The Sun That Shone Through Smoke (28.2)

52nd of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E

Solstice Dominance — The 10th Head

Premier Daksha Kansal left her private car and walked down the street a few meters, staring sideways at the property across the empty green park as though it was a suspicious animal that was readying to jump. After a few minutes she turned her back to it and returned to her car. Her driver advanced to one of the driveways around the grass and followed it up to the building. As the Premier and her company rode to the property, she glared at it through the car window with her chin supported by the back of one hand. She shook her head.

“What do you think, Premier?” asked a big man seated across from her.

“It’ll have to do.” Kansal said simply.

Palaces and all they entailed did not sit right with the new Premier.

In 2007 Daksha Kansal and a few accomplices attacked a radio station in the southern capital of Bada Aso. She had been sent there to expose the government’s corruption. There was a script, a quick, punchy message that would embolden the struggling; Kansal hijacked the message in the heat of the moment. She broadcast her ambitions. Across Ayvarta, for a brief moment, people contemplated the possibility that one insolent woman at the bottom of the world could seek after the head of the Emperor and the heads of his family.

What was intended to be a moderate message of protest, became a declaration of war.

One year later, the ambition would be realized. The Zaidi would stand in the bloodstained halls of the Imperial palace having brutally disposed of the regime.

There was nothing left of that particular palace anymore.

It had been destroyed, the land repurposed.

But not all of the royal estates shared the same fate: one Palace remained. Humble for an estate, but complete, accessible, and suitable for Kansal’s new purpose.

Ironically it was once the abode of one Pajar Kashlik, the chief provider of impetus for the project of a nationwide radio infrastructure in the early 2000s.

In Ayvarta it seemed that the past and future always entwined in eerie ways.

Kansal’s car parked just outside the broad, 24-step concrete stairway leading into the estate. Two wings with richly decorated facades extended thirty meters each to the left and right from a grand, gabled entryway in the center. The Kashlik estate house was only two stories, and it was much longer than it was wide. Surrounded by trees and shrubbery on three sides, with an empty green park in front, and situated atop a small hill, the estate had a commanding view of the sparse northern borough of the capital. One could see some of the northern wall of Solstice from almost anywhere on the property.

Despite its richness, compared to the People’s Peak it was a squat, unassuming rectangular building that anyone could believe served no function but to play host to the noble excesses of its occupants. It was just the pleasure house of a low Pajar. Kansal despised large, unnecessary houses. In fact the space made her distinctly uncomfortable and brought back bad memories. But the People’s Peak was a juicy, obvious target. It was a monument — it would be targeted and would be difficult to defend. She needed a hideout.

She needed a 10th Head for her besieged 9-Headed Hydra.

“I hate the place, but we kept it for just such a thing, so let us use it.” She said.

“At the moment we can’t build something more communist to replace it, comrade Premier; that is the only reason that I suggested it! It is a property where we can house the entire SIVIRA staff apparatus and its equipment in relative safety and comfort.”

“Is it even wired?” Kansal asked skeptically.

“Yes! That is another reason I suggested it, Comrade Premier, and it is one reason it was not demolished. Pajar Kashlik had his estate thoroughly modernized by 2008. He had telephone, he had a personal telegram connection, radio, backup gasoline power generators. He even had refrigeration — a giant gas-powered ice room for storing food! It is the perfect place for our operations. Even as we stomped flat the other palaces, the Commissariat of Development realized that the Kashlik estate had too much practical value to destroy.”

As much as she hated the place, her pragmatism was overcoming her bias.

Her car had an extended rear cabin with two plush seats facing each other. She occupied the rearmost seat, and across and in front of her was comrade Kamau Mamani. A tall, hairless man with skin like black diamond, smooth, dark and glistening in light. His manners were gentle and reserved. He made no movement that was sudden, and spoke with his hands always on his lap. Daksha appreciated this. People who gesticulated wildly always made her nervous, though she knew they had their reasons for those behaviors.

He was her chosen companion on this business. Mamani had picked out the new location of the headquarters of the “SIVIRA Of The Supreme High Command,” or SIVIRA. This would be the new national headquarters unit of the army in the process of unifying — known as the Sunhera Thalsena or “The Gold Army” in the Arjun speech. It was variously referred to in the past two days as both the STS and the Gold Army. The Gold Army had gone through a few names in the KVW’s hasty planning. There was talk of naming it after the Svechthan Red Army, but a unique name was needed. Hydra Army was considered as well, but while Kansal found the name personally appealing, they needed something more universal.

“Gold Army” had history — it was an informal name given to the Emperor’s Ten Million Men.

There were still legends and histories taught to children that referenced it.

Right now, their army needed to feel like living legends in order to survive.

Thus, Gold Army it was. “The Ayvartan People’s Gold Army.”

And this estate would be The 10th Head, SIVIRA’s headquarters.

Kansal walked through the gabled entryway and into a spacious but empty lobby. It would have to be furnished with a front desk. Long hallways in either direction led to the wings, and doors directly ahead led deeper into the building. Recessed staircases around the corners led to the second floor. It seemed as though a lot of foot traffic could channel through the building unimpeded — a necessary feature in the time to come.

Through a ground floor door at the end of the lobby, Kansal wandered deeper into the palace, opening doors and peering inside grand tea rooms and game rooms and gathering places. All of these could be converted to operational areas. At the center of the building there was one room of immediate interest, with a long carpet leading to a desk enclosed on three sides by tall bookcases. Overlooking the desk there was an animal’s head mounted on the wall. Gray with rubbery skin, large, deep-set eyes and four massive tusks surrounding a fiercely grinning stub of a snout — a preserved King Tusker head.

“Remove that grotesque exhibit from here post-haste. Replace it with my copper hydra.”

Mamani smiled at her and rubbed his chin. “Chosen your office then, comrade Premier?”

Daksha silently acknowledged him by walking up to the sizable mahogany desk, running her hand over it to trace a line over the surface dust, and taking a seat in the big chair behind it. She sat with her hands clapped together over the surface and closed her eyes.

“Yes. This will be my office. My above-ground office, anyway.” She said.

“Splendid. We shall start accommodating the departments here.” Mamani said.

“Right. You may go, Mamani. When Chakma arrives, send her here if you meet her.”

Mamani nodded his head, saluted, turned and promptly left the room.

Premier Kansal sat behind the desk for a few minutes after Mamani left the room. She put her elbows to the wooden surface and held her head in her hands. She steepled her fingers and stared out across the room, over the carpet, to the door. Nobody would be soon to arrive — she stood from the desk and checked the books on the shelves. To her surprise, Pajar Kashlik had managed to collect all fifty volumes of the Lubonia Encyclopedic Collection before she had him killed. A lot of other outdated but valuable scientific, anthropological and zoological books lined the shelves. The Pajar had managed to make himself into quite a scholarly man on the backs and purses of the working class people.

Shaking her head, she left the volumes behind and wandered the estate alone.

Over the next few hours more of the staff of the new SIVIRA began to arrive in trucks and half-tracks and liaison cars, finding themselves pointed mostly to empty rooms at first until more of their equipment caught up with them. Trucks started to bring desks, chairs, file cabinets, and other necessary office amenities. In their place, old chairs, leather couches, and king size beds and other frivolities were hurled out onto the green patio until a use for them could be found. Daksha had a mind to donate them to youth hostels.

In the middle of the haphazard furnishing, a KVW gendarme alerted Daksha to the arrival of her new War Secretary, and she promptly made her way to the green to meet her.

Exiting a liaison car, a short, golden-skinned woman with her hair in an orderly black ponytail, pristinely dressed in the KVW black, saluted Premier Kansal. Daksha nodded to her in return, resisting the urge to salute — she wasn’t technically in the military anymore as Premier. Standing across from her Chief Warrant Officer Cadao Chakma had a small smile on her round face, and her diagonal, folded eyes shone with a color like the sun.

“Comrade Premier, I’m honored to be of service! When I heard of my appointment, I immediately set about gathering my proposals. I’m ready to work right way!” She said. Her voice was charming and bubbly; she sounded like she was ready to jump up and down.

“Your initiative is appreciated, Secretary Chakma.” Daksha replied.

“Secretary; I can hardly believe it.” Chakma replied, almost as if to herself.

Having exchanged their pleasantries they walked back to the Premier’s new office side by side. By the time they arrived, the Tusker head had been taken from the room, and a copper Hydra installed in its place. Looming over Daksha’s head as she sat on the desk, this nine-headed serpent reared back in quiet menace. Chakma had the full view of the creature from her seat opposite the Premier. The War Secretary laid various documents on the table.

“You’ve expanded your proposals since we last met, I assume?” Daksha asked.

“Indeed!” Chakma said, clapping her hands together. “I worked very hard!”

Prior to this post, Cadao had been a staff officer working on training doctrine with the readiness corps. As the KVW prepared for war in the past few weeks, she caught Daksha’s attention by compiling and submitting a research paper on resources and organization for rapid remobilization. Like a growing number among the KVW’s troops and staff, her training was not fully complete — in fact they had not even begun to give her conditioning. She lacked the red glow in her eyes because she was not yet even considered for it.

But she had a vision and at the moment Daksha needed above all else people with vision.

“Alright. Let’s pretend I don’t know what you’re here for. What have you got?”

“Yes ma’am! As you can see, I’ve assembled my organizational proposals for your consideration.” Chakma said cheerfully. “These documents contain an expanded version of the proposals I previously submitted. Tapping into various sources, I believe that we can immediately rally six corps worth of troops in Solstice itself — around 225,000 men and women in total, from KVW units, Revolutionary Guards, Police, survivors of the southern battles and Battlegroup Cadets mostly far along in their training.”

“What about the remaining battlegroups in the north?” Daksha asked suddenly.

“That might be the one sticking point.” Chakma breathed in deep, stuck out her chest and spoke with greater conviction. “Comrade Premier! This may be controversial, but I believe it is imperative that these forces remain in place to guard the territorial integrity of northern Ayvarta against potential incursions against the rear echelon of the Solstice Dominance. Though we could sorely use the 400,000 troops in place there, I believe we should tap into only 1/4 of these forces and leave the remainder in case of a naval or aerial threat to us!”

Daksha felt a nervous twitch. She suppressed a snap judgment, an urge to reprimand what she saw as wayward naivety. Certainly it was a daring proposal to make to her, at this time when they needed as much manpower as possible in the south to forestall an invasion. Daksha could not fathom why they wouldn’t make use of all their forces.

“I was led to believe you were submitting a proposal for remobilization.” Daksha said.

Chakma looked momentarily nervous, but gathered her convictions and continued in the same forceful tone of voice as before. “Ma’am, I believe we can build a fully-equipped, thoroughly organized force that will better serve our purposes than painfully remobilizing, reequipping and reorganizing the northern defensive battlegroups, which are currently lacking in officers, standardized training or even a standardized force organization.”

“True,” Daksha said suddenly, nearly interrupting the last part of Chakma’s sentence, “but can Solstice endure the mustering of this force, or will we have an army without a capital?”

“I can make no guarantees, only predictions based on good info, ma’am.” Chakma replied. Her forehead glistened in the room’s dim light, and she swallowed hard after speaking.

“Alright,” Daksha grinned, false sweetness mixed with all too real venom, “I think you need a break, Secretary Chakma. It is your first day on the job and you are visibly nervous.”

“Ma’am?” Chakma choked up and sat very stiffly against her chair.

“Fetch yourself a drink, think things over, and return to continue your proposal.”

Daksha waved her hand dismissively, picked up a pair of reading glasses from her pocket and started to look over the document folders. Chakma looked around the room in confusion, got the hint, and slowly, awkwardly retreated out to the hall. She left the door half-open, and Daksha could see her shadow out in the hall, pacing and pacing without aim.

Finally Chakma returned, and without taking a seat, she saluted the Premier just as stiffly as she previously sat. Her face was composed; she certainly intended to look serious.

“Ma’am, I stand by my proposal. I believe that if we withdraw too many forces from the north we could suffer a surprise attack by Hanwa or Lubon, who are certainly allies of Nocht and whose intentions in the conflict are not yet fully clear to us!” Chakma said.

Daksha looked up from the documents, staring at the new War Secretary over the lenses of her reading glasses. She crooked an eyebrow at her, and then returned to the documents as if disinterested. This further rattled the War Secretary, and though it came from a confrontational place, it represented the most gentle scorn Daksha was capable of.

“That is true, but you are essentially telling me to withdraw no forces.” She said.

“Untrue ma’am! My proposal outlines the creation of one more army out of 100,000 forces from the north deploying to Solstice. Thus leaving three armies, one each guarding the Northwest, North and Northeast! I believe this caution will pay off in the future!”

“We could those 400,000 troops in the South to fight against Nocht and stop them from beheading us here at Solstice. We can raise new troops to defend the North and East, where we have a better position anyway. Compared to Nocht’s forces 225,000 is a paltry number. Do you really believe you can have armies rolling out this quickly?”

“I believe by the new year we will have 500,000 defending Solstice and 1 million on the way, ma’am, if you follow my mustering, training and organizational doctrine!”

Chakma spoke up while looking straight forward and over Daksha’s head, avoiding eye contact from the seated Premier. She gesticulated as she grew more nervous and each rapid and unpredictable movement of her hands corresponded with a nervous, strained bump in the Premier’s weary heart. Daksha pulled off her glasses and pointed at the War Secretary with them, jabbing them sharply in the air as she said key words and phrases.

“You are invested in your plan; so then you are willing to take responsibility for it should the worst happen? Staffers have a habit of feeling safe playing with the lives of men and women and cities and farms and other organic things as if numbers on a chart could wholly represent them. I know this: because I was a brash idiot organizer once too.”

Not exactly true. Daksha had been a revolutionary organizer, but she had no formal military experience and could not totally relate to a Cadao Chakma the way she could relate to a Lena Ulyanova. Everything she knew about war and revolution she intuited from experience, from success and failure, from the movements of enemies against her, from the scars on her body and metal still embedded into her flesh. She never had charts back then. War was an animal instinct to her, and it was a clean science for Chakma.

Nevertheless, it appeared that Chakma had unwavering faith in this science. It was perhaps the same intense faith that Daksha had in her own ferocious instincts.

“I am willing to take responsibility!” Chakma said. Her voice was growing strained but there was a fire in her eyes and she stood perfectly still and straight as she spoke.

Daksha smiled warmly in return.

This time it was a genuine smile and accompanied by genuine sentiment.

So genuine it was that Chakma could see the total change in demeanor, and her stiff pose slackened in her confusion. Daksha stood up from her chair, took Chakma by the shoulder, and shook hands with her, the woman looking at her as if she was a ghost.

“Congratulations on your promotion to War Secretary, comrade.” Premier Kansal said.

Chakma blinked, and returned the hand shake in earnest. “Thank you ma’am?”

“Come, sit, and let us discuss the intricacies of your rebuilding plan.”

Leading the woman kindly to her chair, Daksha sat behind the desk with a bubbly expression on her face that seemed to continually confuse and unsettle her new War Secretary. As they spoke, Daksha became even more convinced that this was the proper person, and that her faith in that initial spark she saw in the woman was not misguided.

For Motherland! For Kansal! For Socialism! Vote for The Solstice War on Top Web Fiction!


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