Part 44: The Rogue General
Chapter 44 - The Rogue General
In a move that was justified as a "return to his roots", Piotr Prokofiev decided to take his struggle in a forceful route, using the military to solve the problem of the blockade. He wished for the Novistranan Coalition to rely on its own strength and on the will of the people, and so he decided to employ Ivan Alexashenko's help in removing the blockade to eventually take over the Secret Police Headquarters.
The meeting with Alexashenko apparently did not go so well, as Alexashenko's faction continued to operate in trying to steal away Coalition support around the capital. However, Prokofiev wrote that this was expected since their meeting was purely business, not to form a political alliance. Keeping Alexashenko's military separate from the Coalition's plans was necessary for flexibility.
Dispersing the blockade was not the only thing the Coalition needed to do. They also needed to find a way to get in contact with the true head of the Secret Police, and then find a way to convince them to step down...
* * *
Piotr Prokofiev's Diary - Hundred-sixty-third Entry: 01/05/1996
Churnyeav is right. The UN, as much as they may be willing to help us if we made Karasov's crimes known, would make us beg and scrape for their assistance and take over Novistrana to "police" it properly. This would mean having to watch as foreign powers with greed in their eyes and silver-forked tongues slowly enslave our people, putting them through the hells of capitalism with a new master: the West. We would be living in a golden cage, and we deserve better than that!
We must return to our roots and take over the armory for ourselves! Like the vodka distillery, we should be able to stop all further transport of weapons through Churnyeav and his old friends. I will also get in touch with Alexashenko so that we can discuss the details of dispersing the blockade. I don't like how he plays with power as if it were a toy, but I've already dealt with men like him in our revolution.
* * *
: We're taking over the armory. Forget about the UN.
: Hell yeah, now we're talking!
: I suppose it's best to keep our revolution Novistranan. All right, Piotr!
: Good. Less people to pay off.
: I, uh, hm... Suddenly, the UN would have sounded really good right about now.
: This is not going to end well, my student. Are you certain about this?
: I am, Tresori. The United Nations would mean well in theory, but in practice they would just substitute Karasov with the West. We cannot live like that if we are to have a worker's paradise!
: A worker's paradise won't happen either if we rely on the military!
: Oh come off it, Vilnov. Power to the people must come from force!
: But that means squelching human freedoms!
: We barely have freedoms these days as it is. I suggest you sit back and let the men work.
: Aw, come off it, Boris. He's been trying to hold a revolution for decades now.
: And where has it got him? Hiding in fear of the Secret Police! It's time for us to lay down the law on our own terms! We can worry about your rights later!
: Boris, I never said we would be imposing any sort of will on the people... yet. I'm doing this purely to keep the West out.
: Sure thing, sir. Don't worry, you'll see just how useful my men can be when we're motivated!
: So we're going with Alexashenko. Now what, Mr. Prokofiev?
: We have to take over the Chersonesus Estate fully for the armory to comply to our demands. Churnyeav, you and those friends you mentioned should do what you can to make the armory stop fueling the blockade.
: Okay, sir, I'm on it.
: I'm worried that our work with the vodka distillery will blow up in our faces, so we need to hold the Chekhov Industrial Estate as well. Josef, you'll have to lead another union strike down there. Can you do it without getting arrested?
: Don't worry, Piotr. Half the time the police actually joins in the striking. We really have a lot of pull with the authorities now!
: That's good news, but we still can't let those bourgeois off the hook, either. Tresori?
: *sigh* I'll work on another music festival with Nazerov's help, Piotr.
: Good. We need to hit hard and fast. I want the blockade to suffer by tomorrow. Anisimov.
: Go get the evidence right now. We'll keep your spot in the Coalition, so don't go thinking you're off the hook.
: Rattle my chain, why don't you. I'll be back in three days.
: Piotr... I'm afraid of what will happen.
: We cannot stop now, Tresori. The revolution is nearly complete. We can almost taste freedom from the tyrant.
: Right, but... would using the military mean a second tyranny?
: ...The revolution will conclude as it will, Tresori.
* * *
Mama Muza's Soup Kitchen was a hidden gem in the heart of the Chersonesus Estate. The owner, Madame Muza, was a big old lady whose specialty was bowls of spicy soup with steamed pelmeni floating on top, their sizes as hearty as hers. It was a secret predilection of a number of soldiers, and it was also a hangout for Alexashenko's troops. It didn't surprise Prokofiev that when Alexashenko decided to liaise with him regarding the blockade, he immediately named the Mama Muza's hideaway as the meeting spot.
The Chersonesus Estate was entirely under the command of the Novistranan Coalition within a day. After a combined rally in Berezina Central Square that Prokofiev himself led at risk of being arrested and a powerful poster campaign masterminded by Churnyeav accentuating solidarity in these dark times, the district was entirely in their pocket... including the armory.
With the armory unofficially backing the Coalition, Churnyeav and his two old war buddies quickly swooped into the place to take control of the orders and prevent any further shipments. This time the choleric soldier did not have to force anyone to sign a contract: he merely had to ask, and the administrators on duty were more than happy to oblige.
Without fresh weapons and supplies to be had the following day, it didn't take long for Alexashenko to realize something was amiss. He had contacted Prokofiev with the intent of buying out his control of the armory, but Prokofiev turned the deal around to buy out the blockade. Always the opportunist, Alexashenko agreed to hear out the proposition.
The morning following the takeover of the armory, Prokofiev arrived first at Mama Muza's, checking his watch to make sure he was on time. Alexashenko was a very punctual man, a holdover from his military days, and if he was to help Prokofiev, the revolutionary would need to play by his rules.
"Hello, Prokofiev," an intimidating voice sharpened by years in the military raised up from behind him. Prokofiev turned around and came face to face with General Ivan Alexashenko, a powerful-looking man whose advanced years did not diminish his appearance or eroded his rock-like physique. Alexashenko served as a symbol for Novistranan soldiers everywhere, and despite his status as a general gone rogue, he still yielded vast influence over the military forces of Novistrana.
"General Alexashenko, greetings," Prokofiev replied, shaking the general's hand firmly as the two men tightly gripped each other's hand to test their strength. Prokofiev decided to be polite. "Thank you for agreeing to meet with me."
"It is always a pleasure to greet a fellow revolutionary," smiled Alexashenko, not kindly or amusingly. "These days, every patriot is a dissenter and every loyal man is a criminal."
"Maybe so," Prokofiev raised an eyebrow. "The question is, which one are you?"
At hearing this, Alexashenko's mirthless smile disappeared and he was left glum and serious again. "I pride myself in my nationalism, sir, and I will bring power to the people at any cost."
"Power to the people," repeated Prokofiev, leaning in and frowning. He paused before continuing. "Would you say that comes before or after your smuggling ring?"
Alexashenko's grimace was boiling into one of anger. "Do you always speak this plain, soldier, or is it just the power going to your head?"
Prokofiev shrugged, not bothered at having drawn the ire of the general. "I speak truth to power, general, no matter what power that is."
To Alexashenko's own surprise, he laughed. It took himself a moment for his mind to catch up with his instincts, but he had been laughing at how spunky Prokofiev was. "You've got moxie, son," Alexashenko was saying a bit more freely, tapping Prokofiev on the shoulder and turning him to face the other side of the street. "If you had yourself as many brains as you have guts, you could have held control like this over what really matters in Novistrana: the army."
Prokofiev's eyes were drawn to the scene in front of them. An armored personnel carrier was disgorging soldier after soldier, taking up a defensive position around a flustered-looking suit who was arguing hotly with the commander of the unit. The soldiers were already setting up a patrol down the sidewalk, and Prokofiev looked around. There were plenty more soldiers here, each sticking out like a sore thumb in the Chersonesus Estate.
"These boys are all mine," Alexashenko continued proudly, drawing him a deep breath and puffing out his chest like a devoted father. "They love me and I love them. Who cares how I get my money? What matters is what I'm able to bring them with it: a sense of purpose at serving their motherland."
"Then you'll have no trouble hearing me out," Prokofiev replied, not wanting to waste any time discussing patriotism. "You'll have plenty of money to spend on your men if you agree to it."
"All right, I'll hear you out," nodded Alexashenko, following Prokofiev around the corner to enter Mama Muza's small chain fence. It would have been impolite to the old lady to jump the fence like a pair of hoodlums.
Soon the two men were taking a seat on a table just next to the restaurant's door, and they were enjoying the first warm days of May by spending it outside. Prokofiev stretched as Alexashenko made himself comfortable on the humble dining chair opposite Prokofiev.
"Let's have it, son," Alexashenko prompted Prokofiev after the two had ordered bowls of Mama Muza's famous soup. "What do you want from me?"
"I'll get straight to the point," Prokofiev nodded. "I need your help in dispersing the blockade around Karasov's palace.
"Haw haw haw haw!" Alexashenko laughed heartily, resting his head on his hand as he eyed Prokofiev over. "You're kidding, right? Disperse the blockade?"
"I'm not," replied Prokofiev, crossing his arms. "I want to see some change in this nation, and it begins with getting rid of Karasov. I can't do anything if he's got a ring of soldiers around him, though."
"Listen son, it's not going to be cheap or fast to get those boys outta there," Alexashenko warned. "My abilities are certainly for sale, but it's going to cost you a pretty penny."
"Money is no object, as long as you are fair," Prokofiev measured out his words, not wanting to invite a heavy fee. The Coalition was still shaky from the million-rouble deal with Konstantino.
"I may be called ruthless, but I pride myself in being a fair man, Prokofiev," Alexashenko replied, opening his arms invitingly. "But let's talk beyond money, as nice as that may be. You said you want to bring some change to our motherland... the question I have for you is, where do I fit in?"
"We can talk about that after you disperse the blockade," answered the revolutionary, not willing to give Alexashenko any more power than he already had, but the general was shaking his head and tsk-tsking his disapproval.
"No no no, kiddo," the general wagged his finger as if he were dealing with an arrogant child. "You've brought your men and your cause all the way from Ekaterine to Berezina, and you even managed to get the Stock Exchange on your side. If you dispersed the blockade I'm pretty sure you could take over the Secret Police Headquarters without much trouble."
"What's it to you?" asked Prokofiev.
"I know potential when see it," Alexashenko frowned, leaning forward and pointing at Prokofiev. "You've got plenty of it, and I want some of what you got. You want my help? I get something."
"You'll disperse the blockade, and then we'll talk about any further promises," repeated Prokofiev firmly, causing Alexashenko to lose his fatherly facade and turn into the rock-hard general Novistranans knew him as.
"I'm not helping you unless you give me something!" Alexashenko slammed the table with his hands, drawing the attention of other diners. He pointed at Prokofiev with a blaze in his eyes, all subtlety gone from him. "You had better pull something really nice out of your ass or you're not getting anything from me!"
"Patience is a virtue, general," Prokofiev, cool as ice, replied. "I learned that lesson from one of my men back in Pugachev. I suggest you do the same."
Alexashenko was about ready to explode when the waiter returned, carrying two hearty bowls of spicy soup, two glasses of water, and a basket of bread. Prokofiev took a deep breath, letting the flaming spices tickle his nose, then nodded to Alexashenko.
"Eat, general, eat," Prokofiev urged, gesturing at the bowls. "You'll feel better when you've got something in you."
Alexashenko's anger was such that he was ready to pick up the bowl and smash it over Prokofiev's head, but he restrained himself and took his frustrations out on the food, chomping through the hot soup and devouring the bread. Prokofiev ate calmly but his mind was racing. He had to think of something to promise Alexashenko, even if just as an empty promise. Something that wouldn't conflict with his plans or hamstring him down the line.
Then, an idea rooted into his head, and began to grow. Allowing a hint of a smile to play on his lips as he ate the soup, he nodded to himself and had to restrain from letting a giggle burst through.
By the time the two were done with their food, Prokofiev's idea had blossomed. He looked at Alexashenko, his smile now calculating.
"Comrade, you're right," Prokofiev said, wanting to bring a little camaraderie between them and opening his arms like Alexashenko had done earlier. "As a dutiful general of our motherland, you deserve something a little more prestigious than just a wad of cash."
This brought Alexashenko's temper back down, and the general gave another smile. "Huh, you're right, son. I do feel better now."
"This is just between you and me," said Prokofiev in a hushed tone, confiding in Alexashenko, "but I don't think I could take over the Secret Police Headquarters on my own."
"Hah, I was right," Alexashenko snorted. "What then?"
"I plan on bringing in the United Nations to help me," Prokofiev lied, but his expression was all truth and trust. He had quite a bit of practice becoming a politician. "I have some good military lieutenants, but I need a representative of the army to help me direct the peacekeeping effort."
"The United Nations?" Alexashenko shook his head, snorting again. "What's the matter, son, your balls got snipped off at some point?"
"I'm just thinking ahead," Prokofiev continued to spin his tale. "I use them after the blockade disperses to paralyze Karasov, then I steal away the Secret Police... but then you come up and start challenging Karasov with your soldiers, just start making some noise. That way you distract them..."
"...And you get the palace under control!" finished Alexashenko, nodding and pointing at the table strategically as if he were planning movements. "And then I back down... but not before the damage is done and you got the power!"
"Exactly," Prokofiev agreed, letting Alexashenko's imagination do the rest of the job. "With a new man in power, you withdraw your aggressions and we become the best of friends. The United Nations goes away, happy at having done a good job."
"How 'best of friends' will we be?" Alexashenko asked, his nose sensing great power.
"Enough to earn you lasting power for yourself as long as you live," finished Prokofiev. "You name it, and I'll try to get it for you."
Alexashenko's greed overcame his reason, and he was already reaching for a pen. Prokofiev brought out the contract, slapping it on the table.
"I'm willing to offer you ten thousand roubles a day," Prokofiev stated, making his pitch and low-balling it. "Does that sound good to you?"
"It'll take me a few days to break away the blockade entirely," Alexashenko was already reaching for the contract, skimming quickly and jotting his scrawled signature on the bottom, "but you'll be seeing results immediately."
"Good, I'm glad that-"
"Hold on. If you miss a payment at any point, the blockade will go back up and you'll have to pay me all over again," Alexashenko warned, his greed continuing to take over him. "I like having all my debts paid, but I hate getting someone that doesn't commit."
"Don't worry," Prokofiev said genially, but inside he was cursing out the general. "You'll get your payments. You just get the blockade out of there."
"Will do, son, will do," Alexashenko grinned, then the two men shook hands on a sealed deal. "I'm glad we could arrange a proper deal."
The only proper deal you'll get is a long fall from power, Prokofiev thought as Alexashenko summoned the waiter for the check.
* * *
Ivana Daneliya's heart beat irregularly, matching her trembling frame. She had just received the news from Illarion Gusev, Karasov's acting head of government and one of his inner circle members. However, what really made her wary was that somehow, Gusev looked to be on edge and just a little bit afraid.
Gusev was a man without emotion, if that was possible. While Karasov was all too willing to indulge in his intense anger, Gusev's answer to everything was cold, calculating, and heartless. Even when he was said to participate in Karasov's gruesome torture sessions, he rarely had any form of human feeling cross him. Where Karasov relished in his fury and Barankov served him as a loyal lapdog, Gusev was the blank slate, the robot. Like Karasov, he frightened Daneliya to no end.
He had dropped the bombshell and left to salvage the situation, leaving the poor secretary to break the news to the President. Recently she had begun wishing she had not taken the job as Secretary to the President, but it was times like these that really made her curse her earlier decision.
"S-sir?" Daneliya pushed the door open a small bit, only glancing at the President, who was looking outside of his majestic window at the courtyard and the streets below.
"Miss Daneliya, this is about the blockade, isn't it?" asked the President, not bothering to turn around. He was at that well-known stage, the one where he could snap into full rage at any second.
"Y-yes, Mr. Gusev just-"
"Summon Gusev here," Karasov ordered. "I don't care what excuses he has to offer."
"Of course, sir," Daneliya closed the door, nearly running to the phone to get a hold of Karasov's lieutenant. Let him deal with his next outburst.
* * *
Prokofiev was sitting down on the furthest side of the rounded discussion table. The table was placed directly in the center of the inner sanctum, a living room on the top floor of the slum house that served as their new headquarters. It invited a sort of central balance to the room where all discussion and debriefings occurred. As the days in Berezina passed, Prokofiev had taken to sitting at the table and plotting out his movements from there, simply by glancing at the map of the capital directly across from him. He also plotted strategy as he glanced about him, watching his lieutenants hard at work in the shared space of the inner sanctum.
Each of his lieutenants had a floor of their own in the slum house, and each had decked out their place according to their whims. Prokofiev exercised little control over them, and it was sometimes jarring to walk into Nasarov's union-oriented rooms with banners calling for action adorning the walls, and then walking upwards to see how Nazerov had organized his own space like a political campaign. If nothing else, it gave Prokofiev insight on his lieutenants' mindsets and priorities. Each of his trusted right-hand men had homes of their own to go to, but with the increasing surveillance, they had taken to living in their workspace.
Once a day, or more depending on critical objectives, Prokofiev called his inner circle for a meeting and had them work there as a group. The living room wasn't as large as the old laboratory's main office, but it got the job done. The smaller space also invited a little more intimacy between the men, but at the same time it also invited hotter passions that often escalated to shouting matches and mediation. Not surprisingly, Churnyeav was often the cause, but even Anisimov, as cold as he appeared, had become used and even endeared to the space and the others.
A guard at the door peeked inside. "Sir, Boris Churnyeav's here to see you."
"You don't have to act like my secretary, Dormanov," smiled Prokofiev. "Especially not when it's one of the leaders."
"Apologies sir," Dormanov the guard bowed slightly, then turned to someone outside. "Come in, comrade."
"Sir, the blockade has been dispersing at a great rate!" Churnyeav reported, walking into the living room with a copy of the Herald and slapping it on the table. "Looks like Alexashenko kept his end of the bargain!"
"Yes, about that," Prokofiev replied, pondering as he remained seated on his chair. "Boris, you're slated to become the Secret Police Chief, as you know."
"I am, sir, what of it?"
"I promised Alexashenko what he can't have," Prokofiev glanced up at Churnyeav without moving his head. The mannerisms Prokofiev had been picking up kept unnerving Churnyeav, probably because the revolutionary still managed to remain intimidating without even trying. "Namely, that he'd get a position of power after the Secret Police is ours."
"What are the details, sir?" asked Churnyeav, sitting down next to Prokofiev as Dormanov peeked in again, then just shook his head and called out to other guests. Soon enough, the other lieutenants were walking in, and seeing Prokofiev gesture to the seats, they took them. Save Anisimov, who had left entirely to pursue the fraud evidence, all were ready for duty.
"Alexashenko is doing as we asked," reported Prokofiev, "but I promised him a lie in return."
"What is it, Piotr?" asked Nasarov, putting down a newspaper of his own on the table.
"I told him I'd be getting the UN involved and that he'd have to butt heads with them," Prokofiev explained. "Needless to say, that's not going to happen."
"Sadly," sighed Vilnov with great disappointment.
"The point is, I didn't specify what he would get," continued the visionary. "I toyed with giving him nothing, but it would not be smart to anger a man who commands so much of the army."
"He wouldn't be able to launch a counter-coup," agreed Nazerov, thinking, "but it would certainly throw a wrench in our plans if we had to put down his little insurgency."
"Combined with those Organized Anarchy sleeper cells you mentioned, it would seriously hurt our movement in its nascence," Prokofiev reminded the others. "Konstantino is playing ball with us, and we'll deal with him soon enough, but with both Organized Anarchy and Alexashenko pissed off, well."
"Why can't we just crush 'em, sir?" asked Churnyeav, always inclined to violence. Prokofiev and the others laughed, but Churnyeav protested. This time he was giving it serious thought. "No, no, this isn't just a call-out, comrades. If we have the Secret Police, we have tremendous power with the military, too. We could curbstomp Alexashenko's Army in a couple of days."
"No, no, that's way too overt," Prokofiev shook his head. "You've got a good point, but we need to be more delicate."
"Ah, ah-hah, I got it!" Nasarov said after the others spent some time pondering. His smile was wide and sly: where Prokofiev's smile reminded people of a tiger, Nasarov's own wicked intelligence gave him a distinctly fox-like appearance. "We target his black market operations!"
"His black mar- Ah!" Vilnov began, and suddenly understood. "You're a genius, Mr. Nasarov!"
"Well go on Josef," Prokofiev's own tiger grin matched his blood brother's. "Don't keep the rest of us in suspense."
"Look Piotr, we dealt with the Red Mafiya the same way. Alexashenko's a military thug, he was competing with the same markets Ilyushin was," Nasarov explained, slowly rotating his wrist to keep his train of thought rolling. "If we manage to find out what his businesses are and lock them out, he'll lose control over his well-supplied units."
"But he's got pull with his fame!" protested Churnyeav, clearly jealous of Nasarov's wit. "It would also take a long time before he stopped getting shipments."
"That's true," Nasarov admitted, his grin fading to a furrowed brow. "This is more of a long-term plan..."
"Why not give him control of the armory, at least in name?" proposed Nazerov, drawing the attention of the others. "He's all gung-ho about the army, right? What's the problem with handing him an illusion of power?"
"Wouldn't he be able to control it entirely, considering his reputation with the military?" Vilnov asked, skeptical.
"Not if we control the Chersonesus Estate," Nazerov replied. "This place is full of unionists and factory-workers. With my contacts from the mills and my knowledge of Parliament, I could team up with Comrade Nasarov's own union forces and keep the armory locked down in our favor."
"It's a risky proposal," Churnyeav butted in again, this time wanting to contribute, "but with me holding the Secret Police together and my old pals lending their support, we can carry on the big lie and keep Alexashenko happy with nothing!"
"Excellent," smiled Prokofiev proudly. "I knew you would all come through."
"We'll get Mr. Anisimov on buying out the black markets," Vilnov concluded, nodding. "Misters Nazerov, Nasarov, and Churnyeav will take control of the armory and pretend to hand the armory to Alexashenko. Then, when the revolution concludes, we'll shut him out!"
"Perfect," laughed Churnyeav, clapping. "I never liked his veteran ass anyway!"
"Well, now what then, comrades?" Nazerov asked, bringing their attention back to the matter at hand. "I hate to ruin the mood, but the blockade dispersing means nothing if we can't get to Karasov..."
"That's true," Prokofiev said. "The key to neutralizing the Secret Police is cutting off their source of intelligence. If we can control their informants they will be severely weakened."
"But who's an informant for the Secret Police?" Vilnov asked. "We don't know anything about it!"
"I got the answer to that," answered Nasarov with finality, pushing forward the newspaper to the center of the table. The others got up to read it.
"Holy shit, Zholtok?" Churnyeav burst out. "Anatoly Zholtok's coming back here?"
"You know him?" asked Vilnov.
"Know him? He was in my unit," Churnyeav growled, evidently unhappy with the news. "This asshole was a douche of the highest caliber!"
"Really?" asked Nazerov, re-reading the article. "He seems to be a straightforward kind of guy."
"Hah!" barked Churnyeav, leaving the table to pace and rant. "He was always complaining about facing war and kept brown-nosing anyone that had the chance to become something else! He was a grunt but you could just tell his pompous ass wanted to be sitting in an officer's chair and guiding the war back home!"
"So your hatred stems from his, ah, differences," Vilnov rolled his eyes as he analyzed the situation. "His ideology was the problem."
"Exactly, Vilnov," Churnyeav replied, pointing at the academic without picking up on the latter's sarcasm. "Maggot was always trying to make buddy-buddies with the major-general. He never cared for the others, really. Stunk of elitism, you know."
"The Major-General," re-read Prokofiev. The way he said it made Churnyeav's anger dissipate, and he took the seat. "The Major-General leads the Secret Police."
"Yeah," Nasarov confirmed. "That's why this article caught my eye."
"Good eye, Josef. This gives us our next objective," Piotr said, scanning the others. "Boris, you're still taking over the Secret Police, but now we know who to replace."
"We don't even know how to get close to the Major-General, my student," Vilnov was saying, frowning. "Chances are he lives in the Secret Police Headquarters!"
"No, Tresori," said Prokofiev, getting up from his chair and stabbing the newspaper with his index finger. He was all plotting and cunning now. "If we can find Anatoly Zholtok we can ask him about the Major-General. Hopefully he will provide us with the information we need to be able to replace the Major-General with Churnyeav."
"Hmph, don't be led astray by him, sir," snarled Churnyeav. "If he managed to become pals with the Major-General he'll be lying left and right to cover his ass."
"Calm yourself, Churnyeav," smiled Prokofiev. "This is going to be a social call."