Zugzwang (19.5)

Northeast District – Train Station, Night

Despite advances in technology, war had not yet defeated darkness. Conflict waned as the forces lost daylight. Both sides transported supplies primarily in the dark hours, when opposing planes and artillery would find it difficult to strike and enemy infantry would be reluctant to move. Aside from a few disparate night bombings by Anka biplanes flying in from the lower Tambwe, neither side had launched a significant night attack.

Madiha counted on this, but still felt a little tension in the dark.

Standing astride the tracks at the northern railyard, Parinita loyally at her side, the Commander waited for the arrival of an armored train. On the road outside the rail station grounds, hundreds of trucks and cars and even a few tanks came and went, ferrying thousands of wounded, sick and exhausted soldiers and a few civilians, all of whom would be leaving that night for Solstice. On one train or on another, all of them had to go.

There would be three armored trains coming and going a few hours apart. Even with their capacity, however, it might not be enough. She had almost 12,000 whom she wanted to transport and she had hoped to be able to evacuate a few tons of supplies as well. But she needed only to look over her shoulder and out onto the street and road, and see all the men and women under the faint light of electric torches and Hobgoblin tank headlights, to disabuse herself of that notion. There would be no room here except for these people and the bare minimum of goods to keep them alive on their journey away from the conflict.

Crates of spare ammo were not priority. It was time that these souls left Hell.

“When we get back, put together a team to oversee the destruction of extraneous ammunition. Hellfire might solve that for us but we can’t take any chances.” Madiha said.

“Understood.” Parinita replied. “I’ll pull some people from our intelligence team.”

“Good idea. Intel will be less necessary now that we’re drawing down from the battle.”

“Not to mention our intelligence, aside from radio capture, has been limited anyway.”

Madiha felt tired. She made an effort to stand, and she felt herself nod off once or twice in the gloom and silence. It seemed like ages since she had a full night’s sleep. Her eyes lingered on the empty tracks, on the odd shadows of cranes, on the distant, empty warehouses. Cold winds blew through station and yard. Parinita moved a little closer after a strong gust, clinging to her. Madiha felt the warmth of her body; a fond sensation.

“It’s an uncharacteristically cold night for Adjar.” Parinita said, nearly arm to arm with Madiha. It was not a situation that Madiha would rush to change. She smiled at her.

Then in the distance, Madiha thought she saw a glint of light.

She brushed it off as a trick of her eyes in the dark – but she was not the only one who saw it. One of her guards rushed forward and pointed a BKV anti-tank rifle out toward the warehouses. She peered through her scope and seemed to find something in the gloom.

“Commander, something’s approaching! I see a headlight through the scope!” She said.

Madiha and Parinita stepped back, giving Corporal Kajari some room. She was a recent addition to the 3rd Motor Rifles, but had already proven herself well, and had been handpicked by Lt. Batuzi to serve as part of the rail guard for the night. Her superior, Sergeant Chadgura, stepped onto the platform to support her subordinate and stared down her own BKV scope to confirm the sighting. She nodded her head at Madiha, silently corroborating the Corporal’s discovery. Both kept their guns trained forward.

“Ma’am, you two should take cover behind the platform just in case.” Chadgura said.

“It doesn’t look like a tank,” Kajari said, “I think it’s got wheels. We may be able to–”

“Hold your fire unless I say so.” Madiha said.

She stepped off the platform, taking Parinita with her by the hand.

They crouched behind the brick, and heard footsteps as Chadgura and Kajari, and other guards around them, took positions behind what cover they could find.

Madiha breathed deep and concentrated. Her eyes felt hot, but they did not hurt.

She felt a sharp feeling in her skull and her vision swam, rising as though her eyes were sliding up. Vision left her body; her vantage, what her eyes saw, soared far over the rail platform, as though she peered down at the world from a surveillance plane. Gently the scope glided over the rails, out to the warehouses, and found the approaching vehicle – an enclosed, 8-wheeled scout car, four on each side. It was a rather familiar model.

Shaking her head grounded her perception firmly within her eyesockets. There was a residual chill, a shuddering and disassociation, a lack of control over her body, but she regained enough presence to try to climb the platform again. Parinita reached out to her.

“Madiha, wait,” she said, grabbing her by the shoulder. She drew a handkerchief from her jacket and wiped around Madiha’s ear, and then showed her the discharge. It was blood.

“That’s inconvenient.” Madiha said, sighing. She thought she had mastered this by now.

Parinita approached and pressed her hands on Madiha’s cheeks, locking eyes with her. Madiha felt the slight burning in her eyes cool off, completely, instantly. Parinita let her go, and nodded toward the platform. “Just be more careful from now on, alright?”

Madiha nodded, and climbed again on the platform.

She looked through a pair of binoculars in the dark at the approaching vehicle and waved her hand at her guards to tell them off. “It’s one of ours! Everybody stand down!” She shouted quickly, the little binoculars serving as justification for her knowledge, despite having as poor a range and capability in the dark as the scopes on the BKVs.

Without question, Corporal Kajari and Sergeant Chadgura put down their BKVs, and waved down the machine gunners and riflemen and women that had gathered around the platform. They stood down, and Madiha ordered them back to their positions near the road.

Slowly the vehicle approached.

Once it came close enough they could see it was an Adze scout car with a circular aerial – the command type vehicle. It drove toward the platform and parked just off the track with its side-door facing the platofrm. From the vehicle a tall woman stepped out, with short, curly hair slicked back, a gold-and-red uniform, and a striking dark countenance. She approached the platform, climb it in one jump, and took Madiha in her arms.

“Thank the Ancestors you’re safe,” said Inspector General Chinedu Kimani. “Madiha.”

Being in those arms took her back to her childhood.

She remembered that feeling now – she could be fond of it. She could feel nostalgic over it. Kimani’s arms, embracing her, protecting her, picking her up when she was small, all of this she remembered. She had been there so much for her in the past.

“Chinedu,” Madiha said simply. She smiled. “I’m glad to see you. Are you alright?”

“I am fine.” Her voice sounded more emphatic than before. She pulled herself away from Madiha, and saluted her respectfully. “I will be evacuating via the sea with you, Major, so I had to leave the Kalu behing. Things are going about as well as they could in that area.”

“I’ll make sure you can keep in contact.” Madiha said. “Thank you, Chinedu.”

“Do not thank me; I would not have given the enemy any pause without our comrades.”

“No, I mean,” Madiha made her eyes glow again, “thank you for everything, Chinedu.”

Kimani smiled a little in response.

This was an incredibly rare sight. For a moment the two of them were framed in light as they came to a silent understanding – the searchlights on the approaching trains shone on them, and the noise drowned out any more of their words. Bristling with anti-tank guns and anti-tair guns and pulling a heavy 203 mm artillery gun car in the back, the first of the massive armored trains stopped just behind them, and opened its doors.

“I think I have to supervise this, Inspector General.” Madiha said. She smiled.

“I leave the situation in your capable hands, Commander.” Kimani said. “If you require my advice or aid, I will be by your side. I hope to be more available from now on.”

“I appreciate your expertise.” Madiha said. She saluted her. Kimani saluted back.

Parinita stepped onto the platform, and ushered forward the first group of evacuees. From the trains, KVW agents helped accommodate the wounded and sick in the cars. Accommodations were not luxurious, but slowly, under the stars and the light of electric torches many of the survivors of the first battles of Bada Aso boarded the train, ready to be ferried out of Hell and into the future, where, hopefully, they could heal and grow.

Madiha saw the glow of life in all of them, and she felt it strongly in herself.

She did not regret the past.

Her experiences had not broken her. Had Chinedu not fought for her, had she not saved her life, there would not just be one less staff member in this city. She thanked Chinedu for that; and she thanked herself. They had all yet to settle comfortably into their roles; but they had lived through injury, through terror, they had lived and could keep living to do so.

These people had not been sacrifices; their inability to fight now did not make them cowards or burdens. They were not spent. They had potential, realized again and again.

She knew that now, too. None of it had been about sacrifice. Not her; not them.

31st of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E

Bada Aso – South District, 1st Vorkämpfer HQ

Von Sturm convened the Vorkämpfer staff for a meeting early next morning.

Fruehauf’s brown hair was a little messy that day – she had hardly slept and had little time to groom herself in the morning. Her little bob tended to get out of control when she was overworked. She had stayed by the side of the radio all night, putting through Von Sturm’s calls whenever he needed to run his ideas by one of his units in the field.

He planned to stay up all night working; so that the other girls could have some rest, she had personally volunteered to act as his contact. He flung surprisingly little invective her way throughout, so absorbed was he in his maps and tables of organization.

So as everyone gathered, Fruehauf yawned loudly, and felt a little light in the head.

When he stepped through the door into the dining area, Von Sturm beamed brightly, several documents and a map under his arm, and he marched with sophomoric confidence. He was the most energetic person in the room. Everyone else looked as if dragged along the ground. At a fevered pace he constructed his presentation, putting up maps and photos.

“I decided to go with my instincts.” He said, gesturing to everyone assembled.

Before the assembled staff he laid out a new map, covered in scribbles of his own handwriting. Labeled “Operation Surge” it seemed to Fruehauf as though Von Sturm had simply distributed most of his current forces along every imaginable road in Bada Aso and then wrote arrows pointing north, some of which collided at certain points, others veering around to create numerous vague pockets of suspected force concentrations and enemy strongholds. She was not a military planner, but she hardly saw any change in plans.

“I want the overwhelming majority of our forces to assemble at these starting points; I want that done before the 33rd, when the first Surge attacks will begin. Until Surge begins, forward attacks will be made to probe Ayvartan territory, clear mines, and spring their ambushes prematurely. These feints will be followed by massive attacks along the entire city. I am giving permission to deploy all of our technical reserves – tanks, mobile artillery, assault guns, every available infantry-carrier truck and half-track, several heavy guns, several planes. I have already secured air forces authorization from the Oberkommando.”

He paused for a moment. There were no questions – there were never really any.

“The Bundesmarine has also agreed to push a Destroyer vessel and a pair of torpedo boats to help support a flanking attack the central harbor by a small company of marine infantry and luftlotte paratroopers. Our objective is to give the enemy no time or room to hide. We will charge with lightning speed and root them from every one of their holes!”


Fruehauf sneezed. Her little pompom earrings swung every which way. Von Sturm stared at her in consternation and she felt like crawling into a hole, but he said nothing.

From the back of the room Von Drachen tried to raise his injured arm, and then he flinched, and thought better of it. He put down his injured arm slowly and gingerly, and then he raised his good arm instead, and waved it around in the air for them.

“This sounds promising, but I think the timetable looks unreasonable.” Von Drachen said. “We should attempt to fight them house to house. Running upstreet has already proven costly to us. We need to systematically clear each area rather than hurry through.”

Von Sturm smiled at him. “Your input is appreciated, Von Drachen.”

Von Drachen furrowed his brow and seemed confused by the reaction.

At any rate, Fruehauf knew the score.

Once that map was pinned up on the wall, Operation Surge was the new gospel of the 1st Vorkämpfer. She hated to do this, but she would have to get the girls to cover anything important so she could get some sleep. She would be needing the rest for the scramble required to keep contact with so many units marching at once. Never before had she seen Von Sturm pin so many chits on a map. Everyone would be busy.

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