Ozpin watched, carefully, as infantry fighting vehicles and tanks carrying the Glenn insignia swept through the streets. Watched as the voices coming from the speakers chanted a simple set of directives aimed at both civilians, and at any potential enemies still capable of conscious struggle.
About the need not to resist, not to provoke the 'Glenn peacekeeping contingent' and the need to lock themselves in the premises available to them now. To allow the Glenn soldiers to move through the streets, taking control of the city, minute by minute.
"Not bad," Ozpin allowed to note with some hushed approval, of Jonathan's actions. "Not bad indeed."
Jonathan's plan and actions were not perfect. It wasn't even unequivocally possible to say that they were that good – they had some blatant weaknesses.
For instance, Jonathan's very sudden action of introducing troops, no matter what exactly they would be called, a 'peacekeeping contingent' or 'glorious army of invincible conqueror', would raise questions for any outside observer. Whether it was a mere layman receiving news once a week in the form of a printed newspaper courier from town, or the most powerful of the Councilors.
Ozpin was indifferent enough to justify such actions, just as the actions themselves were indifferent – few things could not be justified by saying that they're for 'saving humanity'. Ozpin himself had repeatedly resorted to a variety of moves, all wildly ranging in how palatable they are to the general public, in his perpetual game against Salem.
But as always, the view of ordinary people did not look at any situation by taking into account what it would mean for Remnant. Even less in the context of historical eras. The gaze of ordinary people gravitated towards empathy, towards possible 'human' explanations. No matter how much you prove someone is a danger to all Humanity, having that same person executed would still elicit sympathy, as unearned as it could be.
The less a man saw the big picture – the simpler and more primitive his view of other people's actions became. Decades-long plans and the secret backstabbing of world players became individual actions devoid of a single logical thread, plans, and strategies began to be attributed to the personal qualities of people.
This action on the part of Jonathan, this barely-disguised coup, would not be perceived by ordinary people as a 'chess move in a great political game'. Instead, his allies would see the vague but beautiful goal of 'strengthening Glenn', and his opponents would see the 'madness of a burgeoning conqueror, greedy for more resources'.
A powerful propaganda network was needed to control millions of people. And while Glenn maintained its own broadcast studios and maintained a satisfactory level of credibility with the state and the government, it all rested primarily on Jonathan's personal image as a hero and savior.
An image that is gradually, day by day, melting away. Nine years ago, Jonathan could, relying only on popular frenzy and admiration for him, declare himself king, and years later, this has already become the 'norm' of this world. Jonathan was able to consolidate the 'truths' that the state had laid down at the opportune moment, but gradually, year after year, as his popularity waned, so did his influence.
Such is the nature of people – they are truly fickle beings, this Ozpin knows very well.
Children who were just born at the time Jonathan Goodman was crowned King, were already attending school, already beginning to argue with their parents about their own worldview for the first time. To them, Jonathan Goodman was always king – and so, the coup of Atlas, in this case, was judged by them not as the actions of a 'hero and savior of Glenn', but as 'the actions of yet another man'.
It hasn't been twenty years, though, the statistically proven time when people truly begin to forget. Jonathan's support is still strong, but those who remember the horror of Glenn's fall had to be over twenty-five, at least at that time, in order to clearly maintain their support for Jonathan.
Those who were younger then, were children with little understanding of the situation they were in, or teenagers hormonally prone to a warped perception of reality. For them, 'anything goes' and therefore Jonathan's actions may not have seemed like titanic work to them, but merely not a bad job for the new-found king. Those who were twenty-five then, had now reached the age of the mid-fourth decade of life – thirty-five and above.
This meant that it was on their shoulders that the main power, the main economy, the main work of society rested – but it also meant that they already represented the 'past' generation. They were no longer the future of Remnant, but its 'present', flowing seamlessly into the past.
In other words, although Jonathan's support was great in Glenn, at the moment Jonathan was acting at the end of the window of opportunity open to him, putting his support in the younger generation at risk by big actions.
If Jonathan's actions prove successful, he will win the popularity of the people again, unite the community and so on, so on, and so on…
But if he were to fail…
It was a great gamble, one that Ozpin would not bet on. But then, Jonathan had already proven that he's his own man, with his own way of doing things. For proof, he only has to look out the window.
Ozpin continued to stare intently through the bulletproof window at the vehicles passing through the city streets. His gaze did not glide over the rapidly changing scene before him or try to focus on individual figures, but he kept a keen eye on everything that only his two human eyes could see. Thousands of years of experience had rewarded him with so many talents, each of which could be described as 'non-human'. That something as common as 'non-human peripheral vision', which allowed him to see the whole picture at once, was not even worth mentioning.
And that line goes on.
Jonathan's actions had many prerequisites and many consequences, each of which could be analyzed with great care, compiling whole libraries of potential outcomes in his head. Before, layering one side over the other, Ozpin would get the final picture of the world.
Ozpin was strong, clever, and skilled in this method of analysis, of predicting the future by crunching through countless disparate seemingly unrelated data points. So skilled, in fact, that sometimes his adversary could only exclaim in despair as if Ozpin knew how to look into the future.
No. Ozpin did not know how to do that – for all his infinite talents, and even for all his magic, Ozpin could not look into the future.
But Ozpin could change the present.
"So… That's how." Ozpin slowly raised his palm to his face, then tapped his index finger on his chin a couple of times, a small detail, but also of great significance to Ozpin.
Ozpin did not suffer from any kind of tics and was in control of everything, be it facial expressions or involuntary gestures, a skill he had learned in his past lives, perfected over numerous more.
The fact that he allowed such an action, meant that Ozpin had used so many of his own mental resources to analyze and control this situation. So consumed by it, that he had to divert his mind for a moment from other basic, 'background' activities like controlling his facial expressions and non-verbal communication.
"If… No, definitely not. Maybe? No, too unlikely… Given the current state of affairs, but ten years? If we try to sabotage Menagerie… Ruby Rose looks promising, but what if… Ah, here we go." Ozpin's mind worked with such intensity that if he were a mechanical machine, its mechanical parts would have already begun to erode from the endless rapid use.
Moreover, given that Ozpin's body was nothing more than a biological machine, no matter how heavily fortified, it was still not invincible. There was a very real possibility that Ozpin's actions right now were desperately overstretching his flesh's capabilities, leading to its premature exhaustion.
It wasn't fatal for Ozpin, in the sense that even if he died now, it wouldn't be the end of Ozpin's struggle – but it certainly wasn't pleasant. Atlas and Mantle had fallen into Jonathan's hands, and for all the flaws in Jonathan's actions – it couldn't be said that his plan wasn't good.
He was able to trick Ozpin and Salem, fool them both, a feat that not many people could boast. Then, when they were distracted, thinking they had sorted out the problem – strike at the softest underbelly, turning Ozpin's almost pyrrhic victory into an uncompromising defeat.
The problems of Atlas and Mantle will not go away overnight, and Jonathan will not become an absolute and total winner instantly, nor will the radical warriors of the Mantle Liberation Front be completely transformed into loyal Glenn citizens. For a time, the entire newly formed state, stretched across two continents, and when Menagerie is incorporated into Glenn's hegemony, the three at once – will be in chaos. But Jonathan had indeed won.
"But, he's revealed his cards." Ozpin pursed his lips a little.
Not that justifying two different semblances was impossible – powerful teleportation, destroying the horde, saving Glenn, all were great feats. It could even be linked into some sort of unified semblance – especially considering that, in reality, that was indeed constituted only of a creative use of one ability. After all, given the somewhat blurry limit of what Semblances themselves could be – to the point where some of them interacted with metaphysical concepts like 'fate' or 'misfortune', Jonathan's wasn't 'too' out there.
If, of course, applied judiciously to catastrophic effect.
To place Jonathan's Semblance into something equally blurred, obscure or even really 'on the borderline with real magic' like to say that 'Jonathan's semblance is that he can influence reality' – is possible. In terms of a scientific endeavor, without a clear understanding of what a 'Semblance' is, and modern scientists didn't have that understanding – somehow Jonathan's 'semblance' could be explained…
Especially if you put a little pressure on the scientists.
But the problem was not words, names and scientific theories, but that Jonathan had turned his 'Semblance', some special ability, his own calling card, into a technology that anyone could use. When Jonathan provided the world with a miracle drug, for all the wonder of the discovery itself – it did not lead to a revolution in public consciousness, simply a revolution in medicine or health care. Not a field that the layman would consider in their day to day.
The stage was simply set for a 'wonder drug' intended for the most powerful and the most in need of it. Its production capacity was insignificant, barely covering the most vital needs of Glenn itself, to ordinary people, it was something 'distant' – if ordinary people were paying attention at all or had heard of such a thing.
But the conquest of Mantle and Atlas… Jonathan had made a bold move. He decided that, instead of using his abilities covertly, trying to cover his vulnerabilities, instead focused entirely on making the most of his strengths.
In other words, metaphorically speaking, Jonathan went 'on the attack'.
Attacking Ozpin and Salem, that is. Knowing fully that he wouldn't have a chance to defend himself against them – he decided to attack instead, hoping to bring down his opponent before they brought Jonathan down. Making the most of his opportunities.
Which means Remnant will begin to change.
It means Jonathan's secret courses at his own Academy will now become open. Artifact production will become ubiquitous and commonplace, teleportation will become the norm.
In some ways this will become a weakness for Jonathan – if he seeks to normalize, to open up his options – he will have to involve the entirety of Glenn.
And, involving the people leads to relaxed control, and relaxed control leads to forgery, stealing samples, they would be people that would seek to use Jonathan's abilities against himself.
In other words, Jonathan has sacrificed his secret powers for the sake of using them now.
In five, maybe seven, at most ten years, Jonathan's power will have been studied, and even if he has new trumps up his sleeve by then, he won't be in the same position he's in now. If Jonathan tried the same trick again, he would find that their effectiveness to be greatly lessened – all because he's planted the very seed of 'possibility'.
Jonathan will be studied, classified, and theorists will predict his progression, so that even if one day he shows the world a miracle again – the world will be ready.
Ozpin will be ready.
In other words, Jonathan has gone va-banque, he has gone all in. He's made a quick, and risky move – and now he needs to be able to win before his advantage burns out.
Ozpin could once again feel himself in a clashing situation with Aifal.
Aifal had risen, all the while Ozpin was not paying attention, perhaps he was too comfortable in knowing that Aifal would die soon. It seems that he had forgotten just how desperate one could be when knowing their end is near. Whatever the reason, Ozpin had allowed Aifal to once again settle on his peak, above which he was incapable of leaping.
And Ozpin, finally shaking off his stupor, seeing the dangers arising, began to move forward, narrowing the gap that had unknowingly appeared in his inattention. In fact, Ozpin almost overcame Aifal – simply because Ozpin's ceiling was much higher than Aifal's ceiling, and Jonathan's too…
But, with one desperate step, Jonathan had soared above them both… For several years at best.
Gradually, his fuel will wear off and Jonathan will fall and Ozpin will overcome him… And Jonathan knows it as well.
In other words, Jonathan's action was a proud declaration of war – and at the same time a step of desperation. Jonathan decided to take a stand against Ozpin, and at the same time realized that he could not simply defeat Ozpin, so he was forced to act so openly. To try to defeat Ozpin in a matter of years, because time was Ozpin's ally.
It always has been.
Ozpin shifted his gaze to the cars circling the city, desperately trying not to run over panicked civilians, while at the same time pushing them away from the roadway.
Tick-tock, Jonathan. Tick-tock.
Kick Jonathan out of Mantle and Atlas? Overthrowing him unequivocally at this point is not possible – just as it is not possible to wage a real civil war to defeat Jonathan.
Not to mention that if Ozpin does push Jonathan off the table…
He could easily fall into Salem's arms.
Ozpin felt his eyebrows furrow without his control.
So killing Cinder is not on the agenda. As long as I can't blame it on Salem… It's not impossible to do so, but such an action would require exacting preparation – that is of course assuming that Jonathan would give up his war against me.
Ozpin took another sip of his already cooling coffee, not that he could even taste it right now.
An internal confrontation in Mantle and Atlas? Absolutely – but I'd be extremely surprised if Adam survives a night like that. Kaiser? He has a chance and a possible point of entry… Unless Aifal intervenes again.
Menagerie? Ghira will be happy to jump at the chance to hold off Glenn's rapidly increasing gravity of control – but he's an idealist. If he thinks Menagerie will be better off without his guidance, he will submit to Jonathan. Shifting Ghira out of office? It used to be much easier to do – now he has serious patronage from Jonathan, the people of Menagerie would not swallow it… Especially with Raven to 'cut' off any threat to him.
Another tasteless sip, as plans flashed and discarded in Ozpin's mind.
STRQ? Or the members that are not in Jonathan's pocket already. If Jonathan decided to fight in earnest – he wouldn't give up on the team, even if it would potentially result in Yang becoming a maiden and not being able to control her abilities in the end. By revealing his abilities, he has left himself room to maneuver. He can declare that he will train Yang himself, even if he can't do it fully – the others won't have a chance to test his claim, not now. It could take years, time during which he will reduce his reliance on STRQ.
A bare shake of his head, and another line of thought is discarded.
International propaganda? That remains a possible avenue… Put pressure on Mantle and Atlas, and even if Aifal makes his move – I still have the option to press the rest of Solitas cities… Maybe make use of future Grimm attacks?
Grimm, have indeed been used as weapons by mankind in the past, one that is already discarded, a relic of the past. After all, those were considered too dangerous and unpredictable weapons…
But Remnant had not lost all of its studies about such avenues of warfare overnight.
Ozpin exhaled slowly, feeling the forcible return of the impenetrable mask to his face before turning away from the glass. He would need more time to be able to think up a way to counter this move of Jonathan, a smile appeared on his face at the challenge.
"Not a bad move, Jonathan. Not bad indeed."
Kaiser Quartz did not suffer from the vice of the young – haste. Seeing his goal in front of him, he didn't rush to claim it, to get a result in the shortest possible time.
Kaiser, however, indeed suffers from the vice of old men – complacency.
How could he not? Viewed from the height of his years and from the height of his gray-haired experience, Kaiser had been taught what to expect from all his competitors and was accustomed to the moves of young politicians and promising newcomers.
And Kaiser had used them, eliminated them and beat them as someone with his considerable experience should and could. Kaiser was not some perfect superhuman, nor did he possess the training of a Hunter. And while his bottom line gave him a way to act like a mastodon in Atlas and domestic politics – he was not in the league of those men who become living legends and posthumous idols for future generations.
He was influential, clever, but at the end of the day – only one man.
One man who would not survive a bullet to the forehead and had not prepared a plan in the event that a squad of heavily armed Glenn's agents penetrated his tamper-proof bunker in the middle of the night.
Kaiser gazed with some sadness at the tea set beside him, then silently shifted his gaze to the agent sitting opposite him. She was a woman with a long face and a cross-shaped scar on her right cheek, with short cropped dirty gray hair and a seemingly silly expression and blank look in her eyes that hid her professional tenacity and attentiveness.
Maybe the girl was actually stupid – but in this case it wasn't too much of a problem for her. She had not been assigned the mission of organizing the search for Kaiser's hideout, organizing the invasion, or even negotiating with him. She was simply acting as an executor – stupidity in this case could easily be offset by the intelligence of her immediate superiors. Perhaps it even played to her advantage!
The naive doer is less likely to betray – and in the case of her betrayal, less dangerous.
Acting according to this paradigm, Kaiser gained control over Pietro Polendina, and over the years he served Kaiser's purposes admirably. Who knows, perhaps Kaiser wasn't the only person to use these tactics?
The seconds counted down, seemingly so slow, as his death approached. Kaiser liked the quiet, measured countdown. It reassured him – living proof of the relentless movement of time. Always measured, always inexorable, with each passing second another piece of reality became 'the irrevocably lost past' while the 'unattainable future' became reality.
Kaiser found satisfaction in this unstoppable passage of time, the approach of progress…
'But if I could enjoy the chamomile tea now, my contentment with the moment would become much greater. Alas, the plans of mice and men.' Kaiser shifted his gaze to the tea set and closed his eyes.
Had Kaiser expected that his attempts at political machinations would ultimately fail him, burying his political career and outlook instead? 'Expected' might be too strong a word in this case. Kaiser had indeed assumed the dangers of such an event, but he did not consider it too likely. He had no reason to conclusively assume the possibility of such an outcome.
He had prepared a few desperate measures in case, that, despite all his best efforts, negotiations between the two opposing sides did break down without the possibility of their restoration. Familiar guards, bulletproof transport, back-up accounts and forged documents… all proved to be useless.
Polendina would have to be left off the leash, but that wasn't any significant problem – Watts had already done a full analysis and reverse-engineered his technologies, preparing those for full use. The loss of the doctor was somewhat unfortunate for Kaiser, such an enlightened mind is not often found in a generation – but Kaiser did not consider his loss too great a disadvantage of the situation.
After all, Kaiser had prepared himself, all that Pietro himself had to say about Kaiser was purely praise and trivial details rather conducive to whitewashing the politician's reputation. Comparatively, the fact that Watts survived his supposed 'mop-up' was a far more dangerous and sad event for Kaiser.
Not that it was an excessive concern – Watts was, comparatively speaking, even more culpable for the human experiments in progress as a direct executor, Kaiser had plenty of cards to play, and Watts, most importantly, was officially dead. But comparatively, Watts' survival posed far more problems for Kaiser than Polendina's death.
Small details – a little bad luck here, a little bad luck there, and Kaiser was only one man. The kind of man who made mistakes, made blunders and backed off without knocking out a possible hundred out of a hundred during a test of their qualities and strength.
And this time, that's exactly what happened.
Kaiser Quartz had simply demonstrated that he was no superhuman. So when, in the middle of the night, busy sensitively maintaining his sleep to regain his mental strength, the sullen and gray-clad Glenn agents in unmarked uniforms eliminated his guards – Kaiser had no chance to respond.
Simply because Kaiser was a simple man.
A bullet to the head, poison to the tea, a knife at the throat – and no amount of experience or secret stratagems would save him from his final resting place. A wooden box placed under two meters of fresh soil.
At least Kaiser, thanks to his experience, knew how to accept defeat with dignity.
He did not, like a naïve ambitious youngster, shout, fight back, or demand something. No, Kaiser Quartz accepted defeat with dignity.
He did not try to play subtle political maneuvers, desperately hoping that he could convince his invisible opponent, Jonathan Goodman, who had appeared in the form of the RATS agents, to back off by biting off only half of Kaiser. Like a beaten dog hoping that he could withhold the rest of his capabilities. So neither did he make grand plans for revenge, nor dive into the calming hands of imagination.
So, Kaiser began to talk, to the victor goes the spoils after all.
He passed on information – about Pietro and Watts, about his political views, about plans, about Atlas, about Mantle. On what he had been gathering all along, all his plans and analyzing, and what it would lead to.
If Kaiser was defeated – then he at least had enough sanity and honor left to reward his opponent for defeating him. To put it in another way – accepting defeat with his head held high was the last act with which the Kaiser planned to leave the most favorable memory in the world.
He may have never become a ruler of the world – but he would at least serve as a worthy stepping stone to his victor.
So Kaiser calmly continued to watch the face of the girl, who represented a kind of 'guarantee' of his submission. All the while, worrying solely about the fact that he was deprived of his chamomile tea, not about the fact that he was gradually approaching the moment of his execution.
Second by second, minute by minute… Before, she pulled a scroll from her pocket and glanced at the screen. It seems that his 'colleagues' have also been found.
'From the looks of it – Pietro was in place, as I reported.' Kaiser shifted his gaze slightly to the side at the thought.
'It will be harder to catch Watts… But no one in the world has defenses against teleportation. At least not yet. So, he will be put into service… Or eliminated – either way, it's no longer my problem.'
The girl across from Kaiser silently continued to stare at her scroll, running her fingers quickly over the screen a few times, too quickly and carelessly to type any meaningful response. Something which made Kaiser wonder if the scroll only had the ability to select a few answers programmed into it, not a full-fledged ability to communicate with her superiors, before setting it aside and rising from her seat.
"His Majesty will meet with you, now." The girl said in an even tone, before taking a step back. Kaiser had no time to react to what was happening when, as if out of nowhere, from behind the girl, his enemy – Jonathan Goodman himself, stepped into view.
"Good night, Mr Quartz," Jonathan stepped forward, leaning slightly on his cane before sitting down opposite Quartz, passing on a polite greeting.
"It is indeed a good night, Mr. Goodman." Kaiser nodded in greeting, before each looked into the other's eyes.
For a moment, there was silence between the two silent men – no one spoke the first word, but there was no tension in the air. There was no confrontation between the two men's gazes, instead it seemed as if the two were engaged in a silent dialogue.
Before Jonathan held out his hand first, and Kaiser could only blink as his death sentence seemed to pass, just like that. "Information about Ozpin and the state of the world will be given to you later. Watts will be eliminated and information about your involvement in the 'eternal life' project will be destroyed. The project itself will be saved, of course, but without a possibility of mass use. At least not at this cost. You are on probation – one more such 'project' and you will be executed."
"As expected." Quartz accepted the handshake. "So this is what recruitment to Glenn looks like?"
"In a manner of speaking, it takes an experienced politician and administrator with a good knowledge of the local political landscape to normalize the situation and integrate Atlas and Mantle into Glenn." Jonathan shook Quartz's hand, but did not release it, looking into Kaiser's eyes.
"Just in case, I have to be clear. You have not been pardoned for your crimes against humanity – your sentence has simply been deferred while you properly perform the duties necessary to maintain stability in the peacekeeping contingent's area of responsibility. And believe me, you will be watched. Extremely closely."
"I wouldn't dream of much more." Kaiser let go of Jonathan's hand after a moment, after which he allowed an extremely rare sincere smile to come over his face.
"So it is done."