Arc 1 Intermissions [I.2]

The Queen

Polity:  Empire of Greater Veka

Naval Strength: Grand Eastern Fleet (1200 ships)

A succession of events precipitated the de-facto, if not strictly legal or official, partitioning of the Imbrian Empire into its constituent ducal states. Chief among them was the death of Emperor Konstantin von Fueller, but this only provided the gasoline. Vogelheim withdrew a match from the box; and the uprising in Bosporus lit the match and threw it. While the Volkisch’s violence had the aristocrats on edge, it was the leftists who truly terrified the upper classes into organizing.

To protect their own interests, the ducal governments sought the loyalty of military and industrial leaders within their own territory. What followed was a time of logistic flux, where ships defected, enterprises fled to their preferred states, and assets shuffled between the various territories. There was a state of war that was both open and public, and unacknowledged and subtle. Loyal military vessels would set up “defensive patrols” in stations to occupy them for “their” side; corporations based in multiple nations began to “transfer” their assets to the side they picked, as fast as they could; stocks of food, weapons and ammunition were bought up, stolen, lost, taken.

In this preamble to war there were only two military forces that suffered no defections.

First was Erich von Fueller’s Grand Western Fleet.

Second, Carmilla von Veka’s Grand Eastern Fleet.

The Vekan state held together strongly while other nations fell into their organized chaos.

In Veka, all enterprises were state-owned. Food and jobs were essentially state-subsidized.

In the decades before the Emperor’s death, the Vekan state’s free market experiments ended in the collapse of many of its native industries. Wracked with corruption and inefficiency, Veka became characterized by the broader Imperial culture as a failing state that was gobbling up Imperial money into the coffers of incompetent and hedonistic oriental lords. Quietly, and slowly, Veka’s ducal government “bailed out” its failing enterprises and managed them directly.

For years, Veka lived up to its negative image. While Rhinea’s industrial monopolies grew to post profits unmatched by any other state, production and growth in Veka lagged behind. Veka was important to the Empire as a bulwark against what they saw as the savagery across its borders to the Mare Crisium in the east. Especially the warlike Kingdom of Hanwa and the collapsed, chaotic state of Katarre, a massive territory whose people were trapped in a perpetual civil war threatening to spill into Imbria. For this reason alone, Veka was propped up with military spending and deliveries of state of the art hardware. The House of Fueller refused to open its purse strings for Vekan agriculture or industry, however, due to its history.

Slowly, steadily, with patience and diligence, largely unacknowledged, Veka recovered. Within the past five years, while Rhinean workers saw their standard of living decline as the profits of the monopolies soared, the Vekan people saw gradual improvement in their caloric intake and wages. More people were employed, food prices slowly stabilized, and trade in luxury goods rose.

When this first, phony stage of the civil war began, Veka remained highly stable.

Its military forces were by and large composed of ethnic Vekans, with the odd foreigners here and there such as Yuyenese or Katarran. Unlike the more complicated ethnic and state identities of the Imbrians, Vekans in the Imperial Navy could all reasonably claim to be serving in and thus defending their own homes. Therefore, the Grand Eastern Fleet easily became a “Vekan” fleet at the outset of the civil war, and not one man in the fleet had any reason to flee outside Veka.

All of Veka’s important industries were owned by the House of Veka and managed by the state. While they were more modest in size and scope than a firm like Rhineanmetalle, they could produce enough goods at a decent enough quality standard to sustain the Imperial art of war as Veka practiced it. They could produce in every key sector from energy, to weapons platforms, to ammunition. There was no economic upheaval, because the firms could not just decide to transport all their plants to Skarsgaard in exchange for preferential taxation or cheaper labor. In essence, for the past few decades, Veka had somehow stolen a march on its civil war rivals, and nobody had even known that these conditions would have prepared Veka so well.

Compared to the rest of the Empire, Veka had a particularly tolerant culture that also helped prevent widespread social chaos at the start of the civil war. Leftist uprisings fizzled out quickly in Veka, finding little grassroots support. Most people simply did not live poorly enough in Veka to be convinced to fight the government that by and large employed and thereby fed and clothed them. And those who did try to organize against the ducal government were crushed brutally. One place Vekan cruelty did greatly exceed that of its rival states, was in its carceral culture.

By and large, however, most people felt somewhat comfortable with their lot in Veka.

One of those tolerated transplants who had come to enjoy Veka’s hospitality, was a Shimii from the north, who had been given the name Victoria van Veka. She had sat out the first days of civil war aboard a ship, with scarce access to news or intelligence. Once she arrived at the Vekan capital of Ulan, she was happy to see the city life continuing as she remembered it before.

There were crowds, bustling in the streets. Government trucks ferried raw materials such as metal and raw foodstuffs to be processed into goods, or in some cases, to sell the raw material for the use of craftsmanship. Shops of all sorts flanked her as she walked down the main city street. Most of them sold government goods at a small profit, but the economy was liberalizing slowly, and many shops began to sell goods that were made by small private groups with raw materials.

Up above, flat panels projected a very false blue sky that still gave Victoria some comfort. It was nothing like the sky over Vogelheim in its artifice, not even close. And yet, the falsity of it was what reminded her of home. She was home, and it was safe. Her wounds had almost healed, she had rest and clean clothes. Vogelheim was far behind her, but her hands brimmed with nervous energy nonetheless. She was still coming down from the fight, somewhere inside herself.

Victoria was a student of history, so she was not expecting Ulan to be in disarray.

She was still impressed, judging by how the situation appeared in other places.

And perhaps, she was impressed, because having been in chaos, she expected no reprieve.

“No more tarrying, then. I will go see her. Then I will definitely feel better.”

Victoria made her way to the white and brown, palatial manse of the House of Veka.

Like the rest of Ulan, the Vekan ducal estate had an earthy, lived-in atmosphere. Unlike the Villa at Vogelheim there were no wooden walls. There was no wood anywhere. But the metal was painted and textured so it seemed like varnished wood. Dark umber, gold and pearl were common colors and surface patterns in the décor. Thin trailing green vines rose up in the interior in certain places, such as the side of the main staircase, the columns on the second-floor landing, and various walls. They grew small, pretty white and gold blooms. These were genetically modified “designer plants” that were fed by the misting systems that periodically cleaned the walls.

While the Estate was vast, it housed few people these days. Government functions were now hosted in a bunkered office beneath the center of town, and the Estate was exclusively housing the Duchess, Carmilla von Veka, and a small coterie. There were two maids who helped her with cleaning and clothes, an Estate purser who managed their goods and the Duchess’ personal finance, a personal doctor, and a few security guards. And then, Victoria herself also lived there now.

She was home. These were the walls she had known for many years now.

From the landing on the second floor, she followed a long hallway, flanked with portraits.

All of the grandiose men and women who had ruled Veka looked down at her.

When she first entered this estate, she was twenty, and terrified of this gothic scenery.

Now she was twenty-five, just like Elena, and the portraits struck her far differently.

She would not be crushed by their grandeur. In fact, their brand of rulership was obsolete.

At the end of the hallway, behind a set of double doors, there was an office.

Victoria hesitated for a moment.

“I’ve returned, ma’am.”

She had not hesitated out of fear. She just wanted to have the perfect greeting.

Soon as the door opened, she found herself scooped up into a woman’s chest.

Picked up, with an arm around her waist, a second behind her head, stroking her hair.

Carmilla von Veka pushed her against a wall and took her lips into a passionate kiss.

Overwhelmed with emotion, Victoria let her defenses down in the other woman’s warmth.

She was tall, strong, safe. She was Victoria’s home, and Victoria gave back the passion she was given.

Their kiss lasted precious, healing seconds where neither of them had to be on guard.

They parted and locked eyes. The taste of that kiss lingered on Victoria’s lips.

A kiss that tasted like fragrant tea. Carmilla had taken that kiss and many before.

She stood before Victoria in the throes of a passion. Her golden eyes wept with joy.

“My precious jewel, you’ve returned safe and sound! I’m so relieved to see you.”

Had anyone seen the two women in such a state of vulnerability they may have found it ridiculous.

That cold Shimii and the Empire’s own “Queen of the Eastern Wilderness.”

Thankfully they were very much alone.

Victoria was so happy; she was nearly moved to tears herself.

“I’m home.” She said, taking in the sight of her lover, her heart beating wildly.

She could do nothing but drink of the sight of that woman and think, she’s perfect.

Carmilla von Veka was a statuesque woman, as if a mythical figure that had been carved from pale gold. Victoria would have composed poetry about the sight of her body, even though creative pursuits were not her strong point. The Duchess was lithe and long-limbed with an excellent figure, visibly fit with slim muscles on her shoulders, stomach and limbs and yet a warm, ample bosom soft enough for Victoria to sink into. She was taller than Victoria by over a head.

She was ten years her senior, but Carmilla had a beauty that Victoria could only call eternal.

Among the Vekan court she was once complimented by saying she was “built like a horse.” Such a compliment would have meant death in any other part of the Empire, but in Veka it referred to her grace, beauty and strength, found only in those rare and legendary animals which they raised only for their magnificence. In Victoria’s fancy, she sometimes compared her to a fertility idol.

Her face had an arresting majesty that Victoria could never forget, no matter how separated they were. A soft-featured but striking profile with skin a gentle olive-brown, and she wore makeup just as gently, a touch of red on her lips and a touch of blue around her eyes. She had what Victoria considered to be perfect facial features. High cheekbones, but gentle cheeks that gave her jaw a good angle, neither too gaunt nor too round. An elegant nose with a gentle brow. Her hair was a magnificent dark golden-brown, voluminous and falling in silky waves. While much of it tied back into a business-like ponytail that day, there remained several long locks framing her face.

She could wear anything, from a formal suit, to a military uniform, but on that date, she wore a long-sleeved, black outfit ornamented with patterns of gold leaves. It was stark, grandiose. While the top looked much like the fancy bodice of a dress, below the waist, the outfit seamlessly became a pair of tight pants. There were gaps along the hips and back, and the completely exposed shoulders and collarbone, that revealed the white bodysuit she wore beneath that dramatic one-piece. Complex, geometric, translucent heels cheekily exposed her feet.

Victoria was moved further and further to tears the more she looked over Carmilla.

She was perfect; she was perfect! Beautiful, smart, compassionate.

She was hers. She was her Carmilla. And she was Carmilla’s precious Victoria.

Nobody ever made her feel so wanted, so supported, so safe.

For Carmilla, Victoria could sink a fleet. She could exterminate an army.

This was the profundity of the love that Victoria felt in the arms of that woman.

A depth of emotion swelled in her breast that she could feel for no other person.

“You were this worried about me?” Victoria asked.

“Of course, I was worried!” Carmilla replied. “I’m well aware of the danger you were in.”

“But despite that, you let me go?”

“Of course I let you go!”

Carmilla put Victoria down, her feet gently touching the floor again.

She let go of her, and looked at her with a serious expression, no petting or fussing.

“I respect you and I trust you! I won’t belittle your convictions. But I will worry.”

“Thank you. That means a lot to me.”

Victoria looked her in the eyes again, this time looking up at Carmilla.

She averted her gaze. “I– I failed, ma’am. I don’t know the status of Elena von Fueller, but Vogelheim was destroyed. The Volkisch Movement were the perpetrators. Like in my dream.”

“I know, dear. You’ve been through so much. Sit down with me. Please.”

An invitation to sit was an invitation for Victoria to let down her guard and relax.

Sighing gently, her heart beating strongly, Victoria followed Carmilla’s lead.

Carmilla’s office was spacious and comfortable. In the back of the room she had her desk, mainly taken up by a keyboard, touchpad and a monitor installed on an adjustable arm. The actual mainframe was buried underground, and everything they used on a daily basis was a thin client that made use of its computing power. Aside from the computer, Carmilla had little on her desk. All of her reading, review and signing was done digitally.

There was a much larger monitor installed on an adjustable arm attached to a rail in the ceiling. It could function as a display for videoconferencing, or it could be tuned to the 24-hour broadcasts by the state network. Carmilla used a small remote control to set it to the state music channel, which played soft, relaxing folk tunes most of the day. It created a comfortable ambiance in the room. As the network had expanded so significantly the past few years, Carmilla could have possibly conferred with her counterparts in other nations through video calls from that monitor.

Finally, there was a large couch along the left-hand wall, dark red, firm but plush.

Carmilla sat on the couch, and patted her hand at her side, urging Victoria to join her.

Smiling, Victoria took her place beside the Duchess. It was rare that she felt so comfortable.

She relaxed against the back of the couch and let her body lean against Carmilla’s side, feeling her warmth through her tight clothes. Victoria felt the Duchess’ hand settle on her shoulder first, and then glide up the nape of her neck, behind the back of her head, up to the base of her fluffy brown cat ears.

Victoria’s tail swayed contentedly as Carmilla’s fingers traced the firm cartilage.

Her fingers were so slender, so soft, brushing over the ear flap from the base to the tip.

Victoria’s whole body stirred as the duchess stroked her so gently.

She closed her eyes. From her chest, she let out a soft purr.

“How is this?” Carmilla asked.

A trimmed fingernail scraped where her ears met her head, delivering a rough sensation.

At first teasingly, but then with a firm and continuous rhythm.

Victoria’s hands kneaded on the couch. Her hips trembled. Tiny, almost surprised gasps escaped the Shimii’s lips. Carmilla teased her ears in the exact way that drove her mad.

First a scratch, then a firm rub from the fingertip, bending the ear; draw back for another scratch; repeat. Faster, building up heat each time. Victoria pressed her body against Carmilla’s, moaning gently.

“That’s what I love to see. My precious Varisha, in the glow of happiness.”

Hearing the Duchess’ voice cooing her secret name while scratching her ears, while feeling the warmth of her body and the firmness of her grip. It sent a thrill through Victoria’s chest and down her body.

“Call me by my special name, Varisha.”

In the midst of her passion, Victoria murmured it. “Mishagh–”

She felt Carmilla’s finger moving faster. “Beautiful. Such a good girl.”

Victoria’s tail shot straight up, quivering. She started to bow her head under the intensity of that touch.

The Duchess’ finger slid down Victoria’s ears a final time before lifting off of her head.

Victoria’s eyes drew wide with surprise.  Carmilla took her by the waist, pulling her close.

“You’ll get more scritches soon. In the royal bed, next time.” She said, winking.

Carmilla’s finger traveled down Victoria’s cheek.

She lifted the Shimii’s chin and bent down to kiss her. Gentle, brief, but reassuring.

As their lips parted, Victoria’s head felt airy with contentedness.

“Soon.” Victoria cooed. She was letting herself be vulnerable. Letting herself savor it.

Soon. Right now, I want you up and by my side. A historic event is about to unfold.”

Victoria obediently sat up again.

Carmilla’s gentle smile faded into her queenly mask. She turned a serious look on Victoria.

They stared at each other for a moment, before the Duchess put on a little smile.

“Don’t worry, it’ll be an amicable chat. But this is someone who can’t see my gentle side.”

Carmilla leaned back, and stretched one arm around Victoria’s shoulder.

Her other hand reached out to her desk.

Red rings formed around her golden eyes.

A long, thin vaporizer pipe with fake wood finish rose into the air out of an open drawer.

If she focused, Victoria could see the tiny threads of power lifting the pipe like fingers.

That pipe hovered all the way to the couch, to be held tantalizingly in Carmilla’s other hand. A woman in one arm, a smoke in the other. She looked strong; business-like. It was the aura of the Empire’s “Queen of the Eastern Wilderness.” Victoria could feel the transformation occur.

“We’ll begin shortly. Please watch me, Varisha. I’m stronger with your support.”

Victoria nodded her head silently.

She sidled closed to Carmilla, keeping her hands on her own lap.

Soon after, the office’s main screen came down in front of them with a countdown.

At the appointed time, a video call bridged a divide that had been broken decades ago. Through fiber relays and laser networks stretching many kilometers, Ulan in Veka connected with Mt. Raja in Solstice. It was the first Union-Imperial video conference between national leaders.

In front of them, on the screen, two women with dark skin and hair appeared. They were both wearing military uniforms. Premier Bhavani Jayasankar was dressed in an ornate green uniform with numerous decorations. Beside her stood her own attendant, Commissar-General Parvati Nagavanshi, in a black and red uniform. Comparing attire, Carmilla looked downright casual. It was as if the Union was trying to project an image of pervasive militancy to them.

Carmilla leaned forward, grinning. “Greetings, Union. We can speak; so, let us talk.”

Premier Jayasankar returned a similar expression. She seemed to ignore the presence of Victoria in the room. “When we received a request to reestablish the trans-national network, I was quite ready to blow it off if it was traced to Skarsgaard or Rhinea. Those two hives of Imbrian supremacist thinking would have nothing to say that I wanted to hear. I’m only on this call because I am aware of the Empire’s attitudes toward Veka, historically. Therefore, you should talk first.”

“Are we hoping to speak as equally racialized subjects then?” Carmilla said sweetly.

“Let’s just say I have a small amount of sympathy for your position, but only that much.”

“I understand, Premier. As a sign of my hospitality, I have an offer that will cost you little.”

“We’re listening.”

Carmilla lounged back in her seat and took a breath of her vaporizer.

She blew a gentle-smelling smoke. Victoria likened it to the scent of fragrant tea.

“Recently, the Empire changed its categorization of Union citizens, from ‘runaway slaves’ to ‘bandits and rebels’. It was part of a push to abolish slavery and slave-like legal conditions, mind you, but it still constituted a positive change in the Union’s status here.” Carmilla said.

Wow. Color me grateful for such generosity.” Premier Bhavani said, laughing.

“I am ready to give the Union official recognition as a peer nation of the Empire.”

“Well then. I suppose that is no small thing for you. And in exchange, you want–?”

Carmilla smiled, and she leaned forward again as if whispering to the two communists. “I want a ceasefire, mutual intelligence cooperation, and recognition of the Empire of Greater Veka.”            

Premier Bhavani’s face stretched into a broad grin. “Consider my interest piqued.”

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