Eight

Two months later
July 10, 2024
0700 Z
Riyadh
Saudi Arabia
Thierry Greer stood in his boss’s office and looked out the window. The weather was stifling, undoubtedly 110°F or better. No clouds filled the highly saturated blue sky. The sun's bright beams blasted the landscape with heat and light and it hung above, a perfect white-hot circle in the blue sky.
Side by side amidst the heat, two flags fluttered beside each other when the faint breeze decided to gently blow. The first flag represented the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, while the other flag stood for the United States, the stars and stripes billowing ever so slightly in the wind. Above each rested the new flag of the CPC, signifying its supreme importance.
The sky may have been clear and cloudless, but that was contrasted with the crowd that had gathered below. Their many individual shapes were hardly distinguishable in the distance, but their purpose was clear. They seemed numberless, and it seemed that the crowd slowly grew larger as Thierry continued to watch from the window, more people teeming with anger and outrage. They were protesting with signs and banners, and the roar from the crowd, too distant to make out the slogans being shrieked, was still quite audible from the ambassador's office. From his perch high in the embassy, Thierry Greer chose instead to focus on the smoggy horizon.
Thierry always made it a point to dress well, but his creased suit jacket was wrinkled slightly. That was the only outward sign the last few days had been anything but calm.
Thierry had been born in New York City to two United Nations translators, both of French citizenship and descent. Despite his love of his French heritage and frequent visits to his extended family there, he saw himself as an American through and through. Thierry looked back at his boss, Thomas Santander, the American ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He sat behind him with his head buried in paperwork, indifferent to his underling’s actions. Thierry looked out at the mob and observed that perhaps this was why he had gone gray. Although he was in his later thirties, his silvery hair was generally associated with a man of much greater age. Thierry, an optimist, hoped it communicated his wealth of wisdom and experience to his fellow State Department employees.
Thierry had frequently been in this office and had grown bored of perusing its' sparse decorations. When it came to occupying his time in the ambassador's office, Thierry had read over the spines of the various volumes on the ambassador's bookcases so many times he could practically recite them by memory. There was truly nothing else to do this morning, besides watching the proceedings from the window.
The ambassador read with the focus of a well-educated man, an expert in politics more than any other discipline. He read on, not distracted by Thierry or the substantial flat screen television playing in the room. Thierry could hear the drone of the television as he stood at the window, but he too had blocked it out. Everything aired this morning had been a rehashing of stories from earlier in the week. He watched the crowd as it moved and roared, far beyond the barriers to the entrance to the embassy compound. He looked at the long banners and flags that waved like some medieval army sending signals to coordinate with one another. Thierry noticed a nondescript truck making glacial progress toward the entrance barriers creeping through the protesting throng. The truck was unremarkable, a dusty plain white Toyota box truck that was like so many that passed in and out of the embassy's gates. He wondered what it must be like for the van driver, more than likely some Filipino or Indian that had been imported into the kingdom. In his moment of reflection, Theirry decided to give him a name. Nikhil, he decided, was a man who had decided to remain in this country in conditions an American might akin to slavery. And yet, in Nikhil's mind, being here was preferable to being home in his own nation. He was happy to take abuse just to send home a little bit of cash to his family. Nikhil was in the thick of it, unlike Thierry, who watched through the thick glass and concrete walls of the embassy, isolated from the spectacle of the protestors. Thierry watched it with a detached sort of interest. The truck was like a foreign body consumed by an amoeba.
He considering the crowd once again before speaking. “Looks dicey,” he muttered, as much for himself as for the ambassador sitting behind him. Thomas Santander looked up and out the window, grunting before looking back at the report, stirring from his documents for the first time since Thierry had taken post at the window. Previously a source of monotonous background noise, the television came to the forefront of their attention when the broadcast suddenly transitioned to a breaking news bulletin. A handsome and well-dressed newscaster with dark hair and shining eyes smiled at the camera, before speaking text from a teleprompter. "Good morning," the news presenter stated, in the genuine, yet scripted way all newscasters mastered. "This is a breaking news alert from RXN. We take you to the CPC Palace of Justice for an announcement from the Supreme Secretary of the CPC, Lorcan Dubhloach."
Outside of the CPC headquarters, Lorcan Dubhlaoch stood before the cameras surrounded by reporters. He was a tall, stark and rail-thin figure in the oppressive greyness of the Belgian morning. His medium brown hair clung to his neck, wet from the thick mist. Lorcan had a habit of looking past the camera or object when he spoke. His eyes seemed to focus on something in the far distance, squinting through the air. It made him look perpetually concerned, a stern father figure for the world, and yet there seemed to be an ever-faint, ever-present, tease of a smile. The Irishman was in so many ways the most confident man that ever strode the earth.
The sky in Belgium was overcast and dark this day, and the faint fog hung over the green trees that ran parallel with the gardens. The news reporters looked on, their eagerness palpable. Lorcan Dublhaoch cleared his throat again, before adjusting the podium's microphone slightly up. Then, he began to speak. “Good morning,” he said, his bass Irish voice commanding and sure, growling like a piece of heavy earth moving equipment. "Today, I'm joined by the new President of the United States, Sharon Arenas-Katz, and the UN Secretary General Vigee Diome to make a crucial announcement."
Thierry looked over the cast of characters before him. President Sharon Arenas-Katz’s brown eyes surveyed the situation as those gathered around shifted uncomfortably. Her coiffed hair was carefully styled, no doubt in consultation with a hundred political operatives who determined that 37% of the electorate favored her hair styled this particular way. Her brown skin revealed her Cuban heritage. With her statuesque figure and brooding countenance, the President always commanded attention, whether intentionally or not. What first caught people's attention were her broad shoulders and almost masculine bearing. She had sex appeal, sure, but it was camouflaged by her powerful physicality.
The UN Secretary General, Vigee Diome had dressed for the long day in her traditional ankle-length Senegalese cotton robe, matching drawstring trousers and cap. Her coral dress was trimmed with white brocade at the neck and wrists. She shook out the robe’s bell sleeves and stood solemnly. The very dark-skinned woman looked down her nose at the assembly, resplendent in her African dress clothes. Her coffee-colored hair came down low on her forehead and emphasized her round face. The organization she helmed, the United Nations, was held in such universal disdain that instead of using the United Nations as a template for the new government, it was completely bypassed. A new entity, the CPC was created, ex nihlio. The United Nations continued only to hold a symbolic role and to interface with the few nations that still held the CPC at arm’s length, particularly China, India and Russia.
The reporters shifted their weight restlessly. Balding men lugging large video cameras and middle-aged women and men in professional dress dotted the lawn. "For the last three years, the terrorist Radchenko has been eluding our justice," Lorcan continued. "This reign of terror can continue no longer. Effective today, the bounty on Radchenko is being increased to three hundred million CPC dollars." An audible gasp escaped from the crowd of reporters. "Radchenko," Lorcan continued amidst the twittering reporters. He now recognized that he had the captive attention of his audience, and the next words would be vital to presenting a display of strength for the public. “I know that you're out there, and I know that you can hear what I have to say. We will find you, and the full force of the CPC will come down on you.” The crowd murmured and reporters hastily scribbled notes on the back of legal pads or the laptops or tablets they carried. "I will now take questions," Lorcan Dublhaoch said. Immediately, there was a questioning reporter who quickly rose his hand, a pen still balanced between his middle and forefinger. “Have there been any new leads since the sinking of the HMS Dauntless?” he asked, his voice distinctly nasaly. "No additional leads," Lorcan Dubhlaoch said, confidently but dismissively. "We know a bomb was planted on board." Much to the other journalists' dismay, the nasally correspondent pressed him further, "Reports continue to circulate that there was a shootout in the village beforehand. Some say there was a submarine present in the harbor. Any comment on those rumors?" Still smiling the broad grin of a politician, Dubhlaoch rolled his eyes. “Where do you guys get this stuff?” His deflection sent laughter through the crowd, an evident success of the response. Amidst their mirth, two members of the security detail quietly hustled the curious reporter away.
A second reporter in a bright blue blazer and shining black heels raised her hand. "Mr. Secretary," the writer began. "Today, the Emerson Corporation announced higher prices for stabilized hydrogen. It seems that we've moved from a cartel that controls oil to a new master. David Michael Emerson." The secretary nodded grimly. "Yes," Lorcan said. "That is a great concern to me. The Essential Development Collective has discussed this in great depth. We are considering a response to Emerson's price hikes.” The reporter in blue was not satisfied with this answer. "Mr. Dubhloach," she pressed further, "Can you give me an idea of the response that you are considering?" “Not at this time,” Dubhloach said, making it clear with his body that he was already in search of another question. He found a man with thick glasses raising his hand and motioned that he should proceed with his query. The other reporter impatiently continued her line of questioning. "Mr. Secretary," she said. "The rumor is that the CPC has no response, that Emerson has all the power since he is the only one who can create stabilized hydrogen."
Hastily, Lorcan cut her off. "No further questions," he stated, curtly. The appearance of a lack of transparency was a better option than appearing wholly unprepared. “No further questions.”
He did not close on that note, as defensive as it was. Instead, he raised his voice confidently again to the crowd, calling back the strength of his initial statements. "Again Radchenko, we will find you." Lorcan Dubhlaoch coughed, the wrenching sound causing feedback in the podium's microphone. "We will find you.”
Ambassador Thomas Santander leaned back in his worn, leather chair. He had sat in this chair for many years and had faced a variety of hardships and challenges. Each time, he met each obstacle with all the political strength he could muster, remembering the essential characteristics of a diplomat his father had embedded into him. This time he was taken aback.
Thierry recognized the ambassador's mood. "You look surprised," Thierry said, gently probing for an answer. After all, the ambassador was a master poker player and politician. Through long years in the State Department, all traces of inappropriate emotion had been washed from his leathery features. The ambassador nodded, solemnly. Thierry knew him too well. "Yes," he said, the corners of his mouth forming the slightest of grimaces. "That was not the announcement I had been anticipating." The ambassador shook his head then, once again he spoke, this time the grimace spreading wider across his neatly shaven face. "Not at all." Outside, at the gatehouse for the American Embassy, the truck that had been slowly making its way through the crowd had made it through the first checkpoint. It now was winding it's way through a series of barriers and was soon stopped by a guard. The truck looked reasonable enough, and yet, as the Pakistani security contractor sauntered up to the drivers' side, he noticed the lorry driver’s casual demeanor soon began to fail him. The driver, drenched in sweat, encouraged the guard onward with a friendly hand motion, but the guard could sense that there was something wrong with this vehicle. Other security guards soon joined the first in encircling the truck, more curious than alert. Then, the driver was pulled back by someone into the cabin, disappearing from sight. From the corner lookout, a United States Marine had his eardrums blown out by the incredible pressure wave. An immense boom resounded throughout the embassy's grounds, followed by the sound of raining metal on the neatly trimmed lawn. The heavily reinforced gatehouse had been obliterated by an explosion. All that remained was a deep crater.

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