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A New Era
Michael was woken by an immediate summons to the Kremlin. He did not know what time it was, but any time was too early and too cold for him to be up and ready within the hour.

Unfortunately, he arrived at the Kremlin's military precinct with ten minutes to spare, deciding to use the black coat he had been given the day before. He also wore thick gloves and boots of military grade that only just warded away the snow's chill.

Also unfortunately, he decided to take the prudent path to leave the power untouched. After last night's incident, he was not foolish enough to tempt fate.

Upon arrival, he found himself being ushered into a room in the depths of the military wing, where the population grew steadily less until he was alone with his guide, who finally stopped, gesturing towards a nondescript door.

Michael nodded and entered without further ado. Three faces met his as he entered, only one familiar as the head of Military. The air in the room seemed uneasy and no-one seemed to want to break the silence.

Michael looked toward the foremost man in the Custody's military force. A man who had the greatest army in the world at his disposal - upon the Ascendancy's command. "Good morning, Sir. What are my orders?"

"You will find out in due time, Commander,"
the man replied with a smooth face.

Michael nodded, somewhat surprised, but satisfied nonetheless. "I see,"
he said, cautiously taking a seat at the round table fixed in the centre of the room. So, Nikolai had orders for him. Or perhaps he would announce his execution. Both seemed equally likely possibilities although in truth the latter was highly doubtful.

He should have realised the immediacy of his orders had come from the man personally. Careless of him, he thought he would have had a chance to rest, but this suited him fine.

The only question was, what would Nikolai's answer be?

Michael waited with his three companions for the Ascendancy's arrival.
The room Michael entered was the meeting room to the general chiefs of staff of the CCD armed forces, a group of advisors known as the Collective. When Nikolai reformed the ASU into the CCD, he appreciated his own deficiencies in military strategy. Yet as a philosopher, he drew upon the practices of the past, and like the remainder of his government, reformatted them into his own vision.

Double doors parted and in strolled the individual members of the Ascendancy's party. The Deputy-Consul, Viktor Stepanovich, was first through the door. In followed a CSS barrier agent, empty of expression and cold of gaze. A second agent counterpart would remain posted outside in the hallway. When Nikolai entered the room had stood to greet him.

He was sharply dressed in a black suit, white shirt and orange and gray tie. The Double Crescent was pinned on his left lapel, as always, but the new addition, to all but those present at the previous night's Christmas dinner, the Arcus Band wrapped his brow like a self-imposed crown.

Chief among those of recognition was Kondrat Borodin, the four-star general and head of Special Operations whom shared his table at the previous night's dinner. He stood at one end of a large, oval table. To his left and right, his counter parts leading the army ground forces, naval, air, missile-troops, armed police and intelligence stood. Those of military commission saluted the Ascendancy. Nik nodded appropriately and took to his seat at the head of the table. His gaze fell briefly upon Michael as he passed.

"Good morning, gentlemen."

After taking his chair, his finger tips grazed along the table and the room's immersion screens came to life. "Gentlemen. Thank you for attendance at this early hour. We are meeting to discuss the next evolutionary step in warfare."
He gestured and every pair of eyes lifted to the videos soon to play.

Michael would recognize himself as viewed from the officers in the convoy that carried him back to the Jeddah airport firebase.

"Commander Vellas,"
Nikolai turned to the famous young man. "The Collective will now hear your briefing. Explain what we just viewed."

He had a feeling Michael would not be amused by the attention.

Michael stared at Nikolai for a very long moment before rising. The man definitely knew how to make an entry. Unfortunately, while he would have liked to have thought the man did it simply just to throw him off, it was logical; although he was sure it was in part, at least. Better to be cautious and test the waters before diving in head first.

That he was the man who was forced to jump off a cliff into water nobody knew how deep did not amuse him at all. However, it was his suggestion in the first place, he only had himself to blame for what came next.

Michael rose with a respectful nod to the Ascendancy, his eyes and voice cool as dusk in autumn back home.

"What you have witnessed is something the world has never seen before. People - myself among them, as you can see - have begun developing. I do not think modern science has an adequate assignation for this power, so I will liken it today to what is known as a psychic power."

He pointedly did not look at Nikolai as those in the room digested the information with varying reactions. How on earth did that bastard expect him to explain the power? He knew it would be impossible to capture the full essence of what it meant. And what to reveal? Did he want to keep his own power a secret? Did he want to reveal the signs - the Sickness, as they called it - which these people manifested?

Michael decided on a cautious approach and if the man wanted more, he could ask. "As you no doubt have seen, this grants a person exceptional abilities."
He had no desire to relive his own decimation of the rebellious forces, and as Tony was want to say, some things were best left to the imagination.

"Is there anything more you wish to hear, gentlemen, Ascendancy?"

Michael's was a poor explanation. More than one usually stoic-faced man shifted, unconvinced. Nikolai gathered as much. Michael was hardly a statesman and while he was a talented-enough strategist to be recruited by the Custody of Defense, his communication skills were lacking.

What Michael lacked in skill, Nikolai expressed in sheer talent.

"With this information, gentlemen, analysis of operations in Jeddah reveals shocking new information. As we know, Legion Premiere's forces worked in collaboration with Custody operators."
Nikolai gestured to the wall where the immersion screen transformed into post-battle analysis of the chronological sequence of events: a satellite-enhanced map, basically, depicting a time-loop of targets, symbols, casualties, and convoys. Congregations of the enemy were depicted as a single-chromatic heat map.

"You'll recognize work by the CoD analyists."
The men turned, many nodded. The Chief of Intelligence was foremost to recognize it. It was his analyists that created the diagram.

He drew his fingers across the command pad on the table and the screen shifted. A new symbol was introduced. "And this is the same analysis when enhanced by potential workings of powers such as what was introduced by Commander Vellas."

Nikolai had seen the loop already. It had been his mind, after all, that studied the sequence of events, seeking the otherwise inexplicable to decipher what could- or could not- have been power-driven. Michael's work was clear. As the evidence was substantiated by video surveillance. There were other potential points, however. Casualties increased dramatically in such radii, the recovery and redirection around such points were exponentially delayed and more difficult.

Nik therefore had no need to watch the map. He studied the expressions of each man of the Collective. Among the most talented men of war in the world, they were, naturally, not an easy group of reactions to decipher. But Nikolai recognized a few tells. Kondrat was drumming his fingers, already integrating the information into potential for Special Forces, likely thinking back to the many seeds subconsciously planted in his mind at the previous night's dinner.

"As you can imagine, the face of war will change, but we have the opportunity to anticipate the arc of the future. So, this morning, in this room, we are going to commission the formation of a special operations task force led by Commander Vellas."

The eyes of his generals slid toward Michael. "He is a foreigner, Ascendancy."
Bader Koertig, another 4-star General of the Army, and Chief of ground forces, spoke up with a sneer of distaste on his lip.

Nik replied thoughtfully. The tension was palpable, but Nik knew what he was doing.

"But the Commander has been a true servant of the Custody since he was recruited,"
the blue of Nik's eyes settled cool on Michael, "and has demonstrated bravery and loyalty in the face of the enemy. I trust he is best suited to this task."

Michael had to assume Nikolai didn't trust him personally. Either way, he was still the best option on the table, and somebody had to take command. "But like all Special Operations, his unit will fall under the supreme officers of this Collective."

Kondrat Borodin, Chief of Special Operations spoke, "And recruitment?"

"A difficulty. Integration with the Facility will be necessary."
The answer seemed to satisfy Kondrat for the time being.

Admiral Rignor Kennedy, of the CCD Naval Command, interrupted, "and under what branch will these forces operate, Ascendancy?"

An excellent question. Luckily, Nik had an answer prepared. The screens shifted again, paused on a silhouette of Michael positioned before walls of blue fire.

Nikolai stood and rounded the table until he was positioned in front of the image, blocking out the view of Michael while the fires of his creation loomed around him. He clasped his hands behind him. "Our capabilities are thus far proved limitless. Land. Sea. Air. I foresee this group will transcend any current existing branch. I ask the Collective to consider expansion of the military."

Backs straightened at his suggestion. The man who posed the question, Adm. Kennedy responded with an air of tentative acceptance. "That means the Commander would serve as head of an additional branch, and on this Collective."

Nikolai nodded. He needed them to reach this conclusion on their own. By posing the question of military organization, they had. Kondrat might find Michael a threat, but they saw eye-to-eye at last night's dinner. Perhaps they could work together after all. It was a dangerous chess board Nikolai navigated, moving Generals and Admirals against their instincts while yet retaining their utmost loyalty.

"Indeed it would."
He turned to the man in question. "And what have you to say about the suggestion, Commander?"
It seemed that Nikolai wasn't satisfied with his explaination, nor were the men around him. Well, serves the bastard right. If the man expected a detailed response, he should have discussed it with him beforehand. The delicate nature of the subject required a careful hand. If he had said something Nikolai did not like, he would have found himself en-route to execution, such were the whims of tyrants.

Whatever the case was, Michael sat back and watched as the Ascendancy present his men with his plan. It was well played, but Michael had to wonder if it was perhaps overdone. These were the best the Custody had to offer, did they not think they were being kept in the dark? It was something he would have to pay attention to.

As expected, his nationality was questioned. It was perhaps a formality, but he nonetheless wondered if they had forgotten their own leader came from their biggest enemy?

Nikolai's reply was on the one hand deft, to question his loyalty now would be to question the Ascendancy's judgement. On the other, it was highly amusing, but he did nothing but dip his head in acknowledgement of the praise. Nikolai trusted him? It would be something Michael would have to discuss with the man at a later opportunity.

The man kept the details to himself, and Michael understood the need. What came as a shock though, was the suggestion that HE be made head of a newly created branch of the military. Perhaps the man really did trust him, and just liked pissing him off. He wouldn't put it past Nikolai Brandon.

When he was called upon, he stood again and lowered his guard, allowing a tinge of shock to show on his face. "I am honoured. If it pleases the Collective and the Ascendancy, I will do all in my power to fulfil my role."

One of the men cleared his throat and spoke in a Slavic accent. "What would such a force be capable of. This thing you speak of, it is rare yes? Will you have enough men to be of any real use?"

Michael nodded in respect at the question. It was a good opening, and he planned to use it to explain exactly what benefits they would enjoy without being pestered by relentless questions. "It is rare as you say, but there will be more than enough. If there were twenty men with the capabilities I displayed at Mecca, we could have destroyed the rebel assault. One hundred, and we could have held the city."
He paused, waiting for the man's acknowledgement which came with a slight nod and a pensive expression.

Michael continued before anyone could interject. "This force will be able to operate in small units to combat small threats. They will be extremely mobile as we require no weaponry or armour. We could mobilize a force immediately to combat threats within Moscow, and need only to await a flight to be deployed elsewhere."

He once again paused to let it sink in, but not long enough to answer questions. "We will also be able to act in conjunction with any other military unit, to bolster defence or provide assault force, similar to what you have seen of me."

"The force will also be extremely cost effective. For training purposes we would need only a building, first perhaps only just a hall until numbers increase. We need no weapons ammunition, vehicles or protective clothing, only uniforms. This also applies in the field. As you have seen, I provide the fire-power of an artillery unit with nothing but my uniform and power."

The comment was simply a statement of truth. Finally, Michael looked around the room. "I can have a full report on the capabilities this force can posses in extrapolation within the week and answer any further questions you may have."

Edited by Michael Vellas, Jul 6 2014, 09:10 PM.
The whole ordeal of this morning was a test, of course. Nik possessed very little insight into Michael's character. He was brave and capable of committing to a cause, certainly, but the core of his identity would define his choice in actions. Using such techniques, Nikolai had been able to predict the actions of ally and enemy with ease over the decades. Certainly, distance of mind and appreciation of context from a decade of contemplative study gave him the skills, but it was with a deftness of hand that Nikolai wove his way into the Russian Presidency. Was Michael playing it safe because intimidation motivated self-preservation? Or because he assumed the Ascendancy would succumb to the flattery inherent in self-subjugation? There were few in the world capable of keeping a level gaze at a table such as this. So far, Michael had performed admirably cool, but he was a lion pacing the edges of firelight. Cautious. Extremely cautious. The true question was: why?

While Michael responded, Nikolai returned to his seat. Their discussion the night before had been the tip of the iceberg, but to hear his plans outright was encouraging. They were presented matter-of-factly and direct. To which Nikolai was quickly assigning to Michael's professional style, but there was little he could interpret about the man, personally. To entrust him with what was essentially the might of gods, Nikolai had yet to be convinced of his suitability to the task. So far, he was the adequate candidate because Nikolai was presented with no other viable alternative, but ideas for how to proceed continued to form nonetheless.

General Borodin could sit still no longer. Never a man to hold his tongue, he was, like Michael, careful and direct, but also decisive and calculating. "If I may, a separate branch is not feasible. If we have access to men with such skills as these, others in the world will as well. With CCD resources, they will be trained as fully as any of our other forces, but they must remain shadows: unidentified and strategically placed beneath only the highest clearance. Their name and mission is the only thing that should proceed them."

Building on the General's momentum, the Commissioner-General of Custody Police shook his head. "CDPS has already begun a similar instillation of special officers, but only when such an individual already recruited and trained and sworn-in is identified. Yes, the Facility tracks high-profile individuals for similar placements in their field of expertise, but a large-scale military organization, whether consisting of Special Forces or general troops, requires recruitment of such men already in the armed forces. Otherwise, new recruits will need trained in piggy-back at pre-existing camps. What is the incentive for their retention? Not all men are born to be soldiers,"
he finished with a grim tone. Nikolai had to appreciate the Commissioner's point of view, but he glanced at Michael. Twice now the Facility had been mentioned and the man was so-far unreactive to the term. Either he was already aware of the institution, most likely via Dr. Weston, or he was not as observant as Nikolai had thought.

Of all Michael's talents, he was not a politician, but Nik did not need him to be. In fact, he preferred the opposite. Politicians with armies were dangerous things to cultivate. Nikolai was nothing if not careful.
Michael listened to the General and Commissioner with interest now that they had livened up and started talking. He dismissed both Nikolai and the Commissioner's mention of the Facility. He did not know what it was, but Nikolai had not felt it prudent to explain, so Michael filed it away without reaction, another thing to ask the man in private. He would not stick his hands down a snake hole, nor would he reveal his own ignorance in such matters, damaging his credibility.

When the Commissioner ended, Michael immediately took to the questions now that he had determined Nikolai wanted him to speak for himself. Why, only the man himself knew, but it was a challenge he did not shirk from. "I shall first address the Commissioner's questions. The answer is simple. There is no other option for these men. I know from experience, people live keeping this ability a secret their whole lives. What would be the public response to such powers? What about the government? I stand here before you because I chose to reveal myself for a cause I deemed worthy. Others fear being outcast or sentenced to death. Give them a place that is secure."

"It is also extremely dangerous trying to use this power without guidance. People have died making mistakes. Unlike conventional military men, however, these people have no choice. They must learn or die."

He paused and nodded to the Commissioner. "I acknowledge the fact that not all men are capable of being soldiers. We can assess their capabilities as they learn and decide who is suitable for active service. Not unlike conventional military structures, there are other uses that our power can be used for. For example, one can amplify or suppress sound, it is possible to tend to wounds. These non-combat abilities can be used domestically to the Custody's benefit."

He was loath to point it out, but he would not lose this opportunity, the damage the Atharim could do outweighed this. "At the very least, those who are not capable of service are at least monitored and safe within the Custody's borders."

At that he turned to the Borodin. "To answer your concern, General, I speak frankly. Nobody but one who knows this power is capable of understanding and using it effectively. As for potential enemies; this power is not confined to the Custody, General. Al-Hasan's 'miracles' are a product of this power. The outspoken Mr. Trano I know for a fact can use this power. If our enemies do not know of this power - they will soon."
He held up a hand. "However, I do not suggest we parade our plans. All involved would be done with the uttermost caution. However, I cannot advise placing this force under another in the same way you would not place the command of a naval force under the Airforce. The results would be far more disastrous."
Michael found his voice. Finally. A relief that he had.

Each member of the Collective had their concern to raise. Nikolai could not fault them their apprehension. After all, the proposal was extraordinary. Even at this elite level of intellect and training, men and women remained human, with emotions and instincts. The Ascendancy had to suppress his own to maintain the solid context by which they could anchor. Without their enthusiasm to fulfill his goals, he would flounder.

"Armed forces,"
Nikolai decreed. "They are, after all, armed, in a way. Expansion of the branches is too significant a step at this point in time. It creates a precedent we do not yet need establish. As the numbers grow, the mission will expand, but for now, their mission is psychic warfare, team response, and recruitment."

"We will need a rank structure, gentlemen, and allocations for pay-grades, resources, and armor."
He glanced at Michael. No man was going to fight for the Ascendancy without so much as body armor. "The Commander will remain as direct-in-charge of the unit, subordinate to Combatant Command and you, General Borodin."

Nikolai stood. His time was in demand, after all. "I will leave the details to your care, gentlemen, Commander,"
he nodded to Michael. "I expect a draft report by the end of the day."

Nikolai bowed his head and the men in the room stood in acknowledgement of his exit. As the Ascendancy made his departure, Viktor stepped forward to swipe contact clearance to Michael: a direct connection to himself, which for all purposes, was almost as good as a direct connection to the Ascendancy. "If you have need."

The Deputy-Consul stopped at the door as though remembering an additional detail. He turned as though amused. "He'll want you to deliver the report."
There was an air of expectation to Viktor. Despite knowing what Michael was capable, he held the man's gaze without flinch.
So, it seemed it was just a test after all. It was a particularly annoying stunt that he had pulled, using this as a test, only made worse by the fact that it was something Michael might have done himself were he in the other man's position. Nikolai had already made up his mind on the subject and laid down his demands before leaving.

Michael bowed his head in respect as he left, but it was the Deputy-Consul that held his attention. The man was curious and the air of faint amusement reminded him of Tony. Michael took an instant liking to the man who held his gaze without so much as a flicker of fear.

"Thank you, I shall use it well."

When they had both left, Michael remained with the Collective to hammer out the specifics. They seemed to acknowledge his talent, but held him at a cautious distance. He expected nothing less, and things proceeded relatively smoothly.

Dusk filled the sky outside as Michael left the room and made his way with the newly acquired clearance to report to Nikolai. He viewed the meeting with the Collective as a prelude to the real discussion. He had much he wanted to discuss with the man, and it seemed from the Deputy-Consul's words that Nikolai felt the same.

Before Michael arrived at the Ascendancy's public office, familiar to all of the Custody's citizens, he was scanned multiple times by security and several agents. Eventually a neat secretary ushered him forward and after announcing his arrival, opened the door.

Michael nodded his thanks to the secretary and entered. As the doors were closed firmly behind him, his posture slipped from rigid military style to a more natural confidence. The kind he found himself using as he worked with the power.

However, he was not stupid enough to attempt to seize the power here, he simply strode towards Nikolai as he sat at his desk, reporting as he did so. "Most of the details are sorted, Ascendancy. General Borodin was wary, for now we have agreed upon a structure that mimics the Special Operations division with only the most essential compromises. Once the program is underway and the General gains an understanding of what we are capable of, I will gradually mould the structure to a more efficient model,"
he paused for a moment, "with your approval, of course."
He handed the Ascendancy the data pad with all of the relevant details in full.

That said, Michael gestured towards the seat beside him and Nikolai obliged with a curt nod. As he seated himself across from Nikolai, a rare smile broke his usually severe features. "Your actions were impressive, Ascendancy, but there is an issue that needs to be resolved. I don't believe for a second that I have your trust, nor should I. If I am to create one of the most powerful forces in the world, you will need to trust me. I do not work well will a knife pressed between my shoulders. I don't expect you to trust me with the Custody itself, but there must be something."

He met Nikolai's eyes with an open gaze, filled with all of his emotions laid bare. His cold hatred of the Atharim, the allure of a challenge and even his honest desire to keep the world from falling to pieces in the wake of a new era. Most of all, he did not hide his personal dislike for the man. "If you have questions about myself or my past or my goals, I will answer."

Edited by Michael Vellas, Jul 8 2014, 06:50 PM.
Praised by a twenty-three year old. Nikolai had never been so honored.

He kept the terse thought to himself while Michael shared his feelings.

Granted, Nikolai was thin of mood this day. It was amazing he'd held up as well as he had. Mere days following the disaster in DV and he was entertaining diplomats and reporters on one hand and dueling with generals and mobs on the other. Most of these issues simmered below the surface, both his own personal reaction and from all knowledge of the public, but the day was coming, when like Michael's display on camera, certain resolutions would come to light. The Propaganda office had their hands full, but even they could only spin what Nikolai's creativity could dream. Tired and irritated by the inconsequential results of his presence in DV, when in all times past had tangibly served his purposes, he was in a cool mood to deal with Michael's personal impressions of him.

The boy held his gaze. He'd already proven himself brave, no doubt a strength enhanced by his abilities to manipulate the fabric of the universe. "You think there's anything about you I don't already know?"
He said forthright. Nik settled into the folds of his seat. He was surrounded by the backdrop seen on the world's televisions. His desk was filled with workable documents, albeit minimized for the moment. He was without his suit jacket, and thus only in a shirt and tie, but the man who would rule the world was fixed, at this very moment, on a young man that.. apparently.. didn't trust him.

Michael held an air of expectation, and Nikolai heard him clearly, but there was more to his needs than to connect man to man. He was worried, but of what? Of betrayal? Nikolai knew that bitter taste. Perhaps he had not understood the empathy when he'd revealed his arm. Of the Atharim? Nikolai protected himself against their regime for forty years, surely Michael could fathom the lengths he reached to keep them at bay. Michael clearly did not like him, but for what reason, Nikolai could not say. Was it a problem? For his part, no.

"Allow me to explain. There are many people in this world I do not trust, but if I did not trust you to some extent, I would not be alone with you right now. Nor would I meet you without the appropriate shield."
He waved the idea away.

"But this does not mean we cannot be of mutual benefit. I need a talented man of the military and you need an ally against the Atharim."
He searched the young man's stern expression. "No. You want more than escape from their grasp. Isolationism is not your way."
Nik thought for a moment. In that regard, they were both alike. Seclusion sat ill with him as well, but he endured for ten years until forced upon the world's stage.

"So what do you want in exchange for this work? Merely the satisfaction that you'll know its done right because you are the one in charge?"
Nikolai asked with all seriousness despite the seemingly flippant nature of the question.

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