When giants clash, nobody spares a thought for the fate of the ants – this is what he thought as he walked through the remnants of a burned-down village. Some of the ruins were still smoldering, their shapes deformed by the inferno unleashed upon them hours earlier. The ground was littered with casings in a manner that suggested fierce combat, but the bodies of the attackers or defenders were nowhere to be seen. Just those of the victims caught in crossfire, left to rot on the frozen ground where the corporate bullets cut their lives short, or burned to a crisp in the conflagration that followed the battle.
Vujic stepped off the dirt path that led between the houses to make way for the three Tihina tanks that were rapidly approaching, their engines revving, doing their best to propel the 45 ton behemoths forward in spite of the elements, the terrain and the altitude. Even the engines sound tired, Vujic thought. As Tangra passed by him, followed by Asparukh and Kuche Mazno , his eyes focused on their lavish hull paintjobs, the only truly colorful things in this bleak land. He shook his head – why anyone would make a tank more visible was beyond him, but Tihina was no regular army and one of the most important lessons he had learned in the past years was to know when to enforce rules and when to let go.
As he continued to walk along the path, lost in thought, he stepped over a body, barely noticing it. It was a few seconds before he realized and he stopped and closed his eyes. Somehow, he couldn't bring himself to look back at it. He was afraid – not of the dead, but of his own indifference to such gruesome sights. It isn’t right, he thought. Faced with such horrors, a man should feel something – righteous anger at those who ravaged his beloved country perhaps. Anything but indifference.
He walked on without looking back, telling himself, as he had done many times before, that such things happened in war. Because this was no longer an insurrection, not by any stretch of the imagination. This was war with the entire vast array of nightmares that came with it.
He crossed the path, now broken by tank threads, and approached the cliff overseeing the valley. Below him, a large military camp was waking up. Hundreds of men and dozens of armored vehicles ready to be unleashed upon his command. Vujic sometimes wondered how it had come to this – from an electrician and a small-time guerrilla operative to one of the most powerful men, a savior or the devil incarnate depending on who you asked. For the people down below, he represented hope. For the corporations, he was a Goldstein, an object of hate for their propaganda.
In truth, he didn't think he was either but just a man who had seen too much. The rock below his feet was covered with ice and he suddenly felt himself slipping in more ways than one. The sudden vertigo somehow made him feel more aware. He gazed upon the scorched ruins and felt the old anger he was looking for the entire way up smoldering inside him at last. He would feed it, he decided, stoke it and transform it into a firestorm in which everyone guilty of this atrocity would burn.
There are many ways to describe the Balkan region. Its people have always been proud and fiercely independent at heart. It is therefore no surprise that the 2038 collapse and the subsequent power grab by the ever-hungry corporations resulted in a massive, if fractured, resistance movement.
Not heeding the lessons of the past, several large corporations tried to impose their will upon the people, only to be met with violence that escalated into a deadly spiral. What started as verbal protests against the formal transfer of power from the nation-states to Clayburn Industries quickly turned into riots and eventually a large armed conflict, secretly fueled by rival corporations.
The largest of these factions were the Hajduks. Named after the mythical outlaws and freedom fighters native to the Balkan Peninsula, they opposed any form of corporate control and oversight, arguing that it was better to be poor and free than to be a well-fed slave. Unlike some of the lesser factions that allied themselves with Clayburn's rivals, the Hajduks refused any kind of cooperation and treated those who would collaborate with the corporations as an enemy, including the other resistance group.
This firm stance resonated with like-minded people all across eastern Europe and, within a few months, the Hajduks grew from a poorly trained militia to a massive guerrilla military force with its own armor support thanks to an influx of rebels, criminals and mercenaries. Numbers swelled with each corporate injustice and atrocity.
In the spring of 2039, the core of the Hajduk forces consisted of Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian veterans of guerrilla fighting and decades of war, united against the corporations and armed with the best tech that could be purchased for the money and resources stolen during raids against corporate convoys and by other illegal means. These men were supplemented by Bulgarian Tihina Division mercenaries and the surviving members of local militias from Austria, Bavaria and western Bohemia. Some of these men fought for hard cash, some for revenge, but whatever their motive the Hajduks were a force to be reckoned with.