This forum uses cookies
This forum makes use of cookies to store your login information if you are registered, and your last visit if you are not. Cookies are small text documents stored on your computer; the cookies set by this forum can only be used on this website and pose no security risk. Cookies on this forum also track the specific topics you have read and when you last read them. Please confirm whether you accept or reject these cookies being set.

A cookie will be stored in your browser regardless of choice to prevent you being asked this question again. You will be able to change your cookie settings at any time using the link in the footer.

The first few days of the press corps rotation were uneventful. At the beginning of the day, the CCD held their daily press briefings in the corps room of the Kremlin Grand Palace. The room itself held an exclusive twenty people organized into two columns of four chair rows. The most senior of correspondents occupied the front, with those lucky enough to gain assignment spanning the rows behind. For the next two weeks, however, an additional row was added to accommodate the CCD's latest campaign. To exemplify CCD transparency, members of the non-Custody accredited press were invited to participate in a rotation on the Ascendancy's pool--the Moscow based journalists assigned to regularly cover the activities of the Ascendancy.

Nicholas Trano rubbed elbows with invited representatives from China, Australia, Canada, and Mexico. Together, they constituted five additional faces on the circuit. Other than a few harrumphs from the most senior of journalists, the American among them was treated fairly. It took prestige and sacrifice to walk into this room, and though the duration of these outsiders' stay was short, they were not particularly welcomed with open arms.

Custody updates those first few days constituted nothing extraordinary. Statements were made about official positions regarding a brief uprising in Brazil. China's trade policies were once more in negotiation with DIV officials. The patron of DV was flying to Cairo to meet with the Egyptian President, etc etc.

Then the day arrived when the Ascendancy was going to make a public address to the US people. It was to coincide with the aforementioned resubmitted proposal for annexation. The hype surrounding this event was high. The speech itself would go live early in the morning to accommodate the time difference between Moscow and DC and filmed directly from the Ascendancy's office. After which, he himself was scheduled to appear before the press corps for a ten minute Q&A session. For the chance to directly speak to the Ascendancy, those front row journalists would claw one another's eyes out to be offered the chance to ask their questions, but with five additional competitors in the room, seniority was no guarantee for success.

Nikolai was shown the usual layout of the corps seating before taking the stage. He was only two-minutes off schedule--an acceptable deviation in his mind.

"That went well, Ascendancy."
Nikolai continued to study the layout of the press' seating assignments arranged in his field of view and nodded. "'Well' is the incorrect word, Jacque. It went as expected,"
he corrected.

The shallow praises continued to be uttered by those in his company as the group proceeded. The hall separating his office from the media room was immaculately dressed, but it did not pass by unappreciated by Nikolai himself. At least the window treatments were more interesting than these characters attempting to flood his attention. He otherwise offered no additional corrections; this particular group were but minnows nipping at a Great White. He put them to the back of his mind and focused on the task at hand. It was going to be difficult enough ignoring Trano while fielding questions - staged though they may be.
For Nikolai Brandon, a great many things were convenient. Having public media enemy number one in Moscow, on his turf as he tried to convince America to forsake their freedom was just another of those conveniences. But Nicholas Trano was not alone in Moscow. The top tier of journalists from all over the world were with him. Of course, they all tried to distance themselves from him as much as they could. At least there was good bourbon in Moscow, and Trano had a full flask.

State propagandists from Mexico and China stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the more respectable Australian and Canadian newsmen. Still better than these Custody hacks.
And besides, China had been making great strides into the civilized world the past couple decades. The threat of revolution after their near economic collapse had had a lot to do with that.

If Mexico had been sliding backwards, well, those convenient natural disasters coupled with cartels armed better than some third world armies were a fair excuse. But is it really worth sacrificing freedom to save it?

Brandon gave his speech--the normal Ascendant trash. Trano had to give credit where credit was due, he was good at making things sound nice. Until you thought about what he was saying--then it was downright terrifying. "Give up your freedom, your rights, and your lives. It's okay, daddy Brandon can protect you."

If ever America had produced a cruel tyrant, it was Brandon. Nicholas still couldn't believe the man was from Baltimore. Or maybe I could,

he smirked at his own joke.

Then the speech was done, and the room became more relaxed. Custody journalists scurried about, sharing notes and speaking into live feeds, "informing" the world of Nikolai Brandon's greatness.

When things started quieting down one of the propagandists, the one from China, strode over. He gave a little bow before he began, "Mister Trano, I'm a big fan of your work. My name is Ke Si Chen." Very little accent--unsurprising of course, Chinese taught English better than the Americans taught Chinese. Even got the order of names right without stuttering.

Thought I recognized him.

The other members of the press had formed something of a bubble around the American. He was not treated unfairly, per se, but nobody wanted to be seen next to the guy with a bull's eye on his back. Guess I did a good job in that regard.

"Mister Chen. I've seen a lot of your work over the years, glad to finally meet you."
If Trano was the face of America's most popular news net and voice of the people, Chen was China's. Of course, the circumstances were a bit different--it's a lot easier to become famous when the government puts you at the forefront of the country's primary news source. Still, the man did his job admirably--he was no empty suit.

Chen decided to take a seat. "Then the feeling is mutual, Mister Trano. Good to finally see a friendly face."

So Nicholas wasn't the only one feeling isolated. The Chinese were almost as fervently anti-CCD as the Americans, and for good reason. The American empire was not the only one to fall hard in the past thirty years. Roosevelt and Stalin made it work, didn't they?
For a little while, at least.

Nicholas took a sip from his flask before passing it to Chen. "Yes, yes it is. Seems like we're the only ones who aren't here to lick Brandon's feet."

After a few minutes' conversation--home, family, politics--Trano noticed the room quieting down. Of course they would quiet down, their Dear Leader had appeared. Nikolai Brandon stood once again at the podium, ready to field questions.

Chen grinned. "Let's see what lies he's got in store for us." Trano smirked back. It would have been funnier if it weren't so sad.

Where Nikolai Brandon was concerned, the press liked to focus on body language. In the aforementioned livecast, his appeal to the American people came from a father-figure, a trustworthy but stern patriarch careful to nurture those in his care back to health and prosperity.

In the address, he appealed to American exceptionalism. "It is not a name that makes the country great, it is the people," he had explained with due passion. Nikolai spoke as one of their own and the reviews were already returning stellar praise. He was the only one approaching the US government with a clear plan to reinstate their former glory. Not only philosophically, Nikolai appealed to the average American at the most basic level. Merit was given him instantly by sheer physical appearance - a mandatory attribute since the mid-twentieth century. A dark haired, Caucasian with blinding blue eyes was the kind of man mothers would welcome at the dinner table and fathers would entrust with the most delicate of business deals. To win the Ascendancy's favor was to know peace, and in a world full of turmoil, peace was priceless. "Do you not crave CCD peace and prosperity? I ask you only to be honest with yourselves."

Just before coming on stage, his wardrobe consultant finished straightening his tie, bright red power against a Custody gray shirt. Together with a brilliantly black suit, he was power incarnate.


The consultant caught his eye the moment he grasped what loomed on the horizon of his mind. The rush coursed behind his gaze, both glacial and volcanic, simultaneously swelling his soul with thrill and fear.
The man lowered his eyes and quickly withdrew.

Nikolai let him.

From the wings, he took everything in. The perfume of scents and odors wafted from those clustered in the media room beyond. Minuscule specks of dust caught in the stream of stage lighting numbered immeasurable as the stars. The hum of chatter, the whir of electrical equipment, the footfalls of loafers. All of it swarmed his senses in that single, powerful moment that he stepped into view.

And then he forced it to recede from the forefront of his attention. He smiled to the familiar faces in the crowd as he approached the podium. Allesandra, most senior member of the press corps positioned front row, center left greeted him with a slow nod and aged smile. Her grayed curls were once yellow as the sun, her lips once full and voluptuous were now thin and drawn. Beside her, Domlin pulled a pair of glasses from the interior pocket of his jacket. Nikolai was unaware how many surgeries his eyes endured over the years, but by the grace of modern medicine, he needed only slight correction when he ought to be blind. To him Nikolai bowed a respectful nod.

At the podium, he lifted his study toward the entire room before taking a drink from the supplied bottle of water. The sweep only briefly included those on the back row, but only to confirm Trano was indeed present. If the man felt anything unprecedented, Nikolai wanted him off-put by the menacing force that descended upon the room. If circumstances were as he guessed, Trano should now be ready to cower with despair.

Among those waving for the first question, Nikolai addressed Allesandra, whom upon being called lowered the sharply manicured finger that drew the Ascendancy's attention in the first place.
"Why do you continue to approach the USA when you were content to respond to other annexations only when asked by the incoming country for consideration?"

Nikolai responded, "I asked the US government to take a pause and recalibrate the nation's trajectory going forward. They should consider the welfare of the people before the pride of lawmakers. I suppose I am burdened with the desire that the country of my birth does not crumble beyond repair."
It was a somber statement after admitting only a short time before to hail from America at all. He did speak the truth, however. It would be a shame to see such greatness that the United States once was lost forever when he alone could preserve its memory.

One of his aids interrupted the session two questions later. He hurried to the Ascendancy's side and spoke quietly in his ear. In the audience, heads turned left and right, questioning what the Custody knew that they did not. Something must have happened.

The man left and Nikolai sighed while gathering his thoughts. The press were on the edge of their seats by the time he resumed speaking. "I have been informed that moments following my address, the North American eastern seaboard experienced a blackout affecting approximately 90 million people in the United States and Canada."
Nikolai was unsympathetic to the concern, although days and weeks without power was likely to devastate the ongoing recovery efforts in Ohio. Hospitals and shelters were already strained in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

The room erupted into a sea of hands.
Convenient as ever.
Bastard wasn't saying anything he hadn't before. He and Chen had already finished off the flask--there wasn't much to begin with, he wasn't a walking bar. Still, he was pleasantly buzzed when Brandon finally began fielding questions.

When he started talking, Nicholas turned to Chen. "My bullshit detector just spiked. Any idea what might be causing it?"
The propagandist just laughed. It was surprising how much familiarity could be achieved in such a short time, although isolation and alcohol tended to help things along.

Everyone had settled in--except, of course, for those desperate for a chance to get answers from Nikolai Brandon himself. Nicholas didn't bother, after what happened during the interview he doubted the censors would let him anywhere near a conversation with the man.

Suddenly, Nicholas felt like he had been dropped into a tiger cage with no clothes. He could feel some kind of undefined menace closing in on him.He stopped himself before he jumped out of his seat, and looked around. He couldn't see anything causing it--but he could feel it coming straight off of Brandon.

Nicholas looked around, but nobody--not even Chen who was right next to him--seemed to be affected.

Son of a bitch...
It all clicked. That--magic--that he'd forced out of his mind. The bastard on the podium could do it to. The last time he'd felt that pure, unadulterated menace was also the last time he was in the same room with the man.

Trano was stuck in the room with that terrible, terrible feeling--and there was nothing for him to do but draw inwards. He stared off in the vague direction of Nikolai Brandon, enough to look engaged... but inside, he was trying desperately to force that feeling--every feeling--out.

He didn't know why that made him feel so alive.

Edited by Nick Trano, Sep 26 2013, 06:18 PM.
The press struggled. Time was ticking away. The strict ten minutes allotted to their questions was shrinking fast, and they were torn between probing the Ascendancy for plans regarding the United States and seeking official statements about these surprising turn of events.

Thirty years in politics did not mean it was easy. He could not tune out everything and focus on the single entity that tempted distraction. He repeated his three main islands of statements over and over. The strategy for fielding press conferences and interviews were always the same: maintain eye contact and stick to your main points.

There was a shadow on the room. Though each and every eager face vying for his was completely oblivious to its presence. It was outside the spectrum of their meager minds to comprehend or sense. A wailing pitch that only those born to greater capacities could hear.

All but one man. Trano looked side to side, then shrank within himself. Nikolai's scanning of the back row paused to settle on the uncharacteristically quiet American. His Chinese compatriot, however, was forthcoming as ever.

The leading rows of the press corps turned when the Ascendancy called upon Ke Si Chen, who brought up that for all the legislation put forth, never once had the CCD approached China. Or for that matter, any other nation of the Americas, which at this point in time, should be easy pickings.
"Resentment? Is it not? For the country that wronged you." Chen asked with more insight than anyone else had thought to bring up. Or they were too hesitant to point out.

Nikolai began to answer, but suddenly the explosion of popping glass stopped him. Every coil of light shattered overhead, raining down shards of glittering glass like a sharp curtain fell between the edge of his podium and the front row of the prestigious CCD press corps. The stage dimmed. Though Nikolai did not so much as flinch, the eclipse cloaked cavernous angles of light hard on the planes of his face. He of course knew it was coming. It was the very safe effect he'd forced in that Bologna car park the first time he touched the power.

Unfortunately, half a heartbeat later, the off-stage security agents swept into view and practically pasted their bodies against his. Which meant their conference was over; a shameful ending to cut their time two-minutes short.

He was immediately whisked from the stage though not without landing a final glance on Trano.

He wanted Trano to know exactly what he did, and feel powerless to do anything about it. It was a risk Nikolai was not completely comfortable taking. Either he would depress Trano's will so thoroughly that the man would cease his campaigns or Nikolai was crafting his future adversary. He couldn't have the man killed outright. He needed him broken.

They met eyes. Give up, the shade his smile said, you'll never win.

Additional agents swarmed into the room out of no where. Until security was verified, nobody was going anywhere, unless it were to visit an interrogation room.
The questions were what Trano expected--censored, servile and uninspired. Of course, he wasn't really focusing on them. He could see a light in his mind's eye. Is that what I think it is?
He tried to reach out and grasp it, for probably the fiftieth time. Of course, he had never seen what he was reaching for.

Every other time, he had tried the slow deliberate approach. But the definition of insanity was trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Or at least, that's how the saying goes.
He smirked to himself. Thinking I can do fucking magic is pretty insane too.

Abandoning his earlier strategy, he practically tackled and seized the glowing light in his mind. Instead of coaxing it to follow him, he overpowered it--and it worked. His vision sharpened, he could hear Chen's heart beat. Then he looked up--just in time to see thin golden tendrils wrapping around the lights. They kept flickering in and out of his vision, but he could tell they were constricting.

There's terrifying, and then there's holy-shit-the-room-just-exploded-and-the-ruler-of-half-the-world-and-not-the-good-half-just-gave-me-a-really-creepy-look terrifying. Needless to say, Nicholas Trano was experiencing the latter. Bastard didn't even flinch while being showered with shards of glass. Of course, why would he? He caused it.

The look on Chen's face would have been priceless any other time. Of course, finding out that the Sith Lord of half the world could actually use the force was not one of those times.

In short order, Darth Brandon's storm troopers had arrived to take control of the situation. So many of them flooded the room that Nicholas wondered where Brandon kept them all. In seconds the evil bastard was surrounded by men dumb enough to take a bullet for him, and he was being ushered from the room--probably to some secure bunker.

With their overlord safe, the custody agents quickly rounded everybody up--after all, if there was another bomb in the room it wouldn't be very good publicity to lose a hundred journalists and another half that number in valuable agents. Nicholas was terrified, but at the same time he felt invincible. He and Chen hurried to the door where security agents were herding people to a holding area.

He turned to the officer in charge, who was busy shouting orders. Chen had already passed through--his loss. "I'd like to be escorted out--it's obvious I had nothing to do with this."
He didn't know what he was doing, but dozens of different colored wires sunk into the man's skull.

Nicholas was still trying to figure out what the nurses were dosing him with in his padded room when one of the lower-ranked agents had gotten him to his car.

Edited by Nick Trano, Sep 28 2013, 10:13 PM.
The town car's back door closed on Trano's heels. Hidden in the shadows of the back seat and obscured behind tinted glass, lounged the enigmatic Agent Reed. Seated, the hem of her black pencil skirt sat higher on the line of her legs than she usually revealed. A crisp, button up white shirt was tucked in the snug waist, the buttons pulling snug across her bustline, and her hair was down. The confident femininity of her attire, the dangle of earrings, and the sharpness of her stilettos, offset the robotic turn of her neck when her mark joined her. He undoubtedly was not expecting to see her there.

As the car sped forward, she turned a screen around and showed Trano the interior of the room he'd just left. She tossed the device so it landed hard in his lap.

"What the H E L L happened in there!" She demanded. Without Abrams around to soften the blow, her displeasure was more than obvious.
He still couldn't believe it worked. Whatever it is...
The Custody agent was almost as incredulous as Nicholas Trano. It was probably a massive breach of protocol to just let someone walk away right after Ascendancy himself had been threatened. Someone was definitely getting fired.

As it was, at least he was headed back to the hotel. Maybe he'd see about meeting up with Jon Little Bird for drinks--it'd be nice to have someone in Moscow who wasn't CIA or a Custody shill to talk to, and Chen was probably busy getting cavity searched in a CCD interrogation room.

He turned to the agent, a straight-backed and muscular man in his mid-twenties. "Thanks for walking me out."
Trano received an uncertain nod in return, before the man departed. Probably heading back to make sure his commander hasn't had a minor stroke--
which he very well may have. Trano didn't want to think of those implications just yet.

The driver got out and opened the door for him--unnecessary, really. He hated being treated like that--rich, famous, fragile. Still, he hopped right in. He was more than happy to get away from Nikolai Brandon, even if in theory the man could have him killed whenever he wanted. That thought made him smile. Fear and logic are two different things.

Then he turned his head--looking to see if there was anything to drink, truth be told--and found himself face to face with the Ice Queen, who instantly whipped a screen at him. "What the hell happened in there!

She wasn't happy. At least she found her voice.

Luckily enough, the car was stocked. He poured himself a glass of scotch as he answered.

"Well, all the lights in the room decided to explode."
He didn't empty the glass right after answering. Well, actually he did.

Of course, Ice Queen gave him another one of her flat stares. She really did those well--well enough that after a few seconds he was forced to elaborate.

"The lights all popped, but the bastard on the stage didn't even flinch. He stared straight at me while it happened, too."
Of course, that was crazy. Not as crazy as what actually happened though. "Now you tell me what that means--I'd really rather not wake up in Brandon's personal rape dungeon.

Reed ignored Trano's remark and went on to the next line of questioning. "And how did you get out of there? Standard operating procedure is to detain everyone." She must have thought she had laser vision, because she was trying her hardest to burn a hole straight through him.

Trano shrugged--the alcohol took a bit of the edge off the events. "Don't know. I told the senior officer it was obvious I had nothing to do with the explosions--I'd hazard a guess he believed me."

Edited by Nick Trano, Oct 6 2013, 02:27 PM.
Eyeing the drink, there were things about Trano that did not escape Reed's notice. Chief among them, the man was a jackass, but he was also a smooth-talker.

"He probably stared straight at you because you didn't ask a single fucking question, Trano. Don't forget you're actually interested in being here. So stop acting like a little bitch on a leash and start playing your role." Jaw clenched, Reed snatched the bottle Trano just drained, and tapped the glass from her nails wrapped around the neck.

"Being Brandon's bitch would probably drive anyone to drink, but did he really scare the piss out of you that much?" She smirked and uncrossed her legs just enough to stuff the bottle between her knees. Reaching half across the car to shove the thing back in its slot wasn't going to happen in this dress. Of course, he could just barely see the band of her thigh holster from his angle. "You going to keep drinking like a scared little girl or actually going to do your fucking job?"
If it were anybody else, he'd have to admit she was pretty damn sexy when she was angry. Of course, it was Reed--robotic Ice Queen extraordinaire, so that went out the window. But even so, insults aside Trano could almost believe she was trying to seduce him. Of course, that was probably the scotch talking.

He really wished he could tell her the truth, but on the off chance that he was losing his mind he decided to keep quiet. And besides, if he was already in the loony bin he didn't want to risk destroying the nice reality he had dreamed up for himself. Oh no, Agent Reed--it's actually magic. Me and Nikolai Brandon can both use magic!

Now that would have been a great conversation.

He frowned at the bottle she'd stolen. "Next time the leader of the bad half of the world gives you the 'I'm-going-to-make-you-my-bitch' look, tell me how you feel about it."
He sighed and put the empty glass down. At least he had a nice little buzz going, between what he'd been drinking at the conference and what he had in the car. "I'm not exactly his favorite person in the world, and we're not exactly in neutral territory."

She didn't look angry, more annoyed than anything else. Like a big sister trying to keep an idiot brother from doing something stupid. He resented that. "You sure loved to talk a lot of shit when you could hide stateside. What's changed?"

That made him smile. "I'm not scared of a fist fight with a sixty year old man."
Even if he was in excellent shape. "Sadly, he's got a few million guys to do that kind of thing for him. I'm not exactly a gambler, and even if I were I wouldn't like those odds."
He really wished he was able to control the magic better. Maybe if he could do something--like get that bottle back

--he could prove he wasn't crazy. That would make explaining the fact that the evil overlord of half the world was also a powerful--or at least skilled, Trano really didn't know how that sort of thing worked--magic user a lot easier. Wizard? Warlock? Sorcerer? Wish I played more dungeons and dragons when I was a kid.

Forum Jump:

Users browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)