The 1st Regimental Headquarters (37.2)

Tambwe Dominance — Rangda City, Upper Rangda

Unlike Bada Aso, the architecture of Rangda was much less mismatched.

All of the buildings had similar, utilitarian designs. Hard, uncomplicated angular shapes defined the basic design of the structures, and the skyline was fairly flat and open. Stucco-covered facades hid what was likely simple masonry. There were a few simple balconies, some suggestions of flat exterior columns, and the Civil Canteen near the apartment was a hexagonal building, the most complicated design seen during their unhurried joyride.

Every structure had a flourish of lived-in style, however. People made up for architecture. Different paint patterns, flower beds on the windows, posters on the walls and on the scant utility poles, personal gardens astride the front steps, clothes hanging on lines — Rangda looked very alive, as if the stark mass constructed geometric buildings were a canvas upon which the inhabitants could paint as they desired. It was organic in its own way.

Minardo started to play the role of tour guide as they delved deeper into the city.

However, they soon found out she made a rather morbid one.

“See all of this? We’re all probably older than these buildings. Rangda was almost completely destroyed in the Ayvartan Civil War, and rebuilt after. It wasn’t the first city in history to be concertedly bombed from the air, but it was one of the first.” Minardo said, as if it was a fun fact delivered to a tourist. “Most of Rangda was gobbled up in a massive blaze.”

Parinita winced a little, staring at the buildings around her with new eyes.

Madiha was untouched by the old trauma, and instead focused on her own interests.

“The actual first city to be strategically bombed from the air was Yakow in Lachy. It was bombed by the Nocht Federation in the Unification War, using three Zeppelins. Yakow had no defenses, so even an ineffective bombing was horrific to the population.” Madiha said, perhaps too nonchalantly. These were all just facts to her; things written in a history book.

Thankfully she was in a setting that was not openly judgmental to her for her tone. Minardo just whistled as if she’d learned something interesting, and Parinita smiled quietly.

“Have you lived here long, Minardo? Did you see that bombing in the war?” Parinita asked.

“No, actually. I’ve only been here for six years.” Minardo said. She looked briefly at them using the rear-view mirror, but kept her eyes mostly on the road ahead, though there were almost no vehicles around. There were a few cars and trucks parked in certain places, and they passed a couple of buses, but they had the blacktop almost all to themselves.

“I was a war orphan in Solstice.” Minardo continued. “My family were killed in the fighting. They were tax bureaucrats for the imperial ministry. I don’t remember what happened there exactly. After the war was over, I grew up in a socialist boarding school. I never had any interest in labor or academics, so I just joined the army. One thing led to another.”

Minardo spoke of these hurtful events again as curiosities. Her tone did not unsettle Madiha, who spoke about similar things similarly, but it did set her into contemplation. She nodded quietly as she thought of her own role in those events. Her heart beat a little faster.

Parinita whistled. “My grandmother told me my mom and I were around Solstice when the civil war started, but I honestly don’t remember a thing about it myself. I was too little.”

“Interesting! And of course I know the Colonel was involved as well; our big hero here!”

Minardo smiled at Madiha in the mirror. She sounded perfectly genuine in her cheer.

Others had called her a hero before, and it sent Madiha into depression then. Now it merely set her heart to beating even faster than before, and caused her to turn demure.

She still felt more than a little offput, being called a hero. But she would not object to it.

“Up until a while ago, I couldn’t remember anything about it either.” Madiha replied sheepishly. It was rare to be in a car full of people touched by the same event. A dark cloud loomed over Madiha with regards to this subject, because all of their suffering was caused by something she began. She felt slightly shocked that Parinita was involved in that too.

Madiha had once thought that her missing memories of those chaotic events were a shameful and rare thing, like a black spot on her soul. And yet, Minardo and Parinita did not remember either. So far as Madiha knew, Parinita never seemed concerned about this. She had never even brought it up before. They were talking about it casually now.

For a long time, Madiha had blamed herself for every hint of suffering that the revolution in Solstice had caused. It was eerie to see comrades who left that suffering firmly in their past.

Eerie; but somewhat reassuring. Nobody was going to judge her for these old sins.

She supposed all of them were children of the revolution in one way or another.

“At any rate, what’s past is past. Looking to the future: are you two going to the festival?”

Minardo smiled at them expectantly on the rear-view mirror. Parinita tipped her head.

“Do we have time to go? We’re supposed to organize some training.” She asked.

“Everyone goes! It’s very cultural, you know? People need culture!” Minardo replied.

Parinita whistled, and looked to Madiha for her own answer.

“We’ve got work to do; I’m not so sure about this.” Madiha said sternly.

Minardo looked at her with an expression of concern. “You two really ought to go!”

“What’s the festival supposed to be like?” Parinita asked.

“It’s very beautiful!” Minardo said. Stars seemed to shine in her eyes as she painted her picture of the scene. “There’s all kinds of artisans and events, and Ocean Road is closed to car traffic during it except for a few parade vehicles, so you can walk up and down and really get a feel for the place! It’s big and bright! Plus you can bring your sweet with you and hold hands under the last warm moon! You can take it easy, buy your partner some co-op goods, and share a kiss beneath the banners! It’s a very romantic atmosphere!”

Madiha felt her heart bump a little at the word ‘romantic’. She made a bashful expression without meaning to, and averted her eyes from Minardo’s mirror and from Parinita.

“Sounds fun!” Parinita said, clapping her hands together and beaming brightly.

Something about this whole conversation chafed badly for Madiha. She felt an urge to respond and to set everyone’s priorities straight; in part to refocus her own thoughts.

“We cannot have fun with Nocht smashing down our doors.” She said brusquely.

That was perhaps an exaggeration; but it was one of those times when Madiha’s voice had said different things in her mind than what ended up on her tongue. She regretted giving such an ultimatum almost immediately, but she did not retract it. Parinita looked a little downcast; Minardo stared at her pointedly through the medium of the rearview mirror.

“Colonel, you’re being unreasonable! Here, let me see if this changes your mind.”

At the end of the residential areas Minardo turned a corner and drove a few blocks back down to the broad and colorful Ocean Road, waiting for a trolley to pass before heading back in the direction of the base. One could not escape the festival banners hung everywhere. There were moon sigils stamped on every conceivable surface, and colorful characters on storefronts and posters urged passersby to turn up on the 48th to acquire cheap goods, watch performances by local celebrities, and have fun on Ocean Road.

“Look at how much effort is going into this!” Minardo said. “Every year, Colonel, Rangda holds this festival on the last full moon before the winter winds come down from the frosty peaks of the Kucha. Everyone gets one final tropical day to relax and have fun!”

Madiha averted her eyes from the rearview mirror. She still thought she should get to work immediately. But the vehemence with which she could argue for this was flagging. Her own heart was tugging her in a particular direction; seeing Parinita’s enthusiasm, and hearing Minardo’s pointed arguments, had quite worn down Madiha’s mental defenses.

“Colonel, even in all of the bleakness around us, people need color and light to live!”

“I will admit that you have a point.” Madiha whimpered, her voice barely audible.

Whether or not Minardo heard her, she put on a self-satisfied little grin all the same.

“We definitely need to work, but you two just got back from a war zone! You need some R&R, Colonel. No human can go on and on without a little change of pace!” Minardo said. “I saw you both yesterday, you’re two bad bundles of nerves. You need to loosen up.”

Thinking back on the day before, Minardo was a lot more collected when they first met. Madiha would not have thought her personality to be this fiery and candid. For today she had indeed become quite undone — loose, one could say. Madiha supposed this was all contrived. She dropped the professional act because of her concerns for them.

It was nosy of her, but perhaps there was a kind and earnest rationale behind it.

“I’ll think about it.” Madiha finally said. Minardo smiled and started to whistle a little tune.

They continued to drive down Ocean Road, slow enough now to take in the sights.

Most of the sights were colorful storefronts advertising numerous consumer goods.

All along ocean road there were many different shops. There was a couture shop that reminded Madiha of an old hideout of hers during her childhood in Bada Aso, with a special on bright red and gold bridal lehenga garments; a cobbler’s place shortly after took advantage of the sale upstreet and boasted reduced prices on ornate women’s pumps.

There was a sporting and hobbies club along the way that traded in a variety of things, from locally produced mountaineering equipment to models of trains and militaria. A Local food co-op sold excess produce that collective farms were allowed to set aside for private sale at specific prices; meanwhile the state shop boasted of a once-in-a-lifetime sale on Television sets, for only 2000 shells, ready to watch the two channels broadcast in Rangda.

“There’s a lot of stuff for sale around here, huh.” Parinita said, staring at the storefronts.

“Prices for controlled goods tend to go down during festivals.” Minardo said.

“Huh. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to think about shells.” Parinita replied.

“Feel broke now? You should’ve seen the price lists for the week of the 21st, when Tambwe finally caught on to the war. It was ridiculous.” Minardo said. “I can probably buy a pair of those ruby red pumps on the window there now that they’re not priced at 500 shells!”

“I haven’t actually been paid in a while. Not that I’m complaining.” Parinita said.

“I’m sure there’s a big fat bank note coming in the mail soon, dear. Once the mail catches up to your location. It’s been a chaotic month, after all.” Minardo said.

Nevertheless, regardless of war and price controls the festival went on as usual.

To most of these people, the politics behind their lives were largely invisible; they had food, and a roof over their head, and good enough clothes to work and go about their business. They could go to theaters or join hobby clubs for free, or cheap enough to almost be free. An inability to buy chocolates or model trains usually didn’t bother them.

After all, a pair of fancy pumps had also been quite expensive under the Empire.

“You don’t need money to go to the festival though!” Minardo added, grinning.

Neither Parinita nor Madiha had a comment. Both of them seemed quite suddenly struck by the fact that they were indeed quite broke here, despite commanding a military salary.

Minardo sighed. “You two are depressing. You remind me of my old CO, in a bad way.”

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