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The White Helms

Nieveland

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"So they want us to be fookin' cue balls?" private Curren cried, picking up a Nievish Guard helmet so freshly painted white that his fingers stuck as he threw it down.

"No holes, looka'that. I'm sorry Fergus but I need to move on!" Corporal Maguire cried out, unclipping his worn out helmet and placing it respectfully on a hay bail before lunging for the helm Curren had thrown down in a barn.

"The fook is Fergus?" the entire platoon rung out.

"Oi," Maguire whinged as he clipped the new one into place, "a ghost who haunted me mind since he died and I put on that tin, but how do I look?" Maguire asked, posing in the new white helmet and making Sylviewood faces at them.

Instead of responding they inspected the old helmet and found it was shot in thrice with holes. The holes and shrapnel marks in their own helmets caught their fears now as they ran shaking fingers over so many scars from guardsmen of a previous generation.

"I do drink one for Fergus every night, never had a heady, and he always promised me I'd find another helm!" Maguire confessed. "He was so wise and I do hope when I die in in this one I pass our wisdom to the next!"

Sergeant MacAtyr, watching the frenzy in the ranks, walked out towards to the white helm pile with his pistol and shot one in the front. "This one's mine!"

Behind him rifles and pistols began to click but MacAtyr shut it down with an "Oi!", "it was fookin' symbolic gesture for the ghouls, let's not ruin all the new gear!"

Maguire, the company basket case as he was, finally seemed happy and open for the first time since the 1/11th were assigned guarding Pherson's highspeed railway folly. Through their executions, beatings, and outright pressure the project had overcome its harshest challenge by railing the marshes outside of Caitekurke. Today they had cleared out a wee village on the other side of MacKinnon's Preserve where there were more suicides inside old stone homes than villagers to pack off, as most had packed off already.

The reputation of the Nimonnach's 1/11 Terrier Company preceded them as rousting problems in Nieveland. But now here were new helmets, painted white and a barn full of new firearms from the continent and boots for the ragged Nievishmen to treasure and resell for days.

"Put'em in line MacAtyr!" First Sergeant MacDempsey shouted, watching as his ugly little terriers argued over the value of what was being offered to them. MacAtyr duly ordered the young men to cast off their rotting knickers and don new ones, ensuring that none put down their old rifles down without handing them off to a comrade as they put on their new uniforms and white helms.

On the other side of the hot dung ridden barn stood MacDempsey and an officer none recognized. A few groaned and cast sideways glances at the new officer before finding their place in line. "It does so happen that Captain O'Callum has chosen to ride bonus and pension after this," MacDempsey shrugged with a thumb pointing back over his shoulder at the railway plodding forward faster than ever before "victory over ourselves."

"Aye, and that's when I bug in don't I?" a young voice interrupted. "I am Captain Hely and I have been called to lead you wild lot as White Helms on the Mainland!"

Garbles of "save me", "fuck off", "what then", and "dick" rattled off before MacAtyr and MacDempsey barked them all into silence.

"I left Ballyclaire yesterday for the first in my life to lead you lot," Captain Hely offered, "have a wife and a wee one to account for beside, but I do know you all have been away as well for longer?"

"Aye!" the deeper company groaned.

"Now those are white helmets over there, and I know you're not keen on them." Hely appealed, "but this is a holy mission."

Groaning overrun anything more, with too many "nigh" or "save us" cries ringing over Captain Hely who wanted to continue.

"RIGHT THEN!" Sergeant MacAtur shouted, "don your caps and wipe your ass, we're shipping out aren't we? Aren't ye tired of watching railway workers yet?"

"That's not enough, I know" Captain Hely refrained, "but ye'all have the Nievish Spiritual Vision don't ye?"

MacAtyr and Dempsey were down upon any resistance now with bully clubs, smiling at the sarcastic lads who wanted to whisper "pussy vision" or "alemennach" in response.

Corporal Maguire approached the new officer as the rest inspected their new equipment, engaging the better born of his same age. "Look at your boots, Captain Hely!" Maguire ordered after offering a salute and an outdated bow.

Hely saluted back in the defeated way, theirs was a nation that had been occupied for a time none cared to talk about, but when he looked down he saw he was standing in a combed over spot of ash and soot. Shuddering, Hely met Maguire's glance again with a nod. "They had their own vision here didn't they?"

Maguire knocked his new helmet and nodded, "if we're to go abroad we need ye to hold on and remind us of home."

McAtyr was on him then, pricking Maguire in the sternum and shoving him off towards the barn.

Captain Hely sided off to an abandoned home, gas connected but without electricity, and prepared a letter for home. The 1/11th would train here for a week, maybe two, before taking guidance from the Almskeeper who was taking guidance they hoped from the Pope on high.
 
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Nieveland

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On a day soon after

"How many have I fired then, McAtur?" Corproral Maguire cracked as he made the cross on his chest and stood up.

"I think you mean Sergeant McAtur, little Laird? . . . But yes, ten and your spent, what of it?" the Sergeant replied.

"Not sure I like its plastic bits, but she doesn't kick or jam like old Ella-Rose." Maguire informed as he flipped an empty chamber up for the Sergeant to inspect.

"Nigh, she doesn't does she? Does this lass have a name yet?" McAtur inquired with earnest interest.

"Charlotte, I know it's an Engell name, but she told me so in a dream last night - save me." Maguire answered.

McAtur turned red with rage and tensed to steal the rifle away from the man when he heard the captain's whistle call to formation. "You're clear little Laird, but don't you dare tell another soul what you just told me!" the Sergeant snipped, spitting towards Maguire and almost hitting him.

In formation the sergeant was staring daggers at Maguire but the new captain, Charlie Hely, was there to disrupt the tension with a call for ease and to "Make a circle!"

"Make what?" several begged, but the concept was easy enough when Hely walked into the center of the group.

"We are moving out tomorrow for Radilo where our fair Almskeeper has invited us to present arms in service of the Vatican." Hely told the group who began gasping and shushing their own swears before they dared erupt.

"Now that's a hell of a thing," Hely admitted as he unlatched and hipped his helmet, "a once in a lifetime, once in a generation thing but I won't get carried away. I know you all are ready to shoot down a Post-Delegationist, but I need to know you're ready to behave on the continent."

Some murmurs crept out, but Hely was on them immediately: "the Holy Land ain't so holy, I've been there on study myself and I know on first release half of you are going to get mixed up in all manner of debauchery you wouldn't want your grammar school nun to see - so look at your knuckles, go ahead." Captain Hely half-ordered.

"Don't make it hurt for the Guard, me, or you, okay? The terriers were chosen because you overcame the sabotage and espionage that nearly denied our fair Almskeeper the people's railway. The mainland we are adventuring to is far more cunning, duplicitous, and will eat up sinful individuals who do not remember their families or where we came from." Hely lamented on.

"Will we be on the brekkie?" a Private Ross asked impulsively.

"You know, I think we will" Hely replied with a warm smile, "the Breakfast Companion may want to spin a reel or two on the first Niommonach to present arms for the Vatican in some centuries, and heck, the Brek' is on its way to talk the railway push this afternoon if you can mind your words?"

"Aye!" most replied, excited to see Brekkie reporter lasses sauntering about this ghost of a village.
 

Nieveland

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Caitekurke International Airport

"So lads, I think I need to unpack these bags a bit and bring us down to here and now." Captain Hely offered with hands settling down boys enjoying airport pints. Everyone was so and fully excited then, animated with the idea that they were meeting and presenting themselves with arms to the pope tomorrow.

"Sometimes life throws you a kick in the head, and honestly, I'm a bit stunned right now." Captain Hely continued.

The men were in order and in line now, used to his folksy and informal way of speaking now, but squinting to understand what he meant.

"We won't meet the pope on morrow, or sit in a Radilian cafe. Is that fine?" Captain Hely asked, but the groans were so loud that he reflexively kicked his heels down a few times.

"We must instead be ambassadors, did you forget yourself?" Hely inquired, his troops polishing and pruning every aspect of their uniform to meet the Holy Father.

"Terriers in Nieveland, terriers in Radilo, terriers in Himyar. We're still the same aren't we?" Hely asked with a big shrug.

"Aye!" the unit replied.
 

San Jose

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Palmira International Airport
Military Terminal, 1830 HRS


Capitán Pablo Rojas surveyed his men and women in uniform with a critical eye, noting how they were passing the time to alleviate the boredom of inactivity as they waited for their plane to pass maintenance checks before they could board. Officially and to the untrained eye, they were swapping stories, jokes, or catching quick naps. Unofficially and to the trained eye like the officer's, they were swapping smuggled booze and edibles, doing their best not to be caught, lest they be chided for their obviousness. The Josefino military was known for their relatively lax standards when it came to intoxicants outside of combat, so the fact that this was happening wasn't much of a surprise to Capitán Rojas, but he was making sure they were being subtle about it, to maintain at least the veil of international standards of professionalism. This would be their last chance in awhile after all, for their destination was going to be full of far more scrutiny than libertine Palmira: the Holy City itself, Tibur. They were to meet Il Padre Santo and present arms, reporting for duty as Papal White Helmets.

Their mobilization came as a surprise to all involved. Officially it was due to the need for secrecy, though for what reason was apparently too secret to share outside of the powers-that-be. Inevitably, this sparked rumors that El Presidente himself heard gossip from an anonymous Josefino Cardinal within Il Vaticano that there was another Catholic nation that was sending "White Helmets" to Tibur to answer Il Papa's call for White Helmets to work closely with the Papacy and be more responsive to crises around the world. The rumor was difficult to believe, but it made more sense than "too secret to be divulged," so the unofficial explanation was the accepted one.

And so, Pablo's Perros were assembled on the spot, ordered to don the gear of the White Helmets with Josefino livery, and prepare to be shuttled off to Il Vaticano to present arms to Il Papa and prepare assignment to... wherever. That wasn't clear yet, but at some point it would be divulged, doubtless as "need to know" information given how things were going so far.

The plane was finally ready, and so Capitán Rojas barked out quick orders to get his men and women back into formation and ready for a long flight, long enough for them all to sober up, and be presentable to the Holy Father.
 

Nieveland

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"Captain Hely here, and I understand you're one of Pablo's?" the Nievish officer asked when meeting his counterpart from San Jose.

"Don't our helmets match?" he continued with a squint, watching as the two troops mixed out uncomfortably.

"Most of these boys have never seen one beyond the Isles, so I ask you do excuse them Captain?" Hely begged.

Shouting from the Nievish sergeants was happening now and the actual Nievish terrier was yapping at the heel of a lass from San Jose.

"OI!" Captain Hely shouted for the first time in his leadership of the unit, "MAKE IT LIKE NIEVELAND!"

This caused a full stop and the Nieves fell in line. "Sit pretty then, they'll know you're ugly from what you do on. I bid you well boys, just don't lose home!" Captain Hely said, thrusting an easily returned salute to the Terrriers.

"I dun'think we'll see the pope, but we've seen each other, so what now Captain Rojas?" Hely asked.
 

San Jose

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Jose
Caitekurke International Airport

Capitán Pablo Rojas saluted the Nievish Captain Hely and shook his hand in response to his greeting. Unlike most of his soldiers, he was going to be a professional, dammit. His Engellish was heavily accented, but mostly intelligible.

"Si, Capitán Hely. Pablo Rojas, commander of the 125th Josefino Rifles Battalion, Pablo's Perros at your service. Perdón, pero... I wasn't expecting to see you here. I suppose you're the other rumored Cascos Blancos, ¿no?"

He followed the Nievish's gaze to their troops, whose awkwardness was palpable, the Josefino soldiers were sizing up the Nievish and debating silently amongst themselves whether it was proper to share their intoxicants, or if it would make the Capitán, and therefore them, look bad.

"Entiendo, capitán. Mi soldados are... cómo se dice... also unfamiliar with the Nievish, so the feeling is mutual. Please excuse our ways, we shall do our best to excuse yours."

Then Captain Hely asserted himself, and brought the Nievish back into line, a thoroughly impressive display of military authority that earned him Rojas' respect. The Josefinos themselves, meanwhile, kept their distance, observing with ever growing curiosity what seemed to be their companions to the Pope for the foreseeable future. Already, some were attempting to communicate silently with their fellows offering some of their ill-gotten gains in exchange for something equally interesting, to varying degrees of understanding.

"Now? I suppose we wait, Capitán Hely. Los poderes fácticos have forgotten how timing works... do you know a good cervecería we can relax at?"

Professional Josefino though he was, he was still a Josefino.
 

Nieveland

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"Well I really stepped in it, didn't I Captain Rojas?" Hely admitted with humility, "You're not one of the Pablo's, you are Pablo, and these are your perros!"

"That we're at the same time is no coincidence," the Nievishmen replied, "or if it is I'd like to think of it as a merry one. But if I had to wager it's because we're two Catholic socialist countries and this is the cheapest layover country if you want to get to Radilo."

Elsewhere he noticed the bonny reporting lass from the Breakfast Companion interviewing the foreign ones for the radio. A foreign voice or accent over 1000 AM would be a special treat heard seldom.

Another person of note was the new chaplain, Lieutenant Fleming, who was scribbling furiously in a notepad and staring daggers at the Nievish soldiers. The Lieutenant had simply showed up while they were boarding the bus, had spoken to no one, and notably lacked the pin indicating that he was a priest on his uniform. Hely would need to have a talk with him to figure out what he was bringing to the company, he thought, but as if through telepathy the man's sharp eyes pinned on Captain Hely and suddenly he was marching at a rapid pace to meet the two captains.

The man offered a quick and clearly annoyed salute at the two and then began speaking in Nievish instead of the Engell tongue: "We need to clamp down on this fraternization, Hely I . ." Lieutenant Fleming began rattling off, but Hely reached out and put a hand on his shoulder for him to stop.

"Our friend here is not likely to speak Nievish," Hely advised, "so do have some manners and say what you have in Engellish."

Fleming quickly darted a glance at the Josefino, but quickly returned his narrowed eyes towards Hely. "I am recommending segregation, sir." Fleming said in Engellish.

"That's an interesting recommendation, lieutenant, though I think you wanted to mean it as an order" Hely queried with a broad smile.

Lieutenant Fleming simply saluted, waited for its return, and marched away again to begin scribbling more notes. This was no chaplain, Hely knew now, this was a spy from the Nàbaidhean (Neighbors).

"I see no reason to segregate two groups joining under the same helmets that are about ship off for the same cause, do you Captain Rojas?" Hely asked genuinely.

Caitekurke International Airport had but one pub, however, it was spacious enough that it had multiple bars, tenders, and waitresses to nearly respond to both units. Civilians at the airport were already keeping a wide berth from the foreign ones, and would likely clear out the moment they came buzzing into the pub.

"I think we have enough time to put a pint and eat half of something before we need to takeoff," Hely said, replying to Rojas' inquiry for a brewery. "They do brew their own and name new ones after patrons," he continued, "and I'd wager after today they'll want to name something after their Josefino visitors."

Captain Hely led his counterpart and noticed that the Nievish soldiers followed him instinctively without being ordered, hoping that the foreign ones would follow along too. Both the staff and patrons of Beira's Wee Pub (named such after being declared the largest pub in Nieveland) eyes began to bulge out of their skulls at the mass of guardsmen and foreign soldiers flowing in. The patrons, as expected, downed their drinks and coins on the table to escape. The staff, however, had no choice but to smile and look around for Neighbors who may be checking in on how much they were fraternization with foreign ones (and Fleming WAS watching).

Hely ordered a pint of 'Beira's Bitterest' (also called Niommonach #1), their staple brew that sometimes could be seen outside of the country but rarely. By international standards the brew was not particularly bitter at all, nonetheless, it was an aromatic and approachable beer with a yeasty approach yet bitter hoppy finish. To eat he ordered a mutton pie as well as some black pudding with bread to share with his counterpart should he wish.
 
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San Jose

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"Well I really stepped in it, didn't I Captain Rojas?" Hely admitted with humility, "You're not one of the Pablo's, you are Pablo, and these are your perros!"

"That we're at the same time is no coincidence," the Nievishmen replied, "or if it is I'd like to think of it as a merry one. But if I had to wager it's because we're two Catholic socialist countries and this is the cheapest layover country if you want to get to Radilo."

Elsewhere he noticed the bonny reporting lass from the Breakfast Companion interviewing the foreign ones for the radio. A foreign voice or accent over 1000 AM would be a special treat heard seldom.

Another person of note was the new chaplain, Lieutenant Fleming, who was scribbling furiously in a notepad and staring daggers at the Nievish soldiers. The Lieutenant had simply showed up while they were boarding the bus, had spoken to no one, and notably lacked the pin indicating that he was a priest on his uniform. Hely would need to have a talk with him to figure out what he was bringing to the company, he thought, but as if through telepathy the man's sharp eyes pinned on Captain Hely and suddenly he was marching at a rapid pace to meet the two captains.

The man offered a quick and clearly annoyed salute at the two and then began speaking in Nievish instead of the Engell tongue: "We need to clamp down on this fraternization, Hely I . ." Lieutenant Fleming began rattling off, but Hely reached out and put a hand on his shoulder for him to stop.

"Our friend here is not likely to speak Nievish," Hely advised, "so do have some manners and say what you have in Engellish."

Fleming quickly darted a glance at the Josefino, but quickly returned his narrowed eyes towards Hely. "I am recommending segregation, sir." Fleming said in Engellish.

"That's an interesting recommendation, lieutenant, though I think you wanted to mean it as an order" Hely queried with a broad smile.

Lieutenant Fleming simply saluted, waited for its return, and marched away again to begin scribbling more notes. This was no chaplain, Hely knew now, this was a spy from the Nàbaidhean (Neighbors).

"I see no reason to segregate two groups joining under the same helmets that are about ship off for the same cause, do you Captain Rojas?" Hely asked genuinely.

Caitekurke International Airport had but one pub, however, it was spacious enough that it had multiple bars, tenders, and waitresses to nearly respond to both units. Civilians at the airport were already keeping a wide berth from the foreign ones, and would likely clear out the moment they came buzzing into the pub.

"I think we have enough time to put a pint and eat half of something before we need to takeoff," Hely said, replying to Rojas' inquiry for a brewery. "They do brew their own and name new ones after patrots," he continued, "and I'd wager after today they'll want to name something after their Josefino visitors."

Captain Hely led his counterpart and noticed that the Nievish soldiers followed him instinctively without being ordered, hoping that the foreign ones would follow along too. Both the staff and patrons of Beira's Wee Pub (named such after being declared the largest pub in Nieveland) eyes began to bulge out of their skulls at the mass of guardsmen and foreign soldiers flowing in. The patrons, as expected, downed their drinks and coins and the table to escape. The staff, however, had no choice but to smile and look around for Neighbors who may be checking in on how much they were fraternization with foreign ones (and Fleming WAS watching).

Hely ordered a pint of 'Beira's Bitterest' (also called Niommonach #1), their staple brew that sometimes could be seen outside of the country but rarely. By international standards the brew was not particularly bitter at all, nonetheless, it was an aromatic and approachable beer with a yeasty approach yet bitter hoppy finish. To eat he ordered a mutton pie as well as some black pudding with bread to share with his counterpart should he wish.

Caitekurke International Airport

Capitán Pablo Rojas swelled with quiet pride as Captain Hely correctly identified him as the leader of the merry band known as Pablo's Perros, or "Paul's Dogs" in the Engell vernacular, though such a translation took away from the poetry the nickname otherwise provided. "Si, Capitán. Mi perros are a rambunctious bunch, but they're buenos soldados, and devout Communionists, every one. I cannot argue with your reasoning, we responded to the same Santo llamado after all, though where we go beyond la Ciudad Santa only God knows, a testament to our faith I suppose."

Lieutenant Fleming's sudden entrance, contribution to, and exit from the conversation was received with cold, stony silence from Capitán Rojas, a thoroughly unpleasant and paranoid man he seemed to be. To Captain Hely's assessment over lacking a need for segregation he nodded firmly, "You are correct Capitán Hely. We're probably going to be on tour for many months for el Santo Padre, we might as well get comfortable with each other's presences while we are on our mission. Lead the way, Capitán."

Similarly to the Nievish behind Captain Hely, the Josefinos fell in behind Capitán Rojas, their chatter and muttering growing more excited as the more astute amongst them began to figure out and share their destination: Beira's Wee Pub. For the time being, the Josefinos clustered around one another and segregated themselves from the Nievish, though a few brave soldados who had broken Engellish attempted to bridge the gap between the two groups to varying degrees of success out of a desire to achieve new drinking buddies with new and interesting stories. Capitán Rojas was one of them, ordering his own 'Beira's Bitterest' out of respect for his partner's tastes, and accepted the invitation to share.

"Where do you think we'll be deploying after we meet el Santo Padre? Ah... it doesn't matter either way. To safe travels, and close friendships!" Capitán Rojas raised his glass in toast, and though the Josefinos didn't fully understand the content of the toast, they knew that it must be honored, and they raised their glasses on solidarity.
 

Nieveland

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Glad that Captain Rojas could taste a piece of Nieveland before trailing on to the mainland gave cause for Hely to feel a spot of pride. Still, he reminded himself, most foreign ones thought Nievish and Engell food was shite. Further, this pub did cater to those wealthy or state approved enough to travel with per diem. A Nievish Guard meal, as the terriers had experienced for two years on the Pherson line, consisted of stiff grains and potted soups and vegetables.

"Per diem, eh?" Hely wondered aloud as the Tiburan phrase jutted about in his head like a pinball, "we've been given quadrupled per diem for this mission . . ." he said, turning now to his Terriers in horror as waiters stacked tables with pints and meals beyond their means.

Lieutenant Fleming had stopped scribbling and was now on his smartblock, no doubt reporting on the Dionysian pandemonium at play. Hely shook his head and turned to Captain Rojas with embarrassment.

"They aren't Hely's Terriers quite yet, Captain Rojas, so I ask ye pardon to remind these ones of who they should be?" Hely asked.

Standing, Hely found First Sergeant McAtyr who was explaining in Nievish the heroics of the elite 1986 Joshgyll Seals Cricket Club over a bottom rung Engellish team. "Stand up then." Hely ordered in a whisper.

"TERRIERS ATTENNNNNN..." McAtyr began before Hely jabbed him in the ribs with an elbow to stop.

"You go on ahead then," Hely said with a jesting dismissive tone that joked at their parents and schoolhouse clergy. "Spend the coin of this day's work on yer'own eve's pleasure, do we?"

Groans were ringing, but far less than the first time he met the terriers. "Oi, well on! But I know some of you have families to send home to: wee ones, brothers and sisters, so let's not get carried away before we are going to uhh?..." Hely pondered for such a time that sergeant McAtyr picked up the mantle.

"To Tibur!" McAtyr shouted. The Nieve's began reaching for a toast but McAtyr was there again: "that's not a feckin' toast!" he groaned angrily.

Captain Hely nodded along but saw the anger and ugliness and wanted to pull it back. "Terriers: we're all from one place, but that doesn't mean we need to spend it all in one place, understood?" the new Captain asked.

"Aye . . " the Terriers groaned, reconsidering their expenditure at Wee Beira's. For many this was the most cosmopolitan experience in their life and they wanted to splurge with newfound money, but that there was more to experience beyond Nieveland was a hook that tugged at their cheeks. Orders from the Nievish side stopped thereafter, enjoying their food to newspaper and glass bottoms.

Lieutenant Fleming was not scribbling then, Hely noticed, as he returned to his Josefino counterpart.

"Hell Rojas, I have no idea where we're going for the Holy Father either." the Nievish Captain confessed. "I'll tell ye if I know first if you promise to tell me, eh?" he joked knowing it was unlikely.
 

Radilo

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Nuovo Porto, Città di Radila, Sestiere San Marco, Doge's Palace, Prime Minister's Office

"Madame Prime Minister," said M, poking his head into the Captain General's office.

"What is it Director?"

"There seems to have been an epic communication failure between the Papacy and our friends in the Socialist Republic."

"Which Socialist Republic?"

"Both of them. Two full detachments of White Helmets have been sent to answer the Pope's appeal for support."

At that point Isabella looked up from the report she was reading. "For fucks sake. Did the Pope declare Deus Vult?"

"We have taken to alerting Cardinal Parolin. He was gratefull for the information. Luckily they are presently bound for Nouvo Porto, they will take a connecting flight from here to Tibur. He asked us to delay them for a few days."

"Wait... wait... They're stopping here... why?"

"Best we can tell Ma'am, the flight from Palmira to Tibur is a lot cheaper if there is a layover in Nouvo Porto."

"Are you fucking kidding me? Are these soilders armed?"

"Typically soilders have weapons. But this is a fellow CETO member and a country we have a traditionally warm relationship with. There is a reason many Neighbors can speak some Zaran."

"God in heaven, I hope your tracking them, friendly or not the last thing we need are imbeded spies."

"They will be taken care of. Speaking to that end this wouldn't be a..."

"...bad opportunity to butter them up... I concure."

"We are already prepping. Admiral Oslo has made the necessary arrangements. We will give them a taste of Radilan luxury. Ruin them for their previous lives."

The Prime Minister smirked, a rarity. "Good. But keep a battalion of Marines on the ready... God knows what these fuckers will do drunk."

"Of course, Madame Prime Minister."


@San Jose
@Nieveland
 
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Radilo

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Tarmac, Marco Brolo International Airport, Nuovo Porto

Before the assembled soldiers stood a woman in her mid 50s, with graying brown hair and slight Meridian features. She was relatively short with a slender build. What was most noticeable about her, though, was her gleaming white naval uniform, festooned with colorful medals, gold cords, and tassels. Her red and gold bicorn hat was resplendent with ostrich feathers. It was an odd combination of ancient honor and modern high fashion. And it stood in stark contrast to the rather ragtag assembly of men who stood before her.

"Greetings, she started, in an authoritative, but gentile tone, "I am Admiral Jane Oslo, Superintendent General of the Radilan Navy. The Most Serene Republic Welcomes you. And we are enthusiastic that you have committed yourselves to heed the Holy Father's calling for this most Sacred of tasks--to protect human dignity and the fundamental rights guaranteed by God. To that end, during this slight delay before your transit to the Holy See, it would be our honor to offer you accommodation, food, and drink, at the expense of and courtesy of the Most Serene Republic. Benvenuto."

Admiral Oslo, it's worth mentioning, is an English speaking Protestant from Valletta.

"To ease any communication barriers," she resumed, "We have joining us, Ensign Shannon Vespucci, who is fluent in Nievish, and Lieutenant Lucia Juan Lopez, who is fluent in Joséphino."


The two younger officers were in their 20s, and, as far as the assembly of young lads were concerned, not bad looking. They wore blue uniforms that marked them as Marines, the terrestrial branch of the Radilan Navy (Radilo had traditionally used mercenaries for its ground based forces, but this became impractical in the late 18th century.)

These two young Marines, however were not being thrown to the wolves. They were both more than able to hold their own against anyone, and they could outdrink any man.

Shannon spoke up, somewhat unprompted. "I want t'welcome ya farshites t'our nice lil'city--but a word of caution, it's not the place to start rambling or mak'n'a'fus. I want'ou on your finest behavior. I've been trying to sell my compatriots on the bett'a qualities of my Mother's homeland for a time. Doin't'ou go fuck'n't'up. An'if'n'ou'wanna grab'me'arse, ya bett'a fuck'n show y'can."

The young Ensign then gave the Nievish soilders a toothy, somewhat sinister grin, confident that her superiors had no idea what she just said. The young Lieutenant gave a similar--if less explicit--message in Joséphino.

The soldiers were then directed towards busses that would take them into town. There they would be stationed in decently posh hotels and wined and dined all with the intention of keeping them placated and happy until Tibur would be ready to take them.

Well... except Lieutenant Fleming, who was stopped by a Nethian woman in a dark suit, wearing sunglasses. "Agent Fleming, given protocol, we cannot allow you to continue in fatigues."

"What do you mean?"

"You're not military intelligence. You cannot pose as such, at least not in a friendly nation. Also, we can't have you meandering around unattended--as your embassy did not list you as an attaché."

"Ma'am I'm a..."

"Do not feel the need to lie to me, we know who you are and why you're here. You don't have to worry, come let's get you a proper suit and we'll enjoy surroundings more fitting for intelligence agents."

Realizing he didn't have much of a choice, he followed her to an awaiting Maserati.

The lot of the soldiers were taken to a fine hotel near the business district of Nouvo Porto. They were given some time to shit, shower, and shave before being led to a fine, if rather cavernous space for their first meal. On offer was plenty of fine wines and high proof grappa, accompanying a meal of charcuterie and cheese, fried fish, various pastas, and Mountain Steak. The meal was scheduled to last five hours. If Nieveland was known for rather blah food, Radila was the opposite--fine food was paramount for life. And the Radilans had every intent to ruin the palates of their guests for their previous lives.





@Nieveland
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Ooc: I know that Nilshanks and I have different approaches to "Nievish," but you get the idea.
 
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Nieveland

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The Niomonnach were thrilled to have finally left the islands, but none more so than Aurora Foster from the Breakfast Companion who was scurrying about and asking for interviews and permission for photographs. It was likely that her final leg with the terriers would be in Tibur due to almsfunding slashes to the Companion, yet she was beaming with the prospect that her bosses in Caitekurke might reconsider after seeing and hearing what she was being allowed to record in Radilo.

Captain Hely used his salute towards Admiral Oslo and a closer handshake to make a quick crack at himself, saying: "you've caught me underdressed, being so regal as you are bedressed with medals and tassels! But I do thank you for receiving us with such regard. If Admiral Craigge ever actually left port he would be so very intimidated by thee, Admiral Oslo!" Hely would have liked to speak with her more and later, along with Captain Rojas, but he did not dare ask given the severe difference in rank between Hely and Oslo. Rojas was good company enough, he reminded himself.

The enlisted terriers had been yipping and yapping in Nievish to each other in their common parlance of fuck off's, save me's, get on with it then, and finally Private Curran who cracked perhaps too loudly "soiled twat" moments before Ensign Shannon Vespucci was introduced. Wee Ian, the Nievish Terrier mascot dog himself, had been characteristically misbehaved: still making lunges at foreign ankles and marking places with piss that should certainly not be marked by human approximation.

A wave of silence and straightening of shoulders poured over the Niomonnach when Ensign Vespucci began dressing them down like an older sister or dear aunt. Wee Ian even stopped, because although he was never trained to do so: he knew if Nieves were shouting in such a way he might best sit down pretty rather than being tugged or kicked for insolence.

"Think she dead, Maguire?" Private Ross queried in a soft whisper to Corporal Maguire.

"I ken so, Ross" Maguire whispered back. Niomonnach who left the islands with no intent on return often were declared dead by the Nievish State: spiritually and legally. Somewhat recently, a month ago at most, the state had stopped involving the Nievish Catholic clergy in this ritual and were simply declaring legal deaths to those who did not answer the call to come home.

"Many ghosts walk the mainland, but not all will be so bonny as this one." Maguire finished, not wanting to draw the attention ire First Sergeant McAtur who seemed to follow him like the pox.

With orders to file on to their next transport, all followed Captain Hely at the head of the line who was re-iterating what the Ensign had said in albeit a calmer and characteristically folksy way: "Don't make her say it twice, lads, we may be terriers but that lass is a hellion hound!"

All except for Lieutenant Fleming, of course, who met his hold up with a sour sneer. He was posing as a chaplain, not military intelligence, though their suspicions of his record and intentions mostly fit. There was a certain legitimacy to aspects of his record: he had studied with intent to take the cloth in Nieveland, but steered away from the path after discovering radicalizing pamphlets. These were not just catholic pamphlets, but distinctly Nievish catholic pamphlets that suggested that a life dedicated to the World Spiritual Vision was a death nail to the Nievish Spiritual Vision. Through these circles he was recruited to Nàbaidhean no more than a year ago.

Fleming complied because there would be no fighting a lioness after walking directly into her mouth. Fleming's mission had nothing to do with any foreign one or entity at all, few Nàbaidhean operations did, instead he was assigned to the 1/11th Terriers to observe and report on soldiers who might be a risk to the homeland when they returned. The Nàbaidhean doubted that a legitimate priest or chaplain would be so unforgiving and observant towards those ends. These soldiers were about to be exposed to a coterie of counter-revolutionary and liberal thoughts, riches and materials unseen unavailable to them on the islands, and worst of all: the Worldly Spiritual Vision that corrupts a puritanical NSV.

The Nàbaidhean already knew Radilans were this way, corrupting to Niomonnach, so there was nothing to learn or spy about in here, Tibur, or wherever the terriers went next. He would be recording and reporting the dalliances of Niomonnach who were becoming too familiar with the foreign world. Being so newly this Ensign Shannon Vespucci was unknown to him. Her name was etched in his mind now though, there would be no need of scribbling that one, and he would be reporting back on her at first chance be it in fatigues or rags from the refuge.

Amongst the dead, absconders and quitters of Nieveland, he had been briefed on many and most were in Tibur. Chief among with them was a Sister Mhàiri who the Nàbaidhean had sent to serve and lost track of the moment she left the islands. A Nàbaidhean gone astray was of supreme and paramout concern to the neighbors institutionally, and Fleming personally as a believer in the cause within such an already special cause.
 
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Nieveland

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With the buses rolling on towards a jolly night, Captain Hely trusted, he could not help but notice that Private Curran had neglected Wee Ian again. The mad furry lad was sprinting up and down the center aisle looking for some elusive rodent that existed only in his walnut sized brain.

Hely stood, was then thrown back almost to a fall by a pothole, before finding his footing and letting out an "Oi, Private Curran!"

Curran climbed to the front of the bus, dodging Wee Ian thrice on his way to the front where a cross armed First Sergeant stood as if balancing on a comet while Hely braced for speed and bumps.

"Why aren't you tending to Wee Ian then, Private Curran?" Hely asked calmly.

"He's teeming with it sir, I'm not a feckin' dog trainer am I? I beat him day in and out and he never feckin' learns a thing!" Curran replied with fiery anger.

"You take care of Wee Ian, he's a terrier, and I take care of you. Do I need to beat you to get your job done?" Hely asked intently.

"Well yes, sir, that would normally be how it's done ain't it?" Curran replied with an incredulous shrug. Indeed, that was how it was done institutionally for this unit. The Terriers, to a man besides Hely, were all from Caitekurke where physical and verbal violence were the way of doing things. Almskeeper Pherson was from Caitekurke, Hely recalled, and rumors of her courtly violence were both the celebration and terror of Nieve's depending from where they hailed. Hely hailed from down south of Caitekurke where talking things out mattered and symbolic gestures were instructive enough.

"I NEED A NIEVE!" Hely shouted to the bus at whole, "I need a Nieve who will sit outside tonight's banquet with Wee Ian, because Private Curran is too selfish to sit with a terrier who won't be accepted within!"

Wee Ian, the mascot dog, could not handle all of this excitement and it was a torture for him Hely knew. It must have been torture for him to be off somewhere new, new peoples and their smells, and to be smacked down every time he chased at what he had been raised to be: a barking mad hellion who announced and bit when he saw someone strange getting close to one of the soldiers.

"I'll sit out with the wee one," Corporal Maguire offered, "I've known Ian since he was but no more than a pup and I have no need for a foreign plate. I just ask ye remember us with some water for Ian, a pint of something for I, and some bread and meat for Wee Ian and I to share?"

"It shall be done Sergeant Maguire." Captain Hely gleamed, launching his first field promotion by merit alone.

"He's feckin' mad, Hely!" First Sergeant McAtur groaned in whisper.

"That's that then lads! Do scoop up Ian, Sergeant, he's chewing on a sleeper's boot in the back!" Hely ordered before swishing back to his seat. "Aye," Hely confided to McAtur, "he's half as mad as King Trevor, but I see a heart there, a bleeding heart, and if things go wrong over here I want leaders who have that, that . ."

"Dumb as a dog's heart for home? Aye, that's Maguire." McAtur agreed with a sigh.
 
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Radilo

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En route to the banquet hall, 13th Quartiere, Nouvo Porto

Ensign Vespucci sat towards the front of the bus, once the yippy dog had settled some she stood up and addressed the assembled men.

"Where we're goin' is'a fine banquet hall. We're'ere for'a prop'a meal. It's got'a'lot'a courses, t'ill take'bout five hours. So it'll last most'a'th'eve. Again, I'm'a remind you farshites that'ou need to be on your top behavior."

She then sat down. After a moment, one of the enlisted men asked her: "do ye ken your kin think you're dead?"

"...I'm certainly not dead... best'I'cn'tell."

"Don't you miss home? another asked.

"What?" she answered her tone and face marked with confusion.

"Where were you lost then?" asked a third.

It took a moment to realize what they were asking. "No... no... I was born'n Nuovo Porto. I din'd't defect t'Radila. My dear mum was born in Nieveland."

"Why'd she come'ere?"

"I dunno... she doesn't like talk'n'a'bout it."

"How they treat Nievish'ere?"

"M'mum likes it here. I assume that's partially why she came."

"Don't you feel like some cog here? With their capitalism'n'such."

"I had a nice childhood. Lots of run'n around w'friends. Mum was a waitress and papa is a mooring man." She paused and smiled, "m'folks were so proud'a me when I graduated th'academy... n'proud when I graduated university. Be'n an officer is'a big deal here."

'You're'n officer?"

"Aye, that's what'n Ensign is--a fresh officer."

"The Italians treat ya'well?"

"I'm half Radilan. Mé--mio pare è Radèlo. I am home here."

The men were taken aback some. "so you're a respectable lass... you're'of station?"

"Somewhat... I guess... I'm'a very junior officer."

"B'you command men...?"

"Aye, sailors in m'charge."

"Ya seem like a wee mischievous hellion hound, lass"

"Those things aren't contradictions," she said, again bearing her toothy grin.


Trattoria Neonobila, 13th Quartiere, Nouvo Porto

Banquets are a regular occurrence in Nouvo Porto; as a result special restaurants are set up to accommodate them. This was one of the better spaces in town to rent out and the Most Serene Navy spared no expense.

Ensign Vespucci led the charge out of the bus, so she could translate. Next after her was Corporal Maguire, holding onto Wee Ian. The waitstaff milling about the reception area lit up upon seeing the dog. One young bus girl, she looked to be about 11 years old, ran up and declared "cucciolo!"

She then started scratching the dog on the cheeks and under the chin, the nervous pup yelped and snapped a few times at her. The Corporal was unsure how to respond.

"Povero cucciolo, è nervoso..." she said, taking a treat out of her pocket. "Questo ti renderà calmo..." the terrier quickly gobbled up the little morsel. Almost instantly the dog's demeanor changed, he stopped fidgiting and was just wagging his tail.

"She said the dog was nervous, that lil treat she gave'm is meant to calm'm down... seems t'have worked."

The young girl started shouting to the other staff as she walked away, "di' a Marco di assicurarsi che il cucciolo riceva una grossa bistecca!"

The waitstaff smiled--they'd already decided that they'd treat this dog to the time of its life. Oh... and the soilders would have a good time too.


The other bus, filled with Joséphino soldiers pulled up shortly after. The lot of them were escorted into the banquet hall. Corporal Maguire was informed by the Ensign that he could mind the wee pup inside of the banquet hall--as Radilans generally didn't mind dogs in restaurants... especially now that the wee pup was thoroughly medicated.

"This is grappa," Ensign Vespucci announced as a wee dram of clear liquor was distributed amongst the men. "It's made from grape pumice... and it's quite strong. Saluté!"

They all raised their glasses, clicked, then downed the harsh, tannic liquid.

"Aye--now that should open up the appetite! First course is cured meats and cheese... an'pay attention--this is fine cheese and charcut."

The jamon, frankly blew some minds.

Then a glass of fine wine was poured. Smooth and rich and sweet... they keep coming.

Fried smelts and soft shell crabs were the next course.

"Carefull ya farshites... ya don't want hot crab jizz t'squirt on ya."

The next course was pasta... spaghetti and red sauce, with basil. A simple good thing, very traditional and was something most people had some experience with.

There was a salad somewhere in there... I think.

The main course was Mountain Steak--a three inch thick T-bone served very rare.

Both Shannon and Lucia waited to see how people reacted... all while necking even more fancy wine.


@Nieveland
@San Jose
 
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Nieveland

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"Her clan must did disown her, her kin must did disown her, I wouldn't cast a second glance at she." Private Ross told his neighbor on the bus.

"A mum that does'na talk up her home? Ashamed, and shame on we who pant on this foreign lass." Private McDunnie replied, but so many others were so enamored with the flesh and mind of this Nievish presenting alien. The questions did persist:

"Does your hair fringe as same as we on a rainy day?"

"Do Anarcho-Protestants catch your crosshair?"

"Do the Radilans eat thrice a day? How many workdays, six as we or four?"

Watching the hornets surrounding the foreign one Captain Hely stepped in and swatted some of them off and said "She's just from around here, not over there, but she does bite - so back off and just down and enjoy the busride if you have eyes leftover from Ensign Vespucci - and don't misconstrue this as an opportunity to wax poetry!"

"FUCK!" at lest ten men harrumphed, called out on their call out to her eyes.

"She's a spy" First Sergeant McAtur sighed when Captain Hely set back down, "you leave home and all you're met with are spies, predators, and tits: I will'na watch the terriers suck one for safe passage."

"Hey McAtur," Hely replied, "maybe this is one of those your enemy is your friend things, and we just let her play it out for awhile?"

"Can't hear you through that tit in your mouth, sir." McAtur replied.
 
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Nieveland

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Sergeant Maguire shook his head and simply replied "no."

His orders were as clear as principles. Captain Hely had ordered a man to post outside with Wee Ian.

Maguire picked Wee Ian up, lethargic and bright eyed as he was by being talked to nicely, and dashed outside. Immediately he shoved his finger deep in the back of Wee Ian's throat until the dog started coughing and vomiting whatever the foreign lass had given him.

When marching with the dogs of war the enemy offers easy poison for them, Maguire knew. They would wait outside next to this wee pile of vomit for the true and tested water, bread, and meat that were asked for inside.

Wee Ian was crying then, turning his head and asking why.

"I've been with you since you were just wee, before you were Ian, and didn't they try to poison you at the south end of Ballyclaire where so fucking perfect Captain Hely is from? What about along the rails, they poisoned rats knowing you'd eat them to get back at us. Wasn't I there, wee Ian? Oi, fine Ian . . " Maguire relinquished as the dog laid down to sleep far apart on the leash as he could allow.
 
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Nieveland

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"Save me!" Captain Hely swore under his breath as he watched Maguire jut out the door with Wee Ian, held tight to himself like a swine-skin rugby ball.

"Not half, but madder than King Trevor, that one is truly touched and you promoted him did ye not?" McAtur with the smugness of a Laird.

"Ensign Vespucci, please do apologize to that lass on my behalf?" Hely begged uncomfortably. "And McAtur, do fetch a fresh red beret for her!" he ordered.

"She's like to burn it before don it, ain't she?" McAtur cracked.

Hely was stone faced and no longer having it. He simply stared until McAtur stopped smiling and realized himself. "On the move, sir!" he said, marching purposefully away to procure their smallest crimson beret with a Padraig's cross pin. Once found he delivered it to the busgirl directly, rather than going through their ensign intermediary, and squinted with furrowed brows before passing it over.

"Wear it proud, lass!" First Sergeant McAtur ordered in Nievish as if she were being enlisted here and now to the Crimson Guard, "Should it not fit ye now then see to it you grow strong, courageous, and unrelenting!" he finished before offering an earnest salute and returning to patrol the terriers.
 

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More trusting than Maguire the other Nieves did eat and eat voraciously, however, only after smelling, poking at, and watching the foreign ones eat and one of their own take the first bite and not drop dead then and there. It as not just Wee Ian who had been poisoned along the rails, Pherson's Folly, but they had their insides eaten up from a spot of porridge served by a maligned union railway worker when the Preserve was passed. In Heughfoss, the county of Ballyclaire where Hely called home, two guards died, frothing at the mouth, when they drank in the berrywine of an Anarcho-Protestant who shared that poison with them rather than being arrested and tortured.

"Me ma's ma always said the wee crabbies subsisted our clan during those harsh times when MacKinnon did revolt!" a Corporal Shane confessed with respect to the foragers.

"Brag ye not at your clan's extravagance, Little Laird," another soldier replied, "me own boiled their leather and gnawed on it to survive, my grandest one lost three brothers and two sisters in that starve!"

"Oi, I mean, miss or . . Signy Lass Shannon?" Shane said, not knowing how to pronounce Vespucci or what an Ensign was despite her explanation. "How many do go hungry here so that we treat as Lairds and Ladies tonight?" he asked with honest intent. Nievish socialism checked excess and disallowed the modern landed ones from advertising that they could ever eat this much. They were all full after the meat and cheese, stuffing themselves beyond only out of superstition that denying a present would lead to scarcity later.

In those moments Private Curran remembered himself and emptied his cup, almost to the bottom with sweet foreign wine. He retreated to the lavatories and filled it to the brim with tapwater and gathered morsels of half eaten bread from the plates of Josefino soldiers who must have thought him as mad as Maguire. Next he found out Captain Hely, smoozing with the foreign ones, and asked for his half eaten steak.

"Quite right, Curran. This portion belongs to Maguire and Wee Ian!" Hely said, forking out the meat on to Curran's cornucopia of scraps. Curran found Maguire outside with Wee Ian, one heel pressed into the wall and smoking.

"Your scraps, sergeant, all more than half eaten and we've not had a dead'n yet." Curran said, placing the plate down on the ground before offering Maguire the watered wine.

The aromas rousted Wee Ian and soon he was attacking the plate as if it were a live hare.

"Wouldn't you bring Wee Ian in? I smell a rain coming . ." Curran begged.

Maguire stole up the plate from Wee Ian who was about to overstuff himself, much like the terriers inside, and observed intently to see if he would fall dead. Instead Ian sat pretty and panting, waiting to see if the plate would be returned.

"Fine, Ian" Maguire scoffed, "I'll reunite ye with your young love, but don't let her give you some cutesy pet name, hear me true, you're a Nievish Terrier and you're name is Ian!"

Wee Ian yapped and began jolting towards the door, ready to meet the Radilan lass again.
 

Radilo

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Trattoria Neonobila, 13th Quartiere, Nouvo Porto

Giulia was ecstatic upon seeing the puppy's return. She was wearing the red beret the one solider had given to her, even if it was a bit big. It rested well enough on her wavy black hair, and contrasted her white uniform and grey apron. She was beaming as she scratched under the dogs chin and cheeks.

"Chi è un buon cucciolo? Siete! Siete!" She said moving onto rubbing his back and belly. "Qual'è il suo nome?"

"Ian," said Ensign Vespucci, smiling at the young bus girl.

"Giano! Giano!" She said giving him even more treats (though these ones were not medicated).

Ensign Vespucci turned back to the gaggle of men who were asking her questions. She was happy to answer them, but the last question left her confused. "How many do go hungry here so that we treat as Lairds and Ladies tonight?"

"Wha'd'ya mean... oh," it dawned on her. Her mother never talked about her own life, but she did describe life in her homeland more generally. "No, noone is. This is a very nice banquet, but it's not at th'cost of anythin'else. We grow alotta food'ere. Alotta food. The mountain steak is a luxury, and the wine is very fine, but our eating this in'n't goin't'cause any hungry bellies tonight. I grew up a very working class lass, and even I ate like this occasionally. Radilo's plenty capitalist now, and our lairds know luxury beyond imagining, but we'ave alotta social welfare here. When m'papa was outta work, we din'd't lose our home or starve. The Doge himself is a Communist." She looked over to Giulia who was still playing with Ian. "Signorina, puoi venire qui?" The busgirl walked over, with Ian following her.

*in Radilan*

"What do you need, ma'am?"

"These soldiers want to know a bit about life here, could you describe yourself?"

"My name is Giulia, I'm officially 13, I live in the 11th quarter with my parents." Shannon translated her answer for the soldiers.

"What do your parents do?"

"My mother is a waitress, my father is a laborer... he kinda just does whatever work he can find."

"Would you say you are working class?"

"Very much, this job has been great though. I can finally have my own money."

"What does your mother normally make for lunch?"

"Pasta and fish, the staples."

"Have you ever been food insecure?"

"We had to get the supplementary food card thing when my dad was sick and couldn't work. Sister Diana and Mr. Lin, our social worker, helped us with it. Don't tell Mr. Lin I'm working, he said I'm not supposed to."

Shannon smiled, "don't worry, I'm not going to tell him. What is your home like?"

"A small two bedroom, not bad. I wish it had air-conditioning."

As Shannon got done translating, and Giulia went back to petting Ian. One of the men spoke up: "sounds too luxurious for a child that has'ta was dishes for a wage..."

"Lads... you have no idea what luxury is."


Nuovo Porto, 8th Quartiere

Lieutenant Fleming had never been more terrified in his life. Most foreigners find their first time riding in a car in Radilo to be pretty unnerving... but most foreigners weren't riding shotgun in an MA22, a high powered super-car that can accelerate from 0 to 100km an hour in 2 seconds with a madcap spy as a driver.

"Shouldn't we slow down..." he said nervously.

"We're fine," she said, taking a turn at speed, "I know my way around."


Fleming had been taken aback by the strange looking car's butterfly doors that opened vertically. The car was very intense looking, and he had just clipped on his safety belt when the woman he was with decided to open the valves of Mercury.

"We've got a proper suit for you at the hotel you'll be staying at. This evening I'll give you a proper meal for an intelligence officer."

The Lieutenant was nervous at that prospect, and nearly lost his stomach when she took a hairpin u-turn at a speed he didn't think was possible.
 
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Radilo

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Nuovo Porto, 8th Quartiere, Casino Monte-Carlo

The Maserati pulled upto a gated garage. The Radilan agent waved at the attendant who opened the gate. She parked in a marked spot, Fleming was again fascinated by the way the doors opened vertically. As much as he was disgusted by this ostentatious display of wealth, it was hard not to marvel at.

"Follow me, I'll show you to your room," the Nethian-Radilan woman said confidently.

The Lieutenant followed her into an elevator, which was, inside, finely anointed with ebony and polished metal sides, fancy lights and an intricately tiled floor. She pushed a button and the elevator doors closed to the parking garage; when they opened again, they opened into a rather extravagant and well appointed lobby. It was a highly posh modern affair--centered around a massive hand blown modernist chandelier. He kept following her across the lobby, men and women in unusual clothing lingered about, checking their phones and sipping drinks. They noticed his fatigues, and staired at him as he made his way--not hostile, just perplexed.

She led him to yet another set of elevators. When the door closed he was relived, he'd been instructed about the importance of avoiding stairs. She pushed a button, and he felt the sensation of the elevator rapidly rising; the digital number display sped quickly higher.

The door opened and the two made their way down another elegant, albeit monotonous hallway. "This is your room," she said, "we've got you a proper suit. We only had your approximate measurements, so it might be a bit big. I'll be back in an hour. Anything in the mini-bar is complementary. "

She handed him the card key and walked away. He figited for several moments and was finally able to open the door. He walked inside--it was bigger than he expected. It was done in the same modernist style that the rest of the place was. On the king bed he found what he assumed would be his outfit for this evening. It was a Black suit with a white shirt best he could tell. It occurred to him he would probably need to shower before putting such a fancy outfit on. He opened a few doors before finding the lavatory.

The room was preposterously large for one person. It had a toilet and sink, fine eneough, but there was a large marble shower with two spigots. And a bathtub of absurd proportions; it looked like it small pool, had to have room for six at least. And it was already filled with steaming water. He leaned uppl to it and must have bumped something, as the water started churning as it it were a whitch's brew. He frantically pressed buttons until it calmed.

He undressed quickly and, after some trial and error, managed to get the shower going. By custom he washed quickly, using the provided soaps.

He dried himself off and made his way back to the bed room. He was smart eneough to know how to dress himself, unless these capitalist fucks found a way to make that complicated.

They had not. The only part of his dress he could not navigate was the tie.

He looked at himself in the mirror, and felt his stomach turn. He was familiar eneough with silk. But not a whole suit made from it. For its pleasant texture, what it meant irritated him; he knew the cost of this monstrosity. All of it. The car, this gaudy hotel, this ridiculous suit... years--lifetimes of an average person'ss wages.

He hadn't spoken a word in that room, and didn't intend too, he knew damn well it was bugged. (To be fair, it was.) He opened the curtains and could see out across the city. It was blue hour, just after the sun had set; the city was lit up: high rises, palazzos, magnificent churches, piazzas--all of them illuminated in bright, but soft light. It was aesthetically pleasing, and it had a great amount of movement in the early night.

Looking out of the window, he heard a knock at the door. Looking out the peephole it was the same woman as before. He opened the door.

"You cleaned up well," she said, smiling at him. "Here let me help you." She reached out and tied the tie into a bow.

"Thank you, miss... I never got your name."

"Nori."

"Nori, I take it you're'a spy."

"Maybe... oh we have a gift for you. They didn't have it in silver, which would be traditional, but your country's craftsmen did make us a pewter one." She handed him an enamel lapel pin, bearing the Nievish emblem. "Everyone were meeting tonight knows who you are, might as well be wearing something from your homeland."

She led him into yet another elevator. They went up a few more floors, and they found themselves in a covered patio on the building's roof. There was an assortment of card tables, there were maybe a dozen people playing cards across multiple tables. He felt Nori's hand on his shoulder guide him to one of the boths just outside of the playing tables. They sat down and a waiter approached them.

"Two Vespers, Hendrix and Stoli," she said as the waiter nodded and went to make their drinks. "On the near table do you see him?"

"Who should I be lookin'fer?"

"Fat bald man still wearing sunglasses. At my three'o'clock."

Lieutenant Fleming turned his head and spotted the man. He was wearing a black suit and black shirt, with a white ascot. There was a large red tie pin in the center. His bald head and dark sunglasses provided the same contrast as his black shirt and tie.

The waiter plopped two Martini glasses down at the table.

"Grassi," Nori said as she picked up her glass. Unsure, Lieutenant Fleming also picked up his glass. "Cin, cin," Nori exclaimed as she clinked glasses with his. She hastily drank, but he hesitated. "If we meant to kill you we'd have done it with bullets and dumped your body out at sea. The coctail is safe."

He took a few tentative sips, before using the best of his courage to gulp down the remaining liquid. Nori gestured for two more drinks. "Do you see him play?" She asked, "see those red square chips--those are worth 500 Ducati--about 50.000 euromarks, each. See how many he is playing with. M has limits on what of the Secret Service's money he can spend... but those values are high. They call it Federation Hold'um, a type of poker. He is winning. His opponent is some aincent mummy of a senator--worth billions--his small victories help fund our necessary violence. Do you see the red diamond in his ascot? It's two carrots. One of the largest red diamonds ever found. 20.000 Ducati--two million euromarks for that diamond pin. ...he won the hand... and is now retiring for the night. He'll now be joining us."

M scooped up his winnings and handed them off to some attendant. He then proceeded to their table, where he sat down nest to Nori, opposite Lieutenant Fleming. He never took off his sun glasses.

"So who do we have here?" M asked, grinning.

"A Nievish Neighbor," Nori responded.

"Oh fascinating. How much does he know of our young friend?"

"As much as we say."

"Good," he said, giving an unsettling grin. "And what was his business here?"

Fleming tried to answer, but Nori started first. "We presume to keep tabs on his fellow soilders, but because he didn't check in we cannot be sure."

"Ah... so I will ask directly, what brings you here... Neighbor?"
 
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