Stoking Hell’s Fire (8.2)

20-AG-30, Noon

Adjar Dominance Bada Aso Region, Kalu Coastline

Battlegroup Ox, under Lt. Purana’s overview, assembled outside of Bada Aso to gather their forces and await any updates on the political situation.

Madiha had given them instructions to await and support incoming elements, and if worse came to worse and they were not allowed into the city, to establish a preliminary battle line out of it. Meanwhile Madiha, Kimani and Parinita took their own small convoy of half-track trucks farther north, past Bada Aso and further along the coast.

Kimani’s half-track was in the front, leading two other trucks with Parinita’s Battlegroup Command staff. Even as they drove they were assembling information and making necessary contacts on the radio to smooth over Madiha’s grand defensive plans.

Near the front and the tail of the convoy were two smaller trucks, each with a quad-mount 7.62mm machine gun assembled on its bed: these linked machine guns were their only recourse for anti-air defense should the Luftlotte begin raiding the city and countryside. It was a poor defense, but it was all they could muster at the time.

Madiha worried that she had left too much work behind to Lt. Purana’s unproven divisional staff. Mobilizing the troops and handling what was essentially the front line, or as close to one as they had, was a monumental task to give the relatively green troops of Battlegroup Ox. But Madiha had work for her own staff that had to be completed soon.

So they drove, and they drafted, and even Parinita couldn’t take in the countryside passing them by, her face deep in tables of organization, warehouse manifestos, projected industrial output. Madiha had delegated everything as best as she could.

Her own work was for the moment disagreeably political.

She had to round up allies, and she had to coerce skeptics.

However, the drive allowed her to stare out into the open and take in the view.

Built across a gentle rise in the terrain at the foot of the Kalu Hilltops, straddling the coastline and the Umaiha River, Bada Aso was a major port to the Core Ocean, and even as war approached the city there were still fishing ships and merchant vessels visible on the open sea. It was a beautiful city, and Madiha loved every moment she could spend simply staring at it, burning its pristine condition into her mind. A rail hub, a hive of industry, a port, a place of culture, of history, of romance. Bada Aso was so much to her.

Yet along with these fond thoughts was the military mind.

Her plan would destroy the city.

Past the limits of the city the terrain on the Kalu along the coast began to rise a little more sharply, and soon Madiha could look to the distance behind them and see the port extending from out the cover of the northernmost city buildings.

There were several massive ships docked.

Madiha would have to remember to ask Admiral Qote about them. Any kind of firepower available in Bada Aso had to be used for their advantage. For the next few days, she would have to assemble a war machine to defend the city. Her role as both savior and destroyer weighed heavily on her, and even as she stared along the empty green and blue it haunted her. She had always found her emotions difficult. Now they seemed impossible.

“Major! I’m sorry if there was something on your mind, but I need your opinion–”

Thank the spirits for Parinita! She and Madiha quickly went to work together on breaking down Support Battalions in each division and how best to reallocate them for Ox’s needs. It was utter drudgery, and felt relatively pointless. Ox’s organization was a mess: 8 small Regiments per Division with no Brigade structure was unmanageable and impossible. She had to make it work somehow. It made a good tonic for Madiha’s depression.

Several dozen kilometers they drove along a steep cliff on the edge of the continent, until it gradually sloped and descended into the rocky berm of a very long beach. Straddling a few more kilometers of rainforest just off the shoreline, they found a complex of scattered groups of long buildings, arranged four or five a block surrounding a broad square field.

Madiha opened a slit in the Half-Track’s armored bed and spoke with the driver, giving permission to approach the base. A strange flag flew from a raised guard post just outside the entrance arch to the fenced-off camp. It was white and blue and had red rock in the center; nothing like the flag she knew, with its hammer and sickle and black hydra.

At the gate, the half-track was recognized from afar and quickly greeted.

Dobroe tovarich! May I take a look in the back?” said a guard with a heavy accent.

Parinita snuck a peek through the viewing slit to see the guard, but couldn’t see anyone at all from it. Madiha turned her around to the back of the truck. There a rather small individual had come to inspect them. He waved amicably and made an effort to climb aboard. Parinita looked taken aback. The person inspecting them was a Svechthan.

He was smaller than everyone in the truck, but fairly slender and well proportioned to his size. Parinita looked like she had never seen anything like him in her life. He took a quick head count, exchanged a few pleasantries with Madiha half in his language and half in theirs, and stepped off the truck, clearing them to pass. They drove deeper into the camp, and a few other equally small-seeming men and women waved them toward an unused parking spot near warehousing blocks for the 1st Joint-Training Corps.

“They’re like little dolls!” Parinita said, her hands raised to her cheeks.

“Don’t say that aloud, you fool.” Kimani hissed.

Parinita turned red in the face and made a gesture to cover her mouth. But she still had a mischievous look in her eyes. All around them there were more Svechthans coming and going about their business, and Parinita watched them like it was a show.

Madiha was very well acquainted with them, but to an Ayvartan who was not exposed to them, certainly they seemed a whimsical people, being very soft-featured, and pale like snow, with flowing hair of exotic, icy shades and that matched their white and gray-blue military uniforms. What most people tended to focus on was their height, however. They were proportioned like adults, but rather small ones altogether compared to other folk.

Hailing from the harsh frozen north, where food was scarcer and the sun all but vanished for months at a time, Svechthans had adapted their size. Adult Svechthans topped out at around 155 centimeters for the truly rare tall folk among them, and stopped growing at 145 centimeters on average. Average Ayvartan men and women tended to settle at about 170 to 190 centimeters; Madiha was about 185 centimeters tall, and Kimani 192. At 176 centimeters or so, Parinita was quite taller than all of the Svechthans around them.

It was a very visible and striking difference.

Madiha could see how Parinita might feel as though among fairytale folk. Despite the best efforts of both people to cooperate, and despite the great debts of friendship they owed, they were still somewhat rare sights to one another in their respective lands.

“Don’t stare so intently.” Kimani scolded again. Parinita sighed heavily.

“We’re headed for the main barracks over there. Try not to be rude.” Madiha said.

“I’m not going to be rude!” Parinita said, flustered. “Just little surprised is all!”

Despite its name the 1st Joint-Training Corps was actually a professional and fully-trained Svechthan formation deployed to Ayvarta, composed of a Tyazhelyy (Heavy) Division and a Pekhota (Infantry) Division. There were over 20,000 people in this complex, largely Svechthans, taking part in harsh weather training and other exercises that suited the Ayvartan climate and geography. The Svechthan Union was a very cold and gloomy nation and found the heat and constant sunlight in Ayvarta very unwelcoming.

Since each found the others’ homeland to be difficult terrain, the two countries exchanged units to participate in training for potential operations north or south, and thereby improve their readiness. During their walk to the main barracks offices, Madiha saw the field in the middle of the camp teem with activity.

Tanks fired test shots into armored target walls, men and women ran through obstacle courses in their full gear, and there were even a few games of Gorodki, a sport where a wooden bat was launched at a group of wooden pins. All these activities helped build the soldiers’ warm weather endurance, and strengthened their bodies.

She supposed the Ayvartans in Svechtha performed similar activities.

Madiha and Kimani ducked their heads to pass through the doorway into the main office building just off the edge of the training fields. Though buildings and objects made for Svechthans were not miniature to Ayvartans, and all of the buildings, the chairs and desks, possessed fairly relatable dimensions to them, particularly tall Ayvartans often had to bow their heads and curl up their legs to fit comfortably through doors and in vehicles. Madiha spoke with the desk secretary, and she stood up from her post and bid them to wait, while she walked through the office door at the back of the room. Moments later, she returned, and bid them to enter. Once again they bowed their heads as they passed through.

“Welcome, tovarich, I expected your arrival. Please, have a seat.”

Inside the office they were greeted by an older man, Kapitan Golovkin, judging by the nameplate on his desk. He was well built for his size, and had a rather stately mustache. Madiha thought he looked familial, like a small and pleasant uncle. And certainly he did seem to have been expecting them, having worn his full dress uniform that day, with all of his assorted honors clipped on it, in 35 degree heat. He was smiling and gracious, and offered everyone in the room a cigar. Madiha and Parinita begged pardon and passed.

Kimani on the other hand was quick to accept, and even quicker to taste the smoke.

There was a subtext to this action, beyond being a gracious guest or a lover of tobacco products. Madiha had never seen Kimani smoke in a meeting before. She assumed, then, that this was a gesture meant to push Madiha into the spotlight.

Kimani would be smoking, not speaking.

“Recent events have been unkind to us, haven’t they Mayor,” said the Captain, lighting his cigar and staring up from it at Madiha, “To think that scum of the North would launch an undeclared war upon you. Upon us. It is horrifying to consider.”

Eager to get to the main point, and to cut the chances that she might misspeak or grow nervous in the interim, Madiha quickly replied. “And it is our material reality, Captain. I assume that you know the purpose of my visit, then.”

“You seem sharp, and you get to business quickly,” Golovkin waved his cigar, jabbing sharply toward Madiha and grinning, “We appreciate that in the north.”

He looked directly at her.

“Yes, I know you wish the aid of the 1st Joint-Training Corps in the defense of Bada Aso. I learned of your ascension to battlegroup commander just yesterday, at the same time as I received in full the details of the border battle. So I assumed you would come here.”

“I need all the manpower I can get.” Madiha said. She felt a pang of guilt. Ayvarta seemed a poor host, incapable of protecting her guests. Instead she was asking them to risk their lives to protect her. On some level she felt this was not their fight.

“We cannot refuse.” Golovkin cheerfully explained. “After all, we are subordinated to Ayvarta’s territorial command. So you do not need to ask us for our consent.”

Madiha had rehearsed on the trip and spoke as directly as she could.

“I know that as a formation under my regional command in Ayvarta you would carry out my directives. But I do not merely want you and your forces to follow orders, Captain. I need your support. Battlegroup Ox is disorganized, and I can only stretch our professional forces so far among the vastly greater number of green troops. Your forces are more experienced. I need your cooperation Captain, not simply obedience. I need your forces to help lead my own in addition to fighting alongside them. I need a shared camaraderie.”

Golovkin blew smoke and suddenly devolved into a prolonged coughing fit.

Madiha raised her hand tentatively to help, though in what way she didn’t know, it was all a reflex; equally reflexively Golovkin seemed to wave her hand away, grinning through the violent coughing fit. He looked at her with a glimmer in his eyes, and he began to laugh all the while he coughed, and to smile as he choked on the smoke.

Eventually his voice returned, and he was only smiling and laughing.

Prekrasniy! Oh that was a wonderful entreaty, tovarich. Major Gowon would have never said something like that. I’ve only known you for a few minutes, but you are already a breath of fresh air. I am pleased to hear this; and do not worry. Any fight for Ayvarta is a fight for Svechtha. Nocht knows very well that it cannot fight in our territory. Our seas are stormy and difficult, and our land is rocky, icy, and inhospitable. They’ve tried to fight us before and it has been catastrophic for them. But they know that they can starve us out.”

Golovkin’s response was quite endearing; Madiha felt instant relief.

“I will do whatever is necessary, tovarich, for your food, and the food of my people.”

Ayvarta and Svechtha were incredibly close partners in the modern day. Where other nations either ignored or preyed upon Svechtha and its small and unique people, Ayvarta had little history with them before the new millennium. Svechtha was the birthplace of Socialism, and it inspired the ideals of the current Ayvartan administration. The Revolution came as a shock to the world, and only the Svechthans welcomed it.

Both nations found themselves in a world where they were each other’s only real lifeline. At first the approach was tentative and contact almost alien. Gradually, as their friendship with the Ayvartans deepened, the two countries exchanged military and resource aid. Ayvartans supplied Svechthans with much of their food, in return for raw materials and an open exchange of ideas and expertise. They met each other’s needs well.

So therefore Golovkin certainly viewed this as his people’s fight as well.

Ayvarta’s fall would create a food crisis in Svechtha. Though they could grow some food, and they certainly did, their existence would become bleak and meager once again. Decades of heavy rationing and food insecurity had ended when those first ships full of grain and dried produce arrived on their shores from Ayvarta.

To return to darker days after experiencing such joy and freedom from want would be a tragedy. Regardless of Madiha’s efforts, their commitment was guaranteed.

There was a thrust of history behind this meeting that neither could escape.

Regardless, for the sake of her own conscience Madiha asked again. She knew that she had secured his help, but in a way, she still felt a little like she was taking advantage of him. She wanted to hear him say it again, to lift the final burden from her.

“So can I count on the strength of your people, Captain? Will you join me?” She asked.

“Major,” Golovkin stretched his small hand over his desk, “Let us not tarry.”

Madiha took his hand into hers, and shook gently.

He laughed heartily and praised her strength.

She was almost forty centimeters taller than he, but they were seeing eye-to-eye over that desk. In an instant, Madiha added two divisions to her effort. It had been an easy conversation between two people who had wanted to trust and cooperate, and perhaps had no other option but to do so. It lifted her morale, and for the first time it made her feel that she had a handle on the situation, that she grasped at the pulse of war with a master’s hand.

However, she had one more crucial meeting to attend, and it was very clear from the smoke ring blowing from her lips that Kimani would not interfere with these affairs.

She had lifted her wings from over Madiha; it was time the chick learned to fly alone.

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