March, 2005

“Mr. Brooks? Mr. Brooks, wake up.”

United States Liaison Richard Brooks bolted upright in his chair. He had just closed his eyes for a moment, he thought. He rubbed at his eyes blearily and clumsily. His hands had fallen asleep after he had slept on them.

“Claire? What’s…what’s going on?”

“There’s been an…incident. A Russian anomaly on the loose, and Intergovernmental Affairs wants you to step in and smooth things over during the recovery.”

“Russian? Claire, unless something has radically changed over the course of my nap, we are still in the United States, correct?”

“Yes, sir, we are.”

“So shouldn’t Ilya’s people be handling it?”

“I…don’t know how to tell you this sir, but Ilya’s dead.”

“How did it happen? Are you telling me this thing got loose to Moscow, John?”

“Relax, Richard. It was sudden. He had another heart attack.”

“…a heart attack?”



“I know.”

“It’s just-”

“Yeah, I know. You always expect it to be some Keter.”

“Yeah. Yeah, you do. How’s his wife doing?”

“As well as one could expect, really. She’ll be taken care of, don’t worry.”

Richard paused, cradling the handset against his ear and shoulder as he tapped out a chaotic beat with his pen onto the desk. Ilya had been a good man. One of the Foundation’s best.

And now he was dead.

The voice on the other end of the line coughed. Right. The Director of Intergovernmental Affairs was on the line. Now wasn’t the time to get nostalgic.

“So…why exactly are you calling me? Shouldn’t you be talking to one of his deputies?

“Soon, yes. We’ll appoint a new liaison in due time after a thorough candidate review, but in the meantime, we are requesting your services for an urgent matter. Congratulations, Mr. Acting Liaison to the Russian Federation.”

Richard nearly dropped the phone in shock.

“…You can’t be serious.”

“No. We need a senior level diplomat on a sensitive affair, and you’re the most qualified. Not to mention your experience in the region.”

“A year as a junior staffer is hardly-”

“It’s good enough. Unless you’d like to file a complaint?”

Richard painfully pinched the bridge of his nose and squeezed his eyes shut. “No, sir.”

“Excellent. We’re faxing the details over to your office, but the short version is: at approximately 11 PM last night, local time, we had a containment breach at a black site in the North Caucasian Federal District in Russia. The anomaly hopped the fence after injuring a few of the guards and hasn’t been seen since.”

“Seems normal. What’s the issue?”

“The issue is that the recovery team’s tracking the anomaly’s path, and all signs point to it as having crossed the border from Russian-held Kabardino into Georgian-held South Ossetia.”

“You have got to be kidding me.”

“No. Our closest field team is stationed in Russian territory, but their cover is as Russian special forces. Any movement across the border would be seen as an act of war. They’d be shot on sight by Georgian border troops.”

“You think one of those guards would actually take a shot?”

“You think we should run the risk?”


“Then yes, I think one of them might take a shot. And if they do, that’s an international incident. Russia’s got no choice but to do something about it, and between you and me, I’m liking the Russians’ odds against fucking Georgia.”

“Have we talked to the Georgians about this at all?”

“No. We don’t have any unveiled contacts in the Georgian government.”

“…You’re kidding me.”

“I already told you no. You think we want to run the risk of breaching opsec for every third world shitho-”

“It’s not a shithole.”

“Underdeveloped nation. Whatever. The point is, we can’t talk to the Georgians without unveiling someone.”

“Is that on the table?”

“Well, I suppose it’s your job to figure it out. Why do you think higher-ups wanted a senior-level diplomat?”

“I suppose that’s why you pay me.”

“I was wondering that myself.”

“Thank you for the vote of confidence, sir. What can you tell me about the anomaly?”



“You’re not cleared for it.”

“So I’m supposed to negotiate a deal without even knowing what the hell I’m negotiating for?”

“It’s scary and will kill people. What else do you need to know? Anyway, the dossier should be printing now. You’ve got a flight booked for 7 PM.”


“You didn’t think we’d let you phone this one in, did you? Polish up on your Georgian. I hear Tbilisi’s lovely.”

The line clicked off, leaving Richard alone with the dial tone.

Tbilisi was gorgeous, Richard had to admit. He had forgotten the understated beauty of this part of the world, so different from the flat expanses of the city that he now called home. Richard squinted as he peered through his heavily tinted car window, trying to get a glimpse of the rugged Caucasus mountains in the distance.

“Tell me more about South Ossetia.” Richard said, still looking out the window.

His companion in the backseat of the heavily armored van shifted in his seat, somewhat uncomfortably. The man opened a manila envelope, and cleared his throat before speaking in his crisp, lightly accented English.

“South Ossetia is, officially, a semi-autonomous region of Georgia. The majority of the population is Ossetian, not Georgian, however, which has raised….tensions.”

“Ethnic ones.”


“Delightful. Keep going, Evgeny.”

Richard’s traveling partner slid out a paper from his stack and handed it to Richard, who accepted it and began glancing over the details.

“Low level conflicts between the two sides are ongoing. Compounding the issue is a steady supply of cash, training, and weapons from the Russian Federation to the Ossetians, which has…ah…made things interesting.”

“As you would expect from funding an insurgency on your neighbor’s doorstep.”

“Regardless of the…wisdom…of such an approach, the Russians are happy to comply with our recovery efforts. The problem at hand is on the Georgian side of the equation, namely their president.”

Richard flipped over the paper, scanning the provided biography. A photo was clipped to the top of the page, revealing a dour-looking man with a smile that did not reach his eyes.

“Mikheil Saakashvili.”

“Yes. Suffice to say, he is no friend of Russia, and he is unlikely to assist us in this matter if we utilize our official positions.”

“Maybe for you, as the Russian assistant liaison. What if I pull my card?”

“Very American of you. That would play better, yes, but he is unlikely to bend over backwards without something in return. Promises, respect, anything to boost his position.”

Evgeny sighed, taking off his glasses and withdrawing a handkerchief from his coat pocket. He polished his lenses for a few moments before tucking the pair into his other pocket.

“Mr. Brooks. Imagine, for a moment, that you are Saakashvili. Russia looms over your country. Your predecessor and rival was a Soviet-era fossil and a Russian yes-man. Would you allow Russian special forces to cross the border under the cover of night? In this climate? Into Ossetian territory?”

Richard cast the papers aside and leaned his head back, closing his eyes.


“Then you see the problem.”

Richard opened his eyes a crack, and glanced over at the window once more. The surrounding skyline of Tbilisi was cast in a soft glow as the sun began to set, painting the scenery in a wash of purple and red. Richard closed his eyes once more before beginning to speak.

“Evgeny, in your best opinion, should we unveil Saakashvili?”

The Russian assistant liaison paused for a few moments to consider this, as he too, looked outside the window. Without looking back, he replied, softly.

“Ilya thought that the best approach to diplomacy was a soft one. He was a child of the revolution, born in an era when jovial words and well-placed phone calls were all that were needed. He made sure to make friends with powerful people all over this part of the world, knowing that he could call upon them when he needed to. It worked well for him, I think.”

“A different time.”

“A naive one.” Evgeny turned to look at Richard, who tilted his head back towards him in response. Evgeny leaned in, staring straight into Richard’s eyes.

“The world is changing, Mr. Brooks. Sometimes we need to get our hands dirty.”

With that, the Russian assistant liaison opened the door of the car without looking, and stepped out, leaving Richard alone with his stack of papers. He took one last look out the window, pausing for a moment to admire the colors of the sky.

Then, he too opened the door, and stepped out of the car. It was time to get to work.

“Thank you again for meeting with us on short notice, Mr. President.”

Richard sat in his chair, fingers laced in his lap, as he looked across the desk at his counterpart, President Mikheil Saakashvili. The heavy-lidded gaze of the Georgian leader was directed Richard’s way as he leaned over to where a translator whispered a rapid stream of words into his ear. Saakashvili’s eyes never left Richard’s even as the older man nodded and quietly spoke a few words of Georgian in response to the translator.

“Welcome to Tbilisi, Mr. Brooks. I hope you have been enjoying our country thus far,” the interpreter relayed as Saakashvili continued to stare down Richard.

“It’s been lovely, Mr. President, thank you. This is my associate, Mr. Zhidkov.”

Evgeny leaned forward, and tipped his head, averting Saakashvili’s gaze. “Thank you for your time, Mr. President.”

“Charmed. So. Gentleman. What does the United States want with my people?”

Richard leaned forward, placing his clasped hands onto the desk. “A small request. Nothing major. You would hardly even notice it.”

Saakashvili raised an eyebrow as the translation came in, but his face remained largely stoic otherwise. He crossed his arms over his chest, and murmured a few words in response.

“And that would be?”

“We lost something in transit that’s particularly important to us. We have a team in place that can recover it, but they’ll need your go-ahead to cross over from the Russian border.”

The president’s face remained impassive, even as the translator continued to quietly speak into his ear. Abruptly, he held up a hand, silencing the assistant as he leaned over the table, meeting Richard’s eyes.

“And what exactly did you lose?” Saakashvili spoke in a soft voice, but a confident one. Richard coolly met his gaze, betraying no surprise at the Georgian’s language shift.

“I am afraid that I cannot tell you that.”

“Then I’m afraid we have nothing more to discuss.”

Evgeny began to speak. “Mr. President, trust us when we-”

“I do not speak to Russian lap dogs, Mr. Zhidkov. I am speaking to your superior.”

Before the Russian liaison could finish making a noise of indignation, Richard placed a hand on his arm. The two of them shared a look for a few seconds, before Evgeny at last gave a long, slow nod. Richard turned his attention back towards the Georgian president, who remained impassive.

“Mr. Saakashvili, I’m afraid that I will have to ask your translator to leave the room.”

At long last, the president looked surprised. “And why would that be necessary? He is privy to the same level of information that I am.”

“Please, sir. Consider it a matter of…high level trust. Our superiors would not tolerate more people knowing than is absolutely necessary.”

The surprise continued. “Your superiors? The American government, you mean?”

“Not…exactly. But I can’t say anything more with him in the room.”

Saakashvili was silent for a few moments. Richard could see a muscle in the Georgian’s jaw twitch as he grinded his teeth, chewing out the discussion in his own mind, acquiring a taste for the situation, and eventually arriving at an answer. He raised a hand and made a dismissive motion, sending the translator out of the room. Richard turned his head to watch the assistant cross the entire length of the room, open the door, and close it behind him. Only then did he return his focus to Saakashvili.

“Mr. Saakashvili. What I am about to tell you is of the utmost importance and secrecy. It cannot leave this room. Believe me when I say that it threatens every level of national security for both your country and mine.”

More surprise, a tinge of fear, and more than a little hunger flitted across Saakashvili’s face, Richard noted. Good. That’s where he wanted him.

“My colleague and I represent an organization known as the Foundation. You see…”

Richard leaned his head back, watching the faint tendrils of smoke rising into the air from his cigarette, only to fade away into the ceiling. His attention turned to the window and the Tbilisi skyline beyond, where a light snow had started, softly blanketing the surrounding world. He spared a look over to his right, where his smoking companion, President Saakashvili sat. The Georgian leader was similarly nursing a cigarette of his own, and had not taken his eyes away from the window since they had sat down. Richard idly tapped out some ashes into the tray next to him.

“How do you handle it?” The voice coming from the president was so quiet that Richard hardly registered it at first. He paused for a few moments, considering the question.

“It takes time. I know we dropped a lot on you.”

“It is a…grave understatement to say such a thing. I have not slept since you told me.”

“I didn’t either when I found out. Took a lot of self-medicating until I could really sleep at night. Still don’t sleep too well most days.”

“Then tell me, Mr. Brooks. Why do you do this?”

Richard paused again as he reached the end of his cigarette, while noting that the president had done the same. He snuffed out the leftover butt into the tray, and reached into his pocket for another pack of cigarettes, before carefully withdrawing two and handing one over to Saakashvili. The Georgian accepted the cigarette with a thankful nod, and lit it, before taking a few pensive drags. Richard glanced over at the president for another moment, before lighting his own.

“I was unveiled not long after I had finished a few years in the Foreign Service. Was recommended by my predecessor as liaison actually. I had worked for him as an attaché in Berlin when the wall fell. I suppose I agreed to go along with it for many of the same reasons I went into diplomacy in the first place: someone’s got to make sure this place runs smoothly, so it might as well be someone who can get the job done. And the money doesn’t hurt.”

Saakashvili chuckled, interrupting Richard’s memory. The liaison looked over at the president, who was shaking his head.

“I was half expecting some American drivel about freedoms or enforcing your sense of justice. Refreshing to hear a diplomat speak the truth.”

“I don’t represent the United States, Mr. President. I represent the Foundation. Despite appearances, the two are not the same.”

Richard paused for another moment, as he blew out a breath full of smoke, looking at it as it vanished into the air once more, there for one moment, and gone the next.

“This job carries a lot of responsibility. Not everyone can handle being unveiled. Takes a whole lot of red tape to bring someone inside. Believe me, we appreciate what you did for us, opening the border like that. Trust me when I say that it saved a lot of lives.”

“I appreciate your trust in this matter, then. I…ah…my apologies. I seem to have a bit of a headache.”

Richard looked over at the president, who had begun to rub at his forehead. The Georgian's eyes were squeezed shut, a vein in his forehead bulging.

“Do you need a moment?”

“No…no, it’s fine. I’m….ah…it feels like a migraine.”

The liaison stood up from his chair, and collected his coat that had been draped over the plush backing. He snuffed out the end of his mostly un-smoked cigarette into the ashtray, but not before blowing out one more cloud of smoke, this time firmly aimed at Saakashvili.

“I have another engagement to run to anyway, Mr. President. I hope you feel better. We’ll talk soon, I’m sure.”

“Yes…of course. Thank you again Mr…uhh…sorry…”

“Brooks. Richard Brooks. Don’t worry. People have a habit of forgetting my name.”

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