East Landau Road
The morning jog along this ridge was the one thing that got Johann Seiler awake enough for breakfast to do the rest. It was fairly foggy out this morning, but he had gone back and forth along this route enough to have memorized where he was at a certain curve. Besides which, the new barriers along the sidewalk prevented anyone from falling over.
For all intents and purposes though, he was literally running along the line between life and death. On one side was a bustling major city, full of people, vehicles, and the occasional animals going about their daily routine. The skeletons of new skyscrapers dotted the horizon, new life growing out of what was once deemed hopeless for the reason that lay to his other side.
He didn't have to look all the way over there. He often ran past signs in both his native and adopted language that warned him and anyone else not to go past that intersection. After 15 years, almost anyone who had kept running through this area would have gotten used to it. 2 miles around a route that always varied, sometimes down a dirt path, other times around a local memorial, but always ending up back at his house. It was fairly small by the standards of the neighborhood, but when one was married to his work than family one didn't necessarily need so much luxury to keep around.
Besides, he quite liked going out and meeting the neighbors.
After the jog and a shower came breakfast. The kitchen was well-equipped for a family, but he rarely had time even for guests. Still, it was a good time as any to get some food and coffee down, and relax to some white noise consisting of the morning news.
"...assault is being turned back due to unexpectedly heavy resistance, however efforts to claim the capitol will continue through the night."
There was a war raging just across the twin oceans, one that seemed to have been coming for decades. Most scenarios the analysts drew up back then would have almost certainly led to nuclear annihilation after the first two weeks. But somehow, the world changed. They hadn't nuked each other off the face of the earth thanks to their disarmament. That didn't stop the news agencies from reporting on each article like they would.
Well, almost every article.
"The Assembly of Nations today continued to debate sanctions on both Osea and Yuktobania. The resolution, sponsored by the FCU, Nordland and Verusa, calls for the freezing of assets and the barring of trade with the two countries should the conflict continue into 2011..."
Seiler cringed a little, making a mental note to make a few extra phone calls on the way to work. The new facility in Port Edwards was 99.9% approved, requiring only a bundle of extra forms for formalities, and for sanctions to derail all of that simply because he happened to have his headquarters physically located in one of the warring powers would erase all that progress.
As soon as breakfast was done and the dishes were put in the washer, it was time to get dressed and off to work. He had recently started carrying a tablet computer on him, figuring it was a way to keep up with the times and advertise the technology his company put into it. One less product "Made In Verusa" would certainly bode well for any tax credits in the halls of Council.
And he could keep track of his schedule on-the-go. These days, it seemed like anything could happen to throw things off track..
"Where to sir?" the driver began. The kid was fairly new, recommended by a friend's relative. He clearly wasn't from around here from the sound of his accent, but he always brought Johann to work on time.
"Yes sir," the kid replied. He was also loyal, never asking questions and keeping the drive nice and quiet. Not always good for career advancement, but shuttling a CEO certainly helped to pay for a bit of college. And fewer questions meant it was less likely for him to be an industrial spy.
Hangar 3, Renderhof Field
The convenient thing about being on good terms with the staff of an entire airfield was that the guard need only see the plate number of the car in order to let Seiler onto the premises. Even more convenient was the fact that being the airfield's majority owner enabled him to keep one hangar and adjoining building all to himself complete with a private security patrol to boot.
He still had to have the red square logo of his company painted on it though. Airfield regulations. But it at least kept the tech spotters' curiosity going as to what went on in there.
Not that he didn't mind that particular sort of attention, especially since he knew quite intimately what he was hiding from them.
The bright-red aircraft parked inside looked like something out of a science-fiction movie, with a sharply polygonal shape and what appeared to be portholes built into a solid canopy rather than plexiglass. Although his company had been working on it for the better part of two decades, he hadn't quite lost his sense of wonderment every time he came in and saw it a little closer to completion than he did the week before.
"I see you got its eyes to glow." Seiler began with a chuckle, as he approached the chief engineer, marking off items on his clipboard.
The engineer returned the smile. "Yes, we just finished fully wiring the canopy last night. The new motherboard's performance is really staggering."
"How staggering?" Seiler asked curiously.
"Check out our 'test pilot'." the engineer replied smugly.
"That one?" Seiler asked, pointing up at the man sitting in the cockpit. Instead of a giant glass bubble, the pilot actually slid himself in through what appeared to be some kind of hatch. This allowed for more of its 'eyes' - high-definition cameras that gave a damn-near-perfect view of the outside world in bright and low-light - to watch without blinking.
"Yeah. See why he's rubbing his head? He thought the canopy was already open. Good thing nothing was damaged."
The executive's eyes widened, as he nodded in approval.
"And we can still have it ready for ExAir?"
"Everything's on schedule except for the TLS, but-"
"That's all right, the TLS is not a priority. I don't intend to tear the bleachers in two." Seiler then put a thankful hand on the engineer's shoulder. "Keep up the good work."
"No problem boss. See you later." the engineer replied, before making his way toward the plane.
Seiler nodded and turned to leave, but the engineer had one more comment in store.
"Oh, and give my thanks to the Kronus guys. They really got the parts here quickly and in one piece."
The executive grinned at the mention. "I will, thank you."
Then it was back into the sedan, and off to his primary office - the 'inner sanctum' to take care of the other aspects of the daily grind. Unfortunately, today there would be no trips abroad or other functions to attend.
That didn't mean that nothing interesting could happen, such as the conversation on the way to his office building.
"I was thinking of investing."
"Our company stock not enough for you?" Seiler asked wryly, though not sarcastically.
"I was thinking of diversifying," the driver replied, swallowing his hesitation. "You know the Faith Park Group?"
"The one with that...maverick enterpreneur and his merry band?"
Seiler was familiar with the name Francis Mondeci. The millionaire that suddenly appeared out of nowhere to start giving it all away to try to put out the fires left in the craters of the Usean wars. The only thing really surprising about it was that the ventures didn't all turn out completely bust.
"That's the one. They're really taking off from sponsoring small businesses around the world."
"Yeah. They're gonna go public with a few of those next year under a new name. I just hope this war ends soon so we can really see what peace can bring."
It was no surprise to someone like Seiler that the youth would be so idealistic. There was nothing wrong with that in itself. But youth was often rightly wasted on the young, unless one had the resources to put that faith in action.
"Tell you what, you keep up taking me to work on time and I'll see what I can do about getting you some stock as a tip."
"Really? Thank you Mr. Seiler. I hope you don't mean insider trading though."
"Call me Johann," the executive replied with a smile. "Don't worry. I don't know about your CEOs down on New Lancaster, but we don't condone that at my company."
Okay, so the kid did ask a few questions. But as long as he didn't divulge any company secrets, there wasn't any harm in helping someone out.
Later That Evening
Another day, another zollar, pound, yuan or whatever currency of choice was used on the various documents and reports sent up to him from various departments. His multi-screen display suspended from the ceiling normally enabled him to keep track of world events and the stock exchanges, but with 'normal trade' disrupted by current events they were little more than white noise and some pretty visuals.
It was only later in the evening, as he was working out his schedule for the next day that a notifier on the bottom right corner of the computer screen rigged to his desk popped up.
It consisted of three words: "Call from Klaus."
Johann took a deep breath, and put his papers to the side before picking up the phone and dialing his receptionist's desk.
"Eliza, it's that time of the night."
"Family call, Herr Seiler?"
"Yeah. You know the drill."
"Got it." The secretary began tapping out a series of commands on her laptop and the phone on her desk. All she saw were the blinders at the front windows closing up, but she had no idea that she was also activating a jammer that was precisely tuned to block off anything going out of the room without affecting anything as close as her own desk.
This was the most important part of the work day. With a series of clicks, another window popped up on the screen, bearing the face of a man not too much unlike him. Slightly aging, a bit weary, but most of all executive. The biggest contrast was the backdrop; this one appeared to reside in an old mansion of sorts.
Seiler began the conversation the same way he began it for the last few months.
"Good evening Klaus, I see the hotel still hasn't burned down yet."
"The guests are still quite comfortable here. I don't see why you need to ask how they are so often."
"Like I keep saying, I've got as much a stake in the hotel as you do. It's our investment, so I bear the profit and loss too."
"Same old Johann, heh."
Seiler smirked, and changed the topic to the one thing that had been weighing down on his mind for as long as he had that particular stake in the "hotel."
"Anyway, how was the vet?"
"James went quietly. A bit of pain, but he's at peace now."
Seiler sighed reluctantly. "Good to hear. Was it at your usual vet?"
"He was too rowdy for the vet, so he had to call another friend from the clinic."
He raised an eyebrow. He'd known this particular 'veterinarian' to be quite capable of putting down the rowdiest of dogs. Still, confirmation was confirmation.
"At least he won't be biting any more people." Johann sighed, leaning back in his seat.
"Yes, he's in a better place now. And I don't think anybody will miss him that much."
"I can only hope so. By the way, are the neighbors still fighting?"
This was something the 'hotel owner' knew a lot more about on his end.
"Like the Hatfields and McCoys. In fact..." Klaus then paused to recall something, "Joseph brought in a new guy to keep George out of his yard."
"Yes. Actually, I remember him from when his rock band trashed our last hotel. Looks like he and Joseph made amends."
"Enemy of my enemy, I suppose. Hopefully he'll trash George's house instead."
"Long as I don't have to scrape egg off my windows again. Damn kids."
"Heh. Anyway, I've got to help cater a party in a little bit. See you soon."
"Same. Oh, and Stefan wants to pass his belated compliments to Uli for that bird your chefs cooked up for him last week."
"I will. You take care."
Seiler took a deep breath as the screen shut off and retracted back into his desk. He turned his seat around to face the window behind him and leaned forward, burying his face in his hands rather to take in the view of the Edelstein River leading up to his facility. It wasn't out of disappointment as it was of relief as he let his coded conversation simmer.
Wardog Squadron had been shot down at long last. But the cost to them had also been quite high - 30 pilots and crew dead and/or missing in those cold Yuktobanian wilderness. Not to mention the cost in technology that they had spent quite a pretty penny building, let alone concealing and then shuttling all the way across the frozen north to the Yuktobanian mountains where their pieces were now spread.
Yet all was not lost. The Osean Army was likely to be chased out of Cinigrad. And that meant they could at least have time to recoup their losses. But he didn't expect them to bring that new player onto the field.
General Mikhail Andropovich Kamarov had fallen out of favor with the communist government shortly after the war in 1995. More often than not it meant the end of their career if not their lives. But the junta that Seiler and his friends sponsored either saw some potential in him or was simply that desperate that they had brought him out of whatever obscure ceremonial post they had dumped him in to save the capital. Either way, Kamarov was doing his job well, for now.
That in itself was not surprising. Kamarov was one of the two Yuktobanian generals that commanded the opposition on the Eastern Front during the war 15 years ago. The other, General Oleg Ivanovich Pushkin, now led the junta that kept Prime Minister Nikanor safely tucked away while they exhausted their manpower and technology in fighting off their Osean invaders.
But banishment clearly had not tarnished Kamarov's knack for efficiency - if not his unusual benevolence for a product of the Yuke military machine. Of course, his reputation for having soldiers responsible grave abuses under his watch punished was beside the point.
Both of them - and the government that kept them on board - were responsible for tearing Belka in two and plundering their heartland.
As for Osea, their President was still "calling all the shots" through the Vice President - from his safehouse in Stier Castle. It was quite fortunate that the President's sabotaged plane happened to land near the training facility of a private military company owned by another colleague - the same one that brought back the parts for the ADF-01 Falken after Wardog very nearly exposed what would have been some rather nasty hypocrisy.
It disappointed Seiler that Prime Minister Nikanor's government had shelved their 'Samizdat' as part of their own military downsizing. Fortunately, Kronus Corporation's mercs had quietly brought the parts back under their no-bid contract to take part in Osea's "reconstruction and reconciliation" mission.
Solving problems was any businessman's nature. And the knowledge that he'd killed quite a few birds with some rather unorthodox stones was a good enough reason to retire early.
Seiler turned around and picked up the phone on his desk, dialling his receptionist.
"Eliza? Can you get the car ready?"
"Heading home early tonight, Mr. Seiler?"
"Going to head out to a nice dinner first. Finally finished something big, I think I can afford to treat myself a little bit."
"Congratulations, sir. He'll be in the driveway in 3 minutes."
As he withdrew his hand from the intercom, his attention drew to a small, slightly browned card encased in a simple yet sleek glass paperweight on his desk. While it may have seemed like a piece of trash to others, Johann Seiler had kept the card that marked his membership in the now-officially-banned National Workers' Party as a reminder of his duty.
He had been able to pass it off as an unfortunate time of his life in interviews, claiming that it was required of any employee that wanted to stay employed. It cleared him of suspicion in the public eye, and enabled him to move up the list of Belkans the Oseans could trust when looking for business in the newest state of the Federation.
Even better, the Osean military and business elite were grateful to him for having helped bring Sudentor back to life. And the icing on the cake was that the warming relationships between Osea and Yuktobania meant twice the business and profit for him, at least until the war began. He was fortunate that his allies in the Drachenau port authority up north let him skim off a portion of Grunder's goods to continue his company's relationship with the Red Giant that pillaged his heartland.
As for getting those shipments up to Belka in the first place with that embargo still in place, well, that's what the giant tunnels for a 'future high-speed rail line' were for.
Still, it certainly pained the CEO of Grunder Industries to refer to the fall of his country in such light-hearted terms. Even more so that General Pushkin was also the man that had the gall to raid Dinsmark after those fateful nuclear detonations.
But this sort of code was necessary in order to avoid the spying eyes of their competition...whoever they might have been at this point. With agents working everywhere from the foreign service at their diplomatic missions, to the engineers "repairing" the Arkbird sabotaged by the KGB, they might as well have been spying on themselves.
As long as that meant keeping the current status quo, the Gray Men would be able to sleep easy for one more night for the extra padding on their wallets, and a dream of a forcibly reunited Belka ever closer in their minds.
Johann Seiler got out of his chair, packed and took his briefcase, put on his coat and went downstairs to the sedan that would take him to a fancy local restaurant for dinner.
He looked at the schedule on the tablet's planner one more time as the sedan pulled away, the driver keeping silent. The schedule for the 9th wasn't much different from today's, save for a few more teleconferences with the folks working on the Port Edwards facility. His thoughts were already set on the first good night of sleep he would have in months.
Thousands of miles away, in another part of the icy north, the cerberus hounds the Gray Men had cast into the cold were about to plague his nightmares.
Edited by Condor 216, 15 December 2011 - 02:37 PM.