Troubled Sky (57.3)

This scene contains violence.

Tambwe Dominance, City of Rangda — Council Building

“Summon the Coastal defense brigade! Arm them out of police stocks and have them redeploy to fight as infantry! Do it now, I don’t want to hear any damned complaints!”

There was a nodding of heads and an anxious flitting of staff as the work began to be carried out. Through the telephone lines, for the radio was long since found unreliable, maritime troops that were native to Rangda and could be reached were given their orders, to leave their guns at the seaside and rush to defend the Council from Madiha Nakar.

It was a desperate measure and nobody could be sure any men would make it in time.

It was all that could be done now.

The 8th Division was crumbling, and Rangda was running out of material to prop it up.

The Coastal Brigade was the only unit of manpower that could reach Council without fighting through Madiha Nakar’s lines at the moment. They would have to do.

Nobody could have imagined the situation would turn this bleak, this quickly.

Aksara Mansa had partaken of a leisurely breakfast, preparing his words as he coolly readied to unleash the 8th Division on the perfidious 1st Motor Rifles Regiment sitting like a stone in the middle of his city. It was to be the first act in a complicated gamble to secure his precious city its independence within the seemingly inevitable framework of a Nocht-subsidiary state in Ayvarta. Destroying the 1st Regiment should have been nothing. All he needed was a casus belli, and Daksha Kansal had given him one. With reason to swarm, he could unleash his numerical advantage upon Madiha Nakar’s head and eliminate her.

However, by the time he delivered his speech, his army was being swept from under him.

Since then he had not eaten, and he had thoroughly expended the energy he had gained in the morning, shouting into radios, screaming at staff, and falling ever further into despair.

The Lion Battalion was not the first to fall, but it was the first to declare a surrender. In the North, the 96th Battalion had been pushed to surrender with such alacrity there had been no time to forewarn the Council. Lax radio discipline led to the failure of Mansa’s men to realize that every incoming signal from a besieged unit into Council was being blocked by sophisticated jamming. Lion’s surrender only arrived because Madiha Nakar allowed it.

Ocean Road was under Nakar’s control almost in its entirety. Rangda’s northern expanses were also sealed by the 1st Motor Rifles, and the loss of Rangda University gave Nakar a very useful staging area. The 8th Division in Rangda was completely fragmented, split into two large pockets in the southwest and Council, and a dozen pieces everywhere else. And by the time the radio jamming had been noticed and partially overcome, it was too late.

All around Council there was panic. Everyone had been reading in the papers about Madiha Nakar and her ruthlessness. Should she come into power in Rangda as she had in Adjar anyone who sided with the Mansas would likely face a purge for treason. As such even the most far removed and least complicit menial desk worker had a fever about their work, an aimless energy that was rendered useless when applied to filing reports and answering phone calls. It was an energy the soldiery did not possess – theirs was a depressed panic, a demoralized staggering crawl as they struggled to reinforce windows, dig trenches outside, set up sniper nests and in general attempt to turn the Council building into a strongpoint.

“What’s the word from the Yarta station? Is our battalion here?”

“No sir. There’s been no word from them for hours.”

“Keep trying. Nakar must be interfering with our communications again.”

“Can she interfere with the phone sir?”

“Keep trying!”

Aksara Mansa was fighting on borrowed time, and he knew it. His own panic was an existential one. It was up in the air whether the Right Hand of Death would claim the life of a secretary or a rifleman. It was explicit that a vengeful Madiha Nakar would definitely kill him, as she had killed his father. He thought he could squash her, that he had her at her weakest, but he had been wrong. He had underestimated her. Right now, he could only reinforce his position and bide time to escape. But there was one other major obstacle.

“You? Escape to where? And with who’s help?”

General Von Drachen sat back, lounging comfortably. He had on a self-satisfied grin.

Mansa’s future was in his hands and he seemed to have already made up his mind about it.

His own troops had stopped fighting ever since Nakar had escaped his grasp. Had Council been logistically capable of deploying anything to anywhere in the city now, perhaps Drachen’s company could have put out a fire somewhere. His veteran Cissean troops were the most effective thing nominally in Mansa’s arsenal. But Council did not know its tail from its claws at the moment, and so Von Drachen just sat around. And every second he sat around, he had nothing to think about but that Mansa was failing at every step.

Still, Mansa would not show him weakness. He proceeded as if he had value to Nocht.

“General Drachen–”

“It is Von Drachen.”

Mansa swallowed hard.

“General Von Drachen, this city owes much to my family. Its people are fiercely loyal to my father, who has made sure they have always had everything they needed to flourish. Any future administration of this city would be greatly aided by my presence.”

“Will you run the city with the same ease with which you ran the 8th Division?”

Von Drachen smiled.

“And will you run the city into the same place you ran your troops?”

He chuckled.

Mansa quieted, turned his back and returned to his maps and radios.

Clearly Nocht was fast become an infeasible option.

Perhaps he could make for the forests, become an old-style warlord in the rough terrain, his elite core of supporters living off the villagers and establishing a base of power to–

Von Drachen raised his hand.

“Into the ground, is what I meant to imply. Will you run it into the ground?” He laughed.

“Shut up, Von Drachen!”

Beneath the sound of the incipient argument there was a phone ringing.

Mansa’s secretary rushed past skittering personnel to pick up the phone. Almost immediately she set it down and urged Mansa to take the call personally. Extricating himself from Von Drachen’s foul presence, Mansa seized the phone and found himself talking with his chief of maritime defense. He sounded quite noticeably distressed.

“Sir I’ve got urgent news. It’s not confirmed, but I have reason to believe it. We received word from a group of civilian scientists testing a new type of detection equipment–”

“Have you managed to redeploy my coastal troops yet?” Mansa impatiently asked.

At the other end of the line the man was momentarily speechless.

“Sir, I’m afraid such a monumental task takes time and right now–”

“Cease chasing after the fancies of eggheads and get me my troops!”

Aksara Mansa practically slammed the phone down.

He was certain that the man was trying to tell him about a freak read off a sonobuoy or something equally insipid. Those were the things the scientists at Rangda Engineering were obsessed with. Waves and blips on cold dark glass. He had no time for such things. He knew the only things out in that ocean were either Nocht or Ayvarta and neither’s control of the seas made any difference to him at this point. He had to think of escape.

“Von Drachen, you behave far too comfortably for one utterly surrounded.”

Mansa pointed sharply at the General, who in turn was luxuriantly seated in a couch intended for guests waiting out in the hall for an audience. He had moved it himself into the room, where it looked quite out of place amid all the wooden chairs and desks strewn with paper reports and maps and codebooks and dilapidated old audio equipment.

“Oh? I’m surrounded now?”

“Rangda gives respect back in kind. You turned this place into your hornet’s nest.”

Mansa nodded at the door, where a guard stood at the ready.

Von Drachen sighed deeply. “That seems to be every place lately.”

Clumsily brandishing a pistol, the guard approached Von Drachen and loomed over the seated man. Mansa nodded at him again, pointing him toward the General with the implication that he should be detained. But the guard, who had perhaps never had to detain a man in his life, fumbled with one shaking hand for a pair of cuffs on his belt, and seemed to dedicate a too-large block of his day to deciding what to do about the General.

In return, Von Drachen was far too swift.

One hand flashed from the seat, and in a blink it seemed, the guard was seized by the scruff and dragged down. His gut met Von Drachen’s knee as the General jumped up to his feet in the same flourish with which he seized his standing captor. This impossible move left the guard drooling on the floor and Von Drachen right in Mansa’s general space, with a pistol in his hand. Mansa felt the cold barrel swiftly pressed to against own stomach.

“My good man, I do not believe anything in this world is for certain or ascertained. I have seen too much chaos in my life to ever believe anything is set in stone, save for stone itself. Sometimes I have lapses in this judgment, as all men do, when victory nears. Never, however, have I met a man who so preordains his victories as you do. It is upsetting.” Von Drachen began, speaking his bizarre poetry in a far too unconcerned, casual tone of voice.

Von Drachen paused for a moment, and rubbed his own smooth chin with one hand.

“No, actually I have met one man whom you reminded me of, except, he is a beautiful soul whose radiance fills my heart with joy, a precious little piece of knackebrot who has done nothing wrong, while you are merely small, pathetic and upsetting.” He then said.

Mansa raised his hands. Around the room were nothing but blue, paralyzed faces.

“Can anybody stop him?” Mansa mouthed and whispered and ultimately groaned.

“Maybe. But I doubt it.” Von Drachen replied. He pressed the borrowed pistol harder against Mansa’s stomach, to the point it almost felt as if he meant to stab him with the gun alone. Mansa froze up. “They did not stop me in Cissea, where in an uncharacteristic fit of rage I won a war; they did not stop me in that den of wolves in Klagen, where I proved myself an officer to the federation’s key staff; they did not stop me in Adjar, where I survived the fury of your Right Hand of Death. They did not stop me in the Ghede. Your very own 8th Division did not stop me in Jadruz, at the edge of your miserable jungles.”

Though he wanted to speak, Mansa could not. All words had left him. He wanted to say that he made this city, along with his father, that he had made every stone on every street, that he had made every co-op store and state shop, every canteen. That all of Rangda’s history owed him for his existence, owed him for his leadership, owed his family for their luxuriant attention to its every need. Ayvarta owed him and nobody else for Rangda, for his Rangda, for his crown jewel that should have been his, his, his! to control as he–

“History implies I will not be stopped again. I’m not proud of my history. Humorously enough, yours is riddled with more cowardice and failure, and yet you extol it whenever you feel like. Allow me to add an additional black mark. May this one be humbling.”

Von Drachen lifted his pistol arm and struck a backhand blow across Mansa’s face. The Governor felt the pistol batter out several of the front row of his teeth, and gushing blood from his mouth he collapsed on the floor, squirming, his thoughts obliterated by pain.

“I’ll kill you!” Mansa cried out, spitting up blood and white flecks.

Von Drachen lifted his foot as if to kick him, but then seemed to regret it, and retract it.

Looming over Mansa, the General hurled the pistol to the back of the room. He clapped his hands together as if ridding them of dust, and then addressed the room in a serious tone.

“Anyway. I plan to leave here with my life. Those of you who desire this as well, are welcome into my Drachen brigade if you assist me in my preparations. We train four days when not on maneuvers. Women can become staffers and medics. That’s just how it is in Nocht I’m afraid. I’ll lobby strongly for you if you desire to shoot! Now, If you don’t want to come, you are welcome to help this pitiable, small man fulfill his impossible dreams.”

There were blank, speechless faces all around him. There was quiet contemplation.

Von Drachen shrugged his shoulders and promptly moved to leave the room.

He stopped, as did everyone else, upon hearing the eerie, swooping noise outside.

Before anyone could decide whether to join him or not, a man rushed into the room.

“Aircraft!” he cried out, “There are aircraft flying over the city!”

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