Part 30: Watching from the Shadows
Chapter 30: Watching from the Shadows
Berezina in the time of Karasov's regime was no place to stir up with large displays of rallying and evangelizing. Public actions like these were tightly regimented and closely watched by Karasov's guards, the secret police, and its informants. Even with a sizeable backing from Ekaterine and Pugachev, Piotr Prokofiev and the Novistranan Coalition decided to take things quietly at the start, investigating the underworld of Berezina that was glossed over by the international markets and travel magazines.
Having decided to pursue their now-famous course of a national strike, the Novistranan Coalition set itself to work quietly at first before making a scene in the industrial districts. While Josef Nasarov dealt with union matters and forming the necessary contacts for the strike, the other Coalition members explored the territory. Tresori Vilnov was no slouch when it came to investigating matters delicately: the venerable writer had a large network of informants and associated artists and political allies he could tap to help in his surveys and draw in the crowds. Combined with Prokofiev's survival training and Boris Churnyeav's military presence, the three men could easily investigate matters in a large net.
All of this investigation would pay off well, as they would find not only a large pool of talent just waiting for the proper direction, but also a large underground facility where they could carry out their campaign of insurgency in total secrecy...
* * *
Piotr Prokofiev's Diary - Hundred-tenth Entry: 09/04/1996
We have decided to use Josef's idea of a national strike to get the word of our revolution out to the people. A strike paralyzing the city, if not the country, would be perfect. It would show exactly how little control Karasov has over the workers of Novistrana, and when the bourgeoisie and the intellectual elite see how much control we have over the essential services of this country, they would flock to us immediately. A revolution even here, in the epicenter of tyranny, would be possible.
The workers drive their buses, they work their fields, they pick their fruit, they cook their meals, they defend them at night, and they protect them in the day. They are not to be trifled with. If Karasov wishes to scrap the unions to further enrich himself and his wealthy toadies, then they shall see the hell to pay.
But I must not dream too far ahead. I need to take things slowly and carefully these first few days so that I may find a new headquarters for us. Tresori's home will only do us so much, and by now it's certain to be in some other faction's dossier. While we search for new people to join us, I will also keep an eye out for a new place we can call home, as well as seeing how the local parties work each other over. I am most concerned with Karasov's own faction, but it would be unwise to ignore Alexashenko's soldiers, Barkan's anarchists, or Konstantino's tycoons. We need to be subtle and stay out of their sights until we're ready to strike.
* * *
"Alexashenko, you old bastard," muttered Churnyeav as he returned to Matiushin Green for his next session of scouting. "You magnificent son of a bitch."
Churnyeav had, earlier in the day, stumbled upon Alexashenko himself. The man was giving a rally in his home district, the Chersonesus Estate, and he had managed to recruit every last person in the rally by drafting them into his regiment. Churnyeav had been electrified: he had never seen such a mass conversion (to the military, no less) from a single rally and from a single man. The veteran had only heard tales of Alexashenko's charisma and war stories, but always dismissed them as exaggerations.
After seeing the man himself in action, he figured the tales had been toned down to seem believable.
Churnyeav stepped out of his car and began to make some annotations on his military journal, but his mind kept drifting back to Alexashenko as he wrote. He looked out in the distance fondly.
The veteran was utterly devoted to Prokofiev and his cause, but he had to admit that Alexashenko made the conniving revolutionary seem tame by comparison. It wouldn't be easy to disrupt the war hero's own personal army, even if they did manage to hold a strike. Alexashenko would have to be dealt with.
* * *
"This is Vilnov."
"Vilnov? Orlov here."
Vilnov had to hold his excitement over the phone. Leo Orlov never called Vilnov directly unless he had found something particularly explosive, and from Orlov's tone, he had found something really, really good.
"I'm listening, my friend."
"Look, Vilnov, I don't know how this Prokofiev of yours managed to do it, but it seems we've been asking just the right questions after mentioning we were related to his Coalition."
"And what did we find?"
"Dmitri Barkan and Alexei Konstantino."
Vilnov felt a rush of blood to the head that made him lightheaded and threatened to overtake him. He thought for a moment he was having one of his mild fits, but it was just the excitement of the news that caused him to tremble. Orlov himself seemed barely contained with pride.
"You mean it, don't you Orlov? You're not one to joke."
"Vilnov, old friend, this is it. We've found where that crazy Barkan and the capitalist Konstantino hide out. We're the only two men outside of their factions that know this."
"How did you do this?"
"Your boy Prokofiev carries a lot of weight to his name, and yours combined led to some of their more... dissatisfied lieutenants to drop a few hints. I managed to connect the dots."
"Orlov, you are as close to a god among men as it is possible."
"I certainly hope not, Vilnov. I'm an atheist."
The old writer hung up the phone and went on his way along Voshkod Arcade, thinking about just how deep he was getting into.
* * *
"It's about time I found what I needed on you," snarled Prokofiev, staring at his reflection of a store window in the Chersonesus Estate. He wasn't talking to himself, of course, but fuming over the details he had managed to gather on his nemesis, Karasov. Prokofiev had traveled to the Armory to meet and discuss strike strategy with some of Churnyeav's contacts, but he had been sidetracked severely by his investigations regarding the tyrant.
"Staying in your room and playing at king when the enemy's at the gate," continued the revolutionary, entering the store to ask questions about a possible new location to move his headquarters to. "I honestly expected a better game from you, Karasov."
The revolutionary took in a deep breath and nearly coughed from all the herbal smells of the tea shop he had entered. He had come in to relax and ask a few innocent questions, but he kept going back to Karasov's self-imposed house arrest. The President was locked down all hours of the day, every day. Apparently the Coalition's arrival had shaken him up badly.
"What can I do for you?" a voice from the counter interrupted his thinking. A thick-set man with a heavy mustache and balding head stood there, arms crossed and looking peeved at having another customer so late at night. A shady-looking woman with a long hat had just finished purchasing a few bags of tea and watched, interested.
"I'm just here to ask a few questions," replied Prokofiev, shoving his thoughts aside and putting on his best interrogative face. "I need to know possible locations where I can find revolutionary activity."
"Look anywhere around the city," snorted the man derisively. "You've got anarchists, capitalists, war-crazies, and secret policemen crawling all over the streets. You want to join a faction? Just go ask them."
"That's not what I meant. I want to know of headquarters, not of events."
"Yeah, and who are you to ask?"
"Does the Novistranan Coalition mean anything to you?"
Almost immediately the tea-man's eyes stared daggers into Prokofiev, nostrils flared. "Get. Out."
Prokofiev was about to ask him a second question, but already the man was moving around the counter, grabbing the revolutionary roughly by the back, and throwing him out on the streets.
"We don't serve your kind here!" shouted the mustached man, slamming the door behind him. Prokofiev had allowed himself to be thrown out, he had been risking too much by asking here, in territory loyal to Alexashenko.
"You tell that war hero to stuff his medals where the sun don't shine!" shouted Prokofiev, incensed and needing to release some of his pent-up anger from Karasov at anyone who was near.
He was turning around to leave when the door opened behind him again. The shady woman that had been watching the two men immediately put her hand on his shoulder.
"You said you're with the Coalition, didn't you?" purred the woman into his ear with a distinct accent, "or at least, that's what you implied."
"I did," Prokofiev said, not turning around and still angry. "What of it?"
"That kind of admission can get you killed around here," the woman continued, almost teasingly.
"I wasn't aware Alexashenko relied on assassination," Prokofiev remarked sarcastically. "Are you one of his women?"
"Alexashenko? No, I am not with him," said the woman, taking her hand off of Prokofiev's shoulder. "Think of me as an interested third party in all of this."
"So what do you want?" Prokofiev asked, beginning to turn around but being stopped by a gun being jabbed into his side. He froze.
"Karasov's been in power for a little too long," the woman said, still unseen. "There are people in the West who really, really don't like that. We're interested in seeing what happens from here on out."
"So what? I'm not doing the bidding of any European or American," snarled Prokofiev, staring at a distant lamppost and wishing he'd gotten a clearer look at the woman earlier in the shop.
"I know that, sweetie. We're not trying to impose our will or anything. At least, not just yet," the woman said, business-like.
"This revolution is Novistranan and it will stay that way!" snapped Prokofiev, seriously pissed off at his mysterious assailant.
"You revolutionaries always say that, then they change their minds when they fail. You're not so different." She leaned in closer again to whisper in his ear. "If you're looking for a special headquarters, I suggest you take a look around the Petropavlosk Estate."
With that said, she had taken the gun away from his side and disappeared. Prokofiev figured she had run down one of the alleyways, but he couldn't be sure. He had been deeply disturbed by her words regarding international attention, but he couldn't fool himself into thinking Karasov was not a blip in the radar of intelligence agencies around the world. And her hint of a new headquarters... could it be the answer to his searching?
* * *
: Report in, everyone. How was scouting tonight?
: Excellent, Piotr. I managed to pull in quite a bit of help for us from the locals at the Kirov Precinct and Stepanova Village. They're pretty happy to see us come along.
: I managed to find the dirt on Ivan Alexashenko himself, sir. He's not a friendly man and he doesn't play nice, but I'll be damned if he isn't the war hero everyone says he is.
: Thanks to your support network combined with mine, my student, I have found where Dmitri Barkan of that ridiculous Organized Anarchy crowd makes his home, as well as where Alexei Konstantino's base of operations. Those two men have been hiding underground for months. I can scarcely believe we've found them at last.
: And I managed to find two things... First, more details on that despot Karasov. It will come in handy for when we strike against him. Apparently he refuses to exit his presidential palace any longer until all dissidents are removed. He rightfully fears an assassination attempt, but at the moment, he has no reason to make a public presence any longer.
: What does he do all day?
: I don't know. I only managed to bribe a guard enough to tell me that he conducts politics from the safety of his own little throne. It's rumored that he has a personal torture chamber somewhere in the basement of his palace.
: What a horrid man! I cannot stand another month of him in power.
: Easy, comrade. He'll get his just desserts soon enough. That leads me to my second bit of news... and good news they are.
: What is it, Piotr?
: I've found a new home for our headquarters. It's in the Petropavlosk Estate, just north of Victory Square and the Presidential Palace.
: Sir, are you FUBAR? Are you seriously suggesting we move in closer to that nutjob?
: I have to agree with Comrade Churnyeav, my student. This is a very dangerous move.
: No, listen to me, everyone. I hardly could believe it when I found it myself, but this place... it's perfect in every possible way. Look at these pictures.
: Um... I just see a badly-managed, boarded-up trainwreck, Piotr.
: Exactly, Josef. This entire building is a husk, an abandoned piece of trash in the middle of the industrial sector. The entire inside is gutted, victim of an industrial fire a long time ago that put this place out of business for good.
: Don't tell me you plan on going in there and fixing it up.
: No, I've got an even better idea. This place has something very special about it. It has... a warehouse-sized basement. It's only accessible by a very well-hidden door.
: Wait, what?
: Sir, this is some James Bond level of crazy. A secret basement? Are you kidding?
: No, Churnyeav. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it's perfect for secrecy. The basement was untouched by the fire. Apparently it used to be a laboratory or something, but after the fire hit, the owners just emptied the place out and left a big, empty room. Comrades, the location is perfect. We will be right under Karasov's nose where he can't find us, and the space is large enough to fit an entire squadron of revolutionaries working at once.
: I don't even know how you found it, dear Piotr, but you continue to surprise me.
: I'd rather not discuss the specifics of me finding it, Tresori. Now, Josef, I'll have to spend the next few days preparing our move. I want you to work together with Churnyeav and Tresori to make sure we control some of the industrial areas. We won't get a strike going unless we have some backing ahead of time.
: Got it, Piotr. Leave it to us. We'll have the Novistranan Coalition on its legs before you know it.
* * *
Novistranan Coalition Dossier - Vasily Karasov: Faction Leader (The President)
Vasily Karasov is an ex-KGB agent, the former head of the Ekaterine Secret Police, and now President of Novistrana. While there are those who say he has lost his sanity and rules Novistrana like a late Roman emperor, his mind has been sharpened from years of political intrigue and the cloak-and-dagger world of espionage. Karasov is a dangerous man with a talent for politicking, numerous business connections, and political contacts in many levels of government.
Novistranan Coalition Dossier - Ivan Alexashenko: Faction Leader (Alexashenko's Army)
Ivan Alexashenko is a rock of a man and utterly ruthless. A decorated war veteran, he earned the admiration of millions of Novistranans. Now in peacetime he has carved himself his own corner of Novistrana, with a variety of black market operations and lucrative mercenary contracts.
Novistranan Coalition Dossier - Dmitri Barkan: Faction Leader (Organized Anarchy)
Dmitri Barkan is the enigmatic leader of the underground anti-government group Organized Anarchy. A former student, he has disappeared since being ejected from the Pugachev Institute of Technology for anti-government activities.
Novistranan Coalition Dossier - Alexei Konstantino: Faction Leader (The Konstantino Cartel)
This young enigmatic businessman has in a few short years risen to the head of a powerful business empire and built a secretive cartel that seeks to look after its own interests and ensure its survival in the cutthroat world of Novistrana.
* * *
Piotr Prokofiev's Diary - Hundred-fifteenth Entry: 11/04/1996
This has been a tense beginning for my movement. For three days we have stayed hidden in the shadows, watching. Moving our headquarters to the No. 15 Karasov Prospekt was one of the best decisions I could have made, and finding it in the first place was a stroke of luck, even if it meant getting alerted to international interest in our revolution. I wager not even Karasov knows of this place's secret. Now, we have all but discovered everything we needed to bring five lieutenants to my inner circle, with all of the room they need for their operations.
We have spent a long while finding what we needed. Josef has begun to turn his canvassing operations to supporting a strike. Tresori, my mentor, is distracting the other factions with public displays of festivals and musical gatherings to liven up the day-to-day of the people as well as making the other factions think we're just weak revolutionaries with pacifist tendencies.
Churnyeav is preparing to get in touch with his friends in the army again for another round of drafting and recruitment, playing up on the people's patriotism. These actions are unassailable and distracting Karasov from realizing just what my plans for the strike are. If we can get enough of the people to my side, we'll have the resources necessary for the strike.