The Coming Storm (44.4)

One story below the ground floor, the Ocean Police Station possessed underground facilities for authorized personnel only. Ayvartan jails were generally very low capacity. Upstairs, there were likely only a few cells — there was never enough criminal activity to warrant any more, and what activity there was would often receive the swift punishment of hard labor. Jails were quickly emptied, and prisoners were always bound somewhere else, either to a local rehabilitation program or to some northeastern mine or farm.

After the nightmare of Akjer, however, the interrogation chamber became a silent companion to the jail in large cities home to important industries. Madiha recalled how, years ago, she had to deal with prisoners in private homes or in the chief’s office in the local station or in other unsuitable places. Wherever she traveled, there was no soundproof isolation room, no one-way glass, no recording equipment, nothing to handle political interrogation. No civilian was ever interrogated thoroughly before then; civil interrogation had not become a needed science with discrete resources until the Akjer treason.

Rangda’s police station was well equipped, as expected of a modern precinct in this dark age. At the bottom of the stairs, Madiha and Minardo passed through a security door with a slot through which they could identify themselves. A button and a buzzer allowed them into lobby with a metal door on one side and the bulletproof security room on the other. A long hall connected to the lobby, with four doors leading to two large rooms. Madiha and Minardo were led by a civil officer to the last pair of doors, and through the right one.

Beyond was a room with a glass window, through which another room could be seen.

Madiha could see the captive, and through a speaker system could talk to them if she desired, but the captive could not see through the glass on their side. There was recording equipment, weapons and medical equipment stored in the interrogator’s quarters, in case any of it became necessary. Meanwhile the interrogation room itself was stark white, furnished with a few chairs and a single table just off-center. It was soundproof, and isolating. Only a plastic cup of water was given to the captive inside.

Having learned painful lessons from the Akjer treasons, the interrogator’s quarters contained a small support team and several amenities. There was a civil officer who monitored the interrogation room at all times, but there was also a nurse on standby in case the prisoner hurt themselves to escape their predicament. Each room had a telephone to call the station above in case any further assistance was needed, as well as a radio.

It was an interesting tool, the radio. They could use it to keep the interrogators entertained through long, dull periods of waiting for the prisoner to cooperate or crack; or they could pipe music and programs into the interrogation room and unnerve the prisoner.

“How was he found and how long has been in here?” Madiha asked.

“We found him this morning,” said the police officer, “he was trying to climb the sea wall onto the port. Last night the coast guard had to deal with an unknown ship that went screaming past the harbor and smashed on the rocks. Knowing that, we think these guys tried to divert our attention so they could sneak into Rangda. A civil patrol caught them this morning and we’ve been holding them for the past few hours like this.”

From behind her, Minardo approached the glass and examined the prisoner.

“How many have you got?” Minardo asked. Madiha was about to ask the same.

“We got two, both of them appear to be Nochtish.” said the nurse, stepping in at the behest of the police officer. “One looks to be nothing but a boy, real soft-faced, early twenties at most. I don’t know why he would be involved in this. This guy here feels like the mastermind — probably in his mid-twenties, with a rough semblance. Both of them are a little famished and weary. I think they were crammed into that boat for quite a while, Colonel.”

“Were they carrying anything into the country?” Madiha asked.

“See, that’s the tricky part.” said the police officer.

He led them back out of the interrogator’s quarters and around the corner again.

In a bomb-proof storage room with a metal door, they kept the prisoner’s belongings.

Opening a slot in the door, the police officer urged Madiha to lean in.

Looking through, she saw a sealed, waterproof case, likely metal.

On its front was a built-in combination lock.

It was a spy suitcase. She had dealt with these before.

“We don’t know if it’s a bomb or anything like that.” said the officer.

“Don’t touch it yet. Have any prisoners said anything?” Madiha asked.

“Nothing helpful. Younger guy just sits there crying like a baby. Meanwhile the other guy was talkative at first, but when we got a Nochtish translator in here, all he wanted was to talk to someone with authority from the ‘communist army’. Now he’s being quiet.”

“He will get his wish. Minardo, stay behind the glass. I’ll talk to him.”

“Can you understand Nochtish?” Minardo asked.

“I think I know enough for this.”

Minardo nodded her head and return to the interrogator’s quarters with the officer.

Madiha took the other door and entered the interrogation room itself.

Inside the air was still and smelled stale. It felt quite oppressive, as it was meant to.

She examined the prisoner as she walked to the table. Madiha thought he looked fairly clean for someone who had been on a boat for who knew how long. He was not especially tall, compared to her, but he was decently built. He had strong cheekbones and rounded jaw, messy dark hair slicked back, maybe waxed. Stubble was growing along his cheeks and mouth, and he had sharp eyes and a strong nose. Were she inclined, she might have said he was handsome. Certainly some women probably did. Maybe he believed it too.

Officers had taken his trenchcoat, so he was dressed in a button-down white shirt and black trousers. His belt was gone. His tie had been removed too, in case he might attempt something with it. Madiha had seen it in the other room, along with his shoes and socks and other effects. It was a red bow tie, in a style a little too cute for this man.

She sat across from him on the table. He had on a defiant expression. He turned his head to face the wall, holding it up on a fist, and stared at her from the corners of his eyes.

At first, his off-hand remark was said in a language Madiha did not understand.

Then in the next instant, as if a switch had gone off in her brain, Madiha started to hear clear Ayvartan words superimposed over the sound of the man’s foreign speech. Her mind was translating all of the Nochtish into Ayvartan, and she was sure that if she spoke, her Ayvartan would sound Nochtish to the man as well. It was a useful power to possess.

“You’ve got a fancier uniform. That mean you got a fancier brain too?” He said.

“Funny.” Madiha said in a calm, but unfriendly tone of voice. “I am army colonel Nakar. Your first step to ever leaving this room again is to tell me your own name, nochtman.”

For a moment the man looked surprised to hear her. She couldn’t know exactly what he heard, whether it was perfect Nochtish, or accented, or what. But he understood her.

“I’m not fuckin’ Nochtish.” He replied. “I’m Lachy; Nocht’s fuckin’ dead to me.”

“You seem to think you know what I want to hear. Just tell me your name.”

He pulled his gaze from the wall and made eye contact, sitting up straight.

“My name is Bercik Scheldt. I’m a journalist. A real globe-trottin’ one, lately.”

“Mr. Scheldt, how does a Federation journalist end up nearly perishing in the wreck of a Higwean fishing boat off the coast of northern Ayvarta in this time of war?” She asked.

“It’s a long story you don’t actually care about. Listen: I’ve got information for you.”

“What kind of information? And why do you wish to contribute it to us?”

“You might not believe it, but not everyone in Nocht is happy about this war. I think it’s an injustice what that bastard Lehner is doing to your country. I want this shit to stop.”

“An injustice is putting it mildly.” Madiha said. Despite his intriguing propositions, she could not allow him to believe that he was winning her over yet. She had to appear skeptical and neutral, and maybe even a little antagonistic. Yielding too early might allow him to hold back information. He had to feel at least a little desperate. That was her personal style, anyway. Every interrogator had their own ways of treating a prisoner.

“I know; look, I know, that this sounds like a load of shit. I’m not here seeking asylum. I’ve got papers, loads of papers. They’re in my suitcase. You can have the fuckin’ code. It’s 778899. It’s dumb and easy because I want you to open the thing. Go open it.”

“I will bring it here and you can open it yourself.” She said tonelessly in reply.

Bercik did not seem like a man who was willing to die; he was emotional and agitated and obviously losing his patience. Had there been a bomb, or poison gas, or something of the sort in his suitcase, his expression would have likely betrayed his dismay at the thought of it being opened in front of him. Instead, his face changed little since she spoke.

He crossed his arms and said nothing as if waiting for her to do so.

Nodding her head to him, Madiha stepped out of the room. As she left the room Minardo was already coming up the hallway with the suitcase in hand, waving with her other hand and nearly skipping her way toward the door. She thrust the case into Madiha’s hands with a smile on her face, and with a wink, she returned to the interrogator’s room.

Shaking her head at her subordinate’s conduct, Madiha returned to Bercik.

“That was quick.” He said. “Guess you ain’t so afraid of it after all.”

Madiha did not reply. She set the suitcase down in front of him.

Without hesitation, Bercik spun the dials in front of the case.

He popped it open without incident. From the case he withdrew a thick file folder, its contents bound inside it with a series of rubber bands. When he pulled it free of the case, Madiha saw the photographs sticking out of its sides and top, and the various markings and stamps and official signatures decorating the folder’s front and back. She had never seen so many eagles and crosses and other strange ink markings in her life.

“This is Generalplan Suden. An internal planning document for Nochtish military command and for trusted politicians at the highest levels of the Lehner administration. It details everything Nocht knows about you, and everything they plan to do to you.”

Bercik stamped the files on the table and pushed them toward Madiha.

She picked up the folder, pulled off the rubber bands, and flipped through.

As she read, she felt a sinking sensation in her chest and a stone in her throat.

There were photographs of Ayvartan places, thousands of them, from Bada Aso and Knyskna all the way to Shebelle, Rangda, Kepr, Kharabhad, Chayatham, Jambia, and Solstice. Aerial photographs, on-the-ground photographs, maps, drawings. There were specifications for the Goblin tank and the Rompo truck and the 45mm anti-tank gun and the old Anka biplane. Lists of territorial army battlegroup formations down to the company organization.

There were errors: the 10-Division structure of the Adjar and Shaila Battlegroups were superimposed on Ayvarta as a whole, instead of being seen as their own dysfunctional regional styles. Several rivers on the map were plotted to go places they did not. All of the data on the Kucha and Red Desert tribes and other unincorporated communities was a century old and poorly translated into Nochtish. Several city maps were as old as 2022, and Madiha supposed they had been leaked in the Akjer treason, not later.

It was not the information on Ayvarta that surprised her the most. It was the treasure trove of details on Nocht and their own movements. She saw stage by stage plans within Generalplan Suden. Operation Monsoon, that fateful battle at the border that she had somehow survived. Operation Endurance, the movement from Adjar and Shaila to Tambwe and Dbagbo. Various naval operations as of yet not undertaken. An air campaign to subjugate various cities, perhaps like the one she had managed to repel.

And finally, Unternehmen Solstice, a plan to behead the Socialist Dominances of Solstice by striking with all of the Nochtish forces in the theater at the capital of Ayvarta, at the heart of communism in the southern hemisphere. There was no thought of starving Solstice out, no grand operatic siege plotted against it like the elves had once attempted in the 1900s. Nocht intended to break the walls and kill everything inside.

As she flipped through the pages Madiha struggled to maintain her outward calm.

Her hands wanted to shake from the information held between her fingers.

Was all of this true? If it this was true she had an informational coup in her hands.

Generalplan Suden, in her hands, changed everything. It made plain that the threat of spies and traitors in Ayvarta was extremely, painfully real, and that information up to around 2029 appeared to be available to Nocht. The Hobgoblin, the Ogre, the Garuda, and other newer weapons were thankfully not present in these reports. But all of their infantry weapons were — those were far slower to be revamped than their vehicles.

Furthermore, holding Generalplan Suden made clear Nochtish intentions in the war. Madiha could plan for everything Nocht would bring from 2030 to 2031, where they arrogantly expected the war to end. At worst, they could invalidate Nocht’s careful preparations and force them to improvise to throw them off. At best, they could use Nocht’s plans to set traps, and defeat Nocht’s operations decisively. It all hinged on whether Generalplan Suden was true, and if so, under what conditions it was leaked.

“How did you obtain this information?” Madiha asked Bercik.

“I had an informant within the Nochtish political sphere.” He said.

“Are you confident of its authenticity? How do you know it is valid?” She asked.

“Because that guy is dead and the Schwartzkopf tried to kill me too. Because I can never go back to my home country for fear of being tortured and executed.” He said.

That was unfortunately not good enough for Madiha. She felt a sudden and strong sense of frustration. She needed all of this to be true. She needed to be able to believe in Bercik Scheldt and his flight from Nocht and that these papers were real and important to Nocht. It was no good that Nocht knew about the leak. Their plans might have already changed. But if at least some of this could be relevant and verifiable, she might just be able to–

Flipping through a list of Nochtish units idly, she found a name that struck her.

A name she recognized amid the mess of inscrutable information in the files.

Brigadier General Gaul Von Drachen of the Cissean Azul Corps.

She remembered that battle under the raining, thundering skies of Bada Aso.

That man was real. He was a verifiable piece of information on Nocht’s forces.

Ferdinand, Meist, Anschel, Dreschner, Sturm; could these names be real too?

“What do you expect to happen now, Mr. Scheldt?” She asked.

Bercik’s face darkened, but his gaze on Madiha was as strong as ever.

“Listen, I’m ok with living in a cell, I don’t care anymore. I know what I’m doing and I’m satisfied with it. But that guy in the other cell, his name is Kirsten Susala, and I dragged him into all of this, and he doesn’t know a goddamn thing and doesn’t deserve to be locked up. Please, if you’re gonna do anything, do it to me and let him go.” He said.

Madiha nodded her head. Something like that was what she wanted to hear.

She thought he seemed genuine. He really did care about his companion. And she thought that he really did escape from Nocht and he really did believe that these documents were worth delivering to Ayvarta. He at least believed everything he was doing served his purpose; and he believed his purpose was moral and necessary.

So though Madiha could not completely verify the authenticity of these documents, she knew Bercik was not a spy or a liar. He was a civilian journalist taking a moral stance.

“I am leaving, but only temporarily, Mr. Scheldt. Please behave.” She said.

Bercik nodded, and he stared at the walls again. Madiha left the room.

Outside the room, Minardo was again waiting for her. Without a word, Madiha handed her the Generalplan Suden documents and she began to look through them. Her eyes went wide and her jaw hung as she read the documents and perused the photographs and examined the various maps. Madiha could see the fear in her expression as she realized the extent of their vulnerability. It was an earth-shattering document, the kind of thing that trapped history within the ink on its pages. This was a turning point, if true.

“Spirits defend us all.” She whispered under her breath.

“Do you think it is real?” Madiha asked.

“It must be.” Minardo said. She closed the document and held it tight in her hands while explaining. “Nobody would go through this much trouble to disseminate a false document of this scale. I’ve put together profiles like this before, though only of regions, rather than nations. An incredible amount of work went into this. All of this effort, and nearly killing this man for the possibility of delivering it to us; what would be the advantage to them? And why include the information on us if it is all a ruse? Now we know they have information on the Goblin and Anka and other weapons of ours that is accurate. So we will change those vehicles or phase them out. This cannot be a deception leak; it gives away too much.”

Madiha nodded. She was pleased with Minardo’s assessment and thankful she could count on her to have a good head on her shoulders — whenever she wasn’t playing the office jester. Finally she was making the professional facet of herself known again.

“We need to get these documents to Solstice as quickly as we can.” Madiha said. “And we need to do it through our channels. I don’t trust the Civil Council in Rangda to be anything but a nuisance. I’m going to leave you here and keep them from meddling.”

“That’s a tall order.” Minardo replied.

“I entrust it to you. Just contact me if anything happens.”

“Will do, Colonel.”

Minardo saluted with a big, bright smile.

For once, her cheerful demeanor was a relief rather than an annoyance.

Madiha left her side and entered the interrogator’s quarters once more.

Addressing the nurse and officer, she said seriously, “keep this man and his partner here but do not treat them poorly. They are to kept safe and provided for. Do not allow anyone access to them save for myself, the translator, and Staff Sergeant Minardo.”

Both the officer and nurse nodded their heads quietly, their faces turning pale.

“Whatever happens, he is under KVW jurisdiction. Understood?” Madiha said.

Again they nodded. Neither of them had the black uniform she did, so there was no thought of dissent. Where it came to matters of secrecy and intelligence, people like Madiha reigned supreme and people like the civil police followed quietly along.

Leaving Minardo behind, and with the Generalplan Suden documents returned to their spy suitcase for safety, Madiha traveled back up the stairs and requested the Gendarme return her to the base. Nobody asked what was in the suitcase. Nobody dared to.

“Was he a spy?” Gulab asked, as they climbed into the back of the car.

“That is classified, Corporal.” Madiha said.

There was a great tension in the air. Everyone knew something very serious had occurred, and that there would be a sea change in Rangda’s military situation and in its politics soon to come. Bercik’s arrival in Ayvarta, and his treatment by the powers at be, seemed like an omen of upheavals to come. A storm was brewing around Rangda.

In her hands, Madiha thought she might just be holding a turning point in the war.

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