42nd of the Postill’s Dew, 2024 D.C.E
Adjar Dominance – City of Bada Aso
6 Years Before Generalplan Suden Zero Hour
Lieutenant Madiha Nakar, recently promoted from KVW Sergeant-Major, looked over the lower waterway of Bada Aso. Under the evening’s falling sun the scene was replete with imperfections. Nothing but an ugly concrete cage several meters too long, built to trap the Umaiha River running through Bada Aso, and bridged by a pragmatic, artless structure fit for motor cars and horses, but not lovers walking hand in hand.
At night though, it took on an interesting character as Madiha waited, looking down from the concrete rails at the edge of the river. A full moon rippled in the water. The warm illumination of the streetlights, and a touch of the night’s pervading gloom, gave the place a more romantic character. In the dark, she could see herself holding someone close to her, exchanging a secretive kiss, and whispering warm nothings over the water.
She had realized none of that yet.
Madiha saw only herself, a lone shade reflected in the water, her features obliterated by the strength of a gentle breeze upon the river’s surface. For several minutes she waited. Soon another twisting facsimile of a person appeared, wrapping its arms around her from behind. She felt a kiss on her cheek and the warmth of someone’s breast against her back.
Her companion turned her around and looked at her with exaggerated and friendly awe, running her hands over Madiha’s chest and hips, feeling the texture of her uniform and marveling at the few medals upon it; running her fingers over the contours of the empty pouches on her belt. She examined her thoroughly, licking her lips with satisfaction.
Chakrani was Madiha’s age, still a girl in her mid-20s, with a bright smile upon her light brown face, piercing green eyes and long, dark, gently curling hair styled into fashionable ringlets. She had on a long, modest dress with a shawl over it, as Bada Aso got a little cold in the dark during the sixty days of the Postill’s Dew.
If there was one person whose touch Madiha was pleased to feel, it was Chakrani’s.
“You look so gallant in uniform! And you let your hair grow out. It’s so feminine! Very pretty.” She took Madiha’s long, slightly messy ponytail by the tips. “I must say though, I thought you looked handsome with the bob cut, when it was cut to the shoulder.”
“It was not so much that I let it grow out, but that I didn’t have much time to reign it in.” Madiha replied, laughing a little at all the attention Chakrani gave her.
She raised her hand and slid fingers under a few of Chakrani’s ringlets.
Chakrani raised her own hand to meet Madiha’s gentle touch.
“I’ll take your word for it. You were tight-lipped in your letters.” Chakrani said.
“I was sworn to secrecy on certain things.” Madiha replied, smiling nervously.
Chakrani played a little with the tie on Madiha’s dress uniform.
“If I’m also being honest about things other than your hair, I wept when I heard you’d returned here. I spent the whole morning crying. I was so worried when you left. I truly didn’t want you to be part of the KVW. Having you there at my side all these years, after all the turmoil; I never thought you would choose to join the military. I wish you hadn’t.”
“I was already part of them before.” Madiha said.
“As a kid! You were an orphan and they gave you a place. You had no choice. This is different. I’ve seen you shaking and crying in bed. Madiha, war has really hurt you a lot, you know? And it breaks my heart that you’re going back now to be hurt again.”
“I am fine.” Madiha said, raising her hands a little in defense.
“You say so. But I think you’d be happier in a union with a self-managed job.”
“I’m not good for much of anything outside military planning.” Madiha said dully. In her mind she had imagined a thorough, impassioned rebuttal, something which captured some depth of her true feelings. None of that managed to reach her tongue in time.
“You don’t even need to work then.” Chakrani told her, in the tone of a scolding. “You live in the Socialist Dominances of Solstice, Madiha, you can stay home with me; we can live easily on the subsidy and my father’s land grant from the government. You do this because you want to. And I don’t want to chain you down, but you must understand how much it hurts me that you will constantly elect to expose yourself to harm.”
Chakrani rested her head on Madiha’s chest.
Madiha flinched at the mention of her father.
“I understand.” Madiha said simply. “I’m sorry, I don’t want to ruin our night.”
“It’s fine then. I’m sorry too. But let’s promise to talk about it later, alright?”
Madiha felt a surge across her spine, but the only intimate contact that she could think to initiate was to hold hands with Chakrani. She sealed their little covenant with this gesture, knowing in her heart that it was disingenuous of her to accept those terms from Chakrani.
They were merely delaying the night’s cruelties.
While it lasted, however, Madiha wanted to enjoy a little revelry.
Hand in hand the two of them wandered across Bada Aso’s streets along the lower waterway, where the terrain lay flatter. Bada Aso was an old city, fairly low-lying and spread out, with wide cobblestone roads flanked by rows of two-story buildings with fairly broad alleys between them. Houses and venues of red and brown brick, built in the Imperial age, composed most of the architecture. Initially Bada Aso had been built along the waterway, so where Chakrani and Madiha walked, they saw Imperial-age buildings sharing the streets with a few old but beautiful structures still standing from Ayvarta’s antiquity.
Most of them were repurposed now into museums and cultural centers.
These older structures were largely composed of alternating layers of stone and wood that made the buildings appear like rocky cabins, with a heavily textured exterior and protruding wooden beams. Alongside them stood the anthropomorphic facades of old Imperial buildings, with their archway doors and arching high windows. Bada Aso seemed like a quaint, organic city here. Newer, concrete and rebar buildings were more common along the relatively new main street, and in the upper waterway, north uphill.
Silent, save for a few smiles and laughs and shared, enamored looks, the two journeyed along the old city. For most of the way their only witness was the moon overhead. On the streets themselves there was not much activity, with only a few people and no motor cars travelling down any given street alongside or opposite the happy couple.
Every few blocks, they passed a cooperative restaurant or club, and saw people outside, listening to the music through the walls and trying to make their way in. They knew well that there was a vibrant nightlife in old Bada Aso, even if the buildings did not rise so tall over them as in Solstice or in the photos of foreign cities. Ayvarta was a different place, fundamentally different, but still held many things in common.
A conspiratorial look slowly appeared on Chakrani’s face, as she cast eyes along the connecting roads and ushered Madiha along by the arm, skipping merrily.
Straddling the waterway and out in the main street there were several places that hosted nightly events with food and music, with dancers and poetry, and sometimes with other attractions; but were often short on seating. They were a first come and first serve affair.
Demand for these venues outstripped supply.
But connections could open up seats nonetheless.
Ever since they set off, Chakrani had been chirping here and there about a special place that she wanted to show Madiha. She had cheerfully led Madiha down several blocks, almost to the edge of the old city where the Umaiha bent away from into the wilds.
She soon found one of her favorite places, Goloka.
Outside it was nothing so special, it looked like most of the Imperial age buildings in Bada Aso. However, appearances were very deceiving in the old city.
Even just standing outside, Madiha felt the beat of furious drums rumbling her heart.
There was a small, very well-dressed party outside trying desperately to gain entry.
Surely this was not simply a sleepy little bar.
Smiling, with a little mischief seemingly in the making, Chakrani urged Madiha to watch her as she gained them entry. Casually, she walked past the party at the front and waved over the sliding glass window on the closed door. Someone inside seemed to recognize the gesture, because the door opened, and the couple was suddenly let in.
The Goloka was an upscale drinking and dining club, a place of gaudy color provided by special light bulbs, and a sumptuous atmosphere with music and professional dancers. In the middle of the building was a small stage flanked on all sides by tables for the guests, and there was a small bar and a kitchen ready to serve light meals and drinks.
The place was misty with the sweet-smelling smoke of incense.
On the stage, near-naked men and women danced arm in arm and face to face to the sound of drums and string instrument. Hips shook, hair swung; there was as much flesh as music on display. It was sensuous and wild, and the ardor of it swept up the couple as they entered. Chakrani clapped; Madiha, pulled her own collar, feeling flushed.
“Chakrani, you’re lucky I was working today. We’re packed.”
Chakrani smiled at the young, well-dressed clerk who had opened the door for them.
“You’re always packed! Any way I can repay you, Jabo?” She said.
“Buy something and don’t stay around for too long.” Jabo quickly replied. “City Council is thinking of drafting up an ordinance to limit the time people can loiter in co-ops to improve access. They don’t like seeing people out the doors in lines.”
“Oh, don’t worry, this is just my first stop tonight.” Chakrani said, waving him away.
Jabo shook his head a little, and amicably departed to meet with the club Host, an older man who managed it. Clubs and taverns such as these could be owned by people, as co-ops. Ayvarta’s government largely had better things to do than run clubs and bars.
While the beauty and exotic quality of places like Goloka seemed a little out of hand to someone as humble as Madiha at first, there was still equity and camaraderie to it.
You just had to arrive early enough for a table.
Or, like Chakrani, you had to cultivate a sociable persona, and make friends.
They waited at the door for a few moments for Jabo to return. He found them a table after another couple had departed the venue. Chakrani and Madiha were then happily seated in this vacant table, near the stage, where they watched the dancing.
Over Madiha’s objections Chakrani ordered them two tall glasses of Phena: coconut liquor common in Ayvarta, and often cut through with a bit of fruit juice. Soon the server arrived with colorful glasses and Chakrani handed him a few bills.
These sorts of transactions were still very common in the socialist Ayvarta, where everyone still earned wages. If one wanted food prepared by private cooks, or alcohol served in taverns, or things like non-government newspapers and books, and clothing other than the essentials rationed within state shops, one paid in Shells, the Ayvartan currency.
For those items which were scarcer or in higher demand, one needed Honors, a gold wage card handed on special occasions or to workers who truly exceeded expectations.
Seeing a chance to make a bigger impression, Madiha objected once more.
“I can cover the cost, Chakrani. You should not have to pay for us.”
She reached into her uniform for a wallet.
Her guaranteed wage was a little higher than normal, being in the army’s special branch, the KVW. It was a hold-over of the country’s revolutionary fervor. Military personnel received slightly better benefits, rations and wages thanks to this emphasis.
Chakrani did not work, so she had only her state stipend to spend, and Madiha thought it would be the “gentlemanly” thing to do for her to pay for the spoils of the evening. It amounted to twenty shells a drink: expensive, when it came to down to counting the milliliters of fluid, but nothing that either of them couldn’t handle with their money.
“My, my, it’s not just your uniform that is gallant now,” Chakrani smiled, teasing Madiha with a finger on her chest, “Footing the bill? You’re serious about me, aren’t you?”
She laughed a little, and Madiha joined her, wondering when she had ever become un-serious about them, or given that impression. She had always been serious. Chakrani was just teasing and flirting, but Madiha felt a little trepidation about it.
Especially considering what would soon transpire.
After a moment the server took Madiha’s bills instead of Chakrani’s and went on his way, tallying everything in a little notebook for the cooperative as a whole. Profits garnered from these exchanges by the cooperative were divided among the cooperative workers, including the Host or Hostess who managed the cooperative venue, in a way that they would determine among themselves democratically; or failing that, an equal split.
However, a certain percentage of profits had to be “invested” – put back into the venue, into new shows, put into the food distribution (to help bolster local unionized agriculture), into bonuses for workers, paid to the government and so on.
Madiha learned many of these things just growing up.
Socialism had always interested her. And though Ayvarta now did not look exactly like the books said it would or should, Madiha could see the progress being made.
Even in little things like going out with a friend she saw the machinery of politics and people running as it did nowhere else in the world. In her eyes everything around her worked, more or less; it took care of people. People would always complain a bit about the shortages of elvish wine or some other thing from a past life; but they had homes and food.
Of course, in the end, it was all over-analysis of a nice night out with a lady friend whom she fancied. Madiha was prone to indulging in political thought, especially as of late.
However, what mattered was the invisibility of this machinery. All of it happened as it would anywhere in the world, and the night progressed as it would for any couple. They watched the show; they held hands; they tasted each other’s drinks. It was a traditional story played out on the stage, even if the actors told it through dance, and danced it while dressed in diaphanous, tight clothing that brought a fierce blush to Madiha’s face at times.
They were telling a mythical story about the creation of the world.
Madiha could tell from the movement, from the costumes; though there were no lyrics to the music, and no voice to the acting, she could tell what has happening very easily.
This was a fairly common story.
Chakrani and Madiha had arrived a bit late for this particular set, but they managed to see most of it. At the beginning of time there was a paradise in the center of the world where nobody was ever left wanting. Everyone ate their fill and was sheltered from weather, and everyone was a single community, undivided by taboos. Their unity and carefree nature was expressed in the sexually-charged dance on the stage.
Men and women danced, face to face, flesh to flesh, glistening with sweat; and men traded places to dance with men, and women with women, and they shared with their new partners all of the same eroticism that they had shown the opposite sex.
Men and women traded items of dress, slipping into new masks, new facets of gender and sex, to show that in the past they had all been truly free, unknowing of the kind of constraints that now seemed to face mortals in the world.
It was the sort of show that would be scandalous in Nocht or Lubon.
However, the story would turn soon dark.
An evil force led the peoples astray, and lured them to the corners of the world, and away from their paradise, from their warming fires. Naively each of the peoples followed. In their new lands, for the first time they felt need and want, and their natures grew meaner.
They were no longer carefree and united; women dancers broke away from other women and shied from their touch, and men from men, and eventually, even men and women could not touch anymore. All of them grew covetous, longing again for paradise, and they thieved from one another: on stage the dancers seemed to struggle with one another, taking their masks only to throw them away once they acquired them.
Beneath the larger masks, they had smaller face masks that revealed more of their individual features. Now their emotion was laid barer for the audience to see.
They had become imperfect beings, too easily read and defined, their sins too obvious.
Such was the fate now of people in the material age.
“I love this atmosphere.” Chakrani said. She repeated the sentiment about everything in Goloka, from the dancers to the drinks to the architecture and interior decorating. Everything about the place enamored her. Her exuberance rubbed off on Madiha. She had felt guilty, leaving Chakrani behind a year ago to join the KVW’s operation in Cissea. But Chakrani had grown a lot since then. She had left her own comfortable surroundings and expanded her horizons without anyone’s help. Madiha felt elated to see her like this.
“It certainly lifts the spirits.” Madiha replied. Again she had wanted to say something just a little longer, just a little more inspired. But words seemed to escape her grasp around Chakrani, and she said something pedestrian again despite all of her thinking.
“I wish I could run a place like this. Wouldn’t it be great?” Chakrani said.
“Put in a request to the Commissariat of Developments.” Madiha said.
“I should.” Chakrani said. “Though, it’s a little intimidating to think about.”
Madiha reassured her. “Bada Aso could definitely use more places like this.”
Chakrani curled one of her ringlets around her finger, face flushed.
“Do you think I would make a good hostess?” She asked.
“You would be the best.” Madiha emphatically replied. Finally she seemed to find the enthusiasm to speak to Chakrani in the way that she deserved. She was radiant, joyous, an angel; and Madiha wanted so badly for her to be happy. She had a longing that hurt.
On stage the drums grew fierce again, and the couple turned to witness the final scene.
This was a story with no happy ending; all of the peoples of the world in their different corners, met again in what they thought was paradise, but warred with one another. The close dance that was once seen as pleasure, now meant war and strife. Madiha was astonished and enraptured by the skill and beauty of the dancers.
She felt Chakrani’s hands on her cheek.
Before she could think to meet her lover’s eyes and inquire, Chakrani had already turned her around, and pulled her forcefully in over the little table.
Their lips met and joined, locking together with ardor and desire.
Madiha felt Chakrani’s tongue slip into her mouth.
Closing in, they shared a kiss as intense as the dance behind them and lasting until the drums fell silent. Around them the audience clapped and cheered for the entertainment, but Madiha scarcely heard them over the taste of coconut from Chakrani’s mouth.
Chakrani let go of Madiha’s tie, by which she had been holding her neck, and their lips slowly separated. For a moment they remained close enough to taste each other’s breaths in the air, as though they would be drawn in to kiss again, but they exchanged grinning looks, and sat back on their chairs instead, contented with the moment.
“You really have not changed since you left.” Chakrani said. “I’m so glad.”
Madiha smiled warmly at her, wanting to believe this was true, but she knew otherwise.
On the stage the dancers started a new set, while Chakrani and Madiha emptied their glasses. They left a tip for the dancers and vacated the table with a friendly farewell to Jabo. Outside, the party that had been waiting all this time finally got enough tables freed up to seat all of their members, and walked past Madiha and Chakrani on their way out.
They waved and wished them a good night.
Perhaps the peoples of the world were not yet so mean and covetous after all.
But what they were, still, was tied down with conflicts and duties.
Standing again by the waterway the two of them peered down into the water.
They were both quiet, and Madiha’s hands had begun shaking. She was anxious. Chakrani stood by her side, warming her up, sometimes resting her head on Madiha’s shoulder. Both were fresh off the spiritual high they had achieved in the club, gently joining flesh within the uproar of the drums. Perhaps any other night it would have led to more.
Madiha wondered what her lover was too shy to ask of her now.
In a way she knew. But she would have to interrupt such fond thoughts.
After a few minutes of silently counting the ripples she saw on the river’s surface, Madiha finally reached into her back pocket and withdrew a series of photographs.
She got Chakrani’s attention and showed her the pictures.
Each image was incredibly crisp.
Her father and a few other men seated at a bar; drinks ordered; drinks passing between them. Bags traded; documents spread open. At first, Chakrani did not understand at all. She seemed to think it was a prank, but her face turned pale, and her her eyes drew wider open as Madiha showed her more pictures. She grit her teeth and grew frustrated.
Finally, she took Madiha’s hands. Her eyes were starting to tear up.
“What is it? What is the point of this, Madiha?” She shouted.
“This is evidence, Chakrani.” Madiha finally said. She had wanted to say it in a way that captured some kind of empathy, but her voice came out incredibly cold. Madiha silently cursed herself. What was she doing? She felt like a stranger to herself, like she had no control over what she did or felt. She withdrew the photographs.
“Your father has been arrested by the KVW, Chakrani.”
“Spirits defend.” Chakrani covered her mouth as though to hold back from vomiting.
She took a few steps back from Madiha, staring at her with fear.
All that love and fondness between was instantly annihilated in the span of a few minutes. Madiha had not done the capture herself. She was just here to try to gather more information. That was the sad fact of their date. Now she did not know whether it would have been crueler to cancel the date entirely and tell her about her father immediately, or to have gone along with it, and tried to have fun and exchange a kiss, and maybe even share a bed, before confessing the awful news and finally slashing apart their bonds.
“Listen, he is only in custody right now. The KVW is investigating his case.”
“And by ‘the KVW’ you mean we, right? You mean yourself, you’re part of it!”
She was shouting. Madiha raised her hands, afraid that she would be struck.
“I asked to be part of it; I’m trying to do anything I can to help him. He has been charged with something terrible; and there is a wealth of evidence against him. But I’m going to do everything I can for him, I promise you that, Chakrani.”
Her eyebrow twitched as she spoke. This was a blatant lie.
There was likely no helping him. And Madiha had no intention to help him, and no desire. She hated him. Any good socialist would hate him. He had taken several vacations to the neutral Bakor archipelago lying partway between Nocht and Ayvarta. There he had given away valuable information to Nocht. The State had trusted him; trusted him too much.
The Anka fighter plane, the Goblin tank, the composition of the state forces, defensive plans drawn up in case of border of conflicts, Ayvarta’s dealings with Svechtha: all had been made an open book to Nocht. Chakrani Walters’ father, Georg Walters, a Nochtish man himself and a former capitalist who had sworn to surrender their privileges and industry to the revolutionary government; this was the man who had conspired with Nocht.
The KVW had made a perilous covenant with him and his ilk, a gambit to end the bloodshed, and though the war had ended, and socialism had been born and grown from it, now they found their faith in the reformed bourgeoise had been repaid in this way.
But Chakrani couldn’t hate him. Madiha knew she couldn’t hate him.
She was his beloved daughter. Her father was a Nochtish man, but she was a Zungu, racially divided but fully born into Ayvarta. She was not bourgeois and she was not Nochtish. To her there was no concept that this man could be different than her.
It was impossible to her that he could betray his people.
She did not know that perhaps, she, and Madiha, and everyone else around him, were not his people at all. She saw no divide; but he had come from a different world.
Madiha felt all the colder, all the more heartless.
But she knew she was right.
Chakrani was speechless. Her legs shook, and her knees looked about to buckle. She approached Madiha, and collapsed into her arms, weeping profusely into her chest.
She begged her to save her father. She begged her to remember all those days that she was their honored guest, how they had spent so much time together in their teens, how their love had blossomed. Madiha continued to lie, to tell her it was ok.
As time went on she had completely forgotten the actual content of the begging, and the content of her own lies. She only knew that Georg Walters was destined for a firing squad, and that Ayvarta was destined for an internal clash.
Every night since, Madiha was haunted by the diabolical contrast between that wonderful kiss, and that treacherous exchange of deceptions by the waterway.
She felt the chill of her own words in her mouth every morning.
But the execution of Walters had been the right to do. She never wavered on that.
9th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E
Adjar Dominance – Bada Aso Region
9 Days Before Generalplan Suden Zero Hour
They kept chickens and a rooster in the tenement’s backyard, and everyone could count on the latter to bring in the day without fail. Ajith woke before the dawn with the crying bird, and he walked out of his apartment with the first rays of the sun.
He dressed in a pair of overalls and a dress shirt, but over it he wore a traditional robe red and orange like blood reflecting the sun, with tassels hanging from the cut.
In order to work safely Ajith would have to remove the robe, but he was sure that today was the start of his turn as overseer, so he might get to keep it after all.
From the tenement he followed the street up to a corner where a green truck with a long, flat bed was parked, and he climbed onto the bed of the truck and sat there.
A thin trail of smoke rose to the sky from the front of the truck. It curled around the side of the truck, emanating from the end of a cigarette. Ajith’s driver Chanta was an older woman, tall, thin, with black skin and a lot of frizzy hair under a green cap with the crow logo, symbolizing the regional worker’s council.
They exchanged enthusiastic but largely silent greetings.
Both of them were tired.
Thankfully weekend was coming, and they got 3 good days off this one. It alternated between weeks. Sometimes it was two days. Ajith could take any time off if he wanted, he had worker’s protections, everyone had; but everyone knew that if they just disappeared, work wouldn’t get done. If he didn’t go mine, rocks wouldn’t come out; workers would get less raw materials, he supposed. Everyone worked for the sake of everyone.
Even the driver did too. She could take off; but there’d be one less driver. And it wasn’t exactly a skill that was prolific in Ayvarta, where most people didn’t have a car. Everyone worked to keep everyone else working and fed. Everyone understood how the chain worked, and they tried to show up for their job every day. Tired maybe, but ready to go.
Ajith sure was.
So it was best for everyone that Ajith only took it easy on the designated weekends.
From the adjacent tenements and even from adjacent boroughs a slow trickle of other men and women approached the truck over the next fifteen minutes. Once the truck was fully loaded, the driver took her place, and they backed up off the street.
Driving west, they stopped first at a civil canteen, where a girl waited with a stack of prepared lunch boxes. She handed them one by one, and people closer to the edge of the bed passed them around to those farther back, until everyone had a box.
Canteen girl waved them goodbye and wished them a good day, and the truck was again on its way to its destination, a quarry far away on the eastern edge of the Kalu hilltops, about two hour’s drive from the city. A dirt road would take them there.
Almost everyone used the time to sleep more, except Ajith.
He watched the world roll by; the hilly terrain rising, flattening, falling; the green grass and white dirt across the landscape, colored like the cream of kale served at the civil canteen; gazelle flocking to watering holes in the morning while lions slept.
He even saw a tusker off the distance when the truck rose further uphill.
It was a bumpy ride, and too cold when it began, and too hot as it ended! Nevertheless he enjoyed these moments of peace, watching such a lush world unfold around him through the wooden frame of the truck bed. He took a mental note of everything he saw.
It would definitely inspire a few drawings when he got back home in the evening.
Soon the truck veered off along a broad, dusty, featureless stretch of pale rock.
Ajith and his comrades worked at a limestone quarry. Stretching out kilometer in front of them the terrain descended before a stark, man-made escarpment, as though a knife had come down from the sky and shaved away a chunk of the hillsides, carving a flat, rocky space. Their handiwork transformed the landscape here. With explosives, they blasted all the useless topsoil and got right to the limestone. Then they blasted the good rock out, and worked the pieces for shipping to various industries that made them into goods.
Everyone got off the truck, and got out to work.
For the driver, she would be switching vehicles, until it was time to pick the workers up again. And as Ajith expected, when he got out to the line of tents straddling the “safe zone” outside the reach of flying debris, there was Shasra, one of the previous overseers, a sprightly woman ten years his junior, to hand him the whistle and the clipboard.
In turn, she took the hard hat that was left for him in the basket labeled “Ajith” that was just outside the equipment tent, pulled out for the first shift workers.
They would be trading duties today.
In their country the workers all had their turn managing, cutting, blasting, driving (if they knew how, or wanted to learn), taking inventory, and so on; in this way they self-managed everything. They even took turns sitting at the desks of the union council.
“You’re on Overseer duty, Ajji, from today until 34th of the Gloom.” She cheerfully told him, adjusting the hard hat. “So I’ll be out there blasting rocks for you. You better make sure everyone’s working right! I don’t want to get buried just yet.”
“Ancestors defend, don’t tell me that on my first day.” Ajith said, rolling his eyes.
“It’s just a joke! Don’t enjoy a little dark humor? See, it works on two levels–”
He laughed and waved his hand as though fanning away her words, and walked past her into the equipment tent. He had a checklist of things to do, helpfully written in a curly, childish-looking script by Shasra. Managing wasn’t as hard as he thought.
First he had to check equipment: he peeked over the crates of stick-bombs to insure that they had not gotten wet, and looked for the general presence of rust on the picks and the rock saws. Once he was sure all the tools were fine, he would sign off on it to the other workers, and they would come in and pick their things. Everyone patted him on the shoulder on the way in and on the way out. It was sort of a joke to them.
Every Overseer stood like a statue near the tents while equipment was distributed.
After everyone had bombs or a pick or a saw or a shovel, Ajith checked the water trucks. There were two, similar to the transport truck, but with large containers to which hoses were attached. They needed to be filled to a certain level in order to last the day.
Water was essential for the cutting of stone, and of course to keep everyone alive in the heat. Ajith checked and signed off on that as well, and Chanta took a water truck and drove out to the escarpment, the chiseled face cut against the hills. Ajith hitched a ride.
For the rest of the day, he would be working there: taking measurements, checking the rocks, making sure they filled their quotas with the right size rocks that their contracts stipulated, and so on. Barely cerebral work. It would go by quite easily, he thought.
Or at least, that was the plan; until the KVW half-track drove in.
Unlike their old truck, this was a big powerful vehicle, meant for battle, with its face and the sides of its bed armored against light firearms. Windshield and both windows had received some kind of tint to block one’s sight of the driver and passenger.
A tarp had been rolled across the top of the bed, so the occupants could not be seen anywhere from the outside, save for the dispassionate, black and red uniformed woman crewing the open-air machine gun mounted atop the vehicle’s pintle mount.
Every head in the quarry turned over shoulder to watch the vehicle drive in, and kept their eyes on it as a pair of passengers walked out to the escarpment from the back.
“I think they’ll be wanting to talk to you, boss,” Shasra said mischievously.
Everyone else took this visit as an entertaining novelty, but Ajith felt a little nervous about it. The KVW always claimed to be there for the workers, but he felt a great unease at any armed presence. Whether wielded by folks on your side or against your side, guns were guns. Ajith had been in the state army, for a few years at least, long before it was split up like the Councils. After that he was in the reserve. He knew what guns did.
As such he was always nervous around guns.
Two women left the vehicle and approached him.
Ahead was a taller, older woman, of obvious Umma ethnicity like Ajith himself: she had skin so that dark it gleamed with sweat in the sun, a convex nose, broad lips, and a lot of dark curly hair under her peaked cap. Her uniform was the red and gold of an honored KVW officer, and displayed a few ribbons proudly; it contrasted with the black with red trim uniform of the woman on the gun mount, who was an average KVW riflewoman.
Clearly this was the boss of the two: she had a calm and serious expression, and she moved with confidence. She stood her full height, taller than anyone around.
Behind her trotted the other woman, a little shorter but still fairly tall, dressed in the green uniform of the state army and the rare few uninitiated KVW forces. She was an Arjun, the most numerous of the ethnicities in Ayvarta as a whole, but not as much in the Kalu Hilltops and Bada Aso region. Her skin was brown, rather than black, and her nose and lips were smaller and thinner, and her shoulder-length hair was straighter.
Judging by the honors on her uniform she was a Captain, while the other woman was probably a Colonel or higher. These were experienced, veteran officers.
Ajith drew their attention, waving his hands and ambling forward to meet them.
“I’m Ajith Diaye. It’s my turn at Overseer here in the quarry. How can I help you?”
“Inspector Chinedu Kimani,” the older woman introduced herself, extending her hand to Ajith, and taking it with a strong grip, “and this is Captain Madiha Nakar of the 3rd KVW Motor Rifles Division. We would like to discuss a few things in private.”
A shudder traveled down his spine, but Ajith kept his composure.
He led the two women back to the tents, one of which had a desk, a few filing cabinets, and an old radio unit that hardly anyone used. It was the size of a clothes chest, and Captain Nakar sat on top of it, while Inspector Kimani took one of the chairs. Ajith, behind the desk, felt no more authoritative or prepared, only ridiculous, and quite anxious.
Inspector Kimani looked at the discarded things atop the desk, a dusty rag, a wooden clock, and crumpled up papers. Ajith swept them off and sat down.
“So, let us discuss. What brings the KVW to a limestone quarry?”
“It’s not necessarily the quarry.” Kimani said. “We need to consult a local miner.”
“I’ll try my best to represent my fellow workers, but know that I’m only one person.”
“I understand.” Kimani reached into her jacket and withdrew a few photos. She put them on the desk for Ajith. They were aerial photos of a military convoy carrying people and equipment up mountainous terrain. Ajith recognized it immediately.
It was a cave system in the northeast called the Shetani Kinywa, demon’s mouth.
It was a source of iron, but it was dangerous. There were already open pit sites in Adjar and the unions in Bada Aso had refused to work the Kinywa for years.
In the photos he saw trucks and workers there, all clad in military uniform.
“Battlegroup Ox is mining the Kinywa? I don’t understand the point of that.”
Inspector Kimani nodded, and took the back the photos, stashing them inside her jacket once again. “It’s a very rich site, or so I’m told. During the Imperial days they completed excavation and had access to significant ore bodies, with an even greater quantity projected to be deeper underground. After the fall of the Empire the Kinywa went untouched. There had been many deaths there, and even rumors of evil spirits and such things – self-managed workers had rights now and they opted to leave it alone. Nobody could force them to work the site any longer, and so it was left to fester. The Demon’s Mouth, they called it.”
“Even if it was safer to do, it’s not worth it. I remember that the unions around here have told the Regional Council in Bada Aso as much. We’re working open pit sites right now that are yielding more than enough of all kinds of ore to ignore the Kinywa.”
“Yes, and getting to the Kinywa and back is difficult enough without hauling ore.” Inspector Kimani said. “However, that has not persuaded the Council or Ox’s Army-level command. They’ve gone over your heads and are working the mine alone.”
Ajith blinked at the way she phrased it.
He had never quite thought of it that way.
For himself and the other workers, and probably for the union, it was not seen as a competition with anyone. They were guaranteed work, after all, and wages; they had both right now. However, hearing the Inspector saying it that way, it did feel as though a trust between the Council and the Union had been violated by the mining of the Kinywa.
After all, things tended to be done by agreement between Councils and Workers.
The Council had ignored them, gone behind their backs, and recruited an entirely different, ill fitting corps of laborers to do the work they had rejected.
It felt very wrong indeed the more he thought about it.
“We were heading to the mine to talk with the soldiers and commanders there,” said the Captain, Nakar, from the back of the room, “We would be going there this weekend, and wondered whether a representative of the miners here could accompany us, and help us judge the conditions at the Kinywa site. The KVW believes this project is a flagrant abuse of power: soldiers are not miners, and it should have been implicit that only miners should do contract mining work. So we find this project highly suspicious.”
“I don’t really think it could be anything too sinister.” Ajith said. He felt nervous again about this situation. This was some kind of friction between the KVW and the Regional Council and its military, Battlegroup Ox. He was in the center now. And yet, he felt a duty to his fellow miners. “I had plans for the weekend, but I guess I can go.”
“We will compensate you.” Inspector Kimani said.
Ajith accepted. They shook hands, discussed a pickup, and the women went on their way. Their Half-Track disappeared behind up the ramp out of the quarry site and behind the hills. Ajith resumed work, telling everyone that it was all fine.
On the 11th of the Aster’s Gloom, instead of waking with the sun, Ajith slept in a little, ignoring the rooster’s cries. He left the tenement around nine o’ clock.
A KVW Half-Track was waiting outside the tenement to the bewilderment of everyone around. This time the gun was crewed by a young, tan-skinned man but he had the same blank expression as the woman before, making them almost eerily interchangeable.
Ajith climbed into the back, where a squadron of twelve riflemen and women sat along with Captain Nakar and Inspector Kimani. All of the riflemen and women looked like they were daydreaming, with eyes partly closed, and lips offering no indication of contentedness or dissatisfaction. Kimani looked about the same, but when Ajith examined her more closely he found her eyes much more intense, and her posture stronger.
Nakar on the other hand looked simply depressed and exhausted.
Soon the Half-Track was off, out of the city, past the Kalu hill-tops, joined by a Goblin tank along the way, for who knows what purpose. The little convoy drove far north at top speed for several hours, almost half the day, out to the edge of the Kucha mountains. They drove up a steep, rocky road far up into the belly of the mountain, and found themselves before a massive jagged opening, surrounded by sharp stone teeth on all sides.
The Half-Track parked, the rifle troops disembarked, and they marched carefully toward tents set up at the edge of the cave. Inside the jaws of the cave the floor slanted down for several meters like a natural ramp onto an adjoining tunnel.
One slip of the foot and the hapless worker would slide down to the bottom and break several bones. Ropes and wooden supports had been bolted down onto the rock to help navigate the ramp and reach the tunnels down to the mining area.
While Captain Nakar and Inspector Kimani bickered in a tent with a Lieutenant from Battlegroup Ox, assigned to oversee the military labor in this site, Ajith and and half of the rifle squadron examined the cave itself. Ajith was not an expert on underground mining, but he could easily see the deterioration all around him. If Ox was planning to renovate the place, they had not even begun. Lighting was dim, and the elevators were old.
Cranks and other mechanisms were rusted and creaked loudly under everyday abuse. The elevator off the main tunnel led down two tiers. While tight, the first one was manageable enough, with almost proper lighting, provided a large diesel generator that had probably been disassembled and then pieced back together in the spot.
On the bottom tier they found the true horror.
From the elevator platform, a short tunnel led to a stark void, into which miners dropped down with sturdy hopes to survey the walls of what seemed like a literal bottomless pit. It was like opening a gate to hell. Staring into that lightless pit, Ajith could tell why the place was called Shetani Kinywa. The air was thin, and he smelled something foul. Every sound echoed seemingly infinitely.
Soon he found it hard to tell his surroundings.
He felt sick, and he begged the rifles to take him back up.
Ajith was so dazed and suddenly ill that he almost had to be pulled physically back to the top by the soldiers escorting him, a task which they took to without even a twitch of the brows, their expressions as stony as the walls.
Above ground, Kimani and Nakar had taken their bickering with the lieutenant out of the tents and into the cave. Soldiers stood in the periphery, watching with unease, while their commanding officer irascibly confronted the two KVW women.
He was shouting, and gesticulating wildly with his hands at the sharp stalactites around the maw. Kimani was shaking her head and gritting her teeth; Nakar still looked simply exhausted and depressed, with her head down and her clipboard against her chest, sighing frequently and averting her eyes. Out of the crushing tightness and darkness of the tunnels, Ajith felt like he could breathe and move again. His senses slowly returned.
Inspector Kimani and the Ox Lieutenant both turned their heads from their argument to silently greet the new party coming out of the elevator. Ajith stood under his own power, still a little shaken. Captain Nakar sat back, and started taking notes.
“Thank you for your time. What is your assessment of the site?” Kimani said.
Ajith caught his breath first, but he hardly needed to think much before speaking.
“This place is very dangerous. I’m surprised nobody has been killed yet. All the shafts need to be maintained or replaced, and the supports are old and need to be reinforced. Those elevators haven’t been touched in decades. Lighting is weak and dim, all of the torches need to be replaced; no matter how new your generator is those lights won’t give you any more glow. On the lowest tier there are people doing vertical mining almost entirely in the dark, save for battery torches. Whatever amount of iron is here, it’s not worth digging out. It’s endangering these people, who have no mining expertise and nobody to train them. If I’m being called on to make a suggestion from the Union, it’s to stop this now.”
“Sounds like a very convincing case to me. However, Lt. Hako,” Kimani turned to face the mortified Lieutenant once again, “it’s in someone else’s best interest to keep it running, isn’t it? This isn’t about production or quotas or surpluses: it’s about the mining here going directly into someone’s pocket. That seems like the only reason I could see to be so adamant about digging here. With a mine this inaccessible, ignored, rejected by the unions, and far away from the eyes of Solstice, you can do whatever you want with the ore as long as you have complicit cronies overseeing every step of the way, and a connected fellow at the top to push the product to someone who wants it. Maybe Cissea; maybe Nocht?”
“How dare you!” Lt. Hako shouted. “Are you accusing me of treason, Inspector? Is that the KVW’s task now, to seek after paranoid delusions? It is impossible that any of us could have had dealings with the enemy, and you know this perfectly well!”
Perhaps she did. Ajith thought it sounded ridiculous himself.
Perhaps it was just agitation?
But the accusations did not shake Kimani at all. Undaunted by the lieutenant’s growing wrath, she crossed her arms and gave him a cutting look before speaking again.
“Answer me this then,” She began, “did this quarry not once belong to one of the old bourgeoise who switched loyalties during the Revolution? Was it not part of Gowon’s portfolio? Is it not then being reclaimed for him? Or am I mistaken about this theory?”
Quickly the lieutenant snapped back. “You are mistaken, his family mines are in Dori Dobo! They supply his steel mills! If you want to inspect his mines, go there and leave the Kucha alone, it is entirely unrelated, he has nothing do with things here!”
“I guess we’ll be paying a visit to the border then, to inspect these quarries.” Captain Nakar said. She looked up from the ground finally, displaying some curiosity for the world around her. She grinned wickedly. “So many things owned by a Major in the army.”
Suddenly the lieutenant went pale.
He had, in his anger, given something away. His body shook.
Kimani grinned. “Yes. Major Gowon will be hearing from us personally about this.”
Nobody knew how complicit Lt. Hako was, personally, in any of these misdeeds. However, everyone could tell from his appearance and the shaking tone of his words that he was guilty. “Comrades, I did not mean it in that way at all. Of course, the Major gave up his claims years–”
Kimani stopped grinning, and snapped her fingers.
Captain Nakar drew her revolver on the lieutenant, aiming at him from where she was seated, on a rock a few meters away from Kimani and him.
There was a collective gasp among the soldiers, but none of them intervened, not with the KVW rifle squadron in the room. As one, the KVW rifles raised their weapons and stood in phalanx, facing different directions in the room. Stray soldiers and military laborers held up their hands and made obvious their surrender.
Those with weapons discarded them immediately.
Ajith was in the middle of all this, stunned to silence. Inspector Kimani, satisfied with how things proceeded, stepped aside and gestured for the Lieutenant in charge to surrender himself as well. “Lt. Hako, you’re under arrest for complicity in the misappropriation of funds, aiding and abetting the exploitation of workers, and misuse of military materiel. I would not resist if I were you. Madiha never misses a shot if she has time enough to aim.”
“Perhaps you could testify about all these things Gowon’s family has.” Nakar added.
Lt. Hako extended his arms. Kimani handcuffed him, and the situation was thankfully diffused without bloodshed. Ajith sighed and felt faint with anxiety.
Immediately, orders were given to gather up everybody and begin dismantling the operation. All of the soldiers looked scared and ashamed of what was happening.
Ajith wondered if on some level they knew that they were used for somebody’s benefit, and that taking part in the military, they simply went along with it and followed orders. Or if perhaps all of them were benefiting directly, with hidden perks for those who took special part in these projects. He wondered what compelled these people to try to do this.
There was a lot Ajith didn’t know, and he didn’t really desire to think about it. His experience was with mines. He waited outside the cave until Kimani bid farewell to him, and ordered the Half-Track be used to drive him back to Bada Aso. This would be the last he personally saw of Captain Nakar and Inspector Kimani, but not the last he would hear of the friction and conspiracy between the Councils. Soon, it would be public knowledge.
14th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E
Solstice Dominance – Solstice City Center
4 Days Before Generalplan Suden Zero Hour
Admiral Kremina Qote discreetly extricated herself from the arms of Warden Daksha Kansal, leaving her lady love sleeping soundly in the bed of their two-story house.
For many years they had covertly turned this building into their nest, though it was registered only for Daksha and the two of them barely lived in it: they mostly lived out of offices. In Admiral Qote’s own situation, she lived mostly off various fleet ships.
Theirs was a humble house, in a small suburb just off the heart of the Ayvartan political organism in Solstice Central. From the side of the bed, Kremina could look out the window and see the People’s Peak, the tallest building in Ayvarta, an office building where large meetings were held. That was Daksha’s real home as Warden of the KVW.
They had agreed to be careful and discrete about their love life.
Still, whenever an important meeting in the city pulled the Admiral away from her fleets in the major ports of Bada Aso, Guta, Chayat or Tamul, she could easily take time to be with her lover. Their love was older than the Socialist Dominances of Solstice that they had started to build 20 years in the past. It could survive a bit of distance.
Before the sun rose, Kremina left Daksha a little note, with sultry little things about the sex they’d enjoyed the previous night. She donned her uniform, adjusted her tie, and tied her long, half white and half black hair into a functional ponytail.
Watching her lover sleep, it was difficult to believe she was the leader of a revolution, the leader of a military force, the rock around which an entire people had risen up. She had on such a peaceful face when dreaming. Kremina could have looked at her all morning. But she threw on her jacket, blew her a kiss, and left the room and the house.
She had an important task. Outside, a KVW car was parked along the street.
A young man in a black uniform with red trim waited outside the car.
“Good morning, Admiral. Where shall we go today?” He said. His voice was near toneless as he opened the door for her and stepped aside to usher her in.
“Revolution Square.” Kremina replied.
He nodded, and circled around the car back to the driver’s seat.
Kremina almost felt a compulsion to tell the young man that he saw nothing; that he would say nothing; that nothing of this would be shared, that the privacy of her dealings with the Warden was paramount. She did not need to. He knew. Her driver was a KVW agent. He was expressionless, professional, a symbol of propriety and collectedness.
In the rear-view mirror, she briefly met his gaze, and saw the almost imperceptible red rings around the iris of his eyes. One could only see them if one was looking intently. In that empty-seeming stare, was the mark of his loyalty. His training had been long and intense, but in every way it had bettered him. He knew no doubt, no fear, no imprecision, and no disloyalty. It was what he wanted; and what he received.
For him, it was impossible to betray Kremina or Daksha. It had been guaranteed.
“Would you like to listen to the radio, Admiral?” He asked.
“Put on something traditional.”
The Agent turned the knobs on a large box installed on the front panel of the car. From a large speaker on the front of the box came the sounds of drums and communal chanting, backup instruments. Kremina sat back in the cushioned seats, closing her eyes and letting the music take. When a song she recognized came on she would sing with it. Foreigners liked to reduce the sound of Ayvartan music to the smashing of drums: but from the radio a complex sound came, with wind and xylophone instruments, and even string melody.
Most Ayvartan traditional music was played by many people, who both sang and played at once, producing a choral effect. It was the music of a community.
“Mark my words, someday all cars will have a radio.” Kremina said.
“If you say so; it was an expensive addition to the car.” The Agent replied.
Kremina smiled. “But don’t you love it? Having music for a long drive?”
“It did help with the waiting, once I had read all of my newspaper.” He replied.
“Ah, I apologize. I was inconsiderate to you in my rush to meet the Warden.”
“It is fine. Had I undergone another mission I would still have had to wait in front of someone’s house or in front of some other facility. It’s in the fine print for my work – ‘as a KVW driver, you will wait outside many exotic places with your car’.”
Kremina burst out laughing. KVW Agents could surprise her, despite everything.
While the music played the car left the suburb and turned a corner onto one of the streets around the City Center, leading out of the borough. Aside from a few public trolleys and private cars, the vehicle roads were uncrowded and easy to navigate.
Leisurely the driver took them around the Center, and a few blocks up to the next borough, closer to Revolution Square. Despite its importance and significance, this Park was not built in the Center along with the rest of the apparatus of government, but rather in the place where the first battles of the Revolution had been waged.
Solstice was known as the First Great City; but it had actually been built during the Ayvartan Empire. Underground, much of it was that old still. During the Empire a water system had been built to draw from sources to the north and east of the city that still worked quite well. All it had required was a change to modern kinds of pipes.
Above the surface Solstice was undoubtedly one of the most modern cities in the People’s State. Heavily rebuilt since the revolution, it was dominated by concrete buildings with clean faces and tiled, vaulted roofs. Smooth new concrete streets and asphalt roads linked the blocks and boroughs and districts of the city. Trees had been planted in recesses set into the rounded street corners. Parks and theaters and large, communal eateries and marketplaces had been raised where once stood the palaces of the aristocracy.
Much of the capitalist excess had been destroyed, though some of those buildings remained, re-purposed as museums, containing artifacts of the revolution and aristocracy; or as hostels, if they had enough rooms. Solstice was transformed according to science.
Some remnants of an even older past remained as well. As they drove into Gita, the borough adjacent to the Center on the north, they passed by the Our Lord of Mercy Messianic Church, a monolithic building, retained for its historical significance.
All of the intricate carving in the exterior, and the design of the interior, everything had been carved out of one stone. It was a piece of grey, looming history that was left untouched even as Messianic worship declined across the Socialist Dominances.
From the church the car moved onto a connecting road flanked by trees and green pitch from another nearby park that added color and recreational space to the city.
Without the obstruction of buildings Kremina easily saw the massive walls that surrounded the city, almost fifty meters tall, providing a ring of defense that had never been penetrated from without: during the Revolution the KVW took it from within.
Seeing the walls always briefly brought to mind the planning that she taken part in, so many years ago, when the Revolution began to grow like wildfire across a few days.
Solstice had been the goal of the revolution and the first place to fall.
Then came the deadly task of holding on to it and expanding.
There were several assets that came into play then. Of course, the walls; but also the wide Qural River that hugged that flowed from the north, curled around the east of the city, straddling the walls, and slashed farther east and south into the depths of the desert.
Due to the river, Solstice was an oasis in the middle of the Red Desert, and supported by the farming villages in the fertile north that supplied it with the food it required, the city stood as a fortress against the loyalist southern Dominances that resisted socialism.
It had been bloody and horrible fighting across several years since those deadly first days in Solstice. She had been largely removed from its most abominable battles.
After Solstice was taken, Admiral Qote never again had to fight a battle herself.
Kremina felt a bit of guilt about it still, a twenty-year old guilt.
She had planned many operations that annihilated her own people. Logistics was her strong suit. She had hardly picked up a gun to fight with her comrades.
Sometimes she wondered if there was really a point to what she did, if she served a useful purpose. What did a planner bring to the Revolution? What did a middle aged woman who was good with numbers and organization offer to the people’s struggle now? On what authority could she possibly organize other people to kill each other; what made her more qualified than they, to organize themselves? To decide to kill others?
She shook her head, shaking away those thoughts.
Everyone had doubts, nowadays.
It felt like a difficult wind had been ceaselessly blowing their way, and she did not know anymore whether she had secured a victory all those years ago, whether she had gotten what she wanted, what the people wanted. She was 50 years old. Back then she had not thought that she would live to see her work cracking before her.
Now she had lived enough to see political friction in Ayvarta, and she was driving to see if after nearly two years she could potentially settle some of it. The Revolution had ended in the death of the Empire, but also in a compromise between its remnants and the people who had fought them. While the bloodshed ended, and socialism was ultimately established, it insured that factionalism from within could in the future resume.
She was becoming increasingly aware that she lived in that future now.
Her driver caught her attention, taking her from her reverie.
“We’re here ma’am.” He said.
They drove up a street adjacent to Revolution Square, and the Agent parked the car astride a bench. He waited there, picking up a new state newspaper from a nearby box.
Kremina dismounted and ambled across the green grass in the largely immaculate park, toward a monument in its center. It was a massive statue of a Hydra, the symbol of the revolution. This multi-headed snake represented the operation that turned Revolution into Civil War: across all of Ayvarta, rebel cells ambushed and killed several high-ranking Imperial officers, decapitating the army. It had required supernatural coordination.
Today, the Hydra bit off no heads; rather it loomed over a lanky man with very black skin and cropped hair, and a flat, broad nose, dressed in a blue suit with a red tie.
He waited for her with a folder full of documents under his arm.
When he spotted her, he left behind the shadow of the Hydra and they began to walk around the park. There was little to see: the park was a memorial, a square of trimmed grass surrounding the Hydra statue and its plaque, and it had very few places to sit or rest.
So Kremina and the Councilman, Yuba, simply walked around the periphery. Yuba offered her a cigarette, and she declined. He put it away. They procrastinated for a moment.
Kremina had wanted him to open up.
He had called her, so she had wanted to see his initiative. But he was timid. All of them were, ever since the Special Order had gone a few weeks ago.
Nobody had expected the KVW to take such an action.
It was one of the few actions they could take, anymore.
Now they were all afraid. It reminded her again of the revolution, where whispers of a coming death had made the once boastful and proud aristocrats of the Empire quiet and reserved, and kept them trapped in their homes for fear of retribution. The KVW had no such thing in mind for the Councilman, but he and his ilk seemed to have jumped to the same conclusion. They were always ready to see conspiracy around them.
Ever since the real conspiracy of a few years back, they saw it everywhere.
“Is there anything specific you wanted to discuss, Councilman? I’m a busy woman.”
Yuba pulled his cigarette out again. This time, he lit the stick, and took a drag.
“I was hoping we might be able to begin to reconcile some of our recent differences.” He said. Yuba spoke as though he was reading a note to her. He delivered his lines without pause, but they had no conviction behind them. “Your Warden’s Special Order has the regional councils in the Southern Dominances worried. They tell me they had been trying to complete several important projects; now they are afraid to move forward. They don’t know what your aim is, and I have heard you have already dispensed justice on your own.”
“That we have. And I disagree with the importance of those projects, and the methods by which they were carried out.” She said, speaking back to him in that same dispassionate voice which he used on her. “We have ample evidence of corruption among the southern councils and military commands. Oversight is sorely lacking in the former rebel territories and the self-managed unions will suffer in the long term if these ‘projects’ run unchecked.”
Yuba replied quickly, as though he had studied her reply before she even said it.
“Admiral, our enforcement authority is stretched, especially in the outer Dominances. Adjar is a long way away. We are beginning to move over uncertain territory and we are up against the limits of our authority on certain matters. We didn’t want to infringe upon regional councils that know their territory best. We assumed good faith.”
“That’s understandable.” Kremina said, though with an obvious hint of frustration creeping in. “You fear becoming a tyrant, but now you are just too soft. Your civil governors and your military commanders are bypassing the unions and taking resources for themselves, and making development decisions that are outside their scope. This is deeply troubling to me and to the KVW, as stewards and guarantors of the people’s will.”
Kremina was selling it light.
She went so far as to believe that they were traitors, outright.
She suspected that they were selling materials in some kind of black market.
How far up it went, she did not know; but she knew the governors and military commanders at least in the Adjar Dominance were making some kind of personal profit at the expense of the people, and misusing military personnel to do it. While characters like Gowon shuffled soldiers between odd jobs they had no right to do, their borders were undermanned, and readiness was criminally low. Something was not right here.
But saying all of this would have simply upset the Councilman.
He would have called her a radical and an extremist and started shutting down. So she undersold it. Unlike her lover, the Warden, Kremina knew when not to be too blunt.
Yuba, however, seemed ready to be defensive regardless of what was said.
“These are serious concerns, Kremina that we simply were not prepared for–”
Kremina shook her head at him in disgust and interrupted him as gently as she could.
“You were more than prepared. When we sat down and made concessions, when we traded back and forth between the powers of the state, the powers of regions, the powers of the people, when we stitched together what became Ayvarta; I told you that the faction of Collaborators had to be watched, and had to be understood to be a dangerous element.”
You was a strangely broad term between them. Much of Ayvarta’s policy happened in the legislative chamber, the Civil Council, which then reached agreements with the regional councils of its Dominances, and with the Unions of the working people.
There were essentially three factions in the Ayvartan state government.
After the Demilitarization acts and the split of the Council into two Chambers, the Military and Civil Councils, the Liberals or “in-betweeners” and the Collaborators held the most power in the Civil Council. Because the Military Council couldn’t enact Civil Policy (and lately was blocked even from Military Policy) it was down to the Liberals and Collaborators. There were smaller factions, remnants of the “Zaidi” faction who were labeled “militarists” and shunted to their own place, but they hardly mattered.
Kremina meant specifically the Liberals: more numerous than Collaborator-aligned bureaucrats and lawmakers in the legislative chamber, and they could be swayed to many positions. But it was increasingly difficult. The KVW and their few council allies were called the Hardliners by their peers, especially after Demilitarization was enacted.
This situation arose over twenty years ago.
While it was quickly clear that the Empire was defeated in the first year of the Revolution, war between its old Dominances continued for a year more: 2009 to 2010 saw some of the bloodiest fighting. Low level insurgencies stretched from 2010 to 2015 as the budding government asserted power. Only the defection of the Collaborators and their incorporation into the Civil War ended the war totally and definitively.
And yet, Kremina always got a bad taste in her mouth when she thought of the concessions they made to them. They accepted socialism in the streets in order to save their lives. Food for the people, housing for the people, all good; so long as, behind closed doors, there was a legislative process that could potentially be manipulated, and a bureaucratic apparatus they could jerk around, and the notion of possible “reforms.”
Yuba, who came out of that process, saw things very differently, of course.
“As far as the Councilfolk from Shaila and Adjar have told me, their Unions were overstretched; not everyone wants to work, and especially not everyone wants to work in dangerous jobs like mining and chemical labor. The Councils acted on their initiative.”
“I disagree fundamentally that a lack of workers exists or is an acceptable excuse, and that the use of military labor in their place is any kind of acceptable work-around; and furthermore, that’s not the only problem here with regards to the use of military personnel.”
Yuba nodded. “So you’re also here to protest demilitarization as well.”
Kremina shouted. “Of course! I can understand that you do not want the military creating civil policy. I empathize with you, having been a girl under the Empire. But taking away our ability to influence military spending and military policy is ridiculous!”
“We have not done that! As you’ve shown with your Special Order, you can still—“
Kremina interrupted him. “That’s not enough. We are the Military Council! The People’s Army during the revolution was the KVW. Yet now the Military council seems to have almost no bearing on the military! We control only fragments of it!”
“You control what you wanted to control!”
“Because we had no other choice! You voted to have us divided this way; and the state army upon whom you lavish millions more shells worth of funding hasn’t progressed in quality or readiness in five years; and the KVW can’t even inspect the materiel it misuses or outright loses from warehouses without scandal.”
“The only reason there is scandal is that your inspections completely ambushed us! Kremina, there is a process, and there would be no scandal if you followed process!”
Yuba looked weary. He certainly hated this argument. He saw himself as a friend to the Military Council, and to Kremina and Daksha. However, he always felt like he had to argue in favor of written policy all of the time, and he took it upon himself to defend the law as gospel. Kremina did not hate Yuba, but she found him horribly frustrating.
She sighed deeply and rubbed a hand over her own face. “So you’re telling me that your Councils can collude with the Regional Military to create a ghost workforce whenever they want? And unless we tell them ahead of time, so that they can pack up all their operations and pretend to be innocent, the KVW cannot intercede in these affairs.”
“That is unfair, Kremina. You’re taking a fatalistic view of it.”
“And you’re taking too permissive a view! This is another way the Councils have privilege over the people’s unions and workers. I’m stepping forward to end that privilege.”
“I have seen how you’ve stepped forward, and I cannot agree with it.”
Kremina closed her fist in subtle anger. Of course, that’s what he would balk at.
The Councilman raised his hand a little to interrupt her speaking.
“You agreed with us that after the Akjer incident that corruption in the government and military was present and that it had to be investigated, rooted out and prevented in the future. We didn’t want another Georg Walters who could pretend to be one of us and walk out of our council meetings and right into Nochtish association. So we made proposals.”
“You made proposals, and you forced them on us!” Kremina shouted.
Yuba continued talking over her. “We acted democratically. We carried out plans. You were there! I want to know if you are willing to make that commitment again. We can do right by the people and create order, rather than instill chaos. Do you agree?”
Kremina scoffed. She crossed her arms over her chest.
Perhaps this was all well and good in Solstice and in the north and east, the Dominances like Chunar which had supported the Revolution from the get-go.
But it was different in the Southern Dominances like Adjar and Shaila.
Those governments had initially supported the Empire.
Without the defection of the collaborators they would likely still do so.
Perhaps in their own way they still did even after all of that.
Five years ago, Kremina would have trusted the council. Now? Never again.
“You and the Council went wild and used the fight against corruption to push all manner of atrocious reforms on us. We only agreed because we were outvoted. We had lost the reins of power the moment we cooperated with you in good faith. So you ask, am I willing to undergo that process again? No. I’m not willing to be fooled again.”
Councilman Yuba looked shaken again by her words.
“We did things democratically–” He began to whimper.
“Yes, yes, you outvoted us in the vote to strip our voting power. Very democratic. I’m sure it is no coincidence that the larger, more populous Southern Dominances and their Collaborators got proportional representation weeks before the fateful vote.”
“What’s done is done and sarcasm seems hardly helpful here.” Yuba evaded her eyes.
Kremina scoffed. She pointed forcefully at him, returning to the previous matter.
“You must at least agree to investigate the claims we are making!” She shouted.
“We are! We are investigating. We are investigating in the way that is legal to do.”
She knew exactly when an impasse had been reached, and there was nothing she could do now but to push at him. Kremina had very limited power. The KVW no longer had the ability to draft or even to vote on laws, and their suggestions had been falling on deaf ears or been actively undermined for years now. She only had one resource here.
The Special Order had deployed the KVW’s armed divisions across Solstice to inspect the work of the relatively new State Army and its constituent Battlegroups: with this action, she hoped the Civil Council, the far stronger half of the bicameral structure to which Yuba belonged, would take notice and feel pressured to reopen the issue on Demilitarization.
She saw the pressure building, but legislation had yet to come.
However, she had no powers right now other than to frighten the Councilor, so she stayed the course. She could play with his fear and the fear of the Southern regions.
“I would have loved for the Warden to not have to spy on your councilors and military commanders to sort out corruption and treason,” She said, grinning a little, picturing her own face contorted like that of a venomous snake tasting the air, “but I’m afraid that is not our current material reality. Five years ago we dealt with a rash of degenerates who sold our country and people out to Nocht. Substantively, those traitors and the people with authority in this country slowly cease to seem like separate entities.”
Yuba pulled on his tie a little, like Kremina’s words had started to choke him. “I agreed five years ago. I agreed with you during Akjer; and I have tried my hardest to bridge the wishes of your people with our own. I thought we agreed back then and right now.”
“I’m afraid we don’t. You think that by actively uncovering corruption, the same way we did five years ago, that we are the aggressors now. I don’t know what to think about how your perceptions have changed. While you stand there berating me, our enemies have begun making demands of us, threatening us; I thought we had a common foe here.”
Councilman Yuba readjusted his tie once again, and shook his head in frustration.
She would have loved to know what was happening in his head right then: why the things that made so much sense to her were like air, passing through his ears, around his brain and back out the other end. Perhaps the Liberals were no longer any different from the Collaborators. Perhaps they never were any different. Kremina sighed.
“Then it appears it is intractable.” He said. “I hope we can speak again soon.
Kremina smiled at him, and shook his hand as they readied to part ways.
“I understand. May the ancestors guide you to the correct path, Councilman.”
Kremina watched him disappear into his own private car, and felt like shooting him.
She wished back then, when the Council had proposed reforms, she had acted more strongly. After all, the KVW had killed all the traitors. What more reform could there be?
Trying to minimize bloodshed had hurt them back then; perhaps even further back.
Perhaps the Revolution should have gone on longer and been more brutal.
Even if the killing had dragged on for two years more, perhaps they should have kept fighting until all the opposition was buried underground. Perhaps there was simply no reforming them. Perhaps she had been naive. She had helped end the bloodshed by believing that the people fighting her could be agreed with, could be settled into a fair system for all. Though her people now had homes, and they ate every day, and they lived freely, slowly and surely she thought she could see their life endangered, from within and from without. She wondered if two more years of revolution, and a few million more of the right kinds of corpses, would have made Ayvarta a more united and secure place today.
She wondered if she should have died in the fight, rather than the negotiating table.
25th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E
Solstice Dominance – Solstice City Center
7 Days Since Generalplan Suden Zero Hour
Everyone was still reeling. On the 18th of the Aster’s Gloom, the world had changed.
There were people among the KVW who foresaw an invasion, but it was an abstraction to them. It was a subtext in the behaviors of their national neighbors that was not ever thought to mean “within days, there will be foreign troops on your soil.”
Now Admiral Kremina Qote was dealing with the immediate aftermath of a foreign invasion. Their borders had been shattered. In Adjar all military forces had fully retreated, opting to preserve their strength for a final apocalyptic duel in their one modern stronghold, the city of Bada Aso; and in Shaila, Battlegroup Lion fought every engagement they could, and ground to dust. Tukino was a foregone conclusion, and Knyskna would be next to fall.
The Nocht Federation, the seed of capitalism, had finally made good on the veiled threats, the saber-rattling it had begun before the ashes even settled on the Revolution.
A bright spot had gone mostly unnoticed at first: Madiha Nakar still held Bada Aso.
Kremina had been surprised to hear the name again. She felt a complex series of emotions toward Captain Nakar: shame, guilt, relief, hope. Nakar had a complicated past with them, moreso than she knew. When she heard of Kimani’s decision to hand Battlegroup Ox to her in the wake of Gowon’s execution she understood it perfectly.
Kremina and Daksha had immediately ordered Nakar be promoted to KVW Major in order to properly command Battlegroup Ox in Gowon’s place.
While the Council had been shocked by the appropriation of their forces by the KVW, they did not make it an issue with the Warden or the Admiral. Had they done bickered openly in a time of crisis it would have been farcical and draining on morale.
There were still whispers of discontent, but they were just that.
Now everyone was faced with the chaotic reality.
The Civil Council debated their strategies, including potential diplomacy with the hated enemy; Battlegroup Ox and Lion were largely left to conduct the war as their independent commands saw fit; the KVW quickly took stock of their options, of their future and role in this conflict, and their independent divisions joined in the fight where they could.
Meanwhile Solstice was in the midst of a great confusion, as the relationships between its frayed governments hadn’t the time to heal before the fighting began.
Everywhere the air carried a crippling doubt.
Would the Councils divided fall to Nocht?
In the morning of the 25th Admiral Qote woke uneasily with her face over a stack of folders atop her desk in the Commissariat of Naval Affairs in the People’s Peak.
Despite being Admiral of the Navy, as a member of the KVW and Military Council a lot of political information ran through her office in general, so she was working several jobs in it. She was not sharing a bed with Daksha through this crisis, although she desperately wanted to. She wanted those strong arms around her, wanted, selfishly, a night spent in desperate pleasure rather than hours of fitful sleep over a desk.
From the moment she woke she was on the phone.
She remembered that an evacuation report was due, and she rang up Transportation.
At the other end of the line, the man at the transportation department hurried to give her numbers. She was cautiously optimistic. In Shaila 60% of the population had been evacuated; in Adjar, 40%, but it was to be expected since Nakar never fought delaying actions in Adjar before Bada Aso. So far so good; it wasn’t a total disaster.
Broken down, the numbers were a little more hopeful. 70% of heavy industry, including 90% of military-related industry, in Shaila had been evacuated thanks to the delaying actions of Battlegroup Lion. With Ox in full flight, only 50% of industry escaped in Adjar, but that which could not be taken had been successfully destroyed.
In the end 80% of industry, one way or another, had avoided falling into Nocht’s hands. 70% of agricultural product had been withdrawn from Shaila, and 50% in Adjar. The Adjar numbers were a little deceptive, however, because Madiha Nakar had ordered that food in the Bada Aso region be stockpiled to support the fighting, and that amount was not “lost” yet. Civilian numbers, however, were less rosy. Focus had fallen on crucial resources, and only 40% of ordinary civilians in general had escaped the fighting in time.
Kremina pressed the tips of her fingers against her face, rubbing her.
She was pale, pale even for her, sickly. Her head was pounding. From her desk she withdrew a pill bottle, and swallowed dry a small white stimulant drug.
She waited until its effects kicked in.
Phones rang nonstop across the building and the chattering over them was like a song dedicated to their dire situation. People ran through the halls, there were never not lines of bodies moving across her door, and the stomping of their feet was ceaseless.
Never since the elections five years ago had Kremina witnessed so much activity in the building. Even the initiated KVW agents, constituting the overwhelming majority of her staff, acted with a frenetic, anxious pace that betrayed a hint of fear, one that would have never shown on their impassive faces. From the orderlies to the officers everyone worked in a mute panic, as though by their effort they could sway the battles being waged.
Over the next few minutes Kremina’s head cleared, and she felt more alert.
A doctor assigned her the prescription days ago when she broke down from shock.
Across the room she heard a tapping sound and raised her eyes from the desk.
At the door was an older woman, smiling gently at Kremina.
Long-haired and dark-skinned, tall and broad-shouldered, slight hints of crow’s feet and those amber eyes that seemed to glow with life. A radiant character, a goddess; this was the Daksha Kansal that Kremina knew. She closed the door to the office behind her, and leaned over the desk, brushing her lips on Kremina’s own, holding her chin, caressing her neck as they kissed. It was too brief, the sensation gone too soon.
“How are you? You haven’t had any more shocks have you?”
Daksha was worried for her. They held hands over the desk, fond of each other’s touch.
“No, I am fine. Thank you. How are things on your end?” Kremina said.
“Coffee is the only thing flowing through my veins at this point.”
They locked eyes, knowing that they each shared the same confused mix of emotions: joy and passion, trepidation and despair, anger and helplessness, all mixed into one.
The chaos that had stricken their land seemed only to amplify the longing they had to be together and open. When Solstice was attacked; if Solstice was attacked, could they die together, holding hands? Or far apart, never knowing what became of the other?
These personal worries joined the professional and patriotic crisis burdening their minds, and to silently hold hands and quietly empathize was all they could do to endure.
Kremina and Daksha were the two highest-ranking, most powerful people in the armed forces, the Warden of the KVW and the Admiral of the Navy, connected enough to speak for the other organizationally. Terribly in love; but with an equally terrible fear of making that as public as their titles. Could they make their union known in these conditions?
Daksha was the first to let go; she was always the more focused, blunt one of the two.
“I’ve called for a meeting with the Council.” She said. “I’m going to confront them.”
“I see.” Kremina said. “I figured you would do so eventually.”
“I need you to be there with me. Someone has to be there to look sane.”
Kremina grinned a little. “Of course.”
“Glad to have you with me.” Daksha said, caressing Kremina’s cheek.
Several hours later, much of the Council was arranged in a meeting room on the third floor of the People’s Peak, a circular room with a sunburst painted on the roof. It was thought to keep people focused, but that was a bit of theoretical psychology Kremina did not trust. She had seen more than her fair share of dozing in this room. It was a fateful place for all of them. Five years ago, she had failed miserably to stop part of the sequence of events that led to their situation. As she stood in this room, surrounded by these people, with Yuba at their head, it felt too much like the unforeseen Demilitarization vote that Kremina had lost. She carried that guilt with her whenever she stepped inside.
And yet, Daksha still relied on her. They stood proudly, side by side under the doorway.
“The Council is honored to host the Warden of the KVW and Admiral of the Navy.”
A gavel sounded, stricken against the table by the Republican Guard, special police that were assigned to protect Council meetings and other political events.
Odd as it seemed, the calling was procedure, even if Daksha had instigated the meeting. Whenever it met, it was the Council that called to order and called for guests to appear before it, and never acknowledged to be the other way around. Kremina pulled a chair away from the table and sat, while Daksha remained standing nearby.
She never wanted to sit with the Council, and they played along.
“The Council acknowledges Daksha Kansal. Please make your statements.”
“Enough with the formalities.” Daksha said brusquely. “Are you really planning to open diplomacy with Nocht? After they invaded us in an undeclared conflict that has already claimed thousands of lives, and climbing by the moment?”
The Council was silent. Its members seemed to struggle to offer a reply.
“All options are open to us to end the bloodshed.” Yuba bravely said.
“The KVW categorically refuses diplomacy with Nocht! I will talk with Nocht once I have ground their bodies to powder and summoned their wailing spirits, and I will ask them if they have gone to Hell, for surely it is where they belong! That is my conviction!”
As one the Council members shook their heads and grasped their faces.
“If this is going to be the tone of this meeting we will have to adjourn.”
Just off Yuba’s side at the head of the table was a man much older than anyone around, ten years even Kremina’s senior. Arthur Mansa, a native Ayvartan and a speaker for the Collaborator faction, a big, thick, powerful-looking man with a heavily weathered face, a thick gray beard and a last ring of frizzy hair around his otherwise bald head.
He had lived to serve the Empire, to serve capitalist industry, and finally, to extend his life, he had even committed to serve socialism. Yet he had never been at gunpoint. His faction in Adjar had been one of the few militarily successful parts of the anti-communist opposition. Yet, they were the first to come willingly, to lay down arms.
After the flames of war turned to smoke, he was one of the men at the negotiating table with the least demands on the communists. Always the most pragmatic, the most reasonable. He conceded much and requested little or nothing in return. He was an old patriarch, somehow still alive in a new society. Kremina was wary of him.
“You can run away all you like, that won’t help the situation.” Daksha replied to him.
“I have never run away. I have always acted under the law of the land.” Mansa calmly replied. “I have always respected the rulers of the land. That is the utmost bravery. You have been carrying out extrajudicial justice, killing those inconvenient to you, so that you do not have to face the criticism of your peers. I will repeat for our comrades: she has sanctioned extrajudicial killing in our land. She performs this barbarity without fear.”
Warden Kansal was visibly irate, pushing her fist against her chest and screaming. “Extrajudicial? What is extrajudicial is your tolerance of cronyism and exploitation! You who allow your councils to go above the labor unions, using our soldiers to appropriate material and extract wealth in secret! These people went above my command and slashed training times, cut resources, illegally transported viable weaponry to be “serviced” Gods know where, disappeared materiel, likely to be sold in Mamlakha or Cissea or Bakor or the Higwe; they have betrayed our fighting men and women! Death is the most merciful punishment they could have gotten! They should have faced a freezing Svechthan gulag!”
She swiped her arm in front of her and pointed her finger across the table.
“And you, you come here in this time of war, to defend them? To defend Nocht?”
“I’m not defending Nocht. You’re losing control again Warden.” Mansa replied. “Be reasonable to us. You have demonized us from the first, but we have gone to great lengths to try to reconcile. These old feuds have no bearing on our current problems.”
Daksha gritted her teeth as though she were biting Mansa’s flesh between them.
“This all happened under your pathetic watch! Isn’t it convenient – the ‘Civil’ council controlled by collaborators who supposedly renounced capitalism and made a show of their conversion to socialism to survive the revolution, and here you are twenty years later. What do I find you ignoring? What do I find, growing like mold under the edifice this revolution built for the people? And I’m the radical, the criminal? I’m the one shunted to a seemingly powerless ‘Military Council’ whose actions are deemed extremist? To hell with all of you!”
Admiral Qote crossed one arm over her breast and raised a hand over her face, unable to keep her eyes on the scene. Several council members seemed to turn to her to control the Warden, but she had completely abdicated the discussion.
“I have always known your true character! But it has never been more open than now.”
Mansa sighed. “Is ad hominem what you convened us for, Warden? This is childish.”
Daksha laughed, an angry, bitter, hateful laugh.
“I’m through with all of you. Summon me again when you are ready to fight Nocht.”
In the next instant Warden Kansal snapped her fingers in the air.
It was a much louder sound than it should have been, as though echoing across the city.
At once, the Republican Guards police saluted her, and left their position behind the head of the table. They walked around the edges of the room and departed, their expressionless faces betraying no hint of emotion, no hesitation.
Council members stood up, as though expecting an attack, but they noticed that in the adjacent halls, the police and guards were all leaving the building, making no threatening move. Confusion reigned over the meeting for several minutes.
Warden Kansal and Admiral Qote said nothing.
Eyes darted between the two women and the halls as the trickle of police and guards seemed to leave the premises entirely, headed spirits know where, all marching in step. Out the window, councilmen and women could see police and guards leaving all of the nearby buildings in the City Center, joining an eerie parade in the middle of the street.
“What have you done, Warden? Is this a coup?” Yuba cried.
Kansal laughed and clapped her hands. “Is that what you fear so much, Councilman? Is that why you turn your backs on our people, and give up to Nocht? No, you pathetic coward. I am recalling all of the KVW. No longer will I defend you or be complicit in your actions. This includes Police, Republican Guard, the Revolutionary Guards, the Navy, and 10 divisions of independent KVW troops. We will fight Nocht as much as we can without you. I will not seek to overthrow you. We have agreements and laws – a couple regrettable ones, to be sure, but I will not violate them. Our people need stability. They need to know that the structures that have cared for them all these years remain intact. I will uphold that.”
She turned around and walked out of the door.
But before leaving, she looked back into the room at the stunned council.
“Like I said, when you want to fight Nocht, you know where I am,” she said and then she joined the great march of the KVW agents, as they took to the streets, having been given an inviolable command to vacate their positions and return to where their loyalty truly lay. The Council stood in silence, watching from the windows as the parade vacated the City Center. Kremina pushed up her glasses and stayed in her seat.
This had come as a shock to her as well.
She had not foreseen that Daksha would use the contingency.
It was no wonder that she had aggressively lobbied for the conditioning of the Police and the Republican Guard five years ago. It not only protected the state from traitors: it gave her a prop for this sort of theatrics. Few people knew, but the KVW agents’ training instilled loyalty to the KVW first and foremost; and not just to the state.
On that table, however, there was one man who had gone unmoved. Mansa.
He was still staring at where Daksha stood, and where Kremina sat.
“Admiral, you know your last hope is Bada Aso, correct? That is why you sent her.” He said. “She is the last hope of legitimacy that you possess. We are all watching her. And we do not intend to let you use her again as you have before. I intend to speak with her when she returns, if she returns. You will have her by your side no longer.”
Kremina did not reply. She grinned lightly, adjusted her glasses, and acted cryptic. When the meeting was adjourned, she stood up from her chair and left, wondering what made Mansa so sure that Madiha Nakar would side with him.
Perhaps it was his old stubborn foolishness.
Or perhaps it was his true colors.
NEXT CHAPTER in Generalplan Suden — Stoking Hell’s Fire