First Blood (52.3)

City of Rangda, Rangda University

North of the 8th Division barracks and Ocean Road stood the campus of Rangda University, series of city blocks built on broad, flat green linked by flat concrete roads and bearing the noble old buildings of the academy. Red brick monuments of the old imperial city, they had been restored after the revolution, and many retained their austere pediments and gables, their many rows of arched windows, and their grim facades.

On any other Aster’s Gloom the University would be bustling, even at night. There were thousands of students, and plenty of canteens and restaurants and co-op bars and clubs to keep them busy. However, Rangda’s circumstances had become dramatically different. Most of the inhabitants had now been evacuated to Rangda Coliseum and Rangda International Airport; the streets were empty save for the occasional checkpoint for the venerable 8th Ram Rifle Division’s Lion Battalion.

It was familiar terrain, and they made use of its one major feature.

Surrounded by the lecture halls, laboratories, dormitories and studios was Muhimu Shamba, a large park serving the university as a place to find peace and fresh air between lectures, to eat outdoors or sleep under the shade of a tree. There were small patches of woodland, a little pond and grassy fields. Dirt paths wound through the park’s natural bounty. Amid the brick and glass, it was an authentic place, an open, organic forum.

On the 52nd, however, the picnickers ate military rations and supervised the movement of supplies to an 8th Division ammo dump in the area. The 8th Ram Rifles considered Rangda University a key feature of the urban landscape that had to be dominated. Control of it meant, essentially, blocking the entire northern approach to Rangda from entry — or exit.

And Muhimu Shamba was a crucial position within the University blocks, a central hub with clearance for howitzers, space for caches and rallying areas and field hospitals, and ready access to every wing of the campus. Soon as the Lion Battalion was assigned to the north, they made sure to put Rangda University behind their backs as they faced the enemy.

Three main roads formed a roughly t-shaped path through the campus proper. Where all three met at the park, the Lion Battalion put down its roots, and from there, expanded almost down to Ocean Road. They had a strong backbone supporting them in the center of the University campus.

Muhimu Shamba was the center of Lion’s operations. Not far from the little pond, the battalion command tent had been strung up, next to a pile of ammunition crates. Reinforced with sandbag walls, the command tent was spacious and well hidden within a small cluster of trees. Since the reports came in of a plane flying over the city, people had taken care not to visit the command tent too often. Instead the tent was hailed on radio.

One of the few men inside the command tent was Lieutenant Badir “The Lionheart.” He loomed over a map of the city on a fold-out portable table and scratched the fuzz on his chin. In conjunction with the 4th Battalion, Lion had been tasked with creating roadblocks and checkpoints to start boxing the 1st Regiment inside of their base. His map had them marked.

Roadblocks flagrantly disagreed with his preferred methods.

His Lion Battalion were warriors who faced their enemies head-on.

All of the confusion in Rangda ill-suited him.

He looked at his old base with disdain. Ever since he heard of the plan for the 1st Regiment to rest and rebuild within Rangda he had been skeptical. Had not the KVW just recently gotten done stealing Battlegroup Ox and overthrowing a regional council? Were they not terrorizing the territorial army with their inspections? And yet, that Nakar’s victory at Bada Aso was hailed as such a miracle that Rangda could not refuse to host them.

Nakar’s victory had been a defensive one. It was measured in its ability to harm and delay the enemy. That, Badir thought, was no true victory.

In his mind, anything but an offensive victory belied craven cowardice.

Combined with his disdain for the KVW, he marked Nakar as unworthy.

There were at least 3000 men and women and maybe a hundred tanks at the old base, and probably around 500 trucks and similar transports. The 1st Regiment was “motorized,” something uncommon in Ayvartan infantry units owing to a lack of available vehicles. Outwardly, Badir had scoffed at the notion; inwardly he was jealous of the KVW’s ability to procure transport and to become Ayvarta’s largest motorized force.

He had orders to set roadblocks, so he set roadblocks. But he hungered to fight Nakar and overcome that legendary defense that “won” Bada Aso.

For Badir, his allegiance was to the Lion Battalion, to the mutineers of ’26, to the Mansas who supported them and won their heroes freedom. To a free Rangda, a Rangda that enriched itself from every corner of the world.

Defeating Col. Nakar would show the world such a Rangda was possible.

He would get his throw of the dice sooner than expected.

Lt. Badir took notice of the morning sun perhaps an hour after the dawn. It was at that time that he was pulled from his strategizing by the arrival of a group of men carrying large radios on wheeled carts. They brazenly charged into the woodland surrounding the tent and burst suddenly in.

“You utter baboons, I told you explicitly not to come here without calling!” Badir shouted. He glanced sidelong with anger at his own radio personnel.

At the door to the tent, the arriving men bowed their heads.

“Apologies, lieutenant, but the radios at our university checkpoints are having audio issues sir. We were hoping the signals chief could check them. Every frequency we’ve been tracking has turned to noise.”

One man stood forward, holding a radio box in his hand.

Lt. Badir nodded his head toward one of his radio officers. She stood from the radio table at the back of the tent and took the radio from the man offering. They set the radio down, plugged it into power, and checked each frequency. She looked up from the ground at Lt. Badir with a glum nod.

“Crack it open, see what you can do.” Lt. Badir ordered.

From her jacket the woman withdrew a small toolkit. She opened the green metal enclosure around the radio’s guts and checked the vacuum tubes, the cabling, the headset plug. She did not remove or substitute any parts, or even poke at them for too long. It appeared the radio was fine.

Lt. Badir felt a shot of electricity down his spine and into his stomach.

He looked down at her and she up at him. They both had the same idea.

“Signals warfare. Our radios are fine; they’re being jammed.” She said.

Badir ran back to the table with the map of Rangda.

“Send troops out to the roadblocks immediately! Keep trying to contact the other units and if you can get through, tell them to attack!” He said.

Lt. Badir withdrew his scimitar from the side of the table and clipped it to his belt. He rolled up the map of Rangda and stuffed it in his bag, and started out the door. All around him, the men and women of the HQ staff stared in bewilderment. He was nearly out the door when he noticed.

“What are you waiting for?” He shouted at them. “We’re under attack!”

All of them seemed to lack his enthusiasm toward bloodshed.

But whether they knew it or not, the elite Lion battalion was at war again.

As they watched the lieutenant charge out with a sword and a map, they wondered what era of warfare he ran to, and whether they could follow.

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