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#1
Prologue

“Warrant Officer Croft, you lead the team?” The man, center of the delegation asked, flanked by a delegate from Kiravia, and another one from Burgundie.

On what would have been a bench in a court, sat three diplomats that would have served as judges. They wore business suits, and looked at least somewhat young for their late 40s and early 50s. In front of them a serviceman was presented, with a set of hazel eyes that looked detached from his youth than should be expected of anyone in their early 20s.

“...Yes sir.” The words struggled to part from his lips, he swallowed some spit and eyed around the diplomats staring across from their desks. He couldn’t read their expressions. Croft supposed it was from years of practice.

“So do you thi-” The director began, but never finished.

“Tell me more about what you found.” The Burgundian delegate derailed the Umcaran, who gaped but closed it after a look from the Kiravian overseer.

“...Sir?” Croft felt his throat become drier, “What do you mean?” He begged before coughing into the microphone.

“Describe it, in detail, please, what it was like when you found the slaves.” The Burgundian rested his jaw on his mouth as he leaned on his desk, “Let’s skip the realpolitik for a moment and go to ethics.”

“It was rainy, really rainy in the afternoon. Ten guys, I had five and was sweeping the lower floor. It was full of containers, most of them were empty but then…”

The Kiravian shuffled his papers quickly, slicing the dead silence other than Croft’s voice in the room, he looked up from his stack and his interested look said he was still listening.

“...But then?”

“Well they started shooting from inside the interior cargo hold, one had a girl with his arm wrapped around her neck. She was actually one of the uh…” He coughed again, the most uncomfortable he had been in years, “Healthier ones I guess.” His voice shook a little but his eyes were dry, he thought the meeting was gonna be emotionless.

“Do you need a moment Warrant Officer?”

“No, it’s fine, I’ll continue. Chief Walsh took the shot, not sure I could’ve trusted anyone else to make it, he managed to squeeze two rounds into the Vespian. One of them actually scraped the girl... She started screaming but it wasn’t anything… Y’know.”

“Uh… Do you know for sure if they’re Vespian?” The Kiravian asked, he was curious, there was no hostile intent in his friendly, infectious, West Coscivian accent.

“I’m…” He muttered the answer to the question away from the microphone and decided to continue with his story, “Uhm, anyways. We… Ki-” He interrupted himself to try and pick a better word, he muttered every time he went over a different word, “The other team disposed of the other one on the deck, they shot him when he was trying to gun them down with a semi-automatic rifle from the bridge-”

“No offense, Warrant Officer, but could you skip to when you recovered the trafficking victims.” The Burgundian asked, he switched to a more friendly facial expression. The Umcaran wasn’t sure how to look.

He shuddered a little and hesitated, and closed his eyes before breathing shakily out, and punctuated it all by painfully swallowing his spit.

The leading NCO, Chief Walsh cursed, maybe for the fourth or fifth time. Croft’s breathing was steady as he kept his HK416 aimed and focused on the walkway overlooking the rest of the cargo bay. He swore another Vespian was about to tear out of somewhere and begin shooting.

“Bravo 0-1, it’s Alpha 0-4, count one EKIA, say again one EKIA, topside is clear.” Their radios clicked on, the gunfire outside stopped exploding, “How you guys doing down there?”

Croft ordered for Owen to breach the shipping container. Petty Officer Owen turned the flashlight on his carbine on, he held the grip with one hand and opened the door with another.

The blood didn’t wash well against his combat gear and digital camouflage fatigues. He just let the arm holding his rifle droop but didn’t forget not to let the barrel touch the ground. He exhaled heavily into his gas mask and turned his head immediately to Crosby. Walsh couldn’t stop looking.

“Warrant Officer?” The Kiravian asked, he raised an eyebrow.

“...It was mostly girls, all of them actually. They were naked… Of course I mean. You know those old holocaust pictures where everyone’s so skinny you can see the outlines of the bones on their skin. Some of them didn’t speak English, they spoke something Slavic, Chief Owen understood it so we got some translation. Some just cried. That one crate had ten girls in it, it smelled like piss, shit, blood, everything, it was so strong we could smell it through our gas masks. There was one crying in the fetal position in the corner, and the rest of them just stood up slowly, like they didn’t believe we were here… And I almost regret having that container opened because they looked so cold.”

“Alright, that’s enough War-”

“They had a bunch of shaving cuts everywhere hair was supposed to be, except for their heads. And everyone in that crate was thirteen, we later found out. We had to get two helicopters in.” He stood up, regained his composure and felt a very odd and sudden sensation. “Sir.”

“Yeah. Thank you, I think you’ve really sold us on our decision. Uh… We’re sorry, is there anything I could-” The Umcaran was interrupted yet again.

“Actually I was wondering if I could get Umcaran citizenship for a girl. She’s nineteen, and she’s in a pretty bad spot on in Crona.” His body seemed to return to an odd sensation of relief, as if he had slid a massive anchor off his back.

“I’ll see what I can do.” The Umcaran sighed and felt defeated, he pulled his microphone away.

Croft got up and began walking down between the aisles. His footsteps pressed heavy against the carpet, with a small thud barely audible every time he continued moving. Then two Secret Service agents opened the doors that entered into the auditorium.
 
#2
It was a ironically colored white H-60 Blackhawk helicopter on the flat, featureless, helicopter-port. Outlined against the background of the cyan blue colored sky. Lieutenant Commander Walker hadn’t broken into his digital MARPAT cammies in a long time, and got an intense feeling of nostalgia when he did. He ran onto the helicopter deck towards his departing vehicle, an aircrewman opened the door and saluted him. He gave a half-assed salute back and entered the vehicle, the airman pulled the door shut and the turboplant of the helicopter began humming to life.

Walker put on his headset and the radio came to life; “Welcome to Umcaran Naval Security airlines, I’ll be your pilot, Warrant Officer Keyes. There will be no smoking on this flight, if you have over a hundred frequent flier points you may exchange them for peanuts receivable from the flight engineer - he’s the guy on the door.”

The flight engineer tossed a bag of salted peanuts towards LTC. Walker, who caught it and smiled to himself.

“As always, the air sickness bags are located in the seat back in front of you.” The pilot finished, “It’s good to see you Lieutenant Commander.” He turned back and grinned, then took his attention back to the control panel.

“Number one indicators look good, oil pressure’s fine, all spun up.”

“Did you tell the ground crew I’m getting odd vibrations in the right pedal? Looks like that’s gone and I forgot to tell them myself.”

“Yup, didn’t forget.”

“Roger, thanks, take us up.” The helicopter lifted upwards from the ground up and over the ocean. Inside it was a quiet steady humm of rotors and machinery at work but outside it was a blast of wind and a defeaning road.

There was little to no scenery except for the ocean from horizon to horizon with a few cargo ships that occasionally punctuated the stream of blue-green saltwater. Like sugar at the bottom of a cup of lemonade naval vessels appeared.

The helicopter landed smoothly onto the deck of the USS Amerigo, a Littoral Combat Ship. It looked modern, sleek, and like the epitome of modern naval surface warfare. It was the Freedom Class, monohull, relatively small for a warship but still massive. Men in MARPAT Fatigues and Skinless helmets manned chainguns and heavy machine guns exterior to the side. But other than the small arms there were also the Rolling Seaframe Missiles, Vulcan Gating Guns, Hellfire Laser Guised Missiles and Bofor chainguns, among others. How he was supposed to keep any hostages and trafficking victims safe with these was a confusing task.

The helicopter door slid open and the Lieutenant Commander exited the helicopter with a salute to the aircrew, who had made the flight more entertaining.

The captain walked onto the helicopter deck with a subordinate as his escort, “Lieutenant Commander!” The captain extended his hand, “I’m Captain Wilkins. I hear you’re my new weapons officer.” Wilkins smiled warmly and embraced Walker with a pat to his back.

“Yes sir.” Walker saluted, the Captain, obviously not accustomed to some tradition only half-assed his own salute. Wilkins had an exceptionally deep voice that reminded Walker of a book or documentary narrator, with a serious tone to it, he didn’t want to imagine what it was like being yelled at by the Captain.

“No need for that, let’s go. I’m sure you’ve read on our task?” The Captain began walking the Lieutenant Commander towards the ship’s interior, a marine aircrewman held the door open on his way to the helicopter deck. Wilkins signaled for the personnel inside the ship to remain at ease as he and the Lieutenant Commander continued walking through to reach the command deck.

“So you read the full report and testimony?” Wilkins asked, making conversation.

“I have, sounded really fucked. I’ve actually seen the pictures, of course, none too pretty.” Walker replied.

“Really threw our Navy off guard, I’m glad to see we’re getting something done to be honest. While the Air Force and Army draw expeditions all over southern hemisphere, we’ve done next to jack shit other than support and twiddle our thumbs up our assholes.” Wilkins sighed, “But this should turn out interesting. To be honest I've got zero experience with a task like this at this scale. I can battle a Navy, and rescue hostages, but seperately, not when they're combined."

"We'll figure it out."

"We have to."

***

The EA-18G Growler was an impressive electronic warfare aircraft, someone had the bright idea of taking electronic warfare equipment and mounting it on the hardpoints of an F/A-18F Super Hornet for max effect. And at 10,000 feet at midnight, there were few things that could actually touch the Growler.

“Photos only? This blows, should’ve fitted us with some HARMs, get a good squeeze on those air defense radars and follow in with a strike package…” Commander Rogoway commented, he had his head focused on the Heads Down Display, the interface the pilot had access to, “Roll Freqs to TAC-4 again.”

“Are you serious? We’re on full spectrum jamming.” Lieutenant Axe protested, but complied with the order.

“Roger, do it.”

“Already done.” Axe sighed into his breathing mask and took a brief second to observe the night sky, somewhat filtered through the tinted lens of his HMCS, “We can take the photos from here, Vespian destroyer’s already in sight.”

“Or we could opt with the fun method.”

“You’re not-” Rogoway sharply rolled the fighter jet into a dive below the cloud deck, the G Force from the maneuver shut Axe up and he just sighed and prepared the camera on the targeting pod. Rogoway powered on afterburners and slowed down upon reaching 500 feet, leveling out the aircraft, he slowly descended altitude until he was at 100 feet and twenty miles away from the Vespian destroyer.

“Nineteen miles.” Rogoway said passing the first one and descended the plane again, “We are at 75 feet above sea level.”

“Asshole clench-factor is an 8.5.” Lieutenant Axe complained, he gritted his teeth, “We are not supposed to be this low.”

“You’ve seen me do more risky stuff than this. 60 feet and sixteen miles out.”

“On afterburners, ten miles out.”

“Five miles, visual range, roll camera.” The EA-18 closed fast within visual range, Axe rolled the camera footage, a picture of the Vespian destroyer was taken every second they had acquired it visually. A few Vespian sailors were seen running to external gun platforms as the EA-18G passed by at low altitude, creating a ripple and lift within the water as it passed under the cover of night. Rogoway maneuvered the jet upwards towards the cloud deck away from the water as soon as it passed, cracking a sonic boom as it went up.
Rogoway leveled the aircraft above the clouds, out of visual range and radar acquisition capability, Axe shut off the camera. Rogoway laughed and looked back and the Lieutenant gave a quick look before he just shook his head and focused back on the electronic warfare console
 
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Ormata

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#3
The frame shook, each of the crewmen sitting in their seats as the aircraft swung-about in a lazy circle. It was an old design, admittedly, a damn old design. The old H8K was a flying boat of large proportions and large range, though, and so it was quite suited towards patrol against vessels. The engines hummed baritone and the flying vessel swung-about. Each of the crewmen had their cammies on; the aircraft didn’t warrant G-suits, not to any degree, and aside the exit were the parachutes.

Lindwurm sat in his seat, one hand on the controls and the other tightening his coat collar. He shook his head at the damn cold, turning to the bundle beside him. “When did they say the heater would be fixed?” A female voice replied “Last week. Fucking last week.” The LTC shook his head again; fucking hell did he dislike Supply at some times. Granted it wasn’t necessary, by all means, but it would be nice.

“And there’re the Umcarans,” LT Bussler, the bundle beside him, said, one hand out and on the console beside her and round face poking-through the larger overcoat. She pursed her thin lips, nodding with the vibrations of the aircraft ever so slightly and tapping on one screen. “Littoral. Right...there she is.” She pointed out, out onto the sea, and a smaller gray shape turned larger and larger.

“Nice to have company,” commented Lindwurm, wiping a strand of black hair from his face. “I wish we wouldn’t have to do this shit.” The ‘shit’ he was referring to was the damn Vespians, loading-up their aircraft, and generally existing where war would most certainly break-out were it to. Yeah that was damn great.

“You ever met one of ‘em?”

“A Vespian?”

“Yeah. Met one in...fuck, where was it? She was one of those merchantmen ladies. Buff as hell. Had some facial hair too.”

“She as weird as they say?”

“First night she brought fucking chains and a silk whip and called it ‘vanilla’. There wasn’t a second night, Bussler.”

“So that’ll be a yes, then. Fucking hell.”

There was a pause, as they passed-over the Umcaran ship. She was a good-looking ship, in Lindwurm’s opinion, with sleek lines and overall a smaller ship. It wasn’t at all like those Feaganst the Navy operated. Momentarily he wondered if those ships were larger than the Umcaran, though he mildly doubted it. Feagans weren’t massive ships, by some standards. He could see that they were performing operations as well.

The pause continued until Bussler broke it again. “Growler on radar. Vespian Destroyer, too. Growler has...yeah, Umcaran tags. Figures.”

Lindwurm snorted at this, shaking his head as he looked-over at the radar. Growler was buzzing the Vespian...figures. He was...man, less than 100 feet altitude. The pilot was seriously jealous of the little man in the little plane; he was ambling-along at some 500 feet. Meanwhile, the Umcaran was diving and pulling a maneuver that probably would rip wings. He shook his head, saying, “Weapons, are we fine and dandy?”

“Oh as fine and dandy as we’ll ever be, Skipper.”

The LTC was not eager about this.
 
#4
Nyö's Bailiwick Commander, Vice Commandant Ui'Monahan reviewed the order with his officers one more time before dispatching them to their ships. The interdiction that failed earlier in the year was actually happening. In a week, elements of the Levantine Fleet would arrive and he would be promoted to the brevet rank of Theater Rear Admiral, a position only awarded during royal declarations of war or national emergency. The naval station was buzzing as the combined naval and Revenue Guard fleet was prepared for action. This would be the first action to deploy out of the partially completed Nyö/CinVhetin Joint Naval Facility. The Ormatan Liaison Officer, who had been by Ui'Monahan's side during the briefing, commented that the island was beautiful when the air was thick with the whir of activity. Ui'Monahan smiled, thinking the same thing and nodded gently. The clamor of the sailors below was exciting and he felt like the king of his own little kingdom.

Burgundian Naval Frigate Dorft
Commander Hrolf Refsson checked over his check-list one more time. The Dorft was his last command. His retirement was being processed and he was looking forward to spending more time with his grandchild. His daughter had been emailing him for months after the birth of her son telling him that if he didn't retire now then this grandson would never know what he looked like. He eventually complied. He had reached out to the high school friend who had offered him a job as a reserve ferry captain in the same county as his daughter. Plus his wife had refused to leave Sodermark when he has been reassigned, so Sturmhavn, where his daughter lived, was much closer to his wife then Nyö.

As the frigate pulled away from the dock he thought of how much he would miss the adrenaline rush of working in the "Last Bastion of Civilization" as the Burgundian Navy had deemed the posting on Nyö. He had only been on post for 9 months but he had been deployed on a war-time patrol 11 times due to Vespian aggression. He thought about what it would be like to pilot a ferry after 32 years in the Burgundian navy, the last 14 on fast frigates. He rolled his eyes at the thought of how boring his life would soon be.

The port was bustling as the smaller faster boats pulled into the bay, each one following a different tack as they exited. "Dorft to Nyö Command, do you copy?"

"This is Command we copy."

"We have the lead, see you in the deep."

"You have the lead, copy."

"All ahead full." The engines roared as the ship gained speed, 20, 25, 30 knots. "Hold her steady." The ship maintained its cruising speed as it sped to the head of a column of 3 other frigates who each matched the speed in turn.

After a few hours of cruising he checked with the radio operator, "Are we in range of the Umcaran fleets comms?" "Yessir."

"Taskforce Whitewater this is Burgundian detachment Echo, permission to join the fleet."
 
#5
"Praise the Goddess of Storms!" exclaimed a priestess of the Vespian faith as the crew of the sadistically christened Rapist-class destroyer, TVK Vīnaševa, knelt before her. The crew, all female with the exception of the elder male officers in the front of the crowd, all waited anxiously for the sacrifice to their goddess as they moved to hunt for the heathens who dared harm their trade vessels.

"Bring forth the infidels! Let them feed the gods!"

Twelve Cronan natives were dragged from the shadows of the ships inner quarters, and before the priestess and her acolytes, as they prepared to "present" them to the deities of Vespia. The crew of the ship sought the blessing of Shokana, the Goddess of Storms, Floods, and Earthquakes, as the TVK Vīnaševa steamed into the maws of the heathens.

"My god no! Please! I have money, properties, anything you want. Please don't kill me!" One of the Cronans knew very well the process of presentation the Vespians performed for their gods. The pain, blinding in agony and long in suffering, would last for several hours before the victim would succumb to the suffering, afterwhich the flesh and the muscles would be stripped from their body over a period of days as a "feast" for both the Vespians and their gods.

"My sister," stated the head priestess, "I require a blade."

"Of course." responded the young acolyte as she left to acquire the implements.

As the acolyte prepared the knives for the sacrifice, the Cronans began crying and praying to which deities they worshiped. The Vespians were not known for their mercy.

Taking interest in the fear of the youngest Cronan in their possession, no more than ten and captured when he got lost along the shoreline playing with his friends, the Vespian priestess walked over to him seeking to reassure him of his impeding death.

"Little boy, stop crying," said the priestess in a soothing maternal tone as she wiped away his tears, "This is a good death. We are saving you from the 'White Horror' that seeks to devour this realm of its purity and sanctity. We are doing this to save you."

The priestess kissed him and patted his head, believing wholeheartedly the truth of her words. In spite of this "reassurance", the priestess' words had no purchase with the young boy. who only began to sob even louder and soiled his clothing.

"Leave the boy alone you psychotic bitch!" shouted the eldest Cronan. He had witnessed many prior actions from this member of Vespia's īonâkī priesthood. Many found delight in their actions, and this Cronan had lived long enough to despise them for it.

"That child has done you no wrong! Why the boy?!"

"The boy's blood is young and vigorous," the priestess coolly retorted, "The gods thirst is insatiable, for they hold back the evils that you and I can never comprehend."

Immediately following her grim and laconic statement, the priestess reached for the old man, and in what appeared to take forever to complete, and ripped his throat out with her teeth. The old Cronan howled in agony as muscle and skin ripped, arteries burst, and nerves tore asunder. The Vespian crew simply watched in awe as the priestess murdered the old man in a slow and brutally painful way.

After killing the Cronan, the priestess stood up, and not even bothering to wipe the fresh blood from her chin, she took the blade she had been waiting for from her acolyte who had been watching the entire debacle in glee. At last, in a cold and infernal voice, the priestess proclaimed: "Let the gods feast!"

Blood, gore, screams, and tears would follow her words. The Vīnaševa would be on the search for more victims as it executed the will of the Tazen.
 
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Ormata

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#6
Captain Bogumil Pollak
Southern Aquilonem Sea
ONV Freundel


The sounds of a helicopter began upon the decks. The vessel, a rather larger thing whose design and hull was a strong representation of those in-use some eighty years ago, moved-along at a reasonable pace. That is to state that it seemed to be screaming-along, to the hull. Gray-uniformed sailors hung-about on the decks, those those upon the aft of the vessel were notably more active than the rest. A smaller helo, a Ka-29, lingered onto the deck from it’s patrol, the flight crew scattered about as it touched-down. They rapidly moved to secure it, just as the ship hit a larger wave. A sentry watched all this, rifle over his shoulder. In the distance the cruisers Westlen and Salzding sailed, all information, all cutting across the sea.

Upon the bridge was the captain, a Bogumil Pollak. He was a younger sort than one would expect, standing at parade rest as he was. One might think he was a poster child for the Pioneer Camps, for the Army and the rest. He was most certainly built like a soldier, with wider shoulders and a stance one could have plucked from the military recommendations for how one approaches the Premier. The man’s uniform, just as gray as those outside, was smooth, too, with just a light touch of red fringe, and his peaked cap was on the table.

“I can’t believe this,” the Captain said, shaking his head slightly. “Whoever would have thought the demons would have come from their submissive haunts?”

The question was a rhetorical one, though the captain had been places few others had. He had been with the Ghazi-Aay’han Canal construction, saw first-hand what sort of people were there and what sort of Vespians were there. They were all bastards, every last Vespian, and while they had been under strict orders to not go past the lines, well...the captain had bent the rules. He saw a Vespian burn a slave’s groin with a hot iron, once, in Hergadia. That had been a particularly barbaric evening, though the Captain had found that, despite their devil minds, the Vespians did bleed.

He’d killed that slave, too, to put her out of her misery, before puncturing the corpse’s bodies and breaking the joints to bury them. That had been a particularly barbaric evening, and Pollak had thrown-up afterwards. He didn’t leave the lines after that. He didn’t want to see after that. The Vespian was a devil, that was true.

“They’ve grown bolder,” came his XO’s response. He was older, a man who’d trained under Burgundian and Yytuskian tutelage and demonstrated both styles of command.

“Damn them. Damn them to hell. Any reports?”

“None yet, Captain.”

“Sir, Burgundian detachment Echo at position Igloo-Papa-Quebec is within comm distance.” The Nav Officer said from her console, tapping-away on the keyboard. On the navigation table, electronic since the 90s, and Position IPQ appeared. “Taskforce Whitewater is also within comm distance.” The marker denoting this also appeared, while Position VNV denoted the Vespia Destroyer.

“Maneuver to Whitewater and request permission to join the fleet.”
 
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