'd be back in prison as soon as Atwoods henchmen started looking for a black man in rural Kent."

His comrades had wanted to argue with Amadi. If anyone deserved to be free, it was him, they said, but they could hardly argue his point. Someone had to stay behind and if that was the case, it wasn't a bad idea to pick those men most likely to get caught again. So on a calm September evening, three dozen men made an escape from prison in the middle of Kent, while Amadi, the well-mannered convict who had gathered great sympathy amongst the guards, feigned a sudden bout of mania and assaulted several guards in the mess hall with his fists.
 

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"Not a single word from them. Nothing."

The Presidents mood had been gloomy the last few days. Election day was drawing closer and closer, but he had failed to halt the progress of the left in any significant way. Their voting base was fired up and enthusiastic, marching from success to success, while he himself had not been able to win any of the political battles he had picked thusfar. His own voters were demoralized, he feared they would just stay home, while his allies were proving to be additional weight dragging down his campaign, as the Atwood scandal proved.

"We shouldn't have bet on the support of foreigners," one of his visitors interjected. It was his campaign organizer, a party comrade and old friend of his. "There was little hope they would enter negotiations to help us out. Implarian industry has always been a threat to the old world. They are happy our country is imploding right now."

"Alas," another of his guests, a senator from his party, began: "Now we are committed to this path. We may have to redouble our diplomatic efforts. Maybe invite foreign diplomats to in person talks. It will at least give us some good headlines, the appearance of progress and competence. Something for the citizens to pin their hopes for economic recovery to."

"And to forget about Atwood," his campaign organizer said.

"The sooner we all forgot about that leech the better," President Hart grumbled. "That man would no sooner stab me in the heart if he had any hope it would improve his own chances to become President."

There had been bad blood between the two men ever since Harts "great compromiser" image won out over Atwoods firebrand rhetorics, earning Hart the last nomination and then the presidential election. Officially they had made their peace, famously shaking hands during the nomination congress, but those in the know were aware of the depth of Atwoods ambitions and the intense rivalry that had persisted ever since.

"I'd say, good riddance to that fruitcake," the senator replied, "but we can't lend any credence to Socialist attacks on Atwood right now. We need to bury that whole sordid affairs as best as possible without giving any further room to the discussion. It could only hurt us, however the debate turns out."

There was some silence in the room. Everyone was in agreement, but good ideas were far and few in between. A sense of dread and desperation hung in the air, a mood that had plagued Harts reelection campaign for weeks now.

"During the war there was a battle the Small Countries famously won, even though they had less men," the President suddenly began. "They deployed mockup tanks and achieved a breakthrough as their demoralized enemies gave way."

"Your point being?"

"What if we announce that there are, in fact, ongoing negotiations to lower the tariffs? We can hold back on the details until the election and just work with the impression of progress on the matter and the promise of economic recovery in absence of actual results."
 

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"Brothers and sisters, thank you all for coming, despite the weather being what it is."

The state of Arvum had long been plagued by a devastating drought, but now that summer had ended, rains had returned. James Strickland had chosen an unfortunate time to make his public speech in the city of Ravenbridge, as the downpour had been going for hours at this point and still made no indication of ceasing anytime soon. Still, he had to be here on this day, the Senator for the district was to be elected tomorrow and, largely thanks to the drought, the Social Democrats had a shot at wrestling the seat from the National Party.

"I also know the reason why you are here is, above and beyond all, summarized in one simple word: hope."

He looked at the sea of umbrellas in front of him. Below them he could glimpse worn out, tired faces, but their gaze was powerful, radiating with a hidden strength. James didn't know how else to phrase it. The hardships of the last months hadn't broken the people of Arvum, there was fight left in the residents of this largely agricultural state. The breadbasket of Implaria was seeing its worst harvest in decades, perhaps even centuries, and the rains had come far too late to change this fact.

"You want to put your hope into me and I am aware of the great responsibility this burdens me with. I promise you, I will not fail this trust. Give me your votes and together we can pull through."

Arvums farmers were a conservative bunch. There were times the Social Democrats thought they could never make inroads with the local electorate. Even in industrial centers like Ravenbridge, locals were wary of social change, of womens suffrage and youth movements, of atheism and revolution. And, ironically, the one area where James Strickland may have been able to brandish some kind of conservative creed, his opposition to alcohol, was a burden in Arvum as well: the people of Arvum loved their liquor and the state had hundreds of breweries and distilleries, supplying the entire country with their products and employing thousands.

"You are all hardworking and honest folks, everyone in Implaria knows that. So why then does President Hart act like it wasn't the drought, but laziness that got the people of Arvum into their current predicament? If elected, I will waste no time to pass a moratorium on foreclosures. This means, by executive order, it will be illegal to evict anyone from their apartment, their house and their land, until we can pass proper legislation in Congress, adressing the plight of the workers of Arvum."

Even before the drought, Arvum had been struggling, as the general recession had hurt demand for the state's products and Implaria was increasingly losing access to markets abroad. Then the rains ceased for months. With thousands, perhaps even millions of farmers, landless workers and food industry workers facing an unprecedented crisis, the Social Democrats were suddenly riding high in Arvum. Where the establishment had failed to offer the people of Arvum any solution, the Socialists had stepped in. With parents struggling to feed their children, any other point of contention with the reds suddenly seemed miniscule and unimportant.

"This proper legislation will include a bailout of the poorest farmers, those hardest hit. It will include government loans at preferable conditions to allow farms to modernize and we will strive towards a system of subsidies and price controls that ensures food prices do not exceed reasonable limits while guarantueeing a liveable income to all farmers, freeing everyone, producers and consumers, from the tyranny of market anarchy. To do all this, I ask you only one thing in return. That is, your helping hand.

To do all this, we need more good men in congress. So please, tomorrow, vote Social Democratic."
 

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The last few days had been stressful for Atwood. Watching from afar as the Socialists unrolled their campaign of character assassination against him, he had to sit by idle, hoping to weather this storm by silence. Sure, he could have abandoned his holidays - the events had ruined his enjoyment of the island anyways - travel back home, give press conference after press conference denouncing the attacks, but he felt that would be of little help. That he wasn't home to defend himself, he decided, was both weakness and strength, depending on how he played it.

He had decided to sit this one out, pretend he was on vacation and hadn't heard anything of the attack, letting his allies denounce it as cowardly to smear a man in his absence. Atwood himself wouldn't comment on it at all, hoping that the press had moved on to greener pastures once he returned home. These were, after all, exciting, troublesome times and surely the next crisis would grab national attention sooner rather than later. Were he to deny the allegations, however, he'd just keep national attention on his sex life for even longer.

So he stayed on Artemisa for now, but he didn't invite anymore young men into his hotel room. His homosexuality was his achilles heel, he had always known that and he had tried to keep it carefully out of sight. Turns out, even that was still too careless.

Instead he now had to make do with drinks, gambling and food to waste his time on vacation - like an ordinary tourist. Thus when the Remingtons invited him to dinner in one of the finest restaurants of Alcazar, he didn't even question how the bankers found him on Artemisa and gladly joined them even though it meant actually having to talk about the whole... issue... of his same-sex affairs being exposed.

The Remingtons were courteous, though, brushing the topic here and there, but covering it in platitudes and euphemisms. "We don't really care about our politicians private life," Marianne Remington surmised over a dish of oysters named after them. "The plebs may need politicians to be virtuous and upright and may want someone who can't be bought, but that's because they know they couldn't afford those politicians who are for sale," she said with her usual candor.

"Whether the rumours are true or not doesn't concern us," Richard Remington continued his wifes elaborations, "so there is no need for any comment from you on this matter, at least as far as we are concerned. You are a valuable ally to us, governor, because you have reliably upheld the laws of our constitution and protected the freedoms we hold so dear. The freedom to conduct our business, protecting what is rightfully ours from the greed of lesser men."

"Unfortunately," Marianne picked up the discussion once again while waving over the waiter to refill the glass of wine of their guest, clearly intending to shift the discussion now the real reason they had invited Atwood. "... unfortunately not everyone of our politicians is as reliable. Whether for lack of skill or lack of willpower, it doesn't matter. Implaria is falling to the left, piece by piece, and our most powerful public servants are sitting by idly, fiddling their thumbs."

"You are talking about President Hart, I surmise?" He hadn't known the Remingtons nearly as well as some of his political comrades, but even Atwood found it a little strange to be put into the position of speaking out clearly what Marianne had only alluded to. Her directness was famous and no doubt, this had been an intentional rhetorical strategy. Now it was him who had spoken the sentence over the President, not them.

"A victory of the Socialists would be desastrous for our country. It is something we have to prevent with all means necessary," Richard said.

"It sadly doesn't look like Hart will be able to beat Strickland, so 'all means necessary' can't remain but a figure of speech. We need to consider alternatives," Marianne elaborated. "In fact, we are pursuing alternatives right now. We will not allow Strickland to become President."

"That's all fine and good," Atwood waved his hand dismissively "but if you've already set your wheels in motion, why talk to me about it? It seems counterintuitive to brag about your conspiracy to people uninvolved with them."

"Getting rid of Strickland is one thing," Marianne continued. "But it is the events that come after it that decide how this will end. We need quick and decisive action in the days afterwards. And quick and decisive aren't exactly the words you would use to describe Hart."

"So you want a coup d'etat?"

"You've proven in Kent that you know how to handle public unrest and you have friends in the military you can trust, don't you?"
 

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"You see, general, this isn't just an ordinary labor conflict, this is an attack on the integrity of this election."

Beckman had been busy while his friend the governor was absent. He had not for a second believed the stories about Atwoods... preferences. In the mind of the general, there was no doubt that the Socialists had gone on the attack once again. Now he was meeting with representatives of the textile industry and they were telling him the same story, of a communist conspiracy to undermine the fabric of society and steal the upcoming elections. All things considered, it didn't take much to convince the general, he wanted to believe.

"The service of the military is to the nation. We will not allow such underhanded tactics to destroy our great democracy," the general assured the man who had approached him just a few days ago. He didn't know much about him, except that he was some big name in the textile business, running cotton plantations and mills all across the state of Kent. "This is a personal matter for me, too. I was tasked by the governor to keep the peace in Kent and now the Socialists are trying to undermine my work, thinking they found some loophole to continue formenting unrest."

"I am glad that we have an understanding," the industrialists poured the general a glass of champagne. "Let us toast to our cooperation then. For the sake of the country."

Following the toast, Beckman excused himself and was about to leave. "If that is all, I would like to get to work right away," he said, but he was held back.

"I am afraid the matter is still a bit more delicate than just deploying your troops, general. While I personally would love to see these red rats locked up in a tiny hole, the keys to their cells thrown out and forgotten, this just isn't good for business. We need to get them back to work, not just off the streets," he elaborated. "Now, I understand that you have been granted a few extraordinary powers as consequence of the unusual circumstances right now. It would be preferable for everyone in Implaria if we could make use of them in order to return to a sense of normalcy in our state and my industry."

"Care to elaborate?"

"I want my workers to return to work, that's all I care about right now. Arrest them, for all I care, but get them back to work. In chains, if you must."

Beckman thought back to his service in Orashi. Penal labor divisions were a common method of reeducation and one that bypassed the courts under certain circumstances. Kent wasn't Orashi, of course, and citizens of Implaria had more rights than residents of a Himyari colony. But sound policy was sound policy all the same. Orashi had been quiet ever since Beckman had served under General King.

"I will see to it, you have my word."
 

Implaria

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"Morales, a visitor."

Jesus had spent a few days in a jail cell now. He had no means to post bail and friends and family had abandoned him. Maybe his wife had decided to come around after all? But the man who stepped into his cell was a complete stranger.

"Mr. Morales I presume?"

"Yes. Who are you?"

He mustered the man. Well dressed and with an aura of no-nonsense around him, he immediately instilled respect. The contrast couldn't have been greater either, with Morales at his worst and clearly in withdrawal from not having had a drink in days. Or a shower...

"My name is unimportant. I am a lawyer, your lawyer, for now. More importantly, though, I represent a few powerful individuals that could help you return not just your freedom, but make you a wealthy man, too, if you are willing to strike a deal."

"You must obviously mistake me for someone else," Jesus laughed. "I'm not in the mafia or anything. There is no one I can rat out. I'm just a nobody, down on his luck. My misery is my own," he sighed melancholical.

"Mr Morales, you misunderstand. Maybe it is my fault for leading with my occupation as a lawyer. I am not talking about a deal with the authorities, I am talking about a... more private kind of deal. There is a job that needs to be done, something that isn't exactly reputable, but highly necessary. Something people in less hopeless situations than you tend to reject if offered."

For a few seconds, Jesus sat in stunned silence. He knew this sounded more than just fishy, it was probably something downright illegal he was about to be asked to do. However, he really had hit rock bottom and contrary to what people liked to say, the only way wasn't up. There was no way up for him in sight anywhere.

"I am already headed for prison. Whatever you want me to do will probably earn me a few more years of that, won't it?"

"No, Mr. Morales, on the contrary. Though I have to admit, it isn't exactly the most... moral of acts we would ask you to perform, my employers are, as said, very powerful people."

"So, stop beating around the bush then."
 
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