At night and in the early dawn Madiha had taken to looking out at the sea. There was something calming about it. It always showed its best face, regardless of its depths. Atop the gently swaying prow of the Revenant on the calm sea she would contemplate the days ahead of her. There would be no answers. The Revenant was not a place to seek them.
Midday was another story entirely. Everyone was busy on the deck, and the surface of the ship was very hot. As such, gawking at the ocean simply put her in the way, and cost her significant body fluids. She had preciously little administrative duties out at sea, and instead spent much of her time belowdecks thinking and writing in her office instead.
Her office was not a landmark. Situated in the starboard side of the ship, it was planned as a telegraphy office. Modern encryption machines however were much smaller, and could stand alongside modern radios in the signals quarters near the foremast. Now there was but an empty desk and chairs, and this was all that Madiha really wanted or needed.
So she spent much of her time in peace, humming to herself and her desk and her chair.
Nobody really visited her save Paranita, who had found films and other things in the storage room that she shared with the Colonel. They had watched a few of them together, including a romance film that led to a little awkward tension between the two. The few times the Colonel left the office it was often with Parinita pulling her by the hand and laughing.
Madiha’s heart sometimes fluttered near Parinita, these days. She felt childish about it.
Those days in the ship were almost dream-like in their gentle, uneventful simplicity.
All of these things, however, became sudddenly overturned.
Only a few hours away from Rangda, and Madiha had heard more noise and seen more movement than she had the whole trip. There was now a commotion outside of her office, and her heart was certainly not fluttering for Parinita, who had dragged in some gigantic bird from the deck that was obsessed with Madiha for some reason. Just as the bird was now obsessed with Madiha, Parinita seemed obsessed with the bird, adding to the consternation.
It would be impossible to have a last leisurely study before disembarking.
Stationed atop her books and notes, the creature closed its eyes and clacked its beak.
Crawk, crawk, crawk! it cried, and Parinita clapped her hands with delight.
Outside her door, several interested gawkers, naval and army alike, stood by and watched with bewilderment as the Kite Dragon overturned itself on her desk, and rolled over Madiha’s precious manuscripts, which she rushed to salvage. It seemed to ignore any attention it was being given, instead contenting itself with appearing a jackass before Madiha. For her part, Madiha knocked its head away, shoved its tail aside, and pushed its thrashing form off her papers, and managed to collect them all before it did damage.
“I am not delighted with pets, Chief Warrant Officer.” Madiha shouted over the crawking.
Parinita scoffed, crossing her arms. “Why not? Colonel, give it a good look! It’s so pretty!”
In love with the creature’s antics, Parinita skipped toward the desk and reached her hand.
The Kite Dragon stopped its energetic thrashing suddenly and gave Parinita a sharp, serious look. It clacked its beak in anger whenever the secretary approached to touch it.
Parinita tentatively kept her hand in the air over the beast. Dissatisfied with throwing bites at her shadow, the Kite Dragon spread its beak and let out an unearthly noise instead.
Outside the room the little gathering drew back from the door, and tension shaved away the crowd. Some gawkers broke all pretense and ran as if the ship was on fire, or would be.
Madiha produced a thick socialist pamphlet and tapped hard on the drake’s head with the spine. It settled back down on the desk and allowed Parinita to rub the down on its back. At once the tension in the air died down, and the creature seemed to finally calm itself. Curled atop the desk, its flanks expanded and contracted with a steady, gentle breath.
“Too spontaneous.” Madiha finally answered the pet question hanging in the room. “It’s hard enough with people; animals just make me anxious. You can’t understand them.”
Besides which, Madiha had a bad history with creatures. She didn’t mention this.
Parinita was too taken in with rubbing the monster’s down to empathize, it seemed.
Scratching her own hair, Madiha continued the conversation. “What does it want?”
Parinita threw her a skeptical look. “It’s an animal, it doesn’t want anything, it just likes you.”
“What do I do then?” Madiha pressed. She felt foolish, but she was truly stumped.
“Um,” Parinita fidgeted with her hair, “Feed it? Play with it? Name it?”
Madiha wondered why anyone would waste their time like that. It was one thing to, for example, leave food out for animals on the street. This was borne of compassion, in the same way that people deserved food so did animals. Animals did not require you to play with them, or so Madiha thought. And they certainly did not require names. In fact, one might even argue, according to the socialist conduct of Lenanists, that taking animals as “Pets” might constitute a form of exploitative bondage. However, Daksha truly did not care about animals one iota in teaching her, so Madiha formed this conjecture mostly for an excuse.
She thought it best to think about it more than that before she told Parinita.
“What if it has a name already? We’d be insulting it.” Madiha said.
Parinita blinked at her. “I am fairly certain it does not have a name.”
“How can you be sure it doesn’t?”
“Because it’s an animal. Have you ever seen A Tiger’s Tale by any chance?”
“Have you read the book Man’s Origin and the State of Nature?”
Parinita shrugged. “Well, just– they’re animals Madiha they don’t have names.”
“I’ll trust you on that, since you seem such an expert on this fiend.” Madiha said.
“Okay!” Parinita clapped her hands, changing the subject. “What should we name it?”
Madiha gasped. “Whoa, you just leaped a kilometer ahead of me–”
From the doorway a hand shot up suddenly and someone jumped up and down.
“Baku!” cried a voice. A smooth-featured face wearing a big grin and messy chestnut brown hair in a long braid popped up over the crowd briefly, and then disappeared with a thump, and repeated, coming back up again to speak. “Name it Big Bearded Baku!”
Parinita looked to the door with obvious disdain toward the suggestion.
“Corporal Kajari, please disperse this crowd and close the door. Thank you.”
Behind the little crowd, Corporal Gulab Kajari stopped jumping, and sighed audibly.
In a few minutes the office door shut, Madiha breathed out and finally had a measure of privacy again. Parinita continued to watch the creature with rapt attention. Madiha thought she felt her skin brimming from the anxiety of the past few minutes. In reality the vibrations from the Kite Dragon’s energetic purring were transferring through the desk.
“So, what shall we name it?” Parinita asked sweetly. She clapped her hands together and bobbed her head aside, and shook her hips a little. She was really pouring on the charm now. Despite the creature’s hatred for her, she seemed driven to keep it.
Madiha looked into her bright eyes, and briefly glanced at the little monster. It had rolled over on its belly and begun wiggling about atop the desk, swishing its tail in the air.
Sighing with resignation, Madiha replied, “Kali will be fine. Symbolic; easy to say.”
She just could not say no when Parinita looked so earnestly at her.
On the 35th of the Aster’s Gloom, the Battle of Bada Aso had ended.
Completing the Hellfire Plan, Battlegroup Ox under the direction of Madiha Nakar lured large Nocht formations into the capital city of Adjar, Bada Aso. Deceiving the enemy as to her true intentions, she evacuated her troops, retreated by sea, and detonated the city via the mysterious built-up gases lying deep within its underbelly using radio-control tele-tanks.
She could have never imagined the scale of the devastation she would wreak.
From the sea, she observed as three quarters of the city were set ablaze. Massive columns of smoke and fire reached skyward. It was almost more magic than nature at work.
She estimated at least six powerful divisions of the Nochtish armed forces had been devastated there. Hundreds of tanks, planes, heavy guns, and other equipment had been devastated. Bada Aso was denied to Nocht; without its port, its communications and its transportation capability the efficiency of Nocht’s east-bound thrust to Tambwe and then North Ayvarta would be severely curtailed. Dori Dobo was the only other hub city comparable to Bada Aso in Adjar; and she used the word comparable very loosely. It was smaller, its port capacity far lesser, and it was far too south to be effective.
There had been other effects of this devastating battle on the course of the war.
Under the rains of Bada Aso, Madiha had recovered all of her past memories. Whereas before she walked through the world with a life half-lived, she now remembered her childhood, her emancipation, and the revolution. She remembered her fate, 22 years ago.
Everyone had given her up for dead, but Daksha Kansal had refused to surrender her.
Years passed, and that faith was rewarded. Madiha woke again. Hollow, damaged, but alive.
She remembered her coma, the recovery; she winced internally remembering the pain and frustration of physical therapy as she learned again to use her body. At that time she had been almost the walking dead, a blank slate without a mind, acting almost automatically.
Some of that hollowness had gone away now. Her fragmented life had become again a continuous development. Now her earliest memory wasn’t leaving the hospital walls and fighting an addiction to pain killers as a teen. Now it was the nuns; the harsh lessons; the lonely playground. She had been four or five years old when she became truly cognizant.
She remembered her power and how to wield it. She also refused to employ it liberally.
Nonetheless; at the tips of her mental fingers she had her life and experiences again.
Despite having this knowledge she still felt quite eerie. ‘I am,” and ‘I feel,” still felt like alien concepts to her. Even as a child, there were many limitations as to who Madiha Nakar was, and what she could be. She had never been able to develop the hopes and dreams, the formative experiences, the simple likes and dislikes of a peaceful life among people.
Madiha always substituted a duty to others for developing a sense of herself.
Even as a child, reading about socialism, carrying out Daksha’s plans, delivering letters, evading or fighting guards; becoming proficient at those things is what made her, her. It wasn’t that she was afraid of drakes, or that she liked blueberry halva, or that she gambled with the other stray kids sometimes. It was her value to others that made her.
Seeking after that value, refining it; that was her. All in service of the revolution.
She was no longer a child. So that substitution became much more complicated.
These days there was just one task that she felt satisfied her mired mind.
And so during the time since they left Bada Aso, Madiha contemplated the war.
In her office, she had begun to pen several observations about Bada Aso, about Nocht, about the way Hellfire turned out, and about the way forward. There was one idea she had been nursing lately that carried her through her last days, until the Revenant finally docked at the port of Rangda. It had not been hubris that had befallen Nocht in Bada Aso.
Hubris backed up by power was still power. No; it had been deception. Theirs, and hers.
Deception had defeated Nocht. Deception; this was a fundamental part of warfare now. Ruses, diversions, lies, ruthlessly redefining the world in which your opponents fought. That was something she had done without even knowing she was doing it. Nocht would get wise now. It was not enough to passively await their mistakes. She had to take action.
All of her planning had to change. In a way, this excited her. It was a challenge.
Combined arms, mobility, intelligence, and deception. That was warfare now.
And she had a chance– no, a duty. She had a duty to master modern warfare.
War was the only thing that seemed to hold her mind for long, the only thing that truly fascinated her. So while Parinita watched films and engaged in the raw mathematical work of logistics, and while Agni tinkered with the tanks and other equipment leftover from Bada Aso, Madiha began to outline the principles that she would follow in war.
She started by titling the manuscript, and she called it tentatively, “Deep Battle.”