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Harsh Realities - wateryfoothill - 07-28-2021

Harsh Realities: Lesson 1
2021-07-28, circa 03:01 Miyana Standard Time

Dozens of Toonelans in civilian clothes stand in rows within the cargo hold of the transport IDN Malchus, their attention drawn (for the most part) to two people, also in civilian clothes, standing on a slightly raised platform nearer the bow of the vessel in the midst of an address to their peers. They speak with just enough volume for all listening to hear, sounding off to one another as they proceed.

Hiempsal: . . . our points of contact are not leaders of movements, propagandists, or freedom fighters. Most are not particularly vocal dissidents and those that are require even more caution. The peoples of this land have been suffering under misinformation and oppression for much longer than any of us can personally even begin to imagine. Their perspectives will be, in part, foreign to us, but this is not to be emphasized when it stands between our common humanity, even if we must always keep it in mind. Whatever stirrings have brought them forward enough to invite us into their domiciles are not guaranteed to last. Some may get cold feet. Others might become too enthusiastic and expose themselves to foolish impulses or idealistic fancies that we will need to be on guard against.

Danel: We must keep our goals in mind at all times. It is imperative that we remain humble. We listen to our hosts, not lead them. We offer advice both when it is sought willingly and when the stakes are too high not to profess our specialties. That is our role here, just as it was back home, even if we have left our Ascensions behind. No matter what our specific expertise might be, our people have selected us for this mission service in order to provide consul in times of particular volatility, with the hope we will learn something worthwhile in return. Personally, I think we are bound to.

Hiemspal: We all know the risks. Detection by the Rossian government, opposition by fanatical nationalists, mistrust by would-be allies wary of our immigrant status, and if things go particularly badly: hostility from Republican forces. If it does not threaten our lives, we should be honest with those we speak with. We are immigrants here to make homes and improve livelihoods.

Danel: The most downtrodden of these people of Rossia, our siblings, cannot be abandoned to be rendered voiceless or lured into uncritical acceptance of any new institutions that claim to govern on their behalf. These missions we embark on will likely take the rest of our lives, even if the Rossian government falls and the Republican-installed regime is short-lived. If our lives are long and merry, then we will have rendered a service to the Onaron in having brought about greater harmony between those striving to understand it. If our lives our short, then we can rest easy knowing our friends will celebrate what contributions we have made.

Hiemspal: The fishing boats will soon be prepared. It shall be risky for us to gather like this again. As the people speak, so they must be heard.

Danel: Good luck, my friends.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Two uniformed figures stand side-by-side, gazing out of the angled lower bridge windows of the 1st Imperial Defense Fleet’s aircraft carrier flagship IDN Baal with their hands neatly folded behind their respective backs. Their expressions are marked by an almost forlorn calm.

Captain Kanmi: You’re making history, Bodo.

Admiral Bodo: By being the first admiral to take a wartime fleet of our people into the eastern Goncaran Ocean or for agreeing to the Servitors’s madness, Kanmi?

Kanmi: They know what they’re signing up for.

Bodo: I am not sure that will help me sleep when the first reported deaths come back. Most of these Ascended have never seen a firearm aimed outside of the mandatory maintenance drills. It’ll be different than the airship groups.

Kanmi: I know. Did you see the most recent status report?

Bodo: Yes. We’ve got some good people working GEOINT up in those skies. Without some particularly sharp eyes we wouldn’t have caught that armed Rossian group attempting to pass themselves off as civilians. Only two escort frigates were damaged in their sabotage attempt. It’s a miracle of rapid communications it wasn’t worse.

Kanmi: And I take it you expect trouble from the Republicans once they detect us, if they haven’t already?

Bodo: Not directly. Their leadership may be unwise enough to mistake a worm for a snake, but even they can’t risk the diplomatic debacle a unilateral action against this fleet would entail. They’ll hate us for interfering, and they’ll try to watch our every move, but our wars against Rossia are separate affairs now, and we are not here to invade anyone. Orders are to merely monitor the situation, offer ourselves as a buttress for the defenseless, rescue imperiled innocents, accept the Rossian surrender when it comes, and withdraw after delivering what useful surpluses for rebuilding civilian infrastructure we did bring, however limited.

Kanmi: I don’t envy their intelligence services. I’ve gone over the plans in case they attempt to drive us off directly –

Bodo: Aye. We’re too far from home waters to try running, and while the Stratospheric Fleet and Third Air Defense Fleet might help even the odds for the opening maneuvers, if they want us dead they’ll have it.

Kanmi: I appreciate the frankness.

Bodo: I didn’t take the most thankless role in the whole of Toonela to mince words, friend.

A quiet tremor of activity returns to the bridge as the two continue their quiet break before departing ways to attend to their duties.

RE: Harsh Realities - wateryfoothill - 07-30-2021

Harsh Realities: Lesson 2
2021-07-29, circa 13:01 Miyana International Time

A lanky figure in a slim dark outfit sits opposite of a slightly stocky, balding middle-aged person, who's bright white admiral's uniform practically beams on the well-lit deck of IDN Baal, flagship of the First Imperial Defense Fleet. A small metal table and rickety folding chairs from the interior have been rather casually placed here at the foot of the carrier's island.

Admiral Bodo: . . . and that's the extent of your intelligence so far? Sixteen unaccounted for already? I'm going to need more than that, Idnibal.

Commander Idnibal: With all due respect Fleet Admiral, I think you're being insensitive to the fragility of these missions. We've already got forty-three injured or dead on our hands and the chances of any of those who made it being able to confirm their arrivals at the invitation points was always next to nil. We should count ourselves lucky that we have more confirmations than bodies.

Bodo: I suppose so, given if any of these Rossians hosting our people decide they want their new guests dead between now and who-knows-when, there's hardly going to be anything we can do about it. Sixteen off the radar now might even be good news, but I was hoping for more good rather than more of none. We've seen our fair share of Republican aircraft out here. Anything on them?

Idnibal: No reports from the missionaries we've heard from of contact with the Republican forces. Drop-off points were far from the front and all of our opposition has come from scattered Rossians who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Between the timing of your decision to begin distributing aid and the concentration of our special electronics units, there's no reason to suspect things haven't gone smoothly.

Bodo: Yes, well, it's far from the front that we've managed to pick up a few fleeing refugees up the coast away from the fighting. It's a good thing one of those volunteers stayed behind and could act as translator for us. Just barely got enough cooperation out of some of them to have them point out a good location a decent ways out from the regime's old capital in need of some increased hospital beds and temporary shelters. One of the few things we have on us.

Idnibal: Will that be all then?

Bodo: No. I need your professional opinion on something, since you've been on this beat for so long. Toonela spent nearly a year before we got to this point searching high and low for some allies within Rossia. Were the hundred or so scattered dissidents really the best we could do? Are the people here that bad off, and if they are, what's our chances of any of this sticking?

Idnibal: It was and they are. Dozens of weeks doing our level best to dig into Rossian society and I'm pretty sure the most exciting thing that happened was almost, but not quite, confirming the presence of what we thought might have been Harndonian agents operating in the area. But, I don't think it's our chances we need to worry about here, Admiral. The people that volunteered to give up their lives back home to walk up to a stranger's home on the vague notion their help was needed somewhere? They will be just fine. Their actions will find purchase with someone along the way. I'm more worried about the prospect of it "sticking", as you say, but going unsupported.

Bodo: I think you might be the wiser of the two of us, Commander.

Idnibal: We're only as wise as we know the Onaron, Admiral.

Bodo: And many unwise parts of the Onaron don't seem to care much for a fine speech?

Idnibal: Indeed.

Idnibal departs, and Bodo is shortly left with more questions they wished they had asked coming to mind, so they find more work to push them aside for the time being.

RE: Harsh Realities - wateryfoothill - 07-31-2021

Harsh Realities: Lesson 3
2021-07-30, circa 23:44 Miyana International Time

On the third floor of one of the better hotels near the political centers of power in Königsstadt is a selection of rooms long occupied by the Imperial Consul, now Imperial Ambassador, to the Kingdom of An-Astral from the Holy Empire of Toonela. It bears no indication of its use for those not informed of the status of its residents, not even security forces or special provisions at the front desk. In a room not technically a part of this selection which is the basis for the Toonelan-Imperial “embassy”, but directly adjacent to it, the light of a handheld device illuminates the round face of Muttunbaal, the recently promoted ambassador, and the tall wooden headboard behind it, as a video of the Astralian Prime Minister’s joint press conference with the nation’s monarch comes to an end yet again. The ambassador’s furrowed brow and stern expression, evidence of some degree of frustration, only relaxes when one of the other two figures in the room’s singular bed with Muttunbaal rolls over and props their own head up by placing an elbow on the pillow, so that their sleepy gaze can be more level with the ambassador’s. Now somewhat visible in the glow of the device’s backlight is a handsome face, perhaps belonging to someone in their early thirties at oldest, with strikingly blue eyes and long, currently messy dark curls atop their head. A lazy smile forms on their lips as they speak.

Ambassador Muttunbaal: I’m sorry. Did I wake you, Konrad?

Konrad Wessel-Horst: Yes, and not in the way I prefer to be woken up, either.

Muttunbaal: You are a fiendish one, teasing me so when both of us should already be asleep.

Konrad: At least I was asleep. Why were you watching that again at this hour anyway? You work too much as it is, Mut.

Muttunbaal: The Pavillion finally passed along a House affirmed policy for Toonela to pursue here for the immediate future. I thought I’d watch that video again and try to decide better for myself if I agree with it before sending it along to Minister Weiser. It’s nonsensical of me, I . . .

The other figure in the bed, one Knut Reinecker, back turned to the conversing pair, shifts and mutters slightly to themselves, but does not awaken.

. . . should go to sleep.

Konrad: Hold on, hold on! We both know Knut is a more sound sleeper than that. It’s not nonsensical to figure things out for yourself when those things are bothering you. Do you disagree with your people’s chosen policy?

Muttunbaal: Yes. Well, no. I don’t know. I cannot fault them for the decision they came to, really.

Konrad: So what is the problem?

Muttunbaal: Things were just so much less complicated before this promotion. Yes, we do not like the monarchy. Yes, we would regularly make appeals for clemency in high-profile cases of repression or ecological discussion, but we knew we couldn’t make these decisions for Astralians.

Konrad: Well, it’s not like that’s changed. You still can’t make decisions for us. Well, most of us. You could make decisions for me.

Muttunbaal: You are lucky you have such a pretty face. You know that’s not what I meant. I mean all I’m getting these days are mixed signals. A CIO agent is murdered and local organizations pledge to help investigate, so the police respond by harassing them? A sitting party of the coalition government pushes for an end to the harassment, so its partners in government stand idle for over a month, and then, when the Prime Minister orders the police to withdraw, effectively siding with the union workers, the Communist Party just up and leaves, pushing all the blame onto the others as if it hadn’t also been apart of the feet dragging? A decades inactive act of anti-democratic law has to get dragged out just for the now-minority government to continue functioning, but what’s worse: to act as the Communist Party does, so high-and-mighty because a few thousand, far fewer than the people they were elected by and to represent, are willing to take up arms on their behalf, and create this situation by withdrawing from the government in the first place, or to act as the government does, trying desperately to save a hopeful situation so that the streets don’t run red with more blood while the reactionaries are repressed and they work to eject the monarchy legislatively, but always running the risk of falling back into its clutches?

Konrad: They all mean well. I know the communists, both those inside the government and those outside, do.

Muttunbaal: I know. Honestly, so do Erfurt and the others. That just makes it worse, from a diplomat’s perspective, when they’re all either denouncing one another or seem to be on the verge of doing so.

Konrad: Wouldn’t it be nice if they could all just realize they’ll never get everything they want in the Onaron all at once? Speaking of which, you can’t figure this out and send that communication to Weiser and sleep all at once.

Muttunbaal: Nonsense. I’ll start typing up the email now. What would you do, if you were Toonela?

Konrad: I am neither Toonelan nor a diplomat.

Muttunbaal: Thankfully, you’re much more fun than either of those.

Konrad: Oh? Now who is teasing?

Muttunbaal: Hah. That wasn’t an answer though, and you know it.

Konrad: Hmm. Fine. If it were me, I’d tell the government that Toonela welcomes their pending cooperation with both the Red Fighter’s League and Toonelan intelligence services in the manhunt for Stoffler and his loyalists, but that Erfurt and the government are strongly advised that Toonelan support could be withdrawn prematurely if they cannot manage to reassert democratic control, and that means heeding the national mood by taking note of stuff like the new Astralian Patriarch, calling new elections as soon as possible to shed the stain of the charter, getting their progressive policies out to drum up support, and curtailing militant reactionaries within the municipal police forces. If they can reform a majority government dedicated to the realization of egalitarianism again after all that and the absent communists end up trying to overthrow the government anyway? Call them out for the mindless militants they’ve become and Toonela will stand by a new Republic of An-Astral.

Muttunbaal: By the Onaron!

Konrad: What? Did I give offense with how little I know of your expertise?

Muttunbaal: Not at all. In fact, you’ve practically said the same thing my fellow Toonelans conveyed in this email.

Konrad: I’m constantly shocked and appalled by how blunt your people are.

Muttunbaal: Don’t be ridiculous. It’s much more eloquent than you are. There, sent.

Konrad: Your manners are terrible. Can I go back to sleep now?

Muttunbaal: I will pamper you tomorrow to make up for it. Let’s both get some rest.

Konrad: Finally.

Muttunbaal: Thank you, Konrad. Goodnight.

Konrad: No need for thanks, Mut.

The light fades from the device’s screen as it is passed over and then tucked into a drawer. The ambassador and their partners settle back in for the rest of the calm, summer Astralian night.

RE: Harsh Realities - wateryfoothill - 08-02-2021

Harsh Realities: Fallen Crown, Flying Eye
2021-08-01, circa 12:06 Miyana International Time

The imperial ambassador had been given some vague indication from the recent communications with Weiser that Toonela’s intelligence services may be needed. Muttunbaal, of course, had done their level best to make sure their contacts with the relevant pavillions had all dotted their ‘i’s and crossed their ‘t’s, so that they needn’t worry about their unfamiliarity with an operation like a manhunt across the Serachicha Sea. None of that stopped the diplomat from practically twitching when their phone rang and the number wasn’t identified.

Ambassador Muttunbaal: This is Muttunbaal, Im- . . . Uh huh. I see. Yes, well, they have already determined that it would be better if your contact was more direct . . . No, not quite that, I’m afraid I don’t have that friend’s contact information. I shall give you a number to a mutual acquaintance . . . yes, going forward, you can speak to them without calling me . . . no problem. May your day be tranquil.

As the conversation wrapped up and they hang up, Muttunbaal breathed a sigh of relief. The intermediary assigned by GPIP would have to deal with such things going forward. The Holy Empire was, thankfully, not in the business of putting even more stress on their spokespeople than they already had to deal with.

The Astralian OpLead of Operation Finding Fallen Crown calls a new number after hanging up on Toonela’s ambassador. Hundreds of kilometers away, a satellite phone on an encrypted channel rings. A second later, a figure hunched inside a relatively cramped cockpit answers with none of the nervous edge to their voice that had dominated the previous Toonelan’s conversation with the Astralian.

‘DM-H: Yes? . . . Ah. Of course. I was told this was a possibility . . . Understood. We should have that information . . . I have other ways to be contacted, yes . . . as long as it is safe, that sounds agreeable. I’ll begin transferring them . . . of course, if you need anything else, simply hail us again. There are other craft who can descend to paint even more accurate pictures. Civilian airships sometimes get lost and must circle around as they find their bearings, yes? Such wanderings are good opportunities to paint the landscape . . . At your leisure. We do look forward to finding it. Couldn’t have fallen far, after all.

As the new information, a mix of predominately imagery taken from satellite and pseudo-satellites and observational notations, begins to be opened within the Astralian Office of the Central Intelligence Services, OpLead begins to get an idea of just how visually acute the Toonelans (perhaps rightfully accused of tending towards paranoia) really are. All six of the missing vehicles and their locations of abandonment across the peninsula are on full display.

RE: Harsh Realities - wateryfoothill - 08-03-2021

Harsh Realities: Deep & Dark
2021-08-01, circa 22:34 Miyana International Time

ʻAshtart pulled the hood of the dark blue poncho they were wearing down as they stepped into the temporary shelter, hastily but effectively enough assembled here on the outskirts of the nearly coastal Rossian village. A number of people, a mix of Rossians and Toonelans, were huddled inside the cavernous hall which was nearly the entirety of the structure. Many looked with fear to the doorway every time someone entered. ‘Ashtart could not blame them. Initial fighting with frantic Rossian patriots who were alarmed at the Toonelans invitation into the village, undertaken in the dead of night by meeting their host, left most suspicious. Only those few Rossians willing to stand out front and vouch for them, most of them refugees who had been picked up from the capital, and the clear and current inability of the Rossian Armed Forces to quickly prevent the landing here, had brokered this checkered calm in which the Toonelan mission could proceed. A young Rossian woman with dirty blond hair finally made herself known when she stood up, and ‘Ashtart gestured for her to speak with them in the small room at the far back of the shelter. All that was there was a cabinet for medicines, a couple boxes of supplies shoved into a corner, and two holding chairs facing one another.

‘Ashtart: Let us sit a moment. I have news.

Khioniya: What is it? Have your people found more of those who fled?

‘Ashtart: No. I am afraid there is little we can do for your neighbors who did not choose to stay, except hope that they are safe.

Khioniya: Then what is it?

‘Ashtart:  My people’s ships are leaving, Khioniya. Or, have left, I should say.

‘Ashtart had been doing something similar to this for too long not to notice the signs. As Khioniya jumped to her feet, mouth beginning to gap in horror, their eyes narrowed as they lunged forward and firmly placed a hand over the young woman’s mouth. The scream that would have emerged quickly transformed into muffled sobbing, and ‘Ashtart reluctantly pulled the shorter Rossian into a hug, tucking her head into their shoulder.

‘Ashtart: I am so sorry, but we cannot have a panic. You know this.

The only response from Khioniya was a jerk of the head that was more shudder than nod.

‘Ashtart: There was an emergency. An ally of our people, your people, under attack off the coast. Bodo had to leave most of the transports behind without enough crew to be operable if the fleet was going to make good speed.

The Rossian’s tears were mixing with angry cursing to spirits that ‘Ashtart recognized the names of. They pulled Khioniya tighter into the embrace, afraid she would push away soon.

‘Ashtart: Khioniya . . . Khioniya, please, these people here will need your words, your help, too much in the coming hours. I need your help, Khioniya. We are not defenseless. They left behind two destroyers not yet out of ammunition. Friendly ships still fly overhead. If we have to retreat to the beach for a few hours, they will protect us. But let it not come to that! Remember why you asked us here? Your brother, the one who died of the scarred lungs from the mines he was forced to work in? Your husband, drafted into this terrible war he did not want to join? You need only be patient a little while longer . . .

A renewed screamed into their chest was followed this time by a flailing arm smashing into their abdomen. It might have taken the wind out of someone less sturdy or less expectant and while ‘Ashtart was neither, they were still surprised at the strength. The young woman immediately deflated and hugged them tighter.

The Rossian pulled her head free of the embrace and propped it up on the Toonelan’s shoulder, eyes puffy and red, a mix of frustration and sadness on her face, turned away from ‘Ashtart’s gaze.

Khioniya: I am so tired of being patient.

‘Ashtart: . . . I know, Khinoiya. They will be back. We need only wait out the dark.


Fleet Admiral Bodo sits in a chair aboard the lower bride of the 1st Imperial Defense Fleet’s aircraft carrier flagship IDN Baal , eyes locked on a display screen as they speak steadily into a microphone carrying their instructions to the entire fleet’s bridges.

Bodo: Three hours. Three hours, nearly four, that the Leysans have been left to fend for themselves against a fleet that shouldn’t have taken any of us by surprise. The 1st Airship Group and the Stratospheric Fleets are already underway to their last known location. Took them far less time to break off detachments to attempt to hold the shelters. We’ve barely begun the journey.

Bodo paused for a moment to let the implications sink in for the ship captains under their command.

Bodo: But it’s not a long journey. We extracted ourselves as we did so we didn’t alert whatever hawks the Rossians still have roaming about hoping to kill Toonelan volunteers and their own civilians. I’m proud of you, but now isn’t the time to be proud. It’s two hours until midnight and this fleet, not one of us, has seen ship-to-ship combat. We don’t have a good enough estimation of the enemy’s fleet composition to know for sure this’ll be a fair fight, even with air support. We can only assume that the Republicans will take longer to disengage from their invasion’s far more invested landing sites. I can’t personally tell you that the Courellians holed up in their base in Goncar will even bother to come out if they detect fighting.

A few chuckles ran through the bridge at the last line.

Bodo: You’ve all been briefed by now. You know what’s about to happen. The first Imperial naval fleet to fire its guns in anger in over a century will do so not long from now, rushing forward into a surprise night action, hoping to save its allies by relying on superior detection, engagement range, and air superiority. Relying on each other to have taken enough stimulants to stay awake at the displays. Regardless of if we succeed or fail, all of the Union’s eyes will be on our dear Toonela, for better or for worse. And I don’t know about you, my friends, but I’d not only like it to be for the better, I’d like those damn Leysans to owe us a favor for once.

They paused once more, summoning the resolve to say two words they had truthfully believed mere hours ago wouldn’t be necessary.

Bodo: Battle stations, people.