14th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E
Solstice Dominance – Solstice City Center
4 Days Before Generalplan Suden Zero Hour
Admiral Kremina Qote discreetly extricated herself from the arms of Warden Daksha Kansal, leaving her lady love sleeping soundly in the bed of their two-story house.
For many years they had covertly turned this building into their nest, though it was registered only for Daksha and the two of them barely lived in it: they mostly lived out of offices. In Admiral Qote’s own situation, she lived mostly off various fleet ships.
Theirs was a humble house, in a small suburb just off the heart of the Ayvartan political organism in Solstice Central. From the side of the bed, Kremina could look out the window and see the People’s Peak, the tallest building in Ayvarta, an office building where large meetings were held. That was Daksha’s real home as Warden of the KVW.
They had agreed to be careful and discrete about their love life.
Still, whenever an important meeting in the city pulled the Admiral away from her fleets in the major ports of Bada Aso, Guta, Chayat or Tamul, she could easily take time to be with her lover. Their love was older than the Socialist Dominances of Solstice that they had started to build 20 years in the past. It could survive a bit of distance.
Before the sun rose, Kremina left Daksha a little note, with sultry little things about the sex they’d enjoyed the previous night. She donned her uniform, adjusted her tie, and tied her long, half white and half black hair into a functional ponytail.
Watching her lover sleep, it was difficult to believe she was the leader of a revolution, the leader of a military force, the rock around which an entire people had risen up. She had on such a peaceful face when dreaming. Kremina could have looked at her all morning. But she threw on her jacket, blew her a kiss, and left the room and the house.
She had an important task. Outside, a KVW car was parked along the street.
A young man in a black uniform with red trim waited outside the car.
“Good morning, Admiral. Where shall we go today?” He said. His voice was near toneless as he opened the door for her and stepped aside to usher her in.
“Revolution Square.” Kremina replied.
He nodded, and circled around the car back to the driver’s seat.
Kremina almost felt a compulsion to tell the young man that he saw nothing; that he would say nothing; that nothing of this would be shared, that the privacy of her dealings with the Warden was paramount. She did not need to. He knew. Her driver was a KVW agent. He was expressionless, professional, a symbol of propriety and collectedness.
In the rear-view mirror, she briefly met his gaze, and saw the almost imperceptible red rings around the iris of his eyes. One could only see them if one was looking intently. In that empty-seeming stare, was the mark of his loyalty. His training had been long and intense, but in every way it had bettered him. He knew no doubt, no fear, no imprecision, and no disloyalty. It was what he wanted; and what he received.
For him, it was impossible to betray Kremina or Daksha. It had been guaranteed.
“Would you like to listen to the radio, Admiral?” He asked.
“Put on something traditional.”
The Agent turned the knobs on a large box installed on the front panel of the car. From a large speaker on the front of the box came the sounds of drums and communal chanting, backup instruments. Kremina sat back in the cushioned seats, closing her eyes and letting the music take. When a song she recognized came on she would sing with it. Foreigners liked to reduce the sound of Ayvartan music to the smashing of drums: but from the radio a complex sound came, with wind and xylophone instruments, and even string melody.
Most Ayvartan traditional music was played by many people, who both sang and played at once, producing a choral effect. It was the music of a community.
“Mark my words, someday all cars will have a radio.” Kremina said.
“If you say so; it was an expensive addition to the car.” The Agent replied.
Kremina smiled. “But don’t you love it? Having music for a long drive?”
“It did help with the waiting, once I had read all of my newspaper.” He replied.
“Ah, I apologize. I was inconsiderate to you in my rush to meet the Warden.”
“It is fine. Had I undergone another mission I would still have had to wait in front of someone’s house or in front of some other facility. It’s in the fine print for my work – ‘as a KVW driver, you will wait outside many exotic places with your car’.”
Kremina burst out laughing. KVW Agents could surprise her, despite everything.
While the music played the car left the suburb and turned a corner onto one of the streets around the City Center, leading out of the borough. Aside from a few public trolleys and private cars, the vehicle roads were uncrowded and easy to navigate.
Leisurely the driver took them around the Center, and a few blocks up to the next borough, closer to Revolution Square. Despite its importance and significance, this Park was not built in the Center along with the rest of the apparatus of government, but rather in the place where the first battles of the Revolution had been waged.
Solstice was known as the First Great City; but it had actually been built during the Ayvartan Empire. Underground, much of it was that old still. During the Empire a water system had been built to draw from sources to the north and east of the city that still worked quite well. All it had required was a change to modern kinds of pipes.
Above the surface Solstice was undoubtedly one of the most modern cities in the People’s State. Heavily rebuilt since the revolution, it was dominated by concrete buildings with clean faces and tiled, vaulted roofs. Smooth new concrete streets and asphalt roads linked the blocks and boroughs and districts of the city. Trees had been planted in recesses set into the rounded street corners. Parks and theaters and large, communal eateries and marketplaces had been raised where once stood the palaces of the aristocracy.
Much of the capitalist excess had been destroyed, though some of those buildings remained, re-purposed as museums, containing artifacts of the revolution and aristocracy; or as hostels, if they had enough rooms. Solstice was transformed according to science.
Some remnants of an even older past remained as well. As they drove into Gita, the borough adjacent to the Center on the north, they passed by the Our Lord of Mercy Messianic Church, a monolithic building, retained for its historical significance.
All of the intricate carving in the exterior, and the design of the interior, everything had been carved out of one stone. It was a piece of grey, looming history that was left untouched even as Messianic worship declined across the Socialist Dominances.
From the church the car moved onto a connecting road flanked by trees and green pitch from another nearby park that added color and recreational space to the city.
Without the obstruction of buildings Kremina easily saw the massive walls that surrounded the city, almost fifty meters tall, providing a ring of defense that had never been penetrated from without: during the Revolution the KVW took it from within.
Seeing the walls always briefly brought to mind the planning that she taken part in, so many years ago, when the Revolution began to grow like wildfire across a few days.
Solstice had been the goal of the revolution and the first place to fall.
Then came the deadly task of holding on to it and expanding.
There were several assets that came into play then. Of course, the walls; but also the wide Qural River that hugged that flowed from the north, curled around the east of the city, straddling the walls, and slashed farther east and south into the depths of the desert.
Due to the river, Solstice was an oasis in the middle of the Red Desert, and supported by the farming villages in the fertile north that supplied it with the food it required, the city stood as a fortress against the loyalist southern Dominances that resisted socialism.
It had been bloody and horrible fighting across several years since those deadly first days in Solstice. She had been largely removed from its most abominable battles.
After Solstice was taken, Admiral Qote never again had to fight a battle herself.
Kremina felt a bit of guilt about it still, a twenty-year old guilt.
She had planned many operations that annihilated her own people. Logistics was her strong suit. She had hardly picked up a gun to fight with her comrades.
Sometimes she wondered if there was really a point to what she did, if she served a useful purpose. What did a planner bring to the Revolution? What did a middle aged woman who was good with numbers and organization offer to the people’s struggle now? On what authority could she possibly organize other people to kill each other; what made her more qualified than they, to organize themselves? To decide to kill others?
She shook her head, shaking away those thoughts.
Everyone had doubts, nowadays.
It felt like a difficult wind had been ceaselessly blowing their way, and she did not know anymore whether she had secured a victory all those years ago, whether she had gotten what she wanted, what the people wanted. She was 50 years old. Back then she had not thought that she would live to see her work cracking before her.
Now she had lived enough to see political friction in Ayvarta, and she was driving to see if after nearly two years she could potentially settle some of it. The Revolution had ended in the death of the Empire, but also in a compromise between its remnants and the people who had fought them. While the bloodshed ended, and socialism was ultimately established, it insured that factionalism from within could in the future resume.
She was becoming increasingly aware that she lived in that future now.
Her driver caught her attention, taking her from her reverie.
“We’re here ma’am.” He said.
They drove up a street adjacent to Revolution Square, and the Agent parked the car astride a bench. He waited there, picking up a new state newspaper from a nearby box.
Kremina dismounted and ambled across the green grass in the largely immaculate park, toward a monument in its center. It was a massive statue of a Hydra, the symbol of the revolution. This multi-headed snake represented the operation that turned Revolution into Civil War: across all of Ayvarta, rebel cells ambushed and killed several high-ranking Imperial officers, decapitating the army. It had required supernatural coordination.
Today, the Hydra bit off no heads; rather it loomed over a lanky man with very black skin and cropped hair, and a flat, broad nose, dressed in a blue suit with a red tie.
He waited for her with a folder full of documents under his arm.
When he spotted her, he left behind the shadow of the Hydra and they began to walk around the park. There was little to see: the park was a memorial, a square of trimmed grass surrounding the Hydra statue and its plaque, and it had very few places to sit or rest.
So Kremina and the Councilman, Yuba, simply walked around the periphery. Yuba offered her a cigarette, and she declined. He put it away. They procrastinated for a moment.
Kremina had wanted him to open up.
He had called her, so she had wanted to see his initiative. But he was timid. All of them were, ever since the Special Order had gone a few weeks ago.
Nobody had expected the KVW to take such an action.
It was one of the few actions they could take, anymore.
Now they were all afraid. It reminded her again of the revolution, where whispers of a coming death had made the once boastful and proud aristocrats of the Empire quiet and reserved, and kept them trapped in their homes for fear of retribution. The KVW had no such thing in mind for the Councilman, but he and his ilk seemed to have jumped to the same conclusion. They were always ready to see conspiracy around them.
Ever since the real conspiracy of a few years back, they saw it everywhere.
“Is there anything specific you wanted to discuss, Councilman? I’m a busy woman.”
Yuba pulled his cigarette out again. This time, he lit the stick, and took a drag.
“I was hoping we might be able to begin to reconcile some of our recent differences.” He said. Yuba spoke as though he was reading a note to her. He delivered his lines without pause, but they had no conviction behind them. “Your Warden’s Special Order has the regional councils in the Southern Dominances worried. They tell me they had been trying to complete several important projects; now they are afraid to move forward. They don’t know what your aim is, and I have heard you have already dispensed justice on your own.”
“That we have. And I disagree with the importance of those projects, and the methods by which they were carried out.” She said, speaking back to him in that same dispassionate voice which he used on her. “We have ample evidence of corruption among the southern councils and military commands. Oversight is sorely lacking in the former rebel territories and the self-managed unions will suffer in the long term if these ‘projects’ run unchecked.”
Yuba replied quickly, as though he had studied her reply before she even said it.
“Admiral, our enforcement authority is stretched, especially in the outer Dominances. Adjar is a long way away. We are beginning to move over uncertain territory and we are up against the limits of our authority on certain matters. We didn’t want to infringe upon regional councils that know their territory best. We assumed good faith.”
“That’s understandable.” Kremina said, though with an obvious hint of frustration creeping in. “You fear becoming a tyrant, but now you are just too soft. Your civil governors and your military commanders are bypassing the unions and taking resources for themselves, and making development decisions that are outside their scope. This is deeply troubling to me and to the KVW, as stewards and guarantors of the people’s will.”
Kremina was selling it light.
She went so far as to believe that they were traitors, outright.
She suspected that they were selling materials in some kind of black market.
How far up it went, she did not know; but she knew the governors and military commanders at least in the Adjar Dominance were making some kind of personal profit at the expense of the people, and misusing military personnel to do it. While characters like Gowon shuffled soldiers between odd jobs they had no right to do, their borders were undermanned, and readiness was criminally low. Something was not right here.
But saying all of this would have simply upset the Councilman.
He would have called her a radical and an extremist and started shutting down. So she undersold it. Unlike her lover, the Warden, Kremina knew when not to be too blunt.
Yuba, however, seemed ready to be defensive regardless of what was said.
“These are serious concerns, Kremina that we simply were not prepared for–”
Kremina shook her head at him in disgust and interrupted him as gently as she could.
“You were more than prepared. When we sat down and made concessions, when we traded back and forth between the powers of the state, the powers of regions, the powers of the people, when we stitched together what became Ayvarta; I told you that the faction of Collaborators had to be watched, and had to be understood to be a dangerous element.”
You was a strangely broad term between them. Much of Ayvarta’s policy happened in the legislative chamber, the Civil Council, which then reached agreements with the regional councils of its Dominances, and with the Unions of the working people.
There were essentially three factions in the Ayvartan state government.
After the Demilitarization acts and the split of the Council into two Chambers, the Military and Civil Councils, the Liberals or “in-betweeners” and the Collaborators held the most power in the Civil Council. Because the Military Council couldn’t enact Civil Policy (and lately was blocked even from Military Policy) it was down to the Liberals and Collaborators. There were smaller factions, remnants of the “Zaidi” faction who were labeled “militarists” and shunted to their own place, but they hardly mattered.
Kremina meant specifically the Liberals: more numerous than Collaborator-aligned bureaucrats and lawmakers in the legislative chamber, and they could be swayed to many positions. But it was increasingly difficult. The KVW and their few council allies were called the Hardliners by their peers, especially after Demilitarization was enacted.
This situation arose over twenty years ago.
While it was quickly clear that the Empire was defeated in the first year of the Revolution, war between its old Dominances continued for a year more: 2009 to 2010 saw some of the bloodiest fighting. Low level insurgencies stretched from 2010 to 2015 as the budding government asserted power. Only the defection of the Collaborators and their incorporation into the Civil War ended the war totally and definitively.
And yet, Kremina always got a bad taste in her mouth when she thought of the concessions they made to them. They accepted socialism in the streets in order to save their lives. Food for the people, housing for the people, all good; so long as, behind closed doors, there was a legislative process that could potentially be manipulated, and a bureaucratic apparatus they could jerk around, and the notion of possible “reforms.”
Yuba, who came out of that process, saw things very differently, of course.
“As far as the Councilfolk from Shaila and Adjar have told me, their Unions were overstretched; not everyone wants to work, and especially not everyone wants to work in dangerous jobs like mining and chemical labor. The Councils acted on their initiative.”
“I disagree fundamentally that a lack of workers exists or is an acceptable excuse, and that the use of military labor in their place is any kind of acceptable work-around; and furthermore, that’s not the only problem here with regards to the use of military personnel.”
Yuba nodded. “So you’re also here to protest demilitarization as well.”
Kremina shouted. “Of course! I can understand that you do not want the military creating civil policy. I empathize with you, having been a girl under the Empire. But taking away our ability to influence military spending and military policy is ridiculous!”
“We have not done that! As you’ve shown with your Special Order, you can still—“
Kremina interrupted him. “That’s not enough. We are the Military Council! The People’s Army during the revolution was the KVW. Yet now the Military council seems to have almost no bearing on the military! We control only fragments of it!”
“You control what you wanted to control!”
“Because we had no other choice! You voted to have us divided this way; and the state army upon whom you lavish millions more shells worth of funding hasn’t progressed in quality or readiness in five years; and the KVW can’t even inspect the materiel it misuses or outright loses from warehouses without scandal.”
“The only reason there is scandal is that your inspections completely ambushed us! Kremina, there is a process, and there would be no scandal if you followed process!”
Yuba looked weary. He certainly hated this argument. He saw himself as a friend to the Military Council, and to Kremina and Daksha. However, he always felt like he had to argue in favor of written policy all of the time, and he took it upon himself to defend the law as gospel. Kremina did not hate Yuba, but she found him horribly frustrating.
She sighed deeply and rubbed a hand over her own face. “So you’re telling me that your Councils can collude with the Regional Military to create a ghost workforce whenever they want? And unless we tell them ahead of time, so that they can pack up all their operations and pretend to be innocent, the KVW cannot intercede in these affairs.”
“That is unfair, Kremina. You’re taking a fatalistic view of it.”
“And you’re taking too permissive a view! This is another way the Councils have privilege over the people’s unions and workers. I’m stepping forward to end that privilege.”
“I have seen how you’ve stepped forward, and I cannot agree with it.”
Kremina closed her fist in subtle anger. Of course, that’s what he would balk at.
The Councilman raised his hand a little to interrupt her speaking.
“You agreed with us that after the Akjer incident that corruption in the government and military was present and that it had to be investigated, rooted out and prevented in the future. We didn’t want another Georg Walters who could pretend to be one of us and walk out of our council meetings and right into Nochtish association. So we made proposals.”
“You made proposals, and you forced them on us!” Kremina shouted.
Yuba continued talking over her. “We acted democratically. We carried out plans. You were there! I want to know if you are willing to make that commitment again. We can do right by the people and create order, rather than instill chaos. Do you agree?”
Kremina scoffed. She crossed her arms over her chest.
Perhaps this was all well and good in Solstice and in the north and east, the Dominances like Chunar which had supported the Revolution from the get-go.
But it was different in the Southern Dominances like Adjar and Shaila.
Those governments had initially supported the Empire.
Without the defection of the collaborators they would likely still do so.
Perhaps in their own way they still did even after all of that.
Five years ago, Kremina would have trusted the council. Now? Never again.
“You and the Council went wild and used the fight against corruption to push all manner of atrocious reforms on us. We only agreed because we were outvoted. We had lost the reins of power the moment we cooperated with you in good faith. So you ask, am I willing to undergo that process again? No. I’m not willing to be fooled again.”
Councilman Yuba looked shaken again by her words.
“We did things democratically–” He began to whimper.
“Yes, yes, you outvoted us in the vote to strip our voting power. Very democratic. I’m sure it is no coincidence that the larger, more populous Southern Dominances and their Collaborators got proportional representation weeks before the fateful vote.”
“What’s done is done and sarcasm seems hardly helpful here.” Yuba evaded her eyes.
Kremina scoffed. She pointed forcefully at him, returning to the previous matter.
“You must at least agree to investigate the claims we are making!” She shouted.
“We are! We are investigating. We are investigating in the way that is legal to do.”
She knew exactly when an impasse had been reached, and there was nothing she could do now but to push at him. Kremina had very limited power. The KVW no longer had the ability to draft or even to vote on laws, and their suggestions had been falling on deaf ears or been actively undermined for years now. She only had one resource here.
The Special Order had deployed the KVW’s armed divisions across Solstice to inspect the work of the relatively new State Army and its constituent Battlegroups: with this action, she hoped the Civil Council, the far stronger half of the bicameral structure to which Yuba belonged, would take notice and feel pressured to reopen the issue on Demilitarization.
She saw the pressure building, but legislation had yet to come.
However, she had no powers right now other than to frighten the Councilor, so she stayed the course. She could play with his fear and the fear of the Southern regions.
“I would have loved for the Warden to not have to spy on your councilors and military commanders to sort out corruption and treason,” She said, grinning a little, picturing her own face contorted like that of a venomous snake tasting the air, “but I’m afraid that is not our current material reality. Five years ago we dealt with a rash of degenerates who sold our country and people out to Nocht. Substantively, those traitors and the people with authority in this country slowly cease to seem like separate entities.”
Yuba pulled on his tie a little, like Kremina’s words had started to choke him. “I agreed five years ago. I agreed with you during Akjer; and I have tried my hardest to bridge the wishes of your people with our own. I thought we agreed back then and right now.”
“I’m afraid we don’t. You think that by actively uncovering corruption, the same way we did five years ago, that we are the aggressors now. I don’t know what to think about how your perceptions have changed. While you stand there berating me, our enemies have begun making demands of us, threatening us; I thought we had a common foe here.”
Councilman Yuba readjusted his tie once again, and shook his head in frustration.
She would have loved to know what was happening in his head right then: why the things that made so much sense to her were like air, passing through his ears, around his brain and back out the other end. Perhaps the Liberals were no longer any different from the Collaborators. Perhaps they never were any different. Kremina sighed.
“Then it appears it is intractable.” He said. “I hope we can speak again soon.
Kremina smiled at him, and shook his hand as they readied to part ways.
“I understand. May the ancestors guide you to the correct path, Councilman.”
Kremina watched him disappear into his own private car, and felt like shooting him.
She wished back then, when the Council had proposed reforms, she had acted more strongly. After all, the KVW had killed all the traitors. What more reform could there be?
Trying to minimize bloodshed had hurt them back then; perhaps even further back.
Perhaps the Revolution should have gone on longer and been more brutal.
Even if the killing had dragged on for two years more, perhaps they should have kept fighting until all the opposition was buried underground. Perhaps there was simply no reforming them. Perhaps she had been naive. She had helped end the bloodshed by believing that the people fighting her could be agreed with, could be settled into a fair system for all. Though her people now had homes, and they ate every day, and they lived freely, slowly and surely she thought she could see their life endangered, from within and from without. She wondered if two more years of revolution, and a few million more of the right kinds of corpses, would have made Ayvarta a more united and secure place today.
She wondered if she should have died in the fight, rather than the negotiating table.