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Two hours after the EOA Chief of Staff reported the news of assault in Mecca, the Ascendancy's warcraft of an airplane touched down. They had circled the skies above the Arabian desert the entire time, and the delay gave him time to formulate the specifics of a plan, one that needed to be executed immediately. The Ascendancy was going to respond to the actions undertaken this night in Mecca, and the world would listen, and believe the version of events he outlined. Who would contradict him?

Unfortunately, no hellfire would rain down upon the city, yet the city would know a different sort of calamity all the same. Touchdown rocked Nikolai in his seat gentle as an infant in their crib, but the exact moment he was back in contact with the grim face of the earth, his fists unclenched their hold upon the armrests, and he released the long-held breath of an anxious flyer. Safely on the ground once more, the switch in his mind snapped upon the task at hand, that of a delivery unlike any he'd made before.

They taxied to a black, open field of the base tarmac illuminated by floodlights bright as small suns perched high on their poles. Not a single plane moved in the periphery except the fighter jets of his military escort, but they remained clear of the path his aircraft might need should an emergency take off become necessary.

Military transports were waiting. Unmarked black vehicles, SUVs and town cars were arranged several rows behind. A group of individuals stood sentry while the plane taxied into place. Officers and Custody-appointed leaders of the city were present as well, including the regional representative of the Patron of DV. Although civilian, they were given a place of prominence by which to welcome the Ascendancy to their home, as embarrassed as they were to do so in a time of such instability. Although, technically, DV was his before it was theirs.

Finally, behind a line of armed Custody Security Service agents waited a dozen members of the Press Corps, including the foreigners traveling among them. Nikolai ordered their express presence tonight. He wanted the foreign press to cover him, not the insanity inside the distant city. They were given a privilege to see the interior of a Custody base, but they rode in and out in covered vehicles to be there. Any details they observed would be only what he wished them to see.

Viktor, the Chief that delivered the news several hours earlier, met Nikolai as he emerged from his aircraft office. Nik buttoned his suit jacket as they walked.
"Confirmed, Ascendancy. We are ready. ZARS await final orders."

"At the end of my speech, release the video of the capture."
The man nodded. He and most of the personnel in his presence would remain on board. Their time on the ground would be short-lived.

Nikolai continued to the aircraft's primary exit. His chief Barrier agent emerged onto the staircase first. There was a final round of surveillance checking, and Nikolai followed. He stood alone at the top of the stairs for a moment, allowing himself to be seen. The force of his presence rippled electric through the air, the dead of a calm before the storm that broke when he moved. Members of the press whispered to one another. Some beamed with pride. Others swallowed their nerves.

An accompanying thunder rolled through his chest, and deadened the intensity of his gaze. At the base of the stairs was a podium. His symbol hovered in front of it. For a backdrop, the endless stretch of night-shrouded desert made for a dramatic image. The deep gray of his suit was without wrinkle, and the sharp cut of his sickled pin gleamed orange and gold on his lapel, but it was the blue of his eyes, cold as icicles, that greeted the faceless cameras pointed his direction.

Side to side glances summoned the personnel to his left and right. Mecca-born civilians, bearing their own DV pins and the Custody officer enacting land operations in the area joined him for the press conference. Whether with a bow of the head or a salute of the hand, Nikolai acknowledged each before the audience of a worldwide press, a reminder that he was the executive in charge of military operations across half the world. Then he began his address.

A dozen cameras focused on him. He looked into them as though he were meeting the soul of each and every individual to be watching at home.

"Citizens of the Custody, citizens of the world, tonight I am appalled to announce that a team of foreign special forces struck an unarmed, civilian population at the heart of our Custody, here, tonight in Mecca, on the eve of a conference for negotiation with the express purpose of murdering innocent civilians, in direct violation of modern warfare treaties."

The power rippling through his chest turned his voice into the edge of a knife. A politician's greatest weapon, one now casually poised against the throat of Frederick Dawson, and Nikolai was a master at slitting his enemies' throats.

"In the wake of arson, explosives and firefight with local law enforcement, several members of this team were killed. I am pleased to announce that the remaining members of this team, identified to be four individuals impersonating Custody forces, have been captured by a counter-terrorism ZARS unit."
To the side, Viktor disseminated the Ascendancy's earlier order.

The members of the press began to stir, and Nikolai raised his voice ever so slightly to shut them up. He was not done.

"AS I SPEAK they are being transported to a secure compound for questioning. In light of these events, it has become clear that civil authorities have exceeded their capabilities in dealing with civil disturbances in Mecca, therefore authorization has been granted to the Custody of Defense to assist local law enforcement to contain additional threats. In the next few hours, roadblocks and checkpoints in and out Mecca will be constructed to maintain order and safety for those wishing to exit the city."

The press righted themselves, furiously taking notes as they went. Some began to study the skies overhead as though they expected black op's to drop at any moment. The foreigners among them shifted in their unease.

The design of Nikolai's plan was to restore the rule of law in Mecca. This included utilization of information- and influence-operations designed to present a picture of the Custody's swift response and the inevitable defeat of insurrection. Thanks to Michael Vellas, military intelligence units were already in the area, groups that did an excellent job in writing their Intelligence Plan for the Battlefield, a reconnaissance and intelligence gathering regarding Hasan's largest supporters' patterns of behavior, distribution of riots epicenters, and pipelines of rioting support.

Due in large part to his successful work, there was already enacted a phased deployment of selected forces that were successfully, and immediately surfacing. Therefore, the deployment of Custody forces into the area would be swift, and limited only by the duration of time required to travel from area bases, or in the case of naval support, make their presence in the Red Sea known, a presence that had been there all along, hidden in the waters. Until tonight, any additional naval activity around the port city of Jeddah, which was already home to a navy base, had gone unnoticed, and Mecca would suddenly realize how far Jeddah's shadow stretched inland when battleships and submarines aimed their way. By morning, the city would be an unrecognizable haven of order.

The pace of the operation would be deliberate and controlled. Over the next few days, combat units would conduct overt Show of Force operations to remind any and all insurrectionists they were now facing professional military forces, with all the training and equipment that implied.

Army and Marine units would remove riot choke points both overtly and covertly with minimum essential force to continually ratchet up pressure on Hasan's leadership. Within days, Custody forces would tighten the noose as troops seized and secured power and water stations, radio and tv stations, and hospitals.

Tonight's foreign strike was the perfect excuse to surround Hasan. Nikolai might have thanked Dawson for his stupidity, because the assault played directly into his hands. Al-Hasan and his followers would come to know that an uprising against the Custody would be defeated. The USA would come to realize their best and brightest, when tossed about by a strategic imbecile, could be turned into Nikolai's propaganda in an instant.

In his closing remarks, Nikolai would speak directly to Al-Hasan. "After declining my invitation, Al-Hasan may consider our conference cancelled,"
he said. The delivery was cool, but patient. In one sentence Nikolai reminded the world of his generosity. He was the hero here, and Hasan the child to slap his hand away. Such was always the case, and he was growing tired of being the wiser man.

"As a religious figurehead and a citizen of the Custody, he will be allowed to continue to lead those of his faith for the time being, but he, and those acting in his name, must surrender all political action, gathering of arms, and organization of such arms to the Custody of Defense as demonstration of his willingness to protect innocent lives from further bloodshed. He may submit agreement of such terms to Moscow within the next fourteen days or face a warrant for criminal disloyalty and high treason."

"That will be all."

As Nik turned away, the line of a smile touched his lips. Perception shaped reality, and tonight, reality was his creation.

Now to endure the long flight home.
Reed herself was not allowed into the press corps event as Trano was. This suited her needs perfectly fine. Being in operation as she was, she could not simply flash a DNA sample and stroll through the base like she owned the place.

In all likelihood, she anticipated traveling back to Moscow tonight - in Trano's company of course. She was without actual confirmation, but her guess was the Ascendancy would not stay long in Mecca. One of two things were likely to happen. Either the city would be obliterated or abandoned. She didn't care either way, but she rather hoped for obliteration. There was a thousand dollar bill riding on the bet, and she could use the money. Her car was begging for upgrades. If she were ever Ninacska again.

Thinking her own name clinched her own jaw. She was so deep into Samantha and Julie Reed, that she rarely allowed herself such slips of thought. There were exercises she could take later to train that part of her mind into submission - it had been a while since such a mistake.

She was a complete void during the Ascendancy's speech until the announcement of the black ops team's capture, when she smirked. The other assistants waiting in her company looked like they'd been slapped with shock.

Following the address, rolled a very precise, Custody-media video of four individuals in dirtied uniforms, heads black-bagged, being escorted to God knew where. At which point, she had a look around. The team was probably within walking distance, and she had full opportunity to attempt a rescue. She was already in the fucking base, after all, but no such order came. If they were stupid enough to be caught alive, then they could rot in a Custody bunker for all she cared. Although she doubted such would be their fate.
CCD spy and all around badass

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