24th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 DCE
Nocht Federation Republic of Rhinea – Citadel Nocht
Citadel Nocht was alive with the ringing of phones and the crackling of noisy radios.
Under a constant barrage of snow the massive spiraling black building that was the nerve center of the Federation housed thousands of workers, hundreds of guards; its offices fielded millions of questions and gave billions of answers through kilometers upon kilometers of telephone and telegraph wire. These were the neurons that carried impulse for the movements of Nocht’s twelve state organs and its untold amounts of limbs, the most important of which, at the present included the Schwarzkopf secret police, the Brown Shirt police, the Vereinigte Heer, the Luftlotte and Bundesmarine.
At the crown of this man-made encephalon was the office of the Federation President, elected by the voters of each state. Largely, this organ existed to digest a world’s worth of information and within the day both inform this singular man, and transform his reactions into a world’s worth of policies, answers, and, lately, retributions.
This was the machine of the Libertaire technocrats, the temple of their industry, the proving ground of their science. Atop this machine, the exceptional man seethed; President Lehner had received a world’s worth of news and it was not news that he liked.
A wave of terrorist attacks in Lubon had slowed the tottering nation of elven faeries even further than expected; in Yu-Kitan resistance from the Jade Throne and the communist guerillas in the jungles of the interior had forced the Hanwan Shogun to commit more troops and reduce his own commitment to the larger war. While attacks on the major ports of northern Ayvarta were still planned, supporting landings would be cancelled.
In Nocht itself, Lehner’s foolish, misguided voters broke out in riots over a tightening on banks and groceries to prevent malcontents from hoarding resources the nation required. His brown shirts and black heads had gone swiftly to work, but the minor episodes across the Republics of the Federation left a sour taste in his mouth. He thought his people better educated than this; he would have to take new and special efforts to instill upon them proper and patriotic values. He needed his population capable of supporting a war.
War was the current bright spot; a week’s worth of fighting was going beautifully.
But Lehner did not pride himself on complacency.
He found problem areas, and he seethed at them too.
To his office he summoned General Aldrecht Braun, chief of the Oberkommando Des Heeres. He was the kind of man that Lehner hated. Facing him was like peering at a museum piece. He was thin as a stick and straight as one, his skin graying, pitted, covered in cracks. He had an old world flair to him, a chiseled countenance with a dominating mustache that seemed to link to his sideburns, and a dozen medals on his black coat none of which Lehner had given him. Through the double doors he strode proudly into the office, chin up, maintaining eye contact; he trod casually upon the red and blue stripes of the Federation, over the twelve stars of the Republics, over the iron Eagle. All of the Presidents peered down at him from their portraits. He did not sit before Lehner’s desk.
Always, he stood, and always, he stared, keeping Lehner’s eyes.
Miserable old codger; Lehner could’ve spat at him.
But it would not do to give anyone that satisfaction.
It would have looked bad in the papers.
“Mr. President, it is always an honor to be in your presence. I am prepared to clarify any report made to you. I assume you have received most of our current information.”
“I have,” Lehner replied, smiling, “Actually, wanted to talk to you about that, big fella. I want you to do some of that clarifying you speak of. See, I’ve spoken with some ladies and gentlemen about a few planes; well, actually not a few, quite a lot. A disturbing amount of planes, none of which are flying, would you happen to know anything about that?”
President Lehner always spoke in a rapid-fire tone, as though his thoughts would run away from him if he did not hurry. He spoke quickly and easily without a hitch.
“I heard that Air Admiral Kulbert has grounded the Luftlotte due to losses.”
“Yeah, I know! Funny that! I told him to ground it after he gave me this ridiculous number of planes he lost to try to help your boys break into a city that, by the way, they still don’t seem to have broken into at all. Six hundred sorties two days ago, three hundred yesterday, and a few token ones today. Sounds like he was busy; and you weren’t.”
“First incursions into Bada Aso begin tomorrow, Mr. President. All has its due time.”
“So,” President Lehner started to laugh, a nervous, haughty laugh, an effort to conceal his rising fury, “so Braun, tell me about those planes, huh? Don’t try to divert me from those planes, right? I love planes, I have a plane right here in my desk because I fucking love planes. So let’s be honest. Tell me about how we lost almost five hundred planes in three days, and then if you’d be so kind, tell me why I haven’t sacked you. I’m eager to listen! Always eager to listen. I love my people. I don’t love losing five hundred fucking planes,” He exhaled thoroughly, “but I can give you the benefit of the doubt.”
General Braun was direct. In a matter-of-fact voice, he spoke. “We have not lost 500 planes, mister President. We completely lost 250 planes; plus 100 critically damaged, 50 lightly damaged, 100 planes grounded due to crew injury, out of 1000 planes–”
President Lehner interrupted him. “Word of advice? This angle is not saving your job right now.” He picked up a model airplane from his desk, and raised his hand up with it. “This is your job right now. And this is where it’s going.”
He dropped the model; it smashed on the desktop.
General Braun winced as the pieces flew from the desk.
Several fell in front of his shoes.
“My apologies, Mr. President. I do not have the full details, but from what I understand the air defense network in Bada Aso seemed to have become much more efficient than we anticipated. Our highest losses occurred on the very first day, and lessened afterward.”
“Well, yeah, because you flew less sorties. Otherwise you’d have pissed away even more of my planes, maybe even all of my planes. All because you got some bad info.”
“With all due respect sir, I do not command the air troops nor am I in charge of the intelligence gathering for the air troops. Kulbert might be able to tell you more.”
President Lehner smiled. “You’re right Braun. You’re right. Let’s just press on, shall we? We’ll talk about those planes more in the future, because they won’t ever fly again over the Adjar dominance without my explicit authorization, in order to prevent more of these thick-headed, wasteful operations. So, we have all the time in the world, don’t we?”
General Braun did not flinch. He remained standing.
President Lehner’s own frenetic pace worked against him, and he felt an almost physical pain at the thought of remaining on the subject of the damaged planes. Quickly they turned to discussing the ground forces. Braun displayed an intimate knowledge of the city of Bada Aso, the final bastion of the communist resistance in Adjar.
The city had not yet been seriously challenged from the ground, and the forces retreating pell-mell from the rest of the region had gathered there to make their stand; or, Lehner assumed, they had been merely told not to run any further on the pain of death, and thus the pathetic flight of the communist forces by coincidence had happened to end there. It’s what he would have done in the situation. Braun boasted about his advantages.
“We know the city and surrounding regions like the backs of our hands now.”
“I’m skeptical.” Lehner replied. Had he really had such knowledge of the city, the air troops would not have been caught off-guard. Hubris alone did not account for that.
“We have first-hand information from former communists.” Braun said.
Lehner blinked with surprise. “I love having people inside places; I don’t understand how we did it though. I thought these people were fanatica. Can you trust anything they say? Who did you manage to rope in anyway? Are you picking through the peasants?”
“A few officers from the Adjar command, and a few captured soldiers. Apparently the invasion caused them to reconsider their allegiances. It’s not surprising to me. Adjar was one of the most rebellious Dominances of the old Ayvartan Empire. When the Empire fell, Adjar moved quickly to secede into its own country, same with Cissea and Mamlakha. But Adjar didn’t get away with it: the communists tightened the screws on them. They would win eventually, but Adjar resisted enough that they settled things with a truce instead and formed a collaborative government, making certain concessions to the rebellious territories. There have been seeds of anti-communist rebellion in Adjar ever since, though the Ayvartan KVW has swiftly rooted out and crushed many of these over time.”
“Love a good history lesson, but cut to the chase here. What have ‘our people’ done for us yet, huh? They didn’t seem to be much help to our planes these past few days.”
“Well, Mr. President, they aren’t magic. But for one, we have some decent basic maps of Bada Aso, as well as some understanding of the forces inside. Their intelligence has been valuable in guiding our pace, Mr. President. And that is why Bada Aso is not yet under attack. We’ve made preparations. Tomorrow, the hammer will fall upon it.”
“Battlegroup Ox are our opponents, right? Led by that ore smuggler, Gowon. A pretty farcical enemy if you ask me. Thanks to him we have details on Ayvartan weapons.”
“Indeed. Gowon has proven very valuable and very predictable so far. He saw us, turned tail and ran from the border. But we’ve got him cornered now. He has about eight good divisions and two resoundingly pathetic tank divisions at his disposal. All of them are holed up inside the city. We will advance from the south and force a sizable foothold within the city, and once we have tied up their forces, we will sweep in from the east across the Kalu. Von Sturm is the primary architect of this assault. Meist, Anschel and Von Drachen stand in support. Lead elements are the Blue Corps, 6th Grenadier and 13th Panzergrenadier; in the Kalu we will use the 2nd and 3rd Panzer Divisions.”
“I’m not fond of that Drachen guy,” President Lehner said, “I read his file. Actually, my secretary read his file, and then she told me I wouldn’t be fond of him. Guess what? I wasn’t. She’s a sharp lady; anyway, I don’t like him. He’s weird. Did you know that’s not even his name? Tell me about a man who chooses to name himself Von Drachen and won’t tell you his real name. Von Drachen? How pretentious; I’m not fond of him at all, Braun, not at all. I don’t like him or his fake name. His grammatically poor fake name.”
“He was commissioned by your predecessor sir. He practically delivered Cissea to us in a few weeks after he defected from them, and has been fully trustworthy since then.”
“Well, y’know, sometimes you have to recognize geniuses even if they’re assholes. The man’s got a gift for killing people. But I wouldn’t give him a front-line position in a really critical urban operation. There’s a difference, it’s like friends you drink with and friends you show your parents. And friends who haven’t betrayed anyone before, too.”
Braun nodded deferringly.
“Then do you wish for me to impress upon Von Sturm this difference?”
“Oh, no, that’d set us back right now. Just. Ugh. Ignore I said anything. This was a stupid angle. I should just keep my feelings to myself more often, I suppose.”
“If you say so, Mr. President.”
President Lehner was fickle, and he knew it, but he let his moods carry him away. In speech he let his wild flourishes of the tongue go where they went, and when there came a time to confront an issue his massive staff could not quantify and break down, he let his instincts dictate the course. His mood had not yet failed him; he had rode it over opposition that deemed him too young and brash for the office, and now he rode it over a people in his eyes too old and worn to capably fight back against it. It was nature, science, progress; it was manifest that the new men would defeat and replace the old.
He was the New Man.
Behind the big desk, President Lehner felt compelled to extend discourse to his lessers. What was meant to be a quick chewing out and terrorizing of a hated officer, turned into an hours-long discussion on war and strategy in which General Braun almost impressed the President. Not in his ability to talk or conduct war, which Lehner largely thought overrated: but rather, in his ability to stand, unblinking, and speak for extended periods.
What a hilarious old buffoon.