Tambwe Dominance — Rangda City, 8th Division Garrison
Inside the headquarters, two desks were arranged on the left side of the room for Parinita and Minardo to use, while Madiha’s desk had been set near the back of the building. Tables on the right side of the room would hold their equipment, when it became available, and a chair had been arranged for every piece of furniture. They had curtains, tablecloths, and had stocked every desk with paper, ink, pens, staplers, and other necessities.
Though it was not yet much of a headquarters, their little square home at the end of the flag park was at least more of an office now than it was an empty, abandoned lot.
Outside the headquarters, Corporal Kajari and Sergeant Chadgura lay on the grass, their arms and legs stretched out, staring quietly skyward, sapped of their youthful vigor. They gasped for air, rivulets of sweat trailing down their faces and soaking their clothes. Neither of them said a word, though Chadgura’s lips were moving as if mumbling.
Kali lay between them, quietly purring as it took a mid-morning rest.
As she walked past the morning’s heroines, Madiha thanked the two of them.
Parinita waved goodbye, seated beside the collapsed soldiers, fanning them.
Accompanied by Minardo, Madiha was headed deeper into the base to look for that most essential item that they needed before their building could be called a headquarters. The Garrison was like its own developed neighborhood within Rangda, and she was sure that if she looked around enough she could find a spare radio to take with her.
Minardo led her around with a smile on her face and a spring in her step, pointing out every amenity that the soldiers had at their disposal, and explaining the layout.
Directly beyond the gates was the barracks area, containing living spaces, the administration building, water towers, food canteens, showers, indoor training facilities, and the hospital. Madiha’s flag park and its HQ building straddled a largely empty quadrant of base territory that had been mostly demolished. With the reduction of Divisions from 20,000 soldiers to 10,000, a whole chunk of the base was unnecessary. In its place a training field was meant to be put up, but it was never quite completed. Only a rudimentary track had been laid.
“At least we’ll be able to use the territory without any fuss then.” Madiha said.
“Exactly! You can run over those empty lots all you like, Colonel! You can have 3000 trainees all doing jumping jacks at the same time on the empty space.” Minardo said.
Beyond the barracks area, there was a second fence with its own gate.
This partition encircled a long area of paved land bisected by a broad concrete road. Along the road stood a series of shuttered depots and square, flat-topped rectangular buildings resembling the barracks buildings. These, Minardo explained, were meant to house officers, mechanics and quartermasters. In the depots within the same area, the 8th Division’s equipment was kept in storage and sparsely maintained in peace time.
“Why are they separated like that?” Madiha asked. Back in Adjar there was a regulation that ammunition could not be stored within 500 meters of a living space, but other than that there was no similarity. The level of security at this garrison was almost paranoid.
“There was a mutiny four years ago.” Minardo said.
“A mutiny? Four years ago?” Madiha’s mind ground to a halt.
Minardo nodded. “A war hero here was indicted in Rangda’s Akjer investigations. He had been found smuggling in Ayvartan exiles from abroad. He would fly them in covertly through Bakor; back then, we leased and maintained air fields there to test long distance overseas flights. He confessed that he had friends in the former Whites and he just wanted them to return to their homelands so they could live peacefully. He was a naive old fool in that way.”
Madiha could hardly process what she was being told. Bad memories triggered in her brain.
“He was taken in.” Minardo said, filling in the silence. “His popularity and service saved him from execution, but he was stripped of his rank and put under house arrest. However his very arrest triggered riots among his followers. They took up arms, but they didn’t do anything serious, and eventually he calmed them down. Once everything had passed, the depots were fenced out from the soldiers to prevent that from happening again.”
Madiha stared at her in disbelief. She had never heard of a mutiny happening anywhere in the Socialist Dominances of Solstice, though she had to admit it was not beyond the realm of possibility. Especially in the case Minardo made here. People followed people and their ideologies, good or bad. They put those people first. A lot of seemingly good people were revealed to have very dangerous ideologies during the Akjer Incident.
Certainly many heroes were found to be warring secretly for the imperial powers during the Akjer treasons. Madiha knew first-hand. She had investigated and condemned many.
“Were you caught up in it?” Madiha asked. Minardo would have been here at that time.
“My loyalties were too tightly bound to someone else. But I could understand why those men and women did what they did. They bound up their identities in a hero whom they loved and trusted, who had made them what they were. It was hard to let go of that.”
There was a bad taste in Madiha’s mouth now; to think that, had the circumstances been any different, she might have had to come here and openly fight her own people. Had things escalated worse, surely Madiha would have heard of an “incident” in Rangda during the Akjer treason, and surely she would have been asked to help suppress it. She might have come here, and shot someone like Minardo. Just tiny drops of ink falling on the pages of history. Change one word here and there and horrible things could have resulted.
“Hero worship frightens me.” Madiha confessed. Like pressure releasing from a balloon, the words had come from her as way for the day’s anxieties to escape her chest. Riots started by a war hero; if Madiha made the wrong turn, would her own “followers” throw away everything just for her? Certainly they would. They had done so before in a way.
She, herself, had done so. Daksha, Kimani; she had her own heroes too.
It was strange and frightening. Would she betray socialism for them?
Minardo raised her head in respose. “It’s only as good as the hero being worshiped.”
Shaking her head hard to try to clear the sudden fog that she felt, Madiha approached the second gate. Minardo waved at the gate guard, who watched them stoically as they stood in front of the barrier. He did not raise his hand to wave back. Locked inside his post, he undid the mechanical lock on the gate with an electrical signal, and rolled back the triple-layer chain links topped with barbed wire that barred entry to the depots and officer quarters.
“Not too friendly.” Madiha said, looking dejectedly back at the guard post.
Minardo kept smiling. “He takes his job seriously, I suppose.”
“Say, Minardo; were you part of the 8th Division before joining the reserve?”
Madiha asked this casually and thoughtlessly in the way they had said many things casually and thoughtlessly today. However, she could not have foreseen that out of all the topics they discussed and all the odd things exchanged this one would be quite dire.
In response the sergeant’s expression darkened. She never seemed to stop smiling, but the character of her smile now was very different. “Ah, well, I didn’t join the Reserve.” She said sweetly. “I was added to the Reserve, by someone who, indeed, was part of what became the 8th Division. Someone I trusted, who thought she was looking out for me. ”
Madiha swallowed her words and tried not to make any expression.
“That doesn’t answer your question though, and it’s not fair of me to lay on you, sorry.” Minardo said. She looked down at her own feet as they walked, as if she suddenly could not bear the sight of the surroundings. “I was part of, like I said, what became the 8th Ram Division. Back then it was the 5th Airborne Division of the 34th Army; before Battlegroups.”
“Airborne?” Madiha asked. “What happened to the planes?”
“Demilitarization happened. We were pioneering new parachute tactics, and that was seen as unnecessary and a waste. We would have become a frontline rifle division after reorganization, as you see here. I was seen as unworthy of such a position, I suppose.”
“I see. Everything has changed a lot here then.” Madiha said.
“Truth be told, I have no idea what’s happened. But this isn’t the place I called home.”
She started to walk faster, and made quite a leap ahead of Madiha before the Colonel started keeping up with the pace. The air in the Garrison had quickly turned poisonous.
Like most of the garrison, the strip of depots was a very empty place with the 8th Division at its front lines. The Divisonal HQ building, a tall monolith of bulletproof glass and thick cement, was shuttered and empty, with all of its staff and officers relocating to the combat area far, far south of Rangda. There was not a communications staff there to ask for a radio — all that remained of the Divisional staff were garrison service workers, guards and bureaucrats. Looking down the road at the identical lines of buildings, Madiha grunted.
“Keep going that way,” Minardo said, “inspect the depots, ask around. I’ve got an idea where I might be able to get some equipment too. We’ll meet up back at the HQ.”
“At the HQ?” Madiha asked.
“I might be a while. I’ll be looking for a needle in a haystack.”
Minardo turned on her heels and departed quickly on those mysterious words.
Madiha watched her go for a few minutes before turning around and heading down the depots herself. There was nobody in sight, as far down the road as she could see. Identical tin shutters blocked off identical tin and wood depot buildings standing on identical plots. Madiha swung her fists forward and back as she marched down one street, peering through dirty old windows into forgotten buildings and seeing nothing inside.
She reached the end of the depots, crossed the street, and went down the other row.
Halfway down the road she heard noises that sounded like machine tools.
Running down the way, she found the source of the noise, and pulled up the unlocked shutter on one of the depot buildings. Inside Madiha found a person working at a lathe, covered head to toe in protective gear, smoothing down a small and shiny metal piece. Also in the depot was a Gbahali car, a green open-topped scout car of the kind Madiha was very familiar with, having driven one herself in Bada Aso. It was raised on a platform, its engine hanging over the compartment on a mobile gantry crane, the hood popped open.
Relaxing in the gutted car was the young, reckless man from yesterday, Jota with a J. He laid on the back seat with his legs up on the side of the car, grinning ear to ear.
“Oh, hey, look who’s here? Morning, Colonel Nakar.” He said, raising a hand.
Madiha gave him a stern look. He had not made a good first impression on her.
At the lathe, the person in the protective suit pulled up their metal mask; behind the gear was a woman, pale-pink skinned with dark eyes and red hair and many freckles on her cheeks. Her hair was cut short, and once she stood up she seemed as tall as Madiha.
She saluted, but said nothing. She looked to Jota, who nodded at her.
“It’s fine, she’s authorized to be here. Finish up that cap, I want to ride.”
Nodding, the woman returned to the lathe.
Madiha felt that she was being given a cold shoulder, but held her complaints.
“I’m looking for a spare radio. Do you know where I can find one?” She asked.
“Nope.” Jota quickly replied. He looked at the woman. “Moira, you know anything?”
At the lathe the woman shook her head before spinning up the wheel again.
“Ok then! Answer’s ‘nope.'” Jota said, smiling at Madiha.
His tone of voice irritated her. It was as if he was delighting in her confusion. She was not a comrade to him, but a source of schadenfreude, or worse. She suppressed her reaction.
“How does this base keep contact with the Division on the front then?” She asked.
“It doesn’t. 8th’s all gone and it’s not coming back for a while, Colonel. This Garrison’s just a glorified hotel and soccer field for your regiment now.” Jota replied, chuckling.
“Does it usually take several days to get anything delivered here?” She pressed.
“Depends on who’s delivering and how you’ve treated ’em.” Jota said.
Madiha blinked. There was subtext there. “What is that supposed to mean?”
Jota’s self-satisfied tone of voice became brusque and serious for a moment.
“You don’t treat people right, Colonel. So they don’t treat you right back.”
“You mean Mansa, don’t you?” Madiha said. Jota had been there; he had pushed for her to meet Mansa, driven her there, and even tried to block the door when she walked out.
It was becoming clear to her that Jota wasn’t just any reckless driver.
He was one of Mansa’s men, moreso than he was one of Rangda’s men.
In response, Jota stared at her more directly than he had since she arrived.
“Hey, you said that, not me. But it shows where your head’s at. Cookin’ up some imagined sleight, I guess, just like you cooked up a few as the Right Hand of Death.”
“Excuse me?” Madiha shouted, too shocked to temper her responses anymore.
Jota was unfazed. He turned his back to her and put his feet over the front seat.
“You don’t treat people right, Colonel. See where that gets you.” He said cryptically.
Madiha was unused to feeling genuinely angry. Much of the time, she reserved her anger or redirected emotion from anger. She had a gift for turning things against herself — any anger she felt could easily turn into a disappointment or shame in herself, and she could then stifle it in sorrow. Such was the skill of a very hurting mind. There was nobody to be angry at for the longest time, save for herself. Not even Nocht had angered her much.
Since she had started piecing herself back, Madiha was bombarded with feelings. Shame and regret, her old friends, made way for alien things like a genuine sense of contentedness; laughter, and a sense of humor; love, and even sexual desire; and anger.
As she stood in that depot, framed by the door, staring at Jota with his legs up, and this Moira ignoring the whole thing too; Madiha felt a surge of genuine, horrific anger.
She felt like walking up to Jota and showing him he was not big. He was not bigger than her, not big enough to be making sport of her. She could show him what a small and weak man he really was. All it would take would be a moment of concentration and a snap of her fingers to toss a fireball in their midst that would burst like an incendiary. It would consume that pitiful car, that pitiful lathe, and vaporize both of these pitiful weaklings–
Madiha fought down these feelings. They were irrational and she knew it deep down.
Instead of acting on it she shut her eyes hard, as if that substituted for throwing a punch, and then she turned around and left their presence. She paced down the depot road, struggling not to turn back around, walk through the door and do something awful.
Madiha had bowed to fight that monstrous part of herself. She had to keep it under control.
But the temptation to use her “powers” grew with every frustration she felt.