Part 7: It Will Be Televised
Chapter 7: It Will Be Televised
The fates of many political prisoners in Karasov's regime, to this day, have not been solved completely. It has been determined that those considered enemies of the state were cruelly beaten and assaulted in prisons for a time, and then sent to re-education camps or forced labor camps scattered around Novistrana and other willing countries in Eastern Europe. However, the destinations and/or bodies of these prisoners were never uncovered. Few escaped the wrath of Karasov and his systematic imprisonment forces, but those lucky enough to escape either fled the country or managed to keep out of sight.
Out of these handfuls of escapees, some joined underground factions in an attempt to fight back against Karasov and others even began to surface and denounce the dictator in person. Artem Churbanov, an influential writer for the Ekaterine Echo imprisoned for his praise of anti-Karasov parties, was one such man that escaped the system and fought back against it. He joined the Novistranan Coalition as thanks to Piotr Prokofiev, becoming one of their best lieutenants for putting the Coalition's message in country-wide circulation.
In order to testify against Karasov's jailing atrocities in respected and "legitimate" publications, Churbanov had the Novistranan Coalition perform a takeover of Ekaterine's casino to generate great wealth for themselves. This was a move that created rifts between Piotr Prokofiev, Josef Nasarov, Oleg Baturin, and the newly-freed man, for it began to work against the initial ideology of the entire movement...
* * *
Piotr Prokofiev's Diary - Twenty-fourth Entry: 26/02/1996
I feel sullied, guilty. I feel like I have taken the first step to betraying my own beliefs. Is this really what I must do to remove Karasov from the seat of power? Must I have to play politics, to swallow my bile and wear a plastic smile while shaking the hands of those I've sworn to remove in my vision of utopia?
Out of the three suitable candidates for freedom, I chose Artem Churbanov, the journalist. Tarasov was a liability: I have seen too many movements fall apart because a strong leader became a follower of another. Chenko was too large a gamble: would he turn against us if he couldn't return to his previous position of power? That left me with Churbanov, the "safe bet", but at the same time, the one I wished to release the least.
I can comfort myself with saying that in the end, I can always burn bridges and cast aside the useful idiots of the movement. I can tell them, "You have done your work well, but I have no further use for you". But what if they refuse? What if the movement collapses halfway because our differences are irreconcilable? I feel that then we will have truly failed, and that the only way for me to salvage the party would be to become a new version of Karasov. I shudder to think this.
However, I must put aside my revulsion. I must think in the terms of the benefits for our Coalition. Artem Churbanov, leech that he is, can still help our movement by portraying us as heroic in the upper class's ranks, bringing in much-needed funding. The consumers of print and televised media, fools they may be to believe state-controlled lies, would still hear our message no matter how much Karasov may try to censor it. Churbanov should still have friends that may come in handy, and if they refuse to help, then at least Nasarov or Baturin may be able to win them over in their own way.
If Churbanov becomes a problem, I shall be swift in removing him from our banner. I will not let myself be tempted by the promises of power that wealth may bring. Too many times I have seen great men, friends of the working-class, fall to vice and enmity with their comrades once they had a fistful of roubles.
Our apartment HQ is too small to accommodate the likely luxuries and machinery Churbanov will need to work properly. I must find a larger dwelling, preferably in the industrial districts in the hope that Churbanov may turn, someday, to believe in our cause because it's right rather than in the possible financial rewards. I hope Baturin and Nasarov do not try to cause trouble...
* * *
: All right comrades, listen. I need to spend some time moving our headquarters. The political prisoner I freed is going to work with us, but we'll need a larger workspace if that's going to happen. In the meantime, I want you two to continue spreading the word wherever you find best.
: Fine by me, comrade. Where we going?
: Veronika's Florist and Grocers at the Martov Estate. It's a hidden gem and Veronika's very loyal to our cause.
: As you wish, Mr. Prokofiev. May I ask who you chose to be our fourth companion?
: As much as I hate to say it, I freed Artem Churbanov, the journalist.
: That hack of a writer? Why? His columns are all about how we ought to be deregulating and how market forces will bring us prosperity.
: I have to agree with Mr. Nasarov. The violent Chenko or that daring young Tarasov would both have been more... palatable to our base.
: I know, I know. I had to take a gamble on Churbanov, though. With you two, the Coalition has the working class and the middle class, but we don't have a spokesperson for those leeches.
: So what? We don't need them! We only need the strength of our laboring friends! They're at least willing to put their lives on the line. Those doughy men in the mansions prefer to hire a bunch of thugs and hide behind a ten-foot fence.
: I don't like this decision any more than the two of you, but the reality is that Karasov needs financial backing from someone. We can weaken his own base if we cut off his funding.
: All that glitters is not gold, Mr. Prokofiev.
: True, but money makes the world go round for that corrupt snake, Father.
: I really don't like this... The first chance he gets, Churbanov's going to abandon ship for the Konstantino Cartel or something equally disgusting.
: Don't worry just yet, comrade. From the message I got from him, it seems that he'll be owing us a long time.
: Fine. Let me play along and say we take him in. What kind of benefit will he bring us? Hasn't he been in jail for the past two years?
: You probably wouldn't be surprised at how corrupt the Vostok Green guards are. All this time, Churbanov's been getting some form of outside contact with his friends in the Echo and paying off his captors. That tells us he's got funds to spare and friends in high places. I say we exploit them and wring him dry.
: Hmm. I like what I hear already.
: He'll also help us get rid of this pest.
: Please tell me that wasn't you two...
: This is Moriz Kalmakov again, Father. Churbanov will be able to attack this worm the only way he knows how: through the media. We just take the leash off and let him go crazy. I think the two had some bad blood that escalated when Churbanov was jailed. Moriz stole his readership.
: I say that anyone reading Kalmakov isn't anyone worth chasing after.
: Their personal feud is not our concern, but the Church of Novistrana's beginning to annoy me. We'll have to deal with Moriz when I get Churbanov under our wing.
: I'd rather we focused on bringing the good word to the people, but it will be as you say, Mr. Prokofiev.
: Yeah. I really would've preferred the police captain, but I'm warning you now, comrade. If Churbanov gives us problems, I'll break his hands.
* * *
Piotr Prokofiev's Diary - Twenty-eighth Entry: 27/02/1996
Tonight I spoke to Artem Churbanov, and after a long nightly discussion at Vladimir's, I managed to bring him under the Coalition's banner... but I may be regretting my decision already.
The man is bourgeois entitlement given flesh. He spoke little of his imprisonment, but still... I can't tell, it felt a lot like whining and a desire to get right back to his old life of opulence and fame. He kept saying that he deserved to head the Ekaterine Echo and bring his version of the truth to the masses and how he missed the golden days he had as a writer, the people he met, etc.
In many ways he reminds me of Boris, but without the goofy charm.
I had to mend the contract a few times to make concessions for Churbanov's testimony. He told me that he wanted Kalmakov's head on a metaphorical platter, and to be shielded from further harm should Karasov's goons try to imprison him a second time. I didn't want to tell him that by that point, I was ready to denounce him myself and see if I couldn't somehow trade him in for Chenko or Tarasov.
Perhaps the most important discussion of the night for the Coalition was the plan to take over the rest of Ekaterine. As much as I did like his idea, that is, if I were a disease preying on the strength of the workers, it just wasn't my style. Churbanov wants us to take over the casino that stands out like a sore in Morozov Manor and use the profits to generate wealth for us in the future. I suppose that if that's the best I'm going to get out of him with his contacts, then that's what our goal must be.
I swear that if he cracks another joke, though, I'll crack his kneecaps.
* * *
"Father Baturin, Comrade Nasarov, this is Artem Churbanov," Prokofiev introduced Churbanov to the other two men the next morning. Baturin and Nasarov were eying him critically, Nasarov with a scowl on his face, Baturin's eyes searching and serious. Prokofiev himself had a neutral expression, unwilling to betray what he really thought of having a well-established member of the bourgeoisie working alongside him.
"Hello, hello! You two must be Father Oleg Baturin and Josef Nasarov of the union!" Churbanov said with a large, earnest smile as he took their hands and shook them. "Piotr told me a lot about you two and how you all get along so splendidly!"
Nasarov turned his head to Prokofiev, raising an eyebrow as if to say, this is the best you could do? Prokofiev just shrugged.
"Good to meet you at last, Mr. Churbanov," Baturin said, nodding at the journalist and smiling himself. He clearly felt more at ease with the journalist than the other two men. "I trust you are enjoying your new freedom?"
"I owe you three a great debt," the journalist said quickly, his smile gone and replaced with a look of relief. Baturin was cutting right to the matter at hand. "The Vostok Green Penitentiary is something I wouldn't wish on my greatest enemy. Well, perhaps just Kalmakov," he added after a moment of thought and entirely seriously.
"I'm sure you'll be paying us back in more ways than one, Mr. Churbanov," Baturin said warmly, but still with that timbre of clerical sermons. "Prokofiev said that you could help us testify as to what happened in that prison."
"That's right, but to do that, we're going to need the proper, ah, channels," Churbanov explained, all business. "My plan to generate funds for that is quite simple, really. The Konstantino Cartel has a strong hold on Marazov Manor. The casino there has a lot of money, and I mean a lot of money, circulating there every day. All we need to do is remove the Cartel's thuggish influence and we ought to be looked on favorably by the casino's owners."
"That's a pretty big 'ought', don't you think?" Baturin asked, glancing at Prokofiev.
"Don't worry, I'm great at marketing and writing, and I'm not afraid to admit it," the journalist grinned broadly. "Slogans and spin, that's my claim to fame, Father Oleg. It works wonders with the workers when I'm trying to really make someone look bad, you know?"
"I don't want to see any spin when it comes to testifying about Vostok Green, Churbanov," Prokovief stepped in, frowning. "I just want the people to see the truth of that place, and of what happened in there."
"You don't have to worry about that, Piotr," Churbanov replied seriously but still smiling. "I wouldn't exaggerate what I saw."
"Please, tell us what happened to you, if you don't mind," Prokofiev asked, but with a definite tone of pressure to his voice. "You didn't reveal much during our conversation last night."
The smile the journalist wore was replaced with a grimace. He lowered his eyes to the ground, all bubble gone from him. It seemed that he had been trying hard to hold in the memories of the place. "It was horrible. They... the guards used us as something to take their aggressions out on. I was lucky to have been able to escape most of their wrath, but the things they did to some of the others in there... I wouldn't have thought any Novistranan cruel enough to do what they did."
"So you didn't get punished?" Nasarov spoke at last, sneering at Churbanov. "No beatings, or a fire hose aimed straight at you while you clutched effortlessly at a wall?"
"No, nothing like that for me," Churbanov replied. "I think the guards were afraid of hurting me. Maybe because I was still talking to my friends on the outside. But this one man they brought in, Robert Tavakov (I think his name was?), they really wailed on them right outside my cell, then they-"
"I think we've heard enough," Baturin interrupted quickly, stealing a glance at Prokofiev and Nasarov. The latter was becoming positively red with anger, the sneer replaced with his dark scowl again.
"Oh, but you wouldn't understand what it was like being in there," Churbanov said, seemingly oblivious to the other two as he continued to lament. "I was being underfed, you know, and sometimes they would make me watch, telling me that I had to see what was going on and that-"
"Shut up!" Nasarov shouted right in the journalist's face, hands balled in fists. Churbanov jumped back in fright, eyes darting to Prokovief and back to Nasarov a few times. "You don't know torture, and you don't know punishment! You don't know anything of revolution, or of what that Karasov is capable of doing! You and Karasov are just part of the same gang of oppressors who are trying to tear this country apart and make yourselves kings on the back of the people! You make me sick!"
"Josef, please, let's just-"
"No, Father! This man is a sham! He stands for nothing we believe in, and he just wants to get his cozy little life back with his little rich buddies, bleeding us dry and making us dance for their amusement! Piotr, you just fucked up the entire movement by choosing to free this asshole!"
Nasarov spat on the ground, turning around and stomping out of the room. Father Baturin looked at Prokofiev and Churbanov with worry in his eyes, and quickly followed Nasarov out to calm the union activist down. The two other men stayed behind, still shocked from the outburst.
"Nasarov... doesn't like your kind," Prokofiev explained in a remarkably calm voice, looking at the door. He was definitely trying to hold his own feelings towards Nasarov and the journalist back. "You do seem to have gotten it easy, Churbanov."
"I... I didn't get it easy," Churbanov replied, his face pale and mouth hanging open. "The things I saw... The things they made me watch..."
"Your life seemed to be pretty rosy before Vostok Green, wouldn't you say?" Prokofiev turned to face the journalist, a small snarl threatening to form on his lips. "It's not like you had anything worse than a little spat with Kalmakov, right?"
Still in a sense of shock but now feeling the hot boil of shame creeping over his face and body, Churbanov shook his head. "No. Karasov... Karasov had my wife arrested for trying to make a deal with someone from Parliament to lift the censorship on the press. Anastasia was a TV reporter, but she wanted freedom of the press."
Prokofiev's snarl dropped from his face. "Go on."
"She... They came in the night, you see," slumping down on a chair and shaking visibly, lips white. "They took her away from me while we were sleeping. Broke down the door and arrested her then and there. I couldn't do anything. Tried to get to her, but they shoved a gun in my face and hit me in the stomach with a truncheon a few times."
Prokofiev was actually beginning to feel sorry for the man. Perhaps they did have a bond there. He took a seat across from Churbanov.
"I never saw her again," Churbanov said, looking up to face Prokofiev and having tears pool in his eyes. "That's when I realized Karasov was who everyone in the prisons said he was: a tyrant. I tried to get my wife back, but everyone behaved as if she had just... never existed. I can remember now how they looked when I asked about her. Afraid. Afraid of saying anything that would sound sympathetic."
Prokofiev remained silent, and a few tears rolled down Churbanov's face when he looked down on the ground again.
"That's when I wrote that article. I saw that a random gang had tried to raid one of Karasov's offices, and I wrote about how brave they were to stand up to Karasov. I was trying to strike back at him, make people see the truth, and instead I found myself in a jail cell. My wife was nowhere. I stayed in there for two years, forcing myself to keep upbeat and pretend nothing was wrong. It... it didn't work." Churbanov looked at Prokofiev again. "And now, I want to get back at that bastard any way I can, Piotr. I can tell that you three don't like my plan, or hell, even like me, but I want to see Karasov go down in flames. Give me a chance."
Prokofiev got up from the chair and embraced the sorry-looking journalist in a brotherly hug. He parted the hug after a few seconds, a new feeling of respect for the man in his mind.
"I'll give you more than one, comrade."
* * *
Today I'll be talking about the Power Screen, a handy little screen that pops up every three game days.
This is the Power Screen. It summarizes the general balance of power between the factions to the player, explaining the average level of a faction's characters, their average resolve, how many characters working for factions there are and who works for whom, how many resources they have to spend, as well as giving a rough estimate of how much support of the entire city they have with them. It's a big help, but again, it only pops up at the end of every three days, which makes me wonder what some devs were smoking. Why can't we see this whenever we wish? It certainly helps us see who we need to target.
In the next update, I will be explaining perhaps the most important element of the entire game: how ideology affects the modifier of each action, in more detail than just Force > Influence > Wealth > Force.