The Hunt for Auroras

The place for conducting intraregional relations or just hanging out with other national leaders. [In-Character]
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Xiomera
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Re: The Hunt for Auroras

Post by Xiomera » Fri Dec 27, 2019 7:44 am

IAF Golden Eagle 1 - Empress Yauhmi's personal transport
En route to Legionas from Kerlile, December 13th

A small piece of paper.

It sat on the desk, a tantalizing mystery.

Empress Yauhmi eyed the piece of paper, wondering what awaited her once she unfolded it. When she had gifted Jennifer Hale with a mācuahuitl, she had not expected a gift in return. But the Kerlian Councillor had seen fit to give her a note, and the Empress rather suspected that it wasn't your typical thank-you note.

The Empress finally picked up the piece of paper that Hale had delivered to her with such secrecy. Unfolding it, she began reading what at first seemed like random information. A list of numbers, matched to Xiomeran names. At first, she thought that Hale had played a strange joke on her.

When she realized that the note was not, in fact, just random information, she rose upright in her chair in amazement. Numbers. Kerlian citizen ID numbers. Next to Xiomeran names.

Yauhmi chuckled softly to herself. Your prowess definitely deserved a mācuahuitl, Jennifer Hale. Perhaps an even better gift, someday. The Empress found herself quite admiring the Kerlian Councillor for managing to get this information to her. We may be able to give our Auroras the desired outcome after all, no matter what Pauline Pierre says about it.

The Empress quickly picked up her secure phone line and ordered her attendant, Tlalli, to connect her to the Secretary of Security. When Zalpalatli answered, the Empress cut off his greetings in her excitement. "Zalpalatli, I am sending you some information via secure link. It is a list. A very valuable list." The Empress quickly keyed the names and numbers into her secure terminal, her fingers flying with a speed and skill quite unexpected for a person in their seventies.

At the Cauhloc, the Secretary of Security reviewed the information. "Is this what I think it is?" he finally asked, his voice quite excited.

"It is. Begin cross-referencing the names listed. Search for high-performing or noteworthy individuals first by those names, focusing specifically on professions or positions that an Aurora might find appealing," Yauhmi ordered. "Just out of curiosity, where did we get this information, if I may ask, your Majesty?" Zalpalatli asked, his professional curiosity overcoming his deference to the Empress.

"A friend. And that is all anyone ever need know," Yauhmi said flatly.

"Of course, your Majesty," Zalpalatli replied, swallowing his curiosity. "We will begin searching right away."

"Inform me immediately of any results," the Empress ordered, ending the call. When it was done, she picked up the lighter she normally used to light cigarettes, on the rare occasion she indulged in them. With a soft whoosh, the note from Hale was lit and tossed into a nearby steel trash can. The Empress calmly placed a lid over the container once the note was burned, to keep the smoke from setting off the plane's security systems.

The Empress leaned back in her seat again, quite pleased. Her trip was proving more beneficial already than she had even imagined.

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Gardavasque
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Re: The Hunt for Auroras

Post by Gardavasque » Mon Dec 30, 2019 6:00 pm

December 30th, 2019; 8:55AM.
Office of Dr. Perel Hester, PsyD, Clinical Psychologist
Bankers Hill District, Mercy, Misericordia Province, Gardavasque


Dr. Hester’s office at the First Avenue Counseling Center was impressive if somewhat cold. Her Doctor of Clinical Psychology degree from Mercy University was framed with an artistic rendering of the iconic Motherhouse Chapel and ornately-landscaped grounds the school was famous for. Outside her double-pane 4th floor window, she could look out to see, but not hear, a dreary rainy December day. Thanks to a certain pop song from the past, many believed it never rained in Southern Misericordia Province, but it had been raining almost everyday for the entire month. Her office had been custom soundproofed; there was advanced recording equipment and a few expensive microphones she required for her wildly successful podcast series, Sacred Sofa. And of course numerous copies of her three bestselling books, Sexually Woke, Erotic Intelligence For Dummies, and How To Fuck Like You Mean It, took up most of the space on the mahogany bookshelf behind her desk. She was incredibly accomplished for someone only 32 years old, and she knew it.

Perel sat down in her leather swivel chair behind her desk and opened her PearBook computer to launch the encrypted video conference application for her 9 o’clock session. She clicked on Dawn Marcort-DeFarge’s file, which inexplicably was practically empty of clinical data and health insurance information, containing only and handful of irregularly scheduled appointment entries and a single vague mention of “Adjustment Disorder” in the Dx field.

At 8:55:30, their arranged time, Perel launched the video conference. Dawn was ready on her end; she was alone in the bedroom of her home at the Saint Antoine Estate up in the Loyal Valley, nearly four hundred kilometers away. It was a bright sunny morning there. The brilliance of the skylight caught Dawn’s ash blonde hair in certain kind of way that made Perel shiver with anger from a distant memory she could barely recall.

“Hello Dawn,” Perel began, cheerlessly.

“Good Morning, Perel,” Dawn replied, with a slight sense of urgency in her tone. Perel noticed this.

“How are you feeling today?” It’s a question every psychotherapist asks every session, but this particular question, with these exact words in this order and spoken with this specific inflection, was actually setup for a coded inquiry.

“I’m euthymic… And you?” This response, the use of a clinical term by a client to her therapist and these precisely-selected words and rehearsed inflection, confirmed the expected response. It signaled to Perel that Dawn was alone, safe, and they could speak freely on an encrypted connection, all protected under the legal veil of therapist-client privilege, which in Gardavasque at least was sacrosanct.

Perel looked at Dawn for just a moment, noticing she was missing her usual confident air of authority. They had a history, some of it quite painful, that went back decades. Perel frowned, sensing something wasn’t right with Dawn. “So, how are you feeling today,” she asked this time with genuine concern for Dawn’s wellbeing.

Did you get an email? About a timeshare in Aeluria and a juice extractor?”

“Mine was about a ‘cosmetic surgery getaway’ to Comhar and a juice extractor,” Perel replied. “I was insulted, until I actually read it. Then I cried a little.”
“Well, I’m kind of freaking out. My husband took a sample of my DNA and sent it off to a Geno-Mix lab without my consent. He’s as dumb as a bucket of hair, and I honestly think he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He doesn’t know that I know. Anyway in a few weeks, it’ll come back showing I have over 50% Kerlian DNA and my cover will be pretty much blown, but of course I’ll be long gone by then. I’m finally going home. Oh well, it’s probably for the best.” Dawn was uncomfortable being so forthcoming with Perel, but despite their 28-year age difference, they were sisters with a common upbringing. Who else but family could keep the darkest of secrets? “Ready for another bombshell? I’ve had contact with the Programme.”

There was a long silence as Perel took a moment to consider the implications of what had just been shared. It meant that probably all the Auroras were being called home; this could only be the case if there was a major disruption with the Aurora Programme or perhaps with the Kerlian government itself. It meant that probably she would soon have contact with the Programme as well. She would have to leave her husband, her son, and perhaps her career behind. Within a second, she put a lid on those thoughts and returned to the therapy session. After all, she had a client right here on the screen who also needed her support. “So you’re kind of freaking out,” Perel reflected back.

“I don’t feel ready to leave,” Dawn said. “For one thing, I have - ” she was about to use the expression ‘smoking gun’ but then she realized never to use that phrase when referencing the President of Gardavasque - “a shitload of evidence on my target. Definitely enough to bring down the entire party… forever. I just need a little more time to deploy it, to make sure it doesn’t come back to me or to The Matriarchy.”

Perel winced a little at use of the word “Matriarchy” partly because, in the pursuit of her career as a feminist psychotherapist, she had come to realize some deep philosophical fissures within the whole notion of small “m” matriarchy. From her perspective, Perel believed Kerlian society was in need of a psychological overhaul from years of white knuckled oppression and humiliation on the world stage. Perel suspected it would be a monumental task to heal Kerlile from the abuses of its leaders. Secondly, Perel was aware of the countertransference with her client. Perel knew Dawn was dyed-in-the-wool, but she herself was not. Nevertheless, like the mostly-ethical therapist she was, Perel wanted to avoid allowing her personal values to interfere with Dawn’s process. “You’re frowning as you say this.” Perel observed neutrally.

“Well, yes. I mean. I’ve worked decades to get where I am, and without anyone to help me the way I've helped you. I’ve endured daily bombardment of the most degrading forms of macho bullshit imaginable. Being ignored and then interrupted in the board room, performing oral sex on my ‘husband,’ even enduring MeAsWell incidents just to get them on video. All for the Matriarchy. I’ve put in my work, and I don’t want it all to go to waste because of some ego-driven decision by The Council.” Dawn’s anger was starting to bubble up; they were both aware of the dynamic increase in volume, pitch, and prosody of her voice as she recounted all she had suffered.

“You’re angry about that,” Perel reflected back in a calm voice, adding in the element that was missing from Dawn’s protest: her affect.

“You’re right. I am,” Dawn conceded. “I’m angry about the timing of it, only. I’m angry at having something of my own for a moment, only to have it snatched away by an authority figure who thinks they knew what’s best for me. Story of my life.” She could feel a genuine wave of grief for her childhood wash through her. Dawn experienced a flashback of the Aurora Centre, her best friend being taken away when she was only 5, and other unspeakable crimes that had deprived Dawn of the ability to form secure attachments. Then, realizing how long it had been since she allowed herself to grieve for herself, she suddenly became aware of the session again, and of Perel. She smiled as she composed herself, “Oh you’re good.” Suddenly Dawn craved a cigarette for the first time in 20 years.

Perel allowed herself to smile back; it gave her pleasure to accept a compliment from a sister. “Thanks.”

With a deep breath, Dawn refocused back to practical issues to steer clear from her wave of grief, and because she knew she had to keep the session as short as possible. “Okay. Thank you for that. So, I have some business, if you don’t mind.”

Aware of the momentous emotional shift that had just taken place, Perel prepared now to switch gears from therapy session to team meeting. Dawn had been her mentor and tormentor for decades, but also her only real connection to the truth of who and what she really was. Everything that Perel had accomplished, Dawn - and her resources - had a hand in either starting or maintaining. But in this transition, Perel also realized, with Dawn’s imminent departure, she would soon be the only Aurora left in Gardavasque. “Sure. What is it.”

The Programme has been aware of our being in contact since February; can’t keep anything from them. Don’t worry they were not upset. They didn't like it, but it is actually turning out to be a blessing from the Goddess. Nevertheless, things being what they are, the decision has been made that this is our last conversation as Perel and Dawn.” This was a reference to their identities as Gardavascans, their real names were actually numbers. “I have instructions for you to obtain a new passport from the Programme; your current one contains a flaw that the Gardavascans may be able to detect. You need to send me a Misericordia Multiphasic Personality Inventory 2.0, my responses will provide you with the information you need for your passport as well as reports to be leaked to the press after I’m safely back in Grapevale. I’ll upload it to the Secure Therapy Portal at exactly 11:18AM.

“Ok.”

“So that’s it.” Dawn was searching for some warmth from Perel that wasn’t ready to come forth just yet, as Perel’s head began to calculate the vast implications of their conversation. “Soon you'll be getting orders to rematriate as well, consider this a heads up. Thank you for everything. I’ll look forward to finally meeting you in person once we are all back home.”

Perel noticed a cloud must’ve passed over the skylight in Dawn’s room, because the walls grew a tad darker and more shadowy there. “Yes. That’ll be grand, won’t it.”

Dawn took in one more breath for herself before ending the session. “Good luck, Perel. Long live the Matriarchy.”

Perel took one last look at her sister. She has been trained to always take one last look at a friend, for one never knew when the chance would come again to look upon a friend. “Break a leg, Dawn. Long live the Matriarchy.” She terminated the video conference just in time to catch a beam of sunlight over the Coronado Bridge spanning Mercy Bay, the first ray of sun in almost a month. It was a beautiful view. Perel took a moment to drink it all in before forwarding the MMPI 2.0 to Dawn’s Secure Therapy Portal.

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Shuell
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Re: The Hunt for Auroras

Post by Shuell » Wed Jan 01, 2020 10:34 pm

Division 1 Command Center

Date: DEC31
Subject: TF7 Progress Report
From: TF7 Overseer Sigma
To:DIV1 Administrator Tau

End of year report on Task Force 7 is compiled, with performance meeting expectations.
BEGIN REPORT
MOK-IOI-001 (“Alina Kaufer”) is compliant with orders. Little resistance following DEC18. Transfer to SNV Ördög when possible. Information has been sent to Division 2 personnel.

NOTES: Marked increase in effectiveness of techniques at Stage 5 and above.

MOK-IOI-002 (“Iris Fuchs”) has been captured in OP-Turul. They are being held in SNV Ördög, and currently in Stage 6 of interrogation. Two Division 6 agents are in recovery following OP-Turul.

NOTES: City Administrator Schultz denies any knowledge of IOI-002’s connection to the Matriarchy of Kerlile. Investigation is pending.

MOK-IOI-003 (“Regina Schwartz”) has been captured in OP-Emese, and is awaiting transfer to a black site. She is currently at Stage 2 of interrogation. Zero casualties following OP-Emese.

NOTES: Mennykő Power Plant is currently being examined for sabotage by DIV3B agents.

DIV2 suggests there are between 5 and 15 MOK-IOIs active nationwide. Suggested course of action is to increase funding and personnel allocated to TF7.

There are 58 possible MOK-IOIs being investigated. OP-Magor is scheduled to begin shortly.
END REPORT

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Lauchenoiria
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Re: The Hunt for Auroras

Post by Lauchenoiria » Fri Jan 03, 2020 5:24 pm

Melissa City Police Department Temporary HQ, Lauchenoiria
3rd January 2020

Kerrie Lee was running late for work, and was not happy. She prided herself on always being punctual, but there had been some kind of incident on the subway which had caused a massive delay. She almost wished she had a car, but the tax on private vehicles in the city centre was extortionate, and so few people used them, unless they were super rich or had a disability exemption.

She made her way into the building which was hosting the temporary headquarters of the Melissa City Police Department, after the original building had been blown up by Conternian state-sponsored terrorists in the 2018 war. She had been hired shortly afterwards as a cryptology expert, after the MCPD’s previous expert had been killed in the bombing. It wasn’t exactly what she’d wanted from her career, but she had finished her PhD at an inopportune time.

As she was approaching her office, she noticed something off. There were far fewer people in the building than usual. In the corridor outside her office, there was nobody. She paused at the door, which was shut as usual. Her hand moved towards the handle, but she had a bad feeling. The coded message she had received last month had her on edge. She withdrew her hand, turned around and began to walk away.

She hurried down the corridor, turning back towards the exit, when she noticed two people standing by it that she didn’t recognise. She ducked back into the corridor, only to hear her own office door opening behind her. Thinking quickly, she turned down the third route available to her, which led to a fire door and a staircase. She sped up as she heard signs of pursuit and turned into the staircase.

“Dr Lee, I would advise against running,” a man said, blocking her way up. She froze. Her pursuers fell in behind her, blocking her exit. “There is nowhere to go, and it only increases the likelihood that you will be injured.”

“Am I under arrest?” she asked. She thought about fighting, but more men had come up behind the one who spoke, and she knew that she couldn’t win. She would have to conserve her strength for what was coming.

“Yes,” the man said and then motioned for those behind her to grab her.

“Then I would like to call a lawyer,” she replied as they handcuffed her.

“Oh, would you?” the man chuckled. “Unfortunately, we are operating under some… special measures which make that rather impossible. Do it.”

Kerrie felt a needle prick her skin and suddenly a wave of exhaustion washed over her. She hadn’t really expected them to give her access to a lawyer, and she wasn’t scared of them. They’re Lauchenoirians, what’s the worst they could do? she thought as she fell unconscious.

*

Unknown Location, Lauchenoiria
Simultaneous

Maricela Tobin didn’t look up as they came into her cell. She was far too exhausted for that. She was slumped on the floor, sitting up against the wall, her hair tangled with strands falling in front of her face. She whimpered as they took her arms and dragged her out. She didn’t know when the last time they’d allowed her to sleep was, but it had been long enough that she had experienced a rather realistic hallucination which had caused her to throw up.

They deposited her on a chair in an interrogation room and handcuffed her to the table – not that she had the energy to try and run. She closed her eyes and tried to drift off to sleep now that she was out of the cell they’d been playing incessant background noise into. Unfortunately for her, the interrogator walked in and took his seat across from her at that moment. She blinked up at him.

“We’re bringing in another one today,” he said casually, watching her reaction. “An Aurora.”

A flash of fear, and interest, passed through Maricela’s eyes.

“Oh?” she croaked out. They hadn’t given her water in some time either. Noticing the dryness of her throat, the interrogator produced a bottle and passed it over to her. She took it immediately, unscrewing the cap with difficulty and pouring some down her throat.

“I remember when you wouldn’t eat or drink anything I gave you,” he remarked. “We make progress, albeit slowly. Perhaps Dr Lee will be more cooperative.”

“The other?” she asked, pausing from her drinking

“Do you know her?” he questioned.

“We don’t know each other,” she shook her head. The water had perked her up a little, even though she was still desperate for sleep. “No Aurora knows another Aurora.”

“So you say, but we can prove that’s a lie, Ms. Tobin,” her interrogator said, leaning back and smiling slightly at her. “You will know any other Aurora your own age... so tell me, who are they?”

She sat up, looking at him warily. She didn’t know how he had managed to ascertain that particular piece of information, and she wanted to. She had begun to give them tiny morsels of information every time her treatment started to get to her. Nothing important, certainly nothing that could help them, but just things that gave her a little relief. She would last longer with a little relief was how she justified it to herself. Perhaps it was time to buy a little more.

“That won’t help you,” she said. “They’re not in your country.”

“Oh, I know. So, you admit you do know the identity of other Auroras?”

“Not in the way you think,” she replied.

“You know the names they used during training, and their KCIDs, and their countries of assignment, yet you do not necessarily know the name they go by now. You would have heard it once at most, and would have tried your best to forget it. Of course, sometimes it is harder to forget things than one might think. You see, you are still trying to keep information from me, but look how much I know already. If you do not tell me, someone else will. And then you will have suffered for nothing. Why keep up this charade?”

She looked at him uncertainly, and quickly took another sip of water, afraid he would take it off her. He knew far more than the last time they’d spoken – or perhaps he had just kept his knowledge secret until now. She was uncertain how long she’d been imprisoned, how long he could have been gathering information from another source.

“What’s the date?” she asked him.

“You want to know how long you’ve been here,” he smirked. “That is not something I can tell you without you telling me something in return. What will you give me to know how much time you’ve lost?”

“Nicole,” she answered suddenly. “When I was a child, they called me Nicole.”

“You have three names, as far as we can ascertain, and a number,” he said, pushing her.

“That on our birth certificate, our training name, the one we take as a cover, and our KCID, yes,” Maricela nodded. “We are not told the name on our birth certificate, as you saw with Charissa Clarke. My training name was Nicole, and my KCID is 12547546.”

“It is the 3rd January 2020. As of tomorrow, you will have been here a month.”

A month. A month. It had felt like longer, and she shivered at the thought.

“But it can’t be…” she muttered, almost to herself.

“Happy new year,” he said. She looked up at him. There were the beginnings of tears in her eyes. She must be weaker than she thought: they hadn’t even hurt her that badly, and already she needed to buy relief to survive. A month. “I’ll let you get back to your cell,” he said, standing up to leave.

“Wait!” she called before she’d had time to think. He stopped and raised an eyebrow at her. “I… will you tell them?”

“Tell who?” he said, sitting back down.

“If I give you the names of the other Auroras from my training class, will you tell the countries they have been assigned to?”

“That is not your concern,” he said. “But you would be well rewarded if you could give us such information.”

She paused, and thought. Surely, they’d get it out of her in the end, anyway? It had been a long time since that third document leak, it was entirely possible half of them had been recalled by now anyway. At least, that’s how she justified it.

“I don’t know the names they go by now, but I can give you the names they went by in training and the countries they were sent to.”

“That is acceptable, for now. The names, please?”

“Nora was assigned to LOM, Naomi was assigned to Laeral, Norma to Essena and Nadia to Xiomera. I can give you their KCIDs as well, if you wish.”

“That would be very helpful,” he smiled at her. “Please write them down for me, and anything you remember of the names they took upon leaving Kerlile.”

Feeling guilty and ashamed, as well as relieved and excited to finally get better treatment once again, she took the pencil she was offered and began to write down the numbers and names of four of her fellow Auroras. She was a coward, she knew, and a traitor, but she just simply no longer cared.

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Xiomera
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Re: The Hunt for Auroras

Post by Xiomera » Sat Jan 04, 2020 9:35 pm

(written jointly with Lauchenoiria)

Ximac Fortress - Defense Secretariat Headquarters
Tlālacuetztla


Huatli was both excited, and slightly nervous, at the same time.

The Imperial Army captain had not been to the Defense Secretariat Headquarters before. She had been summoned by her commanding officer in Huitzitaca unexpectedly, and informed that she was being called to the capital to receive a possible promotion and reassignment. The whole thing was a surprise - and Huatli didn't like surprises.

The ancient pile of stone that served as the Defense Secretariat's home was located on the western side of the capital. It had once served as a fort defending Tlālacuetztla from attacks from Necatli raiders. As an ancient fortress in the Xiomeran style tended to be, it was a bit overwhelming. Huatli still admired the architecture, if only for its overwhelming sense of security.

The captain was delivered to a building well inside the perimeter, near the main fortress that now served as the home of Xiomera's defense establishment. Office of Special Defense Operations, the sign outside the building read. Huatli's interest was piqued - OSDO was the group within SecDef that handled the Xiomeran military's special operations planning.

Inside the OSDO building, Huatli was led into a large conference room. She was offered refreshments and asked to wait.

Soon, the door opened to the conference room, and two people entered, accompanied by a pair of Shorn Ones. Huatli immediately jumped up and saluted - the two most high-ranking Xiomerans in the chain of command, outside the Empress herself, had just walked into the room.

Defense Secretary Xochiqui smiled and looked at Xōchhuitl. Xōchhuitl, the head of the Xiomeran General Staff and commander of the entire Imperial Army, smiled as well. "At ease, Captain," Xōchhuitl said, waving her to sit down.

After a bit of polite conversation, Xōchhuitl and Xochiqui got to the point. "Captain Huatli, your record in command of your company has been exemplary. We would like to consider you for a special role."

Huatli smiled in response. "I am eager to serve however I can, sir. What is the role I am being considered for?"

"We will get to that," the General said calmly. "But first, we must clear the air a bit." He slid a card over to Huatli. When she looked at it, it showed her name - along with a number she had never expected to see on a Xiomeran document.

Her Kerlian citizen ID number.

All the colour drained from her face as she stared at the card. Her heart rate increased and when she looked up there was a definite hint of fear in her eyes.

"I don't understand, sir," she said.

"I believe that you do," Xōchhuitl said, still smiling. "We have received this information from an extremely reliable source. You, Huatli, are an Aurora." The General shook his head to forestall any further protests. "Please do not try to deny it. Our intelligence on this matter is undeniable. You have served Xiomera well, even if under a fictitious identity; there is no need to shame that service now."

"Indeed, there is not," Xochiqui added. The Defense Secretary looked at Huatli. "Especially since Xiomera and Kerlile are not enemies, and since President Arnott and the Empress have reached an understanding." Xochiqui smiled. "We're not here to punish you, Huatli. We're here to offer you a deal - if you're interested."

Huatli looked between the two of them, distrusting. It was true that Xiomera and Kerlile had far better relations than when she had been deployed, yet she had been taught to never, ever admit what she was, regardless of the circumstances. She remained silent, saying nothing.

After a few seconds of the silent treatment, Xochiqui sighed. "You don't trust us. I can't blame you, under the circumstances. Perhaps we should ask someone who is more trustworthy to help." The Defense Secretary stepped out of the room, pulling his phone out of his pocket as he did so. He soon walked back into the room, pocketing his phone once more.

After about twenty minutes of the two men futilely trying to engage Huatli in conversation, the door swung open. A figure even more familiar to anyone who was even remotely familiar with Xiomera walked into the room.

"Hello, Huatli," Empress Yauhmi said softly. "I believe it's time we had a talk - with significantly less testosterone in the room. You two, out," Yauhmi said, looking at Xochiqui and Xōchhuitl.

The two men exited, with Xochiqui heard plaintively telling Xōchhuitl "I mean, we did try."

Yauhmi chuckled and sat down. "Never send a man to do a woman's job. I should have learned that lesson long ago. So....where do we begin?"

Huatli was shocked, and a little afraid. Of all the things she had considered happening, this was possibly the least likely. She was uncertain how to react.

"Empress Yauhmi... I am honoured you would choose to speak to me."

"I appreciate the sentiment, but you need not be so deferential. I'm here just to talk," the Empress replied, her expression gentle. "Those two are good at what they do, but as military men often are, they're astonishingly blunt at times." Yauhmi leaned back in her chair. "From what I understand, they dropped the news on you about certain discoveries we've made with all the grace of a bricklayer dropping his bricks on someone's head."

The Empress paused for a moment. "I know you were taught not to trust anyone. And I know why. Trust me, in my position, and after surviving two decades in the shark pit that is Xiomeran politics, I know how dangerous putting your trust in someone can be." Yauhmi's expression took on an almost motherly demeanor. "But sometimes it's far safer to come out of the dark. You don't need to hide anymore. I can help you, if you'll let me."

Huatli had spent so long in fear of discovery, that now it had happened, she didn't quite know what to do. She thought over what she'd been told. Since her deployment, it was true that Kerlile and Xiomera had become fast friends. She had received a warning text saying Auroras were being hunted, which seemed accurate given the circumstances. It was entirely possible that Xiomera and Kerlile had ended up working together, but if that was the case, why hadn't she been told? Still, she was curious.

"How, Empress?" she asked.

"First, we must be honest with each other. I'll start. I've been in touch with President Arnott and with members of the Council of Kerlile. We have reached an understanding concerning Auroras....the 'deal' that Xochiqui mentioned." The Empress paused to help herself to a glass of water before continuing. "So, here's the deal. Any Auroras in Xiomera have a choice. They can either return home with no ill will on our part. They can resume life in the Matriarchy and continue as they please. But they can also stay in Xiomera, if they wish, and continue to serve here."

Yauhmi looked at Huatli keenly. "You have had an exemplary career in the Imperial Army. I would not have expected anything less, now that I know about Auroras....you do tend to be exceptional. Xiomera values that kind of exceptional quality, and also believes in rewarding it. We are a country where merit equals success - but you know that," Yauhmi continued. "In any event, I personally do not wish for Xiomera to lose such talented and skilled individuals. I wish to let them come into the light, and be rewarded as they should be."

The Empress smiled again. "So, I am hoping you will agree to stay in Xiomera, and remain in my service, as you have been until now. The Council has agreed that this is acceptable to them, if you are willing. And we will not force you. But....I believe that you can have a truly exceptional life here in Xiomera, and still serve the cause of women in a nation that values it.....right here. Xiomera needs people like you, and regardless of where you grew up, you are one of us," the Empress said. "So, to be direct, we'd like you to stay."

The Empress paused again. "If you do not wish to stay in Xiomera, however, we will help you return to Kerlile. You can confirm this by speaking with the Council if you wish - I can easily arrange that, although I know you have your own means of doing so," Yauhmi added.

Huatli considered the offer. She lacked many fond memories of the Matriarchy, and hadn't considered leaving for a second when the warning message had come through. Her training class had been treated rather worse on average than other classes, and it had been noticeable. Whenever she thought of her childhood, she became a little depressed. In contrast, she had enjoyed her life in Xiomera. She had a longing inside her to remain.

"I'd like to stay in Xiomera, if I can, Empress. I do not know what would await me back home if I return now, and I have no family there, and quite possibly no friends if the others have not returned. I do not want to go back."

"Then you shall stay here, with my blessing and under my protection," Yauhmi replied. "And I am very glad you have chosen to remain with us. I am quite excited to see where your story leads." The Empress stood up. "We will inform the Council, unless you would like to deliver the message yourself."

"I doubt Councillor Pierre would much like to hear my voice," she said bitterly. "Uh, I mean, you can inform the Council, Empress, I have no desire to deliver the message personally."

Yauhmi laughed when Huatli mentioned Pierre, then rapidly explained when she saw the look of slight confusion on Huatli's face. "Sorry for laughing - I can quite understand why you don't wish to speak with Councillor Pierre. I have had my own conversation with her recently - explaining certain new realities to her," the Empress said with just a slight flash of what Xiomeran commentators had already termed her Imperial voice. "We will be more than happy to deliver the message. Is there anything else that you may need at this time?"

She shook her head. "What happens now, Empress?"

"What happens now....is that you can leave this room, and live your life. Without any clouds lingering over your shoulder any more. You're free - in every sense of the word," Yauhmi replied. She reached into her handbag, and handed Huatli a note. When Huatli opened it, it was a phone number, written on the Empress' personal stationary. "One last thing. I have been assured by President Arnott that there will be no repercussions for any Auroras that stay here. But, to be blunt, I trust the President but not all of her colleagues." Who the Empress meant by that was very clear even unspoken. "That number will connect you to my security detail. If you ever need that kind of help, it is at your disposal."

"Thank you, Empress. I am very grateful for this opportunity," said Huatli, looking down at the note gratefully.

The Empress simply nodded, giving Huatli another smile before walking out.

A clearly surprised but pleased Xochiqui entered the room, and made sure Huatli was transported back to her base.

When Huatli entered her quarters, she noticed an envelope on her desk. Surprised, she opened it. Inside were new insignia and rank tabs, along with a small note. Congratulations, Major Huatli. You made the right choice and earned this promotion today. Welcome home.

It was simply signed, Yauhmi.

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Re: The Hunt for Auroras

Post by Libertas Omnium Maximus » Mon Jan 06, 2020 1:26 am

Senieli Reserve Joint Military Base, Sentinel, Libertas Omnium Maximus
January 4th, 2020 - 5:00 PM (17:00)

Major Alice Johnson assumed that she was in the clear, to some extent. Her career in the armed forces dated back almost as long as some of the newest recruits in her company had been alive. Major Johnson had never so much as put a toe out of line. In fact, she was probably the ideal soldier. Alice Johnson followed every order without question, stood to attention the fastest when a superior entered the room, woke before Reveille, and made her bed to within an inch of specifications. If any Aurora was going to escape the Department of Internal Security, it was going to be her.

A folder was dropped nonchalantly into Johnson's lap just as she took a seat at her table in the base's mess hall. It was a perfectly uniform beige, just like the 3-400 she others she saw per day. What caught the major's eye, however, was the fact that the folder was surprisingly empty. If you were going to take the time to hand someone a file by hand, you usually made sure it had more than one page's worth of information.

Cautiously, Johnson turned to face the messenger who had given her the file in the first place. To her utmost surprise, the courier, a short blond officer, had broken proper procedure and left without reporting who he was delivering the file on behalf of. The young man had turned and was briskly walking away. He would be lost in the crowd before the major could ever reach him.

Johnson figured the officer was just tired or homesick (seeing as it was just four days ago that the man was probably partying with his family), pushed her drink aside, placed the the file on top of the table, and began to read the single page that had been sloppily stapled to the back of the folder.
LOM Department of Defense
Senieli Joint Reserve Base
Confidential: For Privileged Eyes Only

From the desk of Brigadier General Scott Nicholson
16th Reserve Regiment

To: Major Alice Johnson
2nd Reserve Company

MEMO

It is of the utmost importance that we meet in my office at 1710 today.
Something was completely off. Either national security was at stake and operational security protocols prohibited the general from telling the major anything of importance by pen or Johnson was being given some sort of a loyalty test. She had never had one before and didn't really think they were even a thing in Libertas Omnium Maximus. The Maximusian armed forces were tough but they also put a lot of faith in their soldiers. It was assumed from day one that you would protect your brothers-and-sisters-in-arms with your life. To the major, things just didn't add up.

Recognizing that her next move could have incredible consequences, Johnson decided that she would go to the office any way. Her loyalty could never be questioned. She would always follow her orders. Alice quickly jumped to her feet and left the mess hall. As the major exited the dinning facility the cold January air hit her, dispelling the discomfort of sitting in a stuffy room with hundreds of other people and awful food. She couldn't have known that this would be the final time she would feel the cool winter air as a free woman.

Major Alice Johnson knocked twice on the door of Nicholson's office before it opened, revealing no less than half a dozen men in black suits. She had no time to react. No time to think. It was a confined office space so there was nowhere to run. Before the major even realized what was happening the door had been shut behind her and a needle was in her arm.

The world spun violently as Johnson realized that this was her end. Her entire life had been leading up to this moment. She had even been given a final chance. She could have run and maybe even escaped but she instead followed her orders and suffered the consequences. She had failed.


Outside the office, fire alarms began to blare. Officially, Major Johnson was feeling unwell and went in to take a nap before the evening flags ceremony when her housing unit caught fire. She was too stubborn to leave. She refused to exit the building until she received confirmation that she was the last one in there. The building collapsed on her while she was attempting to exit. As you can imagine, the DIS agent who had cooked up the story was very proud of himself. Alice Johnson would die a hero, preserving the reputation of the Maximusian Armed Forces. No one would know the truth.

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Re: The Hunt for Auroras

Post by Libertas Omnium Maximus » Fri Jan 10, 2020 4:27 pm

(Written Jointly with Lauchenoiria

Location Unknown
Date Unknown - Time Unknown

The ten by ten room with no windows and a three inch thick steel door had been Janet Ashton's entire world for sometime now. Despite being locked in this room for over a month, she hadn't gotten at all used to the blaring siren noises that would wake her up anytime she tried to close her eyes for a minute or the seemingly random abuse she would receive from the guards. Her empty stomach growled loudly. She hadn't eaten in at least a week.

The huge metal door creaked open slowly, revealing a single pale man. This development took Ashton by surprise. She was expecting more guards to come in and throw her up against the wall before beating her with their batons.

"Mrs. Ashton, I'd like a word with you." The man stated in a voice so soft it could have passed for a whisper.

"What do you want?" she replied, her voice shaking, matching her body. She was so tired, and hungry, and in so much pain.

The man, who she now recognized as the Department of Internal Security's head, James Maguire, smiled eerily before answering.

"My dear, don't you think this torment has gone on long enough? What if I told you that I can make this hellhole a little more pleasant with every piece of information you give me regarding the Aurora Program? I could get the noises or the beatings to stop. Just say the word."

She looked up at him, her eyes betraying her desperation. "Please," she whispered. "I'll talk, I'll tell you what you want to know. I can't bear it any longer."

The director began grinning sinisterly. He languidly crouched next to her before resting his boney hand on her exposed shoulder bones.

"Tell me everything you know. Every name, every place, everything. Spill."

She shivered and pulled back almost subconsciously. "I grew up in the Aurora training centre in Kerlile, where my name was Jade. I came to LOM when I was 14 in order to begin building a cover story which would allow me to infiltrate the Department of Internal Security. I would be given further orders as to what I was meant to do there if I was ever activated." She looked up at him tentatively.

Still beaming like a madman, the director stood and began to walk towards the exit.

"Well," he began suddenly. "You won't have to worry about those siren noises anymore but if that's all the information you can provide then I'm afraid I can't give you any other privileges."

"Wait, wait, please!" she cried, crawling towards him. "I have more, don't go!" Tears had begun to form in the corner of her eyes. She was desperate. She couldn't bear it any longer. She thought that if she had to go through another day of this routine it would kill her.

The director spun to face her with startling speed. He then knelt next to Ashton and slapped her across the face.

"When I tell you to spill, you spill everything. Tell me all. Tell me right now. I swear that if you tell me everything you know right now your quality of life will improve immeasurably."

She began to cry. "I trained with other girls sent to other countries," she said in between sobs. "I remember ones sent to Shuell, Lauchenoiria and Iustos. Their names back then were Jacqueline, Janet and Jane. They name us each year with a different letter of the alphabet. I don't remember the names they took going to their assigned countries. Everyone in my year group was ordered to try and infiltrate the intelligence service of their country. I hadn't been activated, I'd never been given a mission, I was just doing my job and living as Janet Ashton like ordered and waiting to be called on. My Kerlian citizen ID is 19169223. Is there anything else you want to know? How we were trained? Anything? I'll tell you, just ask," she broke down into uncontrollable sobs, the stress of her imprisonment finally proving too much for her.

Maguire chuckled loudly. "See? All you have to do is tell me everything you know. The information you've provided me with so far, if true, will prove invaluable in the hunt for your friends. You have failed the matriarchy on all accounts but, as promised, you will be moved to a far less dismal abode. I'm going to leave this room and then your guards are going to escort you to a nice room. It has no windows and will still be locked at all times but at least you will get running water and a bed. You'll be fed on a regular basis and won't be tortured ever again. As you provide us more information, your accommodations will improve. If we decide you have truly revealed all of your secrets, we will trade you back to the Kerlians. Good day to you."

At that, Director Maguire left the room and closed the door behind him, leaving Janet all alone in her cell.

Her sobs died down, and she tried to take some deep breaths but she struggled. "You have failed the matriarchy on all accounts." His voice rang through her head as she gasped for breath. She put her hands to her mouth, her eyes wide. She retched, but with no food in her stomach there was nothing to throw up. She had betrayed the Matriarchy. She was weak. She crawled into the corner of her cell and began to sob once more.

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Re: The Hunt for Auroras

Post by Xiomera » Mon Jan 13, 2020 3:35 am

(Joint post with Lauchenoiria)

The Cauhloc

"We found one within the Secretariat?"

Zalpalatli's voice was incredulous. The Security Secretary looked at Calhualyana, his second in command, with slight alarm.

Calhualyana looked back with an expression of equal concern. "Yes. Granted, she's only a level 10 clerk, so she shouldn't have had access to anything sensitive. Still....she's an Aurora. We can't take it for granted that she didn't acquire anything potentially damaging to us." The us, in question, being the Xiomeran Empire.

Zalpalatli sighed deeply. "We'd better hope we're very convincing, then."

---

Two hours later, on a much lower floor of the Cauhloc, a grade XS-10 clerk in the ASI Directorate of Analysis logged into her computer and began her workday. She sipped her coffee and began transcribing the endless rows of data that were a low-ranking analyst's life. She had just begun when her superior, Tlahchē, tapped her on the shoulder. "Zichitla? Can you come with me, please?"

Standing behind him were two other ASI agents. They were with Ops, not Analysis. Field agents. Crap, Zichitla thought. She briefly considered trying to run or fight her way out of the office, then remembered that she was in a fortress full of Xiomera's best agents. She instead smiled and said, "Of course, sir. Is something wrong?" Zichitla asked, walking with them down the hall to a conference room.

"No, no, we're just going to ask some questions. Everyone's being checked, you know. Orders of the new Empress, can't be too careful after her husband's assassination," Tlahchē said.

You're lying, Tlahchē, Zichitla thought. She had worked with the man long enough to learn the subtle giveaways that he displayed when he was not being truthful. But having no other option, she went with the men.

Inside the conference room, two female "analysts" sat waiting. Calhualyana was one of them. The other one was a shock to Zichitla: Tlalmaxxi, the wife of the Crown Prince. Zichitla's sense of oh shit intensified.

"Hello, Zichitla. Please have a seat. We have a few questions for you," Calhualyana said politely.

She sat down, smiling at the pair and acting as natural as she could. "Of course, what do you want to know?"

"It's not anything we need to know. Rather, it's just something we need confirmed, and we're hoping you can do that for us," Calhualyana replied in a neutral tone as the men exited the room. "We received some interesting data from one of our sources within the government of Kerlile. Perhaps you can analyze it for us." Calhualyana passed a small card over to Zichitla. On it was the same information that the Empress had received from Jennifer Hale concerning Zichitla: her Xiomeran name and her Kerlian citizen ID number.

"What can you tell us about this data?" Calhualyana asked expectantly.

She looked down at the card and her heart sank. She didn't want to think about what might happen next. "Well, I see my name and an eight-digit number. It is not much to work from," she said quietly.

"But you're one of the best analysts at your level in the entire Agency," Calhualyana said in response. "Your performance has been highly noteworthy. Surely an analyst of your caliber can extrapolate something from the information I've provided."

Zichitla squeezed one of her hands into a fist, digging her nails in slightly. She was in trouble now, there was no way out of it. "Well... it is known that some nations use eight-digit identification numbers for their citizens. Including Kerlile, and we have all heard of the threat of so-called Auroras recently. In another context I would suggest a name next to a number like that might indicate that such an individual would be one of these Auroras," she said, her voice becoming quieter and quieter until it was almost a whisper.

"It would indeed suggest that," Calhualyana said quietly. "As would your tone of voice."

Tlalmaxxi coughed slightly. "We probably don't need to draw this out. I think we all have our cards on the table," the Crown Princess said in a noticeably warmer tone than Calhualyana. "We know that you're part of the Aurora Programme, Zichitla. We're already in communication with Kerlile's government on this matter. There is no need to hide it anymore."

Zichitla took a deep breath and sat up straighter. "I will not tell you anything, regardless of what you do to me."

"I had hoped you would know us better than that by now," Tlalmaxxi said with a look of dismay. "We don't intend to harm you. Xiomera and Kerlile are not enemies, after all."

She narrowed her eyes at them. "You claim you are in communication with the Kerlian government. Did they give you my name?"

"That information.....was not provided to us by our source," Tlalmaxxi said carefully. "Only the ID number was provided, most likely for your protection. But we were provided enough information to make this assessment."

Zichitla closed her eyes. Someone from the Matriarchy had evidently sold her out, she thought. She took a shaky breath and opened her eyes. "If you do not intend to harm me, what do you intend to do?"

"We intend to offer you a choice. The Empress, in her wisdom, has seen fit to come to an arrangement with President Arnott. Any Auroras in Xiomera can return to Kerlile, if they wish, without any issues on our part. However, recognizing the value and merit of such individuals, she is also offering the opportunity to remain in Xiomera in her service. For talented and skilled individuals, the possibilities are limitless in Xiomera, as are the rewards. We're hoping that you will consider putting your talents to work here. You are Xiomeran, even if raised in Kerlile, so we're hoping you will decide to stay," the Crown Princess replied, a hopeful smile on her face.

Zichitla narrowed her eyes suspiciously. She did not trust the offer. She had been taught that capture meant torture and death, and this was too different for her to feel like it was real. "So if I was to say I wanted to return to Kerlile and walk out this door, you wouldn't stop me?" she asked, sceptically.

"Well.....we'd have to escort you out, to be sure, but yes, essentially," Tlalmaxxi said softly. "You would be allowed to return to Kerlile without repercussion. That is the promise the Empress has made."

"And my alternative is to... stay here? Continue with my job, even though you know what I am?"

"Yes. You would be asked to swear loyalty to the Empress and to Xiomera, but yes. What you are - who you are - is not a negative thing, in our estimation," Tlalmaxxi replied. "In fact, it could lead to great things, both for Xiomera and for yourself. With your skills, you certainly wouldn't remain a clerk for long."

She sat, and looked down. She wondered whether or not the offer was genuine. If it was, she had made her decision. If not, then whatever scheme they had concocted would be revealed soon enough. "I am loyal to the Matriarchy," she said. "And I wish to return there."

Tlalmaxxi seemed saddened by this decision. "Is there nothing I can say that would convince you otherwise?"

"I don't understand why you want me to stay," she replied. "You would surely always doubt my loyalties."

"Blood is thicker than water, as they say," Tlalmaxxi replied. "Xiomera is the land of your ancestors. In all the world, there is only one Xiomera. Wherever Xiomerans may live, or whatever may become of them, this is always their home. Even if they have left it, or never knew it, they can always come home again. So the Empress has declared," Tlalmaxxi replied, a clear sense of pride in both Yauhmi, and Xiomera, in her voice. "That is what drives us to make this offer. Just as the Empress is, in a way, a mother to all Xiomerans, this land is their motherland, whether they believe it or not. That's why."

"I..." Zichitla hesitated. She was beginning to believe the offer was genuine, but it wasn't enough. "I am loyal to Kerlile. I do not know the reasons why my ancestors left Xiomera, or even who they were, but I have a purpose and since I can no longer serve that purpose here, I must return home. To the Matriarchy."

"I understand. If you change your mind....you know where Xiomera is. Even if you leave, you can always come back," Tlalmaxxi said.

Calhualyana stood up. "We will need to make arrangements for your return. Please wait here," she said, a neutral expression on her face.

Tlalmaxxi seemed surprised by Calhualyana standing up, but smiled politely at Zichitla and followed her out of the room.

Once out of the room, and out of earshot of Zichitla, Calhualyana walked to an elevator. "Where are you going?" Tlalmaxxi said, confused.

"To see the Secretary. This is not acceptable. Zichitla cannot be allowed to leave."

"The Empress made our position very clear," Tlalmaxxi said.

"The other Auroras were different. This one was inside the Security Secretariat," Calhualyana replied.

"She was just a clerk," Tlalmaxxi protested.

Calhualyana snorted. "There is no way of knowing how much a trained agent could have infiltrated ASI, even in such a low-ranking position. It is too much of a risk."

Tlalmaxxi knew Calhualyana wouldn't be convinced to drop the matter by a mere analyst, even one who happened to be a Crown Princess. She rode up to the top floor in silence with the Undersecretary.

When they reached his office, Zalpalatli was waiting for them, an expectant look on his face. "She said no," Tlalmaxxi said. The Security Secretary sighed. "Very well. We should prepare to return her to Kerlile then - "

"I have serious concerns about letting her leave," Calhualyana said. "She was working in ASI. We haven't properly assessed what knowledge she may have obtained from her position, or what infiltration she may have committed. We must, at a minimum, do a proper investigation of all that before we release her."

"She was only a clerk. She's a twenty-two year old kid," Tlalmaxxi said plaintively.

"She is a highly trained foreign agent," Calhualyana snapped, giving Tlalmaxxi a look that clearly branded her as naive.

Zalpalatli sighed again. "Calhualyana, I'm touched that you think so highly of me, but we all know it's not my decision," he said wryly. He turned to his desk, dialing up a quick video-conference.

Eventually, on one of the wall screens behind him, Empress Yauhmi appeared. "Secretary Zalpalatli. Is there a problem?" Yauhmi asked, slightly annoyed that she was being called again by one of her subordinates in the middle of the day.

"An update, rather, your Majesty," Zalpalatli said. "We located another Aurora, within ASI. She is named Zichitla, and she is an XS-10 clerk..."

"I trust you have made my offer to her," Yauhmi said, reaching over to a nearby bowl and popping a grape into her mouth.

"Yes. She declined, your Majesty. She wants to return to Kerlile."

Yauhmi sighed, nodding. "That is unfortunate. Go ahead and make the arrangements to return her to Kerlile."

"Um, there's a problem with that, your Majesty," Zalpalatli said. Yauhmi's lips curled upward in a sharp expression at that statement.

"Your Majesty, I must respectfully object to returning this individual to Kerlile," Calhualyana said urgently.

"Undersecretary Calhualyana. Explain," Yauhmi said in an uninviting tone.

"This person is a highly trained foreign agent who has infiltrated the Security Secretariat headquarters. We have not investigated her actions at all. It would be a major security breach to just let her go home without interrogation and investigation," Calhualyana said.

"I promised the Kerlians the Auroras could go home without harm. Do you propose to make me a liar, Undersecretary?" Yauhmi said coolly.

"I understand your promise, your Majesty, but again with respect, we must ensure our national security," Calhualyana replied.

Yauhmi's expression grew even colder. "I am well aware of the need for security. I lost a husband due to the lack of it," the Empress said. "But I made a promise. I do not break my promises. I have made my decision, and I expect everyone who is in my service to be on the same page with me and enact my decisions - without having to call me every hour."

"With respect, your Majesty, ASI serves the country, not any one particular individual, which is why I raised my objection," Calhualyana said.

Zalpalatli and Tlalmaxxi stared at Calhualyana as if she had just sprouted a second head. Their expressions said it all.

"Undersecretary Calhualyana, I am the country. Serving me is serving Xiomera, and vice-versa. I suggest you figure that out very quickly. I do not have time for people who are not all in with me, nor does the country."

A stray grape rolled off the bowl, falling onto the table. Yauhmi coolly took out a dagger and jabbed it into the grape to keep it from rolling off the table. The thunk of the dagger into the wood could be heard through the excellent video conference system.

Realizing she was in danger, Calhualyana shut up. She found herself feeling a rare emotion for an ASI agent: fear. Of both Yauhmi, and her ambition.

Into the silence, Zalpalatli spoke up. "We will execute your command at once, your Majesty."

Yauhmi cut the call off on her end, not even bothering with a reply.

Back in the conference room, after the others left, Zichitla sat back in her chair and fiddled nervously with her fingers. She had begun to believe their offer was genuine, but she was beginning to have doubts again. Perhaps it was only the silence, but she could hear her heart beating so loudly. She took some deep breaths to calm herself, and prayed to the Goddess that she would be safe.

After about 30 minutes, the door opened again. Tlalmaxxi walked into the room. Calhualyana was notably absent.

"Everything is arranged. You will be escorted home to make any arrangements needed before you leave, and do any needed packing. You'll then be placed on a flight back to Kerlile; any larger items or anything you can't pack now can be shipped back to you in Kerlile if you wish." The Crown Princess paused again. "If that's really want you want....it's still not too late to change your mind, you know."

"I do appreciate the kind offer to continue my life here," she replied carefully, relieved that they were still offering to let her leave, "but I would be living in fear that one day the offer would be rescinded. And I will not renounce my loyalty to the Matriarchy."

"I understand. I'm sorry we couldn't change your mind. But you are still welcome to return to Xiomera at any point." Tlalmaxxi turned to the open door. "Please follow the two agents who are in the hall. They will ensure your safe return to Kerlile. I wish you the best of luck."

"Thank you," she said, nodding as she exited the door, nervously, still slightly worried that this was some kind of trap.

The two agents escorting Zichitla out of the Cauhloc as she finalized her affairs and prepared to leave Xiomera were polite and professional, almost to a fault. Zalpalatli, having had the fear of Empress placed into him, made sure of that.

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Re: The Hunt for Auroras

Post by Lauchenoiria » Fri Jan 17, 2020 8:41 pm

Unknown Location, Lauchenoiria
17th January 2020 – early morning

Kerrie Lee waited until just before they came into her cell with her meagre breakfast. She had been biding her time, getting used to the routine and conserving her strength by ignoring her interrogators and sleeping as much as she could. Her interrogators had yet to physically hurt her, she hadn’t visibly resisted, and she had adopted a permanent facial expression of slight boredom whenever someone was watching. Which, generally, was always.

She was lying on her bed, the too-thin blanket lying to the side where she’d kicked it off while seemingly tossing and turning in the night. It was freezing but she didn’t want her movements to be restricted. She was feigning sleep, and waiting until she heard the tell-tale sounds of a key turning in her cell door. She waited until they had opened the door, with one stepping inside in order to wake her, and then she moved.

With surprising speed, she flew out of bed and landed a kick in the guard’s stomach, throwing the woman against the wall hard enough to knock her unconscious. Before the other guard outside could even react, Kerrie had punched her in the face, stunning her a little. Someone grabbed her from behind – a man – so she pushed her weight against her assailant and used it to kick the woman in front of her, knocking her out just as easily as her compatriot.

The man cried out for help, but he needed both his arms to restrain her as she fought against him, which meant that he didn’t react quickly enough when she managed to get an arm free, grab his own gun from its holster and shoot him in the head as he was holding her. She dropped to the ground as his grip loosened and she stood for a moment, breathing heavily. She had been acting on the strange instinct of an Aurora – she hadn’t actually expected to successfully kill him with one shot.

Shaking her head, she spun and headed in the direction of where she thought the exit was. They had tried hard to disorient her, but she was well-trained and she had managed to create a mental map of the facility in which she was imprisoned days ago. She moved quickly, turning corners silently with the gun she’d stolen from the guard. She was aware she was likely leaving a trail of the man’s blood and she felt a little sick. Apparently, she hated killing.

“Stop her!” someone called from behind her. She ducked around a corner and quickly glanced back, but they were not yet visible. She continued. When she stumbled upon a startled and terrified looking person wearing the uniform of a cleaner, she refrained from shooting the woman, instead running past quickly. The red footprints she was tracking along the corridors meant she could hardly avoid being followed anyway. All that mattered was speed.

She turned another corner, right next to where she believed the exit to be, and the world tipped upside down.

She was lying on her back on the ground, dazed. Her head hurt, ached really. She let out an involuntary moan of pain. She was pinned, they must have tackled her. People were yelling, but she couldn’t really make out what they were saying. Her vision was blurry, but she managed to catch a glimpse of the doctor who had examined her when she’d first been captured. He was looking at her head.

She moaned again, and reached out towards him, then the darkness took over and she fell unconscious.

*

Lorentonia, Lauchenoiria

Emelia Gómez looked around her house one more time and sighed. The boxes were all packed, as if she was moving, but she wouldn’t be joining them at their destination. On paper, she was moving to Summersea with her husband in order to take a new job. But really, she was going home in order to retire from the job she’d been secretly doing since her teens. Emelia had decided to return to Kerlile.

“Well, I suppose we should get going,” her husband Tom said, walking up and putting his arm around her. She nodded and then turned around to hug him. “Finding it tough to leave, huh?”

“Yeah, something like that,” she said, glancing back over her shoulder.

She had loved him, when they first married. She still did, in a way, but time had weakened it. He cared for her, but he had wanted children and their relationship hadn’t been the same after she had failed to give him any. Of course, she had been trying her very best not to get pregnant – she knew it was far too dangerous for her. So, they had drifted apart over time, even though they still got on well.

She kissed him goodbye and got in her car, while he got in his. She was thankful they had two vehicles and thus couldn’t travel together, or her plan would have been ruined. She wanted him and their belongings out of the house she’d lived in so she could remove any clues as to her real identity that she had gathered over the years. And to get Tom far away from somewhere he’d be reminded of her.

Tom drove off first, and Emelia followed, making sure to hang back at the first set of traffic lights she saw about to change. Using this technique, she fell farther and farther behind him, until there was no way he could see her in his mirror. Then, she turned north and headed through the forest, heading for the Kerlian border and left Lauchenoiria for the final time.

Democratic Republic Of Eiria
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Re: The Hunt for Auroras

Post by Democratic Republic Of Eiria » Fri Jan 17, 2020 11:49 pm

(Joint Post with Lauchenoira)

Point Omega, Eiria
January 7th

Senior Commander Roman Wilson sat at his Guest in Point Omega, a secret and highly secure military base in Eiria. His desk was cluttered with papers noting the current operations, and all of them were the same, except for one. He picked up a thick manila folder marked "S-10, Operation Eden Overview" and read. A picture of a young woman was the first document, marked "Sarah Elset-Duffy, Captured 12-24-19". He called his assistant, Henry. "Schedule an Interrogation for today for Her". He pointed to the picture. "As soon as she finishes lunch. Room 18-A, if possible". Henry nodded. "Yes Sir".

Sarah Elset-Duffy lay in her cell, her face blank, staring at the ceiling. She had hoped to avoid ever being caught, but alas she was not so fortunate. Still, she wasn't overly worried. She was in Eiria, they were hardly likely to torture her. No, she wouldn't tell them anything.

A soldier in a dark, Navy Blue uniform, unlocked her cell. He gestured with his gun. "Up. Come on". The soldier was accompanied by seven other guards, and two grabbed her arms as she walked out. They brought her down the hall into a room with two chairs and a metal table, which her handcuffs were quickly attached to. A man occupied the chair across from her. "Miss Elset-Duffy. Welcome".

She remained silent, smirking at him and glancing around. She didn't intend to be very cooperative.

He Grinned back. "Not very Talkative, eh? Well, we may not make you talk with torture, because we aren't complete monsters, but we certainly have other ways to compell you to be more sharing".

She raised an eyebrow, surprised they would even mention the word torture. "Oh?" She asked casually.

He nodded. "Actually, you are hurting yourself by not talking. After all, we have all the evidence we need, and you have a husband and infant son at home. Alex and young Cameron?".

Her heart skipped a beat. "I know you won't hurt them, so you can forget about making those threats," she snarled.

He looked suprised. "I'm appalled that you thought that was what I was implying. Of course we'd never harm them. But we have enough evidence to get you at least fifteen years in prison. Cameron is three. That means you will get out when he is Eighteen. He won't remember you. And when he asks his father what happened to you, what will he say? That you died? That you were secretly a spy and now are in federal prison? By staying quiet, you are choosing to miss you son's childhood. If you work with us, we'll have you back much sooner, so you will actually get the chance to watch your child grow".

She paused, confused. "I'll miss it whatever happens, surely? You think I'm a Kerlian spy, so won't you deport me to Kerlile once my sentence is over? Assuming you manage to convict me," she added.

"If you don't cooperate, sure. But if you cooperate, I'm sure you could stay. After all, you wouldn't want to go back anyway if you help us. We can help you have a decent life, and actually have a family, without having to worry about someone finding out about you or what your next mission will be. When it comes to quality of life, Eiria certainly beats Kerlile, Yeah?".

She gritted her teeth and tried to prevent the tears that were threatening to fall. "My husband probably hates me now, and I doubt any court would give me custody. No, my life here is over."

"He does not hate you. In fact, on Christmas Eve, when we met with him to explain the situation, he asked our agents when he will see you next. He was desperate. He loves you. We could probably arrange a call, if you'd like. He is suprisingly loyal to you".

She looked into her interrogator's eyes, searching to see if she could tell if it was the truth. "Well..." she hesitated. "Say I was a Kerlian agent. What would you want me to do in exchange for such a call?"

He grinned. "With an admission, you can have all the calls you'd like. Extra information will shorten your sentence in prison exponentially". He sat forward. "So?".

She sat silently, thinking. On the one hand, admitting she was an Aurora was treason. She was a loyal Kerlian. But on the other hand, she had a chance of living a life again. A real one.
"I'm a Kerlian agent, sent here to infiltrate Eiria," she said finally.

The Interrogator smiled wide, overjoyed. "Thank you very much, Miss Elset-Duffy. Would you like that call now, or later, so you can shorten your sentence a bit more first?".

"Before I tell you anything," she said, staring him in the eyes sincerely, "I need to know that you can protect me and my family for any retaliation by the Matriarchy."

He nodded assuredly. "Of course. We will ensure you and their safety. Now, keep in mind you will have occasional inspections to ensure you aren't relaying more information to Kerlile, and you will be monitored, and you probably won't be able to hold a government job. Either than that, you are free after prison. Now, do you know any of the other agents sent to Eiria?".

"No," she shook her head. "They deliberately make sure we don't. I only know the identities of others in my training class, and they were sent to different countries."

He nodded. "Unfortunate, but understandable. We would like to know about those in your class, but at a different time. How did they train you, and who was in charge?".

"We are trained from early childhood in a centre somewhere in the Kerlian countryside. We go through normal school lessons but also learn martial arts, how to use weaponry, infiltration techniques and, when a little older, how to resist torture. There were women in charge on a day-to-day basis, but I imagine they used false names. They answered to Councillor Pierre, however. She was ultimately in charge though she only visited the facility every few months."

He wrote a few things down. "Okay. Well, Madame, if you'd like, we can talk later, so you can call your husband. Your help is very much appreciated".

She nodded, and smiled a little. She knew she shouldn't be doing this, but she had one weakness. Her own childhood had been terrible, and she so desperately wanted to make sure her son had something different.

The Interrogator Gestured to the guards behind her. "Take her to the phones in section D". He picked up his notes. "Have a good day, Mrs. Elset-Duffy".

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Re: The Hunt for Auroras

Post by Shen » Sun Jan 26, 2020 3:24 pm

Rulon Studios, Biaking, 11:45 AM,

The tall heels of Bin Zhi expensive new shoes clicked along the floor as she power walked from the elevator to the studio set.

These interviews where some of the least enjoyable things that she had to do as part of her career as the head writer of Shen Toros Wacky World

But they were an expected part of her job. Being the head writer didnt just mean she was a writer. It also meant that she was a major face amonst the crew of the show, and had to participate in the heavily coordinated effort to keep it relevant in the media as it came back from its Lunar New Year hiatus.

These events were always somewhat nerve-wracking. But everything felt even more off today than it usually did. The 30 year olds wrighter elected to ignore it though. Deciding that that feeling must just be the usual nervousness that came with this kind of work. Oh how she loathed the burning flames of the talk show lights. Violently scolding her light skin. Boring hosts offering her the same banal questions, Time After Time.

It was enough to make her want to quit her job. But in the end she did so very much loved her job. And she was serving a larger purpose than anyone truly knew . So she endure.

Bin Zhi finally met up with one of the show's assistance. She didn't say much just enough to tell the her that's she had to follow her. The pair walked into the back area behind the actual set of the filming location. The set was empty but that wasn't unusual. In the Empire sets were almost always empty and then the audience reaction was added in later. allowing that level of organic interaction was far above with the despotic cultural Ministry would want. Everything on TV had to be controled down to the reaction of the live studio audience.

So the head writer walked into the dressing room that the stage attending pointed out to her. They exchanged Pleasant standard knods with no real emotional display between them. Simply following the unwritten protocol of social interactions.

She sat down in front of the mirror. Makup left in front of her, to use to her discression. To her right side, a table with a gift basket bearing her name. She didn't bother looking at it electing to collect the small collection of chocolates, fruits, and gift certificates after the interview was over.

Bin absent-mindedly dabbed foundation on to her face. Killing the minutes to her interview trying to perfect the light layer of makeup.

She was looking into the mirror making sure that everything was progressing in the right direction with her makeup when she caught it out of the corner of her eye. A sickly Green Smoke started to pour out of the air vents. Before she could get a second chance she felt the painful stinging as a peppery sensation filled her eyes. The inside of her nostrils burnt and so did her tongue as that Poisonous are came close to her.

Not wasting any time, the Auoria in hidding bolted towards the door. Thankfully she found it open. But as soon as she pushed her way out of that smoke filled hell a riot shield with slammed into her face. Her nose broke and blood started to gush out. Pouring from the shattered cartilage down to her chin.

The stunned secret agent fell back. Police officers dressed up in their riot gear shouted at her. Telling her to stop moving as they pointed their rifles that are varied she didn't care. Her training kicked in, as she ripped open her handbag. Searching for the delicate little pill inside. Before the officer had a chance to stop her she had it in her hand. Desperately rushing it towards her mouth. Ready to end her life to prevent the secrets contained within her mind from leaving the matriarchy. But as the pill burhsed against her lips, Thunder cracked as black powder ignite behind a ball of Steel. It tour through the air, beflre slicing itno her stomach, ripping aprt her apodment, before existing out the other side. The enormous pain of the bullet tearing through her stomach

The pill blew from her hand and landed on the dirty floor. The intense pain of everything that had just happened finally got to her she fell forward. Feeling the unnatural flow of warmth, dirpping fomr her abdomen and soaking into her dress. The last thing she felt with this cold as that same dress was torn from her, and paramedics rushed in to save her

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Re: The Hunt for Auroras

Post by Laeral » Mon Jan 27, 2020 12:41 am

Althea, Laeral
January 25, 2020

Espoir Landais, one of the Bureau of External Action agents investigating Auroras in Laeral, was sick and tired of papers. On the desk in front of her at the BEA house in Althea were stacks of relevant information regarding the Kerlile Human Rights Initiative, a non-profit human rights organization headquartered in the city of Althea. Immigration records. Naturalization documents. Employee evaluations. Transcripts of over a dozen interviews she and her partner, Joseph Wu, had held with various employees at the KHRI. She'd been working with Wu in Althea for around six weeks, even longer than usual for an operation of this magnitude. She'd heard horror stories of BEA agents spending months and months working to investigate a single target, only to find that there wasn't the evidence to prove them an enemy spy.

By those standards, this job wasn't bad. She'd just hardly spoken with anyone but Wu for the past six weeks, besides the three days she'd been able to take for Christmas with her family. Wu had just gotten back from Lunar New Year with his parents in Hanshui himself.

Over the past six weeks, they'd spent hours talking with the various Kerlian defectors and Laeralian analysts working for the KHRI. Espoir herself had gotten to know Hannah Sinclair, the former Kerlian diplomat who'd defected to Laeral in 2008 and now knew seemingly everyone within the Kerlian expat community. After hours of discussion over many cups of tea with Ms. Sinclair- Espoir could never seem to get herself to call her Hannah- she'd come up with a list of various dissidents and staffers at the KHRI who might have been tied to the Aurora Program.

Isabella Monaghan, the Executive Director of the KHRI, had been quite willing to help as well- as it turned out, she had been expecting Kerlian spies in her organization for a long time, and she'd reacted to the news of the Aurora Program with grim acceptance, before providing Wu and Espoir with a list of names and a promise of full access to the organization's employee records. For weeks, they'd been poring over these records, interviewing various employees and contacts in search of any sign that someone they knew might not be whom they claimed. They'd been able to eliminate many of the names on their list, until just a handful remained, ordered by Wu and Espoir's assessments of how likely they were to be Auroras. It was this list of three names, sitting on the desk in front of her, that Espoir was staring at by the light of a desk lamp.

There was a knock at the door, and Wu walked in. Espoir's senior partner had a grim expression on her face, telling Espoir all she needed to know.

"The judge denied the warrant," Wu said.

"Shit!" Espoir said. "Shit, shit, shit! You're serious. Nothing at all?"

"They said we don't have enough evidence to constitute reasonable suspicion on any of them," Wu said. "Nothing but conjecture. Turns out Judge Sylvain wasn't as friendly to the investigation as Command thought."

"So are we done?" Espoir asked. "What do we do next? Do we have to just give up the investigation?"

"Command wanted all four of them brought in for questioning," Wu said. "I just got off the phone with Command, and they still want us to bring in as many as we can without arousing suspicion. I think that's one."

"One of these people that we can arrest for questioning?" Espoir said. "I assume you have a plan to bring them in without the judge's warrant?"

"There's a plan," Wu said. His gaze drifted to the first name on the list. "Sharon Quan," he said. "That's who we're bringing in, then."

Sharon Quan was a fairly high-ranking employee of the Kerlile Human Rights Initiative. As Assistant Director for Dissident Assistance, her role was less involved with the lobbying and publication work done by the rest of the organization, instead working to help Kerlian dissidents who had fled to Laeral adjust to their new home. She had come to Laeral with her grandparents in 1995, both of whom had since died of old age. The evidence to prove that she was an Aurora was fairly slim- a few suspicious interactions with dissidents and KHRI employees, a well-known interest in meeting policymakers and members of the dissident community, and a tendency to involve herself in projects- such as the 2019 Kerlile Human Rights Annual Report- that were outside of her area of expertise. Nevertheless, she was the most likely suspect Wu and Espoir had, and so her name was at the top of the list.

"Do you really think she's an Aurora?" Wu asked. Before Espoir could figure out what to say, he amended his question. "If you had to give me a percentage chance she's an Aurora, what would you say?"

Espoir thought for a moment. "40 percent."

"Even after all the research and interviews?"

"40 percent," Espoir said. "But the people further down the list are probably somewhere around 25."

"We'll bring her in, then," Wu said. He seemed to sense her discomfort with arresting someone without a warrant for a chance of less than a coin-flip. "I don't like this much more than you do," he said, "but it's not like she'll be thrown in jail forever. We'll have maybe two weeks with her in custody before the judicial system springs into motion and we're forced to release her- assuming we don't get any evidence out of her before then."

"So when do we take her in?" Espoir asked.

"Tomorrow," Wu said. "I've made the arrangements. Let me explain the plan..."
Althea, Laeral
January 26, 2020
Wu sipped the cup of cheap coffee he'd gotten from the cafe down the street, and looked at the entrance to the classical French-style building that housed the Kerlile Human Rights Initiative. He wore a coat to ward off the early morning chill- it was around 9 in the morning- underneath which he wore the stab-proof vest of the Immigration Enforcement Agency. Behind him, four officers of Immigration Enforcement were standing, looking uncomfortable in civilian clothing.

"Are you in position?" Wu said over the radio.

"I'm here at the back door," Espoir said. "Ready on your word."

"Good," Wu said. "Van's in position, and the team's ready. We're going in."

With a word to the four Immigration Enforcement men behind him, Wu and the others set off across the street towards the KHRI offices, pulling a baseball cap with Immigration Enforcement's initials onto his head.

"Can I help you?" the receptionist at the desk asked in French.

"Immigration Enforcement," Wu said. The man behind him flashed his badge. "We're here on official business. Executive Director Monaghan was made aware of our operation."

Without waiting for a reply from the receptionist, Wu set off across the KHRI's lobby, stepping into the elevator and pressing the button for the second floor. An outside observer might wonder why an Immigration Enforcement team knew the interior layout of the building so well, but Wu had spent time planning the route he and the Enforcement officers would take. They couldn't afford to let their quarry slip away.

The elevator doors opened onto a large room full of cubicles, with doors leading to conference rooms and individual offices off to one side. Wu and the officers stepped out, walking quickly across the carpeted floor and past the water cooler. The team was about halfway through the room full of cubicles when the various staffers started to notice them, and he could see them giving the Immigration Enforcement men sidelong glances. Immigration Enforcement wasn't popular, especially in a workplace made up of human rights advocates and numerous refugees from Kerlile.

They reached Sharon Quan's office, and Wu pulled the door open, letting the Immigration Enforcement men flow inside, nightsticks in hand. Behind the desk, typing on a desktop computer, was Quan herself, a middle-aged Rén woman in a business suit with a horrified, stricken look on her face as she saw the officers.

"Immigration Enforcement!" Wu said. "You're being taken into custody on charges of being a resident of the Allied Provinces of Laeral illegally and under false documentation." One of the Immigration Enforcement men came around behind her desk, forcing her out of her office chair and cuffing her.

"I'm a Laeralian citizen!" Sharon said. "What are you doing?"

One of the immigration officers began reading Sharon her rights as the others began to escort her firmly out of her office.

"Get her computer and any personal possessions," Wu said to the fourth officer. He himself picked up Sharon's smartphone and slipped it into his pocket before following the immigration officers.

"I have a husband and a kid!" Sharon said. "I've lived here for 25 years! I've done nothing wrong!"

"That's for the courts to decide," one of the immigration officers said. Two of them were bringing her along by the shoulders as they walked down the hallway towards the elevator. Wu turned a corner to see one of Sharon's coworkers with a smartphone, recording the arrest. There was an expression of impotent fury on his face as he watched the immigration officers frog-marching Sharon down the hall. Wu brushed past him, as did the others, as Sharon kept protesting the sudden arrest.

There was a long stretch of cubicles before they could reach the elevator, and as Sharon kept shouting, Wu saw her coworkers standing up from the desks around the room to look on, angry and outraged expressions on their faces. A few of the others had started recording the whole spectacle on their phones, the well-dressed professional woman being escorted out in handcuffs by Immigration Enforcement.

"Shame!" someone shouted, and Wu kept his gaze forward, focused on the elevator. "Shame!" they shouted again, and then more and more voices started joining them. "Shame! Shame! Shame!"

They were almost to the elevator when one woman, an expression of hardened defiance on her face, stepped in front of the elevator doors. "Don't you take her away," she shouted. "Don't you take Director Quan away like this!"

"Ma'am, get out of the way," the Immigration Enforcement officer behind Wu said.

The woman, who might have been in her late forties, shook her head. "This isn't Kerlile. You don't get to take someone away like this."

"This is a law enforcement operation," the officer said. He pulled out his baton from his belt, and held it in his hands. "Step out of the way, or you'll be arrested for obstructing law enforcement."

"I was in Kerlile," the woman said. "They took me away once, to a camp. There's nothing you can do to me that would compare to that. But you can't take one of us away like this. Not Sharon."

Wu stepped forward before the immigration officer could say another word. "Ma'am, Ms. Quan is being taken for questioning. She'll be given a fair trial or released within two weeks." The woman's fierce expression didn't change. "Ma'am, my name is Joseph Wu. Let me write down my phone number-" he pulled a scrap of paper and a pen from a nearby desk, and wrote his phone number on it before handing it to her. "That's my personal phone number. You can call me to make sure that she's being well-treated. You don't need to get arrested today. Just step aside, and you have my word that she'll be treated well. You can even call me, using that number, to make sure."

The woman stared him in the eye for a moment, her gaze flickering to the nightstick in the officer's hand, before accepting the card and slowly stepping aside. Wu nodded to her and pressed the elevator button. The elevator came a second later, and the officers stepped inside, Wu waiting until the last second possible to break eye contact with the woman. They rode downstairs in silence- even Sharon Quan had stopped protesting- and marched her out of the front lobby to the waiting Immigration Enforcement van, before putting her in the back and driving away from the scene.

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Re: The Hunt for Auroras

Post by Lauchenoiria » Tue Jan 28, 2020 5:08 pm

University of Carville, Lauchenoiria
28th January 2020

Professor Amaya Morse sighed as she continued marking essays from postgraduate students. She taught a module in Neurology and Gender, which had become increasingly popular in recent years, with the side effect that she now had far more marking than she would enjoy. Her theories on epigenetic factors producing differences in male and female neurology, as opposed to genetic factors present from birth were gaining traction across Lauchenoiria, and she was pleased.

She enjoyed her research immensely, and had devoted much of her life to her career, sacrificing her social life for it. She had never been in a relationship, which was fine by her - she viewed romance as a distraction from the intellectual pursuits in life. She loved her job as a researcher, and she didn’t mind teaching either - when the students were behaving, at least. She had almost forgotten her second, secret job. She hadn’t reported back in years, and she rarely checked for emergency messages any more. She was quite convinced she would never be called on, and that suited her just fine.

Knock, knock.

“Enter!” she called, not looking up from the essay. She got a lot of visitors to her office, students with questions and staff wanting to run theories by her, and that one janitor with the irritating crush.

“Professor Morse?” asked a voice she didn’t recognise. She glanced up. It was a man wearing a dark suit, well built and older than the typical graduate student. Something about him made her pause.

“Yes, that’s me. Can I help you with something?”

“I need you to come with me,” the man said. She scoffed, and gestured to her essay.

“I’m busy just now, whatever it is will have to wait,” she said, crossing out an incorrectly spelled word and writing the correction above it.

“I’m afraid that won’t be acceptable,” the man said, and the door creaked as a second figure entered. She looked up again, slowly. Ah, she thought. Her office was on the 8th floor, there was no way out - or, at least, not unless it was permanently.

“Look, please, I just need to mark this essay,” she said suddenly, pleading a little. “I haven’t done anything, I’ll tell you later, just…”

They stepped closer to her, quickly, a third one appearing with a weapon drawn. Amaya closed her eyes and grimaced as they grabbed her arm and pulled her to her feet. She stood, breathing deeply, in and out, in and out, as they handcuffed her and began to march her down the corridor. She opened her eyes again, to see where she was going, and remained silent, an expression of heartbreak on her face.

“Please, I never even did anything for them…” she whispered almost to herself. She’d become so used to her life here that she didn’t want it to end, she didn’t want to go back to her terrible childhood and a time of no free will and no choices. They had given her the skills to create a good life for herself in spite of her circumstances, she would give them that. But she didn’t want it to end, and she didn’t want to go back.

When they put her in the back of a van, and drove off, she put her head in her hands, fighting back the tears that threatened to roll down her face. They watched her in silence, never hurting her - the only thing that gave her any hope.

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Re: The Hunt for Auroras

Post by Lauchenoiria » Thu Jan 30, 2020 1:39 pm

Lumeniola Polytechnic Institute, LOM
27th January - early morning

Charlotte Delorenzo wasn’t happy. She’d been waking up early each morning shaking from nightmares, convinced she was about to be captured and locked in a cell. Today was no exception. In her dream, she’d been running down an endless corridor pursued by angry armed men, shooting at her every so often. She woke eventually screaming as a pain shot through her, thinking she’d been shot. She woke on the floor of her room, having fallen out of bed and hit her leg on the edge of a textbook she’d left on the floor.

Her roommate was sitting up on her bed, glaring at her.

“You know, Charlotte, I’m really done with you. Could you, for once, maybe not wake me up at 5am with your nightmares!?” she snapped, then grabbed her dressing gown from the end of the bed. “I’m going to shower!” she announced and then stormed out of the room.

Calming her breathing, she put her head in her hands and waited a few moments, then walked over and opened the window, looking out over the courtyard outside. She glanced in the direction where the sun would soon be rising, the light of dawn already spreading over the campus. It would be a clear day, a lovely one for her to enjoy - if she was even capable of such emotions any more. But alas, she was far too anxious to enjoy anything these days.

When she’d first come to LOM, she’d been full of excitement and hope for her mission. LOM was classified as a high priority target for sabotage, her ultimate mission. Kerlile was not the biggest fan of the Maximusians, and it was seen as a difficult country to shift ideologically - sabotage was less of a priority in nations like Lauchenoiria and Laeral who were seen as more open to feminist ideals. So she’d been instructed to choose a technical career, and thus had chosen to study engineering, with the aim of eventually sabotaging the Maximusian tech industry in the future.

She no longer believed she would have a chance to carry out that ultimate mission. She thought back to when she’d received the initial message warning her (and, presumably, the others) that they were in danger following a new set of leaks. She’d been uneasy since the Charissa Clarke revelation, but it had been so much worse the past couple of months. She was unable to settle, she was exceptionally paranoid, she thought everyone was out to get her and she was absolutely convinced she was about to die.

This couldn’t go on. She would be absolutely useless to the Matriarchy if she was living in constant fear for the rest of her life. She doubted she’d be able to do much anyway, if there was a systematic hunt for her kind. No, if she remained here, she would be nothing but a net loss for the Matriarchy, resources put into her training just for her to die before her 20th birthday. They had offered her the chance to withdraw and come home to safety, and she intended to take it.

*

Airport, Xiomera
29th January 2020

When she landed in Xiomera, Charlotte breathed a sigh of relief. Upon contacting the Matriarchy, she’d been instructed to head via Xiomera on commercial flights. Her situation wasn’t deemed sufficiently risky to request an extraction team - she had no concrete reason to believe her cover was broken, and nor did Kerlile. Her assigned country wasn’t classified as exceptionally dangerous, so she was on her own. She would be safe in Xiomera before getting a connecting flight to Kerlile.

Sitting in the airport waiting for her connection, she sighed, twirling her fake Maximusian passport in her hands as she sipped coffee. It was an exceptionally well-made fake, it was almost impossible to detect. She felt no connection with it, however. She had never quite felt comfortable in LOM, never really adjusted to being in the country. They’d told them in training that some people would get used to their false nationality, would start to identify with it to some extent. She never had.

When she boarded her flight to Kerlile she was very eager to get back home. She gave a massive grin to the flight attendant who stared at her, bemused. Charlotte had the feeling that most travellers to the Matriarchy weren’t as excited about it as her - especially on this particular route, which was mainly used for business. She settled back in her seat and turned the page in her book, a feminist novel by a Lauchenoirian that she knew was on the (short) list of foreign literature that was permitted in Kerlile, and thought eagerly of home.

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Re: The Hunt for Auroras

Post by Lauchenoiria » Fri Feb 07, 2020 9:27 pm

Off the coast of Lauchenoiria
7th February 2020 – 2am

She had tried very hard to achieve her mission objectives. She had been sent south to Lauchenoiria after the triumph of the Matriarchy over those who sought to subvert the mission of Kerlile – the so-called Democratic Kerlian State. At the end of the Kerlian Civil War, in 1999, she had come to Lauchenoiria with a mission of making sure that their southern neighbour would never pose a military threat again.

In that, at least, it seemed as if she’d achieved her objective. Lauchenoiria was incredibly weak militarily at this point, but it didn’t give her joy. For it had come at great cost to the Matriarchy. Many lives had been lost, what little goodwill Kerlile had was gone, and the Council was in disarray, splitting into factions and political parties like the weak, spineless democracy she’d been forced to spend her life in.

During the Lauchenoirian war, she hadn’t even had the opportunity to do much. She’d been stuck on that damned blockade of Aeluria, making sure foolish little teenagers didn’t try to flee off the island. She had found it insulting, frankly. Her commanding officer at the time had been perfectly content with his role, which is why she took great pleasure in reporting him for refusing to allow medical shipments to Aeluria during the war. And thus, Captain Gregor Docherty was in a Sanctarian prison.

Commander Lorna Rigley was meant to be asleep, and yet she feared to fall unconscious, lest they come for her. She hadn’t been worried for most of her assignment. Lauchenoiria was hardly known for being excellent at hunting down foreign agents. Yet since the end of the war, she had been uneasy. Her dreams were haunted by Charissa Clarke, her mind replayed the few videos she’d seen of Clarke after some traitor to the Matriarchy leaked the existence of Auroras. She couldn’t get the look of defeat on Clarke’s face out of her head.

They would come for her. She knew that. She had tried to think of a way to escape, but she’d used up all her leave and she had no way to get off her ship without being detected. She was trapped, and she had managed to discover that they were going through the records of military personnel. It wouldn’t be long before they noticed some discrepancy, the files were not intended for the level of scrutiny they were going to come under: after all, too much had been leaked by this point.

She had only three options left, and none of them were good. The first: she could turn herself in. But she was no traitor. Second, she could continue doing her job and just wait for them to find her, imprison her and interrogate her. It was an unpleasant option, waiting around for certain discovery, knowing that it likely spelled the end of her freedom forever. The third option, she had been considering for several months. She hadn’t wanted to for so long, but in the past week, she had been coming around to the idea, and she had made her choice.

Silently, she moved through the ship, avoiding areas she knew people would be. Somewhere deep below decks she took out a tablet, and opened an email app. She hesitated slightly before she clicked send on the email she had drafted long before. Then, she took a deep breath, headed quickly up to one of the decks and threw the tablet in the sea. Ducking back inside before anyone could notice her, she took out a pile of pills from her pocket and looked at it.

Voices. Footsteps. She was running out of time, someone would have noticed her creeping around by now. So, shaking, she unscrewed the lid of her water and swallowed the pills, sitting down and closing her eyes. The world began to slip away from her, and she opened her eyes, suddenly afraid and regretting her decision, seeing someone approach her before the darkness took her.

*

Military Hospital, Summersea, Lauchenoiria
9 hours later

“The concoction of pills she took were designed to kill her, but they got to her in time to stop instant death. I can’t guarantee she’ll survive. Only time will tell.”

“Thank you, Doctor,” Jae Chung nodded, looking down at the unconscious probable Aurora attached to the machinery. “Any indication of when we will know?”

“It’s impossible to say, sorry.”

“That’s okay,” Chung said, stepping closer to Rigley and watching her with concern. “The more I find out about them, the more I question our objectives here…” she said softly.

“I’m sorry, Ms. Chung?”

“Nothing, Doctor,” she said, turning from the Aurora. “I should be going. Tell me, do you know if they found any electronic devices on her person when they discovered her?”

“No,” another voice said from the doorway, and Chung looked up to see a young naval officer, “but she threw something in the water shortly before we found her.”

“Thank you,” nodded Chung, making to leave, but the young officer stopped her.

“What do you lot want with her?”

“That is not your concern,” she said, not unkindly.

“Yes, it is. Commander Rigley is a good person. She helped me cope when my brother died in the war, and I know what you lot are up to.”

“What are we up to?” she asked, curious to hear what the rumours were.

“You grab random women off the street, claiming they’re Kerlians, and then they’re never seen again. Well, you know what? I don’t care if she’s a Kerlian, if the rumours are to be believed those Auroras come here as kids. They don’t have a choice and I don’t think they deserve to be locked away in dark holes for doing nothing! Charissa Clarke wasn’t evil because she was Kerlian, she was evil because she was evil!”

“Listen,” Chung said gently to the young man, pulling him out of the room and into the corridor. “I don’t know what you’ve heard, but nobody is being disappeared. But I’m curious… your attitude to Kerlians is very different from most men I know.”

“That’s…” he glanced around, almost afraid. “I have to go.”

She watched as he abruptly turned around and dashed down the corridor of the hospital. He turned a corner as quickly as he could, and was out of sight. The doctor had turned back to Lorna, checking her vitals. Jae stopped someone.

“Who was that, may I ask?” she said, nodding in the direction of the retreating man.

“I don’t know, ma’am, sorry,” the woman she’d stopped said. Jae sighed.

She stared after the man for a few seconds, then turned around to head in the opposite direction, when her phone rang.

“Hello?” she said upon answering.

“Jae…” came a voice she recognised that made her freeze. “We need to talk.”

*

Alvarez’s Office, Buttercity

Prime Minister Josephine Alvarez put down the phone and folded her arms. Her lips were pressed together in slight anger as she looked over the files she’d been delivered this morning. She was the very opposite of pleased.

“She will be here in the morning. Put her in my diary,” she told her assistant. “I know Jae Chung, if what I suspect is true, and Gabriel Fleming has been blatantly disobeying my orders, she will tell me.”

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Re: The Hunt for Auroras

Post by United New England » Tue Feb 11, 2020 10:47 am

From the journal of Junius Roberts, Novanglian Bureau of Investigation agent:

“We realized that if UNE had any Auroras, they would probably be young. After all, New Englanders only arrived on the IDU’s planet and met the Kerlians relatively recently. We started by looking through records of students studying political science, communications, and criminal justice. The idea was that the Auroras would be interested in those fields.

We found a young woman whose personal information did not make sense: the first three digits of her social security number indicated a New Hampshire birthplace, but her birth certificate alleged that she was born in Rhode Island. Further searches uncovered more discrepancies.

She was a nineteen-year-old going by the name of Abigail Riley. Abigail was getting a Bachelor’s degree in Administration of Justice at Salve Regina University. It’s the one in Newport, Rhode Island. She planned to work in the court system when she graduated.

We had her come down to the university registrar’s office to ‘address some issues.’ There were three agents in the room, including me. I was in a chair behind the registrar’s desk, and there was a guy on each side of her. Large men were chosen because the Auroras are so well-trained.

Another agent was posing as the registrar’s administrative assistant when Abigail entered. He then stood outside the door for security. The registrar’s office had been temporarily cleared of other staff in case a confrontation ensued.

I said to Abigail, ‘The first three digits of your social security number indicate a New Hampshire birthplace, but your birth certificate alleges that you were born in Rhode Island. Can you explain this discrepancy?’

She replied, ‘I don't understand. As far as I know, I was born in Rhode Island. If there's something wrong with my birth certificate, I'm unaware of why. You'd have to ask someone who was an adult back then - naturally, I have no memories of my own birth.’

Then I said, ‘What about the fact that the elementary and middle schools you supposedly attended have no evidence of your presence, despite laws requiring careful record-keeping in schools throughout United New England?’

She replied, ‘Well, I'll admit... I often ran away from school as a child. I hated it. I preferred to read books myself rather than be around the other children. Perhaps my frequent absences messed with the records.’

Finally, I said, ‘You claim to have belonged to the Novanglian Junior Honor Society, a youth organization based on academic achievement and community service, yet they never considered you a member. Care to explain?’

She was acting innocent, saying, ‘I cannot explain that. It seems like someone has been messing with my records, but I don't know who it could have been!’

She then suddenly leapt towards one of the agents to her side and attempted to throw him against the wall. The other one stood up, and she kicked him hard.

The agent outside the room opened the door when he heard the scuffle inside and restrained Abigail before she knew what was going on. She was taken into custody.”

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Re: The Hunt for Auroras

Post by Lauchenoiria » Thu Feb 13, 2020 9:56 pm

Student Residences, Usera University, Lauchenoiria
13th February 2020

Leonie Bennett hadn’t slept well last night. She’d been having the nightmares again, the ones about her time in Kerlile. It made her uneasy; they’d been quiet for months now, she was doing well. Except, sometimes something reminded her of that time unconsciously, and then they came back. It tended to happen when she was around Kerlians, but it can’t have been that this time: there were no Kerlians at last night’s party.

Her roommate Darya and her had been joined for the night by their two close friends, Zahra and Veronica after the party, as it had been raining all night and they hadn’t wanted to walk back to their own dorm on the other side of campus. Zahra, who sat on the Young Liberals committee with her for a while, had already left, being an early riser, but Veronica lay on a pile of sheets and towels on the floor, snoring softly. Darya was still asleep herself, as she tended to sleep a long time after drinking alcohol.

Leonie got up carefully, moving around Veronica’s sleeping form as she tried to gather her toothbrush and head off to get ready. However, as she stepped over the sleeping woman, there was a frantic knock on the door outside.

“Leonie! Veronica! Let me in!” called Zahra’s voice from outside.

Veronica and Darya both groaned, being woken by the noise, and the knocking continued insistently. Leonie stepped back as Veronica sat up, rubbing her eyes. Leonie opened the door slightly, and Zahra pushed it open and came in, shutting it behind her, eyes wide and frightened.

“What’s going on, Zahra?” asked Veronica, alarmed.

“There are men in our dorm!” Zahra called, her accent becoming stronger with her obvious fear. “Armed men! They were searching the place, throwing everyone outside in their pyjamas. They’re… I heard someone talking, and they’re looking for you!”

Veronica jumped up immediately, alert. Darya spun around to look at them.

“Why would they be looking for you, V?” Darya asked, suddenly awake.

“I need to leave,” Veronica said, moving to the door, trying to push Zahra and Leonie aside to get out. Leonie stopped her.

“Hey, what’s going on? Can we help?” she asked.

“I very much doubt you’d want to,” she said, cringing slightly almost in embarrassment. “Just let me go, I’m sorry.”

“Not until you explain,” Zahra said firmly. “I don’t like armed men, I’m still not a citizen of this country, and I worry. If you’ve brought them to us, I want to know why.”

“Really, if we get into this, either Leonie or I will end up dead,” said Veronica irritably.

“Okay, now you really have to explain!” Leonie said, alarmed. Darya stood up behind Veronica, so the woman was surrounded. She looked around. She could escape if she wanted to, she knew. But she liked these people.

“Please, please don’t hate me,” Veronica began, directing her comment at Leonie. “I promise, I disagree entirely with what happened last year. We have the ability to have our own thoughts and I, frankly, believed the invasion was counterproductive. The new government are far more on message with what we actually wanted to achieve in the initial project.”

“Oh, please no,” said Leonie weakly, leaning against the wall to steady herself, suddenly feeling sick. She was sure she knew what was coming next.

Veronica nodded grimly. Leonie sat back down on her bed, suddenly dizzy. Darya looked entirely confused. She did not know much of political affairs. Zahra was frowning, working over the words in her head, and then realisation dawned on her.

“You!” she cried, alarmed, and jumped back against the door. “You can’t be one of them! They’re evil!”

What is going on!?” Darya said.

“I am not Veronica Penners. I am not Lauchenoirian. I came to this country as part of the Aurora Programme, sent from the Matriarchy of Kerlile in order to influence this nation in order to spread the women’s revolution. And,” she said, turning to Zahra, “we are not evil. Although, Charissa Clarke does give us a bad reputation as I rather think she is.”

“No, no, no,” Leonie was muttering to herself on her bed, shaking her head in abject denial of the situation unfolding in front of her.

“You know I can get out of here if I want,” Veronica said softly to Zahra, who was blocking the door. “But I don’t want to hurt any of you. I hoped… I hoped this wouldn’t happen. I’ve come to care for my life here. I don’t want to go home: I’ve disobeyed orders already and nothing pleasant waits for me there.”

“Disobeyed orders how?” Leonie said suddenly, looking up. She recognised something almost subconsciously, some truth in Veronica’s words. She knew how Kerlians behaved, those loyal to the government and those who disobeyed it. Veronica did not act like a loyal Kerlian, and Leonie could see in her eyes that if she had been one ever, it was no longer the case.

“I’ve hidden things from them, things that they would want to know. You, for example. They asked me to report back on you, but I refused because you’re my friend. That’s what people don’t understand, even my superiors. We are not agents of the Kerlian state. We are agents of the Kerlian project.”

“What’s the difference?” Darya asked, seeming unconcerned that a dangerous, well-trained foreign sleeper agent was standing in the room.

“The Kerlian state has become corrupt. Kerlile was set up as a project, to build a women’s utopia in a patriarchal world. The Aurora Programme was set up to spread women’s liberation, to nudge affairs in our assigned countries such that we would come closer to ending patriarchy in a number of target countries. What Charissa Clarke was ordered to do was a perversion of our mission. The invasion made me angry. We are supposed to be better than them! Well, I haven’t followed a single order given to me since the war and I plan to keep it that way.”

“Why should we believe you?” Zahra demanded angrily, her Serrielian accent growing stronger and stronger, her fear evident.

“Because a loyal Kerlian would never say that about her government,” Leonie said suddenly, standing up, and looking Veronica in the eye. “At least, not one loyal to the old regime before this reformist government.”

“Leonie, how can you believe her!? You, of all people!?” Zahra said, her knuckles white where she’d been gripping her hands too hard.

“I don’t know. Maybe because I want to? Maybe because something didn’t add up in this Aurora nonsense. And maybe because-“

Leonie was interrupted suddenly by a knock on the door. Zahra and Veronica both startled, exchanging glances with each other and Leonie. Darya pulled her covers closer.

“Hide. I’ll deal with them,” Leonie said. Veronica hid under Leonie’s cover and Zahra sat on top of the bed. Leonie went to the door.

“Good morning. Are you Miss McCauley, or Miss Bennett?” a man’s voice said.

“Leonie Bennett. You can tell from the scars,” she said casually, presenting her bare arm which still had marks from her time in a Kerlian prison.

“I… I’m… have you seen Veronica Penners recently?” the man asked, caught off guard by her casual mention of her ordeal.

“No, I haven’t. I hear rumours though.”

“Rumours, Miss Bennett?”

“Yeah. Jessica Cassidy. I’d like to speak to her.”

“That…” the man stammered. “That’s… not possible.”

“Well, I’ll only speak to her.”

“Miss Bennett, you’re going to need to let us in,” another voice came.

“No, I won’t,” she said, raising her voice. “Not unless you have a warrant.”

“It’s fine,” came a female voice. “Leave her be, I’ll speak with her.”

The men grumbled and retreated down the corridor. A woman stood in the doorway, smiling at Leonie.

“Jae Chung, but I imagine you know that, though we’ve never met. I can get Jessica on a line for you if you want, but I was hoping the two of us could have a conversation.”

“I know you, yes,” Leonie nodded, her voice guarded. “Of the first leak.”

“Yeah,” said Chung, sighing. “Something I regret these days.”

“Oh?” Leonie said, curious. “What do you mean by that?”

“Your name came up, when we were researching Veronica. As an associate. I recognised it, from reports I read of the war, and from conversations with Jessica. She’d a remarkable woman, it’s such a shame what happened to her. She deserved better. She admired you greatly, Leonie, if I may call you that? It was curious, though. You, someone who spent time in a Kerlian prison, who was probably somewhat traumatised by the affair. Why would you, of all people, volunteer at the Centre for Kerlian Refugees?”

“Wait, you do?” Darya said, getting up and walking over behind Leonie.

“Not all Kerlians support their government,” Leonie said.

“No, they don’t. But it’s curious that you should be so unwilling to cooperate in an investigation looking for agents of their government.”

“Your witch-hunt, you mean,” said Leonie, a hint of anger coming into her voice. “The one that makes women afraid if they don’t have proper papers, even though there’s a million reasons they might not? Of course I won’t cooperate with that. I disagree with it, fundamentally. I don’t want another Charissa Clarke, but hunting down women merely makes us as bad as the Kerlian regime.”

“Veronica, the one you’re protecting,” Jae said suddenly, waving away Leonie’s protest against the allegation, “is she a good person? Listen, I don’t want to detain her. Not like they do. I know you have no reason to believe me, but I’m here to help her, and you.”

“Veronica is my friend, and I have no reason to believe she is a Kerlian agent. But I do not know her location,” Leonie said tightly.

“She’s a wonderful person,” Zahra said suddenly, joining the group in the doorway. “She’s done so much good. She volunteers, she helps others, she’s an upstanding member of the community. Nothing like Clarke.”

“This is curious,” Jae said, then suddenly ducked under Leonie’s arm, and pulled her covers back, revealing Veronica before any of them could react. “Hello, Ms Penners. No need to attack me. You see, I no longer work for Mr. Fleming.”

“I don’t know who that is,” Veronica said, “but if you plan on imprisoning and harming me I have good reason to defend myself.”

“You see, you are friends with Leonie Bennett,” Jae said. “And I think Leonie knew what you were, if only subconsciously. I was speaking with the Prime Minister the other day, and I discovered something disturbing. My superior, Gabriel Fleming, was hunting down and imprisoning alleged ‘Auroras’ without permission – in fact, in express defiance of the Prime Minister’s orders. I was rather angry with him when I found this out.”

Leonie slowly closed the bedroom door behind her. Darya sat back on her bed, grabbing some spare crisps from a packet on the desk and eating them like popcorn, watching the surreal scene play out in front of her.

“You’re an excellent candidate. Leonie Bennett is a good judge of character. And if she knew what you were, and continued being your friend, then you can’t be one of the bad ones. Because I think we misjudged you. Or, at least, some of you. The Prime Minister would like to speak with you. You won’t be detained.”

“Sorry,” Leonie interrupted. “But I didn’t know Veronica was an Aurora!”

“So, all that stalking of her on social media was just friendly research? You checked out everything about her according to your search history, almost obsessively. Why do that when you didn’t have suspicions?”

“That’s an invasion of my privacy!” Leonie said, horrified.

“You stalked me?” Veronica said, somewhat amused, but relaxing somewhat, seeing the sincerity in Jae’s eyes. “So, you did have suspicions?”

“No,” Leonie said, suddenly blushing scarlet.

“Then why?” Veronica asked. Leonie blushed more. “Oh…” she said suddenly.

“Wow, took you long enough!” Darya laughed. “Leonie has clearly had a crush on you for months!”

“Okay…” Jae said. “Um… teenage drama aside… will you come with me and Leonie to see the Prime Minister, Veronica? You will be free to go home afterwards.”

“I’d rather not, if it’s all the same,” Veronica said. “That is, go home after. But I’d love the opportunity to see Alvarez. I need to set a few things straight with your country. I will confess to being an Aurora, because there are things I need to say.”

“Great. Now, how wide do these windows open?” Jae asked the four students. They all looked at her. “The men outside are Fleming’s. He still believes I’m working for him. I needed to intercept you before they could get to you. It’s why I chose today. Jessica saw on social media that you were planning to stay here after the party. Look… I was wrong. About a lot of things.”

“No…” Veronica said slowly. “You weren’t. You’re damn lucky. What you’re doing just now is incredibly risky. I am one of the few of my kind who believe in the project, and not the state. The Programme has been corrupted. But… well, I’d feel better discussing this with the Prime Minister. I don’t want Darya and Zahra hearing anything that would put them in danger. Leonie already knows too much.”

“Um…” Leonie began, and then shrugged. “Uh, quite wide. And I know a way to sneak out. I… don’t like being anywhere without an escape route.”

“Let’s go, quickly,” Jae said. “Jessica is going to get out as well today. We’re all going to Buttercity. Darya, Zahra… you better come with us too. There is something happening here that you don’t want to get caught in the middle of, but I don’t think you have a choice any more. Listen, there are things that have been going on that I think Veronica here knows of, and possibly Leonie too.”

“I think I know what you mean,” Leonie said reluctantly. It was something she hadn’t liked thinking about since she discovered it. But it was what made her trust Veronica. “I didn’t want to believe it.”

There was more knocking on the door.

“No more time,” Jae said, opening the window and gesturing. “We can talk on the way north.”

And with that, all five women climbed out of the window and snuck away, as the men outside began attempting to break the door down. As they left, Darya and Zahra exchanged glances, thinking the same thing – what on earth just happened?

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Re: The Hunt for Auroras

Post by Democratic Republic Of Eiria » Fri Feb 14, 2020 12:37 am

Point Omega, [REDACTED], Eiria
6:53 PM
Commander Revalle walked down the corridor of the highly secretive Military Base Point Omega, passing cell after cell, most of them empty. She stopped in front of the last cell, where a single beam of light in the dark illuminated the woman inside.

Ducette lay feigning sleep, as she spent most of her days doing. That, and pretending to be more confused and worried than she was. She fully intended to stick to her lie.

The Commander banged on the bars, signaling two guards to open the cell door and escort her inside. "Miss Ducette? Wake up". She nudged the woman on the bed.

She opened her eyes and glanced blankly up, silent.

Revalle waited. "Well?". She lifted Ducette by her arm and gave her to one of the guards. "Follow quickly, and don't fall behind. The guards can be strong willed when someone is dragging their feet".

"I want a lawyer," she said as they walked, lagging a little just to see what would happen.

Almost instantly, the guards picked her up by her shoulders and carried her a couple inches up the ground until she kept up. "You'll get a lawyer soon, not that it'll do you much good. It'll have to be a State Attorney, because no lawyer in their right mind would take the case. Feel bad for the person who draws the short straw". She lead her and the guards into a room with a table and two chairs, and the guards promptly chained Ducette's handcuffs to the table, while the commander sat across from her.

"It sounds like you've already decided I'm guilty," she said bitterly. "So much for a fair trial."

"You'll get a fair trial, but the evidence we have is crippling to any case you try to make. Plus, I find it ironic that a Kerlian spy is trying to lecture me on Justice. Certainly better than anything you would get in Kerlile".

"I'm not a Kerlian spy! I told you, I was hired by someone to edit those documents. You should be looking for her!" Ducette cried.

The Commander Raised her eyebrows. "Well, Miss, do enlighten me. What did this woman look like, and did she give you a name?"

"She had dark hair, dark eyes... I only saw her in darkness. I never got a name. Was paid in cash. I needed the money to pay off a gambling debt. I think her accent was Kerlian, but I didn't notice it at the time. Only when I had time to think, locked in that little cell," she said, shuddering a little.

Revalle nodded. "Okay. It says here in your file-" She gestured to a thick folder. "-That you were captured by a very important individual, and you put up a fight. I have to say I'm impressed, but it doesn't help your record if you can go against someone like her and actually stand a chance. And If I have to wager a guess on this mysterious Kerlian woman, I'd say her name was Pauline".

"I went to some free women's self-defence classes," she said, "because this is a dangerous world and a single woman needs to be able to protect herself."

"A good idea, however a few self defense classes shouldn't be able to match someone who has spent fifteen years training in martial arts and fighting, twenty in the field, and has survived two wars in which they were behind enemy lines, not to mention her years of strategy experience. I know her reputation. In fact, the final test for a military martial arts training is to be able to survive against her or her partner in martial combat for One minute. It's very hard. So, you are not ordinary".

"Maybe I'm just very talented," she smirked. "I never said I was ordinary. I'm not a boring sheep who follows the crowd."

She shook her head. "Well, we've contacted the Kerlian Embassy, told them what a help you've been to national security, and we are currently arranging for a deportation sentence from the Judicial Offices to send you home. I'd imagine you'd be more comfortable there".

Ducette turned incredibly pale. "Do you... do you realise what happens to people in that country!? If you send me there I'll be tortured!" she shouted, getting angry. "Horribly, horribly tortured! And it will be your fault! Can you live with that on your conscience!?"

Revalle shrugged. "I'm sorry, Miss. The orders are coming from the top. It's out of my hands. Although, someone is here who does have some say in the matter." She nodded at the guards by the door, who opened it up to let a woman in. Her long blonde hair was tied back, revealing the long scar on her face. A guard pulled up a chair for her. She nodded to Ducette. "Madame Ducette. It's nice to see you in one piece".

"Nice trap," she said, the sarcasm dripping from her voice. "Are you willing to be complicit in torture, liar?"

The woman chuckled. "The last I checked, forging documents was considered lying, so that's hilarious. As for torture, you work for a nation that tortures people for reading foreign books. So, let's add two counts of hypocrisy to your already-soiled record."

"I'm not a Kerlian," Ducette insisted, "but if I was, I'd be offended. Only the most extreme anti-Kerlile people actually believe that is punished by torture. And you call me a hypocrite, but this country is the most hypocritical of all. Eiria is said to be almost utopian, peaceful, beautiful, fair. Yet you snatch people off the streets, trick them, accuse them of things and then, apparently, plan to ship them off to be tortured. Eiria is no utopia."

"Ah, but that's where you're wrong, Madame. We are doing this to preserve the Utopia, from those who wish to see it harmed. And I was listening from the other room for this whole conversation. Why did you get so panicked when we told you that you are heading to Kerlile? If you didn't do anything, and aren't a Kerlian spy, why would they torture you? After all, and Eirian citizen would know nothing about Kerlile relating to Eirian national security."

"Because you're going to deport me to a totalitarian dictatorship I've never been to! Anyone would be terrified! This is a violation of my human rights. You can't save utopia by destroying it," she argued. "Perhaps I will be better off there. They seem to be enacting policies of reform. Here... you seem to be doing the opposite."

"We're not monsters, Madame. Would you rather have been caught in LOM, or Shuell? They would torture you themselves. My associates are still deciding on the deportation, after all. If you cooperate, we may keep you here. It's Better than Kerlile."

"I've told you, I was hired by someone. It's not my fault you don't believe me."

"Hired by Miss Pierre, Perhaps?".

"I've never spoken to Councillor Pierre."

"Of Course not. She only came by every few months, after all. Chances are you've seen her, though".

"I... you're really determined, aren't you?" She said, shaking her head. "I've only ever seen her on TV."

The woman sighed. "Well, if you're so insistent, there is really no point in this". She nodded at the guards. "Take her back to her cell".

Ducette looked up at the guards and sighed. She knew it was pointless, they'd never believe her, but she'd be damned if she was going to give anything away. She remained silent. She would face whatever happened to her with the knowledge that she had remained loyal.

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Re: The Hunt for Auroras

Post by Lauchenoiria » Fri Feb 14, 2020 9:17 pm

Alvarez’s Office, Buttercity, Lauchenoiria
14th February 2020 – morning

“Gabriel Fleming has been hunting down Auroras and imprisoning them in a building used by the communist dictatorship, a site that was thought decommissioned in 1993,” Josephine Alvarez said as Victoria Penners sat down across from her, having been led into the room by her secretary. She wasted no time with formalities.

“Then why am I here, instead of there?” Veronica asked calmly. She was uncertain what game the Prime Minister was playing, but she was curious and hopeful. They’d been travelling all night, through back roads and doubling back, ensuring they weren’t tailed. Leonie and Darya had been curiously asking questions of both Veronica and Jae during the journey, while Zahra had spent it pale and frightened, silent. The other four were now somewhere, likely being asked to sign some form of confidentiality agreements.

“Because Gabriel Fleming is not working for me. In fact, he disobeyed an express order by me to refrain from hunting down members of the Aurora Programme,” Alvarez replied, leaning back and watching Veronica’s face.

“Why?” asked the Aurora, curiously. “Why would you give that order? Surely, you’d want rid of all of us, especially after the Clarke affair.”

“I don’t know why those leaks happened. Three of them, coming from unknown sources. Different sources, if the rumours are to be believed,” said the Prime Minister, picking up a teapot on her desk and pouring two cups, pushing one over to the Aurora. “Somebody wanted you to be found. And I do not know that person’s motivations. Their reasons may be contrary to what is best for Lauchenoiria.”

“I cannot see in what way,” Veronica shrugged, taking the tea and sipping it. It tasted fresh, and she relaxed, needing it after the long night. “I will be honest with you. As far as I know, such a move would not benefit either of the present factions on the Council.”

“No?” Alvarez raised her eyebrow. “I would have thought the end of the Aurora Programme would benefit the pro-reform faction.”

“You would think, yes,” nodded the Aurora, “but there are things at play here that you are not aware of.”

“Do you care to enlighten me?”

“Not at this time. There are things I cannot say yet. Events are in motion, that are going to conclude very soon indeed. Speaking now would undermine those events, and could have catastrophic consequences. But I will be able to speak in a week’s time.”

“That’s… curious,” Alvarez said, drinking some more of her tea. “But I won’t press you at this time, if that’s the case. I didn’t ask you here for information, in any way. I asked you here to help me with my Fleming problem.”

“The disobedient one?”

“Yes, him. I fear he plans to make some kind of Chaherian move against me. It worries me. There are two people I trust who, up until yesterday, he believed were working under his command. Jae Chung, who you met, and Jessica Cassidy, who you may have heard rumours of. The others are his, as far as I know.”

“I’ve met Cassidy, though not in an intelligence capacity. We have a mutual friend in Leonie Bennett, we were both at a Halloween party she organised last year. Before the incident with the Xiomerans – now, that I heard through my, um, occupation.”

“It wasn’t the Xiomerans, as far as I know, and I have no reason to distrust my sources. I do not know who was responsible, however. But that is another matter. The problem is that many in my own intelligence service are associates of Fleming. I don’t know who to trust, but we have to do this behind the back of the Sanctarian forces.”

“Lest they believe they must stay longer, yes,” nodded Veronica. “With the help and expertise of Chung and Cassidy, I can of course handle the Fleming problem, depending on the parameters you allow me to work within. In exchange, I would wish for freedom to remain in this country, and the chance to speak with the other Auroras you have in custody.”

“To speak with them? I assumed you’d ask for their freedom.”

“No, I have my own reasons, to do with that affair which I cannot yet mention, to refrain from asking for their freedom at this time. Not before I can speak to them of such matters. Their goals may not be compatible with mine.”

“Why do I get the feeling I’ve stumbled into something I’d rather have never heard of?” Alvarez said, her tone exasperated, but her face smiling.

“Most likely, yes,” nodded Veronica, chuckling a little. “Don’t worry, they wouldn’t dare touch you, it would cause a civil war amongst the Council, and nobody wants that. I do worry, however, about the person behind leaks two and three.”

“Not one?”

“That was Councillor Robinson, and it was an accident.”

“An… accident?”

“Yes, but most Auroras won’t know that. I do, however. Councillor Robinson meant for the USB to be delivered to Jennifer Hale. It was never meant to be leaked publicly, Jennifer would have known that.”

“Huh,” Josephine said, leaning back, not knowing what else to say.

“The other two, however, are an unknown quantity, and they threaten the plans of both factions on the Council. All I can think is either this is an outsider, or an unknown third faction, but I doubt anyone would be able to keep that secret from the best and brightest minds in Kerlian intelligence.”

“You seem to be speaking very freely here,” noted Alvarez.

“I trust you implicitly because I know Councillor Hale does. I know you would not sabotage the plans we are carrying out, especially since I can promise you that they will benefit Lauchenoiria, if anything.”

“You work for the reformist faction?”

“I can neither confirm nor deny that. But I will say, it is an oversimplification. The reform faction, as we speak of, is a coalition of multiple groups who disagreed with the prior regime. It would be safer to say that certain individuals may or may not have an allegiance to one group within said coalition.”

“Do I want to know?”

“Almost certainly not, but I imagine the Councillor will speak with you of this matter when you visit Kerlile in the summer.”

“I… I’m not planning to visit Kerlile this summer,” Alvarez said, confused. She genuinely wasn’t, it was not as if the Aurora had managed to hack her schedule, or anything.

“No, but I rather think you will when things are announced. Regardless of the election results, but for different reasons depending upon them. If I was one of your advisers though, I’d advise you to distance yourself from your present coalition partners. Or, if you don’t want advice from a foreign agent, to contact Laura Moore. She is a damn sight smarter than people have given her credit for since the coup.”

“I’ll… consider that advice,” the Prime Minister said carefully. “As for Fleming… if something was to happen to him by accident during an attempt to take him into custody, I would not mourn his loss,” she said meaningfully.

“I understand. Shall I speak with Ms Chung on this matter?”

“Yes, and I would urge you to do anything promptly.”

“If he is planning what you suspect, I would also like him out of the way within the next week for my own reasons. Our plans align, Prime Minister. As I’ve been hoping they would,” the Aurora smiled.

“I would love to ask more, but I think it’s best we leave it there. You’ll find Ms Chung with the others in the Butterfly Suite.”

“Thank you, Prime Minister. I won’t let you down,” said the Aurora, and then she nodded her head respectfully and exited the room.

*

Emfields, Shuell

Meanwhile, a lot further north and west, a teenage girl was walking along the road, glancing around as if she couldn’t guarantee she would ever see daylight again. Mia Bruhn had become disillusioned with the country of her birth rather quickly, when it transpired all they had done was steal her freedom and her life. She was bitter, for one of 16, and she wanted revenge upon the people who stole her childhood, and may well have put her in a situation she couldn’t get out of.

But that didn’t mean she wasn’t going to try. She had few good options left, but she had made her choice out of the bad bunch presented to her. This way, she would hopefully be able to talk her way out of a lifetime of captivity, save her life, and get revenge upon her birth country, all in one go. She was going to tell them everything she knew, and they would never be able to get her here.

She came to the building, an IntSec public facility, in her town. She looked up at the building, and then at the sky, she breathed in deeply, savouring the fresh air. She’d never known freedom, anyway. She entered the building.

“Good morning, my name is Mia Bruhn. I’m here to turn myself in. I am a Kerlian agent.”

Democratic Republic Of Eiria
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Re: The Hunt for Auroras

Post by Democratic Republic Of Eiria » Sat Feb 15, 2020 4:31 pm

Ambassadorial Academy, New Riga Branch
10:34 AM

Riley Nelson sat in the classroom, half-asleep, doodling in her notebook absentmindedly. Professor Hinton went on with his lecture, oblivious to the fact that only a couple of people were even paying attention. The class, a Semester-long course on the evolution of Diplomacy, was long and very dry. Riley despised it, and was only doing it for the credits it gave. An intern came in, gaining everyone's attention and (Thank Goodness) Stopping the lecture. "How may I help you?". The professor asked.

"Do you have a Riley Nelson? She's needed in the Selection Department".
Riley stood up, closing her notebook and gathering her stuff. She followed the intern down the hall, anxious. The Accelerated Selections were said to be happening soon, and Riley had been a very good student. They could be calling her down to finally become an Apprentice Ambassador and gain an assignment, and finally leave this school.

"Are they calling me down to assign me?".
She asked the intern. "Well, I can't tell you….." She Winked at Riley. "But I don't think you will be needing to attend school here for awhile". Riley got even more excited. "I see". She said, trying and failing to keep her excitement out of her voice.

The intern guided her to the door, and let her in, where three people sat on the other side of a desk. "Miss Nelson, welcome. Please, take a seat". The man in the center said, gesturing to the chair.

She complied, setting her stuff on the table next to her. The woman seated on the right started speaking. "Well, Miss Nelson, you probably already know why you are here. The Selection Committee has taken interest in you, and we would love to have you as an apprentice".

"Thank you. I am honored to be recognized like this".

"Well, you haven't got the spot yet. There are a few others vying for the spot as Apprentice Ambassador, and we need to break the tie. So, we crafted this test." She slid a thick packet of paper across the table. "This is a Diplomatic situation test. You have to decide the best course of action for each written situation. Best of luck to you, Miss Nelson".

The man in the center drew out a pencil and a stopwatch. He slid the pencil to Riley. "You will have an hour for this test, and I'll be timing you". He then gestured to the intern, who was sitting in the corner, observing. "Why don't you get Riley a glass of water. It is an hour long test, after all". She left the room, then came back with the glass of water and set it next to Riley.

"Thank you". Riley said, taking a sip. The man with the stopwatch nodded at her. "Ready, Miss Nelson?". She nodded back. "Begin".

Riley flew through the test, pacing herself so the proctors wouldn't get suspicious. She finished her water, and the intern went to refill it. About halfway through the packet, she started to feel tired and drowsy. Her head started drooping, and her writing hand slowed down. She forced herself to stay awake, opening her eyes, only to see the words blur together. "Miss Nelson?". The Proctor's voice sounded like an echo from far away. "Are you okay?". Her pencil slipped from her hand, and she collapsed on the floor.

The Proctor wasted no time, putting on a custodian's uniform, hiding Riley on a cart below a few boxes, taking the cart outside, and loading it into a waiting truck. Riley Nelson was captured.

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Re: The Hunt for Auroras

Post by Xiomera » Sat Feb 15, 2020 6:37 pm

(Joint post with Lauchenoiria)

Institute for International Studies Building, Tlālacuetztla Polytechnic University
8:45 am

The morning had been quiet. This was a rarity for Tlālzixiuhxa.

The professor at Tlālacuetztla Polytechnic was usually quite busy. As a Senior Fellow with the school's Institute for International Studies, she was a highly-sought after person on the Xiomeran talk show and speaking circuit. As a well-known writer, she was also usually quite busy promoting her latest books. The joke around the Institute was that Tlālzixiuhxa's students needed to watch TV to see her, rather than go to her office or classroom. No one dared say that to her face, though. Her wit was known to be quite sharp, like a dagger. Just last night, she had dismantled an opponent on a popular evening talk show who had been critical of Empress Yauhmi's recent reforms so effectively that clips of the show were already trending on the Internet and spawning memes.

The professor sipped her coffee and read through her notes. A knock sounded on her door, startling her. Her office hours didn't begin until two hours later, and most people knew damn well not to bother her in the morning before they began. "Enter," Tlālzixiuhxa barked, dabbing at a stray bit of coffee that had spilled on her desk.

When the door opened, Tlālzixiuhxa went from being annoyed to alarmed. Standing in her doorway were two ASI agents. "Professor, we are sorry to disturb you, but you are needed for an audience."

"Oh?" She asked, trying to remain calm. "Do I have a choice in this matter?"

"In Xiomera, we always have a choice," the other agent replied blandly. "We also always have consequences for those choices."

His partner laughed. "It's not as grim as all that, Professor. You are asked to accompany us to the Palace of Flowers for a discussion. The Empress saw your appearance on television last night and was impressed. Her reforms are being questioned by some less-than-enthusiastic people. The Empress could use a strong defender of her reforms on her side, and has asked us to bring you to the Palace," she said.

Tlālzixiuhxa breathed a sigh of relief and smiled. "Of course, I would be very glad to accompany you. My work here will have to wait."

"Very good. If you can follow us, please," the female agent said with another smile. The second agent, whose face did not seem capable of smiling, followed as they made their way to the front of the Institute. A government car, a quite luxurious model at that, was waiting.

The drive from the university to the Palace was a short one; Tlālzixiuhxa found herself idly admiring the scenery that passed outside the window. The car soon arrived at the east gate to the Palace walls, and was admitted inside. The car meandered through the extensive Palace grounds. It eventually parked near a small (by Palace standards, but still quite large) building. The Tlilpohua Palace, legend said, was built by the Emperor Quiauhticue as a place to escape from the duties of his office and relax occasionally. In modern times, it served as a sort of conference center and meeting place for the Palace complex.

Tlālzixiuhxa walked inside, accompanied by the two agents. They made their way up a long staircase to the top of the building. The professor was familiar with the building, having attended conferences here in the past.

At the top of the large staircase, an expansive room waited, at the center of it a long table. Multiple people were already seated around the table, but Tlālzixiuhxa only recognized three of them. The Empress, the Crown Prince, and his wife.

"Professor, welcome," Yauhmi said, with a smile. "Please have a seat. We have much to discuss."

Tlālzixiuhxa's heart skipped a beat as she saw the scene in front of her. She had never imagined being in a room with all three of these people. It seemed surreal.

"Empress Yauhmi," she began, "it is an honour to be invited here."

Yauhmi chuckled at that. "I should be the one feeling honored. I saw your rather spirited defense of my reforms last night. You've become quite the hit on the Internet, taking apart poor Xocolcōza like that. Not that he didn't deserve it. For being such a tech genius, he's kind of an idiot."

"It really was quite fun to watch," Texōccoatl added, with a laugh of his own. "When you told Xocolcōza that if he ran his company like he wanted us to run the country, we'd all be using tin cans and string to talk and abacuses for math, I almost coughed up my drink."

Tlālzixiuhxa smiled at the comments. "He is the kind of man whose ideas are frequently full of obvious flaws, which are just waiting to be pointed out. And it is my pleasure to do so."

"Indeed. I could see that you enjoy your work. You're also quite good at it. And that is something we could use right now," Yauhmi replied. "As you undoubtedly know, my reforms to date have been quite popular, but there is a significant minority who are questioning them and are pushing back against them. I'm not terrible at defending them," the Empress said with another chuckle, "but I can always use help."

Texōccoatl nodded. "What we were hoping is that you would consider taking up a role as a sort of spokesperson for the Empress and her reforms. Someone who can actively promote and defend them, from a position of knowledge and strength. You're already a trusted expert on the national stage, and you've proven quite capable of such a role."

"I would be honoured," she replied, her face lighting up. This was an excellent opportunity for her.

"I'm glad to hear that," Yauhmi replied. "There is just one more thing we must discuss before you step into that role."

Tlalmaxxi spoke up at that point, sliding a card over to Tlālzixiuhxa. It had her name and Kerlian citizen ID number on it. "We know," she said quietly.

She paled, looking up in alarm. She didn't know what to say. She didn't know what was going to happen. The day she had spent her life dreading had come.

Yauhmi saw Tlālzixiuhxa turn pale. "Please don't be alarmed. If we had any intention of harming you, I wouldn't have just offered to make you my spokesperson and defender of my goals for this country."

Tlalmaxxi smiled. "The only reason we are even mentioning this is to get everything out in the open. Xiomera and Kerlile are not enemies. There is no reason for you to hide any longer."

"You've built a very good life here in Xiomera, Tlālzixiuhxa." Yauhmi added her own smile to the mix. "What I am offering you is a chance to make that life real - and not have this haunting you and lingering over your shoulder any longer."

She remained silent for a moment, thinking, then eventually spoke. "I don't know how much you know of the Kerlian Civil War. Horrible conflict, lasted years. The Council thought they'd lose at the start. I don't know when they changed their mind, or how they won, but in 1993 they were convinced their days were numbered. I was only fourteen at the time, and everything I knew was about to be destroyed. DKS were evil terrorists, so we were taught. But when they won? I don't know, I was almost disappointed. The Matriarchy endured and so did my mission. I guess I'd almost looked forward to it, being free of them. Free of the obligations. Freedom was not something many Kerlians had, but I yearned for it."

She paused, shaking a little, uncertain why she was choosing to say all this. "I want to be free of the Matriarchy but if I betray them they will kill me. Or worse. Do you know what they did to DKS prisoners? They're capable of such terrible things."

"Not in our country, they aren't," Yauhmi said firmly. "And I say our country deliberately. Xiomera is your home now, if you want it to be. And we will protect you. I have already spoken with the Kerlian leadership and made it quite clear that there would be severe consequences if anyone tries to harm someone under my protection."

"You will be safe here, if you want to stay. We will make sure of that," Tlalmaxxi added. The two ASI agents who had escorted Tlālzixiuhxa to the Palace both nodded in response to her.

"I..." she hesitated. "I'd like that. There's something you should be aware of, though. Something major. I... I dare not say aloud. Councillor Hale may have already told you, but I fear to say it."

Yauhmi nodded. "Is it something that would endanger you, or endanger Xiomera?"

"Not Xiomera, no. It would endanger me, but no more than agreeing to stay here. But it would endanger others. Some that I know, and some that I don't."

"I see," Yauhmi said. "Is this something you can tell us now?"

"I..." she hesitated. "I dare not say it aloud. I can't be certain... it's such a crucial time..."

Yauhmi sighed. "If it poses no risk to Xiomera or its people....I cannot in good conscience compel you to tell me. If it's a personal risk....we all have to choose what risks we take or don't take. The only thing that I will ask is that if the risk to yourself becomes too great, or when the time is right, that you let us know what this involves. Also...if others are at risk, it is important to remember that their own safety matters too." Yauhmi clasped her hands in the manner of someone putting a matter to rest. "Is there anything else you would like to say, or any questions that you have for us?"

"I am curious as to why you have extended this offer to me," she said. "Given the current alliance between Kerlile and Xiomera, I would have thought this whole affair would only serve to cause tension."

"There were discussions that needed to take place after this all came to light. Some of the discussions were....a bit direct," the Empress said. "But I am convinced that the majority of people currently on the Council are not to blame for this matter, and that none of the people sent here have harmed Xiomera. So I am content to let the matter rest. Our alliance with Kerlile has been fruitful and mutually beneficial. I am not the sort of person to throw all that away over the first problem that arises." Yauhmi looked at Tlālzixiuxha more keenly. "As for why we are offering this opportunity to the Auroras sent here, and to you in particular, there are two good reasons. One: Xiomera is built on the achievements of the talented and the meritorious. I am loath to waste such talent as you represent. Two: Xiomera is the motherland of all Xiomerans everywhere. I am their protector. I thus feel a certain responsibility to my fellow Xiomerans, which you are, no matter your past. This is your ancestral home, and you have a right to it."

"I think this is the first genuine choice I have had over my life," she replied after a pause. "Everything else has been written for me. I want to escape from that life, those obligations. I want to stay here."

"Does this mean you'll accept my job offer?" Yauhmi replied with a mischievous grin.

"It does," Tlālzixiuhxa replied, nodding. "I really am truly grateful for the opportunity, and I'm fully supportive of your reforms here - and the reforms of the present Kerlian Council, back in Kerlile," she added, looking at Yauhmi as if seeking her thoughts on the matter of Kerlian reform.

"The reformist Councillors and I have more in common than many realize. Maybe that's another reason I've been sympathetic to Auroras - I've been keeping my own secrets for a while," the Empress mused. "But my own time for secrets is also coming to an end. Change will come - to both Xiomera and Kerlile. And I have a feeling that your help in supporting reforms will be quite important in ensuring that."

Tlālzixiuhxa relaxed visibly. "I hope I can be of assistance. As for the matter to which I referred earlier, I should be able to give you more details in a week's time. But I promise it is no danger to Xiomera."

"Then I shall take you at your word, and let you inform me of it when you can. For now, Tlalmaxxi will walk you through your new job responsibilities. We shall be in close communication though, since you'll be speaking for me quite often. Welcome to my service, Tlālzixiuhxa. And also, welcome home." Yauhmi stood up, extending her hand, as the others rose.

She shook Yauhmi's hand, smiling, and breathing a sigh of relief. She had so many secrets, that the idea of one day being free of most of them was surreal. "Thank you, Empress," she said.

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Re: The Hunt for Auroras

Post by Lauchenoiria » Sat Feb 15, 2020 10:38 pm

Alvarez’s Office, Buttercity, Lauchenoiria
15th February 2020

Knock, knock.

“Come in!” called Alvarez, distractedly as she read through a piece of proposed legislation by a Green which was actually decent, deciding whether or not the government should support it.

“Sorry, your secretary isn’t there, I think she went to the bathroom, so…” trailed off the voice at the door. Alvarez looked up.

“Leonie? Come in, I wasn’t expecting you. Is there a problem?” she said, putting down the report and gesturing for Leonie to take a seat.

“Well, kind of, I guess. I just… I’m worried about the Veronica thing.”

“She’s no threat to you, I promise,” Alvarez said gently. “She was open with me, and she seems to genuinely care about you and the other two, and I promise she won’t hurt you like the Kerlians did during the war.”

“No, that’s not what I’m worried about. I spoke with her on the drive here and in spite of what she is, I can get over that. But I’m worried about what will happen if it’s discovered that you, of all people, are working with a Kerlian agent.”

“Ah,” said the Prime Minister, sighing and leaning back. “We haven’t really spoken since the climate protest affair, have we? I didn’t want to have to do that; the Conservatives forced me and we must maintain an image of stability at all costs.”

“Kicking the entire committee of the youth wing out of the party is not why I’m here. I’m here because if they find out, they will remove you from office, probably try you for treason, and then it’s gonna turn into a witch-hunt for anyone with Kerlian connections, or anyone with alleged Kerlian connections and a lot of people are going to suffer! I can’t just stand in silence while that happens! That is not what I fought for last year,” Leonie said firmly, staring Alvarez in the face.

“I know, Leonie,” she sighed. “I do. And I’m going to make sure that doesn’t happen, I promise. Gabriel Fleming is a much greater risk than Paul Doberman and the like, though, and this is something I have to do.”

“Who?” Leonie asked.

“… how much do you actually know of what I’m doing with Ms. Penners?” the Prime Minister queried after a pause.

“Just that you’re doing something. I don’t know!” Leonie said, slightly exasperated at the entire affair.

“Leonie, you should leave it there. This sort of thing is dangerous. I don’t fully understand what is going on myself, but there are things happening outside of my control, and certainly outside of yours. Please, trust me.”

Leonie paused, tapping her finger against her leg. “I did,” she said finally, “before you started allowing people like Thomas Averforth to influence your policies. I visited Shuell for the Olympics, you know? It was interesting, to see their society. Very different from ours, of course. Their sheer hatred of communism was fascinating, and frankly understandable. The authoritarian kind, anyway. But they’re authoritarian too.”

“Yes, they are…” Alvarez said cautiously, uncertain where Leonie was going with this.

“I had just turned 18 when the coup happened. I was in the middle of my final exams in school, and I got involved with the Resistance delivering messages, at first. I thought we were going to protest the Chaher regime, that we were going to resolve things peacefully at first. Then war came. I was completely out of my depth, it was a situation I was unprepared for entirely. But at no point did I want to back out. Because the things I was fighting for, democracy and freedom, were worth the risk. Even after all that happened to me, I still believe that.”

“Leonie…”

“But what exactly do we have now? The extradition crisis, that poor Shuellian who is probably now a shadow of his former self. Those Xiomerans, who are now in prison for that embassy protest here despite the fact that their colleagues who returned home have since been released. All the Kerlian refugees who have been detained at the border out of fear of Auroras even though we know that’s not how they come! The media blames all this on Marwick, a convenient scapegoat. But what exactly are you doing to further the causes of freedom and democracy? Cause the way I see it, you’re letting yourself be controlled by Averforth, by Shuell, and by Sanctaria.”

“Okay, Leonie,” Alvarez said firmly. “That’s enough. I understand why you feel that way, but look at it from another perspective for a moment. You worry about outside control? Okay, well I’m trying to remove that as soon as possible. In order to do so, we must appear stable, especially before the April elections. Noguera invited the Shuellians here, and until we can undo some of her mistakes, we have to play ball in order to remain safe. I understand that things are bad, and I do in some ways regret some of the alliances I’ve had to make politically, but I am trying my best to protect Lauchenoiria.”

“I want to speak to Councillor Hale,” Leonie said suddenly.

“I’m sorry? What does that have to do with anything?”

“I don’t think I told you, but when I was in prison in Kerlile, they were trying to take this girl away who they’d previously fed full of propaganda, but who was trying to question it. I wasn’t about to let them, so I made a scene. And one of them was going to kill me. She had a gun pointed at me, and I was certain I was going to die. But Hale was there. She saved my life, and I still don’t know why. I don’t know why any of that stuff with her happened. I know your relationship is complicated, but the thing is: right now, I trust her more than I trust you.”

“A Kerlian Councillor?” Alvarez said sceptically.

“The woman who saved my life. And she knows you. You ask me to trust you on this? Well, I don’t. But I trust her judgement, and if she says you’re doing the right thing then I guess you are.”

“A Kerlian Councillor? You trust a Kerlian Councillor over me?”

“You have my number, get her to give me a call,” Leonie said, standing up and walking over to the door.

“Wait, Leonie, we’re not done here!” Alvarez called. Leonie paid no attention, pushing open the door and closing it behind her as she headed out of the office.

*

Meeting Room, Kerlian Intelligence Service Building, Grapevale

The seven women sat awkwardly around the table in the room, waiting for the people with the paperwork to return. The two youngest sat together at the side opposite from the door, one dressed in typical working-class Kerlian clothing, and the other wearing an expensive Xiomeran dress which complimented her skin tone well. She kept glancing at the other ethnic Xiomeran in the room, who sat at the back with two of the Kvask-assigned women, discussing something in hushed tones.

Opposite the two youngest were the two eldest, a sullen southern-Lauchenoirian-looking woman who was scowling, next to the third Kvask-assigned, the eldest, who was singing softly to herself in a language that the young two didn’t speak. The youngest, a pale woman who’d been sent to LOM, lay her head down on the desk and closed her eyes, as if trying to sleep.

“What’s that song?” the Xiomeran-looking young woman asked of the oldest.

“It’s a Kvaskm lullaby,” the woman said, her accent heavy. “What are you called? I was Daniela, or Slavjena, take your pick.”

“Nelichē,” she replied, smiling slightly. “You were in Kvask?”

“Yes, for many years. I trained with Charissa Clarke, you know. We were friends once upon a time, though I hear she became rather cruel as she got older. You don’t use your training name now you’re back?”

“I don’t know,” Nelichē frowned suddenly. “I guess I don’t. You don’t use a Kerlian accent yourself,” she smirked, teasing.

“I suppose I don’t,” laughed Daniela, or Slavjena. “So, did you…”

“YOU LITTLE PIECE OF TRAITOROUS SCUM!” yelled one of the trio from the back suddenly, interrupting the conversation. All four of the others turned to look at the back.

“For Goddesses sake, Orla,” the Xiomeran one said, “you don’t need to make a scene. I’m sure if Luska here is guilty of treason, she’ll be arrested.”

“They won’t arrest me, Zichitla, because I’m not guilty of anything!” the third one, Luska, said, turning her back to the other two.

“Her name is Nelly, and you are the worst kind of scum to walk this earth!” hissed Orla, and then she stood up and walked over to the door, throwing it open and storming out of the room.

Daniela raised her eyebrows and exchanged a look with Nelichē. “What was that all about?” she asked of those in the back.

“Orla, by training, is rather extreme in her views that we should not care for anything other than the Matriarchy,” said Luska. “She won’t even tell us her third name. I prefer to go by mine, as does Zichitla.”

“As do I,” said Nelichē. “Though I’m not sure why. I’m Nelichē, by the way,” she said, introducing herself by what Auroras called her third name. Few knew, though perhaps more since the leaks, that Auroras have three names. That of birth, that of training, and that of cover. They did not know their first, but for these seven, that was about to change.

“Charlotte,” said the youngest next to Nelichē, by way of introduction. “Or Susanna, by the second.”

“Emelia,” said the Lauchenoirian as the others turned to her, then she looked away and said nothing more.

The door opened, and Orla returned, along with two employees of the KIS, carrying seven files between them. Orla took the spare seat next to Nelichē, much to her discomfort, rather than returning to her original space.

“Okay, now that all your debriefs are out of the way, we can present you with these files which contain everything you have the right to. They contain your original birth certificates, and the details of the bank accounts in which the money you’re owed has been deposited. Also contained are keys to apartments we’re providing you with for up to six months, after which you’ll be expected to find your own accommodation. The money contains your payment for services, capped at up to 5 years backpay due to budgetary constraints. And no, nobody is being arrested for treason,” the woman speaking looked pointedly at Orla.

“Right, raise your hand when I call your KCID,” the other woman said. “19966899.”

Luska raised her hand, and was handed a file. She didn’t open it, instead waiting as the others were given theirs. Orla glared at her as the second woman continued to read out Kerlian Citizen ID numbers and hand files. Once all the files had been distributed, the two women stood.

“We shall leave you to ponder the contents by yourselves. You may leave as you wish. All further information is contained in the files. Please contact us with the name you decide to use within the week. Have a good day,” the first one said, and then they both left.

The seven former Auroras all looked down at their files, and at each other. There were several minutes of silence as they worked up the courage to open them. Each of them had spent so long without knowing the truth of their identities and birth, and that was what the file meant to them, quite aside from its other contents. Eventually, the Lauchenoirian worked up the courage to turn the page, and the others followed suit.

Nelichē looked down at her file and pulled out the birth certificate. Her date of birth was the same as she had always known, she was relieved to see. Her father wasn’t listed, which intrigued her – if he was unknown, then perhaps he was still alive? Her mother was named, a Xiomeran name coupled with a surname that sounded like it came from an English-speaking country. Had she adopted the surname to fit in with the bureaucracy? Or perhaps it had been a grandmother.

She looked at the name she had been given at birth. It was Kerlian, not Xiomeran. Her mother was listed as residing in a location Nelichē knew to be a prison. She was suddenly overcome with disappointment and despair. She didn’t even know if her mother had named her, or if they’d taken her away right after her birth. She felt a dampness on her face and reached up to see that she was crying. She felt no connection to the name on the paper, but she was overcome with a sudden desire to find out who her father was.

Standing, she gathered the paper back into the file, dug out the keys and looked at the address listed. East end of Grapevale, middle-class area. She picked up the file, and left the room, ignoring the others who were still engrossed in their own files. She walked determinedly down the corridors and out of the building, acknowledging nobody as she went. She made her way to the nearest bus stop and sat in the shelter to wait, thinking.

Her life had always had a purpose, a mission. That was what it meant to be an Aurora. Now she wasn’t one, but she still had a purpose, a mission. She was going to find out exactly who she was, and exactly what had become of her family. And she’d already made her choice. She was a Xiomeran-Kerlian, and her name was Nelichē.

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Re: The Hunt for Auroras

Post by Laeral » Sun Feb 16, 2020 12:03 am

Bureau of External Affairs, Laeralsford, Laeral
February 8, 2020

"The suspect still is refusing to talk," the BEA interrogator said. "Still insists that she's Sharon Quan, a Kerlian refugee and employee of the Kerlile Human Rights Initiative."

"So there's still absolutely nothing out of her?" Espoir Landais asked. "Any signs from body language, bodily responses, anything like that?"

"Nothing conclusive," the interrogator said. "She's not even displaying much abnormal resistance. We have her in uncomfortable conditions, we're trying to intimidate her, and she's responding just as much as you'd expect from a normal civilian."

"So we can't even hold up resistance to interrogation as evidence of her being an Aurora," Espoir mused. "Keep up the interrogation, I suppose. We probably have just a few more days until we have to release her, anyways."

"Yes, ma'am," the interrogator said, and left. Joseph Wu, Espoir's partner agent, entered a few seconds later.

"Where were you?" Espoir asked.

"Taking phone calls," Wu said. "You remember how I gave the woman back at the KHRI my phone number?"

"How could I forget?" Espoir said. "We made quite the scene."

"That woman and her colleagues have been calling me non-stop," Wu said. "I turned on my phone this morning to find that I had seven voicemails. Seven!"

Espoir snickered. "Imagine that. Human rights activists, being persistent like that."

"The worse thing is, Sharon's husband has been calling me, too. I just got off the phone with him."

"How's the poor man taking it?" Espoir asked.

"He's a wreck. Seems like they were just married a few years ago- they have a two year-old son, and the husband seems desperate to get his wife out of what he thinks is immigration detention."

"She'll be out in a few days, anyways," Espoir said. "Not much worse for wear."

"Still no evidence?" Joseph asked.

"Nothing at all," Espoir said. "Nothing to justify holding her longer. We'll have to give her up in a few days, with nothing to show for it."

"That's where you're wrong," Wu said, with a rare grin. "Follow me."

Wu led the way out of the room, down a hallway, and into a bare room with a single table. Sitting on the table was Sharon Quan's laptop and cell phone, which Wu had been careful to grab during Quan's arrest, surrounded by evidence documentation materials.

"Our tech team was able to break into her laptop and cell phone," Wu said. "Everything looked perfectly ordinary on the surface. Email, social media, ordinary search history, all of that. But they dug a little deeper, and they found a second layer. I don't understand all the computer stuff, but essentially there was a second layer of the computer, hidden beneath the surface, where she had been hiding a web browser and a bunch of download files."

"And what had she downloaded?" Espoir asked.

"I was waiting for you to take a look," Wu said. He walked over to the laptop. The screen was powered on, displaying a generic web browser. "This is the second layer of the computer," Wu said. "Sharon did all of her aboveboard things- work, personal emails, all of that- on the first layer, the one that comes up when you type in the password. But when you enter a series of commands and then another password, it gets you to this second layer. The search history here on the web browser cleared itself every time she exited this second layer, so we don't know what she was searching for. But her downloads stayed, even when she exited the layer."

He typed in a few commands, and up came a smaller screen displaying the downloads. It was a series of video files, dozens of them. They each had a title:
-"The Struggle of Wearing Boyfriend Jeans"
-"Setsuzoku vs. Reality: Lunar New Year Parties (Feat. Daniel Chan)"
-"How To Hide a Hickey From Your Brown Mom"
-"What Girls Really Think About Their Boyfriends' Sports (Part 2)"

"What the hell?" Wu said quietly.

"Maybe the titles are codes for something," Espoir said. "Watch one."

Wu clicked on a video, and a bouncy jingle played over a title card reading "Deepa's Diary: The Struggle of Wearing Boyfriend Jeans". The scene opened on an attractive young Desi woman waking up, springing out of bed, and walking over to a mirror before struggling to pull on a pair of jeans. As light music played in the background, the woman picked up a pair of jeans from her drawer and tried them on, before falling victim to a series of comedic pitfalls- mentally comparing her appearance to that of a twelve year-old boy, being unable to fit possessions into her pockets, and her mother, a traditionally dressed Andhran woman, berating her for being dressed immodestly. As the young woman walked back into her bedroom, defeated, a bouncy snippet of music played, and the screen cut to the woman herself speaking directly to the camera.

"Hey, thanks so much for watching! If you enjoyed, be sure to like and subscribe, and check out my other videos..."

"Is this a- comedy show of some kind?" Wu asked.

Espoir was struggling to hold back a very unprofessional giggle. "Joseph, this is the kind of thing my little sister watches! It's an online video channel. That's Deepa Bhowal; she started out doing makeup tutorials and now she runs these sorts of- comedy things. My sister's sixteen, and she loves it."

"Are they all like this?" Wu asked.

Espoir took a look at the file names. "These all look like Deepa's Diary videos to me. I just don't get why Sharon would go to all the effort of hiding a bunch of videos on, like, hiding hickeys and that kind of thing."

"She must have had some reason with them," Wu said. "Some kind of plan. Look at this, there's dozens of these videos here. Maybe a hundred. And this one over here- it looks like video of this Deepa person just walking down the street or something."

"This means she's an Aurora, then," Espoir said. "There's no other reason why anyone, especially a businesswoman in her thirties, would be hiding all of these videos like this." She paused as a thought dawned on her. "Do you think Deepa Bhowal is an Aurora?"

"She's famous, you said? A celebrity?"

"To some people, I guess," Espoir said. "I don't know if anyone over 25 could tell you who she is, but for a lot of teenagers, she's important."

"She's in a position of power, then," Wu said. "There's a good chance she's an Aurora. Or someone Sharon was targeting. We need to find her."

"She lives in the Laeralsford suburbs, I think," Espoir said. "Somewhere in the Riverlands, at least."

"Deepa Bhowal is now a person of interest for us," Wu said. "Let's make sure we get to her before anyone else does."

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Re: The Hunt for Auroras

Post by Lauchenoiria » Sun Feb 16, 2020 10:12 pm

Council of Kerlile Chamber, Grapevale, Kerlile
16th February 2020

The Council sat in silence as the video played. President Arnott had watched it first and sat in the corner now, turned away from the screen, her eyes squeezed tightly shut like a frightened child. She was shaking, and as white as a sheet of paper. She’d called the Council immediately, without informing them of why. A compulsory session. She hadn’t even been able to watch it fully the first time, and sitting here now, it took all her strength to prevent herself from running away.

As the video ended, Councillor Chiu stood abruptly, and ran out of the room, unable to suppress the urge the President had. She was shaking as she left the building, running past and frightening the gathered secretaries and security personnel outside, some of whom rushed to follow her. She pushed out into the courtyard, and gasped in the fresh air, hyperventilating, and grabbing onto a statue of one of Councillor Hart’s ancestors to steady herself.

“Ma’am, are you okay?” one of the secretaries tentatively asked her.

“In all my years on this Council,” Chiu began, breathing heavily as tears threatened to fall, “and before, I have only seen such horrors a few times. And every time before, it was on our side. We were wrong. We shouldn’t have committed those atrocities and we shouldn’t accept them from others.”

“Councillor?” the secretary said, confused and alarmed. “Can I get you something?”

Chiu remained silent, and walked over to a bench next to a fountain and sat down, staring at the water silently, seemingly unaware of the women gathering around her, concerned.

Back in the Chamber, Councillor Hale stood and walked briskly over to where a secretary sat in open sessions, grabbing a rubbish bin from under the table and sitting down on the secretary’s chair, then promptly proceeded to vomit into the bin. She was shaking, grabbing it tightly to her chest, grateful her hair was short and wouldn’t get caught.

“Bastards,” spat Councillor Pierre. She had been swearing under her breath throughout the video. “They turned one of my Auroras into that? It’s so wrong! After all the work we put into her! She was special, irreplaceable, and they stole her mind. She deserved better. She deserved so much better.”

“I can’t believe it,” said Letitia Greenwood. “This is so awful. We should have been more careful. I wonder if we shouldn’t stop sending spies to such places. That poor woman. That poor, poor woman.” She then fell silent. She would not speak again for hours.

President Arnott stood and walked over to the rest of the Council, sitting down in Chiu’s vacated seat, ignoring the traditions that would have forbidden such an action. This was not the time for sticking to tradition. “I couldn’t even watch this again. I barely did the first time. It’s too horrifying. I knew if they caught one of our agents it would be bad, but this something else. She was so loyal, she never broke, even knowing what would happen. I’m impressed, I doubt many would remain loyal in her situation. I misjudged the quality of training, they are clearly some exceptional women. Goddess, poor her.”

Her daughter Rosemary, the Councillor, remained silent, but moved her chair closer to her mother, shaking uncontrollably and hugging her mother, burying her face in her mother’s shoulder so the other Councillors couldn’t see the tears that were beginning to run down her face.

“We should pray,” said Councillor Hart, her voice full of sorrow. “They act like they have the right to interfere with the souls of humans. Only the Goddess should have such power! They will be punished in the afterlife, those Shuellian heathens, but I hope we can find some way to punish them in this life too. That man - that surgeon deserves nothing other than a thousand centuries of pain and the Goddess will give him it! Goddess, I pray we can find the wisdom to save the Auroras from the heathens and their abuse of the sanctity of human minds and souls.”

There was silence, as many of the Councillors said a silent prayer of their own, even those who were not particularly religious. Viallamando, who was a Lurite like her Aelurian ancestors, took out a flower from her pocket and held it to her forehead, a Lurian custom commonly used to pray over someone who is dying.

“I want to punch a Shuellian in the face,” Viallamando said, when she was finished praying. Her face was grim, and her eyes flashed with anger. “That Aurora deserved better. Like you say, Pauline, they’re special. Only someone special could have suffered through that without breaking. Shuell must pay.” She stood up all of a sudden and punched her chair hard, causing it to fly back against the wall. There was a sharp crack as the back of it broke, despite the padding which protected her hand. She sat down on the table behind her, shaking with anger.

“Those Shuellian bastards need to be taught a lesson,” hissed Nirmala Patel. She glanced around the room, and happened to catch Hale’s eyes. At that moment, Hale saw something of Nirmala’s mother in her, and shuddered. “They think they can get away with treating a Kerlian like this!? We will need to teach them a lesson. She would have been better off dead. When we invade them, we can put her out of her misery.”

“Invade Shuell? Only if you have a death wish,” said Gergiou, who was sobbing. “I was just there a few months ago, for the Olympics. I haven’t cried in public for many years, but I can’t help it. I thought they were okay, I should have distrusted them more! It terrifies me, knowing what they’re capable of! We can’t go up against that!”

“That poor woman,” Hale said, still clutching the bin and looking green, “I never approved of the Aurora Programme in the first place. It’s time we shut it down. It needs to end. We put her in that position in the first place. Nobody deserves such a fate, and we need to accept responsibility. Goddess, how awful.”

“This is my fault,” squeaked Councillor Robinson suddenly, sitting up straight in her chair and staring into space with a distraught look upon her face. “I wanted to hurt Pierre with the first leak, but now Kerlians are suffering in such terrible ways… I’m responsible for this. Oh hell!”

“Don’t blame yourself, Carmen,” said Hale, standing shakily and placing the bin on the table for someone to handle later. She walked to the front of the semicircular Council tables, standing where she stood in August 2018, when she pledged to join the Council in exchange for Josephine Alvarez’s freedom. “We need to end the Aurora Programme.”

“I agree,” nodded President Arnott, standing also. Georgiou and Robinson joined her, along with Hart and Viallamando. Then Greenwood, and the President’s daughter. Even Patel chose to join the circle, reaching out to take Councillor Hart’s hand, squeezing it. Robinson and Viallamando took each other’s hands also, followed by the two Arnotts. The room turned to look at Pierre.

“I…” Pierre trailed off, looking up at the standing Councillors. “This is not the normal voting procedure,” she said quietly, but her eyes were sad and conflicted.

“This is not a normal situation,” replied Councillor Hale.

And Councillor Pierre stood. She took Patel’s hand and - surprisingly - Robinson’s.

“I agree,” she said, her face creasing as she struggled to suppress tears. “I was wrong,” she whispered. “We shouldn’t have continued the Programme after the first leak. We need to end it. Now, immediately. I will go to the Centre and issue an immediate, mandatory evacuation order.”

The Councillors and President remained like that for several minutes before leaving, in silence, holding hands, grieving. On the paused screen in the corner of the room, the blank expression of an Aurora stared out at them.

*

Four hours later, a coded message was sent to all deployed members of the Aurora Programme. It was sent via a variety of communication methods, using a variety of different codes, but each Aurora would receive and translate the message to read the following:

Return home immediately. Your assignment is finished. Do not delay. Take the quickest route. If you are in desperate need of assistance, contact us for support. If you do not return within 14 days you will be alone. Do not delay.

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Re: The Hunt for Auroras

Post by Lauchenoiria » Mon Feb 17, 2020 8:26 pm

Irena Wilson was at work when she saw the message. She enjoyed her job in the Eirian National Library, she found it interesting and relaxing, and the coffee in the break room was excellent. On weekends, she would go on hikes and trips to the forest with her husband Cole, a tall, sweet man who really deserved better than her. She did love him, but perhaps not as much as she should. She found Eirians a little too naive for her taste.

She was within the subset of Auroras who received their messages through coded targeted ads on her social media profiles, and she read the message as she was browsing one of these sites during her lunch break. It had been lying in wait for her since the middle of the night, but she hadn’t bothered to check in the morning. Upon reading it, she sighed and put down her cup of coffee.

“Is something the matter?” asked one of her colleagues.

“I just remembered I need to make a dentist appointment,” replied Irena. “I’ve been putting it off for far too long and I’m going to need to go soon. I think I need a filling.”

“Ouch,” said the colleague, wincing. “That doesn’t sound fun.”

“I’m just going to go outside and call the dentist surgery,” said Irena, standing and walking outside. Once she was away from the building, and certain nobody was in earshot, she took out her phone and called her husband. It went through to voicemail.

“Cole, I’m going away for a few days. Work trip, I need to fill in for one of my colleagues whose daughter is sick. Can you pack some of my things and get my passport ready? I’ll need to leave quickly once I get home. Thanks! I love you.”

She hung up the phone, and pocketed it, without feeling any guilt. She went back inside, finished her lunch and completed her shift, smiling and making small talk with her colleagues, doing the best job she could as always. At no point did she waver from her daily routine, nor did she attempt to remove any documents from the facility. For someone in her position, she was rather calm.

That evening, she arrived home to find her suitcase packed with the essentials she took on overnight trips, her passport sitting on top along with a note from her husband: Sorry I missed your call, enjoy your trip xx. He worked in the evenings, and he had already gone. She sighed sadly, she would have liked to say goodbye to him. She checked the contents of her case, went into her room and threw more things into a larger case, and then took them both outside to the car.

She drove north-east, towards the port where she could get a ferry to Xiomera. She turned the radio on as she drove, listening to some calming, classical music. It was important, she knew, that she monitored her mood and remained calm, especially at times like these. She was disappointed, in a way, that it was ending like this, but at least in the future she’d be able to relax more easily, live without the fear.

At the port, she bought a ticket for her and the car on the overnight ferry, joining the queue waiting. This was when she was nervous. They wouldn’t have recalled her, with an impersonal message that implied it was being sent to multiple agents, if there wasn’t some kind of risk. Once she’d had her passport checked and she was on the ferry, she felt a little better. She knew there were flights from Xiomera to Kerlile, and she would be able to get one easily the next day. She’d have to leave the car in Xiomera.

A few hours later, the ferry departed Eiria, and Irena watched from a window as the coast grew farther and farther away, and she doubted, with only a little sadness, that she would ever return.

*

Anaïs Lasserre received her copy of the message when she was in bed on Sunday night. She’d been checking her emails as she did habitually before going to sleep, but upon reading what seemed to be a spam message, she sat up, wide awake. The covers fell onto the floor as she’d jerked upright so quickly. Her heart was beating fast and she glanced around her expensive apartment as if expecting to see someone watching her. Eventually, she calmed slightly, and then sat back against the headboard and groaned.

It was a risk for those in her original occupation that on occasion, one grew to enjoy the life one had made, regardless of how false it was. She was one of those people. She loved her false life rather more than her real one, and didn’t want it to end. Still, she couldn’t take the risk of being abandoned alone to her fate, when she knew that there were leaks and suspicions everywhere. She was in too high-profile a position to believe that she was entirely safe. Still, she wondered if there wasn’t a way to compromise.

The first time she’d starred in a film, she’d realised how much she could get used to this life. It had been exciting, tantalising, and she’d allowed herself to become immersed in her cover in a way she knew was deeper than expected. When she founded Élan Studios, her mind had been on her mission, of course, but also on the projects she would have the chance to pursue and the opportunities this would create not just for Kerlile, but for herself.

She had the inkling of an idea, which probably wouldn’t work, but was worth a shot. She would return to Kerlile, and speak with them to propose her idea. They might agree, it would certainly save them some money, and she knew how badly the Kerlian economy was doing. She picked up her phone and dialled her PA, Michelle.

Bonsoir,” she greeted her. “I am sorry to bother you so late, but could you book me on the next flight to Kerlile? I received an invitation to speak at an event for the Kerlian film industry several months ago, if you remember, and I originally refused, but I was reading this article today about how the reformist government are loosening censorship rules and I’ve changed my mind. I contacted them, but inconveniently the event is on Tuesday night. If I go, perhaps I can persuade them to allow some of our films to be shown there. It’s an interesting market. It probably won’t work out, but it is worth a shot.”

Early on Monday morning, she packed and headed to the Laeralsford. Flights to Kerlile were very rarely full, only leaving from the capital, and it was easy to buy a last-minute ticket for someone of her wealth. She was able to tell on the phone last night that Michelle was slightly taken aback at her decision to go to Kerlile, but the ticket had been booked anyway, and Anaïs had become slightly nervous.

The invitation to speak in Kerlile was partly real - it had been sent, but it was in fact the coded message she had received warning her about the third leak in November. It had come without a date, conveniently allowing her to choose one. That was how it had been designed. She smiled to herself a little as she boarded the flight, admiring the long-term strategies that her handlers back in Kerlile came up with.

The flight was not quite as luxurious as she was used to, but it wasn’t horrible. She settled down in business class, relaxing into her seat and breathing a sigh of relief that she’d managed to get through passport control without any bother. Next to her, someone with a Lauchenoirian passport on her lap was hissing into a phone in Spanish, while across the aisle a pair of Rén businesswomen were going through what looked like reports.

When the flight took off, Anaïs finally allowed herself to fully relax, closing her eyes and settling down to sleep as they rose into the air.

*

When Liesa Dirks received her message, on Sunday, she knew right away that for the first time she was going to disobey an order. She’d surprised herself with the knowledge, in fact, as before that moment she hadn’t realised quite how invested she was in her life in Shuell. She was in love with her husband Rudi, and she couldn’t leave her two children, Alex and Miriam. The realisation caused her to have to sit down, as a dizziness came upon her.

It saddened her, in a way. She knew she was in danger, and her love for her family made her even more at risk. She would never, ever betray the Matriarchy, she knew, but she couldn’t leave her family. In two weeks, when she hadn’t returned, she would be left alone to meet whatever fate she faced. Which, she suspected, wouldn’t have any effect on what the Shuellian authorities would do with her if she was caught.

The idea of capture hurt her greatly. The idea that one day they might come and take her away from her family scared her, and she shook in fear at the idea. The message gave her a kind of hope, however. If her mission was over, and she was no longer employed by the Kerlian government, then perhaps she could actually live out her life without fearing that one day she would be called upon to do something she didn’t really want to do. Her fear, since she’d had her son, was that she would be called upon to do something that would put him in danger. That would no longer occur.

By morning, the thought that she was free of her obligations to Kerlile had begun to overtake her fear about being abandoned. When she went to work, at Sailbetter Foods, she had a spring in her step and a lightness within her. There was still a risk, yes, a horrible risk, but there was also a chance that she would be able to live a real life with her family, without constantly feeling the ache in her stomach that one day it would all turn to ash.

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