• Nobles of Null is a forum based roleplay site where sci-fi and magic collide. Here, Earth remains fractured and divided despite humanity reaching out to the stars. Worse still, the trans-human slaves of one major power have escaped, only to establish their own Empire, seething with resentment at abuses of the past. Even the discovery of aliens, though medieval in development, has failed to rally these squabbling children of Earth together with its far darker implications. Worse still, is the discovery of the impossible - magic. Practiced by the alien locals, nearly depleted and therefore rare, its reality warping abilities remains abstract and distant to the general populace. All the while, unseen in the darkness of space, forces from without threaten to press in. For those with eyes opened by insight, it is clear that an era is about to end, and that a new age will dawn.

VotO Book 2 Chapter 2: The Middleman

Ray of Meep

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Sometime in Autumn, 2321

Earth, Russian Airspace


President Wu sat in his private quarters on Air Force 199, reading his datapad with a furrowed brow. His hair was sharp black, his attire sleak and energetic. At the age of 52, he was abnormally young by any high ranking official standard, below the median age of the entire global population. It was the desperation of the United Republics of China that propelled him to Presidency, a deep desire to stop the stagnation and slow decline of the once great empire. Perhaps young blood would turn things around, someone with boundless ambition and energy, both of which he had. For the past few years, he fervently pushed legislation to further liberalize the mainland, increase commerce with the GDW, AU, and even the Soyuz, make the nation a center of commerce once again, as it did in the late 21st century.

However, success has been limited. Some of the old guard, at least their children, still lived and pushed against his efforts, and the old stench of Operation Heavy Chorus persisted, literally, as radioactive wastelands, which kept a large part of the population xenophobic. Wu was losing his popularity. He needed a larger international win. The opportunity came when the other two leaders of the Confederacy, President Young and Prime Minister Luo, informed him of their conversation with the American tycoon Ein. He wasn't none too pleased that they spoke behind his back, but there was little protesting to be done; the benefits were too enticing. He just needed to play ball, starting with ending this conflict between the GDW and the Soyuz. No pressure.

Glancing out the window, he saw a Soyuz fighter flying solemnly next to his aircraft, escorting him to Moscow. No doubt a couple more were out of visible range, ready to turn the entire thing into a cloud of vapor. They were afraid; they should be. Despite the armistice, the GDW showed a willingness to preemptively strike.

The airfield had far more military aircraft than what Wu saw in peacetime, and visible damage: singed fields and fresh patches of concrete. There was minimal press present, a couple of drones that were allowed to take pictures in the two minutes that Wu was out in the open, before practically shoved into a ballistic proof shuttle and driven to the closest entrance to Moscow's underground tunnel system. He was escorted through a maze, purposefully designed to confuse and disorient invaders, before he arrived at an agreed upon meeting place.
 

steinOS

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Metro-24, somewhere beneath Moscow


The breezy autumnal air of the surface megapolis was replaced with a vaguely stuffy version, a trace of gasoline occasionally slipping past the vents where the civilian metro network operated. It was difficult not to notice the faint echo of Soyuz music which could only be described as deep vintage - that, and the overlaying sound of papers moving over a well-crafted wooden desk. Dull wall-mounted lights eventually gave way to a warmer, golden atmosphere in the opening ahead, revealing a large chamber where numerous men and women resided - most of them armed guards, while the rest were diplomats.

This location was evidently old but well maintained; a repurposed subway station decorated by parallel murals carved into granite, one featuring recognizable figures to those well-versed in history - Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin in a meeting room. The other wasn’t very clear, being covered by temporary stalls for Foreign Ministry clerks and administrators. Guards were posted at all entrances, white-gloved hands silently showing the way to the central clearing for President Wu and his escort.

There was a single individual at the table, their hand swerving a fountain pen across a document which one of the assisting diplomats brought to them moments before. Chief Minister Timur Nursultanov was an Asian man hailing from Almaty, also in his apparent 50s. This meeting saw him in a dark green suit with a white undershirt; a black tie was fixed with a gold clip for contrast, the lapel of his jacket bearing a CNS Party badge in the form of a gold hammer & sickle within a striking red star. His jet black hair was cut short and combed with a side parting. The wrinkles on his face were light considering his age, though those that were evident suggested a propensity to smiling. Having taken his honey brown eyes off the paper and handing it off to a passing ministry employee, Minister Nursultanov stood to his feet and came to the shorter side of the table to greet President Wu with an outstretched hand. The motion of his jacket in that moment briefly revealed the outline of a concealed holster.

“President Wu, I am Chief Minister Timur Nursultanov of the CCM Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” he began. “Welcome to Moscow. I trust your journey over our skies was comfortable in these strange times.” The golden ceiling lights revealed an identical cushioned seat on the other side of the table from that used by Nursultanov moments ago, evidently prepared to receive its visitor.
 

Ray of Meep

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Wu shook his hand in kind. "Your airmen were very polite, coordinated, and disciplined. I commend the CCM for its excellent men and women." Translation: Thanks for not shooting me out of the skies. He reactively glanced at the hidden pistol, then allowed himself to sit down. The President put up a smile as well, small, but firm and confident. Always smile, even when the sky is literally falling down.

"Mr. Nursultanov," Wu took a datapad from an assistant's hand, sliding it across the table to the Chief Minister. On it was a list of concessions and demands from the GDW, lists of prisoners, cities, military bases and assets, space stations, territories, all to be exchanged.

"I understand that the CCM's relationship with the GDW is as cold as Kitezh's winters right now," He tried to joke, "And that the current armistice won't last long, unless a formal peace can be achieved, which is why I volunteered on behalf of the HFR to broker this peace between your two nations." That was a lie. He was more or less forced to do so, since he was the highest ranking HFR official closer to this nonsense. "My understanding is that while the GDW made the first strike based off the strategies it built up over the past decades, the Daqinren are the ones ultimately responsible for the bloodshed by purposefully manipulated both of your people for the past few years. I believe they are the common foe of all three of our nations. Thus, it would be unwise for the GDW and the Soyuz to continue conflict any longer; your forces are needed to combat this newly discovered threat."

"Of course, the destruction and loss of life need to be answered for. The Commonwealth is willing to return all that was captured back to the Soyuz immediately, provided that the Soyuz does the same, and comes to the table before the conference occurs on Mt. Olympus. From there, the Commonwealth wishes that further details on peace and reconstruction can be agreed upon."
 

steinOS

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The Chief Minister watched the President’s hand slide the datapad over, his eyes gazing up at the other before the document received his greater attention. Irises moved side to side under eyelids, taking each point into careful consideration. The song that quietly played over their talk so far changed into a waltz-like melody, causing Nursultanov to smile. “We know who is responsible; measures have been taken,” the Chief Minister noted, leaving an intentional air of vagueness.

A finger scrolled down the datapad, noting the other assets presented in dispute, before the device was set down with a light wooden tap. “There is something I would like to ask you man to man, before we move on,” Nursultanov paused, beginning to type some sort of addendum in the GDW’s document with red print - nevertheless, his gaze was on President Wu. “The Daqinren are not a newly discovered threat. Like us, the Tian Zao Gongheguo has been repelling their efforts for the past century.” The Chief Minister sought to impress President Wu with his stellar pronunciation for a foreigner. “Why is your nation seeking a partnership against them now - especially when it requires even more work to procure peace with our… western partners?”
 

Ray of Meep

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Wu gave a light chuckle, shaking his head. "Your resistance against the Daqinren is well understood by the HFR, and once again, I must commend you for putting national security before capitalist greed. In that regard, I am preaching to the choir." He paused, then continued, "No, what I'm advocated for is raising the banners against a common enemy, you and the GDW. Afterall, that has been driving the human subconscious ever since we formed tribes, is it not? Nothing unites rivals more than a common enemy. The Daqinren, ironically, are your best avenue towards peace."

The President then changed his tone, sounding visibly disappointed, "However, there is also something to be said of the GDW, and the AU's, lack of security against the Daqinren, until it was too late. Something in their national psyches that places economics before the soul. It was how my ancestors got away with conquering most of Southeast Asia, after all." He eyed the Chief Minister, still smiling, his tone growing colder, resolute. "I hope that the Soyuz will not make the same mistake. Put away petty squabbling, greed, and apelike instincts, and focus on the bigger picture. Both the Soyuz and the GDW are currently suffering in national defense due to this preposterous war. Come to terms with each other, and put the subhumans where they belong. Under our boots."
 

steinOS

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There was a small pause, Nursultanov’s finger scrolling up to swiftly read over the points communicated by the GDW again. “’Greedy’ and ‘Apelike’ are not satisfactory descriptors for our motherland, Mr. President,” he commented with his eyes on the text. “But you misunderstand. We don’t dispute the detriment of this war to our capacity for combating the Daqin dregs, nor the need to unite in our efforts to do so. I want to agree with you on that.”

The Chief Minister looked up, a faint movement in his face turning an earlier smile into a rather serious expression. “I will speak plainly - my primary concern lies with your motivations, the CCM values honest partners. We know your nation still, unfortunately, experiences territorial and ideological rifts - this is true for many governmental structures in our modern human sphere; a house divided. Your nation also had very little contact with ours thus far; yet you are sent to procure peace between the CCM and GDW when we could be perceived as being at our weakest,” he paused.

“As I’ve noted, we both know an anti-Daqin front could have been established between us much earlier. If there is an… alternative opportunity your government wishes to seize here, we would not judge you for it. After all, it is our duty to look out for our own people first and foremost.” His smile seemed to return, there wasn’t much malice behind it, rather professional courtesy. “I’m sure you have a good reason that you can present to us in good faith.” Nursultanov held the datapad in hand as if ready to hand it over, though he was clearly waiting for an answer before making any commitments.
 

Ray of Meep

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Wu couldn't help but snort and smile back in resignation. There weren't any cameras around, no microphones. It was sooner than later when they'd drop the theatrics and be able to speak plainly, as human beings. With all the messy emotions and unpreparedness, as their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents no doubt did behind closed doors. All the technological advancements in the world would never change how utterly apelike they all were.

Well, the least he could do was be polite, and truthful, when everyone knew the chess board. It was just a matter of which possible move he'd take. The president nodded, "Economically speaking, the Soyuz, HFR, GDW, and the AU are on par with one another. Even after wars and rebellions control over the resources of entire star systems, that's economic inertia difficult to slow down. What has changed, as we've noted, is the short term military strength. In particular, the HFR's been untouched, and as such, I've been presented a rare opportunity to return the URC to some semblance to its previous standing. For so long, the URC has been called the Sick Man of Sol every since Zhongzhi happened. Fuck, the HFR's capital was moved from Beijing to Yunwang. Now is the time of my people, and for once, others will have to listen." There was a clear sign of anger, as the expletive was wiped before it was translated to Russian, but the Chief Minister knew enough Mandarin to understand it from Wu's own tongue.

He waved his hand, "Excuse my language. I'm not interested in hard power; your men are brave, intelligent, as are those of the GDW and the AU. I simply want to present the URC as an equal partner to the other nations of the Sol system, soft power, to use an old phrase thrown around before my ancestors decided to go on a bloody rampage across the southern seas. To do so, my people need commercial opportunity, economic and cultural ties reestablished or newly created. I've already established such agreements with the AU, and negotiations with the GDW are underway as we speak. My question to you, Mr. Nursultanov, is are you willing to let go of this opportunity for faster reconstruction?"
 

steinOS

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The Chief Minister nodded as he listened intently, his body leaning forward almost as if they were speaking in hushed tones; rather, he watched the President with full attention as the other outlined their underlying desire. There was a degree of empathy in his gaze - thinking back to a time when the Soviet Union was broken up, though at the hands of external intent and soft power with a mixture of internal incompetence and greed. Their return to greatness was paved on the mistrust of the West and the reshaping of the minds within their own territories. It seemed now that the CCM did not trust others, while the HFR did not trust their own. Understanding in polarity, and the President’s emotional and linguistic expressions.

Nursultanov leaned back into his seat. “I understand you do not wish to return your nation to a communist union? It is a shame; to us of course. Cultural, ideological and economical ties would have been easier to re-establish between us as socialist states,” he commented solemnly, but stopped there - the Chief Minister did not want to tread on any pain points in this conversation, noting the tone in which President Wu described the bloody rampage moments before. “Nevertheless, your people have a right to self-determination and recovery. The HFR territories are host to one of the oldest and greatest empires of our world’s history; it is our view that it should not be allowed to waste away.”

With that, Nursultanov placed the datapad down and calmly slid it over the smooth wooden surface for President Wu. “I can’t say that I condone your decision to approach us last as your immediate neighbours, though I imagine that you were looking to cease existing hostilities before consulting neutral parties. But we have outstanding grievances.” The datapad contained a new paragraph typed in red during their conversation - it read:

‘In connection with the incident that resulted in the deaths of [names of deceased], all diplomats of the CCM and GDW respectively on CCM territory; an internal investigation by the CCM has revealed evidence that said incident was directly incited by the Daqin Diguo. Prior to the conclusion of said investigation, the GDW performed pre-emptive attacks against CCM assets, resulting in the deaths of civilian and military personnel documented as ranging between 980-2500 individuals. The organized and methodical effort, as well as the selection of initial targets leads the CCM to believe that said pre-emptive attacks were premeditated and formed into a military plan pending execution. Said attacks caused armed conflict between the CCM and GDW. Consequently, the CCM agrees to conclude its participation in the CCM-GDW conflict subject to the following conditions: 1. Return of all POWs and other material assets belonging to the CCM captured by the GDW, in equivalent exchange for GDW POWs and material assets captured by the CCM. 2. €10bn restitution for families of deceased, Jovian colonist recovery, damaged/destroyed facilities and penalty of conflict commencement. 3. A non-aggression pact to prevent further hostilities. 4. GDW membership within a CCM-established anti-Daqinren Treaty.’

Nursultanov reached into his jacket above the pistol holster, pulling from a pocket a metal box with an intaglio motif of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building in Moscow. “Our CPSW Grand Assembly will be meeting in due course to discuss further steps. In advance of this, we would like to extend points 3 and 4 to you and your colleagues as well, President Wu. The CCM believes cooperation between our states to be of mutual benefit, outside of this war,” the Chief Minster explained as the box was opened, revealing a line of carefully pressed cigarettes. The leaves wrapped within them were a distinct mix of amber and crimson, and the smoke that emerged as Nursultanov lit one for himself had a scent reminiscent of rich black tea, rose and mint, together with a crisp tobacco base. A product of Kitezhan hydroponics, these were known as ‘Ekho Os’yeni’ or ‘Echo of Autumn’ to the initiated. The music in the tunnels mellowed out to something with a formidable brass orchestra. Nursultanov reached to the President with the open box in hand as a casual offer, not knowing whether the latter smoked at all.
 
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Ray of Meep

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President Wu looked at the box of cigarettes, taking the datapad instead. "No thank you. I already consume enough shrooms to stay awake, but the gift is appreciated." He gave the datapad to his assistant, taking a tall, rectangular, wooden box in return. The outside was immaculately carved with flora and fiery patterns, well oiled. Placing the box on the table, the president revealed a jade statue of a dragon inside. "A relic of the old empire," Wu explained, "Confiscated by my similarly totalitarian ancestors." He avoided the term communist for any link to negative connotations. "For a brief time, we were allies, before disagreements in ideology pushed our nations apart. Now is the time we rekindle those ties despite our ideological differences, for the sake of our people, and others. With our power, let us ensure they don't go starving this time around."

The president stood up to shake the Chief Minister's hand. "The GDW will accept your terms. The HFR will make sure of it. Of course, we also accept an anti-Daqinren alliance. It will be curious what will happen on Olympus Mons this time around. I assume the Americans will still given them a seat, but how long will they be able to stay in it?"
 

steinOS

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“Beautiful craftsmanship, we’re honoured to accept your gift.” Nursultanov commented as he looked over the statue, a desire stirring in him to later sit down with his glasses to take a more in-depth look. He stood up with the President to return the shake, giving a hearty smile. “We are in partial consensus to terminate their vessels the moment they manifest in Sol; though the Americans will be equally as displeased to see our Magnetic Assembly partners present after their warmongering came home to bite.”

Nursultanov walked with Wu to the tunnel they were guided through previously, stopping short of the guarded entrance. “I imagine you’re a busy man, President Wu. If you have the rest of the day to spare, it would be my pleasure to treat you to one of our finest Moscow restaurants.”
 
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