Kansal’s Ambition (24.5)

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This story segment contains some mild drug use.

 

10th of the Postill’s Dew, 2003 D.C.E

Adjar Dominance — City of Bada Aso

4 Years Before The Ayvartan Revolution

27 Years Before The Solstice War

In the basement of a fine clothes atelier in the great city of Bada Aso a secret printing press noisily churned out illegal pamphlets and newspapers denouncing industrial farmers, the regional guard, the imperial authority, and, at times, the other illegal publications.

The Zaidi socialists of southern Ayvarta were fast applying the lessons of the Svechthan revolution. An official newspaper was a valuable tool for disseminating information to committed socialists and building socialist conscience in an undecided and unknowing proletariat. In Adjar, Dori Dobo had its Zaidi newspaper, Sitara, running for two years now.

In Bada Aso the struggle was still comparatively young, and the Union Banner stumbled up the basement steps of the atelier and out into the streets at an inconsistent pace, with an inconsistent page count and inconsistent personalities. That was all soon to change.

Through the glass door of the shop, an odd pair walked in. There was a pretty, dainty woman, barely taller than a young teen, complexion pale as a ghost’s, boasting ice-blue eyes and long blue hair, and a dress fine enough to hang on one of the mannequins in the atelier; beside her stood a tall woman, brown skinned, broad shouldered, hair cut short, wearing what would be considered a man’s ensemble vest, jacket and pants, along with a plain black fedora.

She was carrying an ordinary leather suitcase with her.

A young woman greeted them from behind a desk. She had her dark hair done into numerous luxuriant curls and her bronzed skin heavily flushed with cosmetics. Her eyes glanced at the suitcase but did not linger — she made eye contact with them quickly. “Welcome to Atelier Soie! We carry the finest fashions from Franz. My name is Genevieve. How may I help you?”

First they exchanged pass phrases. “Do you carry anything snakeskin? Hydra perhaps?”

Genevieve was all smiles. “Only for the valued customers.” She winked at the pair.

“Daksha Kansal.” The tall woman tipped her fedora at the girl, who giggled pleasantly.

“I must say, for a lady, I can only think to describe you as handsome.” Genevieve said.

“Her lady-ness only accents her handsomeness. I am Lena Ulyanova,” replied the Svechthan.

“I was informed of your arrival. You may head on down the back.” Genevieve said. “Unless this charming rogue wishes to keep me company on a lonely shift.” She smiled at Daksha.

“I’ll be just as charming in thirty minutes.” Daksha wryly said. Genevieve giggled again.

Lena gently nudged Daksha with her elbow, and the pair walked around the mannequins and sewing machines and took a door down to the basement steps. They descended into a room lit only by a few electric bulbs hanging from their cables, and sectioned off by large leather and fur and linen curtains hung as if to dry from a network of cables. Behind several such makeshift screens, they found the printing press in a corner along with the rolls of paper to be fed into it, and the front desk of their impromptu editorial office, currently presided over by two men.

“Ah, the central committee finally send someone to bail us out? Pity we couldn’t take over the big city ourselves.” Said the older of the men. He had black skin and curly brown hair that escaped from under his fedora, and a good suit. He spoke leisurely and seemed relaxed. “Name’s Bastogne. At least, that’s this week’s name. Sorry about the mess — we had to move this thing from a butcher shop a few days ago. It still reeks of offal, in my opinion.”

“I’m the new editor-in-chief, Lena Ulyanova.” Lena said, taking his declarations in good humor. She reached out a hand and she shook it softly. “Who is this young man with you?”

Bastogne hooked his arms around a skinny, bespectacled bronze-skinned youth with a bashful expression and slick dark hair. He avoided eye contact until Bastogne lifted his chin and pushed his cheeks up. He didn’t struggle — he looked permanently unamused, however.

“He’s our largely inanimate main writer. Introduce yourself for ancestor’s sakes.”

Cologne,” he said, “that’s my fake name when we got in here anyway. My pen name is Malinovsky. Trying to pretend like it’s Svechthans running this– did I pronounce it right?”

Lena smiled. “You did! I didn’t think knowledge of it would disseminate so quickly.”

“Well it has been a few years, and you are our inspiration in the struggle.” Malinovsky said.

“I’m glad to hear it. I look forward to reading your work, Malinovsky. My companion and protege here, Daksha, will write for us as well. She’s become quite a scribbler lately, and has no end of fire to deliver against the bourgeoise.” Lena said, gesturing to her pupil at her side.

Daksha had checked out of the conversation a while ago; she was examining the press instead.

On form factor alone, their press was laudable: it was a fairly small unit, capable of being taken apart and carried off in a hurry if necessary. In their line of work this was a great boon. However it came with the obvious drawback that a small press could only print a limited amount each day. Daksha knew enough about presses from her previous jobs in Dori Dobo to know that they would not be making the Union Banner a daily paper with this machine.

However it could certainly print enough for a workweek edition and a crucial Seventhday paper for the whole city of Bada Aso; six big pages, five or six articles, and some poetry or comedy.

Daksha set the suitcase down on the desk and undid the catches holding it closed. Inside were a few envelopes. She fished out a specific, larger envelope and tore it open. She handed Bastogne the manuscript and quickly began to explain its significance to him. “My first article; since I knew I would be moving from Dori Dobo soon I wrote about something universal, the character of a socialist state compared to a capitalist one. I’ll start researching for some more local articles soon, but since you seem hard-up for writing you can print that front-page.”

She had spoken very quickly and precisely, with a casual confidence that awed the room.

“Wow! A real firebrand.” Bastogne laughed. Malinovsky looked mortified for a moment.

“Oh ho ho; of course Daksha would come prepared.” Lena said, patting her pupil in the back.

“What’s in the rest of these?” Malinovsky said, picking one up with slightly shaking hands.

“Money to fund our operation.” Daksha said. “I gathered it. There’s 10,000 shells.”

Malinovsky dropped the envelope and scrambled a few steps away as if it was alive.

“That’ll keep us printing for a good while indeed.” Bastogne said. “How’d you get it?”

“Some of it was donated.” Daksha glanced at Lena, who smiled back. “Some expropriated.”

“Expropriated?” Malinovsky asked. “You mean stolen, but from whom?”

“People who deserved to be stolen from. I made personally sure.” Daksha sharply replied.

Malinovsky turned slowly away and stared at the wall as though in deep contemplation.

“Lad’s still new to all this, but he’s a pretty good writer.” Bastogne said softly.

“Have you got anything coming in?” Daksha asked, addressing the brooding young man.

“Not at the moment.” Malinovsky replied. He avoided eye contact, fidgeting with his glasses.

Daksha sighed. “Can you write filler material? Poetry? Write six or seven worker’s poems, about hard labor and bad bosses and such; something to get people riled up for a fight.”

“I don’t know. I can try.” Malinovsky said. He certainly didn’t seem the type to rile up.

“They don’t have to be great.” Daksha said. “They’ll be part of the back matter. I’ve got a few contacts who may be willing to submit articles, or I can write more. We should be ready–”

“You’d think she was the editor and not me.” Lena interrupted. Bastogne burst out laughing.

“Indeed! She’s taking the reigns right from the hands of all of us old-timers.” He said.

“I’m sorry.” Daksha said. She hadn’t been aware of how enthusiastically she was talking over everyone. “I meant no disrespect Comrade Ulyanova, I am just thinking that–”

“I understand! You’re excited. Big city, big work, girls already going after you.”

Daksha blushed; now it was her turn to grow bashful and avert her eyes. In turn Malinovsky looked like he wanted to be buried under the earth to avoid all this conversation.

Lena patted her cheerfully on the back, and hooked her arm around to pull her close.

“Let me handle the drudgery Daksha,” she said, “you focus on your specialties, alright?”

“Yes ma’am. Speaking of,” she grinned, “I don’t want to keep a lady waiting.”

 

57th of the Dahlia’s Fall, 2004 D.C.E

Adjar Dominance — City of Bada Aso

Bada Aso was moving into the Aster’s Gloom, but it had not yet experienced the seasonal rains. They began irregularly, anywhere from the end of the Dahlia’s Fall to the start of the Hazel’s Frost. On the night of the 57th the sky was clear enough to count the stars and a fresh breeze blew across the streets carrying a hint of salt from the sea. It was a cool, bustling night.

Daksha waited for a contact in a dance hall off Penance road, sitting in a curtained-off booth table. While the singers and dancers gave it their all on stage and the couples on the floor stepped, kicked and twirled energetically to the beat, she drank old warm rice wine with a rough, woody taste and stared. She had bought a 2-liter bottle of the stuff to keep her busy.

Her social life could be exciting when she wanted it to, but lately she had been focusing on bigger things. The Union Banner; the Social-Democrats and the Anarchists and other groups bent on change; and plans for a few more expropriations. The Ayvartan Revolution couldn’t survive solely on Lena’s money — especially when she had given away most of her wealth and bourgeois status when the Svechthan revolution was completed and secured 4 years ago.

She didn’t want Lena to go through more difficulty — she felt that this was her responsibility. It was her country, and her people, and she should be the one handling the affairs here.

Early on she asserted her independence and initiative and it was paying off now.

A military contact was risky, but Daksha was confident in her ability to make a play.

She had agreed to meet in the booth, but Daksha keep peeking outside. It paid off eventually. She found her contact walking aimlessly toward the bar and into the dance floor. She was a woman with sand-colored skin and wavy, black hair tied into a high ponytail. She wore her naval uniform to the meeting, the fool; thankfully she had none of her pins or medals.

She turned her head and finally spotted the booth. Daksha waved her over and they sat together. She was good-looking; an understated, casual beauty. She was not a foreigner. Daksha was sure she was a Zungu Ayvartan. Judging by the tips of her ears, perhaps part-Lubonin. But she could be part-Nochtish too. For Zungu of long lines, it was hard to tell.

“Spirits defend, did Malinovsky not tell you to look discrete?” Daksha said.

“This is discrete! I’m sorry, I recently came ashore, and I’ve no civilian clothes.”

“Fine. But if we are to meet again, you’ll get a dress or a pants suit or something.”

Her new contact nodded her head. Daksha laid against the plush seating with her hands behind her neck, stretching. She’d had a couple drinks already, but they had little effect on her.

They sat in silence for a moment, sizing each other up. The naval officer decided to be friendly.

“Chief Warrant Officer Kremina Qote,” the woman said, extending her hand. Daksha shook it. “Logistics, Core Ocean Fleet. It is a pleasure to meet you. Pen name Shacha, right?”

“Corporal Shacha.” Daksha said playfully. It was one of her identities, at least.

“I didn’t know you were infiltrated in the army.” Kremina whispered.

“Do I look like I’m in the army right now? I go in and out as it suits.”

“I see. You’re every bit the mysterious rogue I thought I’d find.”

Kremina sat back in the booth, drumming her fingers on the table.

Daksha looked her up and down. She looked genuine. Nervous, but genuine.

“So, let us sort out our affairs. You’re willing to risk everything to spy on the navy. Why?”

“You inspired me.” Kremina said. “I first read your primer on the agricultural exploitation in Dori Dobo in the summer last year, and then I also read your Topic Of 14-AG, where you laid out various points against the army and government and the Empire. It dawned on me that I was not protecting our people in the navy — I am part of a government causing harm.”

“I see!” Daksha smiled. She took a sip of rice wine, and she felt terribly flattered. Though she tended to have a dim view of her own writing, she was proud of the Topic Of 14-AG. Even the curmudgeonly Social Democrats and the professional contrarians in the Anarchists had given her a hat tip for that piece, and it had made her a name in the city. To hear that it had turned a naval officer turncoat delighted her. She never expected it to be half as useful as that!

She poured from the bottle of rice wine and pushed the glass across the table with her fingertips. Kremina took it in hand and shook the ice up but seemed reluctant to drink.

“Alcohol not part of your aesthetic?” Daksha said.

“I can’t drink, I’m technically on duty–”

Daksha put her hand over her mouth to stifle laughter.

“You’re not on duty. Drink up and then tell me about good ships to rob.”

Kremina took a sip, and it loosened up her lips; she both smiled and started to talk.

Daksha’s main interest these days, aside from the paper, were expropriations. But stealing money that then had to be hidden or converted or otherwise quickly disposed of was troublesome. She had started thinking instead about stealing weapons and ammunition — things that could be distributed and used in the struggle. They had pistols and shotguns and vermin guns and even a few guardsman battle rifles but more would be good.

Bombs were a particular item on her wish list. She could do a lot with a good bomb.

She was thinking that with the proper information, a sea heist could prove lucrative. If they knew what armaments ships bound from Lubon to strike, they could potentially make off with modern automatic weapons bought from abroad to suppress the Empire’s enemies. Hit the ship in the right location, and they could toss the cargo overboard and dive for it later or rush it out to uninhabited islands and pick it up again at their leisure. It was a reckless plan, but if they had someone on the inside it was possible, and could yield a great reward.

Perhaps it was the liquor, but the more they spoke, the more Kremina grew quite confident that she could deliver a ship of increasing size to Daksha’s hands. First a merchant, then a frigate, then a destroyer, and soon Kremina was laughing and promising a Battleship would go turncoat and help Daksha bombard Bada Aso’s police stations to pieces for the struggle.

“I swear, on that handsome face of yours!” Kremina chuckled. “I’ll get y’the fleet!”

Daksha smiled and patted her in the back and, ultimately, took her over her shoulder and walked her out of the booth. All of the energy had drained from her, she was holding her hand to her mouth, limping along, turning frightening pale. Daksha propped her up and carried her out the door of the dance hall and into the street. It was long past midnight.

She looked out to the street, and found a pair of bayonets pressed to her neck.

From both sides of the building a dozen police officers appeared as if from thin air, armed to the teeth with bayonets, rifles, clubs, leather jerkin armor over their uniforms, black masks. They looked like they were readying to fight an army rather than some buzzed women.

Several years ago after murdering a man and setting alight his house, Daksha had imagined what she might have felt if caught in the act by the police. She thought she might have died on the spot, died at the feet of the guards, her heart collapsing by the weight of sin.

Dimly (perhaps it was the liquor) she congratulated herself on the fact that her reaction was one more mildly annoyed than desperately mortified. She smiled at them.

Knowing she was outnumbered, she absentmindedly held out her hands to be cuffed.

Kremina fell to the floor, dead drunk, spittle trickling from between her lips.

“I can take ’em. Lemme at the pigs. For socialism.” She moaned from the ground.

 

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