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.