52nd of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E
Tambwe Dominance, City of Rangda — 8th Division Base, HQ
For reasons unknown to the troops a high alert alarm and a quick deployment order were issued to the 1st Motor Rifles, and deep into the night the soldiers found themselves suiting and dressing up, gathering their rifles, machine guns and explosives. They stood in attention at their barracks, at the training field, and across the road to the depots. Rangda’s official gate guards for the base were disarmed and detained for security reasons, and replaced with reliable Gendarmes attached to the Regiment.
Hobgoblin tanks began to patrol the base. Anti-aircraft guns and spotlights were trained skyward against possible bombardment. Chimeras, Giants and the Regiment’s organic towed artillery prepared themselves for the possibility of enemy indirect fires that would need to be spotted, tracked and countered. Trucks lined up in case a strike was ordered — or an evacuation. Thousands of troops undertook the deployment they had been training for days now to swiftly perform, under the circumstances they feared the most.
And though they had expected to hear the voice of the Colonel delivering this fateful order and perhaps offering words of encouragement, it was instead a hasty command from Chief Warrant Officer Parinita Maharani, whose voice nearly cracked during the address.
Little did they know the stress she was going through and the dire reasons behind it.
“She hasn’t reported back at all!”
Unlike the rising troops, the 1st Regiment Headquarters was wracked by a lack of doctrine and planning. They knew what to do in any situation but the one they were currently experiencing. Padmaja and Bhishma sleepily monitored the radio and looked out the window for any signs of friendly troops come to deliver messages — or arriving undesirables bringing ordnance. There was no paucity of movement. Minardo paced the room behind Parinita, who was stomping back and forth in circles so often she seemed to be cutting a line on the floor. Her face and eyes were turning redder by the second.
It was well past midnight. Madiha had not yet returned.
Were they to engage in hostilities the 1st Regiment would do so effectively leaderless.
Parinita spent most of her words on self-flagellation and few to give orders.
“I knew this was a bad idea!” Parinita shouted. She twirled a lock of her hair around her index finger and bit into the tip of another finger. “I should have never agreed to it. I should have told her to send a letter to that monstrous trollop telling her off! I should have been pushy and jealous, I shouldn’t have been so quick to be the good one here–”
Minardo reached out a hand to Parinita’s shoulder and stopped her.
Parinita looked over her shoulder, nearly weeping.
“You’ll be ill-positioned to help her if you panic now.” Minardo said.
Her hand was shaking on Parinita’s shoulder. She was worried too. They all were.
“Madiha swore Chakrani wasn’t up to anything. But look at all this!” Parinita said.
She pointed out the window. Minardo did not seem to know what to look at.
“The Colonel can take care of herself. I doubt she will have gone down easily.” Minardo replied, trying to calm the situation. “I’d wager if anyone tried to catch her she would run into the city. She has the most strategic mind I’ve ever known. Trust her, Maharani.”
“With the city coming under lock-down how can we even find out?” Parinita shouted.
Minardo shook her head.
Parinita thrust her fists up into the air and resumed her feverish pacing.
There was a noise at the door.
Every pair of eyes turned immediately to face it.
Padmaja rushed out from behind her table and threw open the front.
From behind the door, Kali pranced into the room with her head held up high.
In her mouth, she had a rat.
Once the momentary suspense faded, everyone resumed their rising panic.
Kali glanced across the room.
She dropped the rat on the floor and pushed on it with her head.
Nobody seemed to pay her any attention. Everyone was too busy fretting.
Recognition dawned upon her eyes. She seemed to realize who was missing.
In the next instant Kali leaped onto Padmaja’s table and charged toward the window.
She thrust through the frame like a rocket, smashing the glass and tearing apart the wood and concrete and flying out into the night sky. In seconds she had become a distant blur that no human eye could track. Under the moonless sky she disappeared.
Parinita and Minardo stood at the smashed window, perplexed.
“We just had this repaired!” Padmaja cried out.
Nobody quite knew what to do but to pray. The 1st Regiment was in many ways an extension of its commander. Only she could decide how they would fight right now. They were like an infant without a parent. Perhaps with the skill to walk; but no direction to go.