The Councils Divided (7.1)

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.

Hujambo, Madiha!”

Hujambo, Chakrani.”

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.”

Chakrani sighed.

“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.

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