CHAPTER ELEVEN: THE PROPHETS OF JERICHO
Her mother was thrilled of course. Karin had shared the news regarding her transfer to the PM’s Office, though leaving out the circumstances that had precipitated the shift.
“Already promoted after just a few weeks!”
Karin appreciated her mother’s pleasure at the news but couldn’t refrain from a dubious smile.
“You don’t really get ‘promoted’ when you’re an intern. They just said they were short handed,” she explained vaguely.
Maybe she wasn’t far off, she thought. Government House was just couple blocks over from Foreign but instead of the usually deserted street, she was greeted with what looked to be a full blown riot ready to kick off at any time. Blue uniformed police officers behind thick plastic shields ringed the Colonial era building, presumably protecting it from a throng of what looked like hundreds of protesters. Signs bobbed above the crowd, promoting their agenda as they jabbed at the sky in ripples.
“TRY PEACE FOR ONCE!”
“MAJORITY RULE IS THE ONLY SOLUTION!”
“GIVE UP THE POWER OR FACE ZERO HOUR!”
She was ashamed that her immediate thought was that if the protesters had been Primevan, it was likely that the plaza would have been filled with bodies. But these were Dominioners, not Primevans. “WOMEN’S PARTNERSHIP FOR PEACE” banners, in pink and white, accompanied the ‘message’ banners, all held by angry women varying from university age on up. She noted lots of hair dyed every hue of the rainbow and lots of very short styles, including straight buzzcuts. Not exactly a pearls and heels crowd—more like piercings and Doc Martens.
She’d heard of the WPP, which had begun popping up back at DNU in her sophomore year. Espousing a mishmash of radical misandry, lesbianism and far left progressivism, they’d started small and gradually grown. They flouted campus rules regarding public demonstrations and, encouraged by the administration’s refusal to push back, engaged in classroom takeovers, targeting professors who were insufficiently supportive of their ever wide ranging demands. She’d thought it was just an academic phenomena and yet here they were, besieging Government House and the most progressive PM the Dominion had ever had!
A purple haired girl sporting a leather jacket and camo shorts pressed a flyer into her hands. She looked down at it. It featured a smiling Prime Minister Lucia Therese—her new boss—with “TRAITOR!” stamped across it. She began to crumple it up, then folded it and dropped it in her purse instead, eyes scanning the crowd nervously. No need to rile them, she thought defensively.
Approaching one of the officers, she displayed her Foreign Ministry photo id badge, asking how she might get in. Opening a space in the plastic shield phalanx, he waved her inside the perimeter. It was, she considered, a memorable first day. By the end of it, she hardly remembered the dramas outside. They soon paled in comparison to those awaiting her inside the walls of Government House.
Frandsen, the PM’s Private Secretary, met her at Reception and after an induction that lasted ten minutes, she was put to work.
“PM’s got an Advisory Council meeting. You prepare the room, keep the water pitchers and coffee urns filled and take notes,” he instructed. He was a man who, propelled by momentum, was loath to slow down. He fielded a half dozen questions even as he led her down the hallway to the meeting room, his mobile on non-stop vibrate.
In a brief intermission in the action, she asked “Is it always like this?” and instantly regretted it.
Frandsen cocked his brows in unintentional parody. He didn’t even bother to answer.
Fifteen minutes later, like moths drawn to their own flames, men and women, some in uniform, others in civilian suits, located the table tents bearing their names and positions and took their seats. Karin mentally recorded the names and attached them to faces.
“The Right Honourable Ingrid Hanne,Minister of Defence”
Defensive. Alert. Attractive; early forties.
And finally, her new boss, which shot a welcoming wink at her as she took the chair at the head of the long meeting table, flanked by her various ministers, advisors and officers. Karin was dazzled by the concentration of her country’s power elite in this one room.
“The Right Honourable Lucia Therese,Prime Minister, Dominion of Primeva”
Earnest and warm, but betrayed an uncomfortable degree of vulnerability. A handsome woman in her late forties. Never a beauty but she was weathering well enough.
“Shall we begin?” she asked. Heads nodded, papers shuffled in preparation. “Before we do, let me introduce my new aide.” Heads turned briefly at Karin, to whom the PM had gestured. “Karin Vester. Her mother is Dr. Christa Vester, our highly respected Director of National Health Services and an old friend. Karin will be with me until leaving for Oxford to begin her studies as a Rhodes scholar.”
That elicited some impressed nods and then it was on to business.
“Let’s start with the economy. Jorunn, your toplines please?”
The senator remained seated but did pass around a stack of handouts corroborating her talking points.
“The indicators aren’t good. The KSE has dropped five hundred points since the beginning of the year. Foreign investment, which had grown thirty percent last year alone, is going backwards fast. Many multinationals are delaying or suspending their expansions plans here. The Dominion Kroner has dropped five percent in value and consumer spending is sluggish. This could just be a recession or a sign of a more serious downturn. The GDP forecast has been re-adjusted, from a previous slight drop of one percent to a much more concerning three point nine percent.”
It was a sobering start to what would be a long meeting, Karin thought. She rested her back against the wall, visually checking the water levels in the pitchers and filling them as the participants around the table emptied them.
“Unemployment overall has hit eight percent,” she continued. Noting the nonplussed reaction, she added “But among Primevans, it is more like twenty percent.”
Karin caught the eye contact between the Senator and Søndergaard.
“Our assessment is that the PRF is trying to tank the economy specifically to drive up unemployment,” the spy chief elaborated.
“Among their own people?” the PM asked, incredulously.
“Yes Ma’am. And, based on the Senator’s analysis, we expected Primevan unemployment to hit fifty percent within the next twenty four months.”
“Dominion Airlines is doing a bang up business though,” Senator Benedicte jumped in. “Unfortunately, it is all one way—exit Dominion stage right, so to speak. Attacks in the resort areas on wealthy overseas guests have pretty much wiped out the tourism trade. The universities have reported that applications from foreign exchange students have dropped off to nothing for the next semester. I wish I had better news to share,” she concluded.
“If it comes to it, we can always talk to the IMF,” the PM assured the room. Karin noted Benedicte’s and Søndergaard’s dubious reactions.
“As you know, I was at the UN for most of last week. The General Assembly provided a perfect opportunity to engage with friendly—and not so friendly powers—and there was a great deal of interest in our domestic challenge,” the PM advised, choosing each word selectively.
“I’m still not sure why our internal issues should be anyone’s business.” Minister Hanne looked around for support, found none and then lapsed into silence.
“Ingrid, working with stakeholders demonstrates our goodwill. Our old friends in Denmark suggested the possibility of helping us connect with—”
“The ‘motherland’ issued a public condemnation of our domestic policies just yesterday!” Hanne broke in.
“That’s just public posturing. They have to maintain what they see as an ‘anti-imperialist’ position in order to—”
Hanne shook her head. “Whatever. Did you get anywhere with the Chinese? The Americans? The Indians?” Karin was annoyed by the Defence Minister’s surly tone and lack of respect, even as the PM chose to avoid confrontation.
“Well, ever since we decided not to sign the Silk Road Compact, our relations with China have been… less than positive. The Americans, as usual, offer supportive words but still require more progress in the shape of ‘reforms’ before they’ll agree to mediate. India, as we all know, still insists they have a legal claim on the Dominion dating back to the British Raj era, which makes normal diplomatic relations with them… problematic. Despite this, I think if we continue to build consensus for international mediation, we can create a dynamic for a peacefully resolved outcome that all parties will respect and that—”
It was Minister Carlene that now interrupted with exasperation. “Prime Minister, we all appreciate your diplomatic prowess. Your career in the Foreign Service, your international leadership as our Foreign Minister, your Peace Prize nomination for mediating the Ossetia border dispute— all inspiring triumphs for peace. But are you sure the diplomatic path is the most appropriate one for attempting a settlement with the PRF? Do we have any sense that they’d even agree to international mediation?”
The room was quiet. Finally, the PM, replied, albeit without her usual confidence. “Not as such. But if we don’t demonstrate our willingness—,” she faltered, searching for words.
“PM, we all support your diplomatic approach. Perhaps we might ask the Brigadier for his assessment with regard to the domestic security situation?” It was Hanne offering her boss a reprieve, Karin noted, which the PM gratefully took.
“By all means. Brigadier, your readiness report please.”
The Chief of Staff stood as a map was displayed on the screen, filled with various icons and numbers.
First turning to the Minister of Defence, who gave him nodding permission to proceed, he began pointing at positions on the map.
“The Royal Dominion Army consists of ten full regiments, each with a thousand soldiers. As you can see,” he waved his finger across the map, “these units are based primarily at RDA facilities across the Dominion. They are supported by four light artillery batteries. Mostly mortars but we have a few 122s and 150s.”
That didn’t mean much to Karin, but the next reference did.
“In addition, we have the 1st and 2nd Royal Paratroop regiments—”
“The only nation with paratroops and no air force to deliver them,” cracked the Minister of Justice.
The Brigadier continued. “The longstanding decision not to field an air force—well, you know my thoughts on this. As for transport, we contract Dominion Airlines for jump training but, of course, the paratroop regiments operate more as an elite fighting force than as a modern air assault unit. The Royal Paratroops are the best trained units we have and the most experienced ones as well. Both regiments have deployed as peacekeeping units over the last decade, most recently in Venezuela and Ossetia.”
“Understood, Brigadier—I apologise for the teasing. Please continue.” offered Minister Carlene.
“The RDA is supported by twenty militia regiments, only five of which are called up at any given moment, and we rotate to ensure all twenty get some training throughout the year. These units are all volunteer, equipped from local armouries and mostly deployed in response to natural disasters such as the Rodbjerg rockslides last year.”
Karin recalled the tv visuals of the militia boys digging out roads to rural farms cut off by the mountain slides.
“The Dominion Coastal flotilla consists of five cutters the Brigadier continued. “Each armed with .50 cals and used primarily against smugglers. We’ve had a couple wins recently and intercepted some PRF arms shipments,” he noted with satisfaction. “Then we nominally have the Royal Academy for Military Arts Cadets Regiment, but there’s never been a reason to call that regiment up.”
“Brigadier, the Queen’s—” Minister Hanne interjected with annoyance.
“Yes, my error. We also have the recently established Queen’s Women’s Guard Regiment as well. How could I have forgotten!”
Karin wasn’t sure if the Brigadier was being sarcastic or not, but the PM didn’t seem at all pleased with the gaffe, intentional or not.
“And then there’s my little army,” the Minister of Justice added.
The Brigadier nodded. “Yes. The RDA conducts joint training exercises with Ministry of Justice police units on a regular basis. Each provincial command fields a full regiment of special weapons and tactics police trained to support regular RDA units if required. These units specialise in urban terrain and are good value.”
Minister Carlene nodded in appreciation.
“Overall, the RDA is a small, well trained modern light fighting force of about forty thousand– more than sufficient for handling a low intensity guerrilla effort of the type the PRF seems to be conducting. We could always use more men, money and equipment—” he stopped as Hanne grimaced. “Ah, men AND women, I meant—but all I was saying is that we have what we need, assuming the situation remains relatively stable.”
Karin noted lots of confident nods exchanged now.
“Thank you, Brigadier—sounds like we’re in safe hands. As for the PRF, what can you tell us?”
“Colonel Blanid please?”
The ambitious young officer had been anticipating the request since she had been seated, Karin thought.
“Yes, Sir!” She tapped at her tablet. “CIG estimates the PRF to consist of a hard core cadre of between five and ten thousand—“
“Out of a population of six million citizens of Primevan heritage?” It was MP Waltraub, who had remained quiet up to that point.
“Correct, Ma’am. But for every cadre, we estimate ten supporters, so perhaps there are a hundred thousand PRF partisans altogether.”
“It is hard to believe such a small group of troublemakers can cause so much trouble!” the politician exclaimed.
The young colonel nodded gravely and continued. “The PRF attempted to move straight to a conventional mode some weeks ago, but their attacks on rural settlements were easily broken up by militia units in Sollopsgangdalen. Since then, they’ve regrouped and now seem to be taking a twin track approach. Major Bach?” she turned to her aide.
The military intelligence officer rose and distributed a stack of magazines. “Apologies but these are actual copies of the PRF’s latest recruiting campaign.”
Sighs and expressions of disgust filled the room. Karin watched the PM push the PRF propaganda material away from her with revulsion.
“The effort seems to be working. PRF cells are growing rapidly across the Dominion.”
“How rapidly, Major?” Senator Benedicte asked.
“Doubling in just three months, Senator. This growth has allowed the PRF to cream off the most motivated and capable and send them for conventional training. We believe the PRF now has at least one base, location unknown, and perhaps another where they equip, train and indoctrinate conventional companies of troops. They are concentrating their forces currently in Sollopsgangdalen, where we believe they can now field a force of about three thousand armed guerrillas.”
“Armed with what?” It was MP Waltraub again.
The major referred to her tablet. “A mishmash of just about everything—shotguns, revolvers, hunting rifles. But increasingly we’re seeing captured RDA weaponry and…” here she paused, then continued, “a few Type 56s – AK-47s of Chinese manufacture.”
The Prime Minister pursed her lips but remained silent.
“We believe the guerrilla cadres are preparing for more active operations in rural Sollopsgangdalen, targeting farmsteads for loot and weapons, over the next few months. At the same time, we’re seeing more intense, more numerous terrorist activities being conducted by the provincial cells that are having an impact on morale.” Major Bach seemed prepared to elaborate, then hesitated and finally decided to leave it at that.
Karin noted an uncomfortable cloud settling around the room.
“That’s an understatement, Major. Our officers’ families—their wives– are being targeted, Prime Minister. Even while our officers are fighting the PRF in the field, their wives are selected for kidnapping and rape in their own homes.” The Brigadier was seething now, eyes hard on the Minister of Justice.
Carlene acknowledged the criticism. “The PRF caught us out—we never expected them to go this low. We’re extending personal protection for all RDA families. It won’t happen again, Brigadier.”
The angry soldier seemed unpersuaded. “If we can’t protect our own wives and daughters, Minister, our officers will begin to ask themselves what they are fighting for. Your people better start doing their jobs or—”
Karin watched in sinking despair as the room exploded in a barrage of charges and protest, even as the PM seemed helpless to quell the tumult around the conference room table. Eventually it was Ingrid Hanne who was able to restore order.
“Brigadier, I’m sure the Justice Minister is just as infuriated as you are about these terror attacks on RDA personnel and their families. Let us work on this. Let us end this barbarous practice of intimidation by finding and punishing these PRF criminals as brutally as they deserve. Yes?”
It was Auguste Waltraub who now popped up again. “Prime Minister, that’s not the only kind of terror attack the PRF is engaging in. My sources tell me the PRF is using rape, sexual humiliation and blackmail to undermine morale, collect intelligence and other types of covert operations. They aren’t just common sex crimes—there’s always an objective. And PM—it is starting to leak. I’ve got interview requests from Claudia Valeska—”
“And Hannah Claydon, no doubt.” The PM sighed. “Yes, me too. But this all must remain classified Auguste, alright?”
“Of course, Prime Minister! I’m just saying…”
The PM ignored her, turning to her spy chief. “Simon, what does the average Primevan think of the PRF? Or the average Dominioner, for that matter? And who are those idiots making a spectacle of themselves out there?” She pointed towards the windows, beyond which a dull roar of protest had continued for almost an hour now.
“Fellow travellers, PM. Radicals who, we believe, are being egged on by a core of ultra progressive types, who in turn, we believe, may be receiving funds from the PRF itself.”
“Arrest them then! Marybeth, get your paddy wagons out there and—”
But the Minister cut her boss off reluctantly. “For what, PM? They’re just protesting!”
“Might not help us with the left wing,” Auguste Waltraub added.
Throwing her hands up in mock surrender, she waved her spy chief on.
“As for the average Dominioner, I don’t think there’s much consciousness of what is going on. Unless you are directly affected, it isn’t real. We haven’t experienced any interruptions in most of everyday life—no messy bombings for example. Aside from work or low level transactions, there isn’t much exposure to Primevans for the average Dominioner, let alone the PRF.”
“As for the average Primevan,” he continued, more thoughtfully, “ we have a different challenge, one the vast number of Dominioners have no concept of.”
Senator Benedicte shrugged. “Simon, it seems to me that the vast number of Primevans are content. We’ve never had a lot of crime in the Dominion and Primevan citizens share all the same rights as descendants of the original European settlers. Up until the recent PRF dramas, we had a perfectly comfortable working arrangement and there’s been a social equilibrium between us. We have had increasing opportunities for those of Primevan descent and,” she looked around the room, “I don’t think most of us would have any problem if in say ten years, we actually have a Prime Minister of Primevan ancestry—would we?”
Tellingly Karin thought, the Brigadier didn’t react to the question, but everyone else nodded in what suggested broad agreement. The PM herself nodded vigorously.
“Absolutely not!” the PM affirmed sincerely.
Benedicte turned back to Søndergaard. “Perhaps we’re making an insurgency out of a molehill, Simon.”
The Intelligence Director smiled thinly. “With respect, Senator, I disagree. On a surface level, we all must admit that, political rights notwithstanding, European Dominioners own the country and run the country and will for the foreseeable future. On another level, I agree—another ten years from now, your multicultural vision is likely to become reality. The PRF has also recently seemed to recognise what you say is more than likely true.”
Senator Benedicte nodded. “If true, then maybe the PRF is just doing a bit of political positioning to gain more leverage.”
“Or they are consciously trying to derail that future in favour of one they prefer,” Simon countered. “Maybe they sense that Primevans are growing used to the idea of a multicultural future shared with we original settler stock. And that’s the last thing the PRF wants to see happen.”
Karin filled glass water jugs in silence as the implications of the spy chief’s observation landed.
“Why now? Why have we experienced so many decades of living together without conflict then?” asked MP Waltraub in peeved confusion.
“You have to remember, when they were first transported here as political prisoners of the British, they weren’t Primevans. They were East Africans, West Africans, Punjabis, Hindus, Arabs, Malays… just dissidents rounded up from around the Empire. We called them Primevans to differentiate them from ourselves. It took them decades to adapt to an identity they could embrace. In the meantime, we simply viewed them as conveniently non-white.”
Ignoring the protestations that followed, he continued. “Different cultures, languages, genetics— the ‘Primevans’ had virtually nothing in common, except for one key factor.”
“Well, they were political prisoners,” Minister Hanne replied dismissively.
Simon nodded. “Which made them leaders. The British took the elites that resisted their imperial rule and dumped them on the Dominion. Imagine taking the most intelligent, creative, talented elite you could find, planting them in a new home and predict what will happen. It took them decades to coalesce around a new national identity—but they finally have, haven’t they Major Bach?”
That surprised the young officer, who recovered and nodded, deep in thought.
“The Major and I have speculated on the current situation and she has some fascinating ideas. Major, please?”
Her superior, Colonel Blanid, nodded her permission, seemingly just as curious as the rest of the room.
“I, uh, have been analysing the PRF chatter and messaging over the last few months. The focus is on fusion—elements that complement a new identity they refer to as ‘Prime’. It is a syncretic response to their historical destiny, one based on what they see as they natural aristocracy. There are constant references back to ancestors who are revered as tribal leaders, generals, priests, statesmen, organisers and so on. Imagine everyone you knew was descended from a leader of your society. Then, imagine your world dominated politically, intellectually, economically by… a people very average in comparison,” Major Bach suggested, glancing around the table.
Minister Carlene sneered. “That doesn’t sound like any Primevan I know.”
The major shrugged. “How many do you know Minister?” Before she could answer, she pressed on. “To most Dominioners, Primevans are invisible. They do the manual labour or domestic jobs and disappear when not working. They don’t really register. Even in the happy future the Senator suggests, we see them more as upgraded to Dominioners, not a distinct new people.”
“How are they linked? Do the sub groups intermarry?” the Brigadier asked clinically.
The major nodded. “They do but most Primes stick to their in-groups. So East and West African Primevans intermarry, as do South Asian Primevans. But there’s enormous respect between different ethnic Primevan groups, which is a key foundation for the Prime identity. And there’s another dynamic that’s played out amongst Primes over the last few decades that no one’s recognised.:
“Which is?” the PM demanded.
“Progression of the mean, Prime Minister,” she replied promptly.
The only person in the room who registered any reaction was Colonel Blanid, who’s lips parted unconsciously in surprise.
“You mean regression, Major,” asserted Minister Hanne brusquely.
“No Ma’am. I mean progression. Natural leaders intermarry and they have children. These children don’t regress to the mean—they progress it. Prime IQs have been rising. Life expectancy has increased. Nothing magical about it—it is just basic genetics,” the major affirmed. “And if you understand that, then you have an insight into how and why the PRF does what it does. It explains what motivates them.”
“They hate us, then?” Minister Carlene demanded pointedly.
Now Simon took the reins back and he shook his head. “No. They don’t hate us. It is worse than that,” he warned grimly. “They despise us.”
Karin felt as if she had suddenly been dropped without warning into the deep end of the pool at Whitecaps.
“The PRF don’t want a multicultural détente, Prime Minister,” the spy chief expanded. “They don’t want a shared future at all. The PRF is making their move now because they want to head off those historical avenues of escape. You can offer them as much power sharing options as you like PM, but I don’t think they’ll settle for anything less than total control of the Dominion.”
“Well, I don’t know,” the Prime Minister rebuffed weakly.
“I need only point to St. Olaf’s to suggest the lengths to which the PRF will go to forestall any kind of a Dominioner-Primevan modus vivendi,” the director pointed out.
The room once again grew intensely subdued, a silence broken only by MP Waltraub.
“The orphanage fire? That was PRF?” she demanded shrilly.
The Justice Minister nodded. “I remind you Auguste that you’re bound by your intel classification. But, yes, it was PRF. It wasn’t a fire—that was for the public. It was PRF and it was a massacre.”
The PM’s head drooped. Karin was shocked. St. Olaf’s was the Dominion’s home for children of mixed race—those of Dominion and Primevan parentage. There were just a handful—intermarriage between Dominioners and Primevans just didn’t happen—and the home was always touted as a symbol of what could be achieved in the name of racial harmony.
A PRF massacre.
“The PRF won’t accept any compromise, especially in blood terms,” the Director concluded. “That is the challenge, even if 99% of Dominioners don’t see it staring them back in the face.”
“Because it is inconceivable and inconsistent with Dominion values,” the Major added. “It is so extreme, it is difficult to accept.”
Karin noted a triangulation of stares now, linking Minister Hanne, Senator Benedicte and Minister Carlene.
“Which brings us to what is fast becoming the Primevan Question,” Hanne finally articulated carefully.
Benedicte and Carlene both exuded deep, regretful agreement with their cabinet colleague.
“If the Director’s and the Major’s ideas—which do seem a bit fanciful I must admit—even vaguely reflect PRF ideological nonsense, then we have no choice but to consider more… extreme preventative measures,” the Defence Minister proceeded.
The PM’s eyes narrowed. “What… kind of measures are you talking about, Ingrid?”
“Re-location camps. With the assistance of the RDA and the MOJ, we could quickly construct camps that could house Primevans of… questionable loyalty.”
“For how long?” the PM asked, wearily.
“To be determined. For the duration of the current little unpleasantness, certainly. Lucia, these would be humane, safe places for—”
If she’d hoped invoking her first name would ease of the edges of the conversation, Hanne was quickly disabused.
“We are NOT putting our own citizens into concentration camps! And I will not entertain this subject ever again—do you understand?” She was looking intently at Hanne, as well as her two allies. As weak as the PM had seemed earlier, Karin was proud that her new boss had finally recovered her nerve.
Hanne cracked quickly. “Fine. It was just exploratory.”
Karin doubted that and wondered if a camp or camps had already been built.
The PM rose, not even bothering to respond to her minister’s acquiescence.
“Very well. It is clear from the current situation that, while we face challenges—and those challenges are serious—they can and will be overcome. However, to do so will require a united front composed of Dominioners from across the entire political spectrum. As such, I will be forming a Unity government that shall include leaders from the Opposition. I will also extend an invitation to prominent citizens of Primevan heritage as well to join the Cabinet.”
As optimistic and brave as the Prime Minister had intended the announcement to be, Karin could tell from the expressions—ranging from sceptical to questioning—that the surprise news wasn’t as welcomed as she had probably hoped it would be.
“I’ve already spoken with Paul Ludvigsen, Senator of the Centre Party, and offered him the Ministry of the Interior. He’s accepted and I am sure he will only be the first of many to support our new Unity government. Thank you all for this briefing.”
As the room emptied out, Karin could only smirk. Paul had actually weaselled his way back into government!
CHAPTER 12: DATE NIGHT
Trattoria was busy for a Thursday evening. Attractive formally uniformed Primevan waiters and waitresses spun like dancers between the tables, all decked with white linens, bright red roses and candlelight. Fellow diners toasted one another with crystal glasses filled, their chatter warm and friendly.
Inga looked beautiful. The light cotton floral dress accentuated her figure in just the right way, and her lightly made up tanned face—the gently upturned button nose, the soft blue eyes, the hint of freckles—still made him wonder how he’d ever managed to lure such a beautiful creature into his life. For thirty-four, she still earned admiring male stares and he had no doubt there’d be more than one of her boy students who held a torch for Ms. Schmidt. They might have been on a date some eighteen years earlier if it hadn’t been for the golden hair, which now rested around her chin instead of flowing midway down her back. He’d wished she wore her hair longer but he understood she preferred a more manageable style. It was a small concession—he was a lucky man and he knew it.
He tapped his glass and a waiter appeared as if conjured. “Another glass please,” Lars pointed to his glass and his wife’s.
The waiter’s smile was correct, his white teeth contrasting with his dark skin. “Of course, Sir,” he replied, heading towards the bar to fill the order. Indian? Maybe a Malay? It was a random thought. As long as they weren’t shooting at him, he had little curiosity regarding Primevans. He used them on job sites, found them hard-working and affordable—a win for both employer and employee. As long as each was treated with respect, Lars found there were rarely problems.
“And how was your day, Missus Schmidt?”
Inga was sipping from the new glass now and Lars wondered how many glasses might put the proper Dominioner wife in the mood for an after-party in the master suite!
“Nothing special. We’re coming up to finals, so of course, all the kids are trying to catch up with all the assigned reading they’ve blown off all semester. It’s always the same—“Ms. Schmidt, can I get an extension? Ms. Schmidt, can we get an extra day?’ I swear!” she shook her head, taking another sip.
Inga had been a trainee teacher when they’d first met and since then, she’d made steady progress. After a very brief stint in the public system, she’d found a spot with Blue Bay Day School. It was no Felixholm Prep or a St. Hilda’s, but it was undoubtedly the best private school in Sollopsgangdalen province. Virtually no Dominioners enrolled in the public system, which was pretty much reserved for Primevan kids. Even the least affluent Dominioner could find an affordable private school of some kind or apply for readily available scholarships. Inga hadn’t said her time in the public system was bad, just that she hadn’t felt comfortable there. He was grateful though for her time there as it guaranteed a paycheck when his own building business was still very much just an idea. Over time, as his firm and the billings grew, he’d suggested she no longer needed to work, but she’d rebuffed him, insisted she enjoyed the work and that it was an easy way to keep her eyes on Kristi and Bent, both of whom attended Blue Bay Day School.
“What do you make of the new Unity Government?” she asked, perusing the menu. “Isn’t the weather perfect!” she added.
“It is! As for the other, who knows? I wish I had more confidence in her—I know you’re a fan, but I’m just worried the PM is more interested in scoring soundbites with Hannah Claydon than sorting the issues.” To be fair, Lars did enjoy watching the news more these days, if not necessarily whatever the latest breaking was. Hannah was easy on the eyes.
Inga’s pert pink lips pursed into an adorable pout. “Well, it seems like a good idea to me. With everyone supporting her, the government can come up with a political solution acceptable to all sides!”
Lars shrugged, also considering the menu. The Tortellini Boscaiola looked tasty. “Do you know what you’d like?” he asked, hoping to move off the current topic. She did—veal scallopini with prawns, mushrooms and pink sauce—and they ordered.
“There has to be some solution, some way to live together and give the PRF what they want without you getting shot at!” his wife exclaimed, as she speared a succulent prawn with her fork.
“Darling, that was nothing. Really—I barely got the chance to get off a round in anger! It was the farmers who had all the fun. Besides, the RDA has to get their money’s worth once in fifteen years,” he assured her.
The creases on her forehead suggested she wasn’t convinced. “This time—but what about next time?”
“The crew we beat back was armed with handguns, for God’s sake. They aren’t a fighting force—they’re a criminal gang looking for an easy mark, that’s all.”
He was growing annoyed now. His wife had never shown much interest in politics. True, the recent election of the Dominion’s first female PM had sparked some interest and they had mock quarrelled about it. This was different. Perhaps his recent reservist duty had seeded some concern, or perhaps it was something else. It seemed silly. They’d had the kids early and in two years they’d both be at university—certainly Dominion State, maybe even for Bent, DNU—and the hard work had paid off. They had a beautiful home, money in the bank and they were both relatively young. These evenings out were just a taste of the life stage to come. And now Inga was souring the dinner with pointless political blather!
Inga continued to eat, though clearly distracted, her lovely blue eyes—the ones she’d gifted to Bent—darting around the restaurant as she did so. She seemed to be weighing some internal decision.
“I… found something. In Bent’s room,” she finally revealed. She reached into the purse at her feet and withdrew her phone.
“Hey, no fair! No phones on Date Night!” Lars parried playfully.
Inga gave him a narrow look. “I took a picture—I didn’t want him to know I’d found it.”
“What were you doing in Bent’s room anyway?” he asked, taking the phone.
“I always check before Pertiwi comes in to clean. How else can I be sure she actually even turns on the vacuum cleaner?” She was referring to the maid who cleaned their house once a week. “And thank God I did! I can’t imagine what Pertiwi would make of it! Anyway, it was peeking out from under his mattress. I was… well… what do you think?”
Lars looked at the phone. It displayed a soiled magazine opened to a page featuring a young nude white girl on her knees, hands presumably bound behind her back. Before her was a line of brown and black men wearing camo pants and combat boots. The girl was in tears, her face well lathered with semen. Behind her was another man in military uniform, tightly clasping a leash attached to a collar on the girl’s neck. Text above the scene read “Join the PRF and earn your reward today!”
“Well?” Inga asked.
Lars was aware he hadn’t spoken a word and was still processing the image staring back at him. He tapped a button and the image disappeared. He handed the phone back.
“I… I’ve never seen anything like that before. He probably found it dumped somewhere. And, well, he is a normal sixteen year old,” he tried feebly to rationalise the discovery.
Inga shrugged. “Of course. It’s just the PRF bit and, well, it’s not normal porn, is it?”
Now Lars shrugged. “What’s normal, babe? It isn’t like when we grew up. I had old Playboys hidden under my mattress. As for the PRF bit, that is…”
“Primevan men and she looks like a Dominioner girl. That’s just…”
He knew what she meant. There was a long unspoken cultural taboo that was practically unwritten law. Dominioners and Primevans scrupulously restricted their affairs to the public sphere. There were no interracial relationships, no intermarrying. It wasn’t illegal, just unthinkable. He supposed it traced back to an acute understanding that if the Dominioners were to exploit their advantage and social superiority over the newly arrived immigrants, that it would create the kind of animosity and resentment that would inevitably lead to bloodshed. Since those early years, Dominioners had displayed the most correct behaviour towards Primevans of the opposite sex as they possibly could. He’d always assumed it was a shared compact based in mutual respect—and that the kind of image he’d just viewed was impossible in the Dominion he’d grown up in.
“I know what you mean. Must be some propaganda thing the PRF is trying. But I can’t imagine it will have any impact. As usual, they are just trying to provoke the government, get attention. Dominioners and Primevans—they just don’t—I mean, I can’t imagine. They don’t do a thing for me.”
Inga nodded fiercely. “Me either! It’s just disgusting!”
Lars chuckled, chewing on his tortellini. “Hardly a progressive position, Missus Schmidt!” he chided her.
She shot him a baleful glare. “You know I’m no racist! I think we must respect Primevan culture and do more to even the playing field! I just don’t think objectifying women… or competing with Primevan women is any way to demonstrate that kind of respect!” Inga’s face flushed slightly and Lars admired the passion that animated her, though more when it was on display in the bedroom than expounding her naive school teacher politics!
“Yes, well, as I said, Primevan ladies may be lovely but they don’t do a thing for me. Dessert?”
“I suppose. Tiramasu? Say,” she paused, remembering something. “Have you heard anything about… Bald Eagles?” she finished, seemingly embarrassed.
“Well, they aren’t native to the Dominion. Why do you ask?”
But she waved him off, no longer interested in pursuing whatever topic she’d been considering. Before he could press her on it, she had already moved on. “Birthdays,” she noted.
“Yes, the kids’ birthdays. Well, Bent will be easy.”
Inga nodded. “Yes, but something safe please!”
“I have my eye on a nice solid used Landcruiser. Only has thirty thousand kilometres and seems to be in good shape,” Lars informed her.
Inga smiled. “You ARE capable of multitasking! That sounds good. Now, about Kristi…”
Lars prepared himself. Their daughter was a delight, a popular, friendly girl with golden hair and his own dark blue eyes. Like her mother, she was bright and capable, if from time to time, moody and capricious. Like her mother, it was hard to hold it against her, her pretty magazine model face reducing her father to a happy idiot whenever she choose to grace him with a spoiled smile.
“Don’t tell me she wants another car!” Kristi had received her own turquois VW convertible last year.
“No, it’s a bit more… well,” Inga was twisted up, obviously not sure how to proceed.
“How much is this going to set me back anyway?” he demanded sourly.
“Surprisingly affordable,” Inga perked up. “Nothing like a car!” she promised brightly.
“Well?” Lars hated these female guessing games.
“Kristi wants a… boob job,” Inga finally admitted.
“What?” Lars was taken aback. “She’s just a kid! This is crazy!”
Now Inga straightened her back, her school teacher authority clicking in. “Now Lars, she is not! She’ll be eighteen and she’s, well, she’s very self-conscious.”
“She is absolutely stunning, Inga! My God, she’s drop dead gorgeous!”
Inga shrugged. “Spoken like the father you are, Lars! Yes, she is. And she’s also very flat. And she wants to address that. I can understand where she’s coming from.”
Lars hated the whole concept. “Why? You know how much I love…” he’d unconsciously let his eyes drop on his wife’s pert B cups. Inga smirked, well aware of what had momentarily transfixed her husband. “Anyway, she’s never had any dramas with boys—they practically line up for her. Not that she’s like that either,” he added, “I’m just saying why bother if she can get any boy she’s interested in?”
Inga’s button nose flared. “Typical man! It isn’t about boys, it is about her own self confidence! This has nothing to do with boys, you idiot!” she upbraided him.
Lars realised he was in a corner now and it was time for a strategic retreat. “Ok, ok! Let’s talk about it when we get a bit closer, ok?”
Inga accepted this concession with suspicion, but happy the idea had been broached, seemed content to leave it for the time being. “The tiramisu is to die for, isn’t it?” she remarked, licking her spoon.
He nodded. “As always. Look, do you want me to talk to Bent about…”
Inga smiled. “Well, I did but… you’re probably right. He’s just curious and it IS just PRF garbage. I think we’ll all survive.”
“I agree. Maybe I’ll just suggest he find a better hiding place for it and see if he has anything to say about it. Anyway, if you’re ready?” She nodded primly, wiping her lips.
Later, he’d remember that evening and savour it. He’d had the Mercedes’ top down and they’d driven through the warm purple evening, the wind cooling them and Inga’s head on his shoulder as he motored his way on the smooth highway home. The spell had been broken as soon as he’d seen Bent and Kristi greeting them worriedly at the door.
“What’s wrong, kids?” he asked.
Kristi handed him the envelope. It was stamped URGENT.
“An army guy delivered it, Dad,” Bent explained. “Said your unit was…”
“Mobilised,” Kristi finished the sentence.
CHAPTER 13: GYPSY SUMMER
“It’s hard to imagine there’s actually a war going on,” Gunnar noted, sipping the flat white coffee, his lips retaining a bit of the milky froth.
Karin wiped it off playfully. As always, he looked like he leapt out of a recent issue of GQ, the navy pinstriped suit contrasting with the white button down shirt and the school tie. By comparison, she looked more like the grad student she would soon be—bookish glasses, a white cotton blouse, a khaki pencil skirt and comfortable flats.
“There haven’t been many causalities though,” Gunnar pointed out.
“One is too many,” she countered, forcing him to concede the point with a nod. “But no. Under a hundred so far.”
“So the mobilisation must be working! Overwhelming force, shock and awe! This may all be over before Christmas!” He drank more deeply, the coffee at Norden’s always a sure draw for the budding venture capitalist.
“We all hope so. There’s been a bump in RDA recruitment. Are you planning on joining up?” she asked delicately.
He flashed those eyes, that always had her on the backfoot, as if she’d made a joke. “Absolutely not. No need—the defence of the realm is in Edvard’s capable hands, remember?”
She laughed. Her best friend’s little brother was a freshman cadet at the Royal Academy for Military Arts and, as Gunnar well knew, had always had a crush on Karin.
“We may as well surrender now!” she replied with a chuckle.
“Actually, we’re involved in a number of plays, mostly in the security sector. Retina scans, surveillance equipment and the like. This whole PRF episode has revealed a rich vein of potential commercial opportunities and once this situation is put to bed, I suspect you’ll see a whole new approach to domestic security than the looseygoosey take we’ve had up until now.”
Of course, Gunnar and his clan had figured out a way to make money out of the mess! Karin didn’t know whether to congratulate or curse him. Still, considering the number of state secrets she’d become privy to, she couldn’t really disagree.
“Anyway, what about you? You could follow the Crown Princess and join the Queen’s Women’s Guard!” he archly countered.
“I’m already serving my country—or the PM anyway. As for Princess Sofie, I don’t expect she’ll be marching or manning a machine gun!”
Gunnar laughed. “God no—she might break a nail! Still, good of her to make an effort. Princess Katrine too. Sets a good example. Have you heard from Elise or the Christiansen sisters?”
Karin checked her watch, then took a quick sip. “All at DNU. Fine. You know—you see their Instagrams. Lots of Elise showing off new clothes or her latest cooking experiment. She and Laura have started making noises about interviewing in publishing. That Brit Laura was seeing went back to the UK early. Sarah’s determined to achieve the ever elusive 4.0 GPA of course. Hey, I’ve got to be in the Situation Room about ten minutes ago!”
Flinging herself reluctantly out of the café chair, she landed a kiss on the amused Gunnar before slow jogging towards Government House, thankfully only a five minute walk.
“See you this weekend?” she asked.
He shrugged apologetically. “I’m off to London this afternoon for the week. Raincheck for when I get back next week?”
“Always!” he promised, not quite convincingly.
Mr. Frandsen pointed to the guarded door and Karin nodded, heading into the Situation Room which had become the PM’s address of necessity these days. As always, it hummed with chatter and electronic equipment with military and civilian bodies jostling, convening, and otherwise running the country from inside the nerve center.
Spotting the PM standing by a group of officers, she discreetly deposited herself behind her, listened to yet another briefing.
The PM noted her arrival gratefully. “Karin, a tea please? I’m a desperate woman!”
“Of course, Ma’am!” Karin returned with a steaming porcelain cup bearing the national seal.
“As you can see,” harrumphed a staff officer, demanding the return of the PM’s attention, “Prime Minister, the newly mobilised 15th Eastern Light Rifle is now in position to interdict any PRF operations aimed at farmsteads outside of Grimvag. For a reserve unit, it has a high readiness and fitness rating and should be able to handle—”
Eight hours later and eyes rolling back in her head with military jargon and impossible to remember stats and figures, Karin made her way back to the townhouse. Mr. Chinoso was honing a small pile of knives on the street in front of the Vester address.
“Good evening, Mr. Chinoso!”
The tinkerer looked up. “Good evening, Miss! Good evening! What a fine night we have!”
Karin nodded. “Mariela got you busy?”
“Lots of cooking means lots of cutting, Miss. But Chinoso brings them back to life—see?”
He held up a carving knife, then waved a small piece of paper over the blade, which separated it effortlessly.
“You are an artist, Mr. Chinoso! Are you finished? Come in—I’ll help you,” Karin offered, taking a bundle of the sharpened knives. Knowing he’d never follow her through the front door, she led them both to the back, entering the kitchen.
Mariela the maid eyed them suspiciously. “He bother you, Miss Karin?” she barked.
Karin put the knives down. “Not at all. Just having a chat.”
Mariela reached into her apron and withdrew a couple of bills. Chinoso watched them make their way to his palm with pleasure. “You should go now—curfew approaches!” the maid advised the man.
Chinoso nodded wearily, unhappy to be reminded of the impending restriction. “If only I had extra time! Lose many customers because of this curfew!”
At that point, Karin heard the powerful purr of a limousine. It was Paul of course. Since his appoint to the cabinet, he’d revelled in his new little status symbols—such as the government car and driver. Then a thought. It was a casual connection but it clicked.
“Hold on, Mr. Chinoso. Paul?” she greeted her mother’s husband who has just entered from the front of the townhouse with a yell.
“Yes? Karin? What is it?” he asked, confused and searching for a place to drop a pile of documents he’d brought home.
“You’re Interior now, right?”
He straightened up, as if posing for a photograph. Yes, I am the Minister of the Interior for the Dominion of Primeva,” he replied, as if speaking to a slow child.
“Well, don’t you manage this curfew?”
“Well, in part. Why? The curfew doesn’t affect you,” he pointed out, then dropped his tone guiltily. While the curfew had to be observed by all citizens, there were so many exemptions for Dominioners that it virtually only applied to Primevans.
“You know Mr. Chinoso. I don’t know how many times he’s saved me with a quick shoe repair and Mariela’s always got him doing some chore or project around here.”
The older Primevan nodded respectfully in full agreement.
“Couldn’t you give him a pass or something? This curfew is cutting into his business. Oh—I made a pun!” she clapped with satisfaction, grinning at Chinoso.
Paul rubbed his temples. “Well, we do issue Good Character Passes. I suppose—”
“Excellent! Thank you Paul!” she rewarded the surprised older man with an appreciative kiss.
“No need to be out after dark anyways,” Mariela muttered in objection, which Chinoso took with an air of infinite patience. “No reason,” she repeated, right to Chinoso’s face.
“Karin?” It was her mother now from the front hall.
“Be there in a minute! Mr. Chinoso, it will all be sorted. Come back tomorrow and you can pick up your pass,” she promised, as Paul nodded.
“Bless you, Miss!” he offered before waving and shuffling off to his moke.
Her mother was holding up a package, which Karin grasped with anticipation. It was postmarked from Oxford University, sent by the Rhodes Trust. “PREPERATORY PACKAGE” emblazoned the front of the packet. Ripping it open, Karin shuffled through forms, checklists and brochures.
Her mother drew her in for a hug. “It won’t be long now and I’m already missing you!”
Karin couldn’t believe it—she was no more than two months away from the next chapter of her life!
“What’s top of the pile today, Mr. Frandsen?” Karin couldn’t help notice how tired the PM was. She still looked the part but her energy level seemed to fall a tiny bit every day ever since she’d ordered the mobilisation.
The career bureaucrat, coolly efficient, tapped a mouse and the Daily Briefing was on. Karin’s eyes were drawn to the screen, as were those of the PM’s small inner group.
“Women’s Partnership for Peace protests in all Provincial capitals. Seventy one arrests and three officers injured,” Frandsen noted. The image of the multi-hued short haired women, many older and heavy, seemed to screech silently right into the Situation Room. “One hundred prominent professors have signed a petition demanding your resignation and opening direct negotiations with the PRF.”
“In what order? Never mind, I’m kidding, Mr. Frandsen. Have Justice prosecute all to the fullest,” she ordered, mildly shocking Karin. The PM’s patience was clearing running out. “Next?”
“Trade has been informed that the Chinese have decided to cancel the autonomous vehicle manufacturing facility they’d been planning in Bollgrund.”
“Our Chinese friends are still peeved we didn’t opt in to their economic block treaty. We’ll survive. Next?”
The call with the American Secretary of State is scheduled for now—when you’re ready, PM.”
Rubbing her brow, she nodded. “On speaker when she’s ready then.” Two minutes later, the speakerphone beeped.
“Madame Prime Minister? Are we on speaker?”
“We are, Anne. Is that an issue?”
A light chuckle answered the question. “Not at all. How have you been, Lucia? The Dominion is getting a lot of attention these days—first a female prime minister elected, now the latest.”
The PM smiled. Clearly there was a personal side to the relationship. “I wished we’d stopped at the first headline. Anyway, I was hoping,” she smiled shrewdly, “you might be able to put me in touch with somebody who could sell us some helicopters.”
A brief silence. “You know us—always open for business. Happy to oblige. You’ll need some training crews as well, I imagine. And these aren’t for the city traffic reports either, are they?”
“No, Anne—not for the traffic report. It is just a bit of insurance. Expensive insurance for sure.”
“You’re talking about six to twelve months for that kind of order—”
“I can get Parliament to pass a bill tomorrow. Our decision not to field an airforce now seems less than sound.”
“Well, we DID offer—in any case, yes, happy to help Lucia. Helicopters—absolutely!” It’s only hundreds of millions we’re talking about, Karin thought.
“And Anne, you know we’re really looking to sort this internal situation through good old fashioned talking. Insurance is nice, but jaw jaw beats war war, as Churchill once said. I imagine the services of a good faith mediator—like the US—would do much to bring the PRF to the table. Surely you might have a spare envoy laying about to help us sort this out? You can fly them in on one of our new helicopters.”
Again, silence. Then a hearty laugh. “Lucia, you ARE good. Leave it with me. Send me the particulars regarding the helis and I’ll confer with the President.”
“Thanks, Anne. Speak soon.” Then a beep signalling the end of the call.
“And that boys and girls, is how it is done!” the PM proclaimed, to sincere applause.
Had the PM managed, at the cost of some helicopters, to bring the US in as an arbiter? Karin felt more optimistic than she had in weeks!
CHAPTER 14: BLOOD AND THUNDER
“—so the question remains. Is there a massive criminal effort on the part of the PRF to kidnap and ransom well known personalities—all female by the way– throughout the Dominion in order to fund their insurgency?”
The familiar face, a wan but attractive one, embodied Trust and looked directly at Hannah now.
“And if so,” she continued with solemnity, “why is the government enabling this thoroughly illegal response?” Pointing to a video wall of a half dozen well known Dominion celebrities, Claudia Valeska wheeled back to her audience. “Don’t we,” and here she pointed to herself, “deserve to know? We’ll be back after this message.”
“Damn girl, we got smoked!” It was Niles, whistling in admiration at the screen in their Kongestad studio.
“Yes, we sure as hell did. How did I miss this story?” Hannah Claydon asked. “Did you hear anything,” she demanded of her cameraman and producer.
Niles shook his head. “But then I’m not the investigative journalist, am I?”
Hannah scowled at that. Valeska had scooped her—her, queen of celeb reporting! GNN’s softball specialist! It was a great story too. Clearly Claudia had proof the government was allowing the ransoms to be paid, which was bad. What was worse is how the hell the PRF was managing to abduct the most highly protected people—no, women—in the whole country? Claudia suggested that at least six celebs had been kidnapped and ransomed—all B Lister types but still! How many millions had the PRF extracted—not to mention, what had happened to the women while being held? She was imagining all kinds of juicy nastiness and it was all wasted with some old school reporter like Claudia, who’d never focus on the up close and personal—some might call prurient– aspects of the story. But that’s what viewers want! she wanted to howl.
“In other news, Parliament has approved a supplemental spending bill that will give the Dominion its first helicopter based defence unit. Part of a pending agreement with the US, the Prime Minister’s brilliant diplomatic initiative—”
“Hey, I was watching that!” complained Niles.
“Try GNN—you’ll get the real news,” she snickered, snapping the remote to her own network. And there she was, in a pre-taped segment on the Queen’s Womens Guard Regiment.
“The real news?” Niles asked sarcastically, pointing at the screen. Hannah was interviewing a young recruit, looking quite happy in her trim new khaki uniform. “Looks more like a cheerleading squad for the royals than the Dirty Dozen.”
He was right. The Queen’s original intentions in forming the Queen’s Womens Guards may have been admirable but the result really was more like Little Women go to War. The recruits all seemed to be pretty bubblehead society types who were expecting tea parties, not blitzkriegs.
“Well, I promised I’d do it,” she shrugged. Hannah had done a number of pieces on ‘softer’ stories but they’d all snagged good ratings. Her competitor, the DBC, rarely covered ‘fun’ stories the way GNN did. The Crown Princess at the Flower Festival, the opening of the Royal Theatre’s season from inside the Royal Box as Her Majesty’s guest—these had done blow away numbers versus the DBC’s more ‘serious’ stories on Parliament and Unity Government appointments.
“I bet we do at least as well with this segment,” Hannah boasted. Now they were watching Hannah interview a group of Olympic darlings who had all pledged to head up a red Cross blood drive to support the Royal Dominion Army’s troops in the field.
Niles nodded. “Maybe. At least you got your babes to talk on air. And they are cuties!”
Hannah nodded. They were. “Watch this,” she ordered, just as the four female athletes all raised their bandaid sporting arms and pointing back at them. “Now it is YOUR turn!” they shouted in laughing unison. “That’s good tv,” she noted in self satisfaction.
But Niles was no longer looking at the tv. Instead, he was staring at his phone, which was beeping madly. He looked up.
As she grabbed her purse and phone, Niles was already hoisting a camera over his shoulder. Without a word, they both ran past the non-plussed receptionist and front door, leaping into the Jeep. Niles had them on the motorway in minutes, headed straight for Varberg International Airport.
“What?” she yelled over the rushing highway gust.
“A plane is down. Looks like PRF!” Niles answered, eyes on the road the whole time. Varberg was a short ten minutes outside the capital but they saw the flames on approach. Hannah’s blonde mane was already combed and her lipstick refreshed as the two dashed towards the black and yellow police tape. She was pushing past blue uniformed street cops waving her press pass like a talisman when she ran into the more imposing Police Command body armoured types.
“Hold on, Ms. Claydon,” a red faced officer restrained her. “We’re not sure if the other fuel tank has blown,” he explained.
That was fair enough, she thought, immediately dropping into interview mode. Holding up the GNN microphone, she went into action. “Officer, can you tell our viewers what happened here?”
“A Dominion Airlines cargo plane crashed fifteen minutes ago. I repeat, this was a cargo plane, not a passenger plane. We estimate the crew of seven were lost in the crash.” The officer paused. “That’s all we know.”
Hannah doubted that, even as she spotted Simon Søndergaard, Dominion Intelligence Service chief conferring with police brass around a table. They were clearly examining something.
“Simon!” she yelled, catching his attention. He turned away in annoyance, thought better of it, then began to begrudgingly walk toward her.
He nodded to the cop, who drew back, Hannah and Niles immediately surged forward and under the police tape line. Simon wagged his finger at Niles. “No video! Audio only for now,” he warned.
Hannah waved Niles back. “Fine! Now, what happened?”
Simon took her arm and drew her further inside the perimeter. “I’m telling you this because it will get out anyway and I expect you to handle it with sensitivity. So, you’ll know what I know but won’t report on all of it until I confirm—deal?”
“It looks like a MANPAD. We found the gear at the far end, the storage area—” he pointed towards an abandoned looking end of the airport. Looks Indian in manufacture and yes, we think it is PRF.”
“MANPAD?” she demanded.
“Man-portable air-defense systems. They’re shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles. Guided weapons and are a threat to low-flying aircraft AND helicopters,” the harried spy chef explained.
Hannah drew a quick breath. “You think this is tied to the PM’s recent deal with the US?”
Simon gave her an exasperated grimace. “Gee, you think Hannah?”
She ignored the sarcasm. “OK, so just tell me what I can report now and what I can’t already!”
With B roll of the dying flames streaming off the downed aircraft in hand and a short audio clip from a designated police officer—Simon was NOT going on the record but arranged for a cop to handle the official take—and they were madly producing the evening’s lead story. They managed to beat DBC by a half hour and Hannah knew she had to have a killer follow up to cement the headstart advantage.
“London wants to know if we’re going with the airport or the parliament,” Niles asked, hand cupped over a phone.
“Airport. If it bleeds, it leads Niles—you know that!” she yelled behind her, already headed for her chair so the make-up girl could do her magic.
Hours later and Hannah was repeatedly trying Søndergaard’s number—or one of his numbers anyway—but he still wasn’t picking up. Bastard promised me! She cursed. She’d assumed she’d get something, even a crumb, before the eleven o’clock. God knows what Claudia knew by now—she had at least as many contacts if not more than Hannah had. Screw it—let Simon deny what he told me earlier, and let it play out. But she hated reneging on a deal, even one where she’d been played. What to do?
Then her phone finally beeped, her GNN dialtone a pleasant surprise. The number was blocked. She accepted the call.
“Ms. Claydon,” the rich voice—West African?—greeted her calmly.
Sensing herself on the edge of an enormous yawning opportunity, she swallowed then almost whispered “Yes!”
“Perhaps you might guess what organisation on whose behalf I am speaking?” It was educated, nuanced, smooth.
“PRF,” she allowed.
“Correct. And the reason for this phone call?”
“The crash at the airport. To claim responsibility?”
“Regretfully so,” came the reply, oddly wistful. “So much violence, though we attempt to mitigate.”
“May I report this?” Hannah asked, holding her breath.
Hannah began writing on a notepad. “The PRF today claimed responsibility for the downing of a Dominion Airlines cargo jet in which a crew of seven were killed. A shoulder mounted missile launcher—of Indian origin– was used to down the aircraft,” she recounted. “Does that work for you?”
A pause. “We’d prefer you leave out the reference to India. It might suggest connections,” the smooth crisp African voice noted.
“Very well,” she replied, crossing out the hurriedly written phrase.
“There’s more. With the greatest concern for the safety of passengers, the PRF must insist that Dominion Airlines immediately cease all flights to and from this country. Any attempt to depart by commercial airliner will be targeted by our operatives. We have more than just one MANPAD, I assure you.”
Hannah scribbled it all down verbatim.
“We shall allow foreign airlines to operate, for the purposes of evacuating all overseas residents, for the next seventy two hours. If we discover any Dominion passport holders boarding these flights, our exemption will be withdrawn and all airliners will be targeted. The PRF is making this offer to avoid the deaths of any foreign nationals.”
“Wow! You’re taking control of the Dominion skies!” Hannah noted, without realising she’d verbalised her thoughts openly.
“We are indeed. First the skies, then the rest, Miss Claydon. All in time,” that deep welcoming voice promised.
“Is there anything else you wish conveyed over the air?”
A short chuckle. “Well, there IS the reason for our decision. Perhaps our move is a reaction to one already made. Or two or three.”
Hannah was getting lost here. “Tell me,” she asked, no pleaded. And as the voice responded with secrets like treasures, she gasped, knowing once and for all she had won the race she’d been running all her life. It was the story—or stories—any journalist cold only dream of. She saw every door opening now before her, a career of thresholds to cross effortlessly.
GNN: PRF SHUTS DOWN DOMINION AIRSPACE IN RESPONSE TO GOVERNMENT ‘PROVOCATIONS’
DBC: FOREIGN RESIDENTS STREAM TO AIRPORT AS AIRLIFT BEGINS
CNN: EX-PATS EMPTY OUT OF DOMINION AS PRF DEADLINE LOOMS
GNN: MINDEF HANNE IMPLICATED IN MASSACRE OF PRF POWS
GNN: FARSTAD CONCENTRATION CAMP REVEALED; BENEDICTE NAMED AS SECRET PATRON
GNN: MINJUST CARLENE ACCUSED OF KRYDERRI POLICE TORTURE RING
DBC: PM THERESE APPOINTS ROYAL COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE ATROCITIES
CNN: DOMINION OFFICIALS ARRESTED ON WAR CRIMES CHARGES
GNN: UNITY GOVERNMENT FALLS; PM STRUGGLES TO FORM NEW COALITION
Karin tried rushing through the gaggle surrounding the entrance to Government House, but her shoe caught the curb and she lost a heel, providing the media jackals enough time to surround her.
“When will the PM respond to—”
“Will the PM resign or attempt to—”
“Does the PM have any reaction to the US helicopter deal falling over?”
“When will the PM guarantee safe air travel again, in light of—”
Karin’s primal scream cut through the cacophony, chilling even the most jaded reporters. Shaken out of their chase, they now saw a young woman, frantic to the point of tears, alone and struggling to stand up. Despite her ID, she was too young to be one of the usual Government House apparatchiks—that she was truly just a pretty young woman who was scared, angry and upset well beyond being knocked down by accident. Suddenly ashamed, they parted, giving her space.
Still shaking, she gained her balance, holding the broken shoe, aware of the absurdity of her situation. Calling for the strength only her father’s memory could supply, she stood up with straightened back. Eyes fixed forward, she practically marched through the media mob, leaving them nothing but two grim words.
CHAPTER 15: THE GOOD FIGHT
“Sparta Five, do you copy?”
“Sparta Five. What have you got, Atlas?”
“Request for assistance from Troy. Currently under assault.”
“How many Indians we looking at, Atlas?” Lars asked, already motioning Bertelsen to prepare the company to move out.
“Unknown, Sparta Five,” the headset crackled back.
“On our way, Atlas.” On his signal, twenty armoured quad bike engines revved as the company prepared to move out. Switching to the company comms channel, he briefed his company.
“OK, looks like Troy—the Gellner Farmstead—is under PRF attack. Just kicked off, so let’s get there as fast as we can. A Squad, take the old rail tracks. B Squad, we’ll take Orchard Path. C Company, you’re on the Crystal hiking trail. Get those night vision goggles on— I don’t want you running into a palm tree.”
“Roger that,” his drivers echoed, even as they sped off into the blue-black night.
Bertelsen was already on the .50, riding the quad’s shotgun passenger seat. It was at twenty minutes to reach the Gellner Farmdstead—too long for Lars’ preferences but the regiment was already stretched too thin. The tripwire response grid had to cover multiple farmsteads. The ATVs helped speed up response time, but the PRF could still do a lot of damage in the meantime.
“You hearing anything?” Lars asked his wingman over the headset. The bush ahead seemed quiet to him, with just a single farmhouse light breaking through the darkness.
Bertelsen shook his head. “No. Not a damn thing, Sarge.”
Lars geared down, dropping the quad into third as they approached the outer reach of the farmstead. What a difference even an over the hill Apache would have made right about now. But of course, Varberghad killed any prospect of that. Lars had to admit the PRF had played that hand beautifully. In what was surely a consequence of the Laws of Intended Consequences, they’d killed the deal with the US (the helis and the hope of mediation), flushed out all foreign non-diplomatic residents, pretty much imprisoned Dominioners on their own island and threw the government into chaos—all because of one hand held missile launcher and a downed cargo plane. Even there, the PRF had chosen their target with care. True, the cargo plane loss and the seven crew members was terrible— but everyone well knew the PRF could well have taken down a full passenger plane just as easily—and had chosen not to do so. Lars was beginning to reconsider his take on the PRF. They represented a far greater danger than that of a common criminal gang. His assessment had been wrong. He hoped the government was more prescient in its analysis than his own.
“Approach Troy with extreme caution,” he ordered, dismounting from the camo’d quad bike slowly. Berterlsen followed his lead, his own SIG SG 550 assault rifle thrust out in front, finger in trigger well.
“They’re gone!” came a yell. “It’s ok—they’re gone!”
In a slow job, Lars moved forward. He could hear the rest of the company converging on the farm compound as well, expertly encircling the well-lit outbuildings. An older man, hunting rifle already shouldered, waved them in.
“Sorry boys—it think it was a false alarm we had here,” the farmer apologised in relief.
Lars nodded. “No problem, Sir. What happened?”
The man pointed to bushland to his right. “There was a, well, it sounded like hell on wheels. Light up the sky and sounded like a swarm of PRF. Then there,” he pointed behind Lars, “and then, over there,” waving to the left.
“Martin, Jacobs—go check it out.” Minutes later, the troopers returned, handing him some metal fragments.
“Flashbangs,” Lars noted, then licked his headset. “Atlas, Troy secure. Looks like a PRF feint—”
“Sparta Five, roger that. Be advised Thebes under attack. Thirty PRF, possibly more, farm in danger of being overrun. Relieve Thebes ASAP.”
“Damn! This was a decoy! Mount up Boys—the Kasper Farmstead is catching hell! Sir, lock it up tight and count your blessings,” he yelled to the oblivious farmer, even as the quad bike engines filled the night.
Lars knew it was hopeless, but gunned the quad anyway. Maybe if the farmers had been able to hold them up, even a few precious minutes! But twenty minutes later, the very absence of gunfire signalled the worst. He expected a farmstead in flames but was surprised to find it quite intact. Pulling up to the central farmhouse, he got out, again expecting bodies to litter the yard. Instead, there were a group of ten, Kaspers he guessed, of various ages. One younger man was on the ground, nursing a knee in pain.
“What happened?” he asked, looking around.
A woman in her forties spoke. She seemed to be in shock, though she appeared perfectly unharmed. “They came in about half an hour ago. About thirty, maybe more. PRF. All in smart uniforms like you boys. Caught us by surprise—we were eating dinner. No chance to get our weapons. Just able to put an assistance call in before we got scrambled.”
“Then what happened?”
“They knew about the safe. How they knew about that, I have no idea. But they knew. But that’s just money, you know? We gave it to them. All of it. Twenty thousand in currency, jewellery, some coins and precious stones. That made them happy. We thought they might leave then… but they didn’t.”
“Sarge, this guy’s been shot,” Bertelsen noted, examining the kneeling man who exuded pain and helplessness.
“Corpsman, see to this man. Ma’am, what else happened?”
The woman was a true farmer’s wife. Stoic, grim faced. Handsome in her way.
“My husband’s one of you lads, but serving farther south. Always been proud of his reserve service. Wished he’d been here with us tonight though,” she sighed. “They took the girls—Ditte and Helena.”
Lars reeled slightly. It was the damp, warm night, he told himself. “Took them?” he repeated.
She nodded, handing him a photo. A pretty, smiling brown haired girl resembling the woman wore a white wedding gown and beamed at the camera, arms around another slightly younger brunette in a bridal maid’s dress holding a bouquet. “Ditte’s married to my son Leif. He’s serving in the 4th Rifle in Rodbjerg. That’s Helena, my boy Erik’s fiancée,” she pointed to the young man on the ground, who now pounded the ground in anguish.
“And they… took them, you said?”
The woman nodded dully. “First, they had some fun with them. Then, they took them.”
Lars swallowed hard. He noticed now the group included a girl in her teens, also brown haired. Her face was smeared with tears, her frown revealing braces. She was only a little younger than Kristiane.
“Fun?” He hated asking but he had to. The debriefs required a full account.
The woman nodded. “That was how Erik got shot. They pulled the girls forward and said they’d better see some bald eagles or they’d get it good. Erik, well, he tried to—you’re damn lucky they only shot you in the leg, you idiot!” This was addressed to the son, now being bandaged by the company corpsman, who responded with a bitter scowl.
“Bald eagles?” Lars asked, baffled. A memory pinged but he couldn’t place it.
“PRF says they expect Dominion girls to be bare for ‘em. To show… respect. We women don’t talk about it but we hear things. They made Ditte and Helena present themselves. They were… shaved bare. They liked that,” the mother spit with acid. “Then they made them pack some clothes and put them on a truck. Said the girls would now be serving in the PRF Comfort Corps. And that was that.” She crossed her arms, looking down.
“And then we arrived.”
She nodded wordlessly.
“Anything else, Ma’am?”
She looked up, less miserable now. “They were going to take Nadia there.” She pointed at the girl with braces. “One of the young soldiers took a fancy to her and was ready to put her on the truck too– but the officer of the group asked to see her id card. She showed it to him and he let her come back to us. I thanked him for that. He said they didn’t allow children to come to harm. Nadia’s only sixteen.”
Lars nodded thoughtfully, then switched on his headset. “Atlas, Sparta Five here.”
“Roger, Sparta Five. Status update please?”
“Troy has fallen. One light casualty, two MIAs, looks like kidnap. Please dispatch transport for evac within thirty. Got that?”
“Roger that, Sparta Five. Transport inbound within thirty minutes. Over, out.”
“Ma’am, you and your family will need to evacuate immediately. We can no longer guarantee your safety here,” he was informing the woman, but she was already busy ordering her group to prepare to depart the farmstead.
“We have a refugee centre in—”
Mrs. Kasper cut him off. “We have a place in Lund, Sergeant. We’ll be alright. Maybe one day,” she looked over the farm sadly, unable to finish. “If you can get us out of here, we’ll be fine. Just find my Ditte and Helena. Bring them back to us. They’re good girls. I can’t imagine what kind of things they’ll be…” but she couldn’t go on and instead joined her family in their departure activities.
Lars tucked the photo of the two smiling young women in their wedding attire into his tunic. Two more taken. Two more Dominion girls scored as war booty by the PRF. He ground his teeth, silently swearing to find and free them all—every single one.
An hour later, he reported to Colonel Clausen’s office, saluting promptly.
“At ease. What happened out there, Schmidt?” The colonel was, as always, calm, cool, collected.
“Bait and switch, Colonel. The PRF buildup has us scrambling andthey know it. They seem to know how our tripwire grid works. They lured us to the Gellner Farmstead, then hit the Kapser Farmstead. It was over before we got there.”
“Brigadier Thomsen’s shifting the 3rd Regulars and the 15th Reserve here—both arriving in next forty eight hours. That should help us tighten up our lines.”
“They’re throwing more into Sollopsgangdalen? It will help, that’s for sure,” Lars noted, positively.
“Not so fast. Intel suggests PRF is ramping up too. They’ve now pinned down three regular and three reserve regiments in this theatre. And they only need a fraction of their force to do it.”
“It’s whack a mole but they always seem to have the intel edge. Every move we make—”
The Colonel nodded. “The PRF seems to be clairvoyant. What is it, Schmidt?”
“Sorry, Sir. Been a long night.” Lars had gripped the desk, swaying slightly.
“Sit down. What’s on your mind?”
Lars did so, grateful. “Between us Sir, I’m starting to think we’re getting the PRF all wrong.”
“Go on.” The Colonel seemed genuinely curious now.
“Tonight. The PRF could have burned down the farm. They didn’t. One of the farmers tried to attack them.”
“And was shot for it.”
“In the leg, Sir. They could have executed him there on the spot. You know we have unwritten rules about no prisoners between us and the PRF. Off the record, of course.”
The Colonel nodded grimly, remaining silent.
“They took two girls—but they could have taken a third… but didn’t because she wasn’t eighteen yet.”
“So what are you driving at Schmidt?”
Lars shook his head. “I don’t know exactly, Sir. But the PRF raids a few months back—that’s no the PRF we’re dealing with now. These guys were uniformed, armed properly. It is as if the initial raids were meant to fail, to lull us into thinking the PRF was a joke. Now, the same insurgency is tying up six RDA regiments in Sollopsgangdalen alone.”
The Colonel’s cool gaze suggested agreement, but he remained silent.
“The way they treated the Kapsers—the farmstead—they could have gone for a pure terror play—burning everything down, executing the Kaspers in their own home—spread fear like a wildfire. But they didn’t.”
“Not sure I have one, but it seemed to me that not taking the younger Kasper girl is a clue. The PRF has rules. They’re not nice rules, but the consistency is there. As for the farmstead, it seems to me that they’re more interested in protecting it than destroying it.”
“The way you refrain from destroying your own property,” the Colonel added. It wasn’t a question.
Lars nodded. “Or not plucking a fruit before it is ripe. You wait and take it when it is ready.”
“Schmidt, for a sergeant, you’re quite the analyst.”
“The PRF must have a base in the upper Crystal Range, Sir. The raids are more frequent, the wounded are now being withdrawn, and the PRF is fielding what look like regular formations. And the girls must be there as well, working in some sort of a brothel I’m guessing.”
The Colonel sighed. “Except we’re not publicly admitting Dominion women are being used as sex slaves, Schmidt. It might derail any potential negotiated settlements, don’t you know.” It was sarcastic and disgusted in equal measure.
“So, we’re not allowed to take a shot at them? Find this base and free these girls?” Lars demanded, angrily.
The Colonel shook his head. “I’m told we’re building up and that our sheer mass will exhaust the PRF. Then they’ll come to the table. Search and destroy continues, along with tripwire defense doctrine. Pour more troops in and knocking back their raids are the orders I have. Look Schmidt,” suddenly the Colonel’s tone shifted. “I’m going to be straight with you.”
Lars sat back, listening.
“A couple months back, another regimental commander—his wife was… well, it was a PRF attack and though she survived the assault, she’s still in a sanatorium recovering. At that point, I got my family out of the country. It took some doing but I couldn’t allow them to be a way to get to me. They’re safe and that allows me to do my job. If things improve, I’ll get them back. But, at the moment, I’m not optimistic.”
“Why is that, Sir?”
The Colonel folded his hands on the battered desk, considering. “Because, Schmidt, I’m starting to think something I never, ever considered possible. I think they’re smarter than us.”