This chapter contains scenes of violence and death, as well as a mention of suicidal ideation.
25th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 DCE, Night
Solstice Dominance – Postill Square
A bonfire raged in the massive common square outside of the main barracks. Revolutionary Guard and KVW soldiers stood around it, staring into it, quiet, seemingly pensive. They threw badges, patches, identifications into the flames in protest.
Their old lives as part of the government were over.
Men and women looked on at their comrades before taking their turns.
There were similar expressions across every face, difficult to read, regardless of whether KVW or Revolutionary Guard. Both the black-uniformed and red-and-gold uniformed troops looked the same, and had similar training. They had similar opinions about the events in the city. Warden Kansal had given them orders, and they would follow them. It was impossible that a disloyal thought could cross their minds.
Those who were used to the eccentricities of KVW-conditioned people, though, could see signs of anxiety. Pacing, lack of sleep and loss of appetite, reluctant eye contact.
They were humans still, after all. They feared for the future.
Everyone resisting the Civil Council traveled to the far north of the city, assembling in makeshift barracks around Postill Square, a grand plaza dedicated to the Revolutionary Guards who had fought so bravely to defeat the White Army in the Ayvartan Civil War. Armaments Hill loomed in the background, opening its doors to supply them. Trucks were still arriving around the area, carrying police and Revolutionary Guards from across the vast capital city. An army growing to almost 200,000 troops built up, unit by unit, with the ten divisions of the Revolutionary Guards making up the bulk, along with several divisions of police rearmed as KVW soldiers, and the 3rd KVW Mechanized Division.
It was an army that could have conquered the city it had sworn to protect.
Instead, under orders from Warden Kansal, they abdicated their positions, essentially going on a mass labor strike. They would not abide the suspicious allegiances of the Civil Council – but they also did not mobilize to end it. They could not mobilize south to fight Nocht even if they wanted to – their rail capacity was at its limits, and any other mode of transportation would not be enough to ferry them. Their action so far was only protest.
There was only one enemy in sight, and they chose to fight it in a different fashion.
The Warden knew that the city administration was reeling from this mass betrayal.
The Civil Council had always loved the police and guards, so courteous and loyal, perfect in their demeanor and professional in their duties. The Civil Council loved obedience and order and they let their guard down around anyone after they obeyed enough orders and followed enough regulations. But who established them? Who trained them?
These things could not be removed by simply changing jurisdictions and making new uniforms. The Revolutionary Guard and Police accepted severance from the KVW because Kansal allowed it to happen. She allowed them to become part of the Civil Council, she allowed herself to become separated from her followers this way, because they were still loyal to her throughout. Warden Kansal’s trump card was always poorly hidden.
It was disbelief that kept suspicion at bay.
She counted on a lack of understanding, first and foremost.
She was always blunt. She hid only because people opted not to see her. Always those eyes had overlooked her for one reason or another. Perhaps because she was a woman; perhaps because in the past she had been injured, altering the functioning of her body. Perhaps because she seemed foolish and brutish and unsuited to scheming.
How could this one woman control hundreds of thousands of people?
How could she, with the snap of a finger, organize them to turn their backs on everything they committed themselves to for years without an inkling of visible rebellion?
Short of magic, it was simply not possible.
Across the last five years everyone was certain that the Police was the Police and the Revolutionary Guard the Revolutionary Guard. The KVW had been broken and shrunk.
Short of magic, indeed.
It was not magic, but much of it might as well have been. It had worked miraculously.
Now the Warden stared out at the consequences of her decision. From the guard tower on Armaments Hill, her temporary new home, she watched as the guardians of the city gathered in this strip of land below, to live away from their police stations, from their depots, from everything still nominally owned by the Civil Council. To protest; to strike.
An army, essentially, on strike; and a city visibly bereft of their stewardship.
Crime was always low, and grew lower the more people discovered that socialism was apparently here to stay, and that it was largely taking care of them. Would people revert to barbarity without them? Certainly not. But they would see the movement. They would understand that things were changing, and perhaps for the worse.
Perhaps, now freed from hunger, they would take notice of the politics around them.
There would be anxiety and tension; the violence of the world upon the human mind.
Violence could bring change.
Daksha Kansal felt that violence in her own mind, and it made it hard to understand her own thoughts. Other people could see a continuity of their experiences, and they could analyze the torrent of information that led them to action. Daksha’s whole life felt as if she could only see it through cracked glass. She felt an existential pain when she tried to think about what she had done, the faces she had seen, the promises she had made.
She thought of the people who stewarded her, and what they would think.
Fundamentally, she had failed Ayvarta.
“Among all religions, the Messians, the Ancestor-Worshipers, the Spiritists, the Diyam, the Hudim; all of them believe that the world was forged in fire. I don’t believe, but I understand what they see in that first flame, the World Flame, that their Gods used to forge what would become the world. I can see why they think we all rose from fire.”
Behind her, Admiral Kremina Qote looked up from a long table that had become her new desk. Despite how quickly Kremina spoke and how little she thought about what she would say, her words always had meaning for Kremina.
She gave her a subdued smile, looking wistfully at the floor.
“Well. One way or another, the whole world is likely burning now.” Kremina said.
“Indeed. Was this trajectory inevitable? Or, had we been stronger, could we have built something more lasting? I feel guilty that I allowed things to come to this.”
“Daksha, this is not over yet, we have not–”
Daksha raised her hand to stop her, all the while continuing to speak.
“As a child I saw people build and rebuild only to face continuing destruction. I perpetuated it myself. I have always felt myself drawn to violence and scarred by violence. I have committed horrible, horrible acts. Could the world be changed by anything else?”
“Are you going to overthrow them?” Kremina asked suddenly. “I would support you.”
Daksha paused. She broke eye contact, staring at a candle on the table.
“I don’t want to. I wanted revolution to end the violence. But I can’t seem to escape it.”
Daksha’s mind was like a cipher but Kremina was closer to earth. Her feelings were tangible. Kremina felt ashamed of herself for a moment, but she also felt strongly that this violence was necessary. When she was younger she thought she saw virtue in compromise, but tension now cut through her restraint and made her optimism appear naive.
She hated the ridiculous government that had needled its way to influence over Ayvarta. She hated the passivity she felt in interacting with them on their level. Were they not revolutionaries? Why not murder them all? Why not run right into council, and excise all of those irrelevant fools from the world. What was the worth of an election where people chose between hacks who had simply swapped into a new political aesthetic?
“We need to put a stop to this while we still have land to fight over.” Kremina insisted.
“People need to be spared this cycle.” Daksha said. “People cannot grow like I have, feeling what I do. They need stability. When the world changes they need to see it that it is not just fire that does it. People aren’t phoenixes: they can’t keep rising healthily out of fire and ashes. They should not have to burn to a crisp to see the world grow better. This is why we are merely striking. I want to believe we can change this without more war.”
“I know your trepidation, Daksha, but in this case I am coming to believe that more radical action might be required. We need major changes. The Collaborators sympathize with Nocht: I can feel it. Their ambivalence is only that if Nocht takes over, they have no guarantee that it will be their Empire again. Kaiserin Trueday will not spare them. They don’t care about their own people; all they want is to reposition themselves for privilege, morphing to take advantage of whatever environment they’re in, like chameleons.”
“That might be a little harsh.” Daksha said. She was treading lightly.
It felt very fake and unlike her.
Kremina scoffed at this. “Can we be truly so sure? Don’t you also feel this from them?”
Daksha turned away again, her eyes fixed on the black, moonless sky overhead.
Even the stars were bleak. Light from the bonfire stretched far across the square and shadows stretched with it. Passersby put on a play on the walls with their every movement across the great fire. Even now she was trying to protect Kremina. Between them there were many dynamics clashing; they were lovers, state partners, military minds, comrades. They had been so many things together and occupied so many roles toward on another. Kremina thought Daksha’s distance misguided. But she said no word of obvious criticism.
“What will it take then for us to take action?” Kremina demanded.
“I want the Council to collapse and make way for us to take over and conduct this war right.” Daksha said. “But I don’t want a mass murder to carve that path for us.”
“It’s not a mass murder! It’s a revolution!” Kremina said.
She could tell Daksha was not listening to her in full.
The Warden had a tired, dreaming look in her eyes.
“I am putting my hopes on Nakar. I’m not religious, yet I foolishly desire a sign from her. She showed us a sign before, didn’t she? As a child, we saw in her the power to destroy something that seemed eternal, and to erect something better in its place.”
“She forgot everything.” Kremina said. She spoke in an almost pleading voice. “Her powers might have died along with the Empire. You are elevating her to a position that we are not sure she can take; or that she even wants. We are an army, Daksha!”
“I know. I know it is irrational. But I will give her time, down in Bada Aso. I will give her time to win for us. Upon her I want to pin my humanity. It is unfair to use her again like this, after all we have done. But I want to believe that there can be something for us other than a second civil war with an even greater foe waiting to pounce upon us.”
Kremina gazed upon her lover with pain.
Both of them buckled under the weight of this crisis.
“I understand that. But if you won’t do what is necessary, then I might have to.”
Daksha smiled. Kremina stood resolute.
“I don’t wish that blood on anyone’s hands.” Daksha said.
“When the time comes it will be my decision. We tried our best for all these years to work with them, and to try to rationally reconcile all of our positions for the good of people. We have housed them and fed them, but have we truly freed them? Or are they simply waiting in the interim between one set of tyrants and another burgeoning set? That is my fear, Daksha, when I speak to these councilors and when I engage their politics.”
“Let us wait for a while. Worse comes to worse, I promise I will be history’s monster.”
Her attitude changed easily when others swore themselves to extremes. Daksha was still protecting her, still trying to be the first to die and still making herself the monster, the face of the evil the world saw in them. Kremina saw her then as she had seen her over twenty years ago, when they made their secret pact.
She was a low-ranked naval officer, slim and untouched by the world. Daksha was tall and strong, her skin a warm brown like baked leather, her hair black as the night. One of her arms had been broken and now it moved with difficulty. One of her legs was stiff from injuries. She was awkward in pure motion, but with her own grace, taken in aggregate. Strong, passionate; that was the Daksha she knew.
But she saw herself always as the monster.
“Can we wait? Kremina?”
She reached out her hand. Kremina took it.
Their fingers entwined. Irrationally, they would wait.
As these two souls tried desperately to see through the fog suddenly surrounding each other, suddenly clouding the world they thought they knew, ambivalence reigned around the capital. Everyone wanted to see a future ahead of them. As the patches of the police and revolutionary guards burnt in the bonfire outside, everyone waited, almost religiously, for a sign that might justify a course of action, for better or worse.
Their eyes fell on Bada Aso.
Perhaps there was another monster there in whom they could all count.
There was still a chance that Madiha Nakar could win in Bada Aso.
Her victory would be a victory for Daksha and Kremina.
Then the Council would have to acknowledge that success, and their own failures.
It was either that, or another bloody civil war.
24th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 DCE
Nocht Federation Republic of Rhinea – Citadel Nocht
Citadel Nocht was alive with the ringing of phones and the crackling of noisy radios.
Under a constant barrage of snow the massive spiraling black building that was the nerve center of the Federation housed thousands of workers, hundreds of guards; its offices fielded millions of questions and gave billions of answers through kilometers upon kilometers of telephone and telegraph wire. These were the neurons that carried impulse for the movements of Nocht’s twelve state organs and its untold amounts of limbs, the most important of which, at the present included the Schwarzkopf secret police, the Brown Shirt police, the Vereinigte Heer, the Luftlotte and Bundesmarine.
At the crown of this man-made encephalon was the office of the Federation President, elected by the voters of each state. Largely, this organ existed to digest a world’s worth of information and within the day both inform this singular man, and transform his reactions into a world’s worth of policies, answers, and, lately, retributions.
This was the machine of the Libertaire technocrats, the temple of their industry, the proving ground of their science. Atop this machine, the exceptional man seethed; President Lehner had received a world’s worth of news and it was not news that he liked.
A wave of terrorist attacks in Lubon had slowed the tottering nation of elven faeries even further than expected; in Yu-Kitan resistance from the Jade Throne and the communist guerillas in the jungles of the interior had forced the Hanwan Shogun to commit more troops and reduce his own commitment to the larger war. While attacks on the major ports of northern Ayvarta were still planned, supporting landings would be cancelled.
In Nocht itself, Lehner’s foolish, misguided voters broke out in riots over a tightening on banks and groceries to prevent malcontents from hoarding resources the nation required. His brown shirts and black heads had gone swiftly to work, but the minor episodes across the Republics of the Federation left a sour taste in his mouth. He thought his people better educated than this; he would have to take new and special efforts to instill upon them proper and patriotic values. He needed his population capable of supporting a war.
War was the current bright spot; a week’s worth of fighting was going beautifully.
But Lehner did not pride himself on complacency.
He found problem areas, and he seethed at them too.
To his office he summoned General Aldrecht Braun, chief of the Oberkommando Des Heeres. He was the kind of man that Lehner hated. Facing him was like peering at a museum piece. He was thin as a stick and straight as one, his skin graying, pitted, covered in cracks. He had an old world flair to him, a chiseled countenance with a dominating mustache that seemed to link to his sideburns, and a dozen medals on his black coat none of which Lehner had given him. Through the double doors he strode proudly into the office, chin up, maintaining eye contact; he trod casually upon the red and blue stripes of the Federation, over the twelve stars of the Republics, over the iron Eagle. All of the Presidents peered down at him from their portraits. He did not sit before Lehner’s desk.
Always, he stood, and always, he stared, keeping Lehner’s eyes.
Miserable old codger; Lehner could’ve spat at him.
But it would not do to give anyone that satisfaction.
It would have looked bad in the papers.
“Mr. President, it is always an honor to be in your presence. I am prepared to clarify any report made to you. I assume you have received most of our current information.”
“I have,” Lehner replied, smiling, “Actually, wanted to talk to you about that, big fella. I want you to do some of that clarifying you speak of. See, I’ve spoken with some ladies and gentlemen about a few planes; well, actually not a few, quite a lot. A disturbing amount of planes, none of which are flying, would you happen to know anything about that?”
President Lehner always spoke in a rapid-fire tone, as though his thoughts would run away from him if he did not hurry. He spoke quickly and easily without a hitch.
“I heard that Air Admiral Kulbert has grounded the Luftlotte due to losses.”
“Yeah, I know! Funny that! I told him to ground it after he gave me this ridiculous number of planes he lost to try to help your boys break into a city that, by the way, they still don’t seem to have broken into at all. Six hundred sorties two days ago, three hundred yesterday, and a few token ones today. Sounds like he was busy; and you weren’t.”
“First incursions into Bada Aso begin tomorrow, Mr. President. All has its due time.”
“So,” President Lehner started to laugh, a nervous, haughty laugh, an effort to conceal his rising fury, “so Braun, tell me about those planes, huh? Don’t try to divert me from those planes, right? I love planes, I have a plane right here in my desk because I fucking love planes. So let’s be honest. Tell me about how we lost almost five hundred planes in three days, and then if you’d be so kind, tell me why I haven’t sacked you. I’m eager to listen! Always eager to listen. I love my people. I don’t love losing five hundred fucking planes,” He exhaled thoroughly, “but I can give you the benefit of the doubt.”
General Braun was direct. In a matter-of-fact voice, he spoke. “We have not lost 500 planes, mister President. We completely lost 250 planes; plus 100 critically damaged, 50 lightly damaged, 100 planes grounded due to crew injury, out of 1000 planes–”
President Lehner interrupted him. “Word of advice? This angle is not saving your job right now.” He picked up a model airplane from his desk, and raised his hand up with it. “This is your job right now. And this is where it’s going.”
He dropped the model; it smashed on the desktop.
General Braun winced as the pieces flew from the desk.
Several fell in front of his shoes.
“My apologies, Mr. President. I do not have the full details, but from what I understand the air defense network in Bada Aso seemed to have become much more efficient than we anticipated. Our highest losses occurred on the very first day, and lessened afterward.”
“Well, yeah, because you flew less sorties. Otherwise you’d have pissed away even more of my planes, maybe even all of my planes. All because you got some bad info.”
“With all due respect sir, I do not command the air troops nor am I in charge of the intelligence gathering for the air troops. Kulbert might be able to tell you more.”
President Lehner smiled. “You’re right Braun. You’re right. Let’s just press on, shall we? We’ll talk about those planes more in the future, because they won’t ever fly again over the Adjar dominance without my explicit authorization, in order to prevent more of these thick-headed, wasteful operations. So, we have all the time in the world, don’t we?”
General Braun did not flinch. He remained standing.
President Lehner’s own frenetic pace worked against him, and he felt an almost physical pain at the thought of remaining on the subject of the damaged planes. Quickly they turned to discussing the ground forces. Braun displayed an intimate knowledge of the city of Bada Aso, the final bastion of the communist resistance in Adjar.
The city had not yet been seriously challenged from the ground, and the forces retreating pell-mell from the rest of the region had gathered there to make their stand; or, Lehner assumed, they had been merely told not to run any further on the pain of death, and thus the pathetic flight of the communist forces by coincidence had happened to end there. It’s what he would have done in the situation. Braun boasted about his advantages.
“We know the city and surrounding regions like the backs of our hands now.”
“I’m skeptical.” Lehner replied. Had he really had such knowledge of the city, the air troops would not have been caught off-guard. Hubris alone did not account for that.
“We have first-hand information from former communists.” Braun said.
Lehner blinked with surprise. “I love having people inside places; I don’t understand how we did it though. I thought these people were fanatica. Can you trust anything they say? Who did you manage to rope in anyway? Are you picking through the peasants?”
“A few officers from the Adjar command, and a few captured soldiers. Apparently the invasion caused them to reconsider their allegiances. It’s not surprising to me. Adjar was one of the most rebellious Dominances of the old Ayvartan Empire. When the Empire fell, Adjar moved quickly to secede into its own country, same with Cissea and Mamlakha. But Adjar didn’t get away with it: the communists tightened the screws on them. They would win eventually, but Adjar resisted enough that they settled things with a truce instead and formed a collaborative government, making certain concessions to the rebellious territories. There have been seeds of anti-communist rebellion in Adjar ever since, though the Ayvartan KVW has swiftly rooted out and crushed many of these over time.”
“Love a good history lesson, but cut to the chase here. What have ‘our people’ done for us yet, huh? They didn’t seem to be much help to our planes these past few days.”
“Well, Mr. President, they aren’t magic. But for one, we have some decent basic maps of Bada Aso, as well as some understanding of the forces inside. Their intelligence has been valuable in guiding our pace, Mr. President. And that is why Bada Aso is not yet under attack. We’ve made preparations. Tomorrow, the hammer will fall upon it.”
“Battlegroup Ox are our opponents, right? Led by that ore smuggler, Gowon. A pretty farcical enemy if you ask me. Thanks to him we have details on Ayvartan weapons.”
“Indeed. Gowon has proven very valuable and very predictable so far. He saw us, turned tail and ran from the border. But we’ve got him cornered now. He has about eight good divisions and two resoundingly pathetic tank divisions at his disposal. All of them are holed up inside the city. We will advance from the south and force a sizable foothold within the city, and once we have tied up their forces, we will sweep in from the east across the Kalu. Von Sturm is the primary architect of this assault. Meist, Anschel and Von Drachen stand in support. Lead elements are the Blue Corps, 6th Grenadier and 13th Panzergrenadier; in the Kalu we will use the 2nd and 3rd Panzer Divisions.”
“I’m not fond of that Drachen guy,” President Lehner said, “I read his file. Actually, my secretary read his file, and then she told me I wouldn’t be fond of him. Guess what? I wasn’t. She’s a sharp lady; anyway, I don’t like him. He’s weird. Did you know that’s not even his name? Tell me about a man who chooses to name himself Von Drachen and won’t tell you his real name. Von Drachen? How pretentious; I’m not fond of him at all, Braun, not at all. I don’t like him or his fake name. His grammatically poor fake name.”
“He was commissioned by your predecessor sir. He practically delivered Cissea to us in a few weeks after he defected from them, and has been fully trustworthy since then.”
“Well, y’know, sometimes you have to recognize geniuses even if they’re assholes. The man’s got a gift for killing people. But I wouldn’t give him a front-line position in a really critical urban operation. There’s a difference, it’s like friends you drink with and friends you show your parents. And friends who haven’t betrayed anyone before, too.”
Braun nodded deferringly.
“Then do you wish for me to impress upon Von Sturm this difference?”
“Oh, no, that’d set us back right now. Just. Ugh. Ignore I said anything. This was a stupid angle. I should just keep my feelings to myself more often, I suppose.”
“If you say so, Mr. President.”
President Lehner was fickle, and he knew it, but he let his moods carry him away. In speech he let his wild flourishes of the tongue go where they went, and when there came a time to confront an issue his massive staff could not quantify and break down, he let his instincts dictate the course. His mood had not yet failed him; he had rode it over opposition that deemed him too young and brash for the office, and now he rode it over a people in his eyes too old and worn to capably fight back against it. It was nature, science, progress; it was manifest that the new men would defeat and replace the old.
He was the New Man.
Behind the big desk, President Lehner felt compelled to extend discourse to his lessers. What was meant to be a quick chewing out and terrorizing of a hated officer, turned into an hours-long discussion on war and strategy in which General Braun almost impressed the President. Not in his ability to talk or conduct war, which Lehner largely thought overrated: but rather, in his ability to stand, unblinking, and speak for extended periods.
What a hilarious old buffoon.
25th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 DCE
Adjar Dominance – Outskirts of Bada Aso, South-Center District
Gray clouds loomed overhead, but the Kalu region and Bada Aso received little of the expected rains. Under the muggy gloom, a new army advanced across the wet grassland and over the muddy old roads, tramping in shallow puddles and across broken street.
From the southern approach the city was eerily quiet. The Landsers could hear every mechanical struggle and hiccup and neigh of their long convoy of vehicles and horses. An entire Battalion rode to battle that day, comprised of over 800 men in vehicles and horse mounts, but nobody alive met them through their long drive into the city.
Even the wind was quiet, picking up little except foul smells of day-old smothered fires. Gradually they left the countryside behind and pushed into the urbanization of Bada Aso. Dirt roads turned black with sturdy pavement; clusters of buildings grew thicker around them, though few stood taller than burnt out foundation.
The 6th Grenadier Division’s 2nd Battalion crept through the ruins of the outer neighborhoods of Bada Aso, finding several kilometers worth of ghost town. It seemed like three out of every four buildings had been smashed by bombs, and the debris spilled across the streets. Near the city limits the mounds and stretches of debris that crossed the landscape were largely surmountable, either navigable enough for the convoy to run over or near a clean road by which the march could circumvent the obstacle entirely.
With every block bypassed the ruins raised new challenges. In the thicker urbanization there were larger buildings and tighter crossings. The 6th Grenadiers found themselves considerably slowed down by their mounts and vehicles. Soon the Landsers stopped entirely. They found themselves faced with a wall of rubble from a tenement collapse.
Captain Aschekind gave the dismount order.
At the head of the convoy, a single Squire half-track unloaded its compliment of ten men, who quickly surveyed the wall. Aschekind was among them. Other infantry squads mounted on horses and a few on trucks dismounted and assembled in turn. In all there were over forty of these squads, accounting for more than half the men in the battalion.
Making up the rest were support groups of Norgler machine gunners, a small cadre of snipers, and far behind them at the rear of the march, communications officers and the logistics train. Food, ammunition, medical; over a kilometer behind for safety. They would start putting down wires for field telephone, and coordinate the arrival of reinforcements and the deployment of higher-level assets. Second Battalion lacked any kind of personal heavy anti-tank guns or heavy artillery support, all of it waiting to be released piecemeal by the Divisional command that lagged outside of the city, dozens of kilometers away.
Horse-drawn carts would have to pull many of these weapons into the city, and would also be responsible for towing them between reserve zones and combat areas.
In the midst of all this, Private Kern Beckert was overwhelmed with uncertainty.
Nocht was moving. Boots hit the ground in Bada Aso.
To the east and west, the Cissean Azul corps protected their flanks. They had arrived first, and they were likely fighting even as the Nochtish men dismounted. For the 6th Grenadier Division’s 2nd Battalion the most crucial objective had been saved. They would drive down the center and secure the major thoroughfare of Bada Aso, winning operational freedom for Nocht’s motor and horse pool, and for their armored forces.
Or at least that had been the theory; given the poor terrain conditions it seemed much more complicated than that. Planting your flag on a road did not make it more navigable.
As his fellow Landsers dismounted, checked their weapons and awaited orders to march, Kern faced the rubble in front of him and the debris-choked expanse of the city around him, and even in the midst of hundreds of his fellow men, he felt remarkably small.
He knew none of the other men. He hardly spoke to them. He felt his burning in his gut when he thought of speaking to anybody. What would he tell them?
Riveting stories from the corn farms of Oberon?
He put up a tough front, because everyone else seemed to do the same.
There was idle chatter from men who had fought alongside one another before and had some familiarity. This was Kern’s first combat action. He had been assigned to 2nd Battalion just a few days ago from the boat-bound reserve forces.
What was he doing in Ayvarta?
He had thought the world smaller than it was. It was too big for a farmer’s boy.
He shouldn’t have run from home.
Before he knew it, Captain Aschekind called for a forward Company, over 200 men; and Kern found himself moving, mimicking the eager men around him. They joined their Captain at the edge of the rubble, and began to climb the high mound. Aschekind was a monument of a man, broad-shouldered, thick-armed, and imposing in his officer’s coat. His fists seemed more frightful than his pistol. An angry red scar crossed his left cheekbone. His expression was grim and focused, betraying little of what he might have thought of the men around him. Kern felt helpless around him, and instinctually feared him.
The Captain hardly seemed to climb; instead he took determined steps up the slippery rubble, crunching with his feet on the dusty cement, brick, wood and jagged rebar debris.
Kern was just an ordinary man; a boy, some would even say, barely twenty years. Blonde and blue-eyed and clean-faced, athletic, or so he once thought. Perhaps the sort of man that a man like Aschekind once was, before war turned them into moving stone. He climbed with his hands and his feet, as though crawling up the mound. Dust and small rocks fell in the wake of faster climbers and momentarily dazed him. He felt the sharp rock and bits of metal scrape him through his gray uniform. His kit felt heavier than ever.
He had a grenade, he had his rifle and he had various accouterments like rations and rope and a battery-powered torch. He had extra ammunition for his squad’s light machine gun. He was exhausted a dozen hand-holds up the rubble, perhaps nine or ten meters from the floor. Kern struggled to catch his breath. Groaning men wedged up past him.
He cast eyes around himself at his fellow climbers.
He could hardly tell who was even in his own squad.
Atop the mound of rubble they had a commanding view of the surrounding area. It was hotter and drier up there than on the road. There was a breath-taking view from over the rubble, but he wouldn’t get to cherish it for long. Aschekind tersely ordered the men to drop to their stomachs and crawl so they would not be spotted atop the mound. Forward observers moved front, surveying with binoculars the streets ahead.
From their position they relayed that they could see the first Ayvartan defensive line, comprising various shapes of sandbag barriers around heavy machine guns and a couple of light mortars. Observers reported that the communists had based their defense in two echelons of fifty troops, including, regrettably, both men and women, and these cadres stood each across from the other on a tight, three-road intersection like a side-ways ‘T.’
Overturned buildings, mounds of rubble and shattered streets that would block the full brunt of the enemy’s attack covered half of the way to the enemy’s defenses at the intersection. Then just as starkly the ruins stopped for hundreds of meters. For significant length of the way to the intersection the assault run over pristine terrain.
Kern listened with growing trepidation.
Captain Aschekind, however, was unmoved by this obstacle.
“Establish the eight centimeter mortars here. All of the forward rifle squads here will advance undettered but with caution. We may yet surprise them.” Aschekind said.
Kern and his fellow Landsers crawled along the top of the mound and slid carefully down the other end to the ground. Immediately they took cover in whatever rubble they could find. Aschekind was right: the Ayvartans had not yet spotted them.
Methodically the rifle squads advanced toward the line.
Squad leaders moved ahead with their designated scout partners, followed by the gun group, consisting of the Company’s Norgler machine gunners. Everyone moved from cover to cover. And at first there was a king’s ransom of potential cover: a collapsed piece of the road, drenched in water from broken pipes; the overturned facade of a building, creating a mound behind which a man was invisible; husks of blown-out vehicles; and open ruins and the spaces between and around buildings, acting as cement barriers.
Squad by squad the Landsers moved forward, each treading the expert paths of the men before them. Kern found himself pressed into the middle of the column near the Gewehrsgruppe, the machine gun group responsible for volume fire to cover the Company’s advance. All of them had heavy packs, and walked in twos.
Up ahead the “headquarters” consisting of various leading officers made the first moves to new cover, and directed everyone; when to run, when to duck, when individual squads should tighten or loosen formation. Behind his place in the line followed riflemen like Kern with no special designation. It was a textbook march, and they carried it out with professional character. Over two-hundred men, moving almost in secret.
Everything was going perfectly.
Despite himself, Kern felt a strangely renewed sense of confidence when he saw everyone moving as the pamphlets showed and as they had practiced in drills. Perhaps by rote he could survive the battle ahead. Perhaps he had learned to be a soldier. No longer was he the farm boy running from responsibility; he was a Nochtish Grenadier.
Tactical movement carried the Company far into the rubble, but cover grew sparser as they went. About a hundred meters from the collapsed tenement, they had only waist-high cover to count on, and just a few meters from that they would have nothing.
Captain Aschekind moved to the center of the men. Beneath the notice of the Ayvartans the men huddled in the edge of the rubble, scouting out the defensive line. Aschekind ordered for word to be passed around the Company that squad leaders and rifle groups (but not the machine gun groups) would cross the open terrain as fast as possible.
They could not count on any cover until they reached the sandbags: closing to assaulting distance was their only chance of success. Gun groups would remain behind in supporting positions. Through whispers passed around their hiding places, man to man, the entire forward company was soon appraised of the situation. Captain Aschekind ordered the assault to begin with a mortar attack on the defensive line followed by a charge.
Kern closed his eyes. He was soaked in sweat. It traveled down his nose and lips.
Captain Aschekind raised his portable radio to his mouth.
“Ordnance, fire at will. Smoke to cover us, and then high explosive on the enemy.”
Seconds after Aschekind’s command, Kern heard the chunk of deployed mortar rounds dispelling the eerie silence in the city, flying from their tubes atop the tenement rubble. Moments later they crashed back to earth, throwing up smoke to cover the advance of the Landsers and crashing across the Ayvartan’s defensive line. 2nd Battalion’s first few shells on the enemy did little more than scatter sandbags and awaken the communists.
Ayvartan machine gunners took their places and opened fire on the rubble and across the long, smooth street before them, their red tracers flying through the smoke.
Bereft of cover, it was like a killing field. Only the smoke prevented a massacre.
“Forward company, charge!” Aschekind shouted. “Over the walls, into their faces!”
From behind cover the Landsers rose and threw themselves headfirst into the fight.
As one body the Company charged ahead from their hiding places and crossed immediately into the thickening smoke over the connecting road, tackling the open stretch as fast as possible to assault their objective. No longer was theirs the movement of a methodical force, advancing efficiently in a column expertly hidden from the enemy.
Amid the fire they started a glunt stampede.
Behind them, standing atop rubble, several squads worth of machine gunners fired continuously over and around the running Landsers, directing their fire across the smoke and trying to silence the flashing muzzles of the Ayvartan defenders. Each burst of allied gunfire bought precious seconds for the desperate riflemen to run. It was all they could do.
“Vorwarts!” Roared the Captain, running with his men into the death and dark.
Into the smoke advanced this march of close to two hundred men.
Kern seemed caged in the center of the charge, anxious from the thunderous noise of so many footsteps. Whistling mortar ordnance crashed intermittently in their ranks, pulverizing men. Sparse but deadly fire seemed to pick off soldiers like a finger from the heavens, indecisively falling, tapping a man in the shoulder, the legs, or the head, and taking off whatever was touched. Every few seconds a choppy stream of red gunfire from an Ayvartan machine gun took two or three men in a visible line of blood and tracer light.
Then the enemy paused to reload their machine guns or to hide from retaliatory fire launching from the Norgler machine guns. Reloading was quick; soon their bullets soared across the road once again, sweeping blindly through the smokescreen for men to kill.
Landsers in the press fired their weapons in a desperate bid to open ground for the charge. Most riflemen stood little chance of hitting a target, but the Light Machine Gunners in each Squad, ducking near the edges of the road, could match the Ayvartan’s rate of fire for the briefest moments before having to take off running again to avoid a killing spray.
Ahead of the march a few men blindly threw grenades far out in front of them as they could, but the explosions did little good. Mortar shells from the rubble behind the Grenadiers fell intermittently and inaccurately on the communists, proving at best a momentary inconvenience to one or two of the positions fiercely defending the road.
Everything they threw at the line was only a minimal distraction that bought the Landsers small chunks of time between deaths and deafening blasts and seething tracers.
Every few seconds of Ayvartan stillness took the company a few bounding steps closer to the objective ahead, and every few seconds of Ayvartan activity claimed lives.
Kern raised his rifle and threw himself forward.
He coughed in the smoke and held his breath when he could.
His head was spinning, and he took clumsy steps. He felt as though constantly falling, hurling headlong down the road. Around him men fell to their knees and onto their hands, cognizant of their deaths for mere seconds before uttering their final cries. Kern cowered from streams of machine gun fire and narrowly avoided mortar blasts. Fortune smiled upon him somehow; he pushed toward the edge of the cloud, and found a shadow behind the Ayvartan line that he could attack. Closing in on the enemy, he engaged.
He raised his carbine and fired a shot while running, hitting nothing, working the bolt; he saw his target, the shadow, flinch in the distance, and he fired again to no avail.
Crying out, Kern pushed himself to the brink of physical pain and finally overtook the sandbag wall, leaping over and shoving a man from behind the tripod of an empty machine gun. Over a dozen landsers overcame the defenses and bore down on the enemy with him, throwing themselves over their mortars and rushing their machine guns.
Kern thrust his rifle out in front of him, coming to blows with one of the defending communists. He swung the barrel of his rifle like a club in a frenzied melee, and around him it seemed every man was fighting with fists and elbows and knives rather than guns.
There was no bayonet on the end of Kern’s rifle, and his opponent proved stronger.
Bare forearms blocked the feeble, clubbing blows of the landser, and quick hands grasped the weapon, punishing the boy’s repeated, pathetic flailing. With a titanic pull, the communist tore the firearm from Kern’s hands, and used it to push the landser back, throwing him against the sandbag wall as though he was weightless.
He then turned the carbine around.
More men vaulted the low sandbag wall, and Captain Aschekind was one.
He leaped over Kern and charged in with his bare hands. He threw himself against Kern’s opponent like a charging bull, quickly pulling down the stolen rifle with one mighty hand to avoid a fatal shot, and with another taking the man by the throat, choking and lifting him off the ground. Kern’s stolen carbine shot into the earth and spared his life.
Aschekind squeezed the man’s windpipe and with a mighty heave he threw the man three whole meters away. Like a stone the unconscious communist struck another man to the floor, and the two of them were stabbed dead by rushing landsers using their bayonets and knives. Kern stared helplessly at the bloody brawl, fixated on the violence.
It seemed then that the company’s human wave had finally torn past the sandbag wall. With the communist’s machine guns and mortars tied up, the landsers rushed confidently ahead to threaten the intersection, stepping over the bodies of fallen friends and foes.
Aschekind did not immediately join them.
He half-turned to the sandbag wall and he threw Kern’s carbine against the boy.
“Bayonets before bravery, Landser.” He said, his voice deep and grim. “Make sure that you affix the knife point before your next charge unless you desire an early death.”
Hands shaking, Kern picked through his pockets for his bayonet, and snapped it into the lug before running ahead. He took cover inside one of the mortar rings.
Enemy fire resumed around him from the second echelon of Ayvartan defenders at the intersection. With the opposing forces poised on each side of the roads, the battle for the middle of the intersection was soon underway. Smoke cleared, and Kern could see several enemy squads with their men and women hidden behind post boxes and street lights, inside ruined buildings and even ducking behind fire hydrants. There were probably fifty or sixty more riflemen and women opposite the attacking landsers.
One ominous building stood almost intact across the intersection.
Kern saw communists run in.
From the second floor automatic fire soon rained down on the assault group.
Kern saw charging Grenadiers cut easily down.
Mid-run, several of the leading men turned tail, threw themselves down or grabbed what defenses they could. Few got lucky; butchered bodies littered the ground ahead.
“Hunker down! Fight from positions!” Aschekind shouted, leaping into the mortar pit with Kern. The Ayvartan machine gun across the intersection had a poor angle on them, and the sandbags stopped the enemy’s rounds, providing an adequate defense for the Captain and Kern. But it swept across the captured portions of the defensive line from commanding ground, pinning several riflemen behind a few scraps of cover.
At this range, their own gun groups could not support them well, and their mortars were far too inaccurate. It was the worst situation imaginable for Kern. Riflemen in a static fight without a base of automatic fire, against entrenched enemies. His fellow Landsers hid as well as they could and fired back, directed by Aschekind’s shouting.
Several men took shots at the machine gun, but its metal shield protected the gunner perfectly within the relatively narrow window. On the ground rifle shots deflected off cover on both sides. Kern loaded his own rifle and rose quickly from cover, taking a barely-aimed shot at the building. He hit the windowsill and hid again, working the bolt on his rifle.
Whenever the Ayvartan machine gun fired it issued a continuous tapping noise that sent a chill down his spine. Angry red tracers flew like lines of fire weaving over the air.
Their own fire grew sporadic and ineffective in the face of the communist opposition.
The Ayvartans had freedom of movement under the protection of their second-floor machine gun. They attacked with confidence, having the leisure to aim for targets, and they struck many more men than they lost. The Landsers were stuck. Communists began to encroach, inching closer whenever their machine gun suppressed the Grenadier’s side of the road. Nocht’s riflemen could hardly shoot back for fear of that second floor window.
Kern himself hardly knew where to shoot.
Whenever he peeked out of the pit he saw dozens of the enemy, all of them either moving under the cover of automatic fire, or entrenched in unassailable positions. Rifle bullets bit into the sandbags whenever he even thought of shooting. Whenever he ranged a good target, Kern found that he would have to hide again to work the bolt on his carbine, losing whatever chance he had of making a second or third shot on the same man.
His Captain seemed to have taken notice of his reticence in the face of the enemy.
“Give me that.” He scowled.
Aschekind yanked the rifle roughly from Kern’s grip.
He attached an old, worn-out metal adapter from his satchel to the end of Kern’s rifle, and to it, he attached an old-model grenade – Kern had seen this kind of weapon in pictures, but not in the field. He did not believe it was a standard procurement for them.
“Stay down,” the Captain warned. Kern ducked even lower in cover.
Captain Aschekind waited for a momentary lull in the Ayvartan’s machine gun fire, and he rose half out of cover, looking through the metal sight now sticking out from the front of the gun. He pressed the trigger and the old grenade launched out of the muzzle.
Soaring across the road in an arc the olde grenade crashed through the second floor window of the building across the intersection. A fiery explosion ruptured the wooden floor, and the machine gunner and the machine gun came crashing down to the ground level.
In an instant the communists had lost their fire support.
Without the machine gun the volume of Ayvartan fire slowed to little more than a few cracks from bolt-action battle rifles every couple of seconds, striking harmlessly against the dirt and into the sandbags. All around him Kern saw the Nochtish troops taking notice of the stark change in the level of ambient noise and turning to their fellows with surprise.
The Grenadiers grew bolder and the assault reawakened.
Those men huddling in cover rose out of it and fired for the first time in minutes; and those who had been fighting most fiercely before now redoubled their efforts, shooting and working their bolts with greater speed, and moving across to new cover. Squads developed a good rhythm of shooting men, covering for reloading landsers who would then return the favor. Men stepped from cover entirely and charged forward with their rifles out. They reached the center of the intersection, and threw grenades across. Many of them fell, wounded by close-range Ayvartan fire; but their throws blasted communists out of hiding.
Kern heard the ghastly chopping of the Norglers behind him.
Streams of automatic fire crossed the intersection.
All of the Gewehrsgruppe was moving up to support them.
Now the situation was fully reversed in their favor.
Pushed back and with their heavy weapons depleted, the Ayvartans became disorderly, and as their numbers began to fall, many retreated further and further out of the intersection until they abandoned it. Grenadiers crossed the street unopposed, taking to their knees and firing at the rapidly fleeing enemy. Both echelons of defense at the intersection had been suddenly ejected, and the 6th Grenadier’s 2nd Battalion claimed its first objective.
Once again the eerie silence fell over the city.
Without the machine guns and mortars there seemed to be nothing.
Captain Aschekind removed his grenade adapter and threw Kern’s rifle back into his hands as though he were discarding trash. He did not consider the boy any more than that and hardly looked at him while returning the arm. He made to leave the sandbag pit.
“Sir!” Kern pulled himself half-up the mortar pit. “Sir, what was that weapon?”
“An obsolete piece from an old war. We should have been able to do better.”
Captain Aschekind did not turn or look at him to address him. He walked coldly away.
Kern sighed. He was indeed still a farm boy; his presence had changed nothing here.
He left the mortar pit, and looked around the intersection. He had not attacked with his squadron; he didn’t even really know what squadron he was a part of. There were dead men behind him, and littered across the approach to the intersection, dead men over the sandbag walls and in the middle of the intersection. Platoon Commanders left their hiding places. He saw them counting. Kern himself counted, and he tallied at least seventy dead men.
There were a few lightly wounded men who had been grazed or clipped in the limbs and shoulders when moving out of cover to shoot; but in this assault it seemed that the dead would naturally far, far outnumber the wounded. Soon he caught the stench of blood.
Squads regrouped, but Kern saw quite a few people like himself, in disarray, standing apart from the carnage. A few men sat on the sides of the road with no one around and Kern didn’t know whether they had been wounded, or if they were just in shock.
He figured that too was a kind of wound.
Nobody counted them.
There were more people coming in. From the road that had cost them so much blood to claim, a column of new men marched calmly to the intersection. Some began to haul the bodies of the dead away, while others rushed to the wounded to lend treatment.
A horse-drawn cart appeared from one of the connecting roads to the intersection, carrying ammunition, grenades, and towing a small anti-tank gun behind itself. The rest of 2nd Battalion moved up. They were a legion walking into Hell, unknowing of the horrors herein. Nobody seemed to cover their mouths in disgust, or flinch away from bodies.
They hadn’t seen the fighting yet. They didn’t know.
Of course, Kern had seen it. And his own horror was imperceptible, mute and stunted. He heard a whistling inside his ear, becoming more pronounced from the transition from cacophony to silence. There was noise inside his head too, however, and he could not sort out his own thoughts quite yet. Nothing was silent for him yet. Idly he crossed the intersection to stare at Captain Aschekind’s handiwork inside the old building.
Kern looked down at the machine gunner, lying beneath the fallen weapon and bleeding from a dozen shrapnel wounds. He thought that it was the body of a woman.
He had heard tell that the Ayvartans pressed their own women to their cause, but he never believed he would see a woman die among soldiers as though she was a natural ally to the fighting men. He looked at her with silent fear. What kind of people were they?
What kind of person had she been?
Back again onto the intersection, he left behind the building and the corpse.
Nobody was counting the communist corpses.
Just off the intersection inside the husk of a concrete building a command post was being hastily assembled. From the horse-drawn cart three men carried out a heavy radio and set it under a hastily pitched tent. Laborers began to raise sandbags around it, while Aschekind ducked inside. Kern stood nearby. He could hear the radio crackling. Captain Aschekind reported their victory in low, terse, grunted words.
A superior officer replied; Kern realized he had heard the man’s voice before.
“Good. Aschekind, a Panzer Platoon will meet you at the intersection, and from there you will assault Matumaini Street. Von Drachen is on the move and will guard your flank. Control of Matumaini is essential. It will give us a central jumping-off point to attack the rest of the city. Matumaini is the first step in crushing the communists. Press forward, and do not stop! The Cisseans will assure your momentum and then link up with you.”
Captain Aschekind appeared for a moment frustrated with the radio. He expressed no disdain verbally. Kern saw only a flicker of anger in his eyes, and found him stressing the radio handset’s plastic shell with his powerful grip. A crack formed on the device.
“Acknowledged, General Von Sturm.” Aschekind said.
“Good.” Von Sturm said. “I knew I could count on the Butcher of Villalba.”
Kern thought he saw another brief convulsion on the Captain’s face, but perhaps he only imagined it. Major General Von Sturm cut contact, and Captain Aschekind looked down the road ahead of them, past the intersection. He strained his eyes, turned his head.
He thrust a radio into Kern’s hands.
Kern was surprised; he did not think the Captain even knew he was there.
“Follow me. Keep that on hand, and keep close. We will press the attack soon.”
Kern nodded his head. Captain Aschekind departed down the road, and Kern followed. Men followed them; it seemed without further orders that the entire company was marching ahead again. Matumaini Street was the next target. Kern’s hands were still shaking.
25th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 DCE
Adjar Dominance – Battlegroup Ox HQ “Madiha’s House”
Ruined blocks of old buildings flanked the broad thoroughfare up to Madiha’s House.
In some respects this proved advantageous, as it improved the field of view from the higher floors. It was even harder to hide from the kilometers-long sight-line of the FOB, and it made the headquarters an even worthier prize. But Madiha had established herself in one of the forward offices, and she had the window unblocked. She wanted to see out the window, to be reminded of what happened. She wanted this penance, this torture, to gnaw at her until it destroyed her. To her, the stretch of burnt-out buildings, the damaged streets, was a symbol of her failure. She was a failed commander. At times, in her vulnerable state, she even thought of visiting the necessary retribution upon herself for her failure.
It was a frightful idea, and even more frightful how hollow she felt.
Parinita had perhaps noticed, as she had “misplaced” Madiha’s service revolver and always had something better to do than to replace it. It was just as well, since Madiha was not fighting. She was stuck behind the 3rd Defensive Line corps, an impromptu formation that, alongside the 1st, 2nd and 4th Defensive Line Corps, represented the men and women struggling to hold Bada Aso for as long as possible. These defensive lines differed in depth and combat ability. Half the Corps had simple instructions, and the other half had a more complex purpose. They were corps in name only, as none of them had headquarters.
They could not spare the staff for it.
They could not spare a lot of things.
Madiha could only sit and wait for the grim news as Parinita answered the phone.
“We’ve got trouble along the first defensive lines.” Parinita said, pulling the handset slightly off her head and covering the receiver with her hand. She was still on speaker.
“I expected that. Phone call first, and then relay the information.” Madiha replied.
Parinita shrugged comically and pressed the handset against her head again.
When she was done she put it down.
“We’ve got trouble along the first defensive lines.” She said again in a mock sing-song.
Madiha sighed and rubbed her eyes down. “This is not a reasonable time for that.”
“I’m just dealing with things in a healthy way. I find it is better to laugh than to cry.”
“I will do neither.” Madiha said tersely. “So, without charm, what is the situation?”
Parinita shrugged comically again, but sorted herself out fast enough to preempt another complaint. “At around nine the first Nochtish forces breached the city limits. We had nothing out there to intercept them but observers, who called it in and then hauled away as you ordered. Shortly thereafter we received the first reports of fire being exchanged in the Southern district. The enemy forces appear to be approaching along Matumaini in the center, Penance road in the southwest, and the old bridge road in the Umaiha riverside in the southeast. In each place the first defensive line held out as much as it could then folded. The 2nd Defensive Line Corps are in place on Upper Matumaini, Nile Street, and at the old Cathedral of Penance along Penance road. They’re not engaged with the enemy yet.”
“Any estimates of our losses in battle thus far?”
“Not a clue. The 1st Defensive Line Corps was deliberately undermanned so it’s not like we had a lot to lose. None of the other Line Corps are engaged yet.”
“Yes.” Madiha felt another terrible stab of guilt.
It was all going according to her bloody plans so far.
“Nocht appears to have committed three divisions, each with a regiment forward.”
“No matter. We will soon spring the trap. Everyone is aware of this?”
Parinita nodded, but she had a bleaker expression on her face than before. “I reiterated the plan from yesterday’s briefing to them as best as I could. But you know our officer quality is not what it should be; and the quantity is even less so. We are largely depending on a big game of telephone here to relay the plan to common troops. There were already a few episodes of panic along the front from troops who didn’t get the memo straight.”
Madiha knew too well.
She was staring down the elite of Nocht’s troops, and her own army was crippled.
Demilitarization was at first lauded by the Civil Council as a way of empowering the public and pushing socialism to its next stages. Taking power away from traditional military structures. But the ‘arming of the citizenry’ was limited to the keeping of ammunition and weapon dumps and stocks in cities that were carefully guarded, to be distributed “during emergencies.” This was not happening now, largely because Madiha could not find the Spirits-damned depots and she was becoming sure they did not exist.
What Demilitarization entailed in practice was the curtailing of the size and efficacy of the army, due to fear of the old revolutionaries once in charge of it. Many Generals in the Ayvartan army were dismissed; while most deserved a retirement due to their age and inability to adapt to rapid changes in technologies, very few were promoted to take their place. Those that remained were kept away from the troops, as advisers to the bureaucracy.
Ranks above Captain thinned out, and so lower officers were thrust with greater responsibilities, limited contact with superiors, and few opportunities for promotion. Standards were relaxed or in many cases forcibly lowered; organization was up to each individual Battlegroup. Formation sizes were wildly variable as long as the end result was an army with 100,000 soldiers in each territory. Hundreds of thousands of reserve troops were dismissed and hundreds of thousands of capable troops were added to reserve. Overnight, the fabled “Ten Million Men” of the Ayvartan Empire had evaporated.
To speak against Demilitarization was an awkward place, and few did it. Judging the role of a traditional military in a communist nation was a strange exercise. After all, was not the Imperial army largely reactionary and cruel? Madiha herself did not know, at the time, how to feel about it. Her superiors cooperated with the new rules of the law.
Now she felt anger and helplessness, at the result of these laws.
Demilitarization had accomplished its goal: both the vestiges of the imperial army and the ghost of the revolutionary army ceased to exist. In its place, was an unthreatening force that the Civil Council ignored. They created a new responsibility for themselves, and just as quickly relieved themselves of that burden and several others. The Armies could now never threaten the Civil Council, never bargain with them, and never beg of them.
Nobody seemed to care about the Battlegroups. While the KVW raised their own standards, and the Revolutionary Guards in Solstice were untouched, it mattered little.
It came from a time and place where they could not see an enemy attacking them; or perhaps, from a time when they did not want to see it. Madiha was staring down an organized, professional army with a disastrous organization of her own.
Many of her Captains were unaccounted for, heaping even more responsibilities on her Lieutenants. Parinita had told her that most of the Captains had sour relationships with Gowon and carried themselves fairly independently, conducting training on their own and traveling with their personal cadres where they pleased.
Madiha figured the chaos of the invasion, their disdain for the territorial authority, combined with their lingering fear of the KVW’s inspections, must have caused them to lose their nerve and finally vanish from the ranks. Some had probably even defected.
She had over ten divisions, and not a single Colonel or General among them.
She was the highest rank.
In the room with her yesterday there had been two Captains and a gaggle of Lieutenants. She gave the briefing to them as best as she could. She conveyed the plan for the Bada Aso Strategic Defensive Operation, “Hellfire.” From there, those few officers she briefed had the task of effectively controlling the entire army to carry out this plan.
Though Parinita and her staff had done their best to return order to the organization, there was only so much that could be done at this point to combat the idiosyncrasies of Battlegroup Ox’s deployment. This was year’s worth of damage to fix.
Now strategy was done; real-time tactics would have to carry the day from here on.
Madiha stood from her desk, took up the phone and dialed a number.
She waited through the tones and relayed the necessary orders.
“Once the 1st Defensive Line fully dissolves, and the 2nd Defensive Line comes under threat, you are to wait until the enemy is fully committed against the line before launching the flanking counterattack. Ogre heavy tanks are authorized to join the attack then.”
Madiha put down the phone, and sat behind her desk again.
She felt helpless. Everything felt out of her hands now. Whether the counterattack on Matumaini succeeded or failed; whether the city survived; whether her own life proved to be of any worth. None of it was within her power to affect.
“Spirits guide us all.” Parinita said, looking out the window of the office.
They could see none of the fighting. Only ruins.
NEXT CHAPTER in Generalplan Suden — The Battle of Matumaini, Part 1