Zugzwang (19.4)

Central District – En Route To “Agni’s House”

In preparation for battle in Bada Aso many supplies had been moved underground, and various locations around the city had been earmarked as dumps where periodically supplies from the tunnels would be moved up. This was all part of a pre-war defensive plan that Madiha heavily modified to her own purposes. From the dumps, supplies could be circulated to units fighting in the locality. Soon after the bombings and the fighting, however, there was a massive disarray and many supply locations had become unusable.

Every action plan drafted before the war was meaningless. For most Ox officers and units, their limited training leaned heavily on rehearsal and execution of these plans.

From the 22nd forward, nobody’s logistic maps made any kind of sense anymore.

There was a fight to conduct and not enough good staff to bring order back to the system. They needed to focus on the fighting primarily, so intelligence and command arms took priority, and the logistics staff in turn received precious little radio operation and organizational support. They had to do what they could on their own terms instead.

This state of affairs did not deter the laborers from their necessary tasks. At night and in the early morning the drivers dutifully took their orders from the paltry few teams of administration staff in the various line corps. They mounted their trucks and set off this way and that, exploring the city as if it was a new domain with each passing day of the war.

Drivers systematically visited each of the potential caches on their maps, and found themselves often confronted with empty lots or utter ruins, with caches moved at the last minute for fear of an enemy penetration, with tunnels that had been sealed off. When the delivery and the storage elements finally met, they had to sort out conflicting orders.

At the end of the journey, the front line tended to receive mismatched quantities of ammunition, replacement guns, and food and sundries. One unit would receive more rifles than clips, another a preponderance of shells for tanks or guns they had few of on the lines, a third misappropriated engineer tech that they would then have to put to use somehow.

It was a barely working mess and communication was pitiful.

Still, everyone tried their damnedest and made do with what they could get their hands on, and they fought on. Thanks to the Major’s planning and Nocht’s carelessness, sketchy logistics proved less of an issue than they otherwise would’ve been. They lost any kind of offensive initiative in this state, but offensive initiative was never in the books. Even with haphazard supplies they could still sit behind sandbag walls and plot ambushes.

But perhaps it was good that their original plans had gone up in smoke.

After all, the rehearsed plan called for a bloody counterattack to retake the city after exhausting the enemy. That was one part of the plan that Madiha Nakar had struck out of the books immediately. What was on-hand simply could not support such an action.

On the 30th, the situation stabilized somewhat.

With the destruction of the 1st and 2nd Line Corps came the obsolescence of their part of the ragged supply network. Drivers wiped almost half of Bada Aso from their maps. The 3rd and 4th Line Corps were well rested and over the course of the battle’s 9 days, had managed to save up a good hoard of equipment with which to fight their future battle. This lessened the need for logistical back and forth. Calm settled over the supply network.

Despite this, nobody could get a hold of anybody else in the cache sites on the radio.

So the Commander and her Secretary had to quickly learn the tactics of supply drivers.

Major Madiha Nakar and Chief Warrant Officer Parinita Maharani drove their staff car north from the forward operating base, having been told vaguely that Sergeant Agni and some of her crew had left for one of the northern dumps to begin their special task. But characteristically of Bada Aso logistics, nobody quite knew which dump she had ended up going to. Madiha drove from one dump to the next, passing by a junkyard, a Msanii building, and an unfinished underground railroad station. Parinita marked them off the map.

“Next is the Adjar Sporting Society soccer field. We can keep going and drive by.”

Feeling a little agitated, Madiha turned the wheel sharply and followed her secretary’s directions to the north and east, bypassing a little commercial strip with some cooperative shops and the sports club’s equipment workshop. They drove by the field and saw nothing and nobody save the twisted remains of 37mm anti-air guns in the middle of the pitch.

Agni would have had a crew working on a tank or two. This was obviously not it.

“I knew it was bad, but seeing it myself, it’s a wonder how we get any supplies to the front at all.” Madiha said. She drove aimlessly around the field while Parinita plotted their next stop. “How has this happened? Why can’t we keep better track of active caches?”

“I’m not sure. I thought I had people working on this, but it’s just not been a priority. We’ve been going from crisis to crisis.” Parinita said, eyes scanning over the map.

“I guess there’s no point in making it a priority this late.” Madiha lamented. It was in technical areas like this that their lack of coordination seemed most pressing and dire.

“Hey, there’s a cache in a movie theater east of here. We should go.” Parinita said.

Madiha looked critically at Parinita. “So are we going there because you think Agni will be there; or because you want to go see a movie theater?” She asked.

“There’s a lot of space you can fit a tank into.” Parinita said.

She smirked and shrugged.

The Major peered over the map.

The theater was close by, the car had plenty of fuel and there were not very many other choices to consider, so Madiha ultimately complied. She broke off from the block they had been circling around and headed north and east, driving at a leisurely pace down a small strip of commercial buildings. At the end of the street, they found their little theater.

A humble rectangular brick building, it had partially collapsed, its right side showing some damage likely caused by a small bomb. Several holes along the facade suggested rockets had stricken the building. In front of it the street was covered in glass and concrete shards, and further up the street a trio of anti-air guns had been turned to slag. A few movie posters survived the attack and were still prominently displayed on the building’s front.

“Agni’s obviously not here.” Madiha said dryly, parking the car in front of the theater.

Parinita clumsily dismounted the car and ran up to the theater with stars in her eyes, her boots cracking the shards of glass pooled across the street. In a fervor she withdrew her sidearm and blasted open the display cases. She picked the posters off display racks, rolled them up, and brought a big pile of them back to the car, dumping them in the back seat.

Madiha stared quizzically, craning her neck to follow Parinita as she circled the car.

When Parinita got back on the passenger’s seat, Madiha was still staring at her.

“They’re collectible! When the movie leaves circulation these posters leave with it! This is a piece of film history I’ve got in the back seat!” Parinita emphatically said.

Madiha fished one of the posters off the pile and unrolled it.

Much of the poster was taken up by a lake that looked thick and gooey, with a hand sticking out of the muck; at the corner of the poster, near the written credits on the bottom, an Ayvartan man and woman screamed and cowered in fear of The Living Mud.

She threw it back and picked up a different one.

There was a salacious image of two muscular, oily men in very tight athletic trunks and nothing else, both standing eye to eye in the middle of a field, one with a ball in his hands and the other reaching out to him, and the film was titled Hard In The Pitch.

“It doesn’t matter what the film is about! It’s about owning the poster.” Parinita said.

“Are you going to hang this one up?” Madiha asked about the sports film poster.

“No! But I’ll keep it in a sleeve. I’ll preserve it, and I’ll know I have it!” Parinita said.

“Pity. It could go well with certain aesthetics.” Madiha said. She gently returned it.

After this detour they took up the map and headed west.

Madiha reasoned that Agni would probably elect to go to a factory, and they narrowed it down to only the factories nearby. On their map no factory was actually marked for what it produced – after driving by a small rubber processing plant and cobbler’s co-op inexplicably labeled a “factory” they finally came upon what was then ‘Agni’s House’.

From a distance Madiha saw activity in a small automobile factory and mechanical garage, once a fledging part of the local union of automobile workers. Most promising was the sight of two KVW half-tracks parked outside, and a few guards watching the road.

Just off a side road, the garage occupied a concrete lot between two old tenements. One of the tenements had received a heavy bomb through it, and had collapsed. Rubble seemed to form a ring around the space. While the main factory had been gutted of good equipment prior to the bombing, and subsequently lost its roof and one wall, a side-garage with a tin roof and a sliding door stood intact. Equipped with a heavy vehicle lift and a crane, as well as boxes of good quality metal tools, it made a perfect spot for Agni’s work.

Madiha and Parinita found her sitting atop the heavy lift upon which the body of a Goblin teletank was set. Its turret hung pitifully from the chain hoist crane nearby.

“Hujambo!” Madiha and Parinita said at once. They stood off to the side of the tank.

“Hujambo.” Agni replied. She shifted herself around to greet them. She was her usual self, inexpressive, her long hair collected into a sloppy tail, various grease stains on her person. Her jacket and shirt lay on the floor, and she had on a dirty tanktop while working. On her lap was a metal toolbox. Some of its contents seemed to have ended up on the ground. There were wire cutters, a wrench, a crowbar, and various nuts and bolts.

“Keeping busy?” Madiha smiled. “I hope you’re not pushing yourself too hard.”

“It was only a flesh wound; and these are not bags under my eyes. It’s just my eyes.”

Agni pulled on the skin around her eyes as if to demonstrate. Madiha thought they still looked like bags, and she knew Agni barely seemed to sleep. She did not belabor the point.

“It wasn’t a flesh wound at all, you suffered muscle damage.” Parinita said. She didn’t really know Agni, but that did not dull her concern. “You should not be up there at all.”

“I am keeping off my legs, as you can see.” Agni raised her dangling legs over the edge of the tank. There were bandages around one leg and a thick, spongy patch over the knife wound in her thigh. “I’ll be fine. I’m the only one who can perform these upgrades.”

“You could delegate to your subordinates. They’re just standing around.” Parinita said.

“I must do this myself to insure quality. It is vitally important. You’re distracting me.”

Parinita crossed her arms. “Well, fine then, I guess. Keep at it until you break.”

Madiha cleared her throat loudly. “So, Agni, what are you working on there?”

Agni pointed down at the tank, and spoke quickly, seeming almost excited. “I found a solution to our teletank range problems. These tank radios,” she thrust her finger sharply toward the interior of the Goblin, “are an older model than those found in Hobgoblins. We can use the better parts on the Hobgoblins to save us some time modifying the teletanks.”

“That makes sense. I honestly don’t know what goes into building a Hobgoblin – Inspector General Kimani just brought them in without much explanation.” Madiha replied.

“I don’t have a technical sheet on them, but from what I’ve heard from logistics and admin, their gun is similar to our 76mm field guns, but the power plant is different and the engine is a new model. We’ve had trouble repairing them due to this.” Parinita said.

“This is true; they use non-standard parts. High quality, but not in our stocks.” Agni replied. “However, that is working in our favor now. I had my cadre this morning gut the radios from some of the Line Corps Hobgoblins and modified the power plant and radio control receiver on the teletank with the parts. In addition, if I can gut the radio control equipment from the Control tank and install it on a Hobgoblin command-type tank, it will not only triple the operational range of the teletanks, it will offer greater protection.”

Madiha felt a sense of relief. Agni had a solution – they were still on track. Now all they had to do is buy time. “Anything you don’t use, have it blown up in the northern district.” She told Agni. “We don’t want Hobgoblin parts falling into enemy hands.”

“Yes ma’am.” Agni said. “I believe we will ready to proceed by the 35th of the Gloom.”

“That’s good. We just have to keep Nocht at bay for another week.” Madiha said. There was no sarcasm or bitterness in her voice. In fact the 30th had brought good news all around.

“We reestablished contact with Solstice today,” Parinita said, tapping on her clipboard, “and they’re willing to send a few trains, some even today, but the next ones on the 34th can carry anything you need to complete the job. So if you have a list of needed–”

“I’m committed to doing this job with what I have on-hand.” Agni replied.

Parinita hugged her clipboard closer, looking a little annoyed to be cut off by her.

“May I continue my work, Commander?” Agni asked, holding up her toolbox.

Madiha bowed her head in acknowledgment. “You may continue. Thank you for your efforts, Agni. I will insure you and your crew are adequately rewarded for your dedication.”

“Unnecessary.” Agni said.

With that parting word, she pushed her toolbox into the goblin, and then leaned down into the hull. Her legs dangled outside at first, and she almost seemed to be swimming in the vehicle. She shifted forward, swinging her hips, and her legs started to rise over her upper body. Parts and tools rattled inside the hull – Agni fell carelessly over inside.

Parinita sighed audibly.

Madiha shook her head.

They saw a wrench rise from the turret hole.

“I’m fine.” Agni said. “It only hurts a little bit and I’m sure I can get out eventually.”

“She gets a bit tetchy when she’s absorbed in her work.” Madiha whispered to Parinita.

Before leaving the garage, Madiha called over a few of Agni’s subordinates and gave them a few key instructions that might not have constituted common sense to them: keep Agni fed, keep the radio on and someone monitoring it, and finally, extricate Agni from the hull every so often. Everyone easily agreed tot these basic requests.

While Madiha rounded up and organized the engineers, Parinita checked the supply crates stacked inside the remains of the main building, but none of them were labeled nor opened, so she gave up on categorizing them or marking this dump in any particular way.

They returned to the car, and Parinita threw away her clipboard.

She crossed her arms and had a long, frustrated sigh.

“No markings of any sort, and I didn’t feel like cracking open a dozen crates to see if we’ve really got two tons of food and six tons of ammo in here or what.”

“Don’t obsess over it too much. Soon it won’t really matter.” Madiha said.

She figured they were now part of a long and storied line of staff continuously ignoring this problem. She would have to make a point to take logistics much more seriously.

“Let’s get back, we need to oversee the evacuations tonight, and get ready in case the enemy attacks.” Madiha said. She patted Parinita in the shoulder, smiling.

“Yes ma’am.” Parinita replied. She saluted cheerfully.

Since it was no longer necessary for her to navigate, Parinita took the time to inspect her treasures. She reached behind her back and unfurled a poster. There was a picture of a sheaf of wheat, with a suitcase and a hat, leaving behind a farm. It looked like the poster for an educational film about collective agriculture. Parinita threw it over her shoulder.

“If you’re not going to hang up that one, I might be interested.” Madiha said, chuckling.

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