The 1st Regimental Headquarters (37.5)

Tambwe Dominance — Rangda City, 1st Motor Rifle Regiment HQ

Behind Madiha the gates to the depots closed, and slowly her anger dissipated as she made her way back to the the headquarters. It felt twice as long a walk alone as it did when she had Minardo for company. Whatever the Sergeant was doing took her longer than it did for Madiha to half-heartedly walk along the line of depots. She wondered if she should wait, but the sight of the depots caused her stress. She departed, head down, hands in her pockets.

On the way, she stood off to the side of the road as the column of running soldiers passed by once more. Every soldier waved as they ran by, and she waved back.

Arriving at the far end of the flag park, Madiha found that Corporal Kajari and Sergeant Chadgura had gone, and Parinita was sitting outside on one of the office chairs, rocking her legs and spinning periodically around on the chair swivel. Kali was seated a few paces away, with its back turned to Parinita and the building. Madiha approached, raising her hands to gesture that she had found nothing of use. Parinita frowned in response.

“Did you try the Divisional HQ? They have to have radios somewhere.” Parinita said.

“Not one radio.” Madiha replied. She walked into the building, picked up a chair, and brought it outside. Turning it around, she sat with her chest against the backrest.

“I wonder if Minardo really put in those orders right.” Parinita said.

“It’s not her fault.” Madiha replied.

“I should have called ahead for supplies, directly from Solstice.”

“It’s not your fault either.”

“It’s just frustrating. I know you wanted to jump right back into the fray.”

“I did, but we’ve got time yet. I’ll come up with something. Don’t worry.”

Madiha wondered whether to tell Parinita about Jota and his insinuations at the depot, but decided not to. Politics made her nervous. It would have put Parinita on edge like nothing else if Madiha told her it was possibly Mansa’s doing that their supplies were still tied up. Until the situation was confirmed or escalated, it was better not to make accusations or leap into wild conjectures. Jota calling Madiha out for her actions during Akjer stung her quite a bit. He was misinformed and acting in bad faith, but that didn’t dull the pain in her heart.

She did not want to be The Right Hand of Death in Rangda. That was all supposed to be in the past. To avoid that phantom she would have to be more diplomatic from now on.

Colonel and Secretary sat on their chairs out in the park grass, and waited.

Eventually, as the sun started to bear down on them directly overhead, they saw a figure approaching, its form rippling in the heat. Minardo returned from wherever she had gone, holding a big cardboard box in her hands. Madiha almost jumped out of her seat when she saw it, and Parinita clapped excitedly. She had found a radio! It had to be!

The Staff Sergeant crossed the flag park, sweating, swooning a little in the heat. She stood in front of her superiors, pulled a kerchief from her pocket, wiped her forehead, and put it back. She then saluted, and with a big grin on her face, she set down the box.

Inside, there was a large collection of what Madiha could only describe as junk.

“Why did you box this garbage up and bring it here?” Madiha asked.

There was a nondescript metal chassis; various knobs, some of which had been broken in half or cracked; vacuum tubes wrapped in newspaper; old capacitors in a plastic tub, some of which were visibly burnt or corroded; a very old toolbox; a box full of spare screws of many sizes; tangles of wires, many stripped of their protective rubber coating. To Madiha all of this seemed like nothing more than junk. She glared cheerlessly at it.

Minardo scoffed and closed her fists. “Why, I never–! It is not garbage!”

Parinita clapped her hands together. Her beaming face had never once darkened even when Minardo revealed the junk in her box. In her eyes it was something else entirely.

“You found it, Minardo! You found a radio!” Parinita said.

Madiha raised her head from the box in surprise.

“Hmph!” Minardo turned her cheek on Madiha. “I went to the garrison junkyard and dug around. Normally garbage is supposed to be disposed of mid-month. But since this month coincided with a military invasion, I figured they would have overlooked it.”

“I apologize, Minardo. I did not recognize the parts. Thank you.” Madiha said.

She bowed her head in deference.

Minardo looked at her from the corner of her eye and smiled.

“Well, it’s no use to us in this form. But I figure someone can help with that.” She said.

She turned her head from Madiha to Parinita, who crossed her arms and smiled proudly.

“I know a thing or two about radios. I’ll get started on it right away!”

Parinita lifted the box of radio parts and took it inside the headquarters. She set the box down on the table, produced the chassis, and started to open it with a screwdriver from the toolbox. Once she had the turret board out, she connected the radio to a wall outlet, switched it on, watched some of the vacuum tubes flash, and then began to withdraw more parts from the box. Madiha watched, bewildered. Her eyes were drawn to Parinita’s hands.

Those hands possessed mythical qualities in Madiha’s eyes. She had first felt them on her shoulders and back, when Parinita gave her a cleansing, almost magical massage in Bada Aso. Impossibly soft, and yet possessed of great keenness and firm, they were capable of miracles. She knew that they had some supernatural quality — Parinita had talked about dispersing the fires that Madiha created in herself when she used her power.

But there was so much more to those hands than magic. Parinita was so gentle, precise, impossibly skilled with her hands. She moved with an almost rhythmic precision. Every turn and touch of her gentle fingers was almost entrancing to watch. Her delicate grip on the vacuum tubes, one fingertip and thumb lifting the piece to her eyes; the way her wrist turned so precisely as she exchanged one part for another, or shook a part, or socketed in a tube; the graceful flicks of her fingers as she tapped on a gently gripped capacitor.

It was like a dance, Madiha realized; it had an almost sensual character.

After several minutes, Parinita set down her tools, stretched her fingers and laughed.

“All of the capacitors are still good! No soldering needed. It’s a matter of replacing vacuum tubes. I just have to find which ones are broken and which ones work correctly.”

Parinita gave everyone a thumbs up, and then focused again on her work.

Madiha nodded dumbly, watching her hop about the headquarters in a little blur of activity. There were still many things about her lovely secretary that surprised her.

“Drooling, are we?”

Minardo closed in on the entranced Colonel and elbowed her gently in the arm.

“Ask her out on a date to the festival, Colonel.” Minardo whispered.

Madiha’s heart jumped at the suggestion. In an instant that fluttering feeling switched on and suddenly off. She fought with all her might to keep her calm, stony expression, and managed to give Minardo the skeptical glare that her suggestion should have received. After all, they had work to do, and judging by the morning’s pathetic supply drop, there would need to be some heavy lifting done to get anything organized at all in Rangda.

“What are you insinuating?” Madiha said. There was a slight stutter to her words.

Minardo put her fists to her hips and leaned on the Colonel with a big grin on her face.

“Don’t play dumb with me. All I have to do is look at two people for an hour and I can see the love blossoming. Rangda is a sensual city, comrade. Ask her out to the festival.”

“You know, fanciful delusions can easily convince you any two people are coupled.”

Madiha thought she was being clever, but again the staff sergeant deflected her easily.

Minardo poked Madiha in the chest, unfazed. “All I’m saying is you’ll regret it if you miss out on this! Trust me! Love is in the air as the festival looms. Soon it will become cold and rainy and gross out — you won’t have many date opportunities. Ask her out now.”

Madiha did not reply, and Minardo allowed the matter to drop. Madiha’s mind seemed intent on mulling over the idea of the festival, however, like a psychic tongue licking something sweet without permission. It fought fiercely with all those other strange feelings Madiha now felt, and it was quickly rising to the top from among them.

Moments later, there was an electric spark from the middle of the headquarters.

From the box, a voice started to sound across the room: Daksha Kansal’s voice.

“Comrades of the Socialist Dominances of Solstice! We must collectively open our eyes and awaken to the facts! The Nocht Federation is nothing but a paper tiger! Their technology is no better than ours! Their strength of arms is no greater than our own! Their vaunted morality, their claim to civilization, no more valid! There is no area in which Nocht–”

Though the voice was crackling a bit at first, Parinita attached one of the better-looking knobs to a tiny pin attached to the side of the turret board. Altering the power output with the knob, she managed to get the voice as crisp as it could be, and in the middle of the 1st Regimental Headquarters, Madiha, Minardo and Parinita stood and listened to Daksha Kansal’s powerful speech of the 45th on their very first headquarters radio.

Just as the nation started to awaken to war, the new headquarters became legitimate.

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