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March 2018 UC-San Diego The UC-San Diego campus wasn't quite dead during spring break. They had far too many residential students, and students who lived on-campus, for that. But as Mark Lucas sat on the soft green grass of the Warren Mall, he mostly had the place to himself, minus a picnicking couple down the way and a guy doing his best to study despite the occasional gust of wind kicking up the pages of his textbook. He wasn't really paying attention, though. "I've been keeping an eye out and so have our friends, but so far there's been no sign of any assassins. I think maybe this was another empty threat. Listen, I promise I'll Skype you once we get there - yes, my phone has service in Dakana. I'm just waiting for my friend so I can give her a ride. Love you too, babe, and give the baby a kiss for me." Feeling sentimental, Mark hung up the phone and checked the West Coast time - did he had time to pop back over and see his wife and son before playing taxi for Tsunami? Probably not. With a sigh, he slipped his phone in his pocket and waited for his rendezvous.
Free Kingdom of Socotra Socotra is an island nation in the Indian Ocean, located 150 miles east of the Horn of Africa and 240 miles south of the Arabian Peninsula. Consisting of four islands, the largest of which, Socotra, takes up 95% of the land area of the nation, Socotra is notable to scientists for its unique wildlife found nowhere else on Earth. Socotra remains a major center for eco-tourism, and the national government is a strong protector of wildlife both in the islands and in the surrounding oceans. Once a part of the Mahra Sultanate and the British Protectorate of South Arabia, Socotra became an independent nation in 1964 following the al-Darsah Insurgency, which pitted the Socotran Independence Front against the forces of first the Mahra Sultanate, then the Royal Navy. Socotra is an absolute monarchy under the rule of Amir al-Darsah, aka Typhoon, who has ruled the nation since its independence in 1964. Socotra is one of two Arab nations that has never had national elections since its independence, the other being nearby Saudi Arabia. The nation has consistently ranked in the bottom twenty on the Economist's Democracy Index. Government Socotra's government is centered around its monarch, Amir al-Darsah. There is no independent legislature and all government employees serve at the whim of the Typhoon dynasty and its appointed representatives - the island has officially banned capital punishment save “when carried out by the monarch or members of the al-Darsah dynasty.” The nation's iconography is adorned with symbols of Typhoon - the nation's blue and white colors are the personal colors of the monarch and his armored face adorns the national flag along with the dragonblood tree that is the island's most famous unique species. Socotra is a “metahuman monarchy”, a nation largely created and supported by the hydrokinetic abilities of Typhoon and other members of the al-Darsah dynasty. With few native sources of freshwater, the island's hundreds of thousands of inhabitants are entirely dependent on water reclamation and desalinization efforts carried out by the al-Darsah family. This has led Typhoon to declare himself “The Autocrat of the People” and contrast his personal monarchical style with the “false cults” like those of North Korea and New Freedom. Population The population of Socotra was 428,420 at the nation's 2004 census. 95% of the nation's population live on the island of Socotra proper, with a small scattering of scientists on the smaller islands Abd al-Kuri, Samhah, and Darsah. Demographically the nation is a mixture of Arabs, Indians, and Somalis, and is one of the few Gulf nations not to make use of widespread guest workers. The island has been a major center for Palestinian immigration since Typhoon's Decree Against The Storm (1976), and Palestinian-Soqotri make up the second largest Arab population in the nation behind native-born Soqotris. Critics outside Socotra have charged the nation's immigration policy (which, modeled on the American model, is among the most generous towards immigrants in the Middle East) is designed primarily to allow cover for the nation's human rights abuses, as well as the monarchy's interest in cultivating a population of native metahumans loyal to the regime. The nation's largest city, and capitol, is Typhoon City, located on the site of the former hamlet Hadibo on the northern coast. With a population of 250,000, the city has a population five times the size of Socotra's population before independence. Religion Socotra is officially a Muslim nation, with 70% of the country's population practicing some sort of Islam. The official theology of the al-Darsah dynasty is Ijtihadi, a reformist ideology that rejects many 'traditional' interpretations of Islam. Fundamentalist critics of the regime have charged that Typhoon's embrace of Islam is largely fictitious and that the regime itself practices 'pagan idolatry' in its veneration of the al-Darsah family in general and Typhoon in particular. While Typhoon has admitted to consorting with non-Muslim deities such as Set in past years, Typhoon has been swift to point out that he has “bested them in every encounter.” Economy The primary occupations of the people of Socotra have traditionally been fishing, animal husbandry, and the cultivation of dates. Though the island nation's gradual urbanization has weakened traditional pastoralism in recent years, date harvesting and fishing have remained major components of the island's economy. The al-Darsah dynasty has made campaigns against overfishing by outsiders a major military priority, ensuring that Socotra's territorial waters retain some of the most thriving fish stock in the Indian Ocean. Tourism in recent years has become a major part of the island's economy, with the region's low crime rates a major attraction for tourists from Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. Since the rise of the al-Darsah dynasty, Socotra's economy has begun embracing super-tech manufacturing, attracting global outside investment to encourage native production. This is particularly attractive to outside manufacturers as Socotra is not a signatory to the UN Non-Proliferation Treaties respecting super-technology. Human rights critics have charged that super-weapons manufactured in Socotra have been used in civil wars in Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East. Legal System Homosexuality and drug use (even of alcohol and tobacco) are officially illegal in Socotra and punishable by prison time. However, women enjoy the same legal rights as men and both have free access to medical care and education under reforms passed in the 1960s. Socotra's judiciary is made up primarily of native Soqotri lawyers appointed by decree of the monarch charged soley with “interpreting the decrees of Typhoon” - officials who serve at the pleasure of the monarch or his duly appointed representative. Socotra's corruption index is high and cases of vice laws being enforced against foreigners (but waived for a 'donation to the state' in terms of large fees) are common. Polygamy and polyandry are both legal, assuming the primary spouses can demonstrate the financial ability to feed and clothe their new partner. Children officially become adults at the age of 21 but can serve in the military starting from the age of fifteen. Foreign Policy Strongly anti-colonialist from its foundation, Socotra has frequently engaged in military confrontations with Western powers over the last fifty years. Lacking a strong native military until the last two decades, for many years those confrontations were carried out by Typhoon personally in his role as the self-styled “Autocrat of the People.” In his fifty-year reign, Typhoon (later reinforced by other members of the al-Darsah dynasty) has fought British, American, European, and Arabian superhumans and allied military forces, and generally been successful. The regime officially abandoned overseas commitments in the wake of the Terminus Invasion of 1993 (in which Typhoon was critically wounded in combat with Omega), but critics of the regime continue to point to covert Socotran involvement in Dakanan instability, Islamic terrorism in Russia and various other incidents in nations officially at peace with the island nation.
August 1, 2014 Midnight Manor 5 AM The ball of water smashed into the grounds of Midnight Manor like a tidal wave, water erupting outward and down as the artificial sphere produced by a hasty mass teleport collapsed under its own weight in a mini-tsunami. The water smashed across the lawn and flooded the flower beds, smashed against the first floor windows on the north side (which were luckily closed) and flooded the pool. In the center of the vast wet spot on the completely drenched lawn, a bedragged Mark Lucas and Nina al-Darsah were crouched protectively over an unconscious, bloody woman in a torn blue and white outfit like something from a Victorian's painting of a Middle Eastern harem. She looked bad, like someone who'd been grabbed in a giant's fist, and was covered in blood. "<-STEN TO ME!>" Nina was in the middle of screaming; the only water still standing the head-height inch-thick wall she was holding up between them and an invisible assailant. Her formal Socotran dress was ruined, even royal-made waterproof blue and white cloth torn to ribbons and hanging bedraggedly off her body, as if she'd been tossed into a waterfall and come out the other side. Mark wasn't panicking, really; he'd been in crises far worse than this, but as his soaking wet suit and tie erupted into his costume in a flash of light he was certainly far more focused than he usually was. "He's far away, and we have to get her to a hospital right now." He looked up, bloodstains on his hands from where it pooled on Fatima al-Darsah's skin like juice from a squeezed grape. "This is bad; I don't...I don't know how to fix this!" he said, a moment before he yelled "T-Midnight! Wander!" Pacing around the scene, her eyes still out for danger that was thousands of miles away, the princess of Socotra kept moving. "It doesn't make any sense," said Nina desperately, pulling her hair loose so the black strands poured down, soaking wet, past her shoulders. "Why would he do this, why would he just..." "Nina, please, I need you to help me with this!" Mark snapped. "I can't do this alone!" Torn out of her fugue by her boyfriend's urgency, not to mention the crisis of the moment, the princess went to help tend the bleeding woman who twenty minutes earlier had called her Daughter...
September 1, 2011 Jordan International Airport Freedom City International Terminal This is not why I joined UNISON thought Mark Lucas, keeping his annoyance off his face and a smile on it as he listened to his charge's complaints. "You have a UNISON escort because you're the daughter of a head of state of a UN-recognized nation," said Mark, feeling a little silly in his blue UNISON uniform. At least they hadn't made him wear the helmet on the plane. "and because Dr. Typhoon made the request personally." Princess Nina al-Darsah, the youngest daughter of Typhoon, the arch-nemesis of the Freedom League-turned-Middle-Eastern head of state, was about Mark's age. About to begin her first year as an FCU student, Nina was on her way back to Socotra for an urgent meeting with her father, who had requested not just a UNISON escort for his daughter but the most powerful agent in UNISON's employ. In fact, the man's exact words (as Mark had seen) had been "only the mightiest among your pitiful ranks is suitable to give security to the daughter of TYPHOON!" Pulled out of his camp on the Ivory Coast for this, Mark had spent the last day in the company of a gorgeous young woman with her father's tan skin, black hair, flashing eyes, and with the personality you'd expect from the daughter of one of the most absolute rulers on Earth. It hadn't been his favorite trip. "That's the third time I've made you tell me that, Agent Lucas," said al-Darsah with an amused smile as she folded her hands before her. They were sitting next to each other in the first-class cabin, Mark's uniform and her Socotran dress with its merger of Arab and Indian styles having gotten a lot of attention along the way. "You're very obedient. I was hoping an agent of the United Nations would have a little more gumption. But I suppose you'd have to be good at following orders to wear that uniform of yours." Oh, what the hell. If he was going to spend an entire transAtlantic flight next to this woman, the least Mark could do was try and make it interesting. What was the worst that could happen? "I'm good at all kinds of things, Princess," replied Mark with a warm smile as he turned on the charm. "And my job is to make sure you make it back to your father in one piece. And when we're done, if you'd like to see me out of uniform, I'd be happy to oblige you." He smiled, and actually got a blush from Nina, who'd evidently not expected that comeback. Out of high school and on his own, he'd only recently become aware of how good he was at flirting when he really put his mind to it. "In the meantime, though, the other passengers are arriving. Let's not give them any hint we're anything other than seatmates." They'd boarded the plane through a separate door for security, but since it was a regular commercial flight (Freedom City to Paris with a layover, and then to Socotra's big airport on the main island), the regular first class passengers were about to embark.