50th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E
Tambwe Dominance, City of Rangda — 8th Division Base, HQ
“Let them in.”
At the Colonel’s exasperated command, the machine gunners guarding entry into the headquarters stood aside. Kajari and Chadgura stepped away from the interior doorway and held their rifles with their bayonets and barrels staring at the ceiling. Outside, the guards inspected the arriving car while its occupants cross the threshold into the HQ.
Parinita Maharani recognized the escort, but she was more surprised at the woman.
“Please identify yourselves.” Madiha said. It was a formality. She knew both of them too.
Haughtily, the woman with the ringlets and skirt suit crossed her arms and grumbled.
“Chakrani Walters, representative of the Adjar Civil Council.” She said.
Madiha nodded her head. “Padmaja, have her sign in, please.”
From a corner, Feng Padmaja quietly and meekly procured a ring-bound book and presented a page and a pen to Chakrani. Normally the junior staffer was chirpy and energetic, but the gravity in the room seemed to have tripled for her, and she moved very slowly and deliberately. Chakrani stared at her with disdain as she approached, and begrudgingly signed the book before shoving the pen brusquely back into Padmaja’s hands. Stunned by the outburst, Padmaja stowed the pen between the locks of hair at the edge of one of her covered double buns, and walked sadly and stiffly back to her table.
“Can we talk now?” Chakrani asked. Her tone was turning downright bratty.
Madiha quietly nodded her head toward the man at Chakrani’s side.
“Identify yourself.” She demanded.
“I don’t feel like it.” He said.
“I will not ask again.”
Parinita averted her gaze. She felt the tension in the room constricting her chest.
Despite their previous liaison, Chakrani did not seem touched in any way by Madiha’s visible injuries. She seemed quite ready to treat Madiha as just somebody that had to be spoken to. Her posture was intimidating — Parinita thought Chakrani looked like a cat poised to lunge. Her crossed arms shook very slightly with pent-up energy. Her tapping feet hit the ground sharply and with a quick rhythm. Her gaze was cutting as her eyes slowly looked over the room, settling on every face she found. Her smoldering stare shook Bhishma and Padmaja.
She was such a contrast to Madiha; opposites truly did attract sometimes.
Madiha’s face was void of emotion. Parinita met her eyes from across the room, trying her best to silently communicate her support in this obviously painful situation. In response the Colonel’s expression and stance were neutral. Her voice, when she first spoke, sounded tired and vulnerable. But when she questioned the arrivals, she took a sterner tone. While Chakrani had come before them with fire in her chest, Madiha just seemed hollow.
“Just do it already.” Chakrani said, elbowing her escort.
At her side, the young curly-haired man in the disheveled uniform stared at the wall.
“Private Jota, mobility support.” He said. His tone was dismissive.
“I need your full name and unit. You can sign it in.” Madiha calmly ordered.
Padmaja stood up from the floor and approached cautiously with the ring-bound book.
Jota spat on the floor in front of her. “Nah. Find it out yourself, Colonel.”
Padmaja shrank away.
“Kajari, remove him.” Madiha said.
From the doorway, Corporal Kajari approached with her rifle in her hands.
Jota, visibly taller than her, half-turned and raised his hands.
“You don’t want to do that.” He said dangerously.
Kajari turned the bayonet on his neck and left a scratch.
“You can leave by yourself or in a bag, your choice.” Kajari said.
Chadgura stepped forward as well.
Jota sighed deeply. He turned carefully and left the room, rubbing his neck.
All throughout Chakrani stared with a mix of horror and rage.
“You’re on a power trip, Colonel! He is my official escort!” She shouted.
Madiha was unmoved.
“Anyone who enters this building and shows even a shred of antagonism,” She said, her tone suddenly dangerous and deliberate, “is a threat to myself, to my staff, and to the security of highly sensitive materials in this base. I am not playing a game here.”
Parinita shuddered a little at the response, but she knew Madiha was right.
Especially in the condition she was in, and after recent events.
One’s outlook on security changes when one is nearly beaten to death in a “safe place.”
“I’m absolutely sick to death of you! Your actions from the moment you received a command have been nothing short of savage!” Chakrani shouted. “I’m filing a complaint!”
“Is this the Adjar Government-In-Exile talking still, or just you?” Madiha asked.
At the sound of the Colonel’s words, Chakrani stood suddenly quiet and still, and seemed cowed with shame. Chakrani then quickly composed herself, standing straight and to full height, taking a deep breath and clearly making an effort to calm her voice. Her hands were still shaking and Parinita thought she could see some moistness in her eyes.
“Colonel Nakar, let us cut the acrimony short — I’ll talk, and you’ll listen. Alright?”
“That is amenable. You have the floor, Councilor.”
Parinita wondered what was going in Madiha’s mind and heart at the moment too. She knew Madiha was skilled in compartmentalizing her emotions and pushing through difficult situations. She had already been put on this spot with Chakrani before in Bada Aso, and she was under greater pressure then and did not buckle. But she must have felt something, to be seeing Chakrani again, and in this kind of position and situation.
Though the thought felt childish and self-centered, Parinita wondered if Madiha felt strengthened by their affection, by their moonlit and dawnlit oaths. She wondered if the image of Parinita at her side helped to support her and drown away Chakrani’s voice.
Chakrani’s inner war was visible and plain. Madiha’s seemed completely suppressed.
Nevertheless, Chakrani took the role of Councilwoman Walters and delivered a speech so thorough that it seemed as though read out of paper on an invisible podium. Judging by her own expressions before, this dry, official language did not seem to be her words.
“Colonel Nakar, the Council of the occupied Adjar Dominance is deeply concerned about your continued independent usage of arms, armor and personnel taken from the Adjar Battlegroup Ox without any attempt at communication or information-sharing with either the Tambwe Civil Council or the Adjar Government-In-Exile here in Rangda.”
Madiha interrupted briefly. “My isolation was not wholly of my own design.”
“Information given to the Adjar Government-In-Exile says otherwise.”
Her continued insistence on referring to this “Adjar Government-In-Exile” was confusing. Parinita had not once heard of such an entity existing within Rangda, and she did her best to keep up with the political goings-on despite their limited resources. She knew the Adjar Council had evacuated to Tambwe; Madiha had ordered the move and executed it just hours after first meeting with them in Bada Aso. It made sense that they would end up in Rangda, as it was Tambwe’s most important city that was also relatively farthest from the fighting at the time. However, the concept of a continuing Adjar government baffled her.
“Let me guess: Mansa put you people up to this today.” Madiha calmly said.
“Councilman Mansa helped us organize here and informed us that you have been acting independently, including recently detaining prisoners and withholding information.”
Chakrani was starting to verge on anger again. She had a frustrated expression.
Madiha drummed her good fingers on her desk throughout Chakrani’s explanations. She spoke up in a stronger tone of voice afterward. “I am acting independently because the Adjar Dominance does not exist, and you have no authority over anything anymore.”
“I beg to differ.” Chakrani replied. “Currently we are working with local authorities to help relocate 50,000 refugees from the Adjar Dominance. We are getting them houses and food and union jobs instead of sending them to the desert. What have you done lately?”
That was it then, Parinita knew; Chakrani’s loyalty came in exchange for Mansa’s help in integrating some of her people back into normal lives. There were millions of Adjar refugees, but any number of people resettled and happy was a good number. However, most refugees were heading farther out to Solstice because Dbagbo and Tambwe were already embroiled in combat themselves. Parinita did not dare say it out loud, but in her rush to accept Tambwe’s help for these people, Chakrani was likely only endangering them.
Madiha stared at her without expression and then delivered her own quick speech.
“What we have done is destroy multiple elite corps of the invading army, delay their assault on Tambwe and their march into North Solstice by weeks instead of days, so that you can come here and berate us in the stead of your nonexistent government instead of being dragged into a camp and shot by Nocht as a ‘terrorist leader.'” She said.
On the receiving end, Chakrani grew more furious with every word spoken.
“You can be as dismissive as you like once you’re back under the stead of the government to which you belong! Listen to me before you open your trap again Colonel: rehousing refugees is not our only project. We’re aware that this country is tenuous too. So we have plans to raise a force of people from Adjar to help protect our new home in Tambwe and rebuild Ox’s strength. We need you to cooperate for everyone’s good.” Chakrani said.
“Ox has been disbanded and I do not need it to return. It is useless to everyone.”
Chakrani charged headlong into her next point, ignoring Madiha’s response.
“We’re talking past each other then so I’ll get to my main point. We’ve given to believe you have a prisoner from Nocht in your hands and are restricting access to them. You can ignore our other requests if you like; but we demand to be able to speak to them. They are not under your jurisdiction. We wish to see what information they can give us about the occupation, so we might adequately prepare for our resistance. Can you spare at least that?”
“No.” Madiha said immediately. “I have already gotten as much relevant information as can be expected from the foreigners. They are under the protection of the KVW now.”
“You can easily correct your wide overreach of your authority by simply letting us talk to the prisoner, or by sharing any information you got from them.” Chakrani said. Her tone of voice and the construction of her words sounded threatening, as if she was ready to indict them.
Parinita turned her head from the scene, and stepped closer to the desk with the original Generalplan Suden files. She should have realized that was their objective all along.
“None of it is easy or simple. Further harassment of our guests is not productive and could be downright dangerous. So no, you will not be allowed to speak with them.”
“Your unwillingness to submit to lawful authority is what’s dangerous here!”
“Lawful authority? You mean Mansa’s crooked council, and the eternally lame duck council that are using you as their puppet to retain some form of political relevance?”
“Whether you like it or not, Tambwe and Adjar have legitimate governments that–”
Madiha raised her good hand, and stood up from her desk, stopping the Councilwoman.
“I am not here for Tambwe or for Adjar, Chakrani. I am here for the Socialist Dominances of Solstice. I am here for the Ayvartan people. I am here for what will be a long war. It is disturbing to me how you stridently you fail to see the bigger picture here.”
Chakrani’s face turned chalk-white and her expression contorted with disgust.
She shouted back louder than any voice heard during the entire discussion.
“Don’t you fucking dare say my name again! I will not suffer you for a second longer you animal! Everything you do, everything you touch– You cannot save a single thing, you miserable wraith! Mark my words! I hope I never see your despicable face again, Colonel, but you will hear from Adjar again. We will do whatever it takes to save our nation.”
She turned sharply around and stomped her way out of the building, pushing Kajari and Chadgura away from the door as she went. Everyone inside and outside the building seemed to have heard the outburst, and there were heads turning everywhere. Even the Hobgoblin turned its turret as if judging her. Chakrani Walters, as quickly and suddenly as she came, returned to the car with Jota and the pair sped off back out of the base.
Parinita breathed a loud sigh of relief. Everyone else was silent and still for a moment.
“She really does not like the Colonel.” Padmaja meekly said, cutting the silence.
“She has reason not to.” Madiha said, her head sinking against her desk.
Parinita shook her head. She supposed that was the answer to her previous fears.