Part 35: Presidential Retribution
Chapter 35: Presidential Retribution
The national strike had the intended effect of exhibiting Karasov's lack of power over the people. Not even the fear of the police and the military could put the people off a strike: they had been downtrodden for too long to care about retribution. Karasov's complete absence during the strike was one of his greatest mistakes, as it drove home that he really was no longer the iron-fisted tyrant he had once been. His power was waning, and the factions at play around the country smelled blood in the water.
However, this didn't mean Karasov was a spent force. It only meant he needed time to catch his breath before attacking once more. The Novistranan Coalition was in high spirits, but even if Karasov couldn't muster a third Alpha Squad to eliminate it, he could still work a campaign of intimidation and terror in other ways...
* * *
Vasily Karasov had to restrain himself to not destroy anything in his opulent office when his secretary brought him the news of the popularity of the Novistranan Coalition. He also found himself wishing he could put one of his secret police officers in the rack downstairs, but he couldn't afford losing any more loyalty amongst his power base.
The Coalition. It had been a thorn on Karasov's side ever since they managed to buy out the casino in Ekaterine. Following that sham, Karasov had to endure the anguish of not being able to find this "Piotr Prokofiev" after his scathing rally in Ekaterine and witness as Prokofiev started a massive charity trust in Pugachev that left the people resentful towards his rule. But what really drove Karasov up the wall was being manipulated in eliminating the Red Mafiya with evidence found through the Coalition's illegal actions. He figured that Grigorii Antonev had given him information dug up by police work, but then the harsh truth came to him: it was all Prokofiev again, pulling the strings.
Karasov would have been impressed with Prokofiev if he didn't hate him so intensely.
And now, he had to witness, powerless, as that son of a bitch revolutionary managed to stop the entire nation in its tracks by somehow manipulating the vodka distillery to do his bidding. He had contacts in every union all over the nation: Karasov knew he had to have sped up the People's Progress changes faster to destroy them, but there was only so much he could do with the already-flimsy pretense of politics in Parliament.
"Sir?" the pretty-looking secretary, prim and proper, risked asking when she saw Karasov bury his head in his hands furiously, leaning over the table and propping his head up with his elbows. "Is everything all right?"
"...Yes, everything is fine, Miss Daneliya," the President said after a moment, still with his face in his hands, thinking quickly. He had to act fast. His old KGB training was kicking up, whispering suggestions and dark tactics. He had relied on it before, and it never failed to deliver. The night was still young, and he could hear the faint shouts of protests from the strike even here.
Quickly, whispered his old self from espionage deep in his brain, act tomorrow morning, quickly...
Karasov suddenly brought his head up, an evil grin combining with his scowling eyes to form a grim visage that caused Miss Daneliya to shudder. She rarely saw her boss do this, unless he had just gotten a gruesome idea. The results were never pretty.
"Miss Daneliya, would you kindly bring me Anton Barankov?", Karasov asked, his voice creepily polite and not at all matching his expression. "I need to have a few words with him."
"O... of course, sir," Daneliya said, happy to be sent out of the room. She did not like working for Karasov, especially not when these moods struck him.
* * *
: You wished to see me, sir?
: Take a seat, Mr. Barankov. This won't take long.
: Y-yes, sir.
: Tell me something. Do you know anything about the Novistranan Coalition's inner circle, about their leader and henchmen?
: Well, sir, the more public they are, the more our boys managed to get on them.
: Tell me what you've found.
: Sir. As you probably saw from the news, there are at least six men operating in their employ.
: Remind me again. They are?
: Their most recent recruits are Maxim Nazerov and Rostislav Petrov, sir. Nazerov is a local councilor, and Petrov is a well-respected but radical priest operating here in Berezina to root out corruption in the church.
: So noble of him.
: Next we have Josef Nasarov. You probably saw him before, sir. He is the union leader that has been heading the strike. We believe he and Piotr Prokofiev have been establishing contacts for the past two months in preparation for this. We tried splitting him from the Coalition in Pugachev, but failed.
: Hmm... Nasarov... I suppose he will crawl to anyone promising a haven for workers.
: We have reason to believe that a veteran of the Grodnistan War, Boris Churnyeav, has also joined their ranks. He is no war hero like Alexashenko, but he is respected and has good connections with the army.
: I never expected anyone except Alexashenko's men to turn on me like this.
: Never mind me. Keep going.
: The last lieutenant on Prokofiev's side is Tresori Vilnov, sir.
: Ah, that old writer who couldn't hold a revolution if his life depended on it.
: He is a doddering fool and can be dealt with quickly enough.
: As you say, sir. Our last man... is Piotr Prokofiev himself.
: I cannot place it... but the name "Prokofiev" sounds very familiar...
: Sir... while you were still with the Secret Police, you were the one in charge of arresting the Marxist Prokofiev family in Ekaterine.
: They were attempting to lead a small revolution of their own during our days with the Soviet Union with Vilnov's help.
: And Piotr is...?
: Their son, sir. You made it a point not to arrest him.
: Sir, it seems he has taken up his parents' quest.
: ...Their quest, mmmmm?
: Yes sir, Karasov, sir.
: Then I will be the one to repeat history. No mistakes this time. Do we have the resources for another Alpha Squad?
: No, sir. Apologies, but we cannot muster necessary resources so quickly following this strike.
: Can we arrest them as part of a crackdown on dissidents?
: I believe we can, sir.
: Then do it. I do not know where they are hiding, but we'll find them soon enough. I want all men off-duty searching for their headquarters, understand?
: Who can we arrest first?
: We know that Rostislav Petrov resides in Molniya Mansions thanks to the Church, sir. It would also get rid of his troublesome questions regarding Father Kassavatiz.
: Then he will be the first to go. Have the necessary paperwork ready by midnight and rally the others. I'll contact Samael Goshnov with the details.
: ...Begin Operation "Liberate the People".
* * *
A new morning dawned in Berezina, but the mood in the air was much different than before. The people were electrified by the strike, and as if it were a mass hallucination, people in the streets, workers in the factories, journalists in the broadcasting building, social elites in their mansions, and all others kept looking at each other as if yesterday's events had not happened.
And yet, as the sun continued to rise, the realization that the strike was real, that it had taken place, struck them all almost at once. People kept talking excitedly about the strike and subversive elements continued to foment unrest early in the day. Berezina was ready to undergo an aftershock with mini-strikes taking place over town, and they would, in fact, take place.
However, Rostislav Petrov would not be there to urge his flock forward.
At 7 AM sharp, Petrov was rudely awakened by a fierce knocking on his door. As he stumbled out of bed and fumbled to put on his robes, the knocking continued to rap sharply, a voice shouting, "Father Rostislav Petrov, wake up! Open the door, now!"
He should have wondered why the people knocking didn't identify themselves, but he was too sleepy to realize it. It was only when he opened the door that his stomach sank and his heart began to race.
A man dressed in the sharp, angular uniform of the Secret Police was there to greet him. The officer's face was youthful, but his eyes twinkled malevolently.
"About time, Father," sneered the man. "I am Samael Goshnov. Do you know who I'm with?"
"I do, and I cannot believe it!" snapped Petrov, as anger was letting him hide his fear. "What do you think you're doing?"
"I'm doing my work, just as God does his," Goshnov gave a bitter laugh. "You should have kept out of politics and remained in the churches, Father."
"The Lord will smite thee for this, you-"
"Do you want to make this hard?" Goshnov threatened, cutting Petrov's rant short. "I like it when people struggle. It gives me a chance to practice."
Petrov snapped his mouth shut and looked down, then he glared at Goshnov in hatred and silently praying for a miracle. Unfortunately, he was in Berezina.
"Go inside and get your things," the officer shoved the priest inside roughly, following him in. "We're allowing all prisoners of the state to take in a small bag of possessions."
Petrov didn't complain as he went around his home, packing a bag, but began evangelized about the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah twisted to fit the tyrannical rule of Berezina. Goshnov tolerated this for a few minutes, thinking it amusing, but then cut the priest's sermon short as he deemed the shoulder bag Petrov had chosen to be full enough. He then marched Petrov out, just behind him and daring to even lay his hands on him.
Cast out from his home, Petrov couldn't help but draw a comparison between himself and the exile of Adam and Eve from Paradise. He had been neutral and content to this point, but tasting the forbidden fruit of revolution had earned him a place in Karasov's prisons.
He walked out to the car as Goshnov spent a few minutes leaving behind a boasting note and filling out a report inside.
When he was done with the report, Goshnov took his time returning to the police car. He nodded to a nearby soldier who had been watching everything with an approving eye before roughly shoving the priest aside to take his seat.
The first target of Operation "Liberate the People" had been taken into custody.
* * *
"Has anyone seen Petrov today?" asked Prokofiev, hanging up the phone after trying to ring up the priest for the third time that morning. They were already past noon, and had to get their afternoon priorities in order.
"No sir," replied Churnyeav, sitting back on his easy-chair to rest up and get back in touch with old contacts for another army draft following up the national strike. "He didn't give a peep."
"I didn't see him either," added Nasarov, and Nazerov also negated having seen the priest, even though they were getting along well as the two 'new guys' in the Coalition.
"Hell, and Tresori hasn't shown up either," Prokofiev muttered, looking over a ledger Churbanov had faxed regarding casino gains and forwarded resources. "I can't stand looking at all these finances. I want to see more striking, dammit!"
"Piotr, Piotr!" Vilnov's voice suddenly rang out throughout the headquarters complex.
"Well speak of the devil," Prokofiev smiled, getting up and walking towards the main room of the laboratory-turned-headquarters. Vilnov was there, clutching a newspaper and looking like he'd seen a ghost. "Tresori, my old comrade, what's got you in such a state?"
"This does!" Vilnov snapped, shoving the paper in Prokofiev's face. "Damn it, Piotr, you should have listened to me! Karasov never stops!"
"Petrov has been arrested, Piotr," Vilnov interrupted irritably, then ran inside the side-room office to spread the bad news.
"Oh shit," Prokofiev said weakly, blanching. He quickly moved to follow Vilnov, and inside, the other lieutenants were standing around, visibly shaken at the news.
"Comrade Petrov's been arrested?" Nazerov asked Prokofiev, as if trying to get a second opinion. "Is he serious, Mr. Prokofiev?"
"It would explain why he's not here," howled Nasarov, throwing up his hands in exasperation. "Great! Just great! We hold a strike, and Karasov moves in!"
"What were you expecting, Nasarov, to see Karasov give us a standing ovation for threatening his power?" Vilnov asked, sarcastically. He had undergone a transformation from thoughtful academic to sly revolutionary, and it wasn't helping his mood. "Did you really think our national strike wouldn't attract the attention of the very same people we wish to oust?"
"Now hold on, sir, hold on," Churnyeav interrupted, not liking how Nasarov was getting picked on. "How is it that Karasov found him?"
"We never bothered to move him from his home or hide him in a safe house," answered Vilnov, now rounding on Prokofiev. "My student, we cannot sit idly by. We must do whatever we can to free our priestly comrade from the Secret Police!"
"But how?" asked Prokofiev, at a loss. "We don't even know where to begin looking!"
"First things first," answered Vilnov, "we need to find out who Karasov plans to arrest next, and move to protect that person. Karasov won't be happy until we're all behind bars."
"And how do we go about doing that, sir?" Churnyeav stepped in again, not liking how Vilnov was bossing them around. "We can't just walk around asking questions in Victory Square, and we certainly can't all move at the same time!"
"I've been living in Berezina long enough and tracking police movements," Vilnov replied, moving to the map and pointing at the Lobachevsky Park district. "There's a police station there that keeps track of arrest records, and if Petrov was arrested as a dissident, they'll have information about it. We need to go there and investigate who they plan to move against next."
"Ah, the local station there, great idea!" Nazerov spoke up. "I've had to run there a few times to follow up on some of my constituents before and during their arrests. Chances are we'll also find out who is the arresting officer."
"Not going to happen," Nasarov shook his head. "Old Petrov was arrested by the Secret Police, not some two-bit cop. I think they'll keep as little information on the arrest as possible."
"Then we need to act now," Prokofiev said. "I put you all in jeopardy, but I'm going to fix this."
The others looked around at each other, fear in their eyes contesting for the hope they were feeling. Prokofiev always managed to wing something out, but could he keep them all out of jail?
"Do whatever you can, sir," Churnyeav said. "I don't want to go to jail for serving my country."
"We have not come this far just to end up losing, Piotr," Nasarov said hotly. "Get Petrov out of there!"
"I... I hope we don't meet the same fate as Comrade Petrov," Nazerov said, shakily.
"We must move swiftly, my student," warned Vilnov, taking Prokofiev aside and showing a note. "I found this note in Father Petrov's home. The police are claiming they won't stop until everyone is arrested."
"Don't worry, my teacher," Prokofiev said, frowning. "I understand you still have full faith in me, but the others are cagey. Keep an eye on them while I check up on this tonight."
"Of course, Piotr. Be safe, and for goodness's sake, get Petrov out of there quickly before anything happens to him."
* * *
Piotr Prokofiev's Diary - Hundred-twenty-seventh Entry: 17/04/1996
Oh Jesus. Rostislav Petrov was arrested by the Secret Police. Tresori was right: Karasov is out for blood and he's moving in to destroy us. My inner circle is demanding that we do everything we can to reverse this injustice and secure his release. I'm worried that this may cause us some problems... At least, more than we already have on our plate now.
All of our members know that we are involved in a decidedly risky business, and they are all aware of the potential consequences, but nevertheless no one expected this... save Tresori. The police left a note boasting that Father Petrov will be the first of many arrests, and this is making us all nervous.
Thank God we have Nazerov and Tresori on our side. Their knowledge of Berezina is of great help. They told me to investigate the police station at Lobachevsky Park, where some of the paperwork regarding arrests is kept. If Petrov was formally filed as a dissident, they said, a paper trail should have been left. I can't go in broad daylight, but I should visit them tonight. I must prevent any further arrests: everyone's resolve is shaken by Karasov's move, and despite their faith in our revolution, nobody wants to spend life in jail or get executed.