Alea Iacta Est II (60.2)

City of Rangda — 8th Division Barracks, Madiha’s HQ

“Have you gathered your forces? Good, thank you! Hold your positions for now! No, don’t attack the 8th Division. Let them handle the air attack however they desire, alone.”

She pulled off her headset for a moment, sighed deeply, and nodded toward Parinita.

“I want to talk to the Majors directly, now that the independent units are accounted for.”

“Roger ma’am!”

Smiling, Parinita, began to search their channels of communication for Major Burundi.

Sitting on her wheelchair behind a high sandbag wall, alongside Parinita manning a radio on a folding table, Madiha awaited re-connection with one of her officers, hoping to reestablish the cohesion the Regiment had lost in the scramble. At all times the sky overhead was a reminder of their less than ideal situation. Aircraft, the great killer of infantry in this new age of warfare; all across the city her units nearly choked from this unwelcome surprise. There had been unauthorized retreats, people fleeing into buildings for cover, abandoning weaponry in the face of a bombing onslaught that never came.

She cursed under her breath. It was the one thing she had not prepared them for.

“Major Burundi? Major?”

Madiha turned her head from the sky and back to her lover and secretary.

“This is Chief Maharani. Are you there? Hold on, I’m stabilizing the audio.”

Parinita fiddled with the radio, and seemed satisfied with the connection.

Smiling and nodding, she handed the headset back to Madiha.

Madiha took the set and acknowledged her subordinate. “This is Colonel Nakar. Report.”

“Ma’am, apologies for the lack of communication. I’m ashamed to say, I lost control of my troops for a critical moment. We had a lot of folk who weren’t keen on staying in their positions when the air raid began, and everything devolved into chaos even under my personal watch. I will administer on them, and myself, whatever discipline you desire–”

Madiha shook her head to herself, a gesture Burundi obviously could not see.

Parinita made a comforting gesture, still listening in on a secondary handset.

“Major, the shock of Bada Aso is still fresh on my mind. My own will nearly broke under those bombs, and I cannot begrudge anyone their fear of an aerial attack in these conditions. I understand and forgive the instinct of our soldiers. They are still green. But that forgiveness can only extend so far. Rally your forces post-haste, and hold position.”

“Yes ma’am. Thank you. Have you any information on our enemy?”

Madiha and Parinita had been at the radios for nearly half an hour now, pulling together information from every corner of the city they had conquered, from every civilian and non-mutinous government agency still operating and ultimately, put together enough information for a conjecture. Madiha readily shared it with everyone she could reach.

“All of the aircraft overhead are unarmed transports and bombers of the Kingdom of Lubon.” She said. “Some among their number are special gliders, but most are parachute transports. It is an airborne attack meant to deploy troops, likely to create a beachhead for a larger naval deployment. I believe they must have come from the Higwe; they stripped the bombs and armor from the craft for space and weight, and added extra fuel for the journey. They must be making good on their planned alliance with the Nocht Federation.”

“Ancestors defend. We’ll have a hell of a time forming a defensive line against airdrops.”

“We won’t be. Hold position. Once I’ve collected the rest of my troops, I will issue orders.”

“Yes ma’am. Once again, thank you.”

Burundi sounded relieved. Any other military commander might have punished him, even had him shot for incompetence. In all of the history of warfare, a moment’s panic was all it could take to create an instant rout, and a failure of discipline in such conditions was the greatest shame of any officer. Madiha recognized, though, that if she punished every commander who lost cohesion in this dire hour, she would be without any commanders.

Everyone’s troops ran amok for a moment. What mattered now was regrouping quickly.

She could always patch up discipline; as long as she had an army to command at all.

“Parinita, search for Hakan next. Try going back through the frequencies we reserved for the artillery. He may have lost his own radios if his infantry started making a mess of things in his camp. They had the closest contact with Hakan than any other unit.”

“Yes ma’am!” Parinita said.

She was prompt, polite, and cheerful, despite everything happening.

“Thank you.”

There was a lot of depth to that ‘thank you,’ and perhaps Parinita understood. Madiha was not in the right space of mind to really elaborate on it, but she hoped her partner realized just how much that smile was holding up the crumbling sky above them. Whether or not she knew the feelings bubbling in her lover’s breast, Parinita went to work on the radio immediately. Madiha sat back on her wheelchair, closed her eyes and waited for news.

While her partner worked the dials Madiha continued to pore over the situation.

Burundi was not wrong; the hallmark of a surprise parachute attack on an inexperienced force was usually a panic and a rout. It was a tactic still new and novel and frightening, especially backed by a sky full of intimidating bombers, even ones without a bomb to drop.

Because a paratrooper could drop in any position, forming a coherent defense could become impossible, depending on when the troops dropped, where they dropped, and whether more would be dropping in the future. Elements of the line could become split and isolated. They could be staking their safety on a deployment that was unknowingly already porous and broken; or that could easily become porous and broken in the future.

Madiha reasoned, however, that this deployment was so huge Lubon could not possibly have a thousand other planes to send their way. This had to be it; after these first waves of drops, the planes would be empty and making their escape, while the navy closed in.

It was imperative she destroy the invaders, or escape, before the arrival of the navy.

Thankfully, Madiha did not intend to defend anything. More stubborn or traditional commanders would be forming lines. But from her vantage all of those elven paratroopers arrived conveniently isolated for her. She just had to rush to their landing zones and smash them flat before any of them could link with the others. Until they could coordinate mutual support, the Elves had no Regiments on Ayvartan soil. Platoons were just Platoons by themselves; it was logistics, communications and fire support that turned a Platoon into part of a Company, and a Company into a part of a Battalion, and so on from there.

Paratroopers that were isolated and killed fast enough would thus never grow to become Regiments with commensurate gunnery, logistics and cohesion, to challenge her position.

Madiha fidgeted with her thumbs, drawing in a deep breath. It had to work; it had to.

Offense was the best defense, was it not? Well, it had to be.

“Major Hakan? Come in, Major Hakan! This is Chief Maharani!” She called into the radio.

No response. Parinita moved through the radio booklet, going through the unit lists.

While she worked, the air battle raged under Madiha’s direction, without her involvement.

In the background, all manner of artillery flung shells skyward. Quad machine gun mounts laid down fire on the seemingly thousands of paratroopers dropping, to little visible avail; automatic 35mm guns and slower-firing 57mm, 76mm and 85mm guns fired burning red lances into the sky, several rounds a minute. Crews worked tirelessly, constantly swiveling and elevating and adjusting the guns to meet the enemy. By now the first flights had completely cleared the city, and many had swung away from the interior of Tambwe and doubled back to the sea, crossing Rangda once more. Another chance to shoot them down.

Owing to its neatly centralized position, the headquarters was providing most of the effective anti-air fire across the city. Nearly every shell going out into the sky was going out on her personal instructions. Every other minute Madiha saw a flash in the corner of her eyes and knew a plane had fallen. There was smoke and debris everywhere in the sky, charring the calm blue they had enjoyed all morning and afternoon. Her initial objective had been to fight back in any way possible, fearing an apocalyptic bombing run that would level the city and her army. Any dent she could put in the cloud meant a fighting chance.

She thought that a hundred or two hundred planes must have fallen by now, and yet, the sky looked as thick with enemy aircraft as it had ever been. More debris rained down, but more wings took their place, and more parachutes and more gliders there with them.

“Come in, Hakan, this is Maharani! What is the status of your units?”

Madiha had made a mistake, both in her panicked assessment of the enemy’s intention, and her split second judgment of the enemy’s numbers. This was a rare attack, a paratroop drop, and carried out with an astounding, record-breaking number of planes. Once the unlikely truth became frightfully obvious, the value of anti-air fire dropped precipitously.

With her initial misconception, she had already failed to interdict the bulk of the paratroopers. By first staging a classic air defense against high altitude bombers, instead of reorganizing her troops, she had given up the initiative on preventing the landings altogether. Now she had to play catch-up on the radio. Hundreds of paratroopers had successfully dropped and hundreds more would drop. She could make the environment hostile for them, at least, and every plane crushed now was a plane Lubon would not have earlier. She would make this plan costly for them in every fashion. But not stop it outright.

It was imperative, then, that the ground troops started fighting the noisy elves.

“Major Hakan? Is that you? Yes, she is here!”

Madiha sighed with relief. Hakan had finally answered.

Parinita handed her set over to Madiha, who took over the communications.

“Major, what is your status?”

Hakan sighed over the radio.

“I am afraid that discipline was momentarily lost, and with it, precious time and initiative. In the face of air attack many a commanding position was lost, many a sandbag wall felled in panic, though no enemy has moved to reclaim them. And an enemy now could. Ma’am, I’m afraid to report there are paratroopers falling in the north, east and south of the city.”

“You need not talk to me like a man on the butcher’s block, Major. Gather your forces and you will be fine. The 8th Division will roll out the welcome carpet for most of those Paras.”

Hakan sounded surprised. “I expected a much more irate response, Colonel.”

“Everyone does. But I am quicker to understand than I am to anger, Major.”

“I see that now, ma’am. Thank you for your clemency. What are our orders?”

“For now, hold your position. I’m not going to leave anyone to the elements. Once I have regrouped as many of our forces as I can, we will coordinate an attack with the same cohesion we proudly displayed this morning. Does that sound possible to you?”

She was, in a thinly veiled way, demanding he shape up his troops.

“It will be done, ma’am.” Hakan confidently replied.

“Good. Let our old friends in the 8th Division respond to the elves as they desire. Offer them no battle, and perhaps our two problems will reduce themselves before our eyes.”

She bid her temporary farewell.

“Parinita, we need to contact Shayma El-Amin. I’d hoped the other units would have leads on her, but it appears our communications are much more disparate than I feared.”

Parinita nodded. “I was about to say. Nobody seems to know where anybody is. Until we contacted them all personally, we had no cohesion or mutual support whatsoever in the Regiment. I thought I taught them better than this.” She kinda huffed a little bit.

Madiha smiled. Parinita looked humorously charming when just a touch irate.

“You only taught a handful of people.” Madiha said. “Don’t blame yourself.”

“I suppose so.”

“You did a fine job, but we’re running on a tenth of the radio personnel we should have.”

Parinita sighed. “And who knows how many even remain.”

Madiha tried to smile at her. “Rally, and find me my tanks, Chief Warrant Officer. Your competence has never been in dispute in my headquarters, and you know this.”

Parinita smiled back fondly, and returned to her labors with new determination.

Shayma El-Amin was critical. She had to be found.

Ocean Road, being the main thoroughfare of Rangda, would likely see heavy paratrooper activity. Madiha had to be sure that the bulk of her tanks were safe and rallying. Guns and trucks could be temporarily abandoned and reclaimed. Paratroopers stealing her freshly-supplied tanks would be a disaster she could not recover from. El-Amin was necessary.

“Every tank has a radio, so theoretically, I should be able to blast the general tanker frequency and have someone respond.” Parinita idly said, twiddling the knobs on the radio while holding the headset to her ear. “But I’m doing that and I’m not getting anything. That worries me. I think a lot of our tanks might be abandoned or unmanned, Madiha.”

Madiha bowed her head. That was not good news at all.

“Once Minardo returns from the Engineer’s tent we may have to–”

The Colonel paused upon hearing her partner make a distressed little noise.

Parinita’s hand stopped twitching on the radio control panel, and she put on a focused expression, listening in on something. Madiha turned her way when she saw Parinita flinch. The Chief Warrant Officer, clearly disturbed, finally pulled off the headset after what felt like an eternity of listening to something that seemed loud and disturbing.

“Madiha, Shayma’s been captured. Ocean Road’s in big trouble.” She said grimly.

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