Arc 2 Intermissions [II.1]


“You’re probably going to lose the election to Ahwalia. You’re aware of that, right?”

“Of course I am. He’s promising meat and wine to a population living on soy and citrus water.”

“You’re a lot calmer than I expected. You are projected to be soundly defeated.”

“Defeated? No. Bhavani Jayasankar can’t be defeated in some asinine popularity contest.”

Daksha Kansal put down a digital picture frame she was in the middle of putting away. It was the year 965 After Descent, and she was taking the last of her personal effects from her office — the office of the Premier of the Labor Union of Ferris, Lyser and Solstice, situated deep within Mt. Raja in the Union’s northeastern territory of Solstice. That picture, which she was picking up, had five people in it.

They were all the same ethnicity, North Bosporans with straight, dark hair, earth tone skin, dark eyes. There were four women and a man in the picture, posing in front of a modified laborer mecha which became a symbol of their war. There were other people special to her: but she treasured this picture.

She was in the center of the picture, tall, gallant in uniform, her dark-brown hair arranged in a bun. She still looked almost the same as she did back then, though the white of old age was starting to creep in between the brown strands. That picture was five years old. Around her the man and woman closest to her were a bit distracted, as their child was being obstinate just outside the confines of the image — Daksha could not forget it. They were the Nakara family, Lakshmi and her husband Karthik. Farther to the sides were Daksha’s two students, the sullen, long-haired Parvati Nagavanshi– and the woman who had just proclaimed her disdain for democracy. Shoulder-length hair, a handsome figure with a viper’s smile.

Bhavani Jayasankar, dressed in the most ornate uniform of all. Grand Marshall of the Union.

Having been the one to slaughter the Imperial governor of Solstice, she took and modified his uniform.

Kansal shut her eyes, briefly reminiscing about the events that led up to this.

It was her last day in the state she had helped found and helped lead for the past several years.

Her most prized student had come to see her off; and like always, they had begun to talk politics.

Kansal put the picture back on her desk, absentmindedly, before realizing again she had meant to take it.

Bhavani’s bold comment had caused her to lose track of what she was doing.

Her student was always careful with her words.

If she lied, it was deliberate. If she taunted, it was deliberate. Her declarations were always deliberate.

Nobody in the Union was more deliberate than Bhavani Jayasankar.

One could never attribute anything she did to incompetence. If it was malice, she intended it.

Jayasankar was a genius at making enemies; and perhaps decent at eliminating them too.

“Where does your confidence spring from?” Kansal said, picking the picture frame back up.

“The Union doesn’t have the resources to support Ahwalia’s utopia. He won’t accomplish anything.”

Kansal was in front of the desk, but Bhavani was standing behind it, looking outside the window.

“I don’t think so either, but if he takes it slow, maybe in fifteen or twenty years.” Kansal said.

“We won’t survive that long. The Empire will destroy us before then. We need to militarize more heavily.”

“I’m sure you’ll continue to be successful in politics, so why not make a formal proposal?”

“You want me to make a formal proposal to an Ahwalia government to triple our spending on the military? I’m neither as enamored or as beguiled by the morality of formal process as you are.”

Theirs was a sky of grey-blue rock. Mt. Raja was a city carved into a mountain, a bubble of stone.

The Premier’s office overlooked a grand courtyard upon which real trees had been planted, along with an array of sunlight lamps to keep them alive and thriving. In their society, a tree could never be a freestanding object. It was a contraption, either in a bubble of its own to reflect the bigger bubbles that humans lived in, or strapped to machines meant to keep it alive in the alien space it now occupied. Despite the artifice, this was a very beautiful, captivating view. Few places had “windows” in their world.

Bhavani turned around, and sat in the chair, putting her feet up on the desk irreverently.

“Ahwalia can promise all he wants to. His fully automated communism is a flat out impossible, ridiculous idea. His childish ‘post-work’ ideology is just that: ideology. It’s unrealistic to our situation as barely developed colonies. Every bit of material he puts toward robots and automatic factories and luxury goods production is one less mouth fed. His ideas about having meat production for protein here are flat out insane. He’s going to get people killed. Our people will ultimately be unable to surmount the sacrifices his vision will demand of them in the short term, and and they will flock back to the pragmatists.”

“You’ve really thought this through, huh? You sound scary, Bhavani. You want him to fail.”

Kansal pitched that childish response to mask her true feelings.

She was an impossibly old being who had seen many grand ambitions wax and wane–

–but not in this particular context. After all, Bhavani was not a petty tyrant just out for herself.

She was a petty tyrant who sought everything for her own in-group, “the masses.”

In a new and radical society, such things necessarily took on a new and radical context.

“We’ll see how things play out.” Bhavani said.

She winked at Kansal, arms crossed over her chest.

“Interesting. Well If you feel so bleakly about the future, why don’t you intervene now?”

“If I make a move unilaterally right now, everyone who has been fooled by so-called democracy will not accept it. They have to accept its failure, and they have to accept my alternative. Unfortunately, the people just aren’t politically advanced enough to accept the truth. That’ll be my work going forward.”

“That is so terribly rude of you to say; I tried my best to teach them, you know.”

Kansal’s tone was calm and teasing. She was used to the grandiose proclamations of her student.

Bhavani had always been a strongly critical girl. Sharp, opinionated, uncompromising.

She was certainly insinuating that in the past five years in which Kansal had been Premier, she had not done enough to develop political consciousness. They had formed their Union as a system of compromises between a few opinionated factions, ideological, ethnic, economic, and so on.

Even losing the anarchists very early on, they still had disagreements as Mordecists. Kansal and Bhavani sympathized with the same theory: that a revolutionary nation needed to be pragmatic and militaristic, mustering its people and resources carefully with an eye to surviving imperial aggression long term. Ahwalia’s vision was different. In his mind, there was no purpose to establishing a revolutionary nation if it did not immediately, aggressively, work toward revolutionizing the life of its people. Surviving modestly was not his aim. He promised people they would live lavishly. He promised an end to work, an end to credits, an end to economy. He believed they had the technology to accomplish this. He wanted everyone to rest, to take up creative pursuits, to advance the sciences, while eating luxurious meat every day.

To Ahwalia, physical work was a problem that had to be solved. His utopia would be “post-work.”

His vision of the future was drawing a lot of excitement from the crowds.

At the end of the war, they had all been weary.

Competing visions energized different factions while the masses just wanted to live peacefully.

It was an uneasy equilibrium. Different factions were still independently militant.

They could still have ended up fighting if one side came on too strong.

In such an environment, Kansal, the first Premier of the Union, did not feel too comfortable advocating her own side only. She needed to maintain the compromise and elevate what they all agreed upon: that they were on a path to communism, and that all of their exact forms of it shared some roots. So she navigated every faction, while doing her best to continue to build a nation that could resist the Empire and appease them all equally. Five years later, most of these factions had become less militant and more absorbed into the advancement of the nation. But that chief contradiction between Ahwalia’s idealism and Bhavani’s pragmatism remained a sore spot. Now the people were poised to speak on it.

“Do you resent the fact that I gave Ahwalia’s idealism room to exist at all?” Kansal asked.

“To me, the purpose of political power is to thoroughly achieve one’s aims.” Bhavani replied, still snickering to herself. “It was a mistake to play with this ‘democracy’ nonsense in any meaningful way. In a nascent polity, people are too easily led astray by competing ideologies. A marketplace of ideas is a strictly reactionary terrain of the imagination. We should have known this from the beginning.”

“You don’t have to insinuate things with me.” Kansal said, equally as calmly as Bhavani, but growing a bit weary of her colorful little speech. There was some part of Kansal that still had the pride of an Immortal and felt she was being talked down to by a child– but she tried to suppress it. “You can say what you want to. This room isn’t bugged, and I’ve no interest in passing on whatever dangerous thing you are thinking to Ahwalia or anyone else. Don’t give your poor Professor grief on her last day at work.”

“You can reassure me all you want, but I didn’t get to where I am without being as paranoid or more as the people I am dealing with.” Bhavani said. “But you’re right, this room isn’t bugged, because I’ve taken ample steps to make sure I can say to you whatever I want to today. Since you’ll be leaving, I do have half a mind to be brutally honest with you; so, dear Professor, let me send you off with some grief.”

“You really do hate me, don’t you? I remember when you used to call me ‘Professor’ so fondly.”

“You clearly have nothing more to teach me, ‘Professor,’ your actions are your admission of this.”

“Don’t mince words then. Tell me, Bhavani: what future do you hope to create?”

Bhavani stood up from the chair, and started to pace around the room.

Her tone grew further impassioned.

“Democracy is fundamentally an obstacle, because people are too easily led astray by competing ideologies. In my mind, a dominant ideology is promoted to people, they are thoroughly educated in it, their lives are organized around it, and they are given direct benefit from its hegemony. They go on to promote this system, to thoroughly believe in it, to reproduce it. To me, this is how a mere dictatorship becomes a dictatorship of the proletariat. When we are all the tyrant together, because we all agree on the same principles. Any inkling that a competing slate of opposed visions can coexist is a vulnerability in the system, not a feature of it. So yes: the biggest mistake we ever made was compromise. Compromise is the reason we are deluding ourselves about a future of luxury when the Empire could return any second.”

She ceased to pace aimlessly, and instead walked up to Kansal and pointed a finger at her shoulder.

“Every compromise that I put up with, I put with it because I believed you did it to remain in power. And if you had power, you would wield it. I believed in you, in your ability to ultimately create the system we wanted. All of your yielding, I believed it to be realpolitik, preparation for the future. Daksha, you are curious about the future I want to make, but what future do you want? Why are you leaving?”

Between each word she poked that finger at Kansal’s shoulder as if wanting to stab her.

Kansal sighed. “Of course that’s what you’re upset about.”

Bhavani’s tone of voice became immediately more emotional. She was clearly upset.

“How could I not be? Why are you leaving? Nagavanshi and I hung on your every word.”

“I never wanted that for either of you.”

“Clearly it was our mistake believing in you. That aside, I need you to explain yourself.”

“I told you my aim. I want to foment revolution in the broader Empire.”

“Yes, because you’ll definitely accomplish that by yourself. Fuck off. Tell me the truth.”

“It’s the honest truth, Bhavani.”

“You are an insane person. I can’t believe you. But it’s fine. I realized something already.”

Bhavani’s finger withdrew, and instead, her mocking face drew nearer to Kansal’s, grinning.

“Ultimately, had you remained, if you kept failing us– I would have removed you from power anyway. Because I don’t believe in allowing worthless leaders to drive our country to ruin. I wouldn’t have just stood by believing blindly in process while things went to hell. I would have taken power from you.”

Kansal was, for perhaps the first time, unnerved by the ambitions of her student.

For the first time, a thought crossed her mind. That at this juncture, if she truly felt her student was in the wrong, she could take action to fundamentally correct her thinking. What Kansal had the power all along to do, that she never considered for the oaths she had sworn to herself when she departed from a certain organization– she fell, in that instant of vulnerability, to her deepest temptations, neurons fired in her brain that had been dormant for half a decade. That half-decade of compromise, fear and tension–

Briefly, her eyes glowed red–

What would have happened to history if, at this juncture, she altered Bhavani’s thinking?

Her power flared; psionic tendrils reached out to caress her student’s mind–

Only to discover, to her shock, that Bhavani’s mind was off-limits.

Even to the power of the Immortal Ganges.

In that instant of shameful madness she came to understand–

–her student’s will and ambition was far more powerful than she realized.

Bhavani Jayasankar was a uniquely frightening person.

There was nothing she could say or do about it. Somehow, Kansal felt liberated by this event.

“You’ve always been a very keen girl.” Kansal said. “I wouldn’t doubt you could overthrow me.”

Bhavani retreated from Kansal’s face. Her self-confident smirk darkened, grew just a little sullen.

As if disappointed that Kansal had no will to resist her. As if she had wanted her to fight back.

Bhavani quietly dropped the subject and segued into the next issue, her voice softening.

“Ahwalia’s people are offering me a cabinet position if I concede gracefully without calling a recount or an investigation. I am going to take it and figure things out from there. I’ll be the Justice Minister. Nagavanshi and Klasnikov will be part of his government as well. Nagavanshi will be my subordinate under internal affairs while Klasnikov will head the 4th Fleet Group in southern Solstice.”

Kansal allowed her to leave her past insinuations behind and engaged with the new discussion.

“Huh. Curious. Seems to me that’s his mistake then, letting you anywhere near power.” Kansal said.

“It is. Daksha– when you leave, I never want to see you again. You will never return to the Union.”

Kansal could sense the pain in those words. She didn’t have to focus on Bhavani’s aura to tell, either.

“I was not planning to return. It is my hope to leave the Imbrium for good, once it is freed.” Kansal said.

“And then what, you’ll go to the Cogitum and give the Republic grief too?”

“Perhaps. A new Ocean to liberate could keep me motivated for another decade.”

“You’re insane. I wish I had known how much you treat the future like a toy. I would have never followed you. Daksha Kansal: people live in the day to day. They live in the now, in the short term. If they can live for five years, it’s a miracle. It is impossible to make them live for things that will happen in ten years. I don’t know how you can treat tomorrow like it’s such a given. Your people cannot; your people pray for each tomorrow and are grateful to wake up every day. And this is why you are an utter failure. If we keep thinking about next year we’ll fail to see what people need right now. You are an idealist fool.”

Though she had made a resolution not to return, it was suddenly difficult for Daksha Kansal to keep.

When she was leaving on good terms, it was easier to say that her work was complete, her students fulfilled. When she was leaving with the pride of an Immortal who had tampered with the world and made a positive change. This was the idea that Daksha Kansal had ever since she left the name Ganges behind.

In this one conversation, however, she came to realize how troubled her Union was about to become.

“Bhavani, if you believe the Union is headed for a catastrophe, please act quickly.” Kansal said.

“I will act as quickly as I can. But I’m not so politically mighty as you were five years ago.” Bhavani said. “We gave up on violence back then only to invite violence now. Nevertheless, I will work diligently– don’t you worry. It’s no longer your concern. Just leave everything to me. I’m more capable than you think.”

She made as if to leave, hands in her pockets, but she stopped closer to the door, her back turned.

“Daksha, you mark my words. My Union will span the Imbrium one day. I guarantee you. It will not fall or falter. It will grow mighty, its people the most powerful force on Aer. We will set right this cursed hellscape we’ve inherited, and all of the Ocean will feel the injustices we felt. Even if we have to fight, year by year, for however long your future lasts. Ten years? Twenty? Fifty? Hmm. For you, it’s tough to say. But for me and my Union, we will fight, day by day, week by week; we will fight forever, if we must.”

Kansal felt a chill.

Though no more words were said, she really had to wonder what else Bhavani Jayasankar knew.

And how else she felt about her dear Professor that she had once admired so deeply.

“You had a chance to review our proposal before the meeting, correct?”

“Indeed. I won’t waste your time: I will lead by saying that in its current form I must reject it.”

It was the year 979 A.D. In the Premier’s office, a monitor had been set up for her to take diplomatic calls from her desk. Positioned on an arm, it allowed her guests to see her head and shoulders in great detail. And these days, she had more guests than she had imagined, from the far corners of the world.

War had broken out in the Empire between disparate factions of the ruling elite for control over the Empire’s territory and resources. Bhavani Jayasankar dressed in a pristine red and gold military uniform, with grand shoulderboards, a bevy of medals, a peaked cap: the works. She looked like what she wanted to project herself as: the former Grand Marshall of the Colonial Liberation Front, now Premier of the free Union of Ferris, Lyser and Solstice. Whether she wanted to or not, she was increasingly part of the grand historical trauma now enveloping the Empire. She had relations to maintain with several imperial factions.

First, the Union’s backing and support of the National Front of Buren in the Empire’s far northeast.

Second, the Union’s intelligence sharing treaty with the Greater Vekan Empire to their direct east.

And now, an opening of relations with the anarchist Bosporan Commune in the north-central Empire.

On the Premier’s monitor, a young anarchist officer appeared wearing a repurposed imperial uniform, which had been repainted black and red in a striking digital pattern like an irregular checkerboard, unlike the clean, traditional colors of Bhavani’s own uniform. Her short blond hair was slicked to one side, and on the other she had it buzzed, an undercut. She had a black beret, and no decorations of any sort.

She introduced herself as a “combat coordinator” of the anarchist forces, Lexi Marusha.

As soon as Bhavani rejected her offer, her expression darkened.

“Ma’am, with all due respect, we could both benefit extensively from opening the Khaybar route! It would produce the greatest territorial extent of leftist forces in history. Between the Commune and the Union we would have more peoples and forces under our banner than any of the imperialists! Please reconsider.”

“According to your report there is a group of militant Shimii at Khaybar.” Bhavani replied. “Khaybar Mountain was an ancestral territory of the Shimii. You would be asking us to participate in settler colonialism on your behalf. The Union’s Shimii are its third largest population. We have the largest population of Shimii outside of those still left in Rhinea and Bosporus. It behooves me to consider not just our moral misgivings, but that our own Shimii community might lose trust in the Union’s leadership.”

“There are plenty of anarchist Shimii in Bosporus who are being harmed and endangered by our current situation while you have theoretical sympathy for the jihadists in Khaybar.” Lexi accused suddenly.

“Be that as it may, your proposal has another flaw. You are not only asking us to attack Khaybar for you; it would have to be an attack across the Serrano region to reach the Goryk entrance to Khaybar. You are asking us to throw ourselves blindly across Imperial territory. It’s an enormous risk for us to take.”

“If the Union is unwilling to assist, then I would humbly request that Campos Mountain be allowed to cross the Union border to Cascabel to assist us in opening a humanitarian corridor.” Lexi pressed.

Bhavani smiled. “You will have to talk to them about that. I believe they may be reticent to do so.”

Campos Mountain was isolated to the far south of Union territory, possessing the eponymous mountain station ‘Campos Mountain’ and a handful of self-declared “anarchist” stations. In essence it was an anarchist bubble in the southernmost portion of Solstice near the South Occultis continental wall.

They were nominally allies, but due to their political differences, it would be difficult for Campos to move in support of the Bosporans, as they distrusted the Union and were surrounded on all sides by Union stations and therefore, by Union fleets and troops. While the senior members of the anarchist forces had some respect for the Union, the young people routinely denounced the Union as malignant and authoritarian, which made coordination between the two powers that much more difficult. The Union would not allow Campos’ fleet to move unsupervised through Union territory, and the anarchists would never treat an escort as anything other than an imposition of the Union’s authoritarianism upon them.

And in a way, all sides were right to distrust each other. The Union had a history of exploiting Campos’ position as an outside area in their own schemes. Once upon a time, the Union’s 4th fleet under Klasnikov used the Campos border area as a staging point for covert maneuvers against Ahwalia’s government, which the Ahwalians never forgave; and the Ahwalias and their minions used Campos as a conveniently off-the-books place for their own operations as well, which led to Bhavani’s own distrust of the anarchists. It was a very thorny situation for everyone, and the Bosporans would never be able to benefit from it.

To top it all off: Bhavani had a personal disrespect for the anarchist ideology which fueled her disinterest.

“It appears we have nothing to talk to about then.” Bhavani said. “Being honest, I don’t find relations between us mutually beneficial, so I will wish you the best of luck on your endeavors, but that is all I can do. If you are able to change the offer or scenario on your own terms, we can revisit this conversation.”

Lexi Marusha scowled but nonetheless replied. “Best of luck to you as well, Bhavani Jayasankar.”

Once that call had ended, the monitor showed a waiting room period for the next incoming call, giving Bhavani a ten-minute breather to prepare for her next guest. Once the time was up, her video screen was list up with the glamorous, olive-brown face of a certain Carmilla von Veka, made up in vibrant lipstick, eyeshadow and other pigments that brought out the fineness of her skin, dressed immaculately in silk with what looked like fluffy fox-tail scarf. She was reclining in a chair with her wooden vaporizer in hand. She could not have better played the high femme to Bhavani’s military butch if she deliberately tried.

When meeting her, Bhavani felt compelled to have her own vaporizer on hand as a point of familiarity.

She took a quick drag as if to preempt Veka’s own, which led the noblewoman to titter joyfully.

“I’ve come to look forward to our chats, you know?” Veka said. “I feel like we can relate in a lot of ways.”

“It’s always a pleasure to speak to a beautiful woman, but don’t read into it too much.” Bhavani said.

Veka smiled back. “How charming. Then let us get down to business. Premier, I come bearing gifts. I know as an Imperial territory, the burden is on Veka to show we are serious about the partnership between our nations. Your intelligence service will soon receive some files over the line we opened for encrypted information-sharing. It is a detailed look at the security situation of Veka, to foster mutual understanding. I would pay particular attention to the situation in our bordering territory of Sverland.”

Did she want the Union to launch an attack on Sverland?

Their cooperation was limited strictly to intelligence sharing so far.

A joint Union-Veka military operation would be quite an escalation of their present agreements.

“Interesting.” Bhavani’s hands were off-screen from Veka’s perspective, so she began to type a text message to Nagavanshi while speaking to her counterpart. “Look toward Sverland, you say? Are you insinuating then that you would like our partnership to become more intimate, madame von Veka?”

Veka giggled. “I am saying what I am saying, miss Jayasankar. Please take a look at the information, and make of it what you will. I do not wish to compel any action from you. After all, my favorite part of the romance in a relationship is when the aggressive partner makes a surprising move on the receptive one.”

What is this raunchy bird up to? Bhavani thought, cocking an eyebrow with mild amusement.

“I’ll keep that in mind.” She said. “And since I don’t like to be indebted to anyone, I’ll have my people prepare some information that might prove useful to you in return. I suggest you in turn set those pretty eyes on the Khaybar region. We want nothing to do with it, but you might find some allies in there.”

Giving up information to the Vekans was always controversial; but if it was about the anarchists, Naval HQ would hardly complain. To Bhavani, it was a no-brainer to feed their partnership this cheap snack.

Veka had already proven useful once before. Her information had helped them to intercept a whole Imperial fleet in the Cascabel region, all of whom defected. The defectors provided a trove of intelligence about the Imperial situation, as well as possessing working samples of Imperial technology like the second-generation Jagd diver. It was such a steal it buoyed Union morale greatly. Between the victory at Thassal and the “capture” of this fleet, Naval HQ fully recovered from a decades-long depression.

Nobody wanted to admit it, but the Vekans were paying back their share of the partnership well.

That being said, there were limits to what Bhavani was willing to do in return.

Anything she gave them had to be something that would end up in the Union’s favor too.

Rose bouquets full of deadly thorns; that was the Union’s diplomacy toward Veka.

Bhavani could not trust Carmilla as far as she could throw her– but if Veka was prompted to give the anarchists a black eye, that was no loss for the Union. Getting the Vekans to spend money and time turning their attention anywhere away from Lyser, Ferris and Solstice was an ultimate win for Bhavani. In her mind, it was a bunch of unsavory characters pummeling each other while the Union watched.

The Vekans probably knew this too; but they were also not in a position to turn down any aid.

Carmilla von Veka smiled brightly at Bhavani’s proposition, briefly sucking on her vaporizer.

“That’s the kind of reciprocation I love to see. I’m looking forward to our next chat then.” She said.

Bhavani cocked a smart little grin at her.

“Good then. Say, can you get little Victoria on the next call? She looks so cute, it brightens my mood.”

“Hmph. Good day, Jayasankar.”

Carmilla cut off the video call abruptly. Bhavani burst out laughing.

Impulsively, she took a drag from her vaporizer. A cloud that smelled like cinnamon blew from her lips.

She was feeling excited. What could the Vekans be cooking up now? How very dramatic!

Ten minutes later, Nagavanshi’s face appeared on the same screen that once had Marusha and Veka.

Dressed in her big hat and cape, her hair let down for once, the same surly expression on her face.

“Did you get a chance to look over what the Vekans sent us?” Bhavani asked.

Nagavanshi grunted. “I’ve got analysts on it. We’ve only had a few minutes with it so we’ve just glanced over the files and ran a bunch of programs on them. There appears to about as much information here about Veka’s ‘security situation’ as there are Shimii genes in my DNA. There are files about Solcea, Katarre and the Hanwan colony in the South Nobilis gap at Sotho Flow. So I assume they want us to think their borders are troubled right now. However, based on filesize alone, there is roughly ten times as much information available about Sverland, and it’s far more detailed. Video, audio, all kinds of pictures, planning files for syncing up fleet supercomputers. It’s like they’re giving us a detailed invasion plan.”

“Whose invasion plan though? Veka has no reason to attack into the Serrano region, its resource and industrial base without the Yucatan Gulf is tepid compared to the amount of riches Veka is sitting on locally. I doubt that they would put so much work into military fanfiction just to send to us.”

“About that–“

Nagavanshi put something up on the display that appeared next to her.

It looked like a stamp or a watermark on a fleet orgchart, taken from the files that Veka had provided.

A stylized eagle in a sunburst.

A figure usually linked to a certain “Volkisch Movement for the National Awakening of Rhinea.”

Bhavani’s face lit up with a smile. She started laughing, cautiously, but laughing.

“I don’t believe it. Tell your analysts I want to know beyond a shadow of a doubt if this is a Vekan joke.”

“Trust me, I am more skeptical even than you are.” Nagavanshi said. “But this appears to be a plan for an upcoming invasion of Sverland’s Serrano and Cascabel regions by the Volkisch Movement. It’s a very rigid plan– initial and final positions and all actions appear to be thoroughly documented. That fleet chart seems pretty realistic if we cross-reference the data provided by the Ajillo defectors. It’s possible that the Vekans have a spy among the Volkisch at a high enough level to provide fleet planning data like this.”

Bhavani glanced over the numbers on this supposed Volkisch fleet organization chart.

“Three fleets of thirty ships with a supporting fleet of twenty. That’s not that much power.” She said.

“Without the Yucatan Gulf the rest of Sverland is a husk of itself. We destroyed their only significant military potential in the South already. If this is real, it makes sense the Volkisch wouldn’t need overwhelming force to take over Serrano. If they can contain the Royal Alliance in the northern part of the Yucatan they have free reign over the rest of Sverland. They have no reason to expect much resistance.”

Nagavanshi responded soberly. Bhavani herself, however, was still quite excited by the possibility.

“I want every single byte of data in those files to be accounted for as soon as possible.” Bhavani said. “I have a few more meetings, but I will give you a visit to see everything first-hand. Make sure it’s ready.”

“Of course, Premier. I will get on it and leave you to your social calls.” Nagavanshi said.

Her voice was more than a little sarcastic sounding– Bhavani would deal with that later, personally.

Nagavanshi bowed her head and the video shut off. A ten minute timer appeared once again.

Bhavani sat back in her chair, taking off her hat and running her fingers through her short hair.

A crooked little smile began to form across her face. Her heart beat with bloodthirsty excitement.

The Volkisch Movement was attacking Sverland openly. If that was true–

And if Veka was openly fighting the theocracy in Solcea as well–

Then the Imperial Civil War had advanced beyond the stage in which its actors could form alliances.

There could be no grand unifying movement of the factions. They were killing each other.

In a situation like that, if one ordered the competing factions:

Erich von Fueller and Carmilla von Veka’s Grand Fleets each had around 1000 combat-ready vessels.

Each of the other factions had roughly a half-size of those fleets with lesser combat experience.

The Volkisch, Solcea and the Royal Alliance had roughly equivalent battle power and potential.

The National Front of Buren was slightly stronger than average; the Bosporus Commune slightly weaker.

And the Union of Ferris, Lyser and Solstice had a fleet of 1000 combat-ready ships across its territory.

Of those, nearly 200 were now stationed around Ferris, across the border from Sverland.

The troops at Ferris were disciplined, well trained, and furthermore, they had finally tasted blood.

“In a situation like that, are we not among the strongest ‘Imperial claimants’?”

Bhavani Jayasankar smiled to herself, staring down at the military hat she had set on the table.

Picking it up, and fixing it on her head. Watching her own grinning reflection on the screen.

What if the Union joined the drama of the era as well?

Could the dictatorship of the proletariat pose a serious challenge to succeed the throne of Imbria?

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