City of Rangda — 8th Division Barracks
Madiha woke with a start in a stark white room.
Immediately she drew back against the bed in pain and discomfort.
Her shoulder protested violently to the sudden movement.
“Madiha, calm down, you’ll hurt yourself!”
From the side of the bed, Parinita stood and knelt next to the Colonel.
Gasping for breath, sweating profusely, Madiha came to realize through the absence of sounds that she was not in battle anymore. She had escaped the gunshots, the cacophony of engines and cannons, and the toxic smell of that ever-burning pale fire. She was alive; back at base.
Without word Madiha made an effort to lean forward and seized Parinita into a deep, hungry kiss. Parinita’s eyes drew wide with surprise but she quickly reciprocated. Madiha held for a few seconds, delighting in the warmth of her lover before losing her breath and gasping for air over Parinita’s lips. Clumsily they connected again, pulling each other into shorter kisses between gasps and groans. Both were breathless when they pulled decisively apart. Parinita was fiercely red in the face and tearful.
“You worried me half into a grave!” She said.
Madiha smiled gently. “I’m so sorry, Parinita.”
“Never again, Madiha! I’m never letting you go alone like that again!”
Parinita carefully wrapped her arms around Madiha from her bedside.
When they parted, Madiha laid back on the bed and turned her head. She was in a bed, in a concrete room without a window. Her police uniform had been taken, and hopefully Agni or someone else had discretely burnt it. At her side on a bedside drawer there was a folded black uniform laid for her.
Her shoulder was thickly bandaged, and sewn beneath. It was a large wound, one likely made worse by her own meddling. There had been quite a lot of blood, and even more was smeared on her bandages. She felt too weak to stand up, though she desperately desired to be out of bed.
She felt herself too separated from the outside world. Something had to be happening that she was not aware of. Her military mind was afire.
“What time is, Parinita?” She asked.
“It’s just dawned. You’ve been asleep maybe four hours.” Parinita said.
Madiha shook her head. “This is not good. I need to get out there.”
“You should in all honesty sleep more than that.”
“I cannot. I have to get up.”
Madiha struggled to sit up and then stand, but she quickly failed.
Parinita stepped forward again to hold her down.
“You can’t! You’ll just hurt yourself again.” Parinita said. “Listen to me: I predicted this would happen so I’m already set up here, just watch.”
She swiped her hand at a curtain beside Madiha’s bed.
Behind the curtain was a table with a radio. On a nearby wall there was a corkboard with a map of the city. There were green pins stuck in various places. Judging by the fact that the Council building had the largest green pin on it, the greens must have represented the 8th Division. There were a few pins frighteningly near the base, a congregation around Rangda University in the north, a few around Rangda Airport, a line down Ocean Road that walled off the main thoroughfare from Madiha’s barracks.
“I realized that Kimani left some of her specialist staff with us, so I ordered them to perform some signals incursion.” Parinita said. “We managed to triangulate the location of a lot of 8th Division units. We don’t know what all of these units are, but we know where they’re parked at.”
“That was very astute. You really held things down while I was away.”
Parinita covered her mouth to stifle a little laugh. “Well, I tried.”
Madiha stared at the map, and she started to plot at once. She recalled perfectly the units at her disposal, the hobgoblin tanks, the chimera guns, her motorized infantry. Her fatigue was a thing of the past; soon as war entered her mind she was in a trance. In her mind she was moving pieces, like chits in the wargame, tracing paths through the streets of Rangda.
“We also received a message from Solstice.” Parinita said. “I transcribed it and compiled other information about the 8th that we dug up, here.”
She handed Madiha a thick file folder, almost like their own Generalplan Suden. Nodding her head, Madiha quickly began to digest the information in the pages. She found the communique from Solstice; her heart swelled as she read the information contained there. This was monumental.
“Parinita, can you hook me to the loudspeakers? I need everyone to hear.”
As the sun started to rise over Rangda, the mobile kitchens attached to the Regiment’s various units made their rounds across the base, delivering hot paneer, flatbread and fruit chutney to hungry units scattered across the base in defensive positions and reserve areas. Soon after the first few plates were emptied, however, the base communications system sounded and the wagons stayed in place with the troops, listening intently.
“Comrades of the 1st Order of Lena, Bada Aso Motor Rifle Regiment! This is Colonel Madiha Nakar speaking. You have had a difficult and uncertain night, but with the coming of the sun, a new age for Ayvarta has dawned. Last night at 0200 hours we received an encrypted message from Solstice. The High Civil Council has unanimously decided to step out of the war effort and has directed Daksha Kansal to assume the role of Premier of our Socialist Dominances of Solstice. Having worked under Daksha Kansal for many years, and seen her revolutionary fervor during the violent birth of our country, I could think of no better person to lead us in trying times.”
There was surprised whispering around the base. Most of the soldiers did not quite understand the position of Premier, one which had many powers over executive matters and was last held by Lena Ulyanova, a foreigner who loved Ayvarta more than many men born on Solstice’s own sand. But the Colonel did not clarify: she moved confidently forward in her speech.
“Last night was transformational in more than one way. We received information that shone light upon a truth you have seen with your own eyes now. Rangda’s 8th Ram Rifles Division wishes us harm. In fact, the 8th Division are pawns, willing and unwitting, in a reactionary and counterrevolutionary scheme to deliver the city to the vile Federation!”
Some gasped; but for anyone who had a rotating shift patrolling on the gate road the build-up was plain to see. Though they had not attack the 8th Division had aggressive intentions. Sandbags and guns did not appear as precautions between fellow comrades. They were an act of war.
“Comrades, I understand that many of you joined the service to protect Ayvarta from Nocht. You joined to save your families and loved ones and to support your friends; you joined not to sacrifice your lives, but to stay alive and to resist with every inch of your being the oppressing forces that march upon our shores. You did not join to fight your own people. Many of you did not live through the time of revolution. You did not see brother fighting brother and sister fighting sister on Ayvartan soil. But there are Ayvartans here in this city who conspire with the enemy. And in so doing, they become the enemy. They become akin to the traitorous White Army.”
There was silence in the base. Perhaps recognition; perhaps resignation.
“We may not relish this battle the way we would celebrate the defeat of Nocht and the deaths of its pillaging soldiers. But all the same, I must ask you all to prepare for combat. Orders will headed to each battalion and from there to companies and platoons within the next hour. Eat your fill, gather your supplies, and steel yourselves. Remember the training you received; remember that I am here to support you, my precious troops. We do not fight here for revenge: we fight, purely, for socialism! For Ayvarta! We fight to show the misguided 8th Division the strength of our unity!”
Though nobody could see her do it, it was if they felt the arm rising through the radio system. All around the base, fists rose in unison.
Madiha Nakar had cast the die and battle would quickly be joined.
It did not matter that the 8th Division just outside the gate might have listened. In Madiha’s imagined Deep Battle nothing the 8th Division could do at this point mattered except for them to attack first and immediately.
City of Rangda — Council District
Night turned slowly to morning, and the skies overhead cleared.
Even with the returning visibility, there was still a halt to the hostilities.
Dawn passed quietly, and by mid-morning the preparations had been completed. The staff of the Council and the soldiers of the 8th Division, alongside the civil police, mingled on the front lawn of the Council Building, standing where once gore had been strewn and corpses had collected after Colonel Nakar’s escape. They gathered on short notice to listen to an impromptu conference to be held by the governor.
Everyone stood in skeptical silence as Aksara Mansa stepped out.
They wanted him to address the curfews and the evacuations and the relocations of civilians and most important, what the point of this resistance was in the long run. Why did they treat their city as if it was under siege; and why were they themselves also readying to siege it?
For Arthur Mansa they might have once blindly walked into this fire, but that time was past and that trust eroded. Their hero had tested their faith, pushed their loyalty to its limits, only to challenge another hero and die. Madiha Nakar, hero of the border, had killed him. This information had been trickling out for hours. Now it was out and nobody understood.
All they knew was that Aksara Mansa was all that remained.
“My fellow Rangdans,” he called out, his voice boosted by a microphone. “It is with great agony that I must announce that we have received word of a coup in Solstice.” There was a generalized gasping from the audience. Everyone stood speechless, incredulous. Mansa gazed out over them. He lacked the slow, deliberate and uninterrupted cadence of his father. He drank some water from a glass as he let the words to stew in the crowd.
“My fellow Rangdans,” he started again. “Two nights ago, Warden Daksha Kansal of the KVW pressured the High Council into a unanimous vote of dissolution that ended with her being handed the title of Premier. It is a title that was retired with the death of Lena Ulyanova and replaced with the democratic and representative system we have enjoyed for close to a decade. It is a title that makes plain her ambitions. Daksha Kansal has made herself dictator in Solstice, and suppressed the information until the legal backing for the coup was completely secured and the government was firmly in her grip. It is for this reason that we only learn this now.”
There was not even a gasp in response. There was instead stillness around the crowd. Clutched hearts, clenched teeth, sweating brows, tearing eyes.
“During this information blackout, traitorous units seeded throughout our free cities, like the 1st Regiment of Madiha Nakar, have been preparing to enforce the coup across the Dominances. They have been aided by the chaotic advance of Nocht’s forces from the south and west. Madiha Nakar would have us bow down to this tyranny; some hero she is! I tell you right now, fellow Rangdans, I refuse this coup government! I refuse Daksha Kansal! Rangda will use all resources available to restore democracy!”
His voice was not as fiery and fierce as his father’s; there was no applause. Nobody seemed set ablaze by this course of action. Confusion reigned in the crowd. Eyes glanced aside wondering if they had all seen the same. In a rising collective whisper the crowd picked apart the speech, interrogated their own allegiance, and collectively felt unsettled by the situation.
“As we speak, units of the elite 8th Division have the traitor Regiment trapped in their barracks, and will shortly move in to detain them. I am sure scores of the traitors will surrender to justice, but many will fight, and they will be defeated. Know that the coming months will be difficult. We may need to parlay, we may need to fight, we may need to–”
Mansa opened his mouth and a booming noise seemed to escape from it.
Several hundred meters down the road a wall of sandbags erupted and flung sack and sand and shards of metal in a spray that fell just short of the crowd. Before the blast the sandbags had been erected around an old 76mm mountain pack howitzer brought in pieces by the men of the 8th, and set up in defense of the Council building. In one shot, the howitzer, the men behind it, and the sandbags around it, had been crushed.
Panic ensued. Staff rushed past Mansa in a desperate bid for cover inside the building. They knocked over his podium and loudspeakers, scattered his speech papers. Police dispersed, dropping their weapons and fleeing. Soldiers hit the dirt and searched around for an enemy they could not see. The 1st Regiment should have been dozens of kilometers away. Nothing in their arsenal could have hit this deep into 8th Division territory.
No additional shells followed the first, but the lawn nonetheless cleared quickly out. Mansa stood, watching the crowd sweep past him, stunned.
From behind him, a skittish aide appeared and whispered into his ear.
“Governor,” the young woman stammered. “The Lion Battalion has been routed. They are making gestures of surrender to the 1st Motor Rifles.”
Aksara Mansa was frozen in time, his ears echoing with the din of Madiha Nakar’s opening salvo and slowly realizing that she had dealt first blood before he even knew what was happening. That shell was not her signal. It was rubbing salt into a wound that he did not even know had been opened.
When had this battle even started? How had it moved this far this quickly?
“Where are the other units? How did the 1st Regiment break out?”
Grimly, the aide shook her head. “There are attacks in every sector, sir.”