Monday, 17 August 2015

Translated Extract From "The Motherland Calls Collect", Memoirs Of Russian Chief Of Defensive Forces Ricsputin Crosschev (Part 3 of 3: Balls To The Wall)

One of last English phrases I came across when learning the language was "sell out". Composites like this tend to come late in language learning because of the difficulties they present. The term can be both a noun and a verb, depending on context. It has a host of different nuanced implications depending on who or what is saying it, and about whom or what. A political sell out and musical sell out share almost no similarities beyond the anger of those who judge themselves betrayed, And on top of everything, so much about western society is based on the axiom that selling things is a fundamental good, the idea it can be so easily turned into an accusation of malpractice is difficult to process.

But if there was ever anyone it was easy for me to recognise as a sell out, it was President Heywardo.

I didn't know this at the time, of course. The full story of how he sold first his citizens to the aliens, and then his military when they found out - that he was forced to rely on Colombian troops to protect his borders whilst he turned his own country into a cattle-market - had yet to reach Russian ears, or mine at least. All I knew then was that he was my only chance of getting out of China with my career intact.
"A strange way to run a diplomatic service," I said to President Kniwu, with all the innocence I could muster. "Or did your secretary double-book you, Ambassador?"
Revyu looked at me with venom, and then at his Premier with distinct worry.
"I am so sorry, Mr President. I don't know how this could have happened."
I had a fair idea. Selling your people en masse to an alien enclave presumably entitled you to some perks in terms of travel arrangements.
I didn't doubt Kniwu would suspect the same thing, but this wasn't the time for either of us to bring it up.
"Mr Revyu, please escort President Heywardo to rooms equal to his station," Kniwu said with impeccable courtesy. "Mr President, I will speak with you very shortly."
"Calumny!" Heywardo roared in response. "Infamy!"
Despite his obvious and immense agitation, the man who once led Venezuela allowed himself to be led away by Revyu, though he muttered darkly about blood in the streets right up until the doors closed behind them.
"I beg your forgiveness", Kniwu said once the sound of outraged despot had died down. "Now, what were we discussing?"
"We were discussing a mutual disarming of nuclear weapons," I told him, despite knowing full well he had not forgotten. This was Kniwu's way of smoothing over the bump we had just encountered, and been yelled at by.
"Yes indeed," he said, nodding. "Alas, you heard my ambassador."
"I heard him," I agreed, "But I see no reason to credit him. We stand on the brink of a historic era of world peace. Consider what we have seen. Alien activity is at its lowest since their arrival, and America has never been interested less in hegemony than it is right now."
"And the Middle East?" Kniwu said, his eyebrows raised. "Surely you're not going to tell me the situation there is anything short of calamitous? The Israelis are just looking for an excuse to start launching their own nukes, and I don't think it'll even need to be a good excuse. A cloudy day, perhaps a stubbed toe, a favourite show cancelled before the characters had time to develop. That's all it would take."
"I don't think so," I told him, trying desperately not to think of burning buildings with Russians trapped screaming inside. "From what I understand the entire Israeli government is one public fart away from being swept out of power. This isn't the twentieth century any more; it's hard to insist Iran are the biggest threat to the Promised Land when ultra-advanced alien races of unknown numbers and destructive power have started kneeling towards Mecca."
"'Ultra-advanced alien races of unknown numbers and destructive power', as you say," Kniwu said. "And yet you want us to toss aside our defences?"
"Not all of them," I replied. "Just a few. Mr President, you and I both know the aliens aren't going to be taken down by ICBMs. Our best pilots have interception records against these things that look like our planes were flown by rhinos. Throwing nuclear missiles at them is going to be like trying to drop feathers on a bullet train."
I leaned in towards him, just fractionally, and lowered my voice.
"This is it, Mr President. A moment they will remember forever. The first three-way multilateral disarmament plan in the history of our planet. And I promise, once this is done, I will talk to the Indians about joining us. They might do it simply to annoy the British.  What do you say?"
Kniwu looked at me for a long moment. He nodded once.
"General Buan?"
Buan sighed. "I would have dearly loved to utterly annihilate India. But it's like keeping your teenage clothes in case you're ever thin enough to fit into them again. You should just give it up and do something more useful with them. Give them to someone younger."
"Just so we're clear," I said, "You're talking about dismantling your ICBMs, not handing them in to a charity shop so New Zealand can get them at a discount."
Kniwu smiled. "You'll get your scalps, General. Just make sure the Indians get their hair cut too, if you wouldn't mind."
"Absolutely," I said, trying to keep my profound relief out of my voice. "It's second on the list."
"And first, if I might ask?"
I resisted the urge to reach for my phone.
"I'm doing everything I can to end the horrible spectre of nuclear war," I told him. "That doesn't mean there is no-one in this world I don't want killed."

The Chinese were as good as their word. I'd not even touched back down in Moscow before my sources confirmed a dozen Chinese nuclear weapons of various types had been irreversibly pulled to pieces. The thrill of learning this was unlike anything I'd ever felt before. I still can't find words to describe it all these years later.  It was like spending your whole life being told everyone in the world was a prisoner, and then learning you'd stumbled on the key. I am not a fool. I was under no illusions that I was ushering in a new age of intercontinental skipping through flowery meadows. But for all I feared Mercoyan's long-term plans, I was in my own way no less of a traditionalist. When you fight a man, you need to see the man. He might be in a tank, or a jet, but his presence is still felt, the literal beating heart at the centre of multi-million pound collection of metal alloys. Pushing a button to obliterate his home, his city, perhaps his very culture, is simply not who we should be.

Naturally, this was something I kept entirely to myself.

Usually, my trips to the Duma were an opportunity to, if not unwind, then at least feel tense somewhere I was less likely to be shot at. This time, though, events overtook me. Ambassador Kellzlov met me almost the moment I walked inside the building. She did not look in the happiest of moods.
"Where have you been?" she asked, her tone suggesting she was well aware the answer must be some subset of "Not where I was supposed to be."
"I'm afraid that's classified", I told her, hoping whatever was bothering her was sufficiently important that she wouldn't press further.
"Fine, keep your secrets," she sniffed. "I do know where you weren't, though. You weren't in the Mediterranean."
"What makes you say that?"
"Because if you were in the Mediterranean, you'd have felt the ground tremors reaching shore from the vast tectonic upheavals tearing apart the sea floor as the Dolphin God is born."
The pause that followed was not so much pregnant as discussing college applications.
"Are you hazing me, Ambassador?" I asked, "Because we've been in government for years, but if you've only just got around to it, I understand. You're a very busy woman."
"This isn't a joke," Kellzlov insisted. "I don't know what it is other than absolutely terrifying. Something is rising in the Med, and no-one has any idea what it is."
"If no-one knows what it is, why are we calling it "the Dolphin God"?" I asked.
"We don't even know that. I assumed the Atlantic Conclave came up with the name, but they don't have any idea what it is either. They've promised to investigate further, but..." She shrugged. "It's a long way down."
"What about the Pacific dolphins?" I asked. "If the Atlantics don't know what's going on - and I'm not for a second suggesting we should trust the word of a dolphin; those things are arseholes - maybe they've got some ideas."
"It's entirely possible," Kellzlov said. "I'd be happy to enquire further. You know, if the entire Pacific Conclave hadn't already fled into space."
"Fled into space?" This was profoundly disturbing news. When one half of the members of one half of the mammal groups who have gained sentience check out of Earth en masse, it's hard to convince yourself that things are running smoothly. Like rats leaving a sinking ship, I thought. Did the dolphins have a similar phrase, I wondered? Or did they watch the rodents fleeing their beleaguered vessels and wonder why the little creatures were so keen to not come and visit?
"This classified place you've been to," Kellzlov said. "Have they outlawed newspapers?"
"I've been busy," I said, sighing. "I still am busy, so if we could move this along? I'll send elements of the Biscay fleet towards Gibraltar; they've been on pollution duty for a long time now, some kind of blasphemous fish deity would make for a welcome change. Was there anything else?"
"Just one thing," Kellzlov replied. "Barely worth mentioning, really.
"A press release from the aliens. Disarm completely or we will exterminate your race."

The best press conferences are as short as possible. Actually, the best press conferences don't involve the press in any way whatsoever, but we can't always get what we want. I chose Red Square for the locale, and organised it with as much speed as possible. The resulting rush would raise red flags, I knew, but that couldn't be helped; I had to boost the signal as much as possible to ensure that, one way or another, it reached into space. Besides, the quicker I got it done the quicker it would be over, and the fewer journalists would be able to show up, like flies on my corpse.
Or humanity's corpse, I suppose. We would just have to see.
"Ladies and gentlemen," I said, my mouth as close to the microphone as possible and my eyes looking anywhere other than the collection of ambulance-chasing chair-sniffers gathered in front of me, packed in close to share warmth and aid quick dissemination of lies. "I will read a brief statement. I will take no questions.
"For the last few weeks representatives of our government have been negotiating with the People's Republic of China regarding our nuclear stockpiles. In response to the Americans' unilateral disarming of several of its nuclear weapons, our country has followed suit on a missile-for-missile basis.  China, with its smaller nuclear capability, has dismantled some of its warheads on a two-for-one basis. Further negotiations are planned, and we reach out to each and every nuclear power to join us in making the world a safer place. Thank you."
And there it is, I thought as I strode from the podium. The cat, as the English say, was out of the bag. I wish it had been available to hold the press conference. Still, the truth had got its boot on. All that was left was to see who started shouting at me first.

Obviously, it was the Americans. Somehow they had come to the conclusion that western unilateral disarmament was a shining symbol of benevolent leadership, but eastern unilateral disarmament in response represented an unacceptable lapse of communication. Apparently with the nuclear age coming to an end the Americans were putting all their effort into weaponising hypocrisy.
"What the hell is going on over there?" some American dignitary bellowed at me down the phone line. I never bothered learning his name. He was loud and arrogant and utterly without self-awareness if that helps identify him, though I can't possibly see how it would. "We promised the whole world we would reduce our stockpile to the size of Russia's, and now you've undercut us!"
With my secret now out, I was tempted to be rather less circumspect on this matter than I had previously been forced to. But another round of disarmament talks would be an obvious good, now that the aliens were rubbing together their tentacles in front of their giant red buttons.  You would hope that the threat of utter human extermination would make Washington less petulant, less willing to cut their nose of to spite their face by having it obliterated by aliens. But childish pride is a fragile thing, and I had no wish to bet my life that there was nothing I could do that would break it.
"My apologies," I said, trying not to think of the generations of dead ancestors howling in outrage. "There was a mis-communication through standard channels. It was never our intention to announce our agreement with the Chinese to the world without letting you know first."
"That wouldn't have made us happier," the American replied. "It would just have made us angry sooner. We had a deal."
"I'm afraid no word of that deal reached us on Earth whilst our President is off-world." There seemed little harm in confessing Mercoyan's whereabouts; whatever my feelings of contempt for the Americans, I was sure the CIA had sufficient competence to have worked that fact out for themselves. "I'm sure you can understand there is not always time to discuss our intentions with every other country-"
"Every other country?"
"-But we hope for further rounds of nuclear talks, and of course hope also that the United States will be fully involved."
I hung up before the American could comment further. There was only so much bullshit I could eat in one day, and this was just an entrée. Our fearless leader was coming back from the moon.

"How fares Earth?" our President asked once we were all gathered.
"Can't we start with the moon?" Creltsin asked.
"The moon was a waste of time," Mercoyan replied. "An awful lot of show and nothing concrete. If the aliens have any wondrous technology they could tempt us with, they're hiding it very well. We'll keep communication lines open, but..." he shrugged. "A con man with six-eyes and fox ears is still a con man."
"Earth, then," I said. "The Israelis have bombed Iran. Several of our people - our people - are dead. I'd like to discuss response scenarios."
"Response scenarios?" the President sounded like he had taken a bite of something sour, but was rolling it around in his mouth to decide whether he could still palette it. "I am open to suggestions."
"Are you?" I asked, wondering if Mercoyan's visit to the aliens had involved some gentle mind-whisking.
"Not really," he responded. "That was my way of saying I've no sensible ideas as to what we could do about this, and I'm betting you don't either."
He had me, I realised. Ever since I learned of the attack I had been conducting reprisal raids and bombing missions in my head, but this wasn't planning, it was fantasising. Making Israel pay would be easy enough, but doing that without avoiding a new world war would be close to impossible, and that was before factoring in the trigger-happy aliens watching this world with cold, inhuman eyes.
Nevertheless, someone had to speak for the dead. That was always my least favourite part of a general's job, but a part of my job it was nevertheless. Who else could I trust to do it?
"So we do nothing," I said, hoping the sneer in my voice would paper over any leaking signs of defeat.
"Of course we don't do nothing," Mercoyan said, an edge of impatience in his voice. "We just don't to anything that involves guns, bombs, tanks or planes."
"So what does that leave us with?"  I asked. "Harsh language?"
"That's a diplomat's weapon," Oxfolov pointed out. "And this is definitely a war for diplomats."
I nodded wearily. He was right. They were all right. There was so much more going on right now, so many fronts on which we had to gain ground, or at least lose none. Starting a new war against Israel was strategic suicide; maybe other kinds of suicide too.
All of which was cold comfort. Logic empties no graves.
"Anything else, then?" the President asked.
"There's something rising in the Mediterranean," Kellzlov told him. "Something to do with the dolphins. We're checking it out."
Mercoyan frowned.
"Is it hostile?"
"I don't know," Kellzlov said with a shrug. "If it is it'll have to chew through the Balkans to get to us, though, so whatever it is, we'll at least see it coming."
"Like the dinosaurs saw the meteorite," I mumbled, but no-one heard me.
"Very well," the President said. "If there's nothing more, I think we're done here."
My eyebrows rose so fast and far I worried they'd escaped my face, like some obscure animated character in a mind-bogglingly ill-conceived children's show. No-one had told him about the nukes. Needing no further encouragement, I headed for the door as quickly as decorum would allow.
It was time to pay the Indians a visit.

(It was whilst I was on the plane to Delhi that word reached me that the entire Israeli government had fled into space. The gains of eighty years of blood and death relinquished in a heartbeat. What wars and rockets and intifada could not demolish had been gladly pushed aside for plush leather seats on a flight through the troposphere. Apparently every policy Tel Aviv ever enacted when building walls, bombing buildings, laying land-mines, constructing settlements, or planning missile shields all contained in the small print "Until we get a better offer".)

I had anticipated problems following my touchdown on Indian soil.  The state of near-war that existed between them and our Chinese allies was more fraught than ever, and I assumed our enmity-by-proxy would lead to cold shoulders and dismissive sniffs. Instead, my latest hosts were open and welcoming. Naturally, that made me suspicious, but I quickly discovered that what they were hiding wasn't hostility at all. It was something vastly more concerning; incompetence.
"How can we help you, General?" asked Ridlak, my counterpart in Delhi, as I sank into the chair he gestured to. The conference room he had chosen for this meeting was airy and sparse.
"You've heard about the three-way nuclear disarmament, I'm quite sure," I said. "It's a good start; some sixty warheads gone forever." I watched Ridlak carefully. He nodded, and nothing about the nod was insincere.  "But we can do more, and we'd like India to join in the talks.
"We'd like you to be the fourth country to announce a commitment to disarmament."
There were a lot of possible responses I was expecting to my suggestion. Anger at my presumption. Demands for explanation as to why I was in Delhi instead of London or Paris. Accusations of racism, veiled or blatant. A string of blistering yet inventive invective about their Pakistani neighbours and how they were just waiting for an opening to turn their eastern neighbours into next decade's clichéd horror setting.
What I got instead was this.
"Oh, we already got rid of all our nukes,"
"I'm sorry?" I said, astonished. "My ears haven't popped yet from the flight over, so I thought you might have said that-"
"We got rid of all our nukes," he repeated, smiling at my bafflement. "Think about it, General. Really think. It's like leaving a gun in your kid's nursery, except there a billion people in the nursery and your gun blows up cities."
I tried shaking my head violently to clear the fog I felt descending. It didn't help.
"But this is impossible," I insisted. "Our intelligence assets have been staking out every one of your likely nuclear installations for decades. That you could have demolished them all and no-one notice... did you do it all at once, or in phases?"
"All at once, I think. Soon as we took power."
"You think?" This was rapidly becoming surreal. "How is it you can't know that? Didn't you observe the decommissioning of the warheads?"
"Not all of them, no."
"Then how many did you see?"
"Roughly, or exactly?"
"Roughly's fine."
"Then roughly none of them."
Sometimes a person has literally no idea how badly they are asking to be punched in the face. This does not mean you feel sorry about punching them. Somehow on this occasion I managed to avoid temptation. When I die and Saint Peter is mulling over whether to let me into paradise, this incident will feature as a central plank of the case for the defence.
"So if you didn't see them go, and we didn't see them go, did they really go at all?"
"Is this a riddle?"
"No, it's a terrifying security lapse."
"The president assured me our nuclear capability was gone."
At last, progress!
"Could I speak to him about this, then?"
Ridlak nodded. "Let's go see him now."
"He won't be too busy?"
"For this?" He looked at me like I was simple. "This is about nuclear weapons, General. That's something you have to take seriously".

"Hello!" said President Healel as we entered his office, bounding from his chair like a dog and shaking my hand violently.  "How can we help our Russian friends?"
After reclaiming my throbbing hand I sat in the proffered chair. Healel and Ridlak sat likewise.
"I've come to discuss your nuclear capabilities," I told him.
"But we have no nuclear capabilities," Healel said, beaming. "You can't leave things like that lying around. Dangerous. Messy. Ugly. Plus no-one wants to be turned into a mutant, do they?"
"So you decommissioned them?" I asked, sailing past as much of those comments as I possibly could.
"Absolutely. Day one. Boom. Well, not boom; obviously.  Booms were exactly wanted to avoid. Booms and mutants. And face cancer."
"Did you observe the decommissioning yourself?" I continued doggedly.
"Dear me, no" Healel replied. "Why would I want to do that. Watching missiles pulled to bits sounds awfully boring. Launching one, now that would be exciting." He began flailing his arms wildly. "NYOWWWWM! WEEEEEEEEE!  KA-BOOOOM! That'd be amazing. But getting rid of them; who cares?"
"So who did observe the process?" I asked, feeling my spirit sink into my feet.
Healel looked confused. "It wasn't you?" he asked Ridlak.
"It wasn't," he replied. "You wouldn't even disclose the locations of our nuclear sites, remember?"
"Of course I didn't!" Healel said. "I've no idea where they are."
I was beginning to hope a nuke went off right there and then.
"So who does know where the warheads are, and what shape they're in?" I asked.
The two Indians looked at each other.
"Maybe..." Ridlak began "Maybe there's something in my files about this?" he ventured hopefully. "We could go check it; I have a system."
"Yay!" Healel said, clapping his hands in delight. "A field trip!"

There was I suppose a certain amusing irony in the fact that the Ridlak's office looked like a bomb had hit it. I confess I was not really in the mood to appreciate it. The filing system Ridlak had mentioned seemed in practice to mean "in the office and not yet actually on fire".
"Right," Ridlak said. "It must be here somewhere. Let's start at the bottom of these piles."
"What's at the bottom of those piles?" I asked.
"The things I threw down first. My system is less alphabetical than it is geological."
"Shouldn't we start with wherever you're keeping the launch codes?" I suggested.
"President Healel has the launch codes" he replied.
"Um..." said the President. "Not actually. I don't let people hand me sheets with important things on it. I tend to chew paper when I'm nervous."
"Calm down," Ridlak said soothingly. "If I have the codes they'll be in here somewhere too - AH! Here they are, see?"
Ridlak had liberated a small brown envelope from the bottom of a stack of papers that had now collapsed in an expanding cloud of what looked like field reports and requisition requests, though of course I couldn't read them. From the envelope Ridlak triumphantly pulled several relief maps of what I presumed were locations in India, and what looked roughly like our own launch codes, though in general Russian protocol suggests avoiding writing them down on the back of takeaway menus.
"Ta da!" said Ridlak proudly. "Now we can find the warheads and disarm them. Feeling better now, Mr General?"
"Not in the slightest", I said. "I've just learned that for years the Indian government hasn't been checking up on their nuclear security because they assumed they had no nukes to secure. I won't be happy until every one of the warheads is visually confirmed and dismantled."
"This isn't my fault!" Ridlak protested, sounding wounded. "Anyone could have made the mistake I did. I thought this envelope had a bribe in it from the last guy. Hindi has the same word for "nuclear device" and "gigantic illicit backhander"."
"Is that remotely true?" I asked.
"It is not."
"I'm leaving," I said, exhausted. "Please promise me that once you find your nuclear weapons you will send me evidence that they have been dismantled, will you?  Can you do that for me, General Ridlak? President Healel?"
"Yay!" Healel said again, clapping even harder this time. "A pen friend!"

Despite my trials in Delhi, the Indian government moved with remarkable swiftness to demolish their nuclear arsenal; once again I had the evidence I needed before my plane had even set me down in Moscow. India was now no longer a nuclear power. I returned to the corridors of Russian power feeling better than I had in months. Obviously, the universe had no intention of letting me get used to the sensation. I hadn't even reached my office before the next hammer-blow fell.
"General Crosschev?" came a voice behind me in a narrow, unimportant hallway. I turned round to see a man, African by look and accent, small and unprepossessing. He radiated introversion to the point it felt like he was avoiding my gaze even whilst he stared straight at me. This was the kind of man you could meet on the street, ask for directions, and forget them so immediately and so totally you can fool yourself into thinking you figured out the way to your destination on your own. This was the kind of man whose mother might almost have forgotten to give birth to him.
In other words, he was exceedingly, desperately dangerous.
"You're a long way from home, friend," I said, shifting into a stance exactly halfway between casually relaxed and I-will-burst-your-windpipe. "Somewhere in West Africa, if I were to guess."
"Angola", the man said. "And alas, I am not so far from home as some of my colleagues. This is no small task with which we've been entrusted. I was hoping to speak to your president."
"A common desire," I replied. "It tends not to last long once the process starts. Our president is currently indisposed". In point of fact, he was back on the moon. He claimed he was pressing the aliens to explore further any advantages they could provide us with, but I heard from other sources that the alien space vodka was very good.
"Then perhaps I can speak to you instead," the man said. He walked slowly towards me for a few paces and I felt my heartbeat increase with each footfall. "You are of course aware of the situation in Egypt."
"Naturally," I said. Actually I hadn't anything approaching the slightest clue as to what was happening in Egypt, but I was smart enough not to admit that. It's remarkable how those who will begrudge you the smallest scrap of new information will gleefully run through in ludicrous detail those facts they think you already know.
My Angolan visitor did not disappoint. "The Egyptian space-cruiser is close to completion; we estimate their first extra-atmospheric test flight will be within the week. When that happens, everyone on the planet will die. One or more of the alien factions has made that very clear. The first human to enjoy interstellar flight will murder every single one of her fellows back home."
"And you want us to stop it?"
"We want you to obliterate it in a radioactive cloud", the Angolan pressed. "The Egyptians must have nothing let they can recover, and no will left to recover it. This is about the safety of our species. If there is ever an occasion in which a nuclear weapon can morally be deployed, surely it is for something like this?"
"But why ask us?" I said. "Murdering people in the Middle East and insisting they be grateful is surely a quintessentially American hobby."
"I have a colleague in Washington", the man replied, "And another in Beijing. We fear however that they lack the will. The Chinese are too concerned about the Indians, the Americans too involved with themselves."
"I see," I said, as neutrally as I could. "I will take this under advisement."
"Advisement," he repeated sourly. "You mean you'll delay. Delay at a time our entire species is at risk." As his anger rose, much of his unassuming facade melted away. I moved my stance further from the casual end of the scale and much closer to the one in which trachea-shredding was paramount.
"We have protocols, sir," I pointed out. "I can't launch a nuclear missile without presidential approval. It simply cannot be done. I will bring this matter up with President Mercoyan when he returns, and I will take advantage of the time in-between to gather more information on this situation."
"More information," he sneered. "What more information could you possibly require?"
"You mean other than the word of a man I've never met who wants me to murder millions of people simply on his say so? A man whose only credentials is that he's got into this building without being detained or shot? I know more about Baryshnikov than I do about you, sir, and I wouldn't launch an ICBM on his insistence either." I paused for a second. "Though I suppose it would make for a rather more interesting conversation."
The mask dropped completely. The man took two paces toward me and adopted a combat stance. I did the same.  For several seconds we stood there, unmoving, staring. A Russian and an Angolan in a Mexican stand-off. Perhaps the hippies were right. The aliens really were bring us closer together.
Eventually, my opponent relented, shrugging as his pose dissolved back into his everyman aura.
"Fine. Talk to your president. Ask your questions. But waste not a second. We need a nuclear weapon. We'd much rather be given one, but we will take it if we must, and to hell with the consequences. That's the one unquestionable advantage of World War III."
He turned and headed back down the corridor, turning his head to offer his parting shot.
"It means humanity will still be alive to fight it."
I watched him go. Briefly I considered checking into how he got into the building, but I doubted I would ever get a satisfactory answer.  Besides, it seemed to me that he was the last Angolan I needed to be worried about, were his story true. I tripled the guard on our nuclear facilities, prepared agents for deployment into the Sinai, and resolved to wait either for information from those teams or for the return of Mercoyan, whichever came first. 

I was still waiting when the metaphorical klaxons sounded, and it was all over.

It was all over. Not in a hail of nuclear weapons or a lethal deluge of alien ordnance. Various disgraced politicians who had worked so hard to make the previous administration the paralysed, bleeding mass of corruption it was had found new sponsors and new puppets. Whilst we struggled with Israel and India and argued about Angola and Egypt - whilst a new horror arose in the seas of Europe intent on killing us all - they used these new resources to exert sufficient pressure on the Duma to get a snap election called. Much was said about our failure to cow the Americans (by which they meant we didn't actually start shooting Yanks over Moldova). More was said about our "craven retreat" in Iran, as though saving Russian lives should be a distant second priority to annoying Washington.  They even trotted out the phrase - as the header of a campaign pamphlet, no less - that "Russia can ill-afford to continue giving up her nuclear weapons whilst the Dolphin God arises to challenge humankind", a phrase so gloriously lunatic, so utterly without precedent in our language or any other, that the fact we caused it to exist in print has to count as one of the greatest achievements we could have hoped to accomplish.  Our opponent's message was incoherent, bellicose, heedless of logic or pragmatism, and stuffed full of aggressive posturing far beyond the point of obvious self-parody.

Naturally, we were crushed in the polls. When Mercoyan returned, it was in disgrace. I could have stayed, perhaps - a man without tanks asking the man with tanks to hand them all over is a difficult business - but the years had taken their toll. I was quite simply exhausted dedicating my life keeping safe those who would spit on me in the street for not letting more of our people die far from home.

But what else could we expect? Gratitude? Gratitude is not something that happens in government Your enemies loathe what you accomplish, your friends whine about what you don't. You either die in the job, or you're told your very survival proves you should have fought harder. In the final analysis, when the battle is done and the casualties counted, whenever the Motherland calls, she calls collect. It is a romance that can only flow one way. For most, Russia is a woman who simply ignores you utterly. For some, the lucky few, she will turn her gaze on to you, but only so she can use you. All she can ever offer is new ways in which to sacrifice, to give and give again, over and over, for a love that can never be returned. And yet we make those sacrifices gladly, we give up everything we have and everything we are, because there can be no other way.

I hope these chapters on the Mercoyan administration have entertained, or at least educated. All I ask is that you think upon the tolls that the story in these pages enacted. We are the sons and daughters of the Motherland, and like any good child, all that matters for us is our mother's happiness. But just because we do not begrudge these ruinous costs, it does not mean they are not there.

(Editor's note: A thorough investigation of Russia's financial records by internal sources estimate the total amount of money defrauded from the government by Crosschev to be somewhere in the region of half a year's budget for the entire Russian government. Not so much of a rouble of this has ever been recovered.)

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