Rangda City — 8th Division Garrison, Training Field
As the day wound down, Madiha left the stolid confines of her big desk and visited Kimani at the training field. She wanted to see her again — they hadn’t talked much at sea. She also wanted to get a look at her troops and their training course, though she suspected that only minimal progress had been made on the facilities there.
Madiha was correct. Little had changed on the training field since she first saw it, except for the troops running around on it, and tents set up at its edge and now being taken down. She found Kimani sitting on the remains of a brick wall, about knee-high, that had not been properly cleared out of a building lot. She had her arms crossed, and was staring forward without expression. Hearing the Colonel’s footsteps, she glanced over her shoulder.
“Hujambo.” Madiha said. She approached the wall, walked around it, and stood at Kimani’s side with a small smile. “How far along are our prospective elite soldiers?”
Kimani grinned just a touch. “They can run and jump, so there’s potential there.”
“I see.” Madiha chuckled. She crossed her arms and stared out at the field.
“How about your office? Can you yell at the regional quartermaster over the phone?”
Madiha shook her head. “We haven’t even gotten the wires yet, much less the sets.”
Kimani nodded. She pushed herself off the bricks to a stand.
She then stepped forward and spread her arms, closing in on Madiha.
Madiha allowed herself to be taken to Kimani’s breast, wrapped in a familial embrace. They were a little awkward; she was stiff, and Kimani’s approach was just a touch too strong and too close. Despite this it was the closest Madiha had received to sororal or maternal love in decades. It felt strange but comforting to be wrapped tight with someone older and bigger.
“Forget this place for a moment. How are you holding up?” Kimani asked.
“I’m doing better.” Madiha said simply. “I’m stable, even without the drugs.”
“Good. I was worried in Bada Aso. I wish I could have done more to help.”
“It’s fine. We’re here now; let’s put it behind us. Bada Aso is burnt and buried.”
Kimani raised her head from Madiha’s shoulder and stared into her eyes.
“How did you like the kachumber today?” Madiha asked idly, steering away the topic.
Kimani gave her a little smirk, stroking her head as if she was still the child she once knew.
“It was very good. Quite a relief too; I almost thought the city would try to starve us.”
When they finally parted, Kimani looked at her face almost fondly, and patted her hair.
“You’ve gotten more expressive, Chinedu. You remind me of that time.” Madiha said.
“You’ve changed too,” Kimani said, “hopefully, the better to tackle this unique predicament.”
Both women looked out over the field, where their troops ran laps, cleaned guns, dug a series of latrines, and cleared out the remnants of walls and floors left on the various empty lots, all for lack of any real combat training to do. It was a pathetic sight on a military base.
No matter how much anyone wanted to train, the deprived state of the regiment prevented it. An army needed supplies for everything, even for the purposes of training to fight.
Kimani and Madiha had wanted to make a large, complicated training course in Rangda.
However the supply situation was putting a damper on their well-laid plans.
There was no pattern to what got delivered and what didn’t. They had gotten the wood for the climbing obstacles and for building model houses, but no concrete to build the fake pillboxes. They had gotten steel posts, but no barbed wire with which to line the ditches and fences for the digging and crawling drills. They had gotten their tanks delivered from Solstice, but the ammunition, locally produced to 76mm specification, was in short supply.
And the amounts of the materials they did receive were a pittance compared to what they needed. A 4-ton truck’s worth of wood, a 2-ton truck’s worth of steel, a crate’s worth of sandbags. It was maddening. They could still potentially make a small, limited course that only four or five people could run at a time, but that was simply unacceptable for them.
“This is Mansa’s doing. That much I know for a fact.” Kimani said.
Madiha had not told Kimani about what happened between her and the councilman, much less between her and the councilman’s toady Jota. She was surprised to hear her come to that conclusion. It was starting to dawn upon officers like Minardo that the situation was deliberately contrived against them; but it was another thing entirely to single out Mansa.
“How did you come to that conclusion?” She asked.
“I know the history of this place. Once I heard he was here, I knew there would be trouble between us. Rangda is doing what it has historically done best.” Kimani said.
Madiha raised her eyebrows. “Deprive people?”
“Indeed. Well-worded; Rangda has been a place of deprivation and ironclad control.”
“I only knew it was a major port; we conducted most of our foreign trade through here.”
Kimani nodded. “Do you know who pushed for that to happen?”
Madiha shook her head. She knew a lot about military history, about socialist theory, about things that she needed and wanted and that she was interested in knowing. She was quickly finding gaps in her knowledge when it came to other things; never had she been so starkly confronted by things she did not know. It made her life up to now feel almost simple.
“I’m going to guess it was Mansa.” She said. That dot was easy enough to connect.
“Mansa has a long, complicated history.” Kimani said. “He was an imperial bureaucrat here in Rangda at the turn of the millennium. Rangda had a labyrinthine system of guild patronage at the time — to get good jobs, and to have any chance at a decent living, you had to join the labor guilds and worship their associated political machines. You had to play their games. Mansa got his standing through the vicious diplomacy of the period.”
“And anyone who failed this system sat at the bottom of society.” Madiha said.
“Worse. Old Rangda was a paradise built to hide a slum. You weren’t even human without patronage and access to the guild machines. Anyone who lifted you from that poverty into the prestige of the guilds was like a god to you — they literally gave you life. It was the way of things here; nobody saw any alternative. And it was a system fattened through the opening of the ports to vast and lucrative foreign trade markets. It created a system of slavery and slavers, professionals and peasants, all serving foreign currency.”
Madiha jumped a little ahead. “And those systems were not just bombed away completely.”
“Believe me, we tried.” Kimani said. “All of the Rangda that you see now is new, at least physically. During the Civil War, we devastated the shining port. I’m not proud of it. But it was a bastion for nationalists with foreign support. The SDS burnt the city to ashes.”
“I understand.” Madiha said. She didn’t have to justify it to her.
Kimani nodded. “Needless to say, it was violent. But culture isn’t like a crop blight. You can’t just burn it away. Mansa went on to have a prominent role in ending the Civil War. After the war, he brokered deals to reopen foreign trade primarily through Rangda and Bada Aso. He wanted us to rejoin foreign markets. He wanted to open the imperial vaults for this; but Lena Ulyanova and Daksha Kansal blocked him from doing so. Once he backed off the issue of hard currency, he proposed other ways, and they were acceptable to everybody.”
“And he regained his standing in Rangda and Tambwe through this action.” Madiha said. She was quickly piecing together what Kimani’s ultimate conclusion might just be. “I suspect he or his family reformed those old imperial guilds as the current Rangdan labor unions, correct? So during the period prior to the Akjer incident, these unions would have been prestigious; the local market in Rangda would have been flush with coveted foreign goods.”
“More or less. It’s not the same as then, not by a longshot. But Mansa has a lot of pull among people whose families and professions were at their peak back then; and among the people they trained, the people they support. Generations have carried this hero worship forward.”
“Why was all of this allowed to happen?” Madiha asked, a touch aggravated.
“Compromise ended the bloodshed. Everyone wanted to believe in everyone else.”
Madiha shook her head. “I get it. We took him at his word, in good faith. So now, he can use that to hamstring us with his pull on the unions. After all, we’re the KVW, the enemy that closed off the country’s access to the outside world and its rainbow of consumer goods.”
It was an ugly picture, but Kimani’s expression seemed to confirm that this was the case. Madiha had hoped the situation would not be so dire, but after this conversation she could not deny that something quite rotten was happening all around them. She hesitated to say ‘something dangerous’ or ‘something treasonous.’ She dearly wanted the intra-Ayvartan violence of the Akjer period to be over. But it seemed nothing could be easy.
She supposed that was the same thing that Lena and Daksha had felt after the Civil War. Both had dearly wanted the violence to be aware. So they believed; at disastrous cost.
“This is all just conjecture, of course.” Kimani said.
“I’ve had run-ins with Mansa and his subordinates that suggest otherwise.” Madiha said.
Kimani rubbed her chin. “I see. In that case, I trust your judgment.”
“I just don’t understand why he would do this. Does he want me to go up to him and beg for my supplies? He must know I will not do that. Does he want us to vacate Rangda? There are easier ways to accomplish that with his position. None of it makes any sense.”
“I cannot fathom his motives either. This interference is too obvious.” Kimani said.
“Regardless, we have no choice but to play along for now.” Madiha said. She had started to contemplate her options, but had very quickly run herself against a wall. “Even if we contacted Solstice, they would demand an investigation or that we take action. They would not just let us move somewhere else for refitting. So we serve everyone’s interests best by staying here, provoking Mansa and seeing what his next move is.”
“Whatever order you give, I will follow.” Kimani said.
Madiha released a long sigh.
As the sun started to set on Rangda, it became clear that they had not entirely escaped Bada Aso or any of their problems. They had simply traded one Bada Aso for another.
One siege for a second; one war for another, perhaps worse war, longer-lived and far more acrimonious; one enemy for a new, mysterious foe. It was like Akjer, all over again. In that tiny coastal city the greatest betrayal of their young nation had been orchestrated.
Madiha quivered with the realization that this could easily become her Akjer.
In light of this, the questions of supplies, of festivals, of her roaring heart, seemed so petty.
There could be no time for any of that in this situation.
“Chinedu, I was wondering if I should–”
She felt Kimani’s hand land on her shoulder and squeeze.
“On the 48th, If you have someone in mind to go with, then go.” Kimani said.
Madiha looked over her shoulder at her with surprise.
Kimani smiled, and patted her shoulder again in a friendly fashion.
“I was a proper young woman with many suitors once. I can coach you.”
Madiha burst out laughing, so suddenly and clumsily that she was in part choking and coughing and in part actually laughing. She felt a sense of relief, as if the bad air clutching her heart and brain was being slowly released in the struggle to breathe through her humor.
Though short on supplies, at least Madiha was not short on moral support.