Under the Constancian sun

The Imperial State of Constancia: Benevolent hereditary dictatorship, constitutional monarchy, laissez-faire technocracy, aristocratic corporate state, organized crime family syndicate or liberal autocracy? It depends on the day.

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Primo de Aguilar
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Under the Constancian sun

Post by Primo de Aguilar » Sun Oct 28, 2018 2:20 pm

It was another warm Euran morning.

Despite his high rank, he still resided in the same relatively-spartan room in the Palace, still dressed himself instead of requiring the services of a valet, but now rated a private dining room, instead of dining at his desk.

Today was a relatively big day. He’d just lay down his mantle as Secretary-General of the Micras Treaty Organization, which meant that he could focus more on domestic affairs - and there was certainly a lot of that for him and a thousand officials to focus on.

As Autokrator, he rated his own full detail now from the Basileusan Private Guard, whose loyalty was guaranteed, simply because they were chosen from the most loyal of the most loyal, they answered to one man only - the Basileus - and were clothed, fed, armed, and salaried by the Basileus himself, and not the sitting government of the day. Theoretically they were the best troops to use in the event of a royalist takeover, but the Basileus knew fully well that the government was, not just in name, but also in law, and fact, His Constancian Majesty’s.

Be that as it may, as Autokrator, he had directed that a detail of officers from the Constancian Armed Forces accompany him, acting as a further security cordon, one of whom was his military aide - the fellow who carried his purple suitcase of state papers. To help blow off steam, he still tried to run a few laps at least a day, and shot a few clips of his sidearm at the nearest military range, sufficient to maintain qualification.

When he was unusually vexed, a tactical course was enough to clear his mind. Somehow the adrenalin and change of pace was enough, not to mention it focused him on the here and now. Recently, however, he found himself enjoying the social company of Esmeralda al-Osman, a Shirerithian notable who had somehow inveigled appointment as essentially the Raspurid Plenipotentiary for Aqabah, with the protocol rank of a Vice Admiral in the Raspurid Navy, which meant that there was much to talk about.

Breakfast was typically Alexandrian. Strong hot-sand-brewed Constancian coffee, which he had admittedly taken a liking to, roast beef rich with gravy from Stormark, bagels from Natopia.

That accomplished, he reviewed his speech, reciting a few lines out loud, testing his voice volume and diction. There were microphones to help, of course, but the media cameras always picked up something he didn’t want, and then that would make headlines the next day, focusing on the personality instead of the policy.

Besides, all local and major international news outlets would be covering the event live. It was fair, after all, he’d asked them to. He did have a major policy change to outline, one that would significantly impact Eura.

A deep breath and a swig of cold water later, he stood up and followed his entourage out to the balcony.

The huge roar of the assembled crowd (majority from the then-ruling party) at the palace square below was his cue to make his appearance, his sight temporarily blinded by the sun, as he waved his white-gloved right hand to the crowd below, which roared its adulation. It took a few minutes for them to sufficiently calm down, at which time he stopped the hand-waving and approached the assembled microphones.

“Good people of Constancia, it is a great day today!

“I come before you this great morning to announce favorable changes with regard to the future direction of government.

“You are all aware that the 10th Synklētos convened on the 22nd of Machaneus, the 6th month, of 1662, in the 46th year of the reign of His Glorious Constancian Majesty, Basileus Petros III.

“Three years hence, some months ago, it had adjourned sine die on the 22nd of Machaneus, the 6th month, of 1665, in the 49th year of the reign of His Glorious Constancian Majesty.

“Many have asked why six months have passed before the issuance of a Writ of Summons for an election, in order to summon the 11th Synklētos. I can now tell you today, it is because we have been conducting detailed investigations with respect to corruption by certain dikastis of the Synklētos, as well as a more detailed review with respect to the functioning of His Constancian Majesty’s Government, to make it more efficient, modernized, and more responsive to the needs of the people.

“I announce to you all today that elections will soon be called for a National Constituent Assembly, an independent body of our best and brightest, to which no previous dikastis of the Synklētos or appointed Minister will be qualified to sit. The National Constituent Assembly shall sit to review and propose amendments or a revision to the Constitutional Settlement Act 1463. Constancia deserves a constitution more attuned to the times, and 200 years is certainly more than enough elapsed time to see what needs to be changed.

“We all revere His Glorious Constancian Majesty, but I feel it is time to include provisions that determine what is to be done if a reigning sovereign is proven to be infirm and no longer capable of exercising the Royal Prerogatives. We are all aware that His Constancian Majesty’s premier heiress is Her Constancian Highness The Princess Olympia, who has long served as a legislator in our neighboring Natopian Empire. What is to be done in the event that the dynasty goes extinct? Who is to choose who is to succeed, and how should they succeed? These are matters not yet written into our constitutional law, and deserve serious considera…”

He heard it before he saw it. It was an odd sound, but one he had heard before, and therefore was used to. The sound of metal hitting flesh, the squish as the bullet penetrated, the splatter of blood on his face, an involuntary grunt that turned into a gasp, as his ears told him that the crowd gave a collective pause before erupting into a cacophony of surprise and terror.

Before the shock had even registered, he found himself crumpling to the ground, and all he could see was darkness.

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Primo de Aguilar
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Re: Under the Constancian sun

Post by Primo de Aguilar » Tue Oct 30, 2018 2:28 pm

He opened his eyes a few minutes later, only to see the ceiling and the lit chandelier of a garishly-decorated palace sitting room, and a circle of concerned-looking faces. All were in dress uniform.

Lifting his head slightly resulted in shushing, and his attempt to move his arms and hands revealed that he was being physically restrained. Looking down at his torso, he saw that he was naked, save for his trousers, belt, and boots, as several surgically-gloved white hands pressed upon his stomach and chest.

"Unhand me at once, you curs!"

A new face revealed itself.

"Excellency, we are glad to see that you are relatively all right and in high spirits. I'm Dr. Ioannides Papadoulos, palace physician on duty. Forgive us the momentary indignity, we had to make sure that you were all right."

On reflection, Primo de Aguilar struggled to free his white-gloved right hand, touching his face. It came back red and sticky.

"That's Demosthenes, sir. One of your aides. As far as we can tell, the bullet struck his head and, well...you can see the damage it caused. He's gone, sir, I'm sad to say. Your detail tackled you to the ground, and carried you here."

He struggled to sit up, to find himself lying on a couch. A quick sweep of his head revealed more men in uniform, looking outwards, firearms cradled at the ready. The screams of an anguished crowd could still be overhead.

A senior officer with elaborate gold braid on his dress uniform unnecessarily saluted. "RED POPPY is in effect, sir."

Primo de Aguilar nodded, still furious.

"Give me a towel. Get me my shirt."

He swung his feet to the carpeted floor, his right hand confirming that his holstered sidearm was where it ought to be. Standing up, the clatter of the ceremonial scabbarded sword annoyed him. One of the uniformed bowed and removed the offending item. Another handed over a towel, while a valet stood ready with a white undershirt and a fresh dress tunic.

With the others around him standing straight at attention, the Autokrator began barking out orders as he struggled into the white undershirt and dress tunic.

"Activate BLUE SMOKE, SHINY DIADEM, CAN OF WORMS, MADDENING CROWD, MAD HATTER. And find that son-of-a-bitch. Alive, if possible."

Several saluted and took their leave, one reaching for a nearby telephone.

A loud blast in the distance, followed by a sudden shaking of the chandeliers caused some to momentarily pause and crouch, until all the lights went out.

Primo de Aguilar grabbed one of the uniformed by the shoulder.

"You're going to stay right beside Their Majesties. Take whatever men you need. You defend them to the death. Understand?"

The fellow saluted, turned on his heel, and departed. Primo de Aguilar looked around at the remaining entourage, as he unholstered his pistol , clutching it in his right hand, safety still activated.

"Let's get to work!"

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Re: Under the Constancian sun

Post by Primo de Aguilar » Wed Oct 31, 2018 3:47 am

Klaus Pasternak was a midlevel factotum assigned as a consultant to the local Vey telecommunications utility. He'd grown a beard and was also growing a belly, even though he tried to maintain his spartan, active lifestyle. It was the damned Constancian food and the damned Constancian drink, which he had sadly taken a liking to.

As it was tradition here in the Free and Associative Kingdom, the telecommunications utility was a rather municipal affair, even if it was supposed to tend to the needs of the capital. It was still a rather dull affair. The technology used was sufficient to force many a shudder. Pasternak, a licensed electronics and communications engineer, was himself wondering if it was truly just the soldering that held all the antiquated equipment together.

He had, as usual, done his rounds to inspect the equipment, keep a tight eye on the Constancians who maintained the equipment, and then continue work on the revised telecommunications structural plan that ESB had somehow been awarded.

He had barely cleared his head of a particularly troubling schematic, having recently committed it to the paper before him, when he noticed, through the glass partition, a commotion on the cubicles before him. Opening his office door, the chatter increased, then paused, as the Constancians before him recognized his presence.

"Beg pardon, sir," said one with a thick Vey accent, "...there is big news. The Autokrator is shot, they say. All over radio. During speech." At that, the chattering began again.

Pasternak kept his composure, and retreated back to his office, closing the door and retrieving a thick leatherbound object, he size of a brick. He flipped it open, switched it on, waited for the electronic handshake and dialed a series of numbers.

"Pasternak Vey One-Eleven Tango, Pasternak Vey One-Eleven Tango."

"Eura Control Central. Pasternak Vey One-Eleven Tango, received, quality eight. Proceed." The dismembodied, almost robotic female voice replied.

"Pasternak Vey One-Eleven Tango reports Aéteios terminated, questionmark. Requires verification. Standing by to execute protocol Constant Omega, over."

"Eura Control Central. Pasternak Vey One-Eleven Tango, received, quality eight. Await further instructions."

The conversation was interrupted by louder shouting, the louder noise of a door falling on the ground, and the distinctive sound of an assault rifle on full automatic, followed by the screams of injured Constancians. Klaus took a single look through the plateglass internal office partition and then ducked behind his desk.

"Scheisse. Pasternak Vey One-Eleven Tango. Vey Tango Alpha Zero One compromised by unknown armed elements. Will attempt escape and evasion and rally to Eura Control Central. Out. Ending transmission."

"Eura Control Central. Pasternak Vey One-Eleven Tango, received, qua..."

Without bothering to listen to the rest of it, he opened his bottom drawer, retrieving an M1525 9mm pistol, and three magazines, pocketing two and arming the other.

Auhmst Mairstranin Klaus Pasternak of the Corps of Auxiliaries, Directorate of Signals (Retired), was going back into battle.

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Re: Under the Constancian sun

Post by Primo de Aguilar » Wed Oct 31, 2018 11:56 pm

Cigarette smoke floated lazily as he watched the television.

The uniformed old man waved at the crowd, and then read from a document. The crowd watched him with rapt attention. Minutes later, blood erupted on his face, the crowd erupted into a paroxysm of shock, and the uniformed old man fell, as guards brandished their weapons, looking, too late, for the evident existential threat.

He took a drag at the cigarette, set it down, and switched channels. The ticker at the bottom of the screen showed a slight 4% uptick. Five minutes later, all the numbers were red. He scoffed, gave a slight chuckle, picked up the phone and whispered a few words.

That accomplished, he buttered a piece of toast and took a bite.

Today was turning out to be a very good day.

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Re: Under the Constancian sun

Post by Primo de Aguilar » Fri Nov 02, 2018 3:06 am

As it generally was in the initial hours of any conflict, the situation was confused.

Holed in in the basement radio room of the Palace, with Their Majesties at a nearby sitting room, the Autokrator, with the aid of a map of Vey on the wall, and the assistance of military officers, tried to make sense of it all.

What had appeared to have been the work of an unusually courageous and dedicated assassin was shattered by independent confirmations that both the Vey Power Plant and the local telephone exchange were also offline. The local television station was still broadcasting breaking news, their independence and confidence improved by the presence of a loyal active-duty unit, in addition to employees that had served in the Home Guard, and were now under orders, called to active duty to supplement security of their employer during the exigency of the crisis

To a man, the Basileusan Private Guard were furious. Two of their own were slain by the gunman in the attempt to apprehend him, and while he had been surrounded, he had somehow evaded capture and was now at large, being pursued by all loyal elements of the Constancian state.

The Autokrator's musings were interrupted by the arrival of an excellent cup of sand-heated coffee, and further orders for his signature. The first was to set both Oranje Command and Aqaba Command to high alert, while the second, highly secret, outlined who was to succeed him as Autokrator should he be captured,killed, or otherwise incommunicado. The decree had been signed by the Basileus himself, witnessed by him and the senior ranking officer of the Basileusan Private Guard.

Already, there was shooting in the streets between unknown elements. At first, Primo de Aguilar thought that it was merely criminal elements emboldened to attempt further public enterprise during the confusion, but their armaments - foreign assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades - suggested a degree of planning, sophistication, and external intervention and interference, which vexed him further.

The capital markets were already closed, adding to the anxiety of the business sector, particularly the unlucky few who had chosen the profession of insurance. He had personally sent military couriers to the diplomatic corps, assuring them of their security (understrength companies of the Basileusan Private Guard had been sent to each delegation), and requesting their patience and indulgence will this domestic affair sorted itself out.

In the meantime, there was very little for him to do but to watch, and wait.

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Re: Under the Constancian sun

Post by Primo de Aguilar » Sun Nov 04, 2018 9:28 am

This is Vey. You are listening to Constancian Armed Forces Radio. Please stand by for an important announcement from his High Excellency, the Autokrator.

This is Vey. You are listening to Constancian Armed Forces Radio. Please stand by for an important announcement from his High Excellency, the Autokrator.

We are broadcasting now from the Palace in Vey. In a few moments, we will hear an important announcement from his High Excellency, the Autokrator.

(The opening bars of the national anthem is played)

Good people of Constancia, this is the Autokrator speaking to you from the Great Palace at Vey.

Earlier this morning, cowardly enemies of our great and Free Kingdom attempted to murder me in full view of loyal subjects. I am happy to report that their attempt to permanently silence me has utterly failed. I am alive and well, and all elements of the Constancian state, at this very moment, are doing their utmost to bring this criminal to justice.

I am commanded by His Constancian Majesty to report that our great Basileus, Petros III, long may he reign, along with the Basileusa and the Royal Family, remain unhurt.

His Constancian Majesty has directed the Home Guard and the Armed Forces to mobilize to preserve civil order, and to hunt down these assassins and their confederates. We ask civilians to stay at home and not to venture outdoors. Home Guardsmen and brave soldiers of our Armed Forces are directed to report to their duty posts and await further orders. Schools, offices, and businesses are closed until further notice. A curfew is in effect from dusk until dawn. This notice will be repeated every hour.

Constancia prevails!

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Re: Under the Constancian sun

Post by Primo de Aguilar » Fri Dec 07, 2018 11:13 am

Ten kilometers east of Atacama in the Thema Oranjesion, along the coast, was a settlement known as Ypiretópolis, which in the Constancian tongue, meant the city of those who serve.

Established in 1663 by Letters Patent of the Autokrator, its administration was vested in a Governor-General, one Leonidas Drakos, who held plenipotentiary authority next to the Autokrator. Its pride and joy was the Civil School, under Headmaster Herodotus Stathos, and the Military Academy, under Superintendent Anastasios Petrakis, late of the Scholai Corps, who served with distinction in the 2nd Home Guard Corps of the Army of Vey.

The primary residents of this exclusive settlement, however, were known as Travellers or Wanderers. Known in Constancian legal parlance as Itinerant Eastern Apollonians, those of them who had been dismissed from employment, and fit the following requirements:
A security examination, provided:

1. That they are able to read and write
2. That they are in good mental and physical health
3. They are skilled in a trade necessary to the Free and Associative Kingdom
4. They agree to abide with Constancian law
5. They are willing to swear loyalty and obedience to the Basileus and his heirs
soon found themselves lucky recipients of Constancian citizenship, residency, and a new life. Orphans of school age were enrolled in the learning institution accruing to their disposition, and made wards of the Autokrator. Security and police functions were the responsibility of Oranje Command, under the direction of Governor-General Leonidas Drakos.

Nearly four years later, as the learners of both institutions approached graduation, another ordinary day loomed for everyone. The sun rose high on the island, the waves crashed against the shore, the laborers continued with their work, the students went to their lessons, and the cadets went about their drills.

Communication with the outside world was limited, although rudimentary telephone lines had been laid to bridge Ypiretópolis with Atacama.

The telephone rang at the Governor-General's office and was answered by a uniformed functionary. The caller, who was an adjutant at Oranje Command, reported what had taken place at Vey - that there was a tumult of sorts, but nothing to be of concern. Oranje Command was at alert, all forces - which included the cadets at the Academy - were placed on active service, and all settlements and posts were to assume a defensive posture until otherwise directed.

The Governor-General was soon apprised, and decided that good training time could result from this. The orders were thus cascaded, the cadets traded their formal uniforms for battle dress, and the local Home Guard mobilized.

All their preparations, good-intentioned as they were, were all for naught.

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Re: Under the Constancian sun

Post by Primo de Aguilar » Thu Dec 20, 2018 5:07 pm

Image


The Logistic Support Vessel Marcellus Paixhans was at anchor at Portus Felix, having delivered a cargo of armaments from Sårensby Industrial Area, Elijah's Rest for the use of the Constancian Armed Forces. For the trip back, they were loading container vans of artisanal soap and other sundry goods made by the burgeoning small industry of the Euranikon Theme, nothing of military value, really.

The crew was busy scrubbing the deck and preparing for departure, which was in an hour's time. Last minute victualing and provisioning was taking place, thanks to the itinerant vendors dockside, almost all of whom were somehow connected to, or related to port authority officials.

Captain Perseus Eliades was lounging in his bridge chair, half-listening to the television while completing port paperwork, when the sound of several gunshots made him look up, just as the rest of the bridge crew gave out several gasps and sighs of shock.

He saw the pandemonium on the screen which mirrored what he felt in his heart, his mind already thinking minutes ahead, on how this development would impact him, his men, and most importantly, his ship.

The bridge radio crackled to life. "Strongman Actual, Comedy Actual".

Eliades was "Comedy", a play on his ship's namesake. "Paixhans Funnies" had helped turn the tide during the Euran War.

"Strongman" was the captain of the Klimatariá-class Missile Corvette Andreas Metaxas, anchored just ahead, who was three months his senior by date of rank, and also ranked as the flotilla commander. With his bare eyes, Eliades could see a flurry of activity, as covers were removed from armaments and sailors made ready to put to sea. Already, the jack was being lowered in favor of the Constancian naval ensign, and he was thinking if the Autokrator's name would very soon grace another fighting ship of the Royal Constancian Navy.

"Comedy Actual for Strongman Actual. I saw it, too. What is your traffic, over?"

He took a deep breath and gave a terse command for his crew to make ready as well.

"The word is KATADESMOS. KATADESMOS. Over. Acknowledge."

The coffee at the cup beside him turned to ice on that remark. They'd trained for this eventuality, of course, in the past couple of years, and he'd treated it as a checkbox on his numerous other things to do. After seeing what had taken place on the television, he didn't expect it to happ-

"Captain, sir, I have flash traffic for you. Eyes Only." The radio officer saluted, and Eliades could see the sweat building on the young man's brow and hands.

The message form only confirmed what he already knew. He took another deep breath, a swig of coffee, and swallowed.

"Go to general quarters. Tell the Chief Engineer I want the engines warm and ready to respond to bells as soon as possible. Make ready to cast off and raise the anchor. We're getting out of this trap as soon as we can."

The Euran War remained fresh in his mind, and already he was looking up with his binoculars, expecting to see the unmistakeable sign of paratroopers descending upon a city that was a strategic target.

Standing up, he opened a nearby safe, opened it, loaded the pistol and secured it to his belt with holster.

"Everybody armed and on the ready!"

In the movies, this was the time when he would light a cigar and chomp angrily upon it, so much more to portray the image of the fearless captain.

Unfortunately, Eliades didn't smoke. He hadn't for years, although it helped pass the time and was a good stress reliever.

He wanted to get moving. They were sitting ducks here.

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Re: Under the Constancian sun

Post by Primo de Aguilar » Sun Dec 23, 2018 6:59 am

At the headquarters of the Atacama Corporation, in the city of the same name, Viljo Kaljurand looked away from the immense piers and brand-new dockyards that had been the pride and joy of his life.

They had done it, and in record time. With capital lent from the ESB Group, and the sweat of many a Black Traveller, what had once been nothing more than sand dunes was now a fit and ready gateway to international trade and commerce, ready to invigorate life into this Isle.

Yet it was all for naught.

Three days before had come the dreadful news of an assassination attempt on the Autokrator, which had failed. Later had come the troubling news that the ESB Euran Directorate in Vey and elsewhere in Euranikon had implemented the CLEAN SWEEP protocol, which had also taken place here, even though Atacama was practically a world away. They had been in constant contact until the penultimate words, ESB Zindabad. Then all was silence, followed by a single telex from Aqaba: Ziggurat has fallen.

Non-essentials, important papers, and foreign currency had been evacuated to Raspur Pact Logistic Support Vessels located offshore, all in less than 48 hours. His own office, where he had spent many hours ironing numerous difficulties related to his tasks, was practically bare. Even the paintings showing the stylized early days of the Company had been packed.

After a deep breath, he took a picture of the view and of his office, took a cigar from his desk receptacle, lit it, and puffed on it. That accomplished, he nodded to the ESB operative who was standing by with a flamethrower, and took the slow walk up to the helipad.

RETURN TO AQABA FORTHWITH. The communication had been terse and clear. He took a last look at the message form, stuffed into his pocket, and boarded the helicopter.

As they took off, he saw his office enveloped in flames, thick black smoke billowing from the building and complex that was his pride and joy.

They had done it. He had done it. In the end, though, after all, from ash they had come, and from ash they would return.

Land gave way to sea, and the helicopter approached the LSV Danyial Sikander XXI Dravot Sahib.

Only then did he let the tears fall.

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Re: Under the Constancian sun

Post by Primo de Aguilar » Fri Jan 11, 2019 10:27 am

Nikola Rostrovenna was the unluckiest male alive.

Not only had his girlfriend of many years abruptly deserted him, now he had the luck of standing guard duty, instead of lazing away watching football on television. The orderly had taken to bed, with some wild beets that had somehow disagreed with him, hence the present dispensation, or lack of it.

Their village was located across the river from Portus Felix, and therefore prone to the odd criminal, smuggler, illegal immigrant, and other ne'er-to-do-wells who preferred not to be recognized, nor to advertise.

The sun was swelteringly hot at the river crossing, and he cursed the lack of a shelter. All he had was his helmet, which was nothing more than a sweat-catchment. There was nothing else could do but stand at loose attention under the fluttering Constancian flag.

His father, Guntram, was a veteran of the Euran War. He'd entered it a Guardsman, a labor union clerk who'd been armed with ageing rifles and bullets lethal for the tetanus its rust could cause. He left a sergeant, and later headed the local chapter of the Union of Masons and Carpentryworkers.

Soldiering did not really agree with him, but neither did studying. Books were just too boring, and so he found himself skipping school more and doing farm chores.

Until his father had found out, of course. His sister Sonia was doing very well in school, and excelled at the sciences, and a beating or two had not settled the question on why he wasn't more academically inclined.

In a desperate move to impose some discipline, and perhaps find his son a spine, Nikola was apprenticed to a nearby housing project, which required the hands of many an unskilled carpentryworker, in the hopes that the young whippersnapper would appreciate efforts needed to earn a Stater.

Then he realized that he had been enrolled in the Home Guard. In his father's squad, no less. His father put on the uniform once a month for assembly, but he, by some cruel pick of fate, was either on guard duty or kitchen duty or some other perverse order like cleaning latrines, digging a foxhole, or running or lifting or some such other exhausting work.

And now he was on guard duty. Such a horrid and dull life he lived...until he heard the shots and saw the smoke across the river.

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Re: Under the Constancian sun

Post by Primo de Aguilar » Sun Jan 27, 2019 8:04 am

The Ashfield Hotel was a midlevel development in Aqaba, a 35-story building than had done fairly good commerce, just enough to get by, really, while its shareholders and directors dreamt of prosperity in the years to come.

Tomasz Hildegard, a Caputian expatriate, was the current General Manager, and was presently engaged in breakfast at his own suite (staying at the hotel ensured close supervision), since guests did not look too kindly at staff who dined alongside them at the hall, even if it was the senior manager on duty.

Ashfield was a rather tongue-in-cheek name which the founder and present Chairman had selected, he who was a veteran of one of the many campaigns of the Imperial Army, had retired and taken his pension. It reminded him of the wasteland of a battlefield that had been literally scorched dry, once upon a time, and now that his age was making itself known, he sought warmer, more comfortable climes, rather pliantly submissive women, and sufficient wherewithal, he who had no heirs, to live a life of luxury until the end of his days.

In such a life, he had come to the notice and acquaintance of certain individuals also engaged in the profession of arms. Two had become drinking buddies and the brothers he never had. One was the unfortunately-named Leonard Illsmore, a paramedic of modest repute, and the other was Wilhelm Tonypandy Hubb, a marksman and officer who worshipped his regiment.

Both were veterans of the Security Directorate, and so the Ashfield had received semi-permanent custom from a great many corporations and individuals who had required accommodations of a certain quality, as well as a certain level of discretion.

Ashfield was becoming a venue of choice.

It so came to pass that as Hildegard contemplated the merits of his bacon and eggs that the telephone beside him rang.

He picked it up, listened for a moment, and dropped the phone, running out of the room.

The uniformed attendant was at a loss whether to clean up or to leave things be. As it was, he covered the plate with a silver platter, watched, and waited.

Hildegard did not return to his suite for another week.

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