Season 10 Prelude – Happy Holidays!
WINTER OF 2273 SOMEWHERE NEAR THE NORTHERN POLAR REGION ON NEW MADRID…
On a very cold night on a remote island off the coast of an archipelago extending from the northern ice of New Madrid was a cozy looking cabin with over a foot of snow on its roof along with large icicles extending from the overhangs to the ground. Surrounding the cabin was fir tree looking forestation also covered in snow. On the far side of the cabin was a stone chimney with smoke entering the air and forming a small cloud before dissolving into the atmosphere.
Outside a closed door entering the cabin was an old electric light bulb lantern powered by an antique gas driven generator pumping loudly into the night. Leading away from the door of the cabin was a multicolored cobblestone pathway that had been shoveled clear. Nearby on a small landing platform was a hover car covered in a thin layer of snow. A very bright light flashed into existence in front of the door, beginning as a small pinpoint and extending to a six foot diameter vertical plane of light. Through it stepped a man wearing a black fir insolated dark grey trench coat covering a light grey glen lad wool business suit with a striped red tie around his neck and a cream white dress shirt underneath.
Immediately after he stepped through the portal disappeared. He walked over to the door and knocked softly on the surface three times. He waited a moment and a friendly voice from the inside said, “Enter.”
The man opened the door, stepped inside, and closed it behind him. The interior was nice and warm. He removed and hung his trench coat on a coat stand to the side of the door. There was a fire going in a fire place located along the wall at the far side of the room. Directly in front of the fire and facing it were an overstuffed brown couch, a coffee table in front of it, and a rocking chair beside it. Draped over the back of the couch was a thick green blanket. On the coffee table were newspapers from centuries past, an assortment of books and an old fashioned laptop. A thick circular green rug covered much of the wooden floor. It sounded like music from the 20th century was playing. The last time it was Miles Davis. The man guessed it was Benny Goodman this time. At least it wasn’t the Yard Birds.
At the center of the room was a small round table with an antique chandelier hanging from the ceiling above it with a dozen flame shaped light bulbs attached. There were four chairs at the table with a man sitting in one of them. He was slender, wearing glasses with thick lenses, and appeared to be in late sixties. He was wearing a thin black blazer with a slight sheen and a gold turtle neck underneath. There were two empty whiskey glasses on the table.
To the man’s left was a twin sized bed, dressers, and a mirror. To the man’s right was a small open kitchen. A man was standing there pouring a cup of coffee. He was handsome, appeared to be in his late twenties, and had jet black hair. He was wearing what appeared to be a fleet uniform jump suit. The man at the table raised the empty glass in front of table raised his glass towards the man who entered the room and smiled. “Mr. Munro. Welcome.”
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Douglas Munro responded. He nodded towards the man at the table, and then faced the man in the kitchen and said, “Herb.”
Herbert Gergenstein nodded. “Doug your timing is impeccable. The coffee just finished brewing. Milk, sugar, cream?”
“Just milk. De Caf?”
Gergenstein nodded and took a closer look at his appearance. He appreciated it. Munro never gave up formality regardless of the situation. Gergenstein had been working with Maax Moonbar on and off for years, but when it became apparent that Treschi had relinquished his control over Olin Industries and the Fearless Jackals to Munro as the overall leader it was inevitable that they would come into contact. Both Maax and Gergenstein realized years ago that they were sitting on a stool with two legs and it needed a third. Munro appeared to a perfect fit.
Gergenstein observed many of Munro’s movements for the first year after Treschi left, but it did not take long for him to determine why he chose Munro. Munro had decades of grooming for the position, but never advanced beyond a moderately gifted level of life magic. Yet, Munro was always cautious and well aware of how even his subtle movements could influence the loyalty of his underlings as well as how they would appear to those outside the organization. In short, Treschi left the Fearless Jackals under the leadership of someone that would keep a steady hand on the tiller. From the view point of his followers they would believe that his decisions would not be reckless, but more importantly his conservative approach would allow them to gain new allies that they would need now that there most powerful member would no longer be involved.
He glanced at the tie that Munro was wearing. Even now Munro was ad adhering to protocol established centuries ago, meaning he would never leave his appearance to chance or misinterpretation by others in power.
After Treschi left Munro became more visible. He always wore striped ties and with the American version used a long time ago. The stripe would always be diagonal down from left to right. Yellow was his executive tie. He wore that when he was negotiating with governments and other major corporate conglomerates. When he was among the Fearless Jackals he wore blue signifying authority.
Yet here was wearing the same tie he wore when he first met to parlay with himself and Maax. It wasn’t the traditional old American style. It was the British variant with diagonal stripes directed in the opposite way, diagonal up from left to right. Also the tie was red. The red symbolized power and anger which were the two driving forces behind the Fearless Jackals and their former master.
“Which is it this time?” asked Munro. “Scotch or Vodka?”
“Vodka,” Maax answered. “We had Scotch last time.”
Munro walked over to the chair at the front of the table and sat down while pulling a data crystal out of an inside pocket of his blazer, placing it down before him. Gergenstein placed a cup of coffee in front of him at the table. He then returned to the kitchen opened an old refrigerator and grabbed a handful of ice cubes. He put them into empty glasses. Next he grabbed a half full bottle of vodka from inside a cabinet and filled the two empty glasses before sitting down.
“So how is the weather on Minos this time of year?” asked Munro with a raised eyebrow.
“Why do you always ask me that? Our skies get pounded by deep core mines and automated factories to the point that our atmospheric renewers can’t keep. How many times do I have to say that I kind of wish I was living on Jennifer’s Star with your state of the art pleasure domes,” Maax answered with a chuckle.
While Munro smiled back and took a sip of coffee, Maax appreciated the irony of the meeting. Each of them had formed this little secret pact despite disagreements in the past for different reasons. For Maax’ part, his little attempt to gain control of Van Diemen’s industrial economy years ago was exposed by the Sabbat. But as any mega corp seeking to maximize profits and power it had no grudges against Olin or even the crime syndicate Fearless Jackal themselves. If Maax was in the same position he would have done the same thing.
Not long after that, the New Sabbat kicked Olin off Van Diemen, seized their physical assets, and executed many of their personnel on the planet. Both Maax Industries and Olin took major losses on the planet, but business had to go on.
Maax also knew the new regime in power had drastically decreased space travel. This cut down on commerce and profitability for both mega corps. Even under ideal circumstances both sides would have considered a merger, but now it was pretty much infeasible. That left Maax Industries and Olin Industries with one choice, which was to remove the current emperor from power, reestablish the former Federation, and reopen the jump gates.
On Munro’s side of the table he also appreciated the irony of working with Maax more than Gergenstein. Gergenstein once had a personal relationship with Treschi, although he would be surprised if Treschi would be negotiating with him if he was in his position. But, Munro’s ultimate goal was to establish the Fearless Jackals as a major crime syndicate while helping the Bloody Fangs, a Fearless Jackal’s splinter group on Babylon reestablish the former Terran Republic. Of course for this to happen, Munro recognized that a long reaching plan had to be established and that he would need allies.
In spite of the odds of removing the emperor and the degree of uncertainty in the Holy Terran Empire Gergenstein felt encouraged. He was a strong enough mage to know that he was not being magically influenced to feel this way. It was more like an invisible silent hand was inching him towards the ultimate return of the Federation. It might not happen immediately, but some day that asshole in power and all his clowns supporting him would be defeated and destroyed. Furthermore Gergenstein believed that the emperor could not possibly anticipate the shear intelligence and balls that his small cluster brought to the table. On top of that, Gergenstein was sure that on other planets across the Federation other groups of humanity were meeting to discuss similar objectives he was. In short, the emperor had a lot of enemies and over the long run that hatred towards him would lead to his down fall regardless of his power.
Gergenstein took a short deep breath and exhaled. He looked at Maax and said, “You were discussing the House Tremont situation.”
“My house has been contacted by representatives from House Tremont. They are planning on launching an offensive against House Solder on Proxima Centari. Their stated goal is to remove the false leader of Cronos and reestablish a leader that will be more suitable in their eyes and those of the emperor.”
“What do they want from your house?” asked Gergenstein.
“Help or stand aside.”
Gergenstein took a sip of his vodka and put the glass down. “Inform Tremont that you will support him in exchange for an alliance.”
Maax shook his head. “Tremont is an unstable house. If my house allies with his, we would be dragged into wars that really have nothing to do with us.”
“When that happens simply provide minor support, not enough to influence the battle. How much do you think the emperor will care?”
Gergenstein turned to Munro and said, “Doug?”
Munro reached out and tapped the data crystal in front of him on the table. “We established covert means of communicating with the were-rats on Van Diemen now under the control of the New Sabbat. Apparently William Bishop the personal body guard for Ennoia who rules the planet has assassinated Colby Bree a respected leader among the rats.
The were-rat population wants to rebel and would stand with an invading force. As a gesture of their good intentions they have provided confidential materials purporting to describe the New Sabbat controlled Seth’s capabilities for waging war and their defenses. It is on this data crystal.”
Herbert took a swig from his glass before leaning forward on the table and facing Munro. “Inform the were-rats that you will support the rebellion by your offensive task forces from Jennifer’s Star.” He reached forward and took the data crystal from Munro’s hand. “I will gain imperial support by providing this information to the emperor along with House Tremont. Tremont may decide to go after Seth rather than Proxima Centari which will make Maax happy. Plus it will give me a firm ally in that region.”
Maax smirked. “I will lose two divisions and I doubt we will win anyway.”
“True. But Jennifer’s Star is one of the first systems that will need to form a faction and will need to be the capital. You will not be able to lead this faction from behind, so even if you do lose systems like Hadley and Epsilon will respect you for trying and may aid in your defense should the Sabbat counter attack.”
Munro nodded and decided to move the negotiation along. “Some of my agents have uncovered a plot led by Pheonix and some surrounding systems to invade the K’Nes territory. Assuming that Pheonix wins their next move may be inwards. Their next target could be you.”
Gergenstein paused, leaned back in his chair and took a sip of vodka before replying. “I will do nothing. The K’Nes have been preparing their defenses for quite some time. I think Phoenix will be in quite a shock when they invade.”
Gergenstein poured more vodka into his glass while Maax finished his drink. “I am afraid I must be going. I have another appointment in the city before returning to Minos.” He stood up, went over to the coat stand, grabbed his fur coat and put it on. “Next time Minos?”
Gergenstein nodded. “Until next time.” Maax left the cabin, got into the hover car and drove away.
Munro got up and poured himself another cup of coffee. He went over to the coffee table and picked up one of the newspapers entitled Tombstone Epitaph. He sat down on the rocking chair and opened it to the first page. Meanwhile, Gergenstein picked up his glass, got up, and took a seat on the far side of the couch. He opened the laptop and turned it on. Within moments he was sifting through various screens.
“So have you heard from Treschi lately?” asked Gergenstein.
Munro slid his hand into his blazer and pulled out three Polaroid pictures and gave them to Gergenstein. Afterwards, he sat back down on the rocking chair and continued reading the paper. “He wanted me to give those to you.”
Gergenstein looked at the first one. It was taken by a man wearing flip flops seated in beach chair recliner looking out on a pale blue ocean. In the foreground and the sides were palm trees, exotic birds, and other people sun bathing.
He flipped to the next one. It was a picture of a guy that appeared to be in his late thirties. He was wearing a pale blue shirt that said Pink Floyd on it with wide smile. He had an excessively high receding hair line. He was standing at a bar in a restaurant. Surrounding him and facing the camera were a half dozen beautiful women with large bosoms wearing t-shirts with the eyes of an owl staring outwards and Hooters written above them.
“That’s Treschi. He altered his physical appearance.”
“Did he mind control them into getting into the picture and looking so happy?”
“No Treschi has suppressed his magic capabilities so that he will be able to go detected among the local residents.”
“Did he pay them?” asked Gergenstein.
“No. He told them it was his birthday.” Munro replied.
“Why does he have his arm around the one in the middle? And why does he look so happy?”
“I think Treschi is trying to get a girlfriend,” Munro answered with a sigh.
Gergenstein flipped to the next one. It was a picture of an old wooden beach house covered in sand. It had a porch facing the camera. On the porch were fishing rods, some oars, a chair, cooler and a small dog in front facing the camera. The dog appeared to be about fifteen pounds, had yellow fir, and looked happy.
“Nice dog,” said Gergenstein.
“That’s Tami. Treschi’s were-chaweenie body guard.”
Gergenstein looked closer and at the picture and noticed a dog color around its neck and license tags. “This isn’t some place in the Holy Terran Empire; this is from a different time period!”
“I don’t get it. Why did Treschi give up?”
“He didn’t think he could win. He failed twice to kill Scyr when he was apparently mortal. Now Scyr has the Orb, Treschi didn’t like the odds. Even though he is an Oracle of Mind, he and Scyr think too much alike. So he retired, which is what I would have done if I was in his situation. He had been in the power racket for over fifty years and went as far as he could go. Better to leave now than to get his head blown off.”
“Does he ever make contact with you?”
“Yes. Twice a year. He also does “checkups” on a new and powerful asset of the Fearless Jackals,” Munro answered.
“I am afraid that’s confidential.”
Gergenstein started to look angry. “We need to be honest with each other. Who is this new “asset”?”
Munro lowered the paper so that he could make eye contact with Gergenstein. “Like I said it is confidential. Now do you want to run the Fearless Jackals or shall I?”
Gergenstein calmed down, nodded, and turned his attention back to the laptop.
Munro flipped a page of the newspaper and looked a diagram of a gun fight. Meanwhile he thought back to what had happened shortly after Treschi had awakened Malkav and alleviated his symptoms of insanity. It didn’t take long for Malkav to understand that they both shared some things in common and they were both very powerful. They both hated Mordred’s guts and really had no conflicting interests. Plus, he even had to admit to himself that he was grateful for being rescued.
But, Malkav had been out of it for nearly 5000 years. If he came forth not only would Mordred and Ennoia come down on him, he also did not know what the reaction of the emperor would be. So it was clearly obvious to him he had to follow Treschi’s advice which was to go into exile. Before going into exile Treschi advised Malkav to reestablish his clan on Jennifer’s Star under the protection of the Fearless Jackals, Olin’s regional headquarters, and the local house that had once been a major partner of the Terran Republic. They could keep their mouths shut.
So Malkav met with Lam Diel his last sole lieutenant from thousands of years ago plus around fifty Malkavian vampires that assembled on the planet. Lam Diel was a fourth generation vampire. Malkav promoted five more of the remaining Malkavians to fourth generation to replace the ones that had died off over the years and then left stating that Munro had final authority major decisions. If Lam Diel had a major disagreement then he would have to refer to himself to override them. Only Lam Diel and Treschi knew his destination.
Next Lam Diel increased the ranks of the Malkavians to two hundred over the next few years all of which were sixth generation or below. He did not select strong fighters or former TI, as those types of individuals were not the ones they would like to join their clan. Lam Diel selected poets, artists, musicians, and a few unemployed atheists.
In spite of the relatively peaceful nature of the new Malkavans that would fight on behalf of the Fearless Jackals and defend Jennifer’s Star they would be a nice addition to any army and could major problems to an unsuspecting army invading simply due to the unpredictable nature of the gifts and magical abilities that the Malkavians would use that had not been widely seen in centuries. However, against the New Sabbat, the Caal, or a major TI force invading they would get their asses handed to them. But, fortunately for Munro Olin Industries R&D divisions and one of their subsidiaries had already come up with a type of body armor and weaponry decades ago designed to enhance the fighting and defensive abilities of their users.
Decades ago during the Clarke administration Olin Industries had developed type of body armor that was superior to the armor of the light infantry, yet was slightly below the grade of the armor used by the TI since it was less durable. Even though Olin Industries could have got a contract to build them for the Federation, they left it unpatented and not revealed to government authorities because the cost of building them in large number would be much greater than what they would have received from the Federation. They left their research as a special secret project and would reveal it when they could be sure that they would be the ones that would benefit from this technology. However, under the command economy of House Griswold on Jennifer’s Star they could be constructed in smaller number of around 300 over about ten years since the Olin Industries could accept that building them at a significant loss could be offset by the added security to their main Holy Terran Empire headquarters located on the planet.
The outer shell of the armor was super hardened solidified metalloid alloy using mercury, crystalized diamond dust and liquid titanium exposed to a high pressure electromagnetic field in an extremely high temperature massive vat that resulted in extremely strong alloys that could be cast into the shape of outer plates for the armor. Plus, at the major joints throughout the armor were pressurized metalloid type muscles that would drastically increase the strength and reflexes of the user. The impulses needed to move the muscles originated in the helmets that had an ultra-vision radiology wave reader that could read the users mind to move his or her major skeletal muscles. These impulses would be transferred to electromagnetic impulses that could cause the metalloid metals in the various joints to stimulate the movement of muscles that would increase the strength and reflexes of the user. Olin mages helped with the construction.
Special still suits were designed for the Malkavian vampires that would be using the armor plus a visor that would automatically allow the user to see in the ultraviolet end of the spectrum during the day. The still suits had cache pockets distributed throughout the body capable of containing up to four and a half gallons of blood. These cache pockets were supported by the overall interior design of the outer shell of the armor. These still suits could allow a Malkavian user to wear the armor for up to four weeks with extra blood available for high pressure combat situations. This blood was fed intravenously to blood vessels in neck.
Excessive secret testing of the new armor designs on Jennifer’s Star ultimately resulted in the first successful prototypes. When warn by even the sixth generation Malkavian vampires they had the reflexes and strength of a werewolf on steroids. A round house punch could crack a one foot thick Kalintocian redwood tree trunk. In addition to the magical abilities of the Malkavian vampires, collectively the two hundred vampires would be a formidable force in melee combat. They could operate openly during the day since they would have the ultra-vision visors and armor to protect them from the sun. This would make it hard for outside observers to know the true nature of the armor users were vampires. Plus, the vampires were undead and did not have souls. So that would help them if they had to engage a Caal.
The armor did have weaknesses though. After sustaining significant damage the armor plates had to be replaced. Additionally, they were not as good at getting around treacherous terrain such as steep cliffs and deep craters as the standard TI armor.
Yet, even with the advantages the scientists and engineers at Olin realized that the Malkavians would still need the long range trajectory power of the standard TI trooper. They could have simply armed the vampires with a standard heavy plasma rifles used by the TI. But, Olin did have a subsidiary that specialized in making rifles since the days following the American Civil War called Winchester Repeating Arms. Winchester had been a major subsidiary of Olin since the 1900’s. They had developed plasma rifles and machine guns for civilian and military use for centuries, but some of their developments went unpatented and unreleased due to the low demand for the weapons.
Winchester had hallway full of such arms on display as novelties on Jennifer’s Star and the engineers decided to use one of those to arm the small Malkavian army. The one they selected was an extra heavy plasma rail gun that they intended to down grade to smaller standard weapon that could be used the Malkavians. The original extra heavy plasma rail gun was designed to be used by retired were-bear TI veterans around 2205. These were for the were-bears that would like to go on hunting expeditions on bug infested planets for sport. These rail guns were very similar to a standard heavy plasma machine gun with a normal firing range of 650 meters. But at a range of 150 meters the rail gun feature could be used to maximum effect for 5 minutes before returning to a semi-automatic rate of fire for 20 minutes to allow the weapon to recharge. When the rail gun feature was used, the were-bear could mow down a guardian bug into chili within a minute.
However, these guns were very expensive to make and the demand for them was small so they never went into mass production. For the purposes of arming the Malkavians, Winchester designed and produced a much lighter model. It still had the standard feature of 650 meters with an added sniper mode and scope that had an effective range of 2 miles. They also added an under carriage under the barrel that could fire light plasma grenades with a maximum capacity of 24 shells. But, the actual plasma ultra high speed shells shot by the rail gun feature when used were much smaller than they were-bear version although the weapon still had the same 5 minute length of time it could be used at once along with the same recharge time. So they would not do as much damage as the were-bear version, but could still saw a standard TI soldier in half at the same distance of up to 150 meters within seconds.
Yep, Munro thought to himself. The defenses of Jennifer’s Star are now set. Any invading force will be in for a surprise and if the New Sabbat invaded they would be sure that none left alive. Sure there were only 200 hundred of these soldiers, but that would be in addition to the standard local militia trained by House Griswold. Malkavian casualties could be replaced and smaller platoons could be deployed to other areas such as Babylon. Munro had no idea what his Blood Fang cousins on that planet were coming up with, but he would not be surprised if it was something just as frightening in his opinion.
Munro folded his paper and looked at Gergenstein. “What’s that you are using?”
“This is a 2001 Dell Laptop in mint condition. I am playing a game called Empire Deluxe. Come over.”
Munro got up and took seat next to Gergenstein on the couch. Gergenstein pointed at the monitor. “This is game designed to simulate vastly simplified 20th century war fare. It is a strategy game. Are you familiar at all with maps of Earth during this time period?”
Gergenstein toggled through the various scenarios and settled upon one referred to as the Europe.scn. “This is the European scenario and I think that this is a good one to get your feet wet and will allow us to work together.”
“I am familiar with this map.”
“I want to run the country called the Germans and I would like you to go with the British.”
“How did you know I would like to go with that country?”
Gergenstein ignored the question. “I am surrounded by enemies such as the Italians, Spanish, and Russians. I am going to need to gain control of Scandinavia and France. I am going to need you to put pressure on the Spanish so I will need fewer troops to control the northern cities along the coast.”
“Makes sense. Herb I am feeling tired. Can we play this game tomorrow? Speaking of tomorrow what are your plans?”
“Tomorrow is December 25th on Earth. Here on New Madrid most of the planet has the day off including me. I am staying here. In the morning I have to refill the generator and collect more wood.”
“Do you mind if I sleep on the couch? Even I need a day off once in a while.”
“Sure. I’ll play at the table,” Gergenstein replied. He picked the laptop up, went over to the table and put it down. He took a seat and went back to his game.
“Good night,” said Munro while he took off his tie, loosened his shirt and adjusted the pillows. He laid down and covered himself with the blanket. Within moments he was resting.
Five minutes later he said, “I must insist on getting Iceland.”
“Of course. But if I see any of your nosy bombers in France further inland than Paris they are going to get shot down. Good night Doug.” Gergenstein clapped his hands sharply twice in a row and all the lights in the room turned off except for the light from the laptop monitor and the fire.
(Deleted Scene Provided by one of the players)
TEN HOURS LATER...
"You crossed my line of death!" Gergenstein yelled, watching as Munro's bombers flew through his submarine screen near Iceland.
"I told you," Douglas smirked, "I needed the airspace to deal with the Spanish threat."
"Spanish? I've got them on the run in the Pyrenees!"
"But they still hold Lisbon, and that means..." Munro was interrupted by Herb's laughter, "what? What is it?"
"I don't believe it. I'm sitting here, fighting over a map of a planet that was destroyed before I was born."
"It's your game," the leader of the Fearless Jackals was slightly amused.
"I know," Count Vendo sighed, "but at least it's a game I can win."
"As long as no one's playing with you."
"That's the whole point," Herb pointed his finger at his associate, "Scyr beat us. He beat us all. My Federation, your Jackals, even that bloodsucker on Wilke's Star."
"He's actually quite a witty conversationalist..."
"You're missing my point."
With a blink, Munro changed his tie color from British-style red to American-style blue. "No, I understand your point quite well, Your Excellency. Your mistake is thinking there's an end to the game."
"What do you mean?"
“This game,” the Jackal pointed to the antique laptop, “may have been made in the 20th Century, but its logic is 18th Century. Napoleon figured in 1812 that if he only took Moscow, the Russians would collapse, and he would be crowned Tsar. Instead he waited in Moscow for months and the surrender never came. Winter did instead and wiped out all he had gained.”
“It’s the same here,” Gergenstein pointed to the computer. “You have to defeat all but one of your enemies before he thinks of surrendering.”
“Then the game ends. You don’t have to clean up your mess, rebuild your cities, wipe out resistance…”
“You’re saying the Ascension War wasn’t a game?”
“I’m saying that the game never stopped.” Douglas took another sip of coffee. “Scyr won this round—and let’s be honest—we came out of it with more than we came in. You had an obsolete group of hunted agents and became the most powerful spy in space. I was a modestly successful Federation lawyer and now I’m the Jackal.”
“Only because Treschi is scared to be the same time period as Scyr.”
“Are you really that naïve? My mentor has reached heights of power that even Vin Dane should worship.” Munro drilled his eyes into Gergenstein’s. “If you were a god, why would you care about the Jackals? Or even a single universe?” He took another sip and regained his composure. “Thankfully, he cared about his playthings enough to ensure they continued… and for which, I thank him.”
“So you think we need another round?” Herb asked.
“Small stakes at first,” the Jackal sighed, “and to butcher the poker comparison, learn who the players are. Have the fools like Maax and Mordred take big risks, and meanwhile, we’ll raise the stakes and not get in too deep.”
“You’re counting on Scyr making a mistake.”
“The Empire’s in chaos, Houses are striking each other openly, building their armies, and Scyr does nothing. It’s not a mistake, it’s a catastrophe!”
“So what are you hoping for?” the count wondered.
“There’s a player out there we haven’t seen yet,” Douglas smiled, a cold calculating grin, “someone who’s cocky enough to think he can beat the Emperor at his own game. When Scyr goes down, then we move in. Whoever holds the table at the end of that round can write history with his own pen.”
Herb shuddered at way Munro looked at that moment. “You’ve obviously given this some thought?”
“And you haven’t?” Douglas raised an eyebrow. “You may have lost sight of the end game, Herb, but you’re still playing. Otherwise, why develop those gy… guy… what do you call them?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea what you’re talking about.” Gergenstein said with a straight face.
“Of course not,” the Jackal smiled honestly.
“So what do we do?”
“You know the game. Find the player willing to take the risk, help him along towards the goal, but always give yourself plausible deniability.”
“And then dispose of them?”
“If you want,” Douglas finished his coffee. “Personally, I’ve become accustomed to being kingmaker rather than king. You were going to keep Smythe in power after you won, weren’t you?”
“I hadn’t looked that far ahead.” When Munro just glared at him, he admitted, “I wouldn’t have made a good face for the cameras.”
“Neither would I,” The Jackal lay down on the leather couch and yawned. “We’ll just have to see who does and make them an offer he can’t refuse.”
As Munro closed his eyes, Herb asked, “You want me to save the game?”
“Why not?” Douglas answered. “I’m sure my bombers will return to their carrier next time.”
“And your transports next to it?”
“They’re empty,” the Jackal started to sleep with a smile. “Why would I want Iceland anyway?”