Chapter I: A Good Spy

To be a good spy means to abandon all ideas of having the moral upper hand, your only virtues are loyalty and obedience to your service, when required the good spy will be a thief, a liar, a murderer or a pimp. Forget all you've heard about romance and adventure, it's all nonsense.

- MGB Chairman N. N. Lapshov 1954


Tolbukhina lit her cigarette, a short stocky woman with slightly Mediterranean features she could pass for a citizen, five years of training for this kind of thing, five years of bone gruelling toil, and then the injury to her ankle which first made her ineligible for the intelligence service, but which now was a great asset. Unfit for frontline duties, that's what her military papers said. She was in truth far more fit than most Draka since the MGB had picked only the finest unlike the Draka who had to train everyone born as a citizen.

She stretched herself as she exited the railway coach, ignoring the dirty stares that she got from many of the Indians blackarses she thought casually. The only time they had shown her the slightest courtesy was when they thought they could get tips, but then they had been disgustingly cringing.

The border crossing was rather empty, there wasn't much activity here even on a good day and with the war no day was good. Here and there you saw salesmen hawking their goods, and a couple of kiosks selling the odd trifle, and of course the inevitable streetfront bistros. All of it run down, dusty, and disturbingly quiet for India, it was as if everyone was just waiting for something to happen.

She leaned against her walking stick, an unfortunate necessity, it was a very fancy thing with a blade hidden inside it, a century old import from France in fact and with its silver eagle head it was just the kind of thing a French émigré might pass down as a heirloom. She didn't show it as she walked towards the largish gate in the brick wall separating the two countries, near the crossing it was brick but further north and south it was a pair of moats dug in parallel with minefields and multiple layers of barbed wire.

A loud but tinny voice resounded from the battered loudspeakers hanging on the walls "All passengers for the Domination of the Draka please proceed towards the gate, keep your papers ready for identification purposes. We remind all foreigners that a visa is required to enter the Domination and that the British Empire takes no responsibility for any subjects of foreign nations once they have entered the Domination of the Draka."

Step by step she struggled over to the gate, the Domination and India used slightly different gauges for some reason, and even if that were not so a direct rail link would not really be trusted by any of the powers. As such there was now a small army of porters involved in removing luggage from the train and carrying it towards the border where a very peculiar ritual took place. There were in fact several gates in the wall aside from the passenger gate, but the one of peculiar interest was one that seemed to be built into a bulge in the wall; this door, a large one through which a steady stream of porters carried luggage, led to a large oval area surrounded by walls on all sides. On the other side, the Drakan side, there was another door that was always locked while the door to the Indian side was open. When the Indian porters were done they would leave the area and the door would be locked behind them, then a pair of Drakan guards would enter and stand by the door, and then finally the native serf porters would be let in to carry the luggage over to the Drakan side.

The reason for why they used Drakan guards instead of Janissaries was of course both amusing and illuminating, for they had initially used Janissaries until one faithful day in 1932. A squad of Janissaries entered initially, as usual, but that is when they did something very UN usual for some reason the crates in the oval had been piled a little higher than usual and upon seeing this they had pulled out a set of ropes with grappling hooks from under their uniforms and proceeded to jump on top of the crates and throw the ropes over the walls before climbing over the wall, throwing their uniforms across the broken glass that lined the wall. The moment the Indians had realised what was happening they had rushed over and helped secure the grappling hooks and so all but two members of the Janissary squad, killed by Drakan snipers, had made it to freedom.

Apparently the natives were still laughing about that, and in the corner of her eye Tolbukhina could see a pair of rusty grappling hooks displayed in front of one of the larger streetside restaurants. She didn't smile, nor feel tempted, instead her eyebrow just rose slightly as she continued her slightly limping walk towards the gate.

Of course the luggage didn't concern her one way or another, all she had was a single rather ornate duffel bag that contained a few essentials. Ordinarily that would have set off all kinds of alarm bells, one rule that the MGB always followed was that you brought luggage with you to avoid drawing attention, even if it was only suitcases filled with towels. However given her particular cover story a single duffel was considered enough, indeed anything more would be suspicious.

The Security Directorate man in the boot looked up to watch her, eying her up and down, battered clothes rather dusty so she'd been travelling for a while, a tight athletic body of the kind no damn feral could hope to match, and that tired but deadly expression to her face.

Even before she pulled out her passport and handed it to him he told her "Welcome home citizen, ah hope yo' didn't haf enny trouble on yer journey".

"Wal yo' c'd haf given me some warnin' befo'e startin' a war, but otherwise ah didn't haf enny trouble," she said as he quickly examined her passport, then she flashed him her Service Exemption Card taking care to hide it from anyone else that might be watching.

Half pretending not to notice he returned her papers and gave a polite "All in order Mrs Fauchard."

The woman now known as Helene Fauchard picked up the papers and tucked them away into her inner pocket before entering the Domination. It was a hideous place of course, once upon a time this area of Afghanistan may have had its own charm but it had long since been ruined by Drakan architecture; a kind of unholy mating of Moghul style and Classicism.

Other than the architecture though it wasn't hard to spot the difference between the two areas, first there were the people; rather than the haphazard collection of rags that most Indians wore the serfs here generally wore slightly better but far more uniform clothing, and the down cast and haphazard way that they moved about or did their work suggested broken resentful spirits.

She soon found a street side restaurant, there were a handful of tables outside but she ignored them and proceeded inside the restaurant, it was only half full and occupied by a wide assortment of citizens most of them looking slightly out of place though; sojourning in this dismal place for one reason or another but never staying long if they could avoid it.

A handsome though dark skinned native wearing a nice native outfit capped by a turban came rushing over, bowing deeply as he reverently chanted "Mistress of gracious mistress, what kind of table do you want?" in a peculiar dialect a mixture of the Indian and the Drakan one.

"The private kind," she said simply otherwise ignoring him in favour of the citizens there, gritting her teeth she used the cane as little as she could hating her weakness and showing it.

It was a fancy menu, literally that is it was wrapped in red leather and the sides were from proper linen paper, though heavy on the assortment of liquors and wines, it was low on anything that involved imported foodstuffs. That was definitely another artefact of the war cutting down the Drakan supply routes and only leaving behind such things that could be stored for a long time or last a long time.

She ordered herself a simple meal, or as simple as a Drakan meal could get, local veal done so perfectly that it practically melted in your mouth, a thick fat sauce, and some suitable wine to go with it. The food was exquisite, and it was served on lovely porcelain plates, clearing away some of the sauce with her fork Helene noticed that the design seemed Persian Still living like the old Empires she thought.

As she ate she surreptitiously studied her surroundings, old comfortable chairs and benches, nice tables too handmade from the look of it, and a staff of servants dressed up in some custom produced native costume that did do a little to brighten the place up. Several of the man and a few of the women gave her interested looks, she studied them in return finding most of them too old or too ugly or both.

The service was good, but nothing exceptional, indeed there were too many waiters here, far more than should strictly be required even for prompt and effective service but of course if every table had a single waiter then any delays or complaints could be laid firmly on one head which made sense in a way Stupid snakes, just give the poor sods some tips.

After she finished eating and received the bill she casually threw down the necessary money and hesitated for a moment "My compliments to the house," she said with a half smile around her lips as the waiter bowed repeatedly. Looking out the window she could see that they were only starting to line up the serfs outside the gate to the oval, she sighed and pulled out her watch studying it for a while and wondering how long she'd have to wait to move on.

Suddenly though an autosteamer, a fancy military Kellerman by the looks of it, stopped outside the restaurant and a single citizen in khaki uniform jumped out and walked in "LADY'S AND GENTULMEN!" he said loudly making everyone turn their eyes towards him "Them filthy bushmen haf blown up th' railway in three places, thar's no way ennyone is travellin' down thet railway thass fo' sho'nuff."

There were a couple of groans from the people in the restaurant as they heard this, several of the people looked disgusted with the idea of having to stick in out in this dump for however long it took to clear up the railway.

Having paid her bills Helene wasn't too concerned however, she simply excited the restaurant, walking down the dusty street as she peered across the border towards the Khyber pass, still in British hands, and shuddered as she thought she could see ghostly columns of men in the dust drifting lazily across the pass.

When spring-time flushes the desert grass,
Our kafilas wind through the Khyber Pass.
Lean are the camels but fat the frails,
Light are the purses but heavy the bales,
As the snowbound trade of the North comes down
To the market-square of Peshawur town.

The verse came unbidden to her mind as she walked towards a building that looked like a hotel, but pitching one glance to the sky for clouds were brewing and part of her mind wondered if she should make a run for it and get a steamer before the rains began.

The entrance to the hotel had a single doorman in a rather worn uniform, not holed or anything but the edges were frayed, and the colour was vanishing from the fake gold braids. Seeing her he bowed politely and opened the door to the hotel, not really looking at her or doing anything other than robotically obeying, unlike the flourishes she'd seen in the hotels in Moskva where the Capitalists stayed.

The hotel wasn't much to brag about either, in some parts she'd be able to count on the hospitality of another Draka but in an area like this where there were few if any landholders and lots of transient Draka that was not an option. In truth though, however much you might seek to down play it, most travelling Draka would stay in hotels or hostels rather than count on hospitality.

The concierge didn't seem overly surprised to notice another tired Citizen who needed a room, though immediately his eyes were drawn to her walking stick and her leg, a strange expression crossed his eyes as if saying Ah yes so that's why.

"How mah ah help yo mistis," he asked simply as she approached the desk, nervously flickering a glance towards the rear of the restaurant no doubt looking for the citizen on duty.

Helena ignored him entirely "A room, a bottle of cognac and a wench," she said simply knowing full well that all of those were considered basic services in all Drakan hotels.

"Yes Mistis, as you say it Mistis," he said bowing deeply "Thass, uh," he did a mental calculation before he came up with "Ah two aurics a day mistis, three wi' de brandi."

Helena reached into her coat and pulled out three aurics from her pocket "There ya go," the gold coins jingled as they slid across the counter.

"Thank yoh mistis" the serf said as he scooped up the coins and then pulled out a thick and rather battered guest book and opened it roughly a third of the way into it "Iffen you could please sign yoh self in Mistis ah kin take yo to the room mistis," he said bowing and looking very subservient as he offered up a gilded fountain pen to her.

She quickly signed the paper without hesitating as Helene Fauchard, that name was so ingrained in her that it seemed more real than her real one. Then she received a key and at once the concierge called out "Mehmet," before smiling apologetically "He be here mistis."

Moments later the boy popped up, a handsome young thing with a slightly worried expression, he was wearing a tight red uniform and upon seeing the citizen he bowed deeply and held out his hand for her duffel. Instantly Helene handed it to him, then he bowed again and said "Please follow mistis," and began to walk up the stairs.

Helene watched him carefully as they walked, he wasn't too fast nor particularly enthusiastic, and as they reached the second story of the building he walked her down a rather long corridor with a handful of doors on either side. He stopped outside of Room 7 and waited for her, as she walked down the corridor Helene noticed greatness in decay, the carpets were deep but worn, yet they were still colourful and with patterns depicting birds and flowers and geometric patterns, and the silk wallpapers were also of an old fashion but spotlessly clean.

Opening the door she stepped inside, the bellhop followed closely behind, placing her luggage respectfully on the ground and then bowing again "Does mistis want more?" He asked in a neutral tone of voice, and as she shook her head he left at once quietly closing the door behind him.

For a moment she pondered how different things were here, even in the Soviet Union a bellhop would linger a bit, offer to show how to operate the radio or do other minor chores in the hope of getting a tip, but not here... privileges from his owner or slaps from his guests was all he could get since serfs weren't allowed to handle money.

The room was far from dingy, or suite to be precise there was a parlour, a bedroom, a bath, and of course the servants room, for every Drakan hotel however crummy came with its own serf servant. Her name was June, she was chubby and wore a simple maids uniform, Helene simply ignored her for the most part but not in a mean spirited way, more like an absentminded way.

It was a rather pleasant suite though, impeccably clean of course, and the furniture was actually tasteful as the more expensive decorations had been skimped in favour of economy. The quality of the furniture stood out by the quality of the craftsmanship, which was high as in all Drakan products, and the quality of the materials which was also high. Smooth gleaming cherrywood surfaces, soft recliner chairs, but the thing that spoiled the actual class was a couple of elaborate paintings depicting lions in sunsets, prancing horses, herds of zebras and other amazingly kitchy scenes from Africa. That and of course the baths where for some reason they had decided upon a thin layer of gilding on all the metal, it clashed against the natural stone interior you found there.

All said however you got excellent service for your money, for two aurics a day you got quite a lot, but then again prices would by necessity be depressed in this area what with the war and all drawing the travellers away.

Then after a few moments June returned and announced "Mistis, yo wench and yo konjak is heah" behind here, slightly obscured by June's large shape was a pretty young woman maybe 18 or 19 holding a silver platter with a large bottle of cognac and some glasses on it.

Helene waved at the girl "Get in," she said and then studied the young woman. The wench was dressed in a nice dress but it was both somewhat short, and showing a bit of cleavage, apparently it'd been altered quite a bit from the usual uniforms that the serfs wore and given her other duties as Helene mentally categorised them that wasn't odd.

"What's yo name Wench?" Helen asked casually as the girl entered.

"I'm Jasmine mistis."

Helene reached out and picked up the cognac bottle, noting with satisfaction that it was a worthwhile imported one. The Dominate had quite a few wines of its own of course, most from the Old Domination, but in the main these were sweet wines and brandies that lacked appeal to the discerning palate. Of course many of them were also quite good, like the Constantia, but even the good ones were every day desert or dinner wines and despite the claims of its owners simply not up the same standards as the better foreign wines.

All of this rushed through her mind as she studied the label finally though she put it back on the silver platter and walked over to one of the chairs where she sat down "Turn on the radio June, and pour me a glass Jasmine" she said as she studied the girl intently.

The radio had only four channels available in the area, three Drakan ones and the scratchy slightly distant sound of the BBC occasionally interrupted by a staccato TAC TAC TAC sound of the Drakan jammers; the famed Drakan Woodpecker. The news were boring but when they hit a channel sending light music Helene said simply "Yeah stop right there," then she sipped some of the cognac feeling the pleasant smooth burn as it went down.

"Take of your clothes," she said absentmindedly, watching Jasmine strip down till she stood buck naked, her clothes in a neatly folded piled placed on the floor. She was an attractive woman, not one of the great beauties but good proportions and a pretty face, and despite her light coffee coloured complexion Helene thought she could spot the hint of a blush Poor girl she thought but that sympathy could not stop her "Time for a bath, Jasmine you're coming with me."

"Oh thank you mistis," Jasmine said sounding both submissive and even a little eager, no doubt she was a little eager as hot baths and scented soaps were no doubt rare for a wench to experience.

The following experience and night were no entirely unpleasant, a warm bath helped clean them both and soothe aching muscles, Jasmine soaped her and cleaned her thoroughly, but Helene didn't take it further there. Relaxing in the soothing warm water Helene studied Jasmine carefully, the wench seemed submissive and a bit scared but not sullen or resentful as she seemed to not mind over much sitting around in a tub of warm water and rubbing herself and the Draka with nice smelling soaps.

As they left Helene let Jasmine rub her with a big fluffy towel before they both walked naked into the bedroom. "Fetch the cognac Jasmine deah" Helene said before slumping down onto the bed. After Jasmine had done so Helene smiled at her "Evah try cognac?" she asked.

Jasmine smiled and nodded "Yes Mistis, a couple of times," she said in a pleasing voice.

"Go fetch anotha glass girl."

"Yes Mistis!" Jasmine said as she quickly walked to the parlour and recovered another glass, then as she returned she half kneeled by the bed and looked modestly up at Helene.

"Pour yourself some," Helene said, and then kissed Jasmine on the lips "I think you'll enjoy it." After Jasmine was done filling the glass Helene smiled again and pulled the girl close kissing her again, but while Jasmine was thus distracted Helene poured a white powder into her cognac.

Apparently the powder had no flavour for Jasmine drank the cognac happily, smiling as she did, and was delighted at being permitted a second glass before climbing into bed.

When Jasmine fell asleep Helene studied her features in the lamplight, she wondered if the girl was a halfbreed or maybe an enslaved Persian for her skin was more fair than that of most of the serfs she'd seen. As Helene gently caressed the sleeping girls cheek she realised that she hadn't bothered to ask any of these questions and somehow it seemed wrong. Turning over Jasmine's arms Helene noticed something odd, a small black cross tattooed on her wrist a Copt, so sad she thought casually before letting the arm drop.

The modern between Khyber Pass and Kabul is not, as is often thought, a purely Drakan construction. Indeed this road was initially financed by Russia who hoped that a proper road would make matters easier on the Russian autosteamer logistics system. However it was never used for its intended purpose which was to storm into India and let the Russian army wash its boots in the Indian Sea.

Upon the conquest of Afghanistan by British groups the road linking Kabul and Khyber Pass was heavily improved, including the creation of several bridges. However upon the British withdrawal a series of alleged accidents severely damaged the integrity of many sections of the road leading to their collapse.

The Draka had great problems with construction in this area since escape was so very feasible for anyone local, this often forced them to use serfs from distant areas but even so Mujaheddin raiders would often trigger insurrections or mass escapes. Eventually it brought about the harshest regiment of any road project in the Domination, the slaves would work in chain gangs and if one escaped the whole gang was impaled, stealing food was punished by ear cropping, and stringent rationing would keep the serfs just strong enough to work but with no spare energy. Punishments however did not take as many lives as the labour itself, and soon the road had earned the name "The Blood Road".

The road that resulted was however of overall good quality, though it did not entirely fit into the various road classes that the Domination liked. It was a simple two lane road with great care taken to protect it from rock and mud slides, though originally planned to include several tunnels the inherent vulnerability of tunnels meant that they were either not built or not used forcing the road to follow the old caravan route in truth.

To protect it there were no trees or shade along side it, so as to deny insurgents any cover from which they could attack convoys, every few miles there was a blockhouse which held a Janissary contingency. Each blockhouse was able to hold at bay a sizable partisan attack, but also provided room and makeshift first aid stations for any citizens that had been ambushed.

Various methods were tried to allow each blockhouse to keep track of transport, initially telegraph wires were strung between them to allow for easy communication and signalling, however these were frequently cut by the partisans. Another method was to use wireless communications, and for large established positions this caused little problem except that for a time the rebels would listen in on the communications and use them to find out when a suitable convoy would pass by. This problem was not solved until the widespread distribution of the Greame decoding machines allowed coded messages to be sent and instantaneously decoded every five minutes.

- "The Great Crusade: Volume VII : The Indian Campaigns"


In the morning Helene woke up around 6AM, instead of sitting on the edge of the bed and struggling to get up she immediately she leapt out of her bed, brushing against Jasmine as she did, and dropped to the floor beginning her routine of push ups and sit ups and other exercises. At any age it was important to exercise, but to maintain the fitness expected of a Draka that was even more important.

Jasmine stirred nervously as she noticed that the warm firm body of her mistress for the evening was gone, as her bleary eyes opened she felt very woozy and couldn't really remember anything that happened last night except that she was still in bed. She stirred and tried to get up, thinking that she had to report back for duty but Helene's quick note "Stay" made her collapse back into the bed without any resistance.

Once she was done with her exercises Helene smiled and sat up next to Jasmine, gently caressing her hair and face "You sure loosen up with a little brandy under your belt," she said a smile on her face "I'm wondering if I should be keeping you."

At once Jasmine beamed a bit, but tried to hide it "Yes Mistis, oh please do buy me, ah'll be a very good girl." For Helene this pleading didn't seem to be based so much out of affection as it was out of a hope that she might become a private servant instead of whoring in some long lost hotel.

"Of course you will," Helene said with a pleasant smile, gently caressing Jasmine's cheek, she placed a finger on Jasmine's lips "A very good girl," she said as she pushed her finger slightly past said lips.

Jasmine blushed but looked quite submissive and adoring, apparently determined to present her best side in the hopes of being purchased.

Helene however cut it off there, satisfied that Jasmine would do as ordered, and since she wasn't really interested in Drakan passions she didn't really want to push this further. After getting dressed again Helene examined her clothes, they were of course of high quality but getting worn, and she'd need to get a new set before too long since she'd not even had this one cleaned recently. Truth be told she had exactly two outfits, both near identical and both of them the kind of khaki travel outfit that would make sense for a citizen on the run as it were, but which were woefully inadequate inside the Domination proper.

Now of course to figure out how to get to Kabul, from where she might grab an airship and not have to rely upon the easily disrupted roads and railways in Afghanistan. Absentmindedly she turned on the radio, listening to the long hissing and clicking as it slowly heated up, and then she slowly turned the dial trying to find something worth listening to. As luck would have it she tuned in at the end of one of the local newsbroadcasts.

"progress in Italy, despite th' resistance of th' locals Strategos John Wode believes thet th' fo'ces in Italy will succeed in bustin' through t'th' Po Rivah plain befo'e th' end of th' year."

"In local noos th' Security Direcko'ate is dispatchin' two mo'e airships t'th' area t'he'p keep an eye on th' bushmen infeckin' th' area. In a comment fum th' fellas on th' scene Centurion Joeseph Tyler told us thet 'Our noo combat gasses haf a most salutary effeck on this hyar problem.'"

"In other local noos we is so'ry t'info'm yo' thet th' railway link between th' Khyber Pass bo'der crostin' an' Kabul has not been re-established yet. Th' local Railroads an' Harbo's Combine representative info'ms us thet it will be at least a full three days befo'e regular transpo't kin be resoomd due t'extensive damage an' blockage."

Helene sighed as she turned off the radio, there was an audible click as it died down, then she smiled to Jasmine and slapped the girls flank "Get dressed girl."

Managers Office

The office was typical of a Drakon of the manager's rank. There was of course the excessively large desk made from dark mahogany and decorated with gold filigree work and the wood polished to a fine sheen. Behind the desk there was a pair of large windows covered with thick red curtains and bullion swags, and a velvet rope with bullion fringe around the windowsills, the rich materials reflecting the light of the sun. The light would also shine into the eyes of any guests, not quite enough to blind them but enough to be uncomfortable.

Helene of course was not overly worried, this was an old negotiating trick used to keep your adversary on his or her toes, to take advantage wherever you could. Still it bore notice that he shouldn't be underestimated by any extent of

Upon the walls were hung mementoes of military duty, Afghan daggers and old fashioned Lee-Enfield rifles, as well as the odd decorated human skull set up for ornament. There was of course also a bookshelf filled volumes either old or else decorated extensively with gold, a couple of ornate copies of the Koran were displayed opened up at pages that showed their best samples of calligraphy. The floor too was a monument of its own as here lay thick colourful carpets of Persian and Afghan make, often piled on top of each other and partly concealing the marble and gold design beneath.

Naturally there were also other scattered objects d'art around, like the very pretty Persian miniature paintings that scattered the place; or indeed the soft chairs and small tables that stood by them each of which was heavily decorated and quite unique.

A final part of the decorations were the human decorations, without which no Drakan home would be perfect, rather than rely upon conventional air conditioning there were a couple of boys in Oriental page boy outfits, carrying big ostrich feather fans which they swung slowly to cool the guests. A half naked wench in a harem outfit light silver chains emphasising her near nudity, offered a cool sorbet to the guests, her dark eyes made up with kohl and wanton sultry eyes peering apparently modestly up at any guests.

Behind the desk sat Jack Howard the manager and owner of the Hotel, an older man in his mid fifties explaining why he had not been called up for duty. He was not entirely unattractive, one of those somewhat handsome men that had remained in good shape even in old age, but the cold calculating look to his eyes warned Helene of a shrewd negotiator. His dress was somewhat conservative for a Draka, a single large gold earring, a large diamond studded thumb ring, a big signet ring, and a large expensive looking gold watch. Naturally his wide lapelled suit was made strictly from silk, and the hat hanging from the rack had a pair of long ostrich feathers kept in place by a studded gold and emerald broach.

This then was a more or less average office for a mid-ranking Draka of some means, a bragging room for sure to show off his wealth. Helene however was entirely unperturbed, during their training the students at the MGB school had lived inside one of the Tsars palaces which had been filled to the brim with all manner of gaudy devices so that this kind of ostentation wouldn't affect them.

"Helene Fauchard, monitor formerly of the 2nd Alexandria Legion, independent trader," she said, Name, rank and occupation, the Drakan introduction.

"Jack Howard, tetrarch formerly of the 4th Irregular Cavalry, manager and proprietor of the Khyber Pass Hotel," he replied amiably, a smile on his lips "I understand you wanted to discuss some business with me?"

"Yes, I'll cut right down to it I want to buy one of your maids, or room wenches or whatever it is you call'em, name of Jasmine," Helene pulled out her note book and added "I got her number too if that is needed."

"Naw, ah know who Jasmine is," Howard said as he mulled this "Ordinarily ah'd never consider selling one of my serfs," he was lying and they both knew it but shamelessly he went on "However if you take a fancy to her, weeeeell times being what they are I might consider making the sale."

"She's a nice wench, good in bed, but they're not too rare these days, and plenty more will be comin' in soon," Helene said casually "Still how about 200 aurics?"

"How about 400?"

"Mah grandfather used to call a pretty wench a 400 auric item, but let me tell you that sweet as Jasmine is it ain't that sweet!"

Thus they began to haggle, the negotiations went back and forth, but of course Jack Howard got the best of her as he really held the cards and could sense she was eager to buy. As part of the negotiation he also pulled out the folder that contained Jasmine's disciplinary and medical record, it was a rather slim folder, probably rather less elaborate than the Security Directorate liked to image them to be; truth was that the Draka like all other mortals, even the MGB, discovered that such files were often quite useless.

"Now you see Mrs Fauchard, this here wench got nary a bad bone in her body, submissive as anything you could hope for, but still got a nice little blush if you're into that," he noticed that the corner of her mouth twitched a little at this "Modest and pleasant, prime 'gyptian copt if here there was one."

Finally a full 312 aurics became the agreed upon price, and Helene pulled out several small bundles of aurics from her duffel, they had been wrapped up inside several layers of thick cotton socks that she had bought in France and Britain to keep them from rattling about. When she cut them up though the cash piled up on top of Howards desk till there was quite a pleasant pile.

"Now ah don't mean to pry, but did ya have to flee from the ferals?" he asked curiously as he saw the unusual way she carried her funds.

Helene nodded "Ayup, that's about it, one day I was sitting in Paris when suddenly I hear tell of our boys having some fun down in Rome, and I figure that this is gonna blow to all hell and gone so I grab as many aurics and pounds as I can and bug out." She let out some air and then added "Way I see it there are two kinds of people in the world, the quick and the dead, and I'm not about to let some sans culotte get the pleasure of doin' me in."

That was her story and she was sticking to it, not that she'd bother anyone with it or anything, but for a Draka outsmarting the enemy and getting back home despite adversity weren't something to be ashamed of quite the contrary in fact. That said Howard wasn't too interested in her story as he discretely showed the coins aside and wrote up a neat receipt and transfer of ownership before handing over the dossier.

"Here you are Mrs Fauchard, and I hope you will get as much good use out of her as we have" he said breaking a smile for the first time.

Probably got the better of me there Helene thought to herself, but she gave him a polite nod "A pleasure no doubt, I fear I must take my chattel down to the convoy though."

They shook hands, finding each others grips to be dry and firm, always a good sign, and their eyes were firm and unyielding, later on Howard would say "I looked into ha' eyes and dought ah' could see ha' soul."

Kruger-Brandt Armatorium

The Armatorium, or gun shop, was very well equipped indeed, lining the walls were long arms of every conceivable category, and placed along a long counter there were several shelves filled with various types of pistols and revolvers. Naturally there was also a nice selection of sub-machineguns ranging from Yankee Thompson guns to S-3s straight from the factory, all of them displayed proudly for the perusing customer.

The gun salesman was a rough and rugged character, also in his mid fifties he wore a simple tight shirt indoors which helped show off his still rather impressive physique, and of course some light jewellery to help emphasise his manly looks.

"Roger Corbin, Monitor Kabul Citizen militia, proprietor of this store and armourer of the militia," he introduced himself, then he motioned around the store and added "Yo see something yo like?"

Of course the wall of shame, as Helene immediately dubbed it, was the one containing a row of T-7A rifles, most of them in mint factory condition. The shop owner, who had no doubt done his best to unload them before on all the locals gave her his spiel "You want one of those, I'll sell'em cheap?"

"Ah don't mean any disrespect but if I were huntin' squirrels I might pick myself up one of those, but I'm after bushmen," then she shook her head "I wouldn't use a T-7 if you paid me for it."

"Don't blame you, I got these for scrap metal prices and let me tell you," he leaned forward "They got the better part of that deal."

"I want something heavy in case the bushmen attack the convoy, so I'm thinking either a 12 gauge automatic or pump action, or a semi-automatic 7.5mm full strength," Helene explained as she looked at the selection "You got some nice combat models here I can see."

"I particularly like this one," he said as he showed her a large heavy 12 gauge automatic "We call this one the Kaffir-mosher, use this with buckshot and you'll see what I mean. Now if you're lookin' for firepower in case of bushman attack this is the best, I carry one of these when I'm roaming about here."

She carefully studied the weapon, it was really quite nice a carefully finished cherry wood stock, black gunmetal, and carefully designed sights which seemed a bit of a waste. Every part of the mechanism itself was carefully hand-fitted and polished, making for a very reliable and fast design. There were six rounds in the detachable box magazine, very easily replaced too, allowing you to cause a truly awesome amount of damage.

The test on the range was quite impressive, the shotgun fired with a loud GA-DUNK GA-DUNK GA-DUNK tearing large grape sized holes in the wooden targets on the far side of the firing range. Of course the shopowner, a rather vain fellow, did come onto her a bit though Helene didn't really discourage him, indeed she found it quite relaxing to be wanted and to be able to fool real Drakons. Indeed she could take things far further than she'd ever care to do inside of the really rather puritan Soviet Union.

Half an hour later she left the armatorium with the shotgun slung over her shoulder and her wench by her side, looking every bit like the Drakan mistress, it was time to leave for the fair attractions of sunny Kabul.

Convoy Depature Station

The Convoy Departure Station was basically a glorified drag stop, there were several large garages where the big drags and armoured mountain wagons were kept for the near endless maintenance work that anything that runs on steam requires. The big garages were large stone and concrete buildings with extensive central heating, as opposed to the simple shacks where the mechanic serfs would life. Of course central heating was simply required during the winter to prevent that most dreaded of all disasters that is frosting in one of the dozens of tiny pipes that make up a steamer.

Of course the convoy itself was a lovely thing first you had four huge armoured drags carrying armoured trailers behind them, these were your regular armoured trailers carrying goods, serfs, and other valuables. Indeed as Helene watched a series of serfs were loaded into one of the armoured trailers, it was quite an interesting procedure for the interior of the trailer had two levels each with multiple rails running along them; the purpose for these rails was soon made clear as the serfs were shackled to them ensuring that they could not get up to mischief.

There were two large armoured mountain wagons for the citizens, these were effectively large busses but with armour plate instead of windows and only a few firing slits letting you look outside. Naturally the large front boiler was also especially armoured with heavy iron plates having been welded on to add to its respectable strength. It was however not really possible to tell anything about the interior from how they looked outside.

Security was provided by a couple of Peltast I's, these open topped six wheeled trucks looked quite boxy and were relegated to Janissary service due to being steam powered. Of course they provided virtually no protection if the enemy sat on top of some mountain shooting down. Perhaps as a result of this the local Janissaries had improvised light armour to cover their heads, especially around the flexible machinegun turret that provided most of the firepower for the vehicle. No matter what you said a pair of 13mm machine-guns would put the fear of God into anyone.

The citizen contingency was protected by a single Hoplite I, the decade old design was looking quite clunky by 1941 but compared to the Peltast it was a lean killing machine. ICE powered, fully tracked and enclosed, it even had a proper full strength air-conditioner able to handle even the hottest conditions, and of course a 13mm machinegun in the turret.

Additionally there was a single old autosteamer present, with lots of improvised bolted on armour, this one oddly enough was pushing a heavy weight in front of it. The reason was of course obvious, if there were any mines ahead this steamer, driven by a couple of Janissaries, would take the blast.

"Service to the State!" someone barked out as Helene Fouchard approached the stop.

Without hesitating she returned "Glory to the Race!" It was like "Red Front" or "All Honour and Glory to the Great Krasnov!" sooner or later you'd hear it and you'd better know the right response.

The man who had called it out was a tall impressive looking fellow "Tetrarch Thomas Wade, 2nd Afghan Legion," he said as he met her. He was handsome, tall, blonde, wearing a camouflage uniform that nevertheless showed off an excellent physique, but his interest seemed to be quite professional.

"Helene Fauchard, monitor formerly of the 2nd Alexandria Legion, independent trader," she responded as she studied him "Still room in the convoy."

"Certainly citizen, plenty of room," he replied, then he changed subject "Formerly?"

"Busted ankle," Helen replied quietly, it was true but it was an unpleasant truth so her reticence to mention it was quite genuine and therefore all the more credible.

"I see," he looked at the shotgun and nodded slightly "Good choice, I got one like it at home."

Helene smiled a bit "Think we'll run into bushmen?"

"Hopefully not but you never know, they've been quiet lately but with the war and all the bolshies are running guns everywhere they might get frisky," he then pointed at one of the busses "The centurion asked me to make sure that we spread the citizens around so if you'd take that one."

"Sure enough," Helene replied, a Draka didn't like orders but he or she was always a teamplayer.

The conversation petered off after that and she entered one of the busses, trailing Jasmine with her, the interior was quite pleasant though a bit dim due to the lack of windows. The seats were large and quite comfortable covered in fine Northmark leather, she found a set of seats and sat down, meanwhile Jasmine carefully stowed away the luggage.

The moment Jasmine sat down next to her Helene felt quite bad for what she was about to do but there was no way around it, she couldn't really risk in depth conversations and the best way to get around it was to be pawing her wench. Fortunately Jasmine was quite co-operative, and though no one saw anything odd about it no-one thought it'd be appreciated if they disturbed them either.


By the Hoplite the Centurion was giving last minute instructions to his officers, they were standing around the vehicle and looking at their notes and maps. Their uniforms were simple ones, but even so there was the odd flash of a thumb ring, an earring, or other adornment without which the average Draka would feel naked.

They were going their plans and making last minute changes, the Centurion had folded out a large map and placed it on the bonnet of the APC and he was pointing at various dangerous sections; once more going through the procedures so that they knew that everyone was on the same page.

The convoy moved out with a low drone of wheels against asphalt, the dust clouds that ordinarily marked them were smaller this time of the year, as a result of the rainy season having just about begun. Peering out through the window every now and again Helene noticed in the back of her mind the tactic that the convoy used.

The old truck was in front ready to take any blasts, the citizen filled busses were placed in the middle with the Peltasts were flanking them and the drags behind them, this made good sense in that the Peltasts and drags were expandable but the citizens in the busses were most assuredly not. In the far rear the Hoplite APC covered the rear, ready to rush forward if necessary, but also placed so that if it was disabled it would not block the rest of the convoy. Of course the drags had their own role to play, namely that the most expandable one were used as cover for the Hoplite.

They drove for several hours, whenever they reached a particularly troublesome spot, the Convoy that is, the Janissaries would dismount and the convoy would slow down advancing very slowly with the Janissaries nervously eying the mountain side hoping that there would not be an ambush. The great fear of every Janissary was that there would be an ambush, that suddenly the hills would come alive with swarms of screaming tribesmen that would descend on them like a tidal wave. That and being abandoned in the Afghan wilderness, for the legends of the cruelty of the natives were many.

Fortunately there never was while the Janissaries were dismounted thus, the trouble came in an area that was quite surprising...

They'd been on the road for hours, even with primitive air conditioning what happened was more or less that outside air was sucked in and circulated about. Of course with the sun beating down on an all metal vehicle the outside air was perhaps marginally cooler. Everyone was sweating and uncomfortable, though as Drakas they hid it well.

Helene was rather tired of pretending to be interested in exploring Jasmines various recesses, she already had a pretty good idea of what she'd find if she poked around with Jasmine and it didn't do much to excite her. Indeed she felt slightly guilty about exploiting the young woman like this, though admittedly she'd be more interested and feel less guilty if Jasmine was an attractive Russian with deep soulful eyes and a tight muscular behind.

Her musings into this were suddenly interrupted though by a sound like that of a giant balloon exploding, followed by a loud snake like hiss. Rushing over to the slit in the armour Helene peered out and saw an enormous steam plume rising from one of the Peltasts, for a moment she thought to herself unfortunate accident but then there was in the distance a yell reminding her of the Indian war cries from old ideologically correct American movies.

Up in the mountain side a small avalanche began to roll, a cascade of rocks thundering down the mountain side obscuring the road ahead, raising huge clouds of dust high above the road; and then suddenly the hill side seemed to explode with motion, and like some evil magician threw a spell a couple of evil flashing eyes appeared in the mountain side sending streams of ammunition towards the Draka.

Then they came down towards the convoy, down and towards it like a single enormous wave hollering their wild chants combined on occasion with "ALLAH AKBAR!" It was time for Helene to prove herself in battle.

JIHAD (also written JEHAD, JAHAD, DJEHAD), an Arabic word of which the literal meaning is an effort or a contest. It is used to designate the religious duty inculcated in the Koran on the followers of Mahomet to wage war upon those who do not accept the doctrines of Islam. This duty is laid down in five suras all of these suras belonging to the period after Mahomet had established his power. Conquered peoples who will neither embrace Islam nor pay a poll-tax (jizya) are to be put to the sword. (See further MAHOMMEDAN INSTITUTIONS.) By Mahommedan commentators the commands in the Koran are not interpreted as a general injunction on all Moslems constantly to make war on the infidels. It is generally supposed that the order for a general war can only be given by the caliph (an office now claimed by the exiled Ottoman sultan 'Abdül-Mejîd II). Certain Sh'ite sects which do not recognise the spiritual authority of the Ottoman sultan, such as are found in India and certain parts of the Soviet Union, look to their own rulers for the proclamation of a jihad; there has been in fact no universal warfare by Moslems on unbelievers since the early days of Mahommedanism however jihad on the Domination of the Draka is considered mandatory for all Mohammedans. Jihads are generally proclaimed by al] persons who claim to be mahdis, e.g. Mahommed Al-mahdi (the Sudanese mahdi) proclaimed a jihad in against the Draka in 1882. In the belief of Mohammedans every one of their number slain in a jihad is taker straight to paradise.

Encyclopedia Britannica 1924 Edition


A Pass on the Route to Kabul

There is a joy on the face of a Mohammedan as he rushes towards Paradise, his face is lit up, his teeth, whitened by rubbing them with twigs and stone dust, shine brightly in between his groomed beard, if you are close you may notice that he has doused himself in perfume, and that he has applied Kohl to his eyes that he may appear handsome to the Houris in paradise. They let out loud war cries as they charged down, a few of their number carried scimitars for some reason, but most wielded civilized weapons of a distinctly Soviet appearance.

It'd be a hell of a thing to die to a weapon that we smuggled to them Helene thought ruefully even as she readied her shotgun, there was a very satisfying ka-chunk sound as the buckshot rounds loaded up into the gun. With a skilled eye she studied the approaching natives, trying to see if she could spot a Soviet adviser, but if there was one he was too well hidden even for her keen eye.

By now however the Janissaries begun to recover from their initial panic, a few of them had been scalded horribly, they screamed aloud as their skin and flesh began to fall away like the meat around a well done chicken; but instead of oil and juices the mass that came out of those wounds was something far more grotesque. There were however a couple of short gunshots and then the screaming stopped, there was no hope for them anyway and they'd be a liability in the fight, it was a mercy really and often times they'd look at the approaching citizen and bend back their heads as if pleading for the shot that would end their pain.

The rest of them however brought their weapons to bear, the surviving Peltast opened up with its pair of 13mm machineguns, the drone of the bullets obscured any screaming as a stream of brass cartridges shot up from the gunners position. The gunner gritted his teeth together and sweat ran down his dark brow "Die sumsabitches! Yo' DIE!" he yelled at the top of his voice even as he poured fire into them. The 13mm round carries with it an enormous force it can literally tear a man in half, the recoil was of course also quite respectable and the weapon seemed to practically squirm as it fired.

The effect on the approaching Mujaheddin was however most gratifying, the stream of bullets cut down the first row of approaching Mujahids in some places the bullets tore through two or more men scattering blood and guts over the hillside. The screaming tribesmen were however not in the least dissuaded from their assault, but higher up in the hillside trained snipers began to blaze away at the offending Peltast. Initially the bullets pinged harmlessly off the gunshields protecting the gunner, but occasionally there was a crack as a .30 bullet broke the wooden protections for the rest of the Janissaries.

Far up in the hills, about five hundred meters away from the scene of the action, "Subhan Allah," he whispered as he aimed the PTRD at the gunshield of the peltast. He squeezed the trigger while repeating one of the 99 Names of Allah supposed to enhance your accuracy. Despite his prone position and the bipod mount he could feel the anti-tank rifle kick against his shoulder, the 14.5mm round had an enormous power, but the rifle and the ammunition was sparse and carefully husbanded.

In the Peltast there was a strange sound like a tink and then the Sergeant fell back, his mouth was wide open as he uttered a silent scream, his eyes popped up too, then he fell to the ground and the Peltast was filled with the stench of his bowels voiding. The 14.5mm round had torn through the improvised gunshield like it was a tin can shot at by a child.

The sniper in the hills let out a "Masha Allah" in satisfaction as the powerful machine gun died down. As the recoil broke the breech opened automatically and the spent brass case spun away from the gun. A twelve year old lad laying next to him respectfully handed him another round. He quickly reloaded it and then began to look for a new target, he found it easily enough in the engine of the Peltast "Subhan Allah," he whispered again as he aimed and fired once more.

The bullet hit home, tearing into the steam engine and raising a cloud of hot steam that flooded out, there was no explosion though as in the movies but the hot steam made the Peltast loose all propulsion at the very same moment as the tribesmen were blazing away at it. Within moments it had been reduced to a charnel house slowly inching forward as the dead drivers foot still pressed against the accelerator, and the steam pressure was just enough to make it move.

By now however the Hoplite I had long since kicked into action, with a mighty roar the Lion gas-electric engine kicked into action propelling the Hoplite forward, but even at best 27 kilometres an hour seem an eternity in combat; to the crew of the Hoplite it was as if they were crawling forward. Then suddenly there it was as if a hammer blow had struck it, a chime filled the APC for a moment, then came the voice from the citizens in the rear "LOKI'S ARSE! There's a fikkin' 14.5 millimetre hole here now," but by some miracle none of them had been hurt.

The Hoplite jerked forward as the turret swivelled upwards towards the hillside, it let out a long burst of fire against the charging natives, but with the second hammer blow against their armour the driver began to pull evasive manoeuvres. Calling them evasive may be an understatement for the crew inside began to be quite nauseous as the Hoplite pulled manoeuvres that the vehicle had never been designed for, there was clanking of helmets and soft curses with each leap. However though the gunner was upset by how his aim was rather adversely affected, for it was getting rather hard to get a clean shot, the people watching felt quite encouraged by how the PTRD rounds now made nice fountains of dust rather than nasty holes in the side of the APC.

About now however the second leg of the ambush sprang into place, and from within the armoured bus Helene felt a sinking sensation as she saw a large group of Afghans charging up the road from where the Drakan convoy had just come. It was a lovely L-shaped ambush that was slamming into place, and from her position there was not much she could do about it. Within the bus a handful of Draka were already opening fire on extreme range, most of the time they seemed to hit as well marksmanship was never a problem for Citizens, but there really as not a lot they could do.

Though it seemed that it had been an eternity since the ambush began it had been a minute, maybe two at the most, and the Draka were in fact not panicking but reacting according to a carefully rehearsed plan. In the Hoplite the Centurion was already operating the radio setting it at the pre-arranged frequency, the backlit dials reflected against his face and gave it a pale yellowish appearance "Wild Goose! Ah repeaht Wild Goose" he barked into the microphon, the buses had receivers only so he had no way of knowing if they got the message or not, but if not they'd figure out what they were supposed to do anyway.

The Hoplite I began to move in a semi-circle, being at speed and being rather cumbersome it needed some space to move, but with space so sparse it still had to slow down a bit as it approached the rockslide; it was then during that horrid slow turn that two 14.5mm rounds struck home, the first hit the body and did very little harm, but the second...

In the turret Kristy Becker felt a tap in her gut, and then she felt something warm and stick run down her legs bloody hell I hope I didn't fucking wet myself, the guys'd never let me live that down she thought before she peered down her stomach. The hole in front was surprisingly small, but nevertheless a small gush of blood came out with her every heartbeat, with trembling hands she felt her back, it was so strange she could feel the sponge like tissue of flesh, she could touch it and feel it yield, and yet there was absolutely no pain at all. By now a thin stream of blood ran down her leg and into the main cabin.

"Yo hurt?" the Centurion asked as he peered up, a few drops of blood had fallen onto him, and now they dribbled against his face.

"No Centurion' ah jus' have the biggest damned menstral period evah! And me wi'out mah tampons!" Kristi yelled back down at him, her hands trembled and were slick with blood as they moved back to the machinegun, it was amazing what you could do when you had to, and this time she really had to. She pressed the trigger and moved the sights up and down across the approaching Afghans bliddy bushmen! she thought as she mowed them down.

Wild Goose was named after a lovely old game played by English gentlemen, a variation of follow the leader except that the leader would ride through the most troublesome terrain hoping to make his friends fall of in brambles, smash into low hanging branches, or other friendly mishaps that would only occasionally break something. Thus the Draka, despite the criticism levelled upon them for their abuse of the English language, used the Wild Goose code in a very Shakespearean fashion; to denote that you should follow the erratic course set out by another.

The Hoplite now began to move in the opposite direction, back towards where they had come from, and directly at the advancing Afghans. Meanwhile the two buses, almost as cumbersome as the Hoplite itself, and far less armoured even though they did not have to compete with the PTRD, had also moved to follow closely behind the Hoplite.

Inside the buses things were not too pleasant, although you could find relative safety by pressing yourself against the reinforcing bars built into the walls. Even so dozens of thin beams of light were lighting up the dust in the bus, every now and again there'd be a dull sound like someone stabbing a tin can, and then there'd be another stream of light crossing the interior of the bus. Only a handful of people in each bus had been injured, and mostly these were light injuries, bits of metal lodged in cheeks or arms, but a couple had been unfortunate enough to be shot outright.

Jasmine had crawled beneath one of the seats and lay there shivering, tears rolled down her cheeks, and a big purplish bruise covered her cheek where Helene had slapped her when she started to scream out loud. Right now Jasmine just bit down on her scarf and cried, praying very hard that St Mary Magdalen would take pity on her.

Now the busses and the Hoplite were in a line and the Hoplite picked up speed, it thundered forward at 27 kilometres an hour with the busses right behind it. As they drove past the big drags the Janissaries by them leapt forward and grabbed onto such handholds that they could find on the busses, a couple of them didn't make it, and one of them fell off rolling in the dust. The three vehicles sped up, clumsy Janissaries or slow ones weren't worth the life of a single citizen.

As they reached the advancing throng of Afghan Mujaheddin Kristy Becker blazed away with the machinegun clearing a path before them; mind you the machinegun was probably unnecessary since the Hoplite alone ploughed through the Afghan lines, effortlessly shrugging off their gunshots. Then only a few feet behind it came the two busses, following in the gap that the Hoplite had prepared, the Mujaheddins bullets did however hit a couple of the Janissaries, but though they shivered from the impact their hands were practically cramped around whatever handhold they had found and none of them fell off.

Pushing past the advancing Mujahedin the people in the rear bus could see them lift up their rifles triumphantly and shout loudly, while making a few last shots at the busses. Helene slid back down into her seat, sweat made her clothes cling to her, she gently ran her hand up and down the barrel of her shotgun, squeezing it softly, the barrel felt warm from all the shooting she had done, but for the life of her she could only remember, really remember, firing three times even though her ammunition pouch was nearly expended.

Back at the ambush site

The Mujahedin were butchering the surviving Janissaries, it was done quickly and yet quite brutally, big knives were brought down swiftly cutting uniforms, skin, muscles and even cracking and cutting bone; the pious men struggled among themselves to be among the ones that were permitted to slay one of the Janissaries using a blade rather than a rifle, and upon finishing their chore they held up their bloody hands and cheered with joy. Indeed several of them prostrated themselves immediately, giving thanks to Allah, and filled with the joy of having done his work.

Meanwhile others were scrambling towards the drags and the enormous trailers that they were pulling, the ones filled with serfs drew some attention; from within came pitiful cries of "Nanawatai! Nanawatai!" which means Sanctuary, and according to Afghan law such a cry cannot go unheeded, moreover these rough Mujaheeds were not beyond noticing that many of the women within the trailer seemed to be of pleasing form. Thus they struggled with rifle and blade to break open the multiple locks upon the door, while the prisoners within moved about, struggling to peer outside from what few openings there were.

Others again were breaking open the other, less secure, trailers cheering loudly as they pulled out crates which they threw onto the ground desperately scrounging for anything that was worthwhile. There was quite a bit of worthwhile kit around, even the Janissaries had cigarettes, ammunition and weapons, all of which were greatly favoured, and the trailers also held many goods acquired from the border crossing which were doubly appreciated for their rarity.

Aboard the Hoplite I APC

The Centurion held Kristy Becker in his arms while the medic worked desperately to staunch the flow of blood, she had passed out moments after they cleared the Afghan throng. When the medic started working on her the sheer pain seemed to shock her awake though, now her eyes were glassy and her breath short, but strangely she was conscious.

"Doan let get away wi' it," she whispered as she looked up into the Centurions face "Don' let the bliddy ferals ge' away wi' id."

The Centurion caressed her face and brow with his hand, feeling her soft facial skin beneath his hand, she was always so careful to stay out of the sun, to preserve her skin just so. "They can have what they can take," he whispered to her and smiled.

"Yah Centurion," she said as a small smile crossed her lips too "have what deah can take."

Back at the ambush site

Some of the women inside of the trailer were clutching children, not really young children but toddlers maybe two or three years, they were worried of course but couldn't imagine they'd get worse than they had from the Draka; they were resigned though to a bit of rough stuff, but they prayed fervently that their children would be spared. Some of the women and the children were crying loudly, and the men were trying to talk to the natives, but they had few languages in common, indeed the only word many of them knew was nanawatai, a word taught to them by a handful of Afghans that had been tamed.

Outside dirty cloth bags were stuffed full with loot, improvised sacks were made from scavenged cloth, and up on the hills nervous but eagle eyed scouts kept an eye out for the inevitable bombers that would be sent; but for now they were happy, oh so happy, for the bounty that almighty Allah had sent them.

Aboard the Hoplite I APC

Despite the medics best efforts there was nothing to be done Kristy was slowly slipping away, when she fell asleep the Centurion knew she'd never wake up. Yet in the moments before death she grew strangely lucid, and when the explosions could be heard in the distance she smiled "They ca' have wha' dey can keep."

"Yes Kristy, they can have what they can keep," the Centurion said, then she coughed and gasped, it was as if the fire had gone from her eyes.

Back at the ambush site

Shredded trailers, burning loot, dozens of dead Afghans, but the trailer with the serfs was the worse, the explosions weren't that big in any of the trailers, but when they blew they also spilled the fuel tanks into the trailer; it was quite clever really, first one explosion to jumble things up, and then the burning kerosene.

The screams of the burning people were ear shattering, and through the openings torn by the explosions there poured several human torches, their skin already twisting like paper caught on fire; or like bacon being fried in the pan.

The smoke rose up towards the sky, billowing and spiralling, black and terrible, and the Afghans picked up their dead and their loot before vanishing up into the hills. They had paid a grizzly price today, they had not known the nature of the man they had attacked, but this was all part of the game, the Draka learned and so did they, and somehow they'd figure out a way around such devices.

Among the bodies left behind were two charred corpses, stirring as if not quite dead, one large and wrapped in cloth, the other oh so small and his hair still fluttering softly in the wind. They lay embraced, the women clutching her son to protect him, all in vain; all but two of the serfs were dead, yet these two had survived with only cinched clothes and hair, pulled away by their rescuers.

"God how could you let this happen," one of them whispered as tears rolled down his cheeks "Are you even there God? Show yourself!" he cried in his native tongue which none of his rescuers would understand. In the distance there was a loud sound, he turned and watched a flash of light, and then seconds later the thunder.

His fellow serf didn't understand the language either, and so in the language of the Draka he said simply "Women weep, men avenge."

Blockhouse on the Kabul Trail

The blockhouse was cool inside, but not cold, and it lacked the musty slightly moist air that she had expected, it was quite dry despite the exposed rock and the concrete floors. It was filled with bleeding bodies, the Draka bore their wounds stoically even as a couple of stone faced medics desperately tried to staunch the flow of blood. In a corner, covered by a blanket, lay Kristy's cooling body, every now and again one of her team would look at it, but the time for grief was not now.

As she leaned back in the stick chair, carefully taking the weight of her injured ankle, she studied the faces of the men and women in the room. Helene wondered how many of them Kristy had been with, in the intimate sense, or if their grief, though well hidden, was purely due to friendship and the comradeship of battle. Probably both she finally concluded, watching of the Drakan soldiers would hold hands briefly, and the looks that they exchanged Stupidity, utter stupidity... they even allowed husband and wife to serve together it was just so obviously a bad idea during a war.

The Janissaries were the next to be thrown up on top of the operating tables, beads of sweat ran down dark faces, and their features twitched with muscle spasms as they bit down on wooden sticks wrapped in leather; irony of ironies in the nation previously known for its poppy crops there were not enough anaesthetics to put them under and so a local had to be used.

These were the lucky ones, the survivors, some of the Janissaries had died during the evacuation, but this hadn't been discovered before later when the corpses were found still desperately clutching the busses. The grizzly work of separating them from the busses had in the end been handled by the simple expedient of cutting off their fingers. Helene had watched with fascination as the bleeding finger stumps hit the ground and were almost at once covered with the thin dust that seemed to get everywhere.

The surgery just irritated her now, and though she didn't show it, or fidget, she felt quite upset and unbelievably bored. She rose up swiftly, ignoring the shock of pain that this caused, and then walked up towards the door. Behind her Jasmine followed nervously, three steps behind her of course, and Helene could feel her fear, she wanted to turn around and embrace the poor Coptish girl and whisper in her ear "it wasn't your fault, I won't do it again, but I had to make you stop screaming and panicking, I'm so sorry" but she couldn't, not here, not now, but she promised herself that one day she would apologise.

The entrance to the blockhouse was marked by a stairway going down into the ground, and the sides of the entrance was secured by tall concrete walls. On the mantel above the secure steel and concrete door itself there was moulded in concrete the Dragon symbol of the Domination, Helene looked up at it casually while fishing up a Gauloise cigarette with one hand, she placed it in the corner of her mouth and then cupper her hands around a golden cigarette lighter. She leaned against the wall and took several deep breaths from it, feeling the strong smoke fill her lungs, then she peered at Jasmine.

"Does it hurt wench?" Helene asked casually as she looked at the swollen purplish bruise on Jasmine's cheek.

"Yes Mistis, a little," Jasmine said, she looked a bit nervous and spooked, like she was about to start crying.

Helene gently caressed Jasmine's cheek with her free hand "There Jasmine, you're a very pretty wench, but you have to be a good wench and not scream and make a nuisance of yourself, you heah?" she smiled at the frightened Coptish girl.

Before there could be an answer there was a roar from abroad, Helene looked up and spotted a late model flight of Rhino's moving towards the west. Over the last hour or so there had been several flights of fighters and attack airplanes heading towards the ambush site to hunt down the bushmen.

"Good luck," Helene said out loud as she let the cigarette drop to the ground, she meant the Mujahids of course but everyone assumed she meant the hunters, then she rubbed out the cigarette with her boot. She was not the only one to have smoked here for the ground was littered with cigarette butts. She took another deep breath and looked up at the sky.

Outside the blockhouse she spotted a man, tall blonde and handsome, Tetrarch Wade, he was standing next to some other Drakan soldiers who were studying the holes in the Hoplite APC. She walked over to them just as one of them had stuck his finger through the hole.

"Daymn thet fookin' thin' punched a hole in thirty millimetre armour," he said as he pulled out his finger again, it was covered with a mixture of rust and dirt.

"I wonda' whut weapon dat wuz, ah' figure some PTRD o' some PTRS," another one asked, from what Helene would guess to be the Northmark, the dialect was corrupted enough for that.

Tetrarch wade studied the holes carefully, but then he chimed in "I dink it wuz some PTRD, dere wuzn't enough uh a steady rate uh fire fo' dis t'be some repeateda' and da damn bolshies wouldn't cut deir fanciest toys t'de bushmen."

Damn but the Draka sure do atrocious things to what used to be the English language Helene thought as she looked at the Tetrarch, he was a handsome devil she had to admit, but she pushed the thought out of her mind be a professional, it'll pass that urge to mount someone after a near death situation, it was unprofessional, it wasn't a good idea, but you felt it nevertheless.

In cheap spy novel she would probably have gone off for a jump in the hay with Wade, but she didn't, it'd be unprofessional in the extreme and she could control her urges. She smoked at least a dozen cigarettes during that day, it relieved pressure quite nicely, but even so to distract attention she was fondling Jasmine again.


Blockhouse on the Kabul Trail

She woke up next to Jasmine, her hair actually smelled of Jasmine, for a moment Helene struggled with herself wondering if she should bother getting up, and seeing Jasmine sleep so sweetly she felt really bad about waking her up. Then she thought the better of it and scrambled up waking Jasmine, Helene hit the ground and began her morning exercises, it was difficult to stay as fit as she was, and by the time she was done with the push-ups and sit-ups she felt sweat running down her back no pain no gain was her motto, a motto she remembered each time she felt a twinge of pain in her ankle.

After her exercises she studied Jasmine once more, the memories of last night were not altogether unpleasant but with so many Draka around she'd been forced to do what a Drakan woman would have done in her stead; deep down she felt saddened, she wondered if Jasmine felt used or if she had grown accustomed to this sort of thing.

She quickly got dressed now and smiled at Jasmine as she brought a cup of strong sweet coffee, she felt reasonably warm and comfortable now, and the coffee helped her wake up properly. All around her the Draka had risen and were also getting dressed, most of them also did early callisthenics.

The large blockhouse was well equipped with surplus barracks like sleeping arrangements, and as long as you had no physical modesty whatsoever they were quite serviceable. Of course Helene didn't really mind, she had grown up in the cramped housing of Soviet Russia, you heard and saw whatever everyone else was doing, but you learned to pretend that you didn't.

The coffee was prepared by simple faced Auxilliary cooks who had also prepared a quick breakfast, after Helene had checked her weapons and made sure they were in working order she moved to check out the breakfast. It was in the main sandwiches, eggs, and some fruit, all of it quite good actually but obviously adapted for field conditions where the usual flair of Drakan meals was not possible.

After eating she proceeded up to the surface once more as their transport would arrive in a few hours and she hated being cooped up inside a building, a sentiment that was soundly shared by a lot of the Draka. Outside the weather was still surprisingly warm, but there were dark clouds in the horizon, rain and storm was quite possible in this terrain and territory.

"Be good with some rain," a voice said behind her, Helene turned around quickly not content to not see whom she was speaking to, it was Tetrarch Wade.

"Yes, it would get rid of the dust," Helene said.

Wade peered at the dark clouds "I hope it don't interfere with our transport that's all..." he mused.

"They're not stupid enough to fly through a storm," Helene said.

The conversation continued in this vein for some time as they waited for the airship to arrive, ordinarily airships did not head out here but with many wounded citizens and the road blocked there really wasn't much else to do.

Now many ignorant people point to the alleged simplicity of the airship, saying that it does not require as much support and complicated gear as the airplane; nothing could be further from the truth! An airplane, properly designed, can land on any more or less flat field or gravel track, and use a regular size barn as a hangar; The Airship on the other hand requires a very large mooring mast, it would also benefit greatly from large pumps capable of pumping in massive amounts of water in order to stabilize the airship, and of course if you want a hangar it has to be enormous, and the airship can only be wrestled into it by enormous effort.

However to get around these inherent weaknesses of the design many tricks have been used, one of the most successful have been a group of small to medium sized airships that carry their own mooring pole. Obviously this heavy pole takes up quite a bit of valuable cargo space, and the airship also has to be able to stabilize itself without adding ballast at the landing site. None of these problems are insurmountable, but they do add up to such a degree that these airships are really only good for emergency transport of one sort or another.

Now the airship arrived, sliding through the air like a silver cigar, the long mooring tower was made from latticework aluminium, and by the side of the airship long engine pods were suspended. The engine pods began to move a bit as the airship approached the landing spot, they twisted upwards pushing the airship down, a very clever engineering solution really, as the mooring tower began to move; it was attached by a hinge to the nose of the airship and the mechanism slowly lowered the bottom of the mast to the ground.

The wounded were hoisted up by cranes, but the healthy had to climb up to the top of the mooring tower on their own, the tower had what was effectively a ladder stretching up towards the sky. For trained Draka the climb was effortless, but many of the serfs looked at the climb with rather pained expressions.

Helene however shrugged and began to climb, it was rather difficult as she couldn't use her injured leg properly but her upper body strength was ample to propel her upwards at a considerable speed. It took Jasmine and the other serfs rather longer to make the trip up, so much so that several of them had to be hoisted up with the cranes in order to save time.

"Look at them lucky serfs, damn it sometimes it seems that us Citizens are the only ones that actually have to work for a living," Wade said as he stood by the window and watched the serfs be hoisted onboard.

"You could have a point there," Helene said as she looked at them "Their lives are so simply, we decide everything for them, we provide for them, and we only make them work twelve or fourteen hours a day while we have to go on for rather longer than that."

"Mmmmm yes," Wade said.

As the last serf boarded there was a shudder as the mooring tower was released from the ground and was slowly lifted up again till it once more rested beneath the belly of the airship; then the low drone of the engines filled the airship, which slowly turned its way back west towards Kabul.

ED NOTE: This post has been altered slightly to take into account a few pointers on Drakan aesthetics.

KABUL (Also written KÄBOOL, KBOOL), is the regional capital of the Province of Bactria (formerly Afghanistan) of the Domination of the Draka, strategically situated in a narrow valley along the Kabul River high in the mountains before the Khyber Pass. It has approximately 60 000 inhabitants and is the economic and administrative centre of the Bactrian Province. Once upon a time the city was surrounded by walls, these have long been removed but have recently been replaced by ramparts and other defences. The city is divided into 6 Quarters, between these quarters there is a system of walls and heavy gates suitable for stopping an invasion or riots, allowing the various quarters to be entirely isolated from one another if necessary. By the South-Eastern side lies the ancient citadel, Bala-Hissar, surrounded by walls and exists as a separate city, this has been modernised and is now the Harmost (Military Governor) Palace as well as holding the Citizens barracks. The city has been completely rebuilt since the conquest in 1922 and the narrow streets that previously marked it are now entirely gone, the bulk of the city consists of two story brick buildings, there are no great monuments remaining. Kabul was one of the most important stations on the Indian trade routes to Persia and Central-asia; here trade routes from all corners met, and the trade was very extensive, however given the current government this trade is now all but non-existant. The city is the terminus of the Drakan Central-Asian railway, and it also has a Class III airport servicing small airplanes and airships. The main products of Kabul include light ordnance, dried fruit and nuts, as well as an experimental project making beet sugar.

K. is assumed to be the Ortospanum that is mentioned in accounts of Alexander the Greats Indian campaign, and which Ptolemy says is the same city as Kabura. It was taken by the Arabs in the 7th century, and made into a capital by Babur (1504-26) and subsequent Mughal rulers. Nadir Shah of Persia captured it in 1738, and it became Afghanistan's capital in 1773 when Timur Shah moved the seat of the Durani dynasty there from Kandahar. It was taken by the British army in 1839 during the Afghan Wars but in January 1842 a rebellion from the common people forced the retreat of this army leading to its massacre. It was then partially burned by General Pollock in 1842 as a punishment for the ambush of British troops withdrawing under a flag of truce. At the peace of Gandamak, on 19. May 1879, Emir Jacub opened Kabul to a British presence, but when the Emir was murdered on 3. September the same year and a group of British officials murdered the city was captured by General Roberts who held it till August 1880. The city was, along with the rest of Afghanistan, turned over to the Draka by the 1920 accord between them and the British Empire, however it was not until 1922 that the Drakan drive through Central Asia was able to capture the city. During the capture the bulk of the city was demolished in heavy fighting, and the rubble and remaining buildings were destroyed shortly afterwards as a new city was built. In both 1922 and 1923 there were multiple uprisings which were brutally suppressed, and countless thousands impaled in retaliation, when these measures failed to secure the peace the city was broken up in more easy to handle sections and obedient African Negro serfs brought in to handle more delicate duties. During these renovations Babur's tomb and gardens, and the mausoleum of Nadir Shah, were looted and destroyed.

Encyclopedia Britannica 1924 Edition


Airspace over Kabul

Helene rested her head against the window of the airship, she could feel the soft vibrations of the engines reverberating through the glass, and beneath her she could see the city of Kabul spread out. It didn't look like much, it certainly didn't look like an ancient Central-Asian city, of the kind she had seen many times, it looked more like a small suburb of Moscow or Leningrad, combined of course with the security of a gulag. She didn't like it much, she'd seen far too many cities like this and they were all the same.

"Penny for your thoughts," a voice came behind her.

As she turned around she saw that it was Wade "That all?" she said with a smile playing around her lips.

"I could raise the ante to a denarius if you'd like," he said looking very charming, their joint experience letting them joke around a bit.

Helene peered back out the window "Do you know the place," she asked casually, she had of course read a lot of background on it but she was making conversation now.

"I know it well enough," Wade said as he pointed out various spots "Harmost's Palace, there's the barracks, and ah... walls, you can see where some of the old memorials used to be."

"It used to be a pretty city," Helene mused herself "I've seen pictures of it pre-war, it was very pretty, and there used to be this tomb and garden."

"Pity that got destroyed, but if you're here for tourism then there's always Bamiyan," Wade told her "It's not too far away by airship, and the Buddha statues are quite interesting, there's even an archaeology dig going on there."

"Hmmmmm, I wish I had the time," Helene said truthfully enough "Maybe sometime later, once the war is over."

Wade nodded again and they entered into a conversation about various sights in Afghanistan, but oddly enough she didn't get the feeling that he was making a pass on her or romantically inclined, he was simply talking to the new guy, or girl.

It was quite peculiar for Helene was used to romantic attention, but this was one of the strange things about Drakan culture: Outside of a strict field setting men could get whatever they wanted, that is sex, whenever they wanted it, and therefore the Drakan women had to be the aggressive ones in any relationship, for if you sat with your hands in your lap nothing would happen.

On one level it made her job a lot easier, since she didn't have to fend off attention, but on the other it did rankle her pride a bit, but not enough that she'd show it.

Kabul Airport

Kabul was actually quite cool in September, there was after all a reason that all those Afghans had fur hats and cloaks, Afghanistan had the typical landlocked climate; fiercely hot in the summer, and frigid in the winter. Today was however reasonably warm by Helene's estimates an approximate 25 degrees Celsius. The airport itself was quite pleasant actually, there was a small park of sorts surrounding it, and much of the looted artwork had been used to decorate it; walking through the terminal building Helene noticed that the floors were decorated with lovely Islamic mosaics, and some very nice carpets had been used as wall hangings.

The most striking decoration of all however was an enormous mural covering an entire wall, Helene was naturally very interested in murals, so she studied this one with professional interest. The workmanship was excellent, whomever did it had an excellent working knowledge on perspective, anatomy, and he or she was most certainly a former soldier. It was a tableau of a trench section, as it would be seen from a snipers perch, stretched across an arid wasteland were trenches, grenade craters, and scattered dead bodies slightly bloated. Yet there was to it a slightly heightened quality showing her that it was meant to be beautiful rather than terrifying; ordinarily Drakan art left her cold, it was too much for her taste, but this one painting of the unnatural beauty of no-mans' land made her stop to admire it.

Outside the airport the rest of the city seemed drab and colourless, having been rebuilt in a very utilitarian spirit, and the constant guerrilla warfare meant that there was little money or interest in civic improvements. This of course made Kabul stand out among Drakan cities which were usually built according to exacting aesthetic tastes, but here there was little more than near identical two story buildings and the odd statue to the conquerors.

Renting an autosteamer had been simple enough, she'd pondered whether to bother with a driver or not but in the end she had rented one, with the promise that he was skilled and knew the city inside out. The conversation had been short and businesslike, a cringing deferent serf handled all of it and collected the two days rent, two aurics, bit steep but Helene didn't care for haggling.

The autosteamer in question was an older Kellerman four person model with a large trunk, Sophie had declined to rent a larger model both for economy, but also because she liked the greater speed of the four man model. Studying it with a keen eye she noticed the brownish khaki colour, slightly dulled, but the wheels seemed new, the headlights were well maintained, and the windows were also exquisitely clean. The wheels were somewhat larger than she had grown used to though, but not so ridiculously large as on the transport models where the wheels would at time reach up to your shoulders. Inside there were soft comfortable seats, neatly upholstered, indeed the interior of the car looked handmade and very comfortable.

The driver had gotten out and bowed submissively "Mistis Fouchard, ah'm John" he said, she studied him intently a typical specimen of the Drakan system, if not more so; he was black, not just dark but actually coal black, which was rather unusual in the Dominate these days. Sturdy, obedient like, but with intelligent looking eyes, he filled out the chauffeurs' uniform quite nicely.

"That's nice John," Helene said as she moved towards the steamer "know any good hotels with available rooms?"

"Yes mistis, thar is menny fine hotells wif vacancies, th' bess one is th' Alexan'er th' Great Hotel," John replied in a submissive and very sincere tone.

Hohum, let me guess the same lot that owns the car rental owns the hotel... she arched an eyebrow a bit "Very well, take me there."

"Yes mistis," John said and bowed again.

Helene pulled Jasmine with her as they sat inside the wide rear cabin, Jasmine seemed a bit nervous but didn't say anything, instead looking down a bit when Helene placed her hand on Jasmine's thigh.

"Yo' so sweet," Helene whispered into her ear, she nibbled a bit on Jasmine's ear just for show as the autosteamer moved on silently.

"Thank yo' mistis," Jasmine replied, she was blushing a little, though she had been a bedwench at the hotel she'd been so new at it that she was still capable of embarrassment.

The city, or town, did have a couple of hotels for travelling citizens, of which there were usually a few, and oddly enough there was a large and thriving citizen community of around fifteen thousand, to about seventy five thousand serfs. Kabul, like many of the new territories, had a much higher citizen to serf ratio than was common, and wherever she looked she could see heavily armed citizens and Janissaries.

Down the street in the opposite direction of their steamer there drove a group of two Peltasts, inside them sat rows of expressionless bullnecked Janissaries, massively muscled and with their rifles held between their legs; no doubt the Peltasts were meant as a show of strength, but in fact having them here in the capital city just revealed how tenuous the Drakan position actually was.

Helene didn't show any reaction to any of this, her only shown emotions there those towards Jasmine, other than that her face was utterly expressionless and her cool eyes assessed everything she saw. Kabul had paved streets lined with trees, most of them surrounded by a cast iron fence, and plentiful benches where you could sit, but very few did. The houses were undistinguished, but some of them emulated middle-eastern styles, beautiful white houses with onion shaped gates, but in the main simple brick buildings. It made sense of course, this city was here because it had to be built fast, time enough to make it beautiful once the war was won.

There weren't many people in the streets, the serfs she could see tended to scurry, clinging tightly to the walls as if eager to have a bolthole if all hell should break loose. Most of them were distinctly dusky, though she judged all Afghans to be Chernozhopyi or blackarses she had to admit that they were usually fair skinned with dark straight here, while these serfs were in the main of the African or Arabian races.

Alexander the Great Hotel

The hotel was an interesting structure shaped roughly like a giant E, it was built around a large courtyard flanked by several other buildings including a garage and a set of stables. The hotel compound itself was set inside a rather large park with pear trees, peaches, plums, apricots, cherries, walnuts, mulberries, and vines stretching up the side of the brick. [1] There was a soft chirping of thrushes and doves, the snow white variety of dove that seemed so rare in the Soviet Union. The Alexander the Great Hotel had decided to recreate one of the great gardens that had once adorned Kabul, and as far as Helene could see they'd succeeded.

Leaving the steamer she took a deep breath, the air was filled with an intense scent of fruit and flowers, and the occasional flower petal blew gently through the air; come the right season and the garden would be covered in a veritable carpet of well scented blossoms.

Outside the door to the hotel another dusky serf stood, bowing deeply in his red and gold doormans uniform, the golden aiguillettes wrapping around his shoulder. It was no doubt an attempt to emulate great hotels in the rest of the world, but as she set foot inside the marble clad interior, noticing how much of it must have been looted from Baburs tomb, she gave a nod yes this isn't too bad, not too bad at all.

Before too long she had gotten a room for three days, in fact it was more like a suite for the number of guests had been cut massively due to the war and all. The rooms were quite comfortable much to Helene's delight, complete with spacious marble baths, not quite to her liking as she thought they were cold, she preferred wooden interiors here; but the bedroom, the parlour, and so forth were all marked with a mixture of Oriental and Classical greek style with soft pillows and faux antique furniture mixing tastefully.

There were of course also serfs on call, a maid, a lady's maid, and a manservant, technically that was not the right term but Butler seemed overly pretentious. Between the three of them they handled anything that needed to be handled in the suite, leaving the occupant free to enjoy him or herself.

While Jasmine lounged luxuriously on the enormous double bed that dominated the master bedroom Helene held the phone in her hand while peering out through one of the windows. The windows were in the main rather small, and had an odd greenish tint to them armoured glass she concluded, though of course they seemed more like firing slits than anything else. Peering down into the garden she also noticed that they were cleverly designed so that it'd be impossible to shoot down at them from any of the nearby hills, assuming of course that you had a rifle with that range. I wonder when the last sniper attack occurred... she mused as she looked up into the hills far too long ago I'll wager she concluded.

"Ah need a tailor foh me and mah wench," Helene said into the phone.

"Of course mistis when does you want them?"

"Soon as possible."

"They'll be right up mistis."

As the tailors with their measuring tapes and pins came rushing up, bowing deeply to Helene, she mused that this was another benefit of low cost labour, and a city with a mini-financial depression of course; but even so seamstresses with simple sewing machines could do an amazing amount of work each day without requiring all that much of an education, for most serf women would know a bit about making clothes even before they were apprenticed.

One of the tailors, a bird like sinewy man with an enormous Egyptian nose, held up a large and rather thick leather clad binder, inside there were lots and lots of drawings that looked like they had been hand copied from fashion magazines both native and domestic. Helene flipped through it looking at each picture, occasionally tapping one and going "That one," and then proceeding again before she stopped "Hmmmmm," she said and looked at Jasmine. [2]

Noticing the sudden attention from her mistress Jasmine sat up, peering curiously and looking very anticipatory.

"Come heah Jasmine," Helene said, she motioned casually "Stand jus' so," she said moving Jasmine's hands and legs into a right position, then she looked at the picture again "Ah saw somethin' like this in France..." she mused to herself "Where this picture from?"

"We copy them from fashion magazines Mistis," the bird like Egyptian tailor said, all while unconsciously bowing a little.

"Couple of these for her," Helene said simply, then she added "What colour you like Jasmine?"

"I like yellow and green mistis," Jasmine chimed up.

"Hmmmmm, this dress would look good in a nice shade of yellow, moving towards green," Helene commented as she flipped through the fabric samples "Yes this one," she said tapping one.

Jasmine smiled and looked very excited, but she kept her mouth shut, generally remaining passive and silent was a good idea.

"Belt buckle..." Helene spoke out loud "Should match the dress definitely, and for underwear," she picked up some samples "Come here."

"Yes Mistis," Jasmine said and hurried over.

Without too much concern Helene absentmindedly pressed cloth samples against Jasmine's skin, the thin lacy cloth showing Jasmine's skin beneath "Hmmmmm," she frowned a bit as she tried to find what offered the most pleasing contrast white silk lace against light coffee skin, or something that matched the skin itself.

The touch made Jasmine's breath increase a little, and so did the whole show, certainly Helene was a bit brusque at times but now... she was getting pretty new dresses, new underwear, even if she was being treated like Helene's giant doll, it felt good to be pampered.

Firing Range

There were three of them, tough looking natives and one runaway serf, they each held large vicious looking blades, and their mouths were open as if screaming some battlecry. They rushed forward at a surprising pace, occasionally bobbing and weaving a bit as they advanced.

Two loud gunshot blasts came, one-two, and then as Helene moved the sights of her 10mm Tolgren pistol she counted one-BANG and the third shot. Then her aim moved on to the one in the middle, the fastest one, one-BANG two-BANG, lift your sight, then a quarter heartbeat one... two-BANG. Third one the same way, two shots directly to the chest in a double tap, and then aim at the head, imagine that you've fired the first shot of a double tap, and then when you've recovered from the recoil squeeze the trigger and BANG.

It was paint and cardboard that splattered out behind them, not brains, for the attacking trio were full sized but quite realistic targets in an enclosed firing range. It was quite clever really the targets were moved forward on rails in the ceiling, but they hung on rails of their own so they could move sideways too acting as if they dodged. Naturally this made the experience much more challenging and realistic.

As the targets stopped in front of her position she took her time examining them, she'd hit each and every time, which was good. The last target though had gotten close, too close. She reached out and touched it, then she let the magazine drop from her Tolgren and loaded in another one. There was a comfortable click as it locked into place "Anotha three," she called out to the attendant.

"Yes Mistis!" he called back, then he pushed a button he was standing next to, first one long push, then three short ones. This alerted the other attendant, the one that actually put up the next targets, that he should get working.

As safety went the target hangers position was somewhat precarious, he had a thick concrete buffer to duck behind but he was actually situated on the other side of the firing range. Of course most citizens had the good sense not to shoot at him, but over the years he had been grazed once, and a couple of other attendants had actually be shot; but so far no one had actually died. What the system lacked in attendant safety it made up for in efficiency and speed, for the next three targets were up much faster than a safer system could have handled.

The shooting let her focus her mind, there was something pure and yet trained about it, sometimes she tried to shoot purely on instinct but it never quite worked; you had to both think and not think at the same time, something that she always had trouble explaining to people.

When she was done she compared her score, just into the top 25% percentile. She had invariably scored in the ten percentile in the past, but most MGB agents had a nasty tendency of never firing their gun in anger, and if they had to pull it they, like many other people, seemed to think it was a magic wand guaranteed to enforce obedience.

Hotel Lounge

It was a very comfortable lounge, soft sitting chairs, small elegant tables for placing your drink, lots of dark skinned boys in elaborate page boy outfits holding enormous peacock feather fans, and expressionless servants silently carrying out the bidding of their masters. The area also had a lot of palms and ferns for some reason, but oddly enough this added to rather than detracted from the charm of the place.

Helene had somehow gotten into a discussion with one of the old timers there "So yo' still got the bushmen," she mused "Wouldn't have thought they'd be such a problem anymore." By now they had all introduced each other so a more informal tone was permissible.

"Yeah we sure do, but," Merarch Burke leaned forward a bit "The Commies, as long as you got the Commies giving them aid some of the bastards are gonna live, there's nothing for that, they can hide out with their womenfolk even... but take that away and they'll starve, they're getting desperate."

"Yo' think that's why they attacked mah convoy?" Helene asked, genuinely curious now.

"Suh thing, that was a stupid thing, they lost a lot of soldiers, and your Centurion had rigged the drags," he shook his head a bit "no, they attacked because they had to have supplies, food, the Commies still bring'em weapons, but they can't bring'em enough food and other supplies."

"Makes sense, suh enough, but, Thor's balls the hotel got armour windows," Helene said exasperated "Just how bad is it?"

"Not as bad as it used to be," Burke said after a while "You see... in the old days the ragheads had plenty of snipers, they liked to shoot at big windows so we armoured them, and they liked to riot so we impaled them and built a system to contain any city district, but then we replaced most of'em in Kabul with domesticated ones. Thing is why remove it once it's in place? One day though the natives'll be the majority again, and this'll keep'em calm, some bushmen figger it's okay to die, but nobody figgers it's fine to die if you don't stand even a chance."

"Life as you'd die tomorrow, farm as if you'd live forever," Helene said, "That goes for breakin' new lands too..."

"That it does, but some people, they think it's just killin', and no technique," Burke said sadly.

Suddenly Helene blinked, vaguely in her mind she recalled a briefing she had received many years ago "Merarch Burke..." she said softly "I suddenly remember, you were involved with some highly efficient counter-insurgency work, as I recall..." her eyes narrowed "Yes, you pioneered the Assyrian Plan?"

Burke smiled "Yes I did, I did, surprised you knew it goes back to the 1920s and early 1930s and you'd be, well, not that old, but you're right yes." He leaned back before began "The idea is that they might not be afraid of death, so you got to show them there's worse things than dying. Other people burned the whole village down, but not me, I'd go in there and I'd kill everyone too old or decrepit to work, and then every male taller than a 'steamers wheel, and then... I'd have the boys castrated and sodomized, all in public, ship them and the women off but leave some behind to tell of what was done and give the message 'your sons will never be men now'," he nodded "grizzly work yeah, but findin' a pile of their boys manhoods terrified those ragheads more than a burned out mosque filled with bodies, believe it or not."

Helene smiled herself now, "Oh come now, you've been rippin' of good ol' Genghis Khan!" she said "I figure the Genghis Plan'd be a better name, even if the Assyrians' did the same."

"Point there, but I reckon' that the Assyrian forced movement of populations got a lot more in common with what we're doin', they broke the back o' the insane nationalism that you'd find in the Middle-East in those days," Burke argued "That's what we're tryin' to do too, spread em out so the survivors can't get together again and plot mischief."

Suddenly she looked at the page boys, several of them were kinda big, even if they still looked boyish "Tell me are any of those?" she motioned at them.

"Jus' a couple," Burke confirmed "Most of the original batch got sold off to the brothels, but a few got lucky I guess."

Private Suite

In her suite Helene was studying the pamphlet from the airship company, officially her ticket was for Alexandria, and she knew as much about Alexandria as anyone who had never visited could. However her plan naturally precluded her from actually going there, the city itself was large enough that it was highly unlikely that anyone would find out that her identity was nothing more than some papers carefully dropped into the right folders; but nevertheless the spies first maxim is this: Do not tempt fate.

Laying next to her was Jasmine, occasionally Helene would turn over to her and caress her a bit, this part wasn't so hard, indeed the warmth from Jasmine was quite appealing. Once more she smiled and moved her hand across the girl "You smell sweet," she whispered as they moved into each others arms, exchanging kisses.

The next morning... Friday 19 September 1941

Rather than go into the restaurant Helene had opted for a breakfast in their suite, which was of course amply suited for this. The breakfast had been a simple one by Drakan norms, which meant a healthy portion of freshly baked scones, fresh butter, some bacon and cold ham, and of course strong and heavily honeyed green tea.

Jasmine was eating heavily after being advised to do so by her mistress, she was silently pleased that she seemed to be getting along well, and had come to accept Helene's brusque nature as the norm. Helene herself delighted in the cold ham, personally she had never really liked bacon for breakfast and the ham was salted just right, and was otherwise quite succulent.

Afterwards they got dressed, their new clothes having been finished long before, the price Helene was pleased to note was far lower than that anticipated by the MGB; it often paid to have things done in the provinces. Of course by her note she had only briefly replenished her wardrobe, and obviously she'd have to arrange for more later on.

Jasmine's outfit was the dress that Helene had picked for her earlier yellowish tending towards green, it was long reaching halfway down her Around her waist was a belt that emphasized her slender waist; the buckle was adorned in semi-precious stones that matched the blue of the outfit, available by fortunate coincidence. The top section of the dress was wide, showing of the shoulders and chest, in short it was quite delightful and a pleasant imitation of French fashions; though of course it also marked her as a priced belonging.

Helene had chosen something similar to what she had worn earlier, it could roughly be described as a Great White Hunter costume in Khaki, but slightly altered to fit a more feminine shape. When she was travelling she preferred something like that, the boots were well polished, so was her gun belt with its elegant special holster, and there was a slight tell tale bulge where her second Tolgren was kept in a shoulder holster.

Kabul Airport

They were quite a couple Helene mused as they walked towards the airship tower, behind them a couple of burly porters were carrying their luggage, which was rather more extensive than when she landed. As they walked they came across a window, the sunlight turned it into a near perfect mirror and Helene couldn't help but look, there they were her arm around Jasmine's waist...

Great, we look like a German cabaret act, she looked at the porters in the mirror and they must be the chorus line she smiled and chuckled a bit to Jasmine's surprise as they walked up towards the elevator tower.

After arriving they were greeted politely by the Captain of the airship, here at least the Draka had retained normal nomenclature. He was a handsome grey haired man on indeterminable age and they greeted politely but briefly just a quick "Helene Fauchard, monitor formerly of the 2nd Alexandria Legion, independent trader," followed by "Richard Lindstrom, Captain of the Airship Nebuchadanezar" and then moving into the airship proper. Behind her she could hear the phrases repeated over and over.

She found a seat in the passengers lounge, near the panorama window, and sat down with Jasmine "Take a look Jasmine, we won't be back here anytime soon..."

There was a shudder through the airship as the ballast tanks were emptied, and then the moorings to the tower were released; the metal clad airship drove gracefully up into the clear blue sky as the engine pods started up. Slowly the enormous football shaped vessel turned towards Qom, the former holy city of the Shia Moslems, but now... well they'd find out soon enough...

[1] It is a fully functional working orchard as well as being very decorative, but Helene would not really take much notice of this.

[2] Yes the unfeminine behaviour regarding clothes is deliberate, Helene is an unusually practical woman in most things.


16. If any one receive into his house a runaway male or female slave of the court, or of a freedman, and does not bring it out at the public proclamation of the major domus, the master of the house shall be put to death.

17. If any one find runaway male or female slaves in the open country and bring them to their masters, the master of the slaves shall pay him two shekels of silver.

18. If the slave will not give the name of the master, the finder shall bring him to the palace; a further investigation must follow, and the slave shall be returned to his master.

19. If he hold the slaves in his house, and they are caught there, he shall be put to death.

20. If the slave that he caught run away from him, then shall he swear to the owners of the slave, and he is free of all blame.


- The Code of Hammurabi


And until I am the monarch, I will never let anyone take possession of movable and landed properties of the others by force or without compensation. Until I am alive, I prevent unpaid, forced labor. To day, I announce that everyone is free to choose a religion. People are free to live in all regions and take up a job provided that they never violate other's rights.

No one could be penalized for his or her relatives' faults. I prevent slavery and my governors and subordinates are obliged to prohibit exchanging men and women as slaves within their own ruling domains. Such a traditions should be exterminated the world over.

I implore to (Ahura) Mazda to make me succeed in fulfilling my obligations to the nations of Iran (Persia), Babylon, and the ones of the four directions.

- Cyrus the Greats Declaration of Human Rights


Airspace over Qom

Qom was once a holy city, but now, the Draka had hit it quite hard in their day but it was still quite lovely, and over the years the city had been rebuilt to some extent. It was situated just east of the large salt desert Dasht-e Kavir, and surrounded by enormous orchards, poppy fields, and hundreds of acres of grain. Once upon a time there had been cotton fields as well, but these were now gone, unable to compete with the cotton of Egypt and Mesopotamia.

From the observation lounge Helene peered down on the landscape below her, before she returned to her book, it was a simple guide book for the New Territories and had been available quite cheap in the airship store. For once she had been impulsive and had purchased it, it was a thick book bound with cardboard and textile, thus making it cheap by Domination standards, but it did have a lot of prints and pictures in it.

Jasmine was gently resting her head on Helene's shoulder, smiling a bit as she peered down into the book, she didn't understand the text but she did like the pictures quite a bit and since her mistress didn't seem to mind she would occasionally ask, in a humble small tone of voice "What is that?" At which point Helene would indulgently explain what the picture was, and then caringly pat Jasmine's hand.

By now they had started making their descent, the airship shuddered a bit as it slowed down and began to approach the ground, the engines struggling as it became necessary to move into a specific area rather than simply travelling in the right direction and staying inside a mile wide corridor. Soon though the ship had moored with the huge mooring tower, and the light shudders vanished as water was pumped into the ballast tanks stabilizing it.


As they stepped onto the mooring tower they were hit with a delightful blast of heat, the temperature had reached 37 degrees Celsius, enough to make Helene take a deep breath and feel the hot air fill her body I love the heat, why oh why does a place as wonderful as this have to be ruled by the Draka?

The airship would depart in four hours, so to Helene's calculations this meant that they had some two hours in which they could go sightseeing in Qom. As the elevator descended she made sure to tuck away her guide book into her purse, then she studied herself and Jasmine in the mirror sides of the elevator; they were quite an interesting couple she thought if not for her own obviously feminine features they could have passed for a Great White hunter and his charming but naïve big city girlfriend.

Jasmine was of course friendly and obligating throughout, but she did have one other benefit that Helene was starting to appreciate. If she held her arm on or around Jasmine, seemingly in a loving fashion, she could move about without relying so much on the hated cane.

The airport at Qom was quite nice, it had retained a certain provincial charm, indeed from what she had heard it had been built using mainly local labour and materials, and in the native style. She walked past a set of elegant arches under which you cold seek both shade and privacy, in one of them she spotted a lounging middle aged serf who huddled further into the shadows when he spotted one of the Citizens looking at him. The floors had magnificent mosaic patterns in a mixture of native and Drakan styles, and the centrepiece of the grand entrance hall was an enormous fountain, when you got near it you noticed that it send a gently mist that cooled the area immediately around it.

As she had done in Kabul she rented an autosteamer with a guide, but the price was slightly higher here since it was a more central spot, it was still cheap though and their guide was a handsome native with a short beard and a big moustache; he bowed deeply when they approached his steamer.

"They say you know a bit about this town eh Aly?" Helene asked him casually as she studied him, he was of course submissive but there was a keen glean in his eyes, and he was a bit chubby suggesting that he managed to somehow get rather more food than other serfs.

"Yah Mistis, I know much about this heah town, ahs grows up heah and ahs remembah many things iffen da mistis wants to heah," Aly explained cheerfully "and ah can show you everythin'!"

"You've got two hours so make it good," Helene said simply "I want to see the city centre, but quick like now Aly, so chop chop."

"Yah Mistis," Aly called obediently as he opened the door and let Helene and Jasmine inside.

The drive through the city was quiet and uneventful, the buildings were silent facades not revealing their secrets to outsiders, high whitened walls with the tops of trees sticking up above the edge, here and there a few houses but always with such small slit like windows. Any real windows would be on the other side, in the courtyards and at the ground level protected by the tall walls. Yet in a strange way these houses managed to preserve much of the old feel of the city.

They naturally proceeded to the city centre, here they found many lovely buildings but chief among them were the the Holy Shrine of Hazrat-é Ma'sumeh, the burial place of Fatima. Even now Helene had noticed that many of the local serfs still carried with them medallions showing the Hand of Fatima.

Leaving the car she looked up at the building with its splendid golden dome, and the elegant geometric decorations that marked this area. The shrine was of course open to any citizen and a couple of serf guides rushed to be by Helene's side as she entered it. She didn't spend much time though, Jasmine stayed quietly by her side as they walked through the shrine absentmindedly listening to the guide explaining how important and holy this place was.

Once outside the shrine the sun was starting to move towards the horizon, but it was still warm and quite bright. On the other side of the town centre there was another rather ornate Islamic building, but there were also countless restaurants and delicatessen, one of whom were pointed out to them by their guide when Helene asked him what else was of interest.

"It makes the faahnest Sohan Mistis," Aly explained "it is a lovely pistachio brittle mistis, an' they also have the good pastris" he was smiling widely and probably trying not to drool.

"So is that what Qom is famous for?" Helene asked casually "Sohan, pastries and shrines?"

"Beggin' yo' pardon mistis, but its moah famous for," he pointed at something behind her "those lot." There was a certain mixture of contempt and fascination in his voice.

Turning around Helene spotted a small autosteamer minibus, out from it came a small group of men in black robes and black turbans, they looked straight ahead and half ran towards the other ornate building that Helene had noticed earlier. Following closely behind them was a citizen in a Security Directorate uniform, he eyed them with a mixture of disgust and boredom.

Helene recognised them at once, she had been briefed on how the local Islamic school had been allowed to stay open but under, well how to put it? A slightly altered curriculum? And that's probably the entire class she thought, Shia Islam was far easier to manipulate than Sunni Islam due to its odd beliefs about interpretation and the primacy of the Mullahs and Ayatollahs.

The Howzeh-ye Elmieh or Mullah School in Qom was closed immediately after the conquest, and its assets turned over to the Security Directorate who used the building as a regional office. However in 1929 it was clear that it would be helpful if there was a seminary equivalent for educating Shia mullahs; much in the same way as a couple of Christian and Sunni schools had been permitted to exist to train carefully selected students.

Now of course Aly's reaction was quite understandable, Persians have always been exceptional in their love of God, and their contempt for those that claim to speak in his name. No doubt this was doubly true if they were agents of the corrupt foreigners.

Jasmine looked quite worried as she saw the black turbans, indeed she hid slightly behind Helene and peered at the scurrying Mullahs as if she had just spotted a particularly vicious pack of beasts. Helene smiled at her "Silly wench, what are you doing?" she said in a mock chiding voice as she pulled Jasmine closer "they's just a pack o'superstitious foo's they's lettin' run around ta comfort the Mahoumedans."

Aly at any rate didn't respond to this, and Helene had a tendency to simply act as if he was furniture, which in some ways he was; after all she only rented him and aside from not doing any harm to him or installing bad ideas him, in short aside from damaging someone elses property, she had no obligations in regards to him.

Part to comfort Jasmine and part to have a new experience Helene did enter the bakery, it was surprisingly cool as it was linked to Qom's communal air-conditioning network. She ordered a large quantity of pastries and sohan and one of the bakery serfs carried them out to the steamer.

The pastries and the Sohan were quite excellent, as she found out afterwards, the pastries in particular were so sweet and thick that she could practically feel her thighs expand an inch, and they filled you up very fast as well.

After that there wasn't much to do other than drive around aimlessly a bit, and then stretch her legs a tad, though Helene felt self conscious with her bad ankle, even though she reminded herself that she really shouldn't. Still that was the kind of thing that a Citizen might be embarrassed about, nobody liked to seem weak after all. Then they returned to the airship to continue their journey towards Baghdad.


Airspace over Baghdad

The sun had long since set and it was quite dark, as they had moved across the mountains of Persia and into Mesopotamia there was at first little change; on what few roads they spotted they could see the occasional headlight of a heavy drag working through the night, and occasionally they'd pass above some plantation house where stray beams of light made small dots in the darkness.

Sometime before Baghdad they began running into more frequent villages, they were invariably built around some business and other and only a few scattered points of light could be seen there; but just before Baghdad they reached one of the railway tracks leading up to Kourdistan, the trains here resembled glow worms snaking their way through the dark desert. The river Tigris was next, and here too there was more light from the countless riverboats with their lanterns and searchlights, the river transport never ceased.

Baghdad however was the real thing, the city seemed to glow in the dark from tens of thousands of lights, and even in the night the streets were ablaze with autosteamers rushing to and for. In the outskirts of the city were the enormous oil refineries where huge spouts of flame would occasionally gush up to burn excess gas, giving them quite the diabolical appearance in the night. The darkness gave it a haunting beauty, which the industrial plants only added to, who were the people there? What did they dream? How would this city look when it burned, and the Red Army streamed down the Tigris carried on riverboats, that last thought reminded Helene of why she was here.

The airport was filled with airships going too and fro, many of them carried what Helene could see to be military markings, Baghdad airport was of course a major transport hub for the airship fleet. The airship however continued its slow descent towards the airport, even as Helene wondered how they'd dock, after all the mooring towers all seemed quite busy.

It was then that a tinny electronic voice came on the loud speakers to announce "Ladies an' Gentulhmen, we's sorry but weah's havin' a spot o' difficulty wi' the moorin' towers on account of all of them bein' busy, but we'll be pullin' down soon enough."

As the ship descended to a suitable height long ropes were thrown out from the airship, a half dozen on either side, and almost at once hundreds of dark skinned serfs in blue oil stained dungaree overalls and coats rushed out to grab the ropes. From where Helene was sitting they looked a bit like blue ants tugging on ropes and squirming in the bright light from the airport and the airship, the most distant of them vanished into darkness and flickering shade, even as they helped move the airship into the right position.

On the ground the crews struggled mightily with the thick ropes, it was backbreaking labour indeed, the sweat rolled down their brows, but even so they sang; there was on each rope a couple of lead singers who got special rations for keeping the right rhythm, and as the teams sang they pulled hard on the ropes bringing that airship down.

As the airship descended Helene could hear snatches of their song even where she sat, it was faint and distant but if she strained she could pick up lines...

"... an' me hands be raw an' me back be sore..."

That line no doubt resonated well, for if a soft skinned fellow, like an office dweller or a middle-class American, were to pull on those ropes, the way they buckled and fought, why his hands would surely be shredded clean off; but the workers on the ground had hands and foot soles as tough as old leather, but even to them the call "Up an' pull 'er down!" had a special horror for there weren't no work on the airport quite as awful as pulling down an airship.

Even the added rations given to the shippies hardly seemed sufficient compensation for such a task as this, as their hands stung, and their bodies groaned as every sinewy of their muscular frames were strained, their white teeth shining in the darkness as they half snarled from the sheer strain of the pull.

Right now there were some fourteen to fifteen hundred men struggling madly to hold on to the ropes and walk the airship to its hangar, there you would find steam engines that opened the roofs and doors to the hangar allowing easy access to the airship; but in a state where mass labour was cheap there was no need to think too much about alternative methods of bringing down airships when all the mooring towers were busy.

Baghdad Airport

It was quite dark outside when the airship finally slid into the enormous hangar, and then the big steam engines kicked in and with a loud thumb and the sound of chains and gears running the hanger closed itself. By now the serfs were dismissed, many of them walked away looking like old men, their knees trembling slightly from the enormous exertion, and when a few of the newcomers got to wash their hands the water turned pink with their blood.

Long before it was properly closed though the passengers began to mill out, the interior of the hangar was fully lit up, it was your standard boring interior made for functionality rather than décor. Boxes lined the walls, thick cotton covered electrical wires ran up to the ceiling lights, and equally heavy thick steel pneumatic tubes ran along the walls to power the countless pieces of machinery found inside.

Outside the air seemed quite cool, the airport was brightly lit by dozens of floodlights, and the airships had lights of their own, often though the metalclad airships would reflect so much light that they looked like enormous lamps in the sky. The shadows in the airport were irregular and jumped about, creating islands of darkness here and there where the backlit effect kept you from seeing anything.

Most of the passengers, like Helene, had either already made reservations with some Baghdad hotel, or they would live with friends or contacts taking advantage of Drakan hospitality. For those that hadn't there were ample opportunities for doing so now, inside the main building of the airport there was an information desk manned by a couple of born serfs whose only job it was to constantly check which hotels had vacancies, and to ensure that there was autosteamers present to take the citizens there.

Helene however did not see this desk, but she knew it was there, she and Jasmine piled into one of the common carrier busses that were waiting; in peacetime they would most likely have had independent autosteamers for the citizens, but with a war on conservation measures like an increased use of buses was the order of the day.

The autosteamer buses were however quite comfortable, they reminded her of the buses she'd ridden in Afghanistan, but the windows were somewhat larger though with the slight green tint of armoured glass. The wheels were also quite large, they reached up to her waist and she could see the enormous heavy suspension, unless she missed her guess they were made from solid rubber counting on suspension to limit shocks to the passengers. However that could be ignored as you settled down in the wide, firm leather upholstered seats and looked out the window at the city that passed by.

They drove past brightly lit official buildings, and across several small bridges crossing canals. Above them they could occasionally spot an elevated light railway or an aqueduct, all lit by strings of incandescent bulbs. In the far distance they could see the occasional gout of flame rising from a refinery, it was quite an interesting spectacle.

Ctesiphon Hotel

Once upon a time this had been a British built hotel, to be precise it had been built by a consortium of British businessmen involved in the Mesopotamian oil industry. It was in the main designed for those who, at the time, had the money and interest to travel to such a place, and as such it was well built and rather luxurious. Upon the conquest of Mesopotamia it had been one of the few buildings that were of acceptable quality for the occupying army, and as such it had been used as a headquarters for the Army of Mesopotamia before it was sold in 1921 to a group of businessmen who turned it back into a hotel.

The building even had an underground parking lot, this might seem slightly peculiar until you realise that even in the 1900s city space is at a premium, and there's also the unfortunate fact that autosteamers left in an open parking lot had a disturbing tendency of being stripped bare or outright stolen; the Arabs were quite famous for that sort of thing, indeed there's a famous story of a locked and cold autosteamer stolen by way of being disassembled on the spot and carried away.

Of course after the conquest this meant that there'd be no sniping at the parked autosteamers, and it also afforded a nice underground garage. When the bus entered the garage it was a rather narrow fit, Helene would be astounded if there was more than two inches clearing above, and more than once she was convinced that they would surely hit some wall or pillar. Even in the dingy lights of the underground parkinglot she couldn't help but notice that some of the trickier pillars looked like veritable rainbows from all the steamers that had scraped into them.

Once they left the bus they could hear the echoing sounds all around them in the underground parking house, and there was that slightly musty smell that always seemed to appear in concrete basements. Jasmine huddled close to Helene, she seemed very tired and a bit jittery from fatigue, even if, unlike her mistress, she had shamelessly slept in public.

"Come now Jasmine," Helene ordered as they walked towards the double doors leading into the hotel proper.

"Yes Mistis," Jasmine replied, hugging close to Helene and trying to seem more cheerful than she felt.

The difference between the underground parking house and the hotel proper was quite stark, they set foot on a wide whitish grey carpet, the corridor had dark wood panelling and paintings of old British men, probably holdovers from when it was fist built. At the end of the corridor there were a pair of double doors without any hinges, and beside them there was a brass plaque of sort with a large lions head.

When they drew nearer it was clear that the double doors, large cherry wood doors with elaborate engravings of classical Arabic and Persian motifs, men hunting deer, birds lifting up, and advanced floral and geometric lines. The lions head plaque was interesting because in the lions mouth there was a pearl, obviously to be pushed if you wanted the elevator.

Now however the elevator doors slid silently open revealing a serf operating standing silently by the side of the brass lever, he was wearing a bright red bellhop outfit of the sort that was disappearing in most of Europe, but which had been very current when the hotel was built.

The citizens piled into the spacious elevator and were then brought upwards, there was little of the regular chitchat between them, aside from common courtesies, since everyone was rather tired from the long journey, and unlike many other peoples they felt little need to talk simply for the sake of talking. Helene studied them casually, they were men and women generally of more advanced years, or else carrying obvious wounds, she was hardly the only one that had a cane or worse, but there were also a couple of soldiers. In short they were mostly business travellers of the sort that lacked the time or inclination to go fishing around for invitations to stay at private residencies.

The elevator stopped at the lobby, there was absolutely no step between the elevator and the lobby floor, indeed Helene imagined that she could have placed a water on the two floors and found them to be perfectly aligned "De lobby mastahs and mistises," the elevator operator said speaking up for the first time.

It was a typical lobby with stone floors, a few enormous flowerpots that looked like they were of native manufacture, and of course the standard wooden panelling that tried so very hard to look as if it was a European hotel. Stretched across the floors from the elevators and across the obvious walkways were red carpets giving the grey floors some colour, and probably saving guests from slipping and falling over.

Helene however was too tired to really admire the décor, instead she signed her name "Helene Fauchard," into the big book that the clerk held open, then she muttered something about her room.

They were guided to their room by a pair of hotel employees, one of them, a rather large Arab with a huge moustache, carried their luggage with apparent ease; the other, a slightly slimy and obsequious Egyptian by the look of him, for he wore a suit of sorts and a red fez, offered up the occasional titbit of information as he guided them to the door "Iffen the mistis wants summat else ouah staff is always on duty," he assured her as he unlocked the door, and then bowed before handing her the key.

As usual the rooms were quite comfortable, indeed they were luxurious, and Helene had expected this; they were decorated in that highly packed style that marked both the Victorians and to some extents the Draka. Every available surface was dedicated to decorations, from the mosaic works in the bathroom to the paintings on the walls depicting landscape scenes, indeed even the bedroom with it's canopy bed and embroidered drapes showed an attention to décor.

Helene quickly dismissed the two serfs, regretting that she couldn't tip them, and then set about undressing, her only hesitation was when she touched her slightly swollen ankle that bothered her a bit. Jasmine however looked very tired, indeed she had sunk herself down into a wicker chair and she seemed about to doze off.

"Wakee wakee sleepy head," Helene called as she gently shook Jasmine's shoulder, the serf woke up with a plaintive pouting expression on her face.

"Miistis," she said and sniffed a little but she got up, she looked a bit like a pouting child very upset but too afraid of the cane to disobey alas that is all too accurate Helene mused as she studied the finely attired woman in front of her.

"Strip of now, lets have ourselves a shower before we go to bed," Helene said in a gentle but firm voice, she had no intention of going to bed dirty and she didn't want Jasmine to get into the habit of doing so either.

"Yes Mistis," Jasmine said as they walked towards the bathroom, she stripped naked taking great care to fold her clothes in a neat pile before putting them away.

Helene smiled at her and hugged her close, smelling her shoulder and the sweet almost perfumed scent that Jasmine exuded, then she took her around the shoulder and moved to the shower.

It was quite a large shower actually, naturally it was separate from the bathtub. It had a clear glass door, but carved into the glass were light floral patterns obscuring the interior slightly, however you could still see in or out as you pleased. The niche that the shower was built into was of course made from marble, Helene didn't like marble much since it got slick and it felt cold, as opposed to wood. The shower itself had a series of nozzles all around the shower area, and into the wall itself there was a shelf holding various complimentary soaps and shampoos, all of them smelled quite delightful. The towels were frottee and of a very high quality, all of them with the hotel monogram carefully embroidered into them.

Ordinarily she might have luxuriated in the bath or taken a long shower, but today Helene simply wanted to clean herself thoroughly; it was an invigorating experience like you shed an outer layer of dirt away, and the feel of Jasmine's fingers gently brushing, probing and massaging her scalp made her sigh contentedly. That and just cleaning yourself off, getting rid of the nasty sweat that seemed to make every part of your body sticky and disgusting, soon the floor of the shower was covered in a light froth of perfumed soap, fortunately the surface was slightly uneven and rough to prevent you from slipping.

"Come now," Helene said to Jasmine as they walked out of the shower "lets go to bed."

"Yes mistis," Jasmine said in a very sleepy voice, the shower had invigorated her enough to let her keep her eyes open, but little more.

They slept together in the nude, bodies intertwined, Jasmine's arm across Helene's belly while Helene's army was protectively around Jasmine, they fell asleep almost at once drifting into a deep sleep of the sort where even your dreams are about sleeping and resting. The soft bed was like a cloud, and the insect nets hanging from the canopy protected their sleeping forms from being eaten alive by the mosquitoes.

Helene's Room
Ctesiphon Hotel

After six hours of sleep Helene's eyes suddenly shot open, she knew there was no point in trying to sleep anymore, instead she moved slightly noticing how Jasmine stirred "Sleep," she whispered as she brushed her lips across Jasmine's ear.

Moments later Helene hit the floor and began doing her push-ups, she knew all too well how vital it was to stay in shape, and also how important it was to immediately start doing things once you've gotten out of bed. Throughout this Jasmine remained asleep, hardly stirring at all in fact, quite exhausted from her long and arduous journey.

The sun was now shining into the room through the thick drapes, it was quite warm against her skin even though the air in the room itself was rather cool, from hidden vents in the wall cold air blew gently into the room and was then spread around by the slowly turning ceiling fan. She struggled to rise and grabbed her cane making her way towards the window, there she pulled the drapes aside and looked out at Baghdad.

The city was exquisite, once upon a time it had been the glorious capital of the Abbasid caliphate, filled with canals and a magnificent system of aqueducts, as well as paved streets, and even a system of streetlights; when the Draka had captured it the place had only a single aqueduct left, and water had been carried from the filthy river in goatskin sacks, the streets were unpaved and an irregular maze which had proven quite bothersome for the Janissaries, and the only light at night was the moon and the torch you might carry.

The city had been entirely rebuilt, there was of course no question of keeping any but the most important and historical buildings, and so the Shia quarter in particular had been razed to the ground. Now however it spread out in perfectly arranged geometric shapes, with a few oddities where older buildings had been judged venerable enough to be preserved. Between the streets of the city she could see many canals with numerous small draw bridges crossing them, and scores of boats and barges of every size upon the Tigris and the canals; the Draka had a great love of water transport and of classical learning so they had restored the great canal system of Baghdad.

The buildings, particularly the ancient ones but the new ones too, were dazzling with their coloured tiles, studying the architecture she could see many buildings of considerable ingenuity, but her view was somewhat interrupted by the taller buildings.

She looked back at Jasmine and smiled softly, soon it would be time for breakfast, and then some shopping, but already on her mind was something else... somewhere in this vast city there was something she had to do, the first step in her mission.