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In Michael's opinion, there was nothing worse than mornings and the cold.

Captain Zokoskev's call had forced both upon him. His face was stony as he passed through the halls of the military's Kremlin precinct. It had an official name, but he didn't care. He was more concerned that the damn place - the heart of the CCD - didn't know how to heat a room.

He shifted his dark, bulky coat as his footsteps echoed through the empty corridors. He frowned as he neared the Captain's office at the two guards at the door.

As he approached, they stopped him. The one on the left with greying hair and a serious expression cleared his throat. "...Officer...Vellas?" The frown was not uncommon. Most of the soldiers didn't like the fact he did not follow the usual protocol. Hardly his fault the CCD jumped at the chance to learn what the Australasian military was thinking. A poor decision, as it turned out. He knew what they wanted from him, but he did not oblige them. Luckily he was excellent at what he did, or else he was sure they would have tried to dispose of him.

he answered in a cool voice. His arm still ached, and the gun at the man's side served as a cold reminder of the danger he faced.

The man was hardly pleased, but he gave way and opened the door. Michael nodded in thanks as he passed and entered Zokoskev's office.

"Vellas." Zokoskev's balding head bobbed in acknowledgement from the other side of his steel desk. Despite his paunch and unassuming presence, the man was extremely capable. "Shit is about to hit the fan."

Michael said nothing, taking a seat opposite the Captain.

Zokoskev's smile was sharp and shrewd. Many found it unsettling, but Michael found it a refreshing change from the dull eyed cronies clamouring for favour. "Good, I knew I chose you for a reason. As I said, the situation in DV is...well...fucking grim. The Top Hats want a force ready to go in if negotiations fail."

"So you chose me?"
his voice was flat.

"You don't get a choice, Vellas. They wanted the best. They don't fuck around when it comes to war - and this could be a messy one."

Michael gave a nod, not exactly relishing the prospect. "Very well. What do you want?"

The man's smile widened. "You and I will be the only one's from our Division going to DV. The rest will be sitting at home in the fucking cold - let them freeze for it!. As such, our superiors have generously provided us with someone to give us a brief briefing on what to expect."

He handed Michael a piece of paper with the orders.

"A physician?"
Michael's brow rose.

"Captain Weston is highly respected. She takes orders from the Ascendancy himself. You would do well to listen to what she has to say."

"What is it exactly we are going to be briefed on? Nothing has happened."
He knew well enough that didn't mean anything, but he was curious to see the man's reaction.

The Captain scowled. "That I don't know. We will find out soon enough."

Edited by Michael Vellas, Nov 29 2013, 10:57 PM.
Torri waited in yet another room down yet another hallway in the Kremlin. She still hadn't learned her way around yet. Shocking. Since it was the center of the world and all. No big deal. The underground tunnels, though. Those she knew like the veins in the back of her hand, but anything resembling a normal room? She was completely off-guard. Despite the sleek gray of her uniform stiffening her posture to formality, she was having a hard time keeping her expression as neutral as possible. She didn't like this trip to DV. She didn't like a lot of things, but orders were orders. Right now, orders were to meet Michael Vellas.

She was working a telecommunications screen when the door opened to admit the officer she was to debrief. Why a GMO was assigned to debrief anyone outside the medical corps was beyond her, but the EoA functioned differently than every other Custody division she'd ever known, including Custody Medical Command.

Knocking. She pivoted at the sound, tugged the jacket of her uniform straight, and swept a fringe of tiny hair back from her brow. Her bun was tight and her appearance pristine. "Enter." She ordered and soon met the gaze of a young man with hard blue eyes and a severe expression set to his jaw.

"Commander Vellas?" She asked.

(I actually am not sure of Michael's rank)

Edited by Torri, Dec 1 2013, 04:15 PM.
Michael turned in his chair when he heard the Captain approach the guards outside. He had been irritated by the last attempt on his life, he had little tolerance for further surprises and anyone taking orders directly from the Ascendancy himself would no doubt be full of them.

He did not rise when she entered. It was not a marked disrespect, although it had been a sore point between soldiers he had found. Nor was it an ill-conceived attempt at masochistic rebellion because he thought himself an anarchistic hero.

No, it was far more simplistic than that. He was no soldier. He was a strategist, but he had not risen through the ranks of military hierarchy. He had never wanted to be involved with any armies, but his unusual talent had forced him into unique circumstances. It also gave him a chance to evaluate a person's character.

As such, his first impression of Captain Weston was favourable. She was precise and professional but he saw doubt in her expression, a sign she would not take orders blindly. It was not something he would have usually noticed, but he had decided to take particular note today.

"Commander Vellas?"

The question made Zokoskev smile, but Michael's expression did not change. In fact, it was something he himself had contemplated in the minutes before Captain Weston's arrival.

His voice was cool when he answered. "Michael will do, Captain Weston."

He allowed Zokoskev to explain, since he was the one that had put him in this position. The man's voice turned professional. "Michael Vellas is officially an advisor. He does not possess any formal rank at this time. However, I assure you that you will not be disappointed."

A dangerous promise, considering he didn't even know what the task was. Michael liked the situation less by the second, but now was not the time for anger.

He stood in the pause and gave Captain Weston a bow of the head. "What can I do for you, Captain?"

In light of Zokoskev's explanation, Torri regarded Michael in new light. Whether her opinion cast that light as flattering or insulting did not register in her expression. EoA command told her to enlist this man's help for strategic affairs, and that was exactly what Torri intended to do. And do a damn fine job of it too.

She cut both men a quick nod and moved to join them. Technically, she and Zokoskev were on equal footing despite the wildly differing patches on their arms, and the absence of firearm from her hip, but the fact remained that Torri was only a few years away from Major, whereas rumor had Zokoskev would be tredding water for a while. But advancement or not, she'd leave the targeting to more capable hands. Shit, it'd been a while since earning the sidearm ribbon, but the idea of tending bedside in a hot zone with one was bloody annoying, but necessary. She made a mental note to stop by the range tonight after checkout.

Suffice to say, there was a lot on her mind.

Upon sitting, she offered to shake hands with Michael before folding them in her lap. "And Dr. Weston will do, likewise." In all but formal circumstances, physicians were addressed by their professional title rather than rank. Secretly, they tend to prefer it that way. They worked harder for their title than their rank anyway. God knew Torri had. So it was fitting for this situation as well.

Now introductions were through, she realized Michael's youth was far more than she originally guessed despite the intensity of his gaze. And the accent clipped quite foreign. A once upon a time Australian cousin. Why that country hadn't signed up for common sense yet was beyond her. Further strange that the CCD trusted strategy to a young foreigner, but Torri wasn't queen of the world, let the CCD pick who they wanted. Whatever. All thoughts soaring behind an impassive face.

"I've been tasked with coordinating a contingency plan for medical care on behalf of anyone from the EoA while on tour through DV. From all levels of events from a fucking cold to a zombie apocalypse to assassination attempts. Supplies and personnel are easy, but if we're stuck in a hot zone for any length of time, shit piles up fast." She snickered all too familiar with piles of shit. Her first GMO tour was in the fucking jungle, after all. "That's where you come in." She turned to Michael.

Michael took the woman's offered hand and resumed his own seat.

Dr. Weston...

Interesting, although only in passing. He had no interest in military politics and by the look of it, nor did she. Besides, the only way to measure someone's true worth was with action, not words. Nonetheless, he understood his position all too well. If she doubted him, he could not blame her.

As she delivered her orders, Michael's eyes darkened, although his face remained much the same. For once, it suited his mood. Zokoskev's face paled - as well it should. Michael had no sympathy for him, as much as he respected the man.

This was...

"Very dangerous."
Michael said in a flat voice aimed at Zokoskev. The man wouldn't meet his eye. Both of their lives hung in the balance. The Ascendancy's life hung in the balance!

He knew the risks of joining the CCD military. He had no love of war, nor soldiers, or death - but he was prepared. But this? His mind told him to refuse. That there was no art to a war of buttons and drones. Yet...something deep inside him stirred at the challenge.

Very dangerous indeed.

He turned back to Dr. Weston, once again impassive. "It shall be done."

Zokoskev cleared his throat, apparently recovered from the shock. "Not this time, Vellas. This assignment is of the highest priority. You cannot go your own way in this, too much is at stake. You must work together with Dr. Weston. I'm not asking for you to become best friends, but cooperation is essential." It was good to see the fire in the man's eyes ignited once more. "My word has been taken - despite your dubious standing. I will not endanger lives to accommodate you any further."

Michael held the Captain's gaze for a moment before giving him a curt nod. It was for the best, much as it irritated him. "Very well."

He swung towards Dr. Weston once more - he would hurt his neck if this kept up - and fixed her with a steady gaze. "I am young, a foreigner, outside of the military and now responsible for the life of the man who rules half of the world. What would you like to know about me?"

Edited by Michael Vellas, Dec 5 2013, 01:02 PM.
Five minutes into strategizing, and they'd become a Bermuda Triangle of questions and answers. This was the exact kind of logistical poor-planning Torri intended to avoid on this assignment. Having been inducted into the upper clearance ranks required of the Facility, and now point-person in coordinating medical care and contingency plans for this trip, Torri was determined to not let anything derail the objective.

With so much riding on Michael's shoulders, she paid close attention to him. She was already used to watching for nonverbal signals-any physician would be, but a GMO practically dictated their charts by expressions from stubborn soldiers. Michael kept an incredibly close reign on his reactions. In fact, for non-military, Torri was quite impressed. Up till then, any sense of doubt in her mind about him was dismissed by the command of higher orders. They said to work with him, therefore she was going to work with him.

However, inconsistencies began to bother her. Particularly when Captain Zokoskev quite frankly chastised Michael right in front of her. Medical corps cushy-training or not, this wasn't her first butt-chewing. Like usual, she was confused by it, but not for the normal reasons.

Michael wasn't the only one good at hiding his feelings. Or completely suppressing, rationalizing, and ignoring them. If not, there'd not be a sane GMO on the planet. Although, by the thousandth apathetic TOD call, it was questionable how many physicians on tour still held a shred of normal expression. So, Torri kept a straight face despite the questions escalated by the Captain and Michael.

She considered his request a moment, then answered with a quick, flat tone. "As I'm in the business of saving lives, you could start with telling me exactly the kind of accommodations you've required in that past that might endanger them."

She quickly flicked a gaze toward the Captain, worried that there was something going on she ought to be briefed on, but actually, was clueless about.
Michael made no immediate reply, allowing Zokoskev to answer the question, if he wished. It was on him, after all. Michael did not ask for the task, and the only reason he did not resign and walk out the door was the fact it was primarily a protection and rescue assignment.

And the spark that flared in the depths of his mind.

Zokoskev muttered under his breath before answering. Dr. Weston's flat stare was apparently unnerving the man. It did not bother Michael. After seeing the utter hatred, revulsion of the Atharim - the eyes of men and women determined to slaughter him like a wild beast - it was hard for others to unsettle him.

Blood poured down to the ground like raindrops, the exposed veins hanging like leaves off a tree from the thing's limp arm.

Yes, he unsettled himself more than anything in the world.

"Vellas does not always follow strict military protocol." Zokoskev said finally in a ruffled voice. "He is given a certain amount of leeway in this - he was not taught in the CCD, but the Australian military, so his methods are not CCD standard, you understand."

If the situation was not so grave, he would have smiled at that. The Australian Academy had forced him in at 16, but his methods had nothing to do with the Academy. They were just as disconcerted as the CCD soldiers. He did not do it on purpose to antagonize them - the bastards had forced him into training! - in fact, he had no idea why. He just...

Think you know better, you arrogant bastard , his inner voice whispered.

"It took me some time to understand," Zokoskev continued. "However, his methods are extremely effective. He has one of the most dangerous minds in the -"

The notion irked him, and he cut Zokoskev off with a tone like a freshly forged blade. "Do not mistake me,"
he said, aimed at no-one in particular. "I do not start wars. I do not order men and women to march to their deaths. I end wars. Every order I give is given not to satisfy protocol, but ensure the swiftest and most complete victory."

Zokoskev shrank in his seat - whether it was because he thought Michael was going to get himself killed, or the fire in his eyes, he was not sure. Michael continued in any case. "Of course, I am not a medic. My actions sow death and endanger the lives of many."
His gaze turned hard, his mind drawn to the Atharim and the wound in his arm. "I despise everything a soldier must become, but I can make sure that no lives are needlessly wasted on the whims of fools and madmen, and I shall do so here, since I have been 'chosen'."
The last word was bitten off with a tinge of scorn.

He looked at both Captain's before settling his gaze on Dr. Weston. "Tell me, if I may ask, what do you think about the situation? Do you believe that it can be resolved peacefully? You are an accquantance of the Ascendancy, and involved with his visit. Your opinion would be much appreciated."
Torri was no strategist. So to witness the wordplay of two who were, would have been fascinating if it weren't so damned depressing.

She wasn't an idealist either. Utopia was as much science fiction as was any other goal for peace, but for some reason she dedicated her life to aiding those striving for it. She was more than willing to let men like Vellas turn the globe over in his hands. She was more interested in easing the struggles for an individual grain of sand than advancing the goals of entire planets. It was these struggles that let her work every day guilt-free at The Facility. Under her leadership, patient care was improved, bedside manners eased the minds of the incarcerated - medication might have a part to play as well - and actual scientific advances were being discovered.

One woman couldn't be everywhere at once, however. Learning how to delegate was a steep a learning curve worthy of her rank. So when talk of broken protocol and merciless slaughter began, this was why she did not get up and leave the room. There were still grains of sand to protect, and Torri's oaths to Custody, command, and medicine held.

If she was impressed by Michael's gallantry, it was a sarcastic favor. Swift and complete victory? She bit back the rest of what she was going to say, and for a moment, the shield collapsed, and emotion flared angry, but it didn't last long. No more than the moments when Michael's hand subconsciously rubbed one arm.

She had no opinion. "It is not my place to predict those kinds of things. I am going to plan for the worst, and hope for the best." She leaned forward, palms wrapped around the arms of her seat. "'The best' being bloodless reconciliation." It was unlikely to happen, but a chill in her spine told her that Michael needed reminding. Peace-makers always launched the fiercest missiles.

But then her fingers drummed the armrest while the two men attempted to draw more from her. It pulled on her like a syringe drawing from a collapsed vein. Only another few drops fell.

"Have you ever met him?" She asked both men. No, she doubted they had. For Michael to even ask indicated the answer. "You can't help but trust him. And I will tell you one thing..."

As she crossed her arms, the light caught the thread of the MC patch on her arm, a caduceus on a field of white and circled in orange, and gleamed on the brass branch insignia on either side of her lapel. Like Captain Zokoskev, a black band circled the cuffs on their sleeves, the differences being in color and style of their shoulder epaulets, but where Zokoskev slumped in his seat broad and awkward beneath Michael's deference, Torri's were held fine and confident to the line of Michael's questioning. He was on their side, she reminded herself, as did the fact that she was the officer in charge here. She'd best act like it.

"...if anyone can get this done peacefully. It's him."

Dr. Weston's reply came as no surprise. They were the words of a realist, who could not help but hope for a better world. Michael could sympathise, although he doubted it.

Still...the man had united half of the world under one banner. Perhaps she was right, but until he saw otherwise, it was a melting pot for destruction.

"I would rather not take the risk at all,"
he replied after a moment. "If that man dies, there will be chaos. These people he is meeting are fanatics. They answer to no-one but their God, they have made that abundantly clear. Any bloodshed would most likely ignite a fire far too large for anyone to extinguish."

It was something people seemed to have forgotten over time. It was so easy to kill now that a life was like a blade of grass. He knew that only too well. "There is an old saying: 'Discretion is the better part of valour.' Discretion is key to this operation."

He turned to Zokoskev, who had already begun making estimates. "However many soldiers you have noted, cut the number in half."

He resumed his conversation with Dr. Weston, adding an explanation. "Mecca,"
-why Ascendancy had chosen Mecca of all places was beyond him - "will be taught like a drawn bow ready to fire. Excess soldiers increases the danger of violence."

Zokoskev opened his mouth to speak, but Michael cut him off, already aware of what he wanted to say. The man was good, but he was far too heavy-handed and over-cautious. "We will be in the heart of al-Hasan's territory, if they launched an attack, they would have the numbers to overrun a guard twice the size. We would have to mobilise a force that would look more like an invasion to counter it - and as Dr. Weston has said, this mission is for peace."

Michael glanced at Zokoskev again to see if he had any more objections before continuing. "We can discuss the details when I have formed a more complete plan, unless you wish to add anything? If not, let us dispense with the formalities. This operation is extremely important. Both of our lives depend on it."
Michael might have reminded Torri of her younger brother but only until he began laying out his preliminary thoughts. He was reserved, sharp, and professional. And clearly used to getting his own way. Or laying out his own way and leaving everyone behind to decide whether or not they'd follow him. He didn't strike her as the kind of person to care about mainstream opinions. How did somebody like that become embraced by CCD upper echelons anyway? It grated. Torri may be impressed but that didn't mean she had to trust him. Even if she had been told to trust him. For now, however, she was going to make the conscious decision to take his advice, but it didn't mean she had to like it.

His first suggestion stiffened Torri's already taut posture. On one hand it made some sense. Peace missions and an iron fist didn't exactly match up philosophically. Although in her mind, peace was only as strong as the military enforcing it.

On the other hand, her frown deepened. He had been looking at the captain for that last part. So, Torri wasn't sure which of their lives depended on the missiom's success. Hers or Zokoskev.

The fact that Michael thought his was in danger gave her little comfort. She did not want to imagine what would become of them should they fail. Military tribunals were not pleasant events in the Custody.

"Fine. I have a list of objectives that need decisions. I'll leave these with you."

She got up, absently tugging on the lower hem of her uniform jacket. The next few moments were occupied with the transfer of documents to Michael's level of clearance. "I'll expect a draft of your proposal by 2000 hours."

She glanced at Zokoslev, nodded and turned to leave.

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