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Michael was a strategist, but he wasn't Nikolai's only strategist. Nikolai leaned back in his seat, studying the faces of the members of the Collective today. By far Nikolai did not share the fullness of his plans with any given individual, but the Collective came close.

General Kondrat Borodin, Chief of Special Operations, gestured at the world map behind Nikolai, highlighting several key nations. He addressed the entire Collective before turning toward Nikolai, "The 'next evolution in warfare,"
he quoted Nikolai at their previous meeting, "In the mid twentieth century, the Soviet Union tested the effects of nuclear weapons on the general population. Only the highest ranking officials were aware of the existance of these so called 'closed cities.'"

The General's fingertips across the table called the map into motion and an area within the Steppe mountains was highlighted. The faces of Generals aware of this history flatly watched the map roam. Nikolai watched them process the information, all attentive, but familiar. All but the Commissioner-General of the Custody Police, he seemed the most curious.

"With the results from these tests, we learned valuable insight into the effects of nuclear warfare, but the end-game strategies had yet to be drafted. Nuclear war cooperatives led to the zero-sum fallacy. Where losing a war did not necessarily mean someone else won it."

Admiral Kennedy, Chief of Naval Operations drummed his fingers on the table and spared a look of boredom with Nikolai. He and Borodin were professional, but no love was lost between the two.
"What is this about, Ascendancy?"

Nikolai gestured at the map behind him. The satellite view of the mountains, pock-marked by enormous craters, the footprints of detonated explosives, hovered behind him.
"About the next evolution in warfare,"
he said, but recorrected himself. "Specifically, the next evolution in military exercise."

With that, he'd grasped the Collective's attention. General Borodin returned to his seat and Nikolai stood in his place, pacing before the map. "With the world filling with those men like Commander Vellas"
-he spoke carefully, 'men' distinct from their Ascendancy- "we must know how combat will play out. We need exercises to study the chaos to be spawned from such rapidly evolving conflicts."

The Commissioner spoke up, like a true detective, guessed where the Ascendancy was going. "The 'closed cities', the ZATO's, were publicized in 1989."

Nikolai lifted a finger, silencing the Commissioner, and with a look, warned against interrupting him again.

"Forty-four closed ZATO cities still exist, Commissioner."

Nikolai turned and the present map, familiar to only himself and General Borodin dissolved. In its place, red targets identified the location of three of these cities. Their names were buried beneath the monuments of the Soviet Union, and nothing but memories of century's worth of the dead recalled them. "Communication in and out are monitored, mail is redirected to ghost-town Post Boxes, and only with rare special clearances are individuals allowed to come and go."
He did not elaborate on what purpose these cities remained, but they provided a convenient 2 million people to experiment with.

"Three of these cities, chosen for their geographical isolation, have been recently fortified with military-grade borders. Two-hundred and twelve thousand people exist within these three cities, and twenty survivors each of the Sickness have been placed within the fortifications."

The Admiral lifted his chin, "War games. Conflict incited by superimposed tensions, controlled by the confines of the system, let loose to monitor their natural outcomes from which may be derived philosophies we can apply to nations."

Nikolai smiled a rare, cold smile. "Exactly."

The Police Commissioner, cowed from the earlier interruption, shook his head. "From what we've seen on our own streets, these cities will tear themselves apart as soon as our official law and order desists. Thousands will be at the mercy of chaos all for the sake of an exercise?"

Nikolai ignored him for the time being. He was going to need to have a private chat with the Commissioner-General of CDPS. Later. "Next week I am journeying to Altai Krai, the second Custody district of Siberia. One of the cities is going to have an external force to incorporate."

Kondrat Borodin cleared his throat, and Nikolai deferred to his most prominent General. "The Ascendancy's safety will be our top priority."

Nikolai agreed.

Continued at: War Games


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