|Author||Orion Initiative Archives Office|
Orionids is the story of the activation of the Orionids during the Zamorez Crisis in 2010. Maharlika-affiliated rebel groups overrun the southern Finipino city of Zamorez and take civilians hostage, wreaking havoc upon the city in the process. After two months of conflict, the Orion Initiative's Belt leadership, as well as the President, is given no choice but to activate the Orionids protocol in hopes of settling the conflict quickly when the military is pinned at the vital entrance points. As a hybrid team of agents of the two divisions, Meissa squadron is tasked with obtaining information as to why the rebels struck, how to neutralize them and capture them in hopes of bringing them to court for their crimes.
Day 0: Activation
James Cueva leaned back on his seat, not sure with how he wants to approach this situation. In all his years in a position that makes decisions, he's learned that a few things were key when it comes to choosing the best one: all possible affecting factors, backup plans should the decision be the wrong one, and a big jar of the sweetest chocolate cookies he can find. For that last bit, he's found that the ones from a little hole in the wall cafe five minutes south of headquarters make them extra chocolatey than the ones his wife makes.
But of course, he'd never admit that out loud. While Kuta makes them so chocolatey that he's at the brink of having a cavity, Leila makes them with the loving touch only a wife can give to her cooking.
"Hm," Cueva said thoughtfully, humming around the cookie that was in his mouth. Without anyone to watch him besides the President and the rest of the Belt, he can pretty much eat those cookies without anyone judging him. On his right, Philip Mendoza reached over to the open cookie jar to grab a cookie for himself. Cueva swallowed, "It doesn't look good in the papers."
It really doesn't. Before them on multiple screens were news reports on what's going on in Zamorez. Journalists clad in helmets, bulletproof vests, clutching their microphones and squinting at the camera report on what unfolds in real time, interviewing the citizens who flee and the soldiers who stay. Some screens focus on footage of Palasyo press conferences with Atienza's spokesperson trying to reassure them that they're doing everything they can to wrangle the situation into some semblance of control. Army spokespersons occupy the space of other screens, making the same reassurances that sound false to the ears of the public.
On his left, Holiday Pietra shrugged. There was a downwards pout on her lips that clearly pointed out frustration towards the case before them, but her sarcasm continues to outshine itself despite the situation. "I mean, it could be worse."
"Don't jinx us, Director," Atienza's voice is cool, relaxed like the way she carries herself at the moment. In all the years he's known her, Amor Atienza was a woman who somehow miraculously kept her cool in the worst of situations, hardly batting an eyelash even when things blow up right before her very eyes. Atienza slowly tapped her flipper over her other one, gaze flitting between the Belt and the screen as if she was watching their reactions. "What's the intel on site, Mendoza?"
The man in question, the Director of Intelligence Gathering, pushed up the glasses on his face and scanned the tablet in front of him. There's a tiny frown on his features as he spoke, "The military is facing heavy resistance at key entrance points, so we can't get any tanks in without them trying to blow it up. All attempts towards negotiation are replied to with firefights."
"Crap," Pietra shook her head, clasping her flippers on her chest as she leaned back. From where he sat, Cueva can see the barest peak of a pearl pendant around her neck, resting just above where her dog tags are. She tilted her head towards the screens as she flicked her eyes back to Atienza, raising a brow. "Can't we initiate an air strike? Bombard them from the air?"
"No, we can't risk the civilian hostages," Cueva shook his head, clasping his flippers and leaning on the table before them. Many of the news agencies broadcast images and footage of the destruction within Zamorez, with buildings riddled with bullet holes and streets littered with bullet casings and rocks. It brings back memories of the civil war, how it felt to walk those streets, and shook his head before the thought could further escalate. He can't even begin to comprehend how much it would take to rebuild the city, or how long it would take to rehabilitate the roads and buildings. Thank goodness he's not in urban planning then. "How's the Zamorez base coming along?"
"Holding their position. They have already moved all sensitive information and equipment to ORIN-07 as soon as the conflict started. We can begin evacuation as soon as you give the go signal," Mendoza set the tablet down and shut his eyes tight, shaking his head. Two weeks ago, when the first sounds of gunshots were heard all over Zamorez, the ORIN station there immediately went on lockdown and tightened up security, going over the protocol with the destruction or transfer of sensitive information. As soon as they found out that the rebellion has secured the underground train stations as their own, they were forced to make use of the underground tunnels built during the civil wars that connect major cities to each other. "Truthfully, Cueva, the longer we drag this on, the more we're gonna lose. The rest of the cabinet and the Senate is getting a bit antsy."
"James, I think it's time we consider activating Orionids." The statement brings silence to the room. Cueva leaned back and took a sharp breath as he studied the faces of his two fellow Directors, taking in the set jaw and frown in Pietra's face contrasting the clear worry that reflects on Mendoza's. The Orionids was something they designed as the "extreme measures" they'd take should the situation arise, something like the Acheron Protocols that the City of Aviation has. Nothing has ever warranted this before, but apparently, two months of conflict in the southern region was a good enough reason for activation. Across from him, Atienza looked at the Belt as if she suggested going out for dinner and not initiating the last resort protocol.
"Do you already have anyone in mind for this?" Cueva asked slowly, turning to the other two who flank his sides. Mendoza removed his glasses and fiddled with the frames for a bit, staring as if they held the answers to whatever was going on in his head. Pietra ran a flipper through her hair and tugged at the short locks. If he can listen hard enough he can just hear the way the gears click around in their heads until Pietra begins to speak.
"I can think of two or three agents from my Rigel squadrons, but they're not enough," Pietra shook her head, flipper still tugging at her hair. She was known within the Belt to have incredibly high standards when they first conceptualized the Orionids, infamously picky with who she wants on the team. Her expectations when it comes to what makes up Meissa can be pretty extreme for someone who strives perfection yet hardly finds it. He already knows what she's about to say when she opens her mouth next, "But I can think of some Orbits who can do the job just fine. Think we can rope them into this, Cueva?"
"I'm not so sure if that's possible," Atienza frowned, tilting her head at the prospect. She doesn't know how to translate Pietra's statement in logical terms, besides the fact that she trusts the very penguins she worked with before rather than the ones in the present. She can't blame her, not exactly: the agents who walk the halls of the ORIN bases are as fresh as the bases they stand in, as young as the rebuilt cities they reside in. She can understand if Pietra's motion of choice is to tap into old alliances that are far qualified and capable for the sake of the Orionids.
"I have some analysts on my teams who can be of use," Mendoza leaned back, crossing his flippers over his chest as he squinted at everyone else. He loosened the tie around his neck and popped a button off his shirt, using the end of the tie to clean the lenses of his glasses. It's a nervous gesture that Cueva is all too familiar with as the man returned his glasses onto his face. He blinks up a few times, "All of them are fresh, but I'm sure they can execute what's asked of them."
"What are we going to do with the ones we call in?" Atienza asked, looking Cueva in the eye as she spoke. He knows the hidden problem that she doesn't put up front, the bureaucratic complications that come with plucking out civilians from their ordinary lives right before they initiate Orionids. It's a conspiracy just waiting to be sniffed by those who theorize it, and they have to consider what lies to fabricate before the public. It doesn't settle easily in his head, "Holiday, I expect a list of the Orbits you're going to be calling in for this."
"Oh, they're not that many, Your Excellence," The mischief that drips into that tone send a chill down Cueva's spine, prompting him to turn to her. True enough, the trademark crooked smile that comes with Pietra plotting out something equal parts wild and bureaucratically devastating is painted on her face. He can already tell who are the penguins in her mind, "If you ask me, they all fit in a little sticky note."
In her recent endeavor, she managed to raise enough money in a fundraiser to construct an extension building for the Finipino Museum of Fine Arts, an effort she can attribute to the very eager public who were cooperative and interested in her advocacy. It was refreshing, in all honesty, that beyond the conscious healing necessary after the second civil war would be the retouching of the buildings that housed the country's history and culture in its hallowed walls.
Tonight was a point of celebration then, with the newly constructed Suarez Hall (she had shyly attempted to dissuade the good museum director from doing such a thing, but alas) and its four permanent exhibits entitled: "The Finipino Woman", "Woven Textiles of History", "The Painter's Workplace", and "Radical Artistry". She carefully sipped the refined Cream Soda in the tiny flute she's been provided and took a good look at the artwork around her, half of her attention towards the excited chatter of a fellow beside her.
Her concentration, however, is broken when a man approaches her, all smooth looks and not a hair out of place. His own barong was one that was dyed rather than the traditional ecru that it was supposed to be, two strong blots of forest green sitting recklessly on his shoulders before seeping away to a dusty blue at his cuffs. His gaze was intense, rightfully so, a man on a mission before he cuts through the tiny crowd before her.
"Ms. Suarez," A honeyed tenor, one that sends a shiver down her core. She blinked up with the grace of an easy-going socialite and tilted her head, appearing attentive. All eyes were on them, "A Mr. Philip Mendoza wishes to speak to you."
Nodding understandably, she handed someone her flute and excused herself, gracing them with a smile and a promise that she will return as soon as possible. Most, if not all, immediately believe her and wished her well with whoever it is she has to speak to, tight smiles blinding under the museum lighting.
She's escorted to the backrooms of the hall, staff-only areas meant to be used for conferences, as offices, the like. She's ushered into a room that's meant to be a preservation site, an open room with bay windows and lots of floor surface to work with. It was still mostly empty, what with the lack of the actual equipment necessary for painting preservation. There was only a large table, a few chairs, and cabinets meant to store preservation materials.
On the edge of the table sat Mendoza, dressed neatly in a pressed tuxedo. His curls were a bit more unruly than the last time she's seen him, round glasses glinting in the light as he acknowledged her with a nod. She took a few steps forward and grabbed a chair behind her, dragging it to sit before him.
He spoke, "Congratulations with this, by the way, the exhibits are beautiful. So wonderfully coordinated."
She cannot help but smile, "Thank you, Philip."
The presence of the Orion Initiative's Director of Intelligence Gathering would surely cause a ripple of gossip to ravage the crowds at the gala, but she would rather brush it away with a simple smile and a carefully worded excuse. It's not like no one knew that she was rather close with those who were part of the Orion Belt leadership, what with the little information known that she was part of their ranks oh-so-long ago. She tried not to think of the way the little scar across her side ached at the reminder and instead maintained her composure.
"You've heard of what's going on in Zamorez, don't you?" Of course, she has, who hasn't? Just as the country has physically healed itself of the atrocities it had committed against itself, a ragtag team of extremists just had to barge in and ruin their perfectly good work. It's always left a sour taste in her mouth whenever she thought of it, something unprecedented in an already fragile country, "Surely, you'd want it all to end by now."
"We've seen too much within that 5-year span, Philip," She said gently, deep breaths in as she tried to pull around the appropriate words without appearing harsh. "Of course I want that peace back."