May 23, 2015,
21:10 local time,
The Oasis luxury hotel,
“No,” said Casaran Erad Semptor (or simply “Erad”) Psia Gydunk, talking on her phone as she walked with her things towards the elevator. “No more extensions. You need to get it done this time.” Gydunk let out a sigh and shook her head in disbelief as she heard the response through the phone. “Listen Mirel, I have given you six extensions so far to get me that report. It was supposed to be on my desk three months ago but I realized then it wasn’t so pressing. Now, it is, and if I don’t have it on my desk on Monday morning, you’re out of a job. No excuses.” Mirel started to give Gydunk his reply but Gydunk wouldn’t have any of it, hanging up on him right away without a response. She took a deep breath as she put away her phone and got to the elevator, doing her best to keep calm despite her obvious stress.
Once inside the elevator, Gydunk, a slender but strong middle-aged woman whose skin was a well-toned shade of bronze, thought about her task tonight. She was meeting with the Omani Sultan, Mahmoud Al-Nasr, who told her he had an urgent matter that needed her discreet attention. This wasn’t the first time Al-Nasr (who arranged for her travel and accommodations) dragged her away like this- the two of them forged a strong bond as leaders of major powers unaligned with Rome or Virtue, and Al-Nasr recognized as much as Gydunk did about how delicate and important it is to get things right when trying to keep the peace. Still, she wished there was an easier way to meet- even though modern communications meant neither had to leave their countries to talk with each other, all of it would leave a paper trail, and the last thing Gydunk or Al-Nasr wanted was someone creating an unnecessary panic.
After leaving her stuff with her designated attendant in her room- a small but serviceable one, as Gydunk was never one for luxuries- Gydunk left to meet with the Sultan in his suite.
“I’m glad you could meet with me today,” said Al-Nasr after greeting Gydunk. He was an imposing man, muscular, with large, tanned skin, piercing eyes and a head shaved bald. Since the meeting was secret, Al-Nasr wasn’t in his traditional garb, opting today for sweats as was his normal style. It was in stark contrast to the business suit that Gydunk wore, but at this stage, the two leaders had become good enough friends that the contrast didn’t matter.
“I’m happy to be here, Sultan,” said Gydunk as she sat down on the couch opposite Al-Nasr and took her complimentary cup of coffee.
“Apologies for dragging you here on such short notice,” said Al-Nasr. “I know it was a huge inconvenience, but I wasn’t sure how else to facilitate the meeting. How was your flight?”
“We hit a bit of a rough patch going over Midian, but other than that it was a pretty smooth affair.”
Al-Nasr chuckled before responding. “It’s uncharacteristically stormy there, I know. I hope it holds off.”
“Anyway,” said Al-Nasr, trying to move the conversation along, “I didn’t bring you here just for some idle chit-chat over a cup of coffee, as much as I wish that were the case.”
“Oh believe me,” said Gydunk with a smile, “I wish that were the case too.”
“I imagine you’ve heard about the Romans moving into Illyria.”
“Yes, of course. That’s been going on for a while now.” Gydunk leaned forward, anticipating the news Al-Nasr was going to deliver her.
“There’s a twist in the plot.”
“Yesterday I was informed by both parties that the Romans and the Rajasthani have started to conduct training exercises on a military base not far from Jaipur.”
“I see. That is a twist…Rome’s war with Illyria has never gone that far before. Do you know for sure the Roman-Rajasthani war games are tied with the dispute with Bactria?”
“That’s what I’m still trying to figure out, but obviously I have my suspicions.”
“It makes sense- Rajasthan is a Roman ally, and only the Punjab separates Rajasthan from Bactria. The question is, though, why would the Romans not involve you? You share a border with Bactria.”
“Perhaps they’re afraid of dragging us into the affair.” Al-Nasr paused to sigh. “We’re officially neutral...although I doubt it will stay that way.”
“How are things between you and Patel?”
“Officially we’re maintaining the status quo…however, I hear rumours from my intelligence community that Patel wants to invite me for a state visit.”
“He wants to court you.”
“Exactly…and I’m not having that. His only interest in showing me around is just so he can ‘prove’ to me that he doesn’t have the lithium weapons the Romans contend he has.”
“Of course, if you decline the invitation…”
“Precisely…and there’s the dilemma.”
Gydunk looked with interest seeing the concern overcome Al-Nasr’s face. It was the mark of true friendship, since, like many a good leader, Al-Nasr never showed weakness to anyone else, always being a picture of confidence and power. Gydunk drank her coffee and pondered the situation for a moment before a thought hit her.
“You could always go,” she said with conviction.
“You think so?” said Al-Nasr, surprised with the response. “What about the Romans? Surely they will see it as an aggressive move.”
“Mahmoud, Rome always sees everything as an aggressive move. They don’t trust anyone, not even their own allies. So I wouldn’t worry too much about what they think.”
“Yes, but I wouldn’t want them thinking I am taking sides.”
“Well, if you doubt Patel’s motives, don’t you think Rome would too?”
“So as long as I don’t make any statements regarding the weapons program, I should be okay.”
Gydunk pursed her lips and sighed. “You might still have to…Patel’s goal is to use you and the fact the world trusts you just so he can ‘prove’ that he doesn’t have weapons we both know that he has.”
Al-Nasr was downcast, letting out a heavy sigh.
“…and no doubt if I even hint at doubting Patel,” said Al-Nasr with grave concern, “their PR machine will turn me into an instant villain.”
“I don’t find any of this surprising,” said Gydunk. “With a war coming, obviously both sides will start recruiting allies…and the two of us will swing the balance.”
“I do have one card to play…Patel is still far behind on the payments he needs to make for the death of Asma.”
“It’s perfect…use it…and milk it. Let Patel know you’re not a pawn…and, while you’re at it, let the Roman intelligence unit know about the trip and know what you really think about it.”
“You don’t think he’s looking to backstab you, don’t you?”
Al-Nasr leaned back on his couch smiling, a happy man, beaming with a confidence about the situation he didn’t have before.
“Thank you Psia,” said Al-Nasr warmly. “From the bottom of my heart, thank you. You have helped me out more than you know.”
“Anytime,” said Gydunk, smiling and reciprocating Al-Nasr’s warmth. “So, do you want to have that idle chit-chat over coffee?”
Al-Nasr laughed heartily. “Oh would I ever.”