Chapter Two
To Silence A President

2148 Hours, December 30, 2010 (Eastern Standard Time)
The Haven, Oured, Osea

From his own plush office in the Haven, General David Thompson put down the receiver of his phone with a shaky hand. He found it amazing, absolutely ludicrous, in fact, that it happened. But it did. And now there was hell to pay for.

Thompson released the first two buttons of his uniform as he stiffly sat himself back down onto the seat behind his oak office desk. His office, at least two times larger and more luxurious than General Bradley's, did not seem to belong to any military official, with a lack of documents and weapons. Rather, the red walls and gold paneling that decorated the office seemed to belong to that of a rich aristocrat or a wealthy businessman. But the top brass enjoyed such luxuries, and, although the soldiers in the lower levels of the military hierarchy must've despised it, there was nothing anyone could do about it.

A well-built, muscular General in his forties who worked his way up the ranks through dedicated hard work, hard battles, and hard stances, Thompson was a stiff, determined figure who saw much conflict through his history in the service of his country. Criticized as a warmongering right-wing general by his opponents, General Thompson nevertheless had managed to keep the Osean Defense Force on its toes, supplying especially the Army and the Navy with funds, technology, and weapons despite budget cuts made by President Harling. He had not retired even though he was extremely vocal about his disapproval of Harling's cuts to the military budget, and had done all he could to convince the senators of the Osean Federation Council to veto Harling's presentation of the national budget, a move that was unsuccessful.

For those who knew Thompson's background, though, it could be said that it was understandable why Thompson seemed to be a warmonger. Thompson had been a Lieutenant twenty years ago, an eager officer in the Osean Army that volunteered for an undercover espionage mission behind enemy lines on the soil of Osea's cold war enemy, Yuktobania. The mission went south, however, and Thompson was captured. For the next nine months, Thompson was interrogated, tortured, and mistreated by his Yuktobanian captors until a prisoner exchange freed Thompson from the clutches of the enemy. On his body were angry scars that bore the hate of his former captors. Thompson's resolve was clear: Yuktobania was Osea's enemy, and Osea must never show any sign of weakness to the tyrannical regime.

When Yuktobania first attacked Osea, Thompson found his chance. He appealed to everyone possible, scrounging support, doing everything he could to force the President to officially declare war on Yuktobania and increase funding for the military. Thompson intended to do everything he could to get the military into full swing and crush Yuktobania. Yet, the President still refused, even as their Navy was almost decimated, and, instead still attempted peace talks afterwards, peace talks that obviously failed.

The phone on Thompson's desk rung again. Stilling his fear and apprehension, Thompson gathered up his composure, what was left of it, and picked up the phone.

"General Thompson," Thompson said into the phone.

"General," a familiar male, cool, steely, controlled, sounded through the phone, "We need to talk. Or, should I say, I think you should start providing us some answers?"

My Lord, General Thompson thought in a panic to himself, and began to break into a sweat, they know. How in bloody hell could they possibly have known? When I had just been informed a minute ago?

"I knew nothing of it," General Thompson tried to sound as determined and harsh as possible, but failing rather miserably at it, "I swear it. I was just told a minute ago; we have had absolutely no word that the President was in Oured, never mind Bright Hill!"

"Oh?" the voice seemed to sound more amused than convinced, "You did say that you had contacts in military intelligence, as well as your domestic intelligence networks. They didn't ring any bells?"

"I swear they didn't," Thompson whispered into the phone, looking around the office as though he suspected someone to be hiding behind a curtain, secretly listening into their conversation, "Then they can't have known the President was in Osea. If they had known, I would've been informed!"

"Ah," the voice emitted a cold, harsh laugh that sent chills down Thompson's spine, "So. What you're trying to say is that President Harling managed to walk up Bright Hill, never mind Bright Hill, Oured, for that matter, without alerting a single soul, until he walked right into the Office of the President? Tell me, General Thompson. Does President Harling know magic? Or is he psychic? Did he happen to...teleport into his office? Well, if he did, I find him rather sloppy. I would've teleported directly into the Office of the President if I were him, instead of alerting my own secretary. I don't think he knows magic or is psychic. So how did he managed to make it all the way in without tripping any of your alarms?"

"I've been told that he had been escorted by Marines and Secret Service agents!" Thompson blurted into the phone, now in a panic, "They must've had a hand in it!"

"The Marines are under the command of the the Army," the voice continued, seemingly displeased, "And yet you did not know?"

"They must have been acting independently," Thompson tried to sound truthful, "They must have been reporting to a separate chain of command, no, they must've been operating solo, with no word to their superiors! There's no other explanation!"

"And the Secret Service operates under the orders of the President," the voice muttered, "Although it seems as if your friends and influence in the Department of Homeland Security didn't seem to do much, did they? Never mind that. How many Marines and Secret Service agents were there with the President?"

Thompson licked his lips in anxiety. Should he minimize the numbers? Make it so that it seemed that the group was so tight-knit that no one could've possibly known? No, Thompson thought, I can't. These people know everything, and lying to them would end disastrously.

"They said there were at least five Marines and two Secret Service agents, although there are suspected to be at least three others," Thompson answered truthfully.

As he thought, his hunch was right. "Six Marines in all," the voice replied, "Plus five Secret Service agents. Although only five Marines and two agents in the Service were present when they escorted the President into his office. But I appreciate your honesty."

Thompson honestly did not know how to respond to that as he sat straighter in his chair; he felt as if the tension had twisted the air around him into some sort of foul mix that fed on his fear. His anxiety had reached a point where Thompson would not have been surprised if he could sliced through it with a butter knife.

"Well," the voice said, much more businesslike than before, "We now know the President is back in the Office. As far as we're concerned, we know that he's attempting to make some sort of broadcast in ten minutes to end the war. There must be a contingency plan put in place, or we can expect this war to end. And you know very well that this war cannot end for the sake of Osea."

"Yes," Thompson did a much more successful job of calming himself down than last time, eager to get down to work, "Yes, we must stop Harling. I'll alert the Army, have them shut down Bright Hill within ten minutes, and have the electricians cut power, everything. With the Army on its toes, they'll get things done faster than Harling can possibly make his broadcast..."

"That won't be sufficient," the voice cut Thompson off, his voice cold, "Tell me, what will you possibly do after you've captured Bright Hill? Do you, as General, intend to hold the President in custody? House arrest? While he is officially the Commander-in-Chief of Osea's armed forces?"

Thompson silently admitted he had no good answer for the question presented. The voice was right, of course. Suppose they shut down Bright Hill, keep things pinned down for a few hours. Then what? The President would have to go public somehow. Worse, he can simply step out of Bright Hill and order the Army to step down. Links in the chain of command would trace themselves back to Thompson, and he would be put on trial for mutiny.

"We have no choice," the voice concluded coldly, "We must assassinate President Harling."

Thompson exploded in a mixture of bewilderment and fear. "What?" Thompson gasped, standing up from his seat and nearly toppling it in the process, "Assassinate the President?"

"The President is a thorn at our side," the voice replied, emotionless, "We cannot allow him to stand in our way. If that broadcast goes out, the entire thing is blown out of the water."

"The Army is a viable option!" Thompson tried to grope for words and, more importantly, logic, "We can hold Bright Hill temporarily, enough to buy us time to do something..."

"While your soldiers stand and watch you commit an act of complete and direct mutiny in front of their eyes?" the voice sneered, "Don't be ridiculous, General. Sending in the Army will only add a layer of security to Bright Hill. How do you propose our assassination teams go in?"

"But we cannot assassinate Harling!" Thompson implored pleadingly.

"We can and we will," the voice snapped without any consideration for Thompson's panic, "If Harling makes that broadcast, the war ends. He'll put all involved in this, the Vice-President, the Generals, on trial, and you can say goodbye to you career, never mind any chances Osea has to topple Yuktobania."

"But it's the President we're talking about...!"

"Two months ago," the voice said icily, dangerously, "You were more than willing to give us information about the destination of the plane Mother Goose One that had been carrying Harling to North Point, information that you hacked out of the executive branch under a hunch. When you did that, you had already condemned your President to death. You had already started a revolution, and blood was already on your hands. Do not think that, by not assassinating the President right now, you can wash the blood off your hands. Your crimson hands will be chained together as you are put on trial as a butcher should this go on."

"I..." Thompson couldn't structure his sentences fluently anymore, "But..."

"You don't have a choice. After you've made the first one, all the rest had been made for you. You will assassinate the President. I don't think I need to tell you what will happen if you don't."

Thompson hung his head resignedly as he trembled. The voice's argument made sense, and that's what he had feared. It made sense, and it meant Thompson truly had no choice but to kill the leader of the nation he believed in.

No, Thompson thought to himself, trying to steel his resolve, I cannot think that way. This is a man I must kill. Harling is a traitor to the nation. Yes, he is a traitor to Osea, and I cannot let him live.

Thompson took a deep breath, exhaled. He felt no calmer than he did before, but at least things were coming to him rationally now.

"How are we to do this?" Thompson asked.

"We've already dispatched the assassination teams," the voice said, "They say they'll be able to infiltrate Bright Hill four minutes from now at 2155 hours. We should trust their estimate. In the meantime, I do think you are right. It would be best if you send the military in at the moment. You will tell the Army there is a leak that Yuktobanian terrorists have infiltrated Bright Hill, and that a cordon must be established immediately to make sure they don't escape. Cut power and communications. This will buy us time as our assassinations team go in and take Harling out."

"But people will learn of Harling's death!" Thompson protested even as he keyed in commands into the Osean military network to mobilize the military to Bright Hill, hoping that the voice on the other side of the phone knew what he was doing, "Questions will be raised!"

"Which is why I ordered you to send in the Army," the voice said in a matter-of-fact manner, "A cordon prevents word from going in or out. After Harling is dead, our teams will withdraw, and you will personally go to Bright Hill to 'conduct an investigation'. You will tell the Bright Hill administration to keep Harling's death a secret, as news of this will cripple the morale of the Army bogged down in Yuktobania. Of course, an 'information leak' will be conveniently created, and soon, the general public will be chatting about rumors that the President will be dead."

"But doesn't that work against..." Thompson did not comprehend.

The voice didn't appreciate Thompson's interruption and ignored him. "Under your orders," the voice continued, sharp, "Bright Hill will insist the President is still alive and well. However, the people will continue to wonder: 'If the President is well, then why doesn't he appear on television or in public?' Questions will be raised, doubts will be born. It will be the source of discussion, the topic in talk shows. And it will be a week later when the Bright Hill Press Secretary admits that Harling is indeed dead, and the cover up was for the purposes of keeping the morale in the military high. There will be less suspicion of our involvement because of the cover-up, and if the people become angry, they will do so because the Bright Hill covered up the President's death. Anger is blind, General, and they will all place blame on Yuktobania. We will have covered our tracks."

"I..." Thompson breathed, amazed that the voice on the other end could formulate such an elaborate plot so quickly, "I...I see..." Yes, Thompson thought to himself, it could work. It really could work. We can take this out in one swing, Harling and Yuktobania...

"Do I have your cooperation, then?" the voice inquired.

Thompson nodded stiffly. "Yes. Yes, you do."

"Good. And when does the Army arrive at Bright Hill?"

Thompson checked his computer; through the video feed Thompson's computer received, Army forces were already mobilizing towards Bright Hill, speeding their way to eliminate the 'terrorists'. Thompson counted an impressive number of Humvees, followed by slower APCs. "Three minutes," Thompson replied, "Enough time for your teams to get in first."

"Splendid," the voice said, smug and satisfied, "I'm glad to see that you are still on our side, General Thompson."

"Of course," the General tried to sound as indignant and proud as possible, "My actions are for the interests of Osea."

"Indeed," the voice mused, the finished, "We will contact you later." The line on his end clicked.

Thompson hung up the phone slowly, as if such a motion required careful, deliberate action. He remained calm as he sat back down against the chair, seemingly in control, in full control of his body and mind...

It didn't work. He started quaking in fear again.

It was on the morning of October 21 when Thompson received a call in his office, a day after he had discovered Harling was making secret plans with the Osean Air Defense Force to fly to North Point. For negotiations, no less, Thompson had thought with disgust.

"General Thompson," Thompson had spoken into the receiver.

"We know what you did."

Those worse had clawed at Thompson's gut the moment they came out from the other end of the line, a cold grip clutching at Thompson as if the chair he was sitting on was suddenly balanced perilously upon a single wheel. They found out? Thompson had thought, fearing that someone had discovered he had hacked into the Bright Hill database.

"I..." Thompson tried to put up a weak defense, "I have no idea what...who is this?"

The voice had ignored him. "At what costs would you pay to see Yuktobania fall to Osean might?"

Thompson had been confused, but there was only one answer he could answer in a time of war and peace, an answer that he himself believed with a cause. "With my life," Thompson had said quite sternly.

"A good answer," the voice replied, thick with satisfaction, "If it is your will, we will help you. We, too, fear the threat of Yuktobanian aggression and hypocrisy. The Osean continent must not fall to Yuktobania. And, for that to happen, Yuktobania must be defeated. If it is your will, we will help you. We will provide you with the resources that you need, weapons that Osea with use to fight with Yuktobania. We only ask for one thing in exchange."

"What is it?" Thompson had asked; he had figured that it was definitely not going to be the only thing they would ask of him, but curiosity had gotten the better of a man like him.

"We need to know exactly where President Harling is going tomorrow. His flight plan to wherever he needs to go. If you provide us with that, we can guarantee that Osea will no longer have to worry about any 'peace policy' the President puts up."

And Thompson had given them to him. Days later, it had become noted amongst the Chiefs of Staff that the President was no longer around. Driven by their hate for Yuktobania, the Generals had taken control of the military and, along with the Vice-President, continued their war with Yuktobania on a grand scale. For Thompson, that call had been a godsend.

For months, the voice had provided them with fighter jets, weapons, and information at low costs. The voice was a hidden philanthropist, a hidden hand of help behind Osea. Of course, Thompson had gotten curious at one point and had began a private investigation of exactly who this voice was. Unfortunately, he had realized that he had been caught when the phone on his desk had rang once more.

"No, General Thompson," the voice had said menacingly, icily, "I don't think it's a bright idea to try and figure out who we are. We provide you with resources, and that is enough. I think you've learned enough about us to understand that dire consequences will happen if you try anything...suspicious."

Despite his misgivings, Thompson abided by the invisible rules and boundaries placed by the voice. He no longer saw reason to oppose them; they provided Osea with almost everything Osea needed to wage war against Yuktobania, including its military secrets. Intelligence reports became more accurate as enemy strongholds were identified and deployed forces became more detailed. And, with the information, Osea had been able to invade a great part of Yuktobania, practically at its capital's doorstep, Cinnigrad.

Osea would not have been this effective without help from the voice, these philanthropists from origins unknown, Thompson knew that much. For his country, for his people, he had to always remain in the good graces of the voice, for that was where victory lay.

Disobedience was not an option.

2153 Hours, December 30, 2010 (Eastern Standard Time)
The Haven, Oured, Osea

The orders to deploy troops to Bright Hill were not invisible to General Bradley, who indeed had access to such orders on Osea's military network. The moment the orders were issued by General Thompson, Bradley had indeed knew that the President was not insane, that he was indeed right, and that someone in the Haven was on the payroll of an enemy Bradley had yet to know, and, secretly, would not care to know.

He expelled a shaky breath even as one hand undid the buttons on his uniform collar. Things were heating up, and it was starting to get unbearably hot.

First things first. He needed to delay the advance of the military to Bright Hill. Inform them that it was a drill that had been canceled. At the same time, however, he began to run a quick, simple program that began logging the traffic of what was going on through the Osean military network. While Bradley didn't necessarily want to track down this man, he wanted to at least make sure that someone did, and that they would bring him to justice.

Bradley made sure all the data was being sent to the office of the Attorney General of the Osean Federation before continuing. Granted, the Attorney General was probably home already and wouldn't be receiving the data until tomorrow morning, but the information would make good records for later.

Bradley tapped his keyboard a few more times, relaying orders across the military network that the entire move towards Bright Hill was a deployment drill, and has been canceled. Once completed, he pursed his lips, waiting for the next move to come...

2154 Hours, December 30, 2010 (Eastern Standard Time)
The Haven, Oured, Osea

General Thompson stared at the screen in complete and utter disbelief as new orders were being relayed across the military network. The move to Bright Hill was a drill, and the drill was cancelled, all forces were to come back to base. Worse still, the soldiers were obeying these orders.

Considering that the soldiers were likely to have considered that the operation put into place by General Thompson had been a false start. Contrary to popular opinion, most operations and drills that were erroneously initiated were generally corrected within the first five minutes; the military generally did a good job on keeping tabs on their own.

Thompson immediately picked up his phone, speed-dialing for the operator with one hand while quickly typing on his computer with the other. While he screamed into the phone, shrieking at battalion officers to order their soldiers to surround Bright Hill, he also tried to find out exactly who it was that was countermanding his orders. Someone had caught on, and, admittedly, Thompson wasn't sure what he was more terrified of, the fact that his plan was beginning to unravel from interference, or the realization that he had been discovered.

"No, it is not a drill!" he rasped into the receiver, blasting the eardrums of the poor Colonel that had the misfortune of being on the receiving end of what sounded suspiciously like mental breakdown on part of the Haven's top military leadership, "The battalion is to surround Bright Hill immediately! Right now! Cordon off the area, cut power, no one gets in or out! Who the hell told you it was a drill?"

"Uh…" the Colonel sounded as if the sound waves from Thompson's tantrum had royally scrambled his brain, "We had a Class Two directive from HIGHCOM-NET, sir. I don't have the clearance to see who issued the order, but the codes check out."

The Colonel's timing couldn't have been worse; that rather unwelcome bit of news had come in just as Thompson logged into the military network, and found that the countermanding orders had indeed come from the Haven…from General Bradley. He felt a wave of fury hit him even as he screamed into the phone. "Then I'm countermanding those orders! Get to Bright Hill right now! This is not a drill! Do it! Right the hell now!" And, without waiting for a reply, General David Thompson slammed down on the cradle of the phone with far more force than was necessary, dialing for the operator immediately afterwards, screaming at her to tell Haven security forces to arrest General Luke Bradley before she even picked up the phone.

2155 Hours, December 30, 2010 (Eastern Standard Time)
The Haven, Oured, Osea

Had the circumstances been less excruciating, General Bradley would've found the situation to be far more amusing that how he felt now, picking up the phone in preparation to countermand the countermand of his countermand. The fact that traffic in the military network had spiked very likely meant that Bradley had been discovered, and that whoever was behind this was probably already sending a security team to arrest him. Not at all surprising in the least, but it did mean that his window of action was going to be…very short. Security forces in the Haven did not take their time.

Deciding that using the high command network, HIGHCOM-NET, probably wasn't going to work this time, he instead picked up the phone on his desk instead and rapidly dialed for the operator, asking him to be connected to the commanding officer of the battalion being deployed to Bright Hill on a drill. The commanding officer, a Colonel, was obviously not intending to comply with Bradley's orders when he picked up the phone. "With all due respect, sir," the Colonel muttered, "I've received three different conflicting orders in the space of three minutes. Until I see an official Class One directive from HIGHCOM-NET when the brass has figured out what they actually want to do, I'm not changing my current orders and getting chewed up by another General."

So that wasn't going to work; the Colonel had already been reached by the mastermind behind this operation. But no matter; Bradley instead rang up the executive officer of the battalion instead, a Lieutenant Colonel. Apparently, the Light Bird, as Lieutenant Colonels were sometimes called, had no idea of the conflicting orders that was going on in the Haven, and, despite some confusion, was more than happy to call off the drill…again.

Just before the Lieutenant Colonel could finish confirming that his forces were cancelling preparations, however, the line went dead…which likely meant that Bradley's lines had been cut. The internet icon on the lower-right hand corner of his computer screen winking out only served to confirm that. Shortly afterwards, there was a knock on the door, followed by a voice from outside shouting out, "General Bradley, Haven security. Please open the door."

General Luke Bradley sighed even as he pushed himself away from the desk, the telephone, the computer. Leaning back against his armchair, he pressed his lips together even as he closed his eyes, glad, in a way, that his part in all this was over. Despite the anxiety that came with his concern for President Harling and the understanding that he was probably going to spend the next hour or two worrying about whether or not the President had managed to succeed, Bradley convinced himself that he had done his part, and damn did he do all that he could.

Standing up, Bradley buttoned up the collar of his uniform and headed for the door.

2155 Hours, December 30, 2010 (Eastern Standard Time)
Bright Hill, Oured, Osea

Jonah Simmons brandished his KA-BAR as he silently pulled the body of a dead Secret Service agent through the cargo doors. He was just in time; the surveillance camera, rotating on the wall on his left, swung around to look at the doors, but was too late to see the image of a pair of legs being pulled into the cargo doors. Simmons pulled the body into the shadows, hiding them behind several crates, and ignored the fact that the Secret Service agent, with a terrified expression on his face, had a long, gaping hole in his throat cut messily by an army knife.

Behind him, four men, all dressed in black covert-ops suits, gave him nods signaling that they were clear. All of them were heavily armed to the teeth; aside from the black suits that allowed them to melt into the shadows, they each carried a MP5SD6, a silenced Mk23 Mod 0, and a KA-BAR. Outfitted on their heads was also a pair of goggles that functioned as both a thermal scanner and a nightvision medium. These five men were lethal weapons when it came to black ops and infiltration.

The infiltration, aided by the information provided by their employer, had been so easy. With the snipers on the rooftop out of commission, the Secret Service agents on the rear cargo entrance on guard detail stood no chance at all against Simmons' team. Simmons had first sent one of his men, Jake Kriken, forward, allowing him to pose as a Marine and gain the attention of the Secret Service agent in the guardhouse who controlled the gates into Bright Hill. Although the guardhouse was designed well for security issues, with a surveillance camera above it so the Secret Service agents inside Bright Hill and the Secret Service Headquarters could make sure that all was well even if the guard wasn't there, its designers had never thought Bright Hill would be taken by overt force alone.

Kriken made a gesture of handing his ID tag to the alarmed Secret Service agent through the hole in the glass meant for passing papers and packages for security checks. As he did so, Simmons fired a silenced round from his MP5SD6 at the Secret Service agent, killing him inside the guardhouse as the bullet drilled a hole through his head. The surveillance camera above, however, could not see the guard collapse inside, nor could it see the newly-made bullet hole in the glass. All the camera could see was Kriken making an innocent exchange of documents to the guardhouse. And, as the gates to the cargo entrance opened, those who were watching must've assumed that the documents were valid and the Secret Service agent had let them through. What they did not know, however, was that Kriken had merely stretched his arm in and pressed the button that opened the gates. With that, Kriken walked calmly in, waved in the rest of his team, who walked in without much of a fuss. The Secret Service might be suspicious, yes, but that wouldn't warrant them to take drastic measures, considering that their entrance into the cargo entrance was quite orderly and inconspicuous, despite their attire and armament.

That had led up to their infiltration of the cargo holds, which involved one dead Secret Service agent that Simmons had crept up upon silently before slashing his throat open with a KA-BAR. Ruthless, silent, deadly, effective. The agent never had time to muster the strength to resist as Simmons pulled him into the shadows behind the crates.

Simmons looked at another team member, Joseph Levi, who had stacked onto the door frame of the cargo entrance. A shake of his head indicated to Simmons that the door was locked, and he had no means to open it.

"Side entrance," Simmons whispered to the rest of his team, remembering the maps that he had gathered. The side entrance, employee entrance, was always unlocked, and the guard detail there was weak, if only because Secret Service assumed that had cleared most threats at the gates surrounding Bright Hill. How mistaken they were.

Immediately, the small five-man team congregated and began moving out towards the side entrance, sticking close to the walls and bushes to mask themselves. Each of them covered a blind spot, one taking up the rear, Kriken and Levi on point, and Bartholomew Newman with Simmons himself looking for threats both on the side and above. The five of them moved slowly with deliberation, careful not to attract any attention, but quickly enough to make sure they would not be too late: They had a deadline: Take out Harling before 2200. They only had four minutes.

Kriken held up a hand in front, indicating there was trouble. Levi caught the sign, tapped Simmons, who tapped Newman, who tapped the one in the rear. The group immediately stopped in their tracks, placed their concentration fore. The source of trouble was immediately identified as a Secret Service agent who was approaching them at a slow pace. The agent had no weapon on hand, but he would immediately pose a threat should he spot the six-man team.

Levi looked intently towards Simmons for orders.

Simmons mused his situation over. The ideal method would be to let the agent pass. There would be no need to have to do the clean-up work of hiding the body, and they would not trip and silent alarms. Still, they did only have four more minutes...

Simmons looked at Levi, raised his hand. He made a fist, then jutted two fingers up, made a horizontal line across the air. Eliminate target, two-point, silenced.

Levi understood the gesture and whispered the orders to Kriken. Both of them raised their MP5SD6s and leveled them at the agent. Less than two seconds later, the two opened fire. There was no flash or clap of sound as each of them fired a bullet into the agent, center-mass. The agent caught the bullets straight in the chest, and toppled over without fuss or sound. Immediately, Simmons and Newman ran over to the body, and dragged it over back behind the bushes. Hiding the body behind the green, the team made sure they were not detected. Satisfied that all seemed fine so far, the team quickly continued to move forward. They met no other trouble as they rounded the corner of Bright Hill towards the staff entrance when one of the men in the rear suddenly fell with absolutely no warning. Immediately, the entire team ducked down and looked back at the body behind them. A bullet had been put through the neck, and there was blood splattered across the wall. One look, and the team could tell that they were up against a sniper. It had to be from the outside; someone was shooting from outside Bright Hill, but it was unlikely that the shooter was Secret Service, or their situation would've been compromised by now.

Simmons turned to Kriken and Levi, pointed towards the sniper. The three then quickly fired random rounds towards the source of the sniper fire, giving cover fire, enough to make a sniper duck. Newman didn't even need to be asked as he used this chance to make a lunge for the staff doorway, opening it and rushing inside. The three then quickly lunged for the staff entrance, moving fast without compromising stealth. They quickly filed into the room after Newman in less than a second. The sniper managed to make a shot in through the closing door, but the bullet didn't hit anyone.

The door slammed shut, and they were in.

"Equipment check," Simmons whispered to the remaining three members of his team, keeping his nerves soothed and level after having escaped a sniper. If he needed to make a guess, someone, perhaps not everyone, but someone inside Bright Hill would soon know about the would-be infiltrators.

According to the map, the door on the left side of the staff entrance led up to the third floor, which was the Office of the President. All they needed to do was go up two floors above them, and then find and locate President Harling. And then kill him.

The remaining three team members checked up on their equipment, gave Simmons the nod as they indicated their weapons were still all working fine. Simmons checked on his watch: More than three minutes remaining.

"Target on third floor," Simmons whispered to his team, "Someone knows we're here, so we're going in with force. Shoot to kill."

Simmons paused for just one moment, making one last tactical assessment of his plans. No problems.

"Let's move," Simmons whispered, and his team headed for the staircase up towards their prey.

2157 Hours, December 30, 2010 (Eastern Standard Time)
Bright Hill, Oured, Osea

"Helsrang, Jennings, Rainer, we've got a snag."

Rainer paused what was doing, bandaging the wounded Secret Service agent who got caught in the gunfight earlier, as the headset crackled and Schneider gave them a word. Although Schneider only referred to the Marines by name, Schneider knew that Agents Jordan and Cochrane, as well as the two other agents now under the President's command, Agents Thomas Rosander and Elliot Hawking, were tuned into the same channel. Which meant that the entire defense effort on the third floor was now on high alert.

"Wait here one moment," Rainer whispered to the agent he had been bandaging in one of the guest room, who gave him a nod in return and finished the bandages himself. Rainer quickly placed his hand back on his MP5SD6 as he exited the guest room, immediately alert.

"Well," the familiar drawl of Helsrang chipped in, "do share the evening post; what's up?"

"Wagner just reported that a small team, four man strong, has moved into Bright Hill, ID negative," Schneider replied, an edge in his voice, "They're definitely not Marines, though. They're carrying military grade weapons; Wagner's assuming they're Belkans."

Rainer felt as if the carpet had been pulled out of him as he heard that. Belkans? Rainer thought as he tried to make sense of that, Belkans in Bright Hill? You're kidding me!

"Sir," Lee's voice suddenly chimed in from their helicopter, "I know this is bad news, but Prime Minister Nikanor's chopper just landed on the roof. They're enroute to the Office of the President."

As if anything else could complicate matters, Rainer thought.

"That's bad news," Jordan muttered over the channel, "Four-man team...we might be able to take them on, actually. Rosander, Hawking, you two are with me, we're going to hunt them down. Cochrane..." Jordan directed his speech to Cochrane, who was standing right beside him with the President, "...stay with the President, make sure he remains unharmed..." Jordan redirected his voice at Rosander and Hawking, "Copy that, Rosander, Hawking?"

"Yes, sir," Rosander replied.

"Affirmative," Hawking agreed.

"You're up against military-grade equipment, Agent Jordan," Schneider started to argue, paused, then gave his own set of orders, "Helsrang, Rainer, maintain patrol along the third floor, make sure no one gets by. I'll join you two shortly. Jennings, return to the Office of the President, post up guard here with Agent Cochrane. Understood? Comply."

"Orders received," Rainer replied as he quickly pressed himself against the wall, making sure the magazine he had in his MP5SD6 was fresh. He had no intention being caught in a crossfire by a hitman team.

"Yeah, yeah," Helsrang didn't seem to pay all that much attention to Schneider's orders, but the click of his assault rifle was audible through the headset, meaning he was following instructions.

Three seconds passed.

"Jennings, do you copy?" Schendier asked, "Jennings, respond."

Another three seconds. Still no answer.

Gunfire from the left, silenced shots. Even though they were masked by a suppressor, Rainer could easily hear, with all of his senses keyed up. Rainer instinctively dropped to the ground and stepped back, pressed himself against the wall, but it proved to be unnecessary. The sound was distant, apparently coming from the right side of the third floor, as opposed to the left side where Rainer had taken up his position. Which probably meant they were up against Secret Service agents.

His suspicions proved to be correct.

"Agent Hawking down, repeat, Agent Hawking down!" Rosander's voice was loud in the headset, and the sounds of silenced bullets pinging off walls and such was clearly audible, "Need immediate backup. I am on the eastern side of..." Rosander let off a small, wet grunt before he could finish that sentence before his line went dead. Rainer's eyes went wide as he thought of the implications. It had been seven against four, Rainer panicked just a bit, and already three men are down?

"Rosander," Jordan's voice sounded urgent on the channel, "Rosander, respond!"

There was no response on the other line.

"Dammit," Jordan cursed, "Alright, listen up. Take up defensive positions, don't go out there hunting them alone. Find some sort of cover, garrison up, and..."

Rainer never had time to finish listening to Jordan's sentence. Just as he had decided to continue down a hallway in the attempt to see what had happened to Jennings, two men had rounded the corner, their submachine guns pointed straight up, as opposed to Rainer, who still had it moreorless towards the ground. Rainer took up the situation in a glance. They were both holding MP5SD6s, same weapons as what Sea Goblin had. They had pretty much the same kind of stealth gear Sea Goblin wore, dark fatigues, bulletproof vests. However, they also carried Mk23 Mod 0 handguns, better known as SOCOM pistols, and a KA-BAR. One of their KA-BARs was full of blood. Seth had no doubt it must've been Jennings' blood.

Most importantly, none of their weapons were tranquilized. They were as lethal as lethal could be.

Rainer didn't think before he acted as instinct and training took over. He immediately threw all his weight to the left, lunging towards the wall, and ended up slamming through a pair of double-doors that he had not known was there. It didn't do much to ease his balance as he tumbled into the room, but Rainer discovered it was a blessing; had there not been a door there, he would've been caught in the open with absolutely no cover.

Bullets from the opposition's MP5SD6s zinged through the hallway where Rainer had been just half a second before as Rainer looked back out the door, watching tracers fly from left to right.

"Get back up, Seth!" Helsrang's voice suddenly shouted on the headset, and return fire, bullets that were going from right to left from Rainer's perspective, and Rainer immediately realized that Helsrang had been somewhere behind Rainer when he was ambushed, and was now returning fire from further down the hallway.

Rainer quickly scrambled back on his feet. "Going low!" Rainer shouted into the channel as he dove for the door, and collapsed on his chest, his head and arms perfectly situated right past the doorframe as he aimed as MP5SD6, allowing Helsrang to fire above his head. He had no doubt that Helsrang was taking cover at an intersection, using the wall of another hallway as cover. He looked forward, saw that the infiltrators were doing the same, stacked up against the wall, revealing only their rifles, their arms, and their heads. Rainer was pretty much doing the same.

Mobility in warfare has always been emphasized time and time again. There were plenty of sayings, such as "those who loses their mobility loses the battle". Mobility reflected on the opportunity to exploit new advantages and firing points, the opportunity to make unpredictable moves and confuse the enemy, the ability to outflank the enemy and outmaneuver them. Every soldier knew the importance of mobility, and warfare amateurs did too. For soldiers, it had been drilled into their head, and for amateurs, it simply looked cool and allowed for fancy, elaborate maneuvers. It was, after all, so obvious that mobility was impossibly essential and critical to theory.

Perhaps one of the reasons why mobility was emphasized was because mobility was so damn difficult to achieve. In theory, yes, mobility could win battles for you. But that was only provided that you had the opportunity to move, and you were in healthy enough a state to fire back by the time you moved. When bullets actually start flying and blood starts spilling, tough decisions have to be made, and between staying put behind cover or risking a run through the open, most soldiers preferred the former. Making reckless dashes without cover was dangerous at best, lethal at worst. It was simply so much simpler to simply stay there and fire back, presenting as small a target area as possible, not having to run across the vast openness and be a plain target for whatever guns were out there.

No wonder theorists always tried to emphasize on mobility.

"Engaging two hostiles on west side of the complex," Helsrang barked into channel, "Requesting backup now!"

Rainer concentrated on three-round bursts as he zeroed in on his foes, using a mixture of both power and accuracy. Three round bursts usually did not pack too much recoil, and Rainer could wield it with reasonable accuracy. The first salvo struck the wall to the left; Rainer had adjusted his sights a bit more to the right, but the man he had been aiming for had already ducked back behind the wall. His partner, meanwhile, aimed at Rainer and fired, three bullets implanting themselves no more than three centimeters away from Rainer on the wall. Splinters flew, scratching Rainer's face.

"Shit!" Rainer swore as he ducked back in, trying to brush the scrap pieces of wood of his face, swiping at his face. As soon as his vision cleared, he paid no heed to whether or not he was actually injured or not, and went back into the fray.

Gunfire sounded from a distant elsewhere that sounded as if it was going off right next to him. Rainer was not surprised as voices filled the channel immediately.

"Schneider here," Schneider's cool, never-flinch voice came through the channel, "Engaged with two hostiles on the east side, probably the ones..." Schneider paused for just a second, and the zinging of bullets that came through the headset told Rainer that the bullets had came dangerously close to his team leader, "...the ones that took out the other two agents. We're holed up here; you're on your own."

Rainer noted with only a bit of irony that, despite the hectic gunfire that was going on through the third floor, because their bullets were silenced and that Webster and Lee were interfering with Bright Hill's surveillance cameras, no one else in Bright Hill knew of the predicament they were in.

Both Rainer and Helsrang managed to aim and fire at the two intruders; although they didn't succeed in hitting them, the corner of the wall that the two infiltrators were taking up cover behind splintered, and the two immediately retracted, seeking better cover. This gave Rainer an unprecedented opportunity as he scrambled on all fours, slipped once, then kicked himself off the floor, rushing at the right side of the hallway, trying to get a better angle so that he and Helsrang could fire from two slightly different directions. He managed to regain his balance at the last moment, stacking himself up against the right wall.

The two infiltrators reappeared behind the ruined corner of the wall, but they did not know Rainer had taken this chance to move to a better position. Their firing positions would've been ideal to take on both Rainer and Helsrang...had Rainer not changed his position. It most certainly gave Rainer a much larger target, and now his target was very close.

Rainer fired another three-round burst, making sure not to waste this golden opportunity. The bullets went true, and struck the man in center-mass. The bulletproof vest took the bulk of the damage, so Rainer fired another three rounds, and another three. Nine rounds proved way too much for what the vest could handle, and the enemy went down in a bloody mess.

The other man had taken this time to bring his own rifle to bear. Rainer quickly aimed his MP5SD6, pulled on the trigger...

A dry click jolted fear through Rainer as he realized what it meant. He was out of ammunition, and caught in the open, a completely open target for the enemy. And the barrel of the enemy's submachine gun was already flashing. Rainer reacted out of desperation as he quickly leaned backwards, hoping to throw off the shooter's aim...

Red-hot pain seared through Rainer's shoulder as two bullets found their mark, striking Rainer where the bulletproof vest didn't cover. Blood spurted out from two holes in Rainer's shoulder as he dropped backwards and suddenly lost the strength to balance himself, disorientation caused from sudden pain. He fell onto the floor, back first, with only the thought that he was done for...

Then, above him, three bullets flew, and yet another three. Rainer watched as the remaining enemy's face exploded as if a tomato had been squashed against his face, two three-round bursts striking the enemy right between the eyes before the enemy simply dropped to the floor, first in a kneeling position, then slumped onto his side, most certainly dead.

Rainer looked back gratefully to see Helsrang still quite far away in the same hallway, but he, too, had stepped right and got a better angle. Not one as good as Rainer's but good enough. Rainer had turned in time to see Helsrang confirm his kills...and have his sides explode as bullets tore through his side.

"Shit!" Helsrang swore as his side exploded with blood, three bullets finding their way into his guts. Helsrang was almost immediately on his knees, but with some disorientation, he managed to make his way out of harm's way with jittery movements of his legs and right arm, his left arm clutching his bleeding side. Rainer's eyes widened in disbelief as he realized what it meant.

Someone else was coming down the other hallway perpendicular to theirs, and Helsrang had been caught just at the intersection.

Helsrang had managed to crawl to cover behind the wall, growling obscenities that he had been known for as he tried to balance himself, but Rainer knew that, in Helsrang's condition, he was in no position to retaliate. The enemy would come forth and finish Helsrang off at close range.

That didn't leave Rainer with many options. His left hand went for his M9A1 pistol.

It was hard enough trying to pull out his pistol with his left hand from a holster meant for the right hand. But Rainer's right shoulder was jacked, and Rainer knew he could not possibly shoot straight with his right hand, and holding a submachine gun with only one hand was invitation to missing, not to mention he risked the chance of hitting Helsrang. So it had to be a handgun fired from the left arm...definitely not odds Rainer was looking for.

Rainer aimed his pistol and waited for the inevitable as Helsrang managed to prop himself against the wall, crimson blood on white walls.

The two seconds it took for the enemy to show up from around the corner felt like two eternities for Rainer. He was sure his heart stopped beating as the lone enemy turned the corner with his submachine gun pointed down towards the ground where he expected Helsrang to be. He was not too far off the mark; Helsrang had tried to aim his MP5SD6, but in no way was it possible for Helsrang to make the draw first...

Rainer had one piece of good news: It didn't seem as if the infiltrator knew Rainer was there.

Rainer fired off two shots from his M9A1. Both shots went wild as one hit the roof and the other struck the wall right above Helsrang's head, but it definitely succeeded in getting the infiltrator's attention; he hesitated for just a moment. And one moment was enough for Helsrang's arm to come up with his MP5SD6. While he, too, only held it with one hand, the fact that his target was only three meters away justified that. Helsrang fired.

Three rounds tore from Helsrang's bullets and struck the infiltrator's vest, knocking him backwards. The waving of the infiltrator's arms as he stumbled backwards indicated that he was still alive, so Helsrang fired another three-round burst, striking the left arm. Blood sprayed from new holes in the body, but the infiltrator had managed to point his MP5SD6 once more at Helsrang...

Silenced pistol fire came from two directions, two rounds from Rainer's M9A1, and two rounds from a P226. Three new holes appeared in the man's body, one in the leg, one on the side, and one on the head. The infiltrator stood there for just a second after a suddenly jolt, a hardening of his body...and then he went down.

Rainer struggled to his feet as he aimed his M9, but the headset crackled once, and Jordan's voice came in. "It's me," Jordan said, "Don't shoot me, now." True as told, Jordan quickly came around the corner, a P226 in his hand. Blood was splattered across his face and suit, but judging from Jordan's movements, it seemed as if he hadn't been hit. He knelt down to check the infiltrator's body as Rainer managed to stand fully upright, clutching his right shoulder.

"Where's First Lieutenant Schneider?" Rainer asked Jordan.

Jordan turned to look at Rainer, shook his head. That explained why Jordan was full of blood.

Rainer's expression turned hard. "I see," Rainer whispered. We came in with four, ended with two, Rainer thought to himself, President Harling's safe, but I'd hardly call that a fair trade...

The doors behind Rainer suddenly opened, and, immediately, Rainer, Jordan, and Helsrang all turned towards the door with their weapons drawn, expecting yet another firefight...

Prime Minister Seryozha Viktrovich Nikanor and three Marines Rainer did not recognize stood at the open door, taking in the situation at the glance. If the short, stout, coal-eyed Nikanor, who looked quite impressive in his own tuxedo, apparently aware that he needed to be photographed with the President looking his best, was surprised at having three guns directed at him, he did not show it.

"Did I miss something, gentlemen?" Nikanor asked, eyebrows raised, almost humorously.

The three dropped their weapons at the same time. "No, Prime Minister," Jordan said as he stood up from where he was checking the body of the infiltrator, "You're right on time..." Jordan walked up to the Marines, started giving orders to the three new Marines, all whom ranked Private, "...Alright, you three. You, I want you to check out those two bodies right there, see if they're dead. You, take care of this wounded Second Lieutenant right here. You, head east, and down the hall; there are five bodies there, one infiltrator, two Secret Service agents, and a fellow Marine, First Lieutenant. You all should know what to do. Move it."

"Yes, sir," the three Marines nodded, and attended to their tasks. Helsrang was begrudgingly helped up by a Marine Private as Jordan addressed Rainer and Nikanor.

"Prime Minister," Jordan said to Nikanor, "Allow Sergeant Seth Rainer and I to escort you to our President."

2158 Hours, December 30, 2010 (Eastern Standard Time)
Bright Hill, Oured, Osea

For what could possibly have been the hundredth time, Brent Rogers sighed. The lanky, unkempt, and otherwise bored reporter had been escorted into Bright Hill with only one cameraman...camerawoman, he corrected himself...only because he had followed up on Albert Genette's tip that there was a scoop he would want to pick up on Bright Hill. Rogers had felt suspicious; he hadn't heard from the military journalist for almost a month, he having simply disappeared after asking Rogers if the President had been in his office lately.

Rogers had scoffed his reply. "No," Rogers had said, "The President is too busy vacationing somewhere. He hasn't been in his office, no one's seen him, so the Vice-President and the Generals are making all the decisions for him while he gets paid..." Rogers had laughed afterwards, "...Hey, I think President's a great job. Think I should try running for it next time?"

But now, the underfed, underpaid, and overworked reporter was annoyed, both by Genette, his situation, and life in general. He knew he shouldn't have followed on the tip. It had no basing on it. Genette had merely said to go to Bright Hill, there was something there. And then, he got to Bright Hill, and a little pen-pusher had come down to receive him, told him that he was needed for a press conference being held by General Bradley. So he was brought up to the third-floor, but was moreorless stuck before the doors of the Office of the President, confined to Secretary Lemming's office, which acted as the reception desk, and boring his ass off as he was constantly watched by a keyed-up Secret Service agent too young to be working here. Twice, the kid had nervously opened the door outside, left it open, ran back to the doors to the Office of the President, closed that one, and then returned seconds later to close the door leading outside. By then, Rogers was already ready to fall asleep. And his camerawoman, Michelle Kincaid, was too busy polishing her lenses of the camera and listening to the evening news through the earphones connected to her miniature radio. At one point, there had been some shouting and yelling outside the office, but after a while, the shouting ended, and Rogers became bored again.

For what could have been the hundred and first time, Rogers sighed. Journalism had been such an appealing course to work off of when he got his major in journalism and joined the Osean Broadcasting Company, hoping to be shipped off to places all around the world and cover stories. But it wasn't as he had suspected. The OBC was notorious about its media hierarchy, and Rogers found himself at the very rock bottom of said hierarchy, having only the most mediocre and boring stories no one wants to hear about, like some sort of legislature passed about pets requiring a leash in all public places or some sort of demonstration against sexism. His pay was less than modest, and his life boring. But Rogers honestly couldn't think of anywhere else he could go, so he reluctantly stayed at OBC.

"You seem bored," Kincaid said from beside Rogers, polishing the lenses as she made one of her rare quips. A slender, bony woman only years younger than Rogers in her late-twenties, Kincaid was much more mature than she let on. She rarely griped about her work and did things in a stride, though by no means was she satisfied. But things were things, and Kincaid had followed up on that philosophy. So polish away at the lenses she would go.

"I don't seem bored, I am bored," Rogers griped, "They dragged me all the way out here for some press conference with General Bradley, and now we're being told to wait here. You don't see any of the other press guys here. And why the hell are we in front of the Office of the President...?" Rogers pointed at the Secret Service agent, who had identified himself as Cochrane earlier, "...You, kid. You going to explain or what?"

For the fourth time, Cochrane flustered and said back, " I'm sorry, but I cannot disclose that information without further orders."

"See?" Rogers sighed as he leaned back against his chair, balancing the chair on two legs, "Nothing. Nothing at..."

The doors to the Office of the President suddenly opened, and Rogers almost fell out of his chair as he gaped at the door. Somewhere in the back of his mind as he looked at the two men who appeared at the door was the realization that had appeared as he saw the infinitely more important of the two men, the other being a mere secretary. Rogers simply gaped as the realization came to him that he was the first member of press for the last few months to have seen President Vincent Harling, President of the Osean Federation, directly.

Although the gaping Rogers did not see Kincaid, he had no doubt too, that she was gaping. The sound of a pair of lenses being dropped onto the carpeted floor as a result of shock told Rogers much, who managed to retain a bit of perception as he stared.

"Mister Rogers, Miss Kincaid," Harling smiled as he stood there at the door with Lemming, complete in tuxedo and groomed impeccably, turning attention to the two members of press, "You two have been recommended to me by our friend, Albert Genette, and I'm very glad to see both of you here. Now, if you will excuse me, will you please set up your camera inside my press conference room over there...?" Harling pointed at the door to the left, which led to, as all journalists knew and tried to enter at least once in their career, the Presidential Press Conference Room, "I'm afraid we don't have much time before we must air, and we have another guest already here."

Guest? Rogers thought in the back of his mind, the words not managing to make it out of his mouth, because the doors to the outside had opened...

And in came another Secret Service agent and a Marine, both of them bloodied...

...Escorting Prime Minister Nikanor.

This time, Rogers really did fall backwards out of his chair, but he regained balance halfway through as he simply stared.

"President Harling," Nikanor gave a grim smile as he walked up to shake the hand of the Osean President, to the great shock of the two journalists watching, two "enemies" shaking hands with each other, "We meet again under more worthy conditions."

"Conditions that could've been possible only with you present, Prime Minister," Harling smiled, "Right on time for the ten o'clock news, too, and we certainly don't want to keep..." Harling gestured at the two journalists, "...our friends waiting."

And immediately, everyone began to snap to action, the Marine and two Secret Service agents starting to get to work, posting guard, Harling and Nikanor walking together into the press conference room together, and Rogers barely feeling the nudge Kincaid was giving him to move forward and follow. Because, at that moment, only one thought came through Rogers' mind.

I am so going to get promoted tomorrow.

2200 Hours, December 30, 2010 (Eastern Standard Time)
Bright Hill, Oured, Osea

"This is President Harling of the Osean Federation," Harling said into the microphone installed onto the podium of the press conference room just as several seconds ticked off the Osean Broadcasting Company 10 O'Clock News, "Attention, all Osean and Yuktobanian soldiers currently on the battlefield. Let us out down our weapons, and come out of the trenches. The Osean capital of Oured has been freed of the people who took advantage of my absence to usurp control over the country. Once robbed of my freedom and my ability to do the right thing, I now stand again under the light of the golden sun, and I do so, with the honorable Yuktobanian Prime Minister Nikanor by my side. We have revolved our terrible and unfortunate misunderstanding, and the war is now over."

In the darkness of the press conference room, the only spot lit in the entire room were the two spotlights that had aimed themselves at the podium, lighting up the podium, the Osean emblem on the podium and behind Harling, and Nikanor, who proceeded to join Harling on the stage. The two leaders, standing together on the stage of the most important building in Osea, spoke wonders as the captions of the 10 O'Clock News rolled at the bottom: "A Call For Peace".

"This is Prime Minister Nikanor, Head of Government for the Union of Yuktobanian Republics," Nikanor announced into the microphone, taking up his cue from Harling as he looked straight at Kincaid and her camera right in front, "Attention, all officers of Osea and Yuktobanian currently on the battlefield. Please watch as President Harling and I stand shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand. President Harling's words are true, and the war is over. But there is still one battle that still needs to be fought."

It was, indeed, the show of only Harling and Nikanor. With the spotlight down on the two of them, it was their show alone, a message of peace to the war, the end of the Circum-Pacific War. The spotlight was shining down upon the two respective leaders, casting the rest of the room into dark shadows.

Exactly the way Simmons wanted.

It had been so easy for Simmons to act dead as he was hit in the shoulder by a bullet from that damn Marine First Lieutenant. Falling to the ground, it wasn't long before Kriken returned the favor by blasting two shots into the Marine's head before suddenly running to a new position. The agent was forced to compensate and continue the firefight, or risk losing one of the assassins.

If only the agent had checked Simmons' body.

But the agent couldn't have done so, as two of his other men, Levi and Newman, had been keeping two other Marines company, and if the agent wanted to save the remaining two Marines, he would have to engage Kriken first. As the agent left Simmons unattended, Simmons, wounded, had quickly sought refuge somewhere. He never knew that he would have such luck to end up in the Presidential Press Conference Room, to have the President and the Prime Minister before him only minutes later.

"We believe that those who have tried to stir hatred between us are now preparing a weapon that could wipe out half of all metropolitan areas in either one of our countries," Harling continued as Nikanor paused for long enough, "Our comrades are in flight as I speak, determined to stop this plan dead in its tracks. Which country is under the threat of mass destruction? That, we do not know."

A touching speech, Simmons thought sarcastically with a sneer as he reloaded his SOCOM from behind a stack of fold-up chairs, where Simmons had been hiding all this time. The Secret Service agent had been so intent on posting a guard outside that he had forgotten to sweep the inside of the press conference room first. And the President had asked for the Secret Service agents to remain outside, for the sake of the reporters. It was too good to be true.

"However, that is no longer important," Simmons heard Nikanor say, "No matter which country is hit, it would be a severe blow to all of us."

Simmons didn't care about which country was hit. It was going to end, all of it, right here, right now. He stood up slowly from behind the stack of chairs, walked slowly, quietly towards the two leaders, remaining behind the reporters, making sure that he remained concealed in the darkness as he approached.

"So now, I ask you, members of the military," Harling said to the camera, "If you see it in your hearts, please utilize the resources available to you, and help out our brave pilots. Right now, they are flying east to meet the enemy."

Simmons stopped right at the ideal firing position, right behind the two reporters who were transfixed on the President. It was, indeed, the perfect firing position, regardless of range or angle. He'd be able to hit both Harling and Nikanor in quick succession with no difficulties. Simmons smiled. This is the endgame, Simmons thought, I always win.

Even as Simmons was in the darkness, Harling still turned his head somewhat, his eyes trained directly at Simmons. Simmons was slightly surprised that Harling could see him, even in the darkness, and permitted himself a smile. Harling merely stood there, settling his defiant, courageous eyes upon Simmons, as if daring the hitman to force the President to act surprised or panicked in front of a worldwide audience. He merely stood there, minute gestures suggesting that he was aware Simmons was there, but refused to show any outward sign that anything was wrong.

Foolish President, Simmons thought as he aimed his SOCOM at the President, but brave, I'll give you that. Unfortunately, bravery cannot save you now.

Simmons did not see a Marine approach from his side. Nor did he ever feel two rounds from a M9A1 enter his neck.

Simmons body dropped, but the Marine had caught the body before it had completely fell to the ground, easing the body to the ground to prevent it from making any sound to disrupt the airing of the announcement being made by the President and the Prime Minister. Both reporters turned around in surprise and were shocked to see a body behind them. The Marine, settling the body to the floor, stood up and looked at the President. He was, indeed, safe.

When the Marine forces accompanying Nikanor reported that they only found a total of three bodies of the infilrators to the ranking Marine officer fit enough to continue active duty, the Marine had been worried, and righteously so. Where had the last man gone? Didn't Wagner say it was a four-man team? As events went on, though, the Marine decided that he shouldn't go out his way looking for the man, but, instead, concentrated on protecting the President.

His hunch paid off; he found the fourth and final man, and killed him.

From behind the podium, Harling gave the Marine Sergeant an almost nonexistent nod, a very slight inclination of the head, which Rainer returned with a very serious expression.

Mission accomplished.

2202 Hours, December 30, 2010 (Eastern Standard Time)
ünder Industries Headquarters, Sudentor, North Osea

Bernard Conners hit a button on the conference table before him, and the television screen, which had been tuned to the Osean Broadcast Company, flickered once before falling into the darkness of infinity. With a reserved air of calm, Conners' lips pressed into a thin line as he turned to the other two individuals in the conference room. Although the table could've easily seated at least a dozen people, the three masterminds of the entire operation were the only occupants of what was otherwise a relatively large conference room. Separated by a sleek, black table, their thoughts seemed to echo off each other and the orange, wooden panel walls that surrounded them.

It was evening in Sudentor. The world outside, reflected by the glass wall on the side of the conference room, still seemed alive with lights from the river outside. A Belkan submarine was docked not too far from the skyscraper housing the conference room, the Gründer Industries Headquarters, but the submarine itself was a war relic and not actually combat effective. A weapon that had survived the war fifteen years ago, it was now heavily outdated, and was just about one of the most effective submarines in the Belkan armed forces, which was a hell of a lot not, thanks to strict restrictions placed by the despicable Osean Federation.

Clean-cut, gaunt, and stern, Conners turned from the television to read the expression of his two colleagues, but, like him, the other two had put on a poker face, a mask which robbed the face of the human emotion. Like him, the two were businessmen, and were dressed quite formally in suits that made them look like high-profile CEOs. Like him, the two had just finished watching the broadcast made by President Vincent Harling of Osea and Prime Minister Seryozha Viktrovich Nikanor from Oured. And like him, the two realized what this meant.

"General Thompson has failed," Conners said simply. In his late forties, Bernard Conners was a well-known figure, even amongst the public, as one of the richest men in the world. As the CEO of Gründer Industries, Conners was, quite literally, a great source of munitions for Osea. And, of course, Yuktobania as well, albeit secretly.

What the public did not know about Bernard Conners, however, charming, successful Bernard Conners, was that he himself harbored great hate and loathing for the country who dared sully his country with their name. Fifteen years ago, Belka lost the Belkan War, and the South Belkan Munitions Factory was taken over by Osea. All bank accounts were frozen, Belkan technological advancement came to a standstill, and the country experienced a great inflation even worse than the one experienced after the Federal Law Review years before the war. But, like the rest of the Belkans, Conners learned how to starve. He had learned that there was hunger, and there was poverty, but there was also hatred. It was hatred that tied Belka together in their wish to unite the Belkas and bring back the former glory of their nation. How dare the Oseans bastards tarnish our land with their footsteps, Conners would think, how dare they.

When Osea decided to use the personnel and administration of the South Belkan Munitions Factory to produce their own arms, however, they chose Conners, a former low-ranking manager of the factory, to run what would be known as Gründer Industries. It was there Conners saw his chance. He curried favors from Belka and Osea alike, gaining him an impressive reputation as well as an even more impressive bank account. Even after the Belkans had lost Hoffnung, a major industrial city, to the Allied Forces during the Belkan War, Conners rebuilt Belka's industry from scratch, bringing Gründer Industries to unprecedented heights. With the funds, he donated them to educational functions all over Belka, educating the next generation, fueling right-wing political views, all trying to allow Gründer to become the catalyst to Belka's revival.

It was one night ten years ago, when Gründer Industries had becoming a major player in the arms market worldwide, a major defense contractor to Osea, when Conners had been sitting in his own office, with only the dim light of his lamp and various documents to keep him company. The telephone on his desk had rung; although Conners had wondered who could possibly call him at such an hour, he picked up the phone.

"Bernard here," Conners had said.

"Look at the city outside your window," the voice had commanded, "What do you see?"

Conners had been perplexed. "Who is this?" he had demanded, surprised that anyone could grab hold of him so easily, "How did you get my number?"

"That is immaterial," the voice had replied, "All you need to know is that we share the same vision of Belka as you do. The city outside your window. What do you see?"

Should I risk it? Conners had thought, wondering if it was a trap. Osea had been known to use such tricks on unwary Belkans, who fell for the rather simply trick. But this one was different. For some reason, Conners genuinely believed that there was no hoax in this one, that someone out there shared his views. Perhaps only because they had directly contacted him, without any sort of proxy or doubt. They knew something. Gathering all of his courage, he had said, "A city annexed by a nation of hypocrites and aggressors, awaiting the light of its former glory to liberate it."

"A good answer," the voice had replied, "Come down to the lobby. A car will be there to pick you up."

Despite his misgivings, Conners had obeyed the voice, believing it to be some sort of providence that had descended from the heavens high above to direct his destiny. And it was. For by the end of the night, Conners had realized that he had not been the only person who wanted Belka to rise once again. It was on that fateful night that Conners had been recruited as a member of the Grey Men, a coalition of Belkans who wished for nothing less than the reunification of both Belkas and the end of Osean aggression. The Grey Men, consisting of businessmen, Generals, political leaders, soldiers, and even everyday civilians, were the shadow government behind Belka, the driving force behind the grand plot to make Belka whole again. And, for the last ten years, Conners had risen in the ranks of the Grey Men, now becoming one of its most senior and vital members ever. As the CEO of Gründer Industries, he was not only responsible for providing Osea and Yuktobania with arms, but also to keep them fighting. It was, indeed, godsend.

But with the strict restrictions Osea had placed upon Belka, there was no legal way for Belka to produce all of the arms of both Osea and Yuktobania and fuel their war. So Conners, acting as the representative for the Grey Men, had contacted other arms dealers and defense contractors. War meant business for such men, so even if they did not share Conners' wishes of an united Belka, they shared a common desire for profit, the common language amongst businessmen. One month before the Circum-Pacific War, Conners had recruited Irene Vaelmont of Ustio and Diego Gaspar Navarro of Leasath.

"It will be inevitable that the war ends," Navarro said, pursing his lips, "We must make what we can out of it." Navarro, an arms dealer out of Leasath, was also, ironically, one of the high-ranking officers of Leasath, a poor country that has been riddled with civil wars. Despite the almost nonexistent welfare of his country, Navarro had been able to make a business out of both the Belkan War and the Circum-Pacific War. Under normal circumstances, Conners would never allowed a man who made a profit out of a war that annexed his country to work with him, but Navarro had access to black ops teams and mercenaries worldwide, as well as secret war technology that would've been deemed illegal by any international convention.

"The war will not be over," Conners said determinedly, "We've gone this far; it's much too early to let the two countries stop now. Hatred is still fresh; we can use it against them."

"And how?" Vaelmont was as skeptical as Navarro, "It will not take long for the joint armies of Osea and Yuktobania to reach Sudentor. Twenty minutes is what I'm expecting. And the world now knows your 'Grey Men' were behind this whole war. I don't see any chances for a comeback." Vaelmont, despite being the oldest occupant in the room in her fifties, was still a petite and elegant woman that was somehow getting more and more attractive. When Conners began to look for potential arms dealers, Vaelmont was the first on the list; the weapons she provided Belka with during the Belkan occupation in the Belkan War gave the Belkans valuable resources in holding Belkan Airspace B7R, better known as the Round Table. Vaelmont still did business in Ustio, but her business extended out of its borders; even her ethnicity was an unknown.

"There are warmongers still left in both Osea and Yuktobania," Conners explainedly coldly, "Men like General Thompson, who will see this war waged at all costs. We use them."

"Once Harling and Nikanor are put back in power, people like them are irrelevant," Vaelmont snapped bitterly, "The Generals will not hold much power if Osea and Yuktobania welcome their leaders once more. And I presume that is what will happen. The Generals will have to abide by their terms."

"These Generals will do anything to see the war continue until the other side is vanquished," Conners corrected quite quickly, "That is, if we give them the right incentive. The V1 tactical nuke."

Immediately, Navarro and Vaelmont stared at Conners in interest. "The V1?" Navarro said, obviously amused, "Hiding the more powerful V2 from them as well, yes?"

"The Nuclear Arms Reduction Act passed by Osea and Yuktobania greatly cut down Osea's and Yuktobania's nuclear arsenal," Conners gave what passed as a cold grin, "Both are dying to get their hands on an immediate deployment-ready nuke. The V1 will do just enough, a nuclear missile that can be fired directly from here to either capital. They'd love nothing more than to get their hands on it."

"And with their capitals ruined," Vaelmont caught on quick with an smile, "Osea's and Yuktobania's soldiers will be filled with hate and fury as they fight each other. Intriguing, indeed."

"And it puts us out of our predicament as well," Conners continued, "We give the V1 to whichever army wards off the pesky flies, the Razgriz, for us. That's motivation enough for them to fight and take care of our enemies. We put ourselves out of danger, and continue our plans."

"But the Razgriz are not your regular bunch of aces," Vaelmont mused, pursing her lips, "You've seen them in action; they can take out squadrons upon squadrons by themselves. The forces that may sympathize with us here may not be enough. And we can expect enemy reinforcements."

Both Navarro and Valemont looked at Conners expectantly, as if he was the answer to all their questions. Conners, however, did not fret, nor smile, nor show any sign of hesitation. Rather, he said, in quite a calm and commanding tone...

"It's time to use the SOLG."

Author's Note: This is a rather pathetic embarrassment, and I must say that I must apologize for this. For a fanfic that was only supposed to last three, maybe four chapters, it took me more than two and a half years to write Chapter Two; the story was first published on FFNet on January 13, 2007, and, at the time I published Chapter Two, it is October 19, 2009. I admit that this is largely inspirational problems on my part; I came so close to abandoning this fic when it refused to come out the way I wanted it to, despite the fact I had already managed to finish about eighty percent of it. I'm glad I eventually came back to it, however, and that, with the speech now given by Harling and Nikanor, the prelude is now complete, and we can finally move onto the real Battle of Sudentor. I'm aiming to confine it within one chapter, but should it prove to be too lengthy, I may treat you all to two chapters instead. Who knows?

You will note that Diego Gaspar Navarro, our resident Ace Combat X dictator, makes a cameo in this chapter. His role is strictly a cameo, albeit one that I found rather symbolic; it's nice to see that there are still commercial interests in this war. Irene Vaelmont, meanwhile, is a completely original character. I personally find the three of them congregating not at all unlike the "Bluetooth Bandits" behind the conspiracy unfolding in Season Five of 24. I kind of like that, honestly.

I promise I'll do my best to write Chapter Three as fast as I can and bring a close to this fic. It would be nice for me to actually finish something I write, for once. In the meantime, please review; authors are permitted to have their ego-stroking moments, after all.