Mace's Gilded Forge

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Chapter 3

Soviet drone vessels…

Ships controlled via remote…

It wasn’t the goal, however.

The stolen data tapes contained pertinent information for Stoess. He retreated to a hideout in the mountains of Japan. Amid the deep winter at his cottage, he ran the old tech through crude scanning machines designed by using illegally obtained blueprints.

There were multiple generators, too. He wasn’t going to depend upon the small flow of electricity the cottage utilities provided. Once in India he had made that simple mistake. It ended up very costly--causing him to lose precious resources stored on several hard disks.

Though he wasn’t a connoisseur of Japanese food, he did enjoy the seafood dishes prepared by the village’s most prestigious restaurant. Accustomed to delicacies wherever he traveled, Stoess operated with a precious palate instinctively attuned to the appetites of the elite.

A young man was just delivering food that afternoon. Stoess would never lunch early. He allowed the work to whet his appetite. And he enjoyed those afternoon treats. Hidden safe inside each Styrofoam container, Stoess anticipated the delectable oddities only the renowned village chef could provide.

After leaving the order on the porch, the courier departed with a handsome tip in a wax sealed envelope. The stamp on the envelope bore the royal signature of Stoess’ employer: a golden triangle bearing the mark of a hammer and anvil. The courier had no idea what it stood for. He was forbidden to ask questions--even the restaurant owner informed him as much. Stoess delighted in this form of secrecy. And it was necessary in order to frighten potential threats. That seal was security. And Stoess knew the origin and meaning: his English family.

Though his family were defectors of the West, they were the Worshipful Master Smiths of the House of the Gilded Forge. These masters of metal were once very powerful in England, especially among the royal treasury; for, they produced the gold ingots that determined the value of English currency. And whilst the British pound sterling was at various times backed by silver and gold, the modern economies of international markets created the demand and acceptance of fiat money. Over time, the intrinsic value of money lost its metal, and characteristically transformed into a global tender determined by nothing but government regulation. This undermined the weight of the House of the Gilded Forge. As a consequence of ending the reliance on commodity and representative money, the world economy had considerably no use for the old masterful smiths and their precious golden ingots.

As the elegance of money depleted, the Stoess family turned to other methods of securing their fortunes. This was in the form of an elite assassin’s guild. The KGB often enlisted their services in order to dispose of potential defectors and enemies who vied for power over the Soviet states. However, it should be exceptionally noted that the CIA cooperated in some length with the Gilded Forge.

Operating under civilian contractors for select military personnel, the Gilded Forge earned a unique reputation among the intelligence communities across the globe. Whilst it possessed questionable neutrality (seeing as the guild was much more forthcoming with the Soviet Empire), the invaluable impression was that they were highly skilled assets meant to be bargained for. If anything, it was a new form of the arms race--this sort filling the need for superpowers to influence lesser governments.

The vicious split came with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. The decade was enriched with fertile soil for power struggles. Combined with the aptitude for safe execution, the KGB used most of its funds to turn the tide of control within their favor. Using the Gilded Forge was one of their chief concerns.

Again, the neutrality of the guild was questionable. At best, it suggested a favoritism intended only for the highest bidder. Such contracts didn’t come cheap. And by the end of the 90s, the decade saw further corruption within the guild itself. The game was shifting towards biological warfare and the construction of home brewed explosives. As a result, the Middle East became the new hotspot for the guild’s operations.

The biggest mistake the CIA made in this regard was the willingness to trust the secret organization with classified documents. It was pertinent to the assassin contracts. Any government unwilling to divulge secrets to the guild were immediately flagged and labeled suspect. This in turn heavily gauged the market--transforming intelligence communities into watering holes. As a counter to this, the CIA created honeypots that lured the contract killers into more dangerous and uncertain territory. The unfamiliarity with this counterattack safe measure allowed the CIA to penetrate the guild’s network. As a result, it was the perfect opportunity to dismantle enemies that employed the killers.

But this further aggravated the market, increasing the demand for fidelity and efficacy on part of the various governments dipping their fingers into the trough of death. Naturally, the CIA and the KGB wanted to be certain they weren’t both being played by the rising Chinese Communist Party. The dominance the Party displayed in tool and dye pushed both the United States and every other government to back away from countermeasures. It was very rough to say the least.

No one wanted to deal with them anymore. The Gilded Forge became a whisper amongst the global regimes. Following the Clinton Administration, the guild essentially refused to cooperate in any way, shape, or form with the Americans. It was truly believed to be a consequence of CCP capital gains.

None of the Americans could touch the Sudanese problem escalating in the 2000s. The Chinese had already begun a neo-colonization of Africa by then. And the whole situation just kept growing worse and worse for the West and the Russian Federation.

Any senator, any rep, any lobbyist advocating military action in Africa would have been shooting themselves in the feet. Everyone who needed campaign funds and various favors understood the need to follow the instructions given by their greatest supporters. And whilst the financial support wasn’t coming from the Chinese, it was coming from corporations with deeply rooted oversea investments based globally and centralized in China. The CCP didn’t have to illegally dump precious money into lobbyists. It already had the global market in its filthy grasp.

The Gilded Forge played a large role in securing CCP real estate in the African continent. This was done very carefully through the guise of shell companies and highway contracts. But it upset the Europeans with capital inside Africa who had traded internationally essentially unscathed from inflation and recession trends since the end of World War II. And the greed of the American corporations resulted in overlooking the necessity of securing raw materials through those traditional European venues.

The Yanks even tried outsourcing fail safes to Qatar Holding LLC. This middle power irritated the PRC. Doha basically started expanding their portfolio in the mid-2000s, and one of the targets were rare earth mines in the Congo. It wasn’t long before the Chinese began toying with these delicate markets, especially as it started competing with the Western world’s tech.

Everything from satellites to smartphones required the precious minerals found in the Congo. That’s why it became a major frustration to the United Nations, who by the 2010s was dominated by CCP powers in contrast to the 20th century’s American controlled UN. Even the WHO was gobbled up by the metastatic PRC.

It wasn’t like the old days, that was for sure.

The days of containing communism and the Cold War era methods employed by the West and the USSR could no longer compete with this new form of warfare. It was arguably the most intertwined economic scenario ever before seen on such a global scale. And it was precisely organizations like the Gilded Forge that thrived off of this new state of affairs.

As he sipped his afternoon tea, Stoess contemplated such events that had transpired over the past several decades. He was the eldest, now. He was the one pulling the strings. And who the hell would have suspected his being in the Japanese hinterland?

It wasn’t so much of a hideout as it was a dent in his industry’s armor. For it was his own tastes that persuaded him to take up permanent residence in the mountains of the Orient. Besides, he was closer to Beijing in that measure. It allowed him to exist within a temporal Western life, while increasingly falling head over heels in love with the Eastern way of things. Rather adolescent of him, Stoess found the East more appealing because it seemed exotic and unfamiliar. It was his curiosity that gnawed at him. Satisfying his itch for wanderlust, he couldn’t resist the idea of making Japan his home.

And it was safer than being in China.

He knew from experience with the Americans and the KGB that his employers could never be trusted. Of course, the CCP had no real clue where Stoess lived. If they did, he would have been dead a long time ago. And that’s because the Chinese didn’t enjoy his high prices.

But someone did figure it out. Only it wasn’t the Chinese.

When he decided to finally lunch, Stoess opened the first Styrofoam container. He was shocked to find a note written in permanent marker underneath the lid.

‘You’re surrounded. Come out with your hands up.’

That’s all the notes said.

At first, he tried to pass it off as the courier playing an odd joke. Shortly after he heard the window crack. A bullet zipped by his face. He couldn’t believe it!

How the hell did they find me? thought Stoess.

Of course, he didn’t know who they were. He just knew that someone had found him and the game was up. It was do or die. There was no chance for escape.

Diving to the ground, he crawled towards his bedroom. More windows broke. More bullets entered the cottage. The walls were getting ripped to shreds. Quickly, he opened the closet door. There was a secret lever on the floor in the left corner. When pulled, it revealed a small passage that led into a dank grotto underneath the house.

Rolling down the wet staircase, he slid across the cobblestone where he met a large safe. It was his weapon’s cache--stored inside an impenetrable vault. He punched in the code. The digital lock accepted the user input and triggered the mechanical process to unlock the safe. The vault opened. Inside he found his favorite revolver.

It was a chrome plated edition he made with a now deceased Italian friend in Tuscany. Unfortunately, Stoess had been the one to end the friendship using the very weapon they conceived.

His Pfeifer Zeliska .600 Nitro Express revolver--in his hands it shined like a mythological weapon. It was his choice pistol. And if he was going to die that day, Stoess wanted that to be the firearm in his cold dead hands.

He waited.

Then, the house was breached. Tear gas...they didn’t want him dead. There would be a brutal interrogation, no doubt. He longed for death over that frightening episode. And a prison cell on some distant island, trapped in the middle of nowhere--Stoess would rather be shot to death than spend the rest of his 60s and onward in a concrete hole.

He closed the passageway. They were probably using special goggles to search the interior. He had a built in Faraday cage to prevent his electrical system from failing. He could hear the EMP grenades explode. Whoever they were, they were specialists--the same kind of people he was most familiar with.

Stoess suspected they would lay plastic explosives to level the place. He was right.

The whole cottage was flattened in a matter of seconds. The secret grotto was buried under rubble and snowfall. He knew they confiscated the data tapes before they blew the place. What he didn’t know is how they found him. Aside from this, he was certain they wouldn’t care to search the rubble. Stoess could see the thermite dripping from the ceiling. Whoever they were, he assessed that they were making sure his remains wouldn’t even be found.

By nightfall, Stoess climbed out of the rubble. The blaze was still going, but it wasn’t enough to keep him from clawing his way out. It was snowing heavily. Amid the embers of flame, he gripped the .600 Nitro Express. He pushed onwards towards the village.

Stoess was wearing slippers and a bathrobe. He felt ashamed he wasn’t in full gear. But at least he had his ammo belt and that big gun.

As he entered the village, the wet snowflakes intensified. It was an old place, preserved from time by a traditional community. But it was now empty. The people had become like ghosts. Stoess was half expecting to see a tumbleweed roll across the icy ground or a mother grabbing her child off the street. It was as if the place had been evacuated. The lights were still on. Even the orange glow of lanterns swung untouched in the breeze.

The squeak of old hinges and the sound of wind—-he imagined being in the Wild West, like some episode in the Twilight Zone. But this was real. He could feel the cold. And it was dark and snowy. He could smell the powder on the submachine guns.

‘Alright!’ Stoess called out. ‘I know you’re here. Let’s get this over with!’

His voice cracked in the icy breeze. The echo didn’t last long--merely reverberating down the small alleyways a bit.

‘You’ve got the tapes! You blew up my house! You wanna kill me? Is that it? Then do it! I’m not going out easy, and I’m not leaving alive. You understand? Answer me!’

But there was no vocal reply. He waited. And he kept walking slowly forward, alert to every sound and every movement.

Suddenly, he heard the silent pulse of a submachine gun. Three bullets blasted into his chest. They were bad hits--enough to pulverize him instantly. Blood exploded out of his mouth as he screamed in agony! He aimed wildly at anything he could. He fired one shot but was then ripped to shreds by more submachine gun fire. The bullets were coming from every direction, tearing mercilessly into his torso.

His body contorted and writhed. A moment later he collapsed stiff as a statue into the icy mud. The slosh and pitter patter of boots crept towards him. There were half a dozen troopers dressed in high tech stealth fatigues, equipped with special thermal goggles that glowed lime green in the night. They wore HD radio headsets that emitted enough microwave radiation to torch an anthill. All of them had metallic ballistic facial shields. Underneath, they wore special balaclavas that guarded them from their headset radiation.

‘Job’s done. Assets collected. Heading to extraction point,’ one of the troopers said.

‘Affirmative, soldier. We’ll see you back at base. Commander out,’ the voice on the receiver replied.

They simply left Stoess’ body in the snowy road. A cleanup crew would handle the mess and by morning the media wouldn’t know a thing about the truth of the matter. And that Pfeifer Zeliska—-it was the only thing the troopers took with them.
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