Arc 2 Intermissions [II.4]

The Occupation of Serrano

Fleet Admiral Maya Kolokotronis walked through a concrete hall flanked by sliding metal doors with a reinforced glass slot in each to peer inside the sparse, cramped all-white rooms. Each had enough space only for a bed and a toilet. She was accompanied by her retinue of power-armored Katarran bodyguards and her Commissar, Georgia Dukas, in full uniform, with greatcoat, peaked caps, short dark green capes.

“This is the standard security cell block.” Georgia said, consulting information on a handheld terminal. “And yet every cell here can be made into a solitary confinement cell with a few clicks. I gotta wonder what their supermax looks like. We can probably keep the Serrano bourgeoisie down there to teach them a good lesson, depending on how bad it is.” She put on a cheerful smile contemplating this possibility.

Maya maintained a stony expression as she surveyed the facilities.

“Once we’ve extracted anything useful from them they’re all going to be target practice dummies.” She turned to Georgia as they walked. “What’s the status on processing the existing prisoners? Any news?”

“Maya, there are a lot of people imprisoned here. We’re doing what we can. We have a lot less people working on this than up above, there’s so many hungry and needy folks. This is like fifth priority.”

This was Serrano prison. It had been taken over by the Union military as part of the occupation. They were presently going over the offenses of the prisoners there with the idea that they may have been sentenced unfairly. Any deemed “political prisoners” of the Empire would be released, while those who committed violent acts would receive a round of appeal with a Commissar. Those who committed violent acts against the state, bourgeoisie, or police or military targets, could apply for release. Some truly heinous offenders would not be exonerated. The Empire punished certain heinous and dehumanizing crimes with life in prison, and used these criminals in work gangs — the Union simply shot them. This policy came about because the Union didn’t want to spend resources to indefinitely house prisoners guilty of “abominable crimes,” rare but not yet completely eliminated. The Union was, after all, still “building” communism.

For those people, for now, they would remain in prison with the local magnates, large landlords, and the Serrano political class. Eventually they would be tried under Union law, and possibly then executed.

At the end of the first block, the group took an elevator down to the next level. This level contained very similar cells. This prison was very high capacity, and it was built under the sea floor beneath the station. Because it was only accessible through defensible elevators fed by narrow halls, escape was unthinkable. At the end of the second level down from the first cell block, the group took the elevator down one more tier, and did finally find themselves at the first supermax block. At the sight of the structures before them, the Katarran guards whistled. There were some bleak jokes and remarks made about it. Some were amused, some disbelieving. Maya was old enough to remember service on a Katarran mercenary ship.

And even that level of abuse, was not as bad as what she was seeing in front of her.

Supermax block was a true panopticon, a circular cell block with a central spire that watched every cell around it. However, the cells were so much more cramped– the people inside them were basically forced to stand, and could not stretch their arms. Their faces were always visible through the glass slot in their doors so they could see the central spire and its search lights. They could also be targeted by the automatic 37-mm gun on a remote controlled turret, which could move on a rail to target any cell with a red laser dot to denote its current fixation. It could certainly penetrate the glass, and therefore the prisoners had to be aware at all times that the turret could shoot them right in the head with precision.

“They probably moved the gun around every so often just to scare people in the cells.” Georgia said.


“Ma’am, I don’t even know that the Serrano fat cats deserve this kinda shit.” one of the bodyguards said.

Maya shook her head. “Only because I don’t want to waste time before liquidating them.”

This structure was a stark contrast to the punitive measures the Union took, which were not always themselves humane, but were at least efficient. In the Union, they had prisons, and prisons were separative. People were removed from society, but also from the objects of their crimes, so that they could be analyzed, and better understood, and maybe even reformed if it was felt possible. Union prisons were not beautiful, but they were fairer than this. Rather than a prison, this was a large scale torture device. In Maya’s mind anyone evil enough to deserve such treatment should have just been expunged. And more than likely, the majority of the people in these cells were undeserving of this treatment.

“Get a team to release these people and keep them somewhere else.” Maya ordered. “Even if we’re still waiting to check their files. It’s insane that nobody thought to move them before I did, has nobody gone down here? We can’t slack or take it easy when it comes to this job. I want this place taken care of within the day, make sure the functionaries know it. Marceau will hand out sanctions in my place if they don’t.”

Georgia’s skin briefly flashed white and then flushed red. Her chromatophores registered her surprise.

“Yes Admiral. I don’t disagree, but it’s a bigger job than we imagined, and there’s other concerns.”

“I don’t care if the people whose concern this prison is have to put in quadruple overtime. Get it done.”

Georgia smiled, looking amused at Maya’s seriousness. “Indeed, it will be done, Admiral.”

And so, the Union’s culture shock with Serrano’s various systems continued at overtime rates.

One point of contention was the handling of the local police and military prisoners.

For the police, Maya had advised that the officer class be purged while the lower rung investigators simply disarmed and disbanded, and then tracked for some time to insure compliance and transition to productive work lives. A Union-style Public Safety Volunteers corps could then be raised in its place. For the local military, they would tried according to existing POW processes; not so for the Volkisch troops, who would be given no chance of appeal as they were considered too ideologically suspect.

Meanwhile, it was well understood to all levels of the occupation that the bourgeoisie and political class of Serrano was on the outs. Serrano had an elected local government with both a lower tier community council and an upper tier state council, but even the liberal politicians were folding over to accept Volkisch control, so the Union trusted nobody above the levels of clerks and keyboardists with data entry jobs. While there were a few people loyal to the previous administration, writ large, most of the workers at the various ministries and offices and the public services just wanted the storm to blow over.

Because it was such an extraordinary situation, the Union did not have literature and training material prepared ahead of time to train the people of Serrano on Union law and commerce. Such training began to be administered ad hoc by the fleet, and requests for such materials were forwarded back to the Union, where resources began to muster for the task. In the meantime, friction and confusion and ad hoc solutions to problems would have to be accepted by the people and the incoming occupation authority.

Maya Kolokotronis would not be around to see every step of the process, so she felt a sense of urgency.

While she was around, nobody would slack off– but she was not scheduled to remain.

She was recalled to the Union to be paraded as a war hero– a state of affairs she did not begrudge.

Propaganda was powerful, and the Union’s military was heavily political.

More than anything though, she missed her fiance and the Union’s humble cafeterias.

With her recall, Maya’s last action was to choose a military governor in her own place.

From the outset, she already had someone in mind.

Until then, however, if everyone had to work overtime, they would do so, and so would she.

“It’s such a big office! It’s ridiculously big! Even my office back in Naval HQ is not this big!”

“It’s fine, you hardly sit in that office anyway and you’ll hardly sit in this one. You’re always up and about.”

In the middle of the lower tier of Serrano, an enormous central pillar rose up into the sky. A load-bearing monument of concrete and steel beams, it also housed several government offices, and a path to the upper tiers of the station. Thirty stories up, there was a furnished but unused office for the Mayor of the lower tier. South-facing, the office had an enormous reinforced glass window that provided an unfolding view of the sprawl, all the way out to the dark blue glass bubbles sealing off the ships in the port. There was a certain atmosphere provided by the dark steel buildings, winding grey roads and dim yellow light, and the view of the ocean as the true horizon, that inspired an ominous feeling in the occupants.

Admiral Champeaux-Challigne whistled, staring at the port berths in the distance. All that dark water outside, it was like a television screen displaying a yawning void. “It makes me think like, if there was an explosive decompression event, and I was staring right here, I’d see the water pour in, at least for a moment. Right? This office wouldn’t be the first place to be destroyed. For a few seconds–“

“Quit being so morbid. And don’t let your imagination run this wild in front of anyone else. They’ll think you’re not taking this seriously. Serrano is not going to flood yet, so get used to the responsibility.”

“I’m not goofing off! I’m just thinking, you know? We don’t have stations like this in the Union.”

Accompanying the dog-eared Loup Marceau Laverne De Champeaux-Challigne was the cat-eared Shimii admiral Nadia Al-Oraibi. She was shorter, and less statuesque and cut as the Loup beside her, with dark brown skin and messy black hair down to the shoulder, a contrast to Marceau’s olive skin and blond hair. Her ears and tail were light brown and fluffy, while Marceau’s were stiff, tall and dark, her tail bristly. Their green uniforms were same, however, and even resplendent with the same freshly unpacked medals. They had been awarded the People’s Valorous Commendation and the Meritorious Service Award, the first steps in the chain of awards that culminated with the prestigious “Hero of the Socialist Union.”

After the operation, the only admiral awarded “Hero of the Socialist Union” was Kolokotronis.

“Nadia, as the new Military Governor of Serrano, I’m appointing you to lead the regional defense.”

“How selfish.”

“What? You’re just the best person for the job! I demand you accept, I absolutely demand it.”

Nadia threw Marceau a skeptical look as they walked around the office.

“I’m not sure you have the authority you think you do.”

“You’re the one who is misinformed. I confirmed everything with the Premier personally over video call.”

“So you are allowed to appoint personnel in Serrano?”

“I am! So what do you say? I’ll help you: say yes! We can work closely together.”

Marceau gave Nadia a big warm smile. In turn, the cat avoided her gaze and acted aloof.

Upon further inspection they found that the office was not just south-facing, it wrapped around the entire building column with glass doors leading to different sections. There was a room with a desk, a room with couches, a room with a long table with several seats, computers in each room, and a labeled break room which was locked down. Everything was separated by glass dividers with sliding doors except the break room, which had solid walls around the door. Marceau and Nadia stared at it quizzically.

“I don’t see a keycard reader. Do you?” Marceau asked.

“No. This one is locked with a traditional key. There must be something good behind it.” Nadia mused.

Marceau stepped forward, slid her hand into the recessed well for the door latch and tugged on it.

It did not budge an inch.

There was indeed a keyhole in the well, for a physical key to operate the circular lock.

“We have master keys, but obviously for digital card reader locks. Not something like this.”

Nadia stepped forward and peered into the hole.

“Oh well.”

“Not ‘oh well’. I won’t give up so easily while these Imperial bastards hoard things. Stand back from it.”

“Marceau, it’s a steel door–“

Nadia did step aside, and just in time for Marceau to throw a brutal front kick at the door.

Her boot crashed into the center of the door, and the plasterboard wall adjacent to the door, into which it had set, fractured catastrophically, and the entire apparatus of the door collapsed inward. With an enormous crash, the slider and the well into which the door slid, all of it toppled with the wall spilling into the room. Nadia stared at this, speechless. A door was only as secure as the walls around it, she supposed.

“Are you really a Loup? Are you sure you’re not actually a Katarran?”

“Hah! Don’t underestimate the physical feats a determined Loup woman can achieve.”

Neither of them wanted to examine whether anything else in this office was held up by cheap plasterboard. They peered through the devastation that Marceau had caused, and found what appeared to be a well-stocked private breakroom. Some furniture had been destroyed by the collapsing door, but critically, the liquor cabinet at the back was untouched. There were wine glasses, and some accoutrements like citrus juices and sugar syrup for mixing cocktails. Marceau stepped over the door with great relish.

“Look at this! We’ve got grape wine, we’ve got corn whiskey, we’ve got sugar beet rum!”

Marceau loudly went through the available liquor. She set down the rum and two glasses, and poured.

“Mighty presumptuous of you.” Nadia mumbled.

“Aww, c’mon. It’s not haram if it’s rum, right? I purposely didn’t pick the wine even though it’s nicer.”

Nadia finally exposed the slightest little smile. Without a word, she walked forward and took her glass.

“A toast, to the socialist heroes!”

Marceau lead the toast, and the two of them gently tapped their glasses together and drank.

Nadia took a sip, while Marceau downed the entire glass.

“Ahh! C’est magnifique! That asshole mayor doesn’t know what he missed out on here!”

In actuality, the previous mayor operated out of his house in the upper tier of Serrano and there was no record that he had ever been in his office here. This office was symbolic, a place to look down upon the rabble if he so chose, or a place where the rabble could look up and perhaps, imagine to themselves that he was there watching. Like him, but for different reasons, Marceau was not so sure she should use it.

She did not like the metaphorical optics of it and she was not sure she liked the physical optics either.

“Perhaps I will govern out of a boat instead. My Broceliande will be in port, after all.” Marceau said.

“Then why did you drag me out here with you to inspect it?” Nadia protested.

In the next moment, Marceau’s arm struck the wall next to her, and the Loup leaned forward, such that she was looming over Nadia and had her pinned to the wall. Her knee moved between the Shimii’s legs. Marceau licked her lips, and her tail wagged incessantly in the air. Nadia met her fiery gaze and did not once waver, as Marceau’s face neared hers, and the Loup began to nuzzle her neck and hold her tight.

“So we could be alone for a while, of course.” Marceau whispered, her voice tantalizingly low and deep.

“Perhaps I will stay a while then.” Nadia said, releasing a warm breath over Marceau’s hungry lips.

Marceau grinned violently and lifted Nadia to the wall by her leg with one hand, as the other began exploring. Kissing her so hungrily it muffled the few moaning protests, biting her neck and shoulder, her fingers tracing Nadia’s belly and beginning to undo her pants– Marceau made of her Shimii companion what she would. With nothing to cover the sight of them, but no one to see or hear the devouring.

A few hours later, Nadia returned to her docked flagship, wearing a bodysuit with her uniform that covered up to the neck, down to the wrists– more than usual, several gossips quickly took notice.

Marceau stayed the night in the building, drinking, relaxing, and basking fully naked by the wall-wide window in the main office. She decided to keep the office after all, even if the view was a bit eerie.

Nadia Al-Oraibi would be meeting with her frequently now, as the admiral in command of the Defense Forces of the Serrano Military District, which would be headed by Marceau Laverne De Champeaux Challigne as military governor. Though Nadia acted aloof toward the post, several staffers close to her did notice that she began going about her task with a greater spring in her step than the preceding days.

That office would become something special for them in the coming weeks.

A little place where they could escape the flood of bleak stories coming from everywhere in Serrano.

Even if only for a few hours on a few nights.

A little slice of heaven, of their own making, within the hell they struggled to set right.

“Everyone has to do a little social service sometimes! Even a big hero like you, Klob.”

“Okay, but is this really the kind of work I should be doing? Maybe I should be out on patrol instead.”

In the middle of Parrilla Park in the eastern end of Serrano’s lower tier, with the steel sky and sunlamps overhead, surrounded by tall, gloomy buildings, a group of pilots that had fought against the Volkisch with the Union’s Fleet Combat Group C were now unloading crates from the back of an electric truck. They had meal packs drawn from Navy stocks that consisted of wrapped square biscuits, vegetable and soy bullion for soup, peanut butter in foil packs and chewable vitamins. In addition, they would be taking down the names of people who needed accommodations or services, or whose buildings had faulty water or temperature systems, which they promised to fix once they knew the scope of the problems.

Around the edge of the park there was a small group of civilians watching them set up the goods. Slowly they began to feel more comfortable wandering onto the park grass, where the pilots were setting up.

“Please wait until we’ve fully unloaded! Then we’ll begin distribution in an orderly fashion! Thank you!”

Among those pilots was a girl widely considered the Ace of FCG-C during Operation Tenable, the katarran Klob Hondros. A round-faced girl with mottled golden-brown skin and dark beige hair cut to the shoulder and collected into two short tails in the back of her head. Her ears were shaped like the fins of a lionfish, with a pair of black slightly curling horns poking out from under her hair on the sides of her head. With her pleasantly round belly and thick legs and soft arms, she was a pretty, young girl, a true ‘maiden.’

This maiden, however, had destroyed 8 Volkers in Thassal, and an additional 6 and 2 Jagd recently.

Dressed in her combat suit with a uniform greatcoat worn loosely over it, the people of Serrano did not know her accolades at all, and so to them, she was like anyone else who could be distributing aid in the city. They did not know she was a big deal likely about to receive her “Hero of the Socialist Union” medal.

Meanwhile the young woman at the head of the pilots was Klob’s superior officer, Lieutenant Zvesda Petrovich, who had a bright expression, her curly blond hair bobbing about as she floated between the steadily forming crowd of civilians and the pilots unloading the crates, checking and marking things off on a portable terminal and assuring everyone that nobody would leave without their food pack.

Klob stared at her with a gloomy expression while bringing down crates from the truck and setting them down wherever she felt like. All of Klob’s crates were visibly set to the sides or even nowhere near the pile that everyone was building. Rather than being annoyed with her, everyone seemed amused with her visibly petulant behavior, and continued to humor her doing everything wrong throughout the unloading.

“I thought Katarrans were supposed to be super strong?” one of the other pilots teased her.

In response, Klob picked up a 10 kg crate of ration packs with one hand and lifted it over her shoulder.

She puffed her cheeks up in frustration. “It’s not about being strong! I shouldn’t be doing this job!”

Zvesda walked up behind Klob and patted her on the back. “We all have to do our part. I know it’s not in our job description, but it’s important for soldiers to show the people that we’re here to help them.”

Klob was well aware that she was being unreasonable, but she didn’t want to be out here.

She wanted to be back on the ship, sleeping and reading comic books until it was time to fight again.

“I don’t want to lift crates. Let me do security or something.”

“You’re not with security, Klob. If you want a different job, you’ll help me with handing out packs.”

“No! That’s even worse!”

Her petulance was thus punished — Klob would get to sit by the side of the truck during the unloading but she would have to personally hand out ration packs with that annoying ball of sunshine Zvesda. And so the situation developed that standing next to the orderly pile of aid goods, there was on one side a bright, smiling and cheerful Volgian girl and the other a gloomy Katarran with a friendless look to her.

People lined up for the food aid– all kinds of people. There were people whom Klob would have referred to as exceedingly normal, wearing ordinary work clothes and casual clothes in various styles. They did not look like they were experiencing hardship, but that was not for Klob to decide. They had a database that tracked who received food, and everyone was entitled to the same amount. As such, Klob silently handed a pack to a man in a suit, and then handed one to a woman in a vinyl hoodie and sweatpants, and also handed food to bowed, shabby-looking folks with old or dirty clothes, no shoes, shaking hands.

Among the latter group, one particular pair, a woman and her little son, caught Klob’s attention.

When they stepped forward, she picked out two packs from the stack and handed them over.

Her eyes lingered for a moment.

“What do you say to the lady?” The mother admonished her child.

“Thank you ma’am!” Said the child. “We haven’t eaten this good in days! Solceanos bless all of you!”

“Indeed, thank you.”

That clearly tired woman offered the tiniest smile, and Klob felt like, it was the most smiling she could do.

Klob had never seen anything like this.

She had not grown up on a Katarran ship, so she was a pure Union kid.

Intellectually, she was aware that there was hardship like this but–

It was hard to parse– surreal to witness.

“It’s okay. I’m glad you’re getting to eat.” Klob said back in a small, bashful voice.

After Klob handed her the food, Zvesda noticed her and the child and called them over.

“Ma’am, are you houseless? Let’s put your name down here, and write down somewhere that we can find you regularly. We’re trying to get everyone roomed somewhere as soon as possible.” She said.

In this way, they handed out food and took down a couple dozen names of houseless people.

Throughout, Klob felt something eerie. It was a feeling like–

–like she felt when she killed people.

A surreal sense that things shouldn’t be this way. A tiny piece of her heart and soul breaking.

Mute yearning for a better world that wouldn’t be– not just from killing a few enemy pilots.

And maybe, not even from just handing ration packs to a few people.

But both– both were duties that had to be taken. Little steps forward. She had to tell herself that.

After a few hours, the truck was empty and Zvesda’s terminal was full of names and pictures.

They would be driving the truck back to port, and coordinating with the intelligence personnel from Marceau Laverne De Champeaux Challigne’s flagship Broceliande and Nadia Al Oraibi’s flagship, the Shamshir. Both of these docked Cruisers had been tapped into the station’s CCTV and other data and people tracking gear in order to coordinate relief efforts. After reporting back the pilots would be told where else they were needed. They might unload goods at the port itself using their Divers, or they might set up a first aid station, or directly distribute aid, or go on patrol in electric bikes around the city– they weren’t needed for active blue water warfighting, so they were doing odd jobs all day instead.

“Klob, you’re looking a bit spacey. Is everything ok? It wasn’t so bad, was it?” Zvesda asked.

Klob had been standing with her arms crossed, her back against the side of the truck, sighing.

“I just don’t get it.”

“Hmm? What’s wrong?”

Klob shot Zvesda a serious look.

“How come that kid didn’t have any food? I mean– that’s just a kid. It’s not like he can work for food. Kids just get food, or– I thought they did. It doesn’t make sense to me for a kid to go hungry. And the mom, I don’t get it either. She’s old and I thought she might be sick, even if she didn’t want to say. So why–?”

“We grew up like that, but it was different here.” Zvesda replied. “They didn’t just give food away here.”

“But you need it to live. You need to eat or you can’t even work. What did they expect them to do?”

Zvesda smiled at her. “You have a really big heart Klob. Channel it into doing what you can to help.”

Klob puffed up her cheeks. “Bah. You’re just making fun of me. But I’m seriously concerned.”

Zvesda patted her on the back for comfort. There was no good answer she could give.

From that point, until she was recalled to the Union for an award ceremony, Klob did start putting in even more time than anyone else helping distribute aid and helping people get housed. There was no notable change in her gloomy demeanor or her distaste for dealing with crowds or with jobs she wasn’t meant to do– but it seemed like she had decided one day that helping in Serrano was something meant for her.

This would be cited in her commendation ceremony– but Klob didn’t think it was anything laudable.

Much like her piloting, it was the little bit that she could do to make a fragment of the world she wanted.

“Congratulations on your great success, Premier. We are now embroiled in a war.”

“Perhaps, but our territory has expanded by an almost an additional third.”

“Wastelands, a station that’s one giant slush fund, and an extremely contaminated Abyss.”

“And a good few million more people to welcome to the communist fold. Don’t forget it, Nagavanshi.”

In the Premier’s office at Mount Raja, Parvati Nagavanshi had entered through the automatic door and with a blank expression and monotone voice, began clapping slowly as she walked the carpet toward the desk of Bhavani Jayasankar, who watched her approach with an equally stony expression. Bhavani pushed aside the monitor near her face completely off to the side of her desk, and flipped a switch to raise a chair from the floor for Nagavanshi to sit on. Nagavanshi walked up beside the chair and stood the entire time.

“You know I prefer to stand.” Nagavanshi said.

“One of these days I’m going to make you sit down.” Bhavani said threateningly.

“I’m looking forward to it, Premier.”

They gave each other a smoldering gaze before transitioning neatly to their business.

“There is thankfully less of a fog of war than we thought.” Nagavanshi began. “We managed to reestablish communication with all involved fleet combat groups pretty quickly, and Serrano and Ajillo stations are now connected to our laser relay. There’s a bit of a bandwidth choke at Cascabel because the equipment there is in disrepair. But we are working on that, and it should not be a problem in the near future.”

“What are our losses looking like?” Bhavani asked.

Nagavanshi was stoic.

“Minimal. In the realm of small pockets of grief, rather than statistics. Don’t concern yourself.” She said.

“Are any units still actively involved in combat?”

“Not that I am aware of. Admiral Nadia Al-Oraibi is engaged in laying down a minefield between Serrano and the Yucatan as well as the approaches to Rhinea. Our defenses should be completed in a week, and the unit is in a combat posture until then, but we don’t expect a Volkisch retaliation. Everything they could spare from their frontline with the Royal Alliance was already in place in Serrano.” Nagavanshi said.

“I would not underestimate the fascist drive to glorious self-destruction.” Bhavani said. “Reinforce the fleet laying down our defenses. It’s not like anything will come from the Khaybar or the Vekan directions. We also can’t appear too certain of ourselves, or it will become evident to the Volkisch we have a direct line to their plans. They should see us acting a little paranoid for now to sell the uncertainty.”

“As you wish, Premier. I will relay the orders to Naval HQ.” Nagavanshi replied.

“How is the humanitarian situation?” Bhavani asked.

Nagavanshi’s countenance darkened a little. “Worse than we imagined, but not impossible to deal with.”

Upon the completion of the main combat objectives of Operation Tenable, Serrano underwent a political purge. Elected officials, wealthy businessmen, all previous security and police forces, and the heads of ministries and important departments were detained indefinitely. Union commissars, logistics personnel and various functionaries who had been accompanying the combat fleets arrived at the station, along with three troopships carrying 5000 Marines and their supplies to begin occupation duties.

While the work began to set up a Union-aligned government, the occupiers cooperated with existing lower level public workers in Serrano wherever possible, and only replaced them if they were completely unreliable politically. The occupation had the immediate task of collecting vital data on the station, such as demographics and economic data, in order to plug them into the Union’s supply chain as soon as possible. It was a monumental task that went much smoother with Serrano’s own experts aboard.

In the process, the Union occupation began to piece together recent events for Serrano Station.

Since the occupation of the Yucatan Gulf by the Royal Alliance, Serrano station had gone from having access to a functional industrial base including three major mining stations, a handful of civilian stations with productive industry in textiles and other consumer goods, a shipyard and steelworks for heavy industry, and four agri-spheres– to having access to a single local agri-sphere, Ancho, and the local production in Serrano. This shock caused a spiraling economic catastrophe for the station.

Serrano attempted to deal with the Royal Alliance for the purchase of needed goods, but the Royal Alliance needed nothing material from Serrano, so they could make extortionary financial demands. All Serrano really had was money, as the financial and political hub of Sverland, and money was all that the Royal Alliance wanted, as they had been raising morale among their troops and mercenaries with lavish bonuses. Rather than meet these demands Serrano chose to deal with the Volkisch instead.

In the meantime, capitalism ground on. Prices went up, and the market shock was particularly used by landlords to raise rents. Motivations ranged variously from anticipation of market hardships due to rising prices in other goods, to simply wanting to be rid of undesirable Serrano tenants in the hopes they might house richer Rhinean residents if a deal with the Volkisch came through. Houselessness in Serrano rose steadily for the past few weeks to a whopping 20%. Then, when the masses of the poor on the streets became unsightly, Serrano engaged in beating them out of the business districts with police violence.

In the lead up to the arrival of the Volkisch there were a few small incidences of “looting,” as defined by the former government, but once brutal Volkisch-backed patrols began to publically attack people in Serrano resistance became increasingly quiet. Most of the public violence that had ensued during the recent events was caused by the Volkisch and their collaborators within the station, as well as by local and state level police forces. When the Volkisch were put to flight by the Union there were renewed, relatively brief incidences of rioting, looting and revenge killings among civilians, but for the most part, the station’s population tried to keep their heads down, ignore the violence and privation around them, and simply get to their homes, if they had any, as fast as possible. Union troops instituted curfews for a few days, but once aid began rolling out to the public, the incidences of violence disappeared almost entirely.

For those who could afford increasingly irrational prices for housing, the supply of goods, particularly food and medicine, became their pain point. Serrano had a very modest manufacturing capacity, and most of it focused on luxury finished goods, particularly food products and high end textiles. Most people worked in service and gratuity sectors. Meanwhile Ancho station, the Union occupiers discovered, supplied exclusively fresh food with a 20% post-harvest loss rate. Their auxiliary technology focused on packaging and shipping such foods as quickly and as a fresh as possible to Rhinea and the Palatine. Even so, they also often accepted as much as a 15% loss of product at point of sale and distribution as well.

They had remarkably few canneries, very little in the way of drying equipment and curing supplies, they had no facilities for making use of byproducts. In short they had completely pivoted to selling expensive fresh food while accepting every bit of the wastage that came from this– for the Union, which had a strict 0% harvest loss policy, this was an outrageous state of affairs. Preservation supplies and gear were rapidly requested from the Union, hoping to beat the next harvest cycle which was coming in weeks. In the meantime, the Union confiscated and saved whatever food goods they could. In some cases, large quantities of vegetables about to go bad on the vine were picked by Union soldiers and cooked with improvised methods, such as blasting makeshift racks with the heat exhaust from Divers in dry air.

In the Union, agri-spheres were home to a lifestyle in itself. Access to more food, immediately, the ability to cook one’s own food, and being able to live among nature to a certain degree, were marketed as perks of the job, and people were paid more in accommodation, rationing, and other social benefits, than what their stagnant Union credit wage really suggested. In Serrano, however, Agri-Sphere work was low paid work for desperate people who had access to nothing else. The living conditions were miserable, and they had no benefits whatsoever. There were few hands in Ancho, and they were not happy with their working conditions. With the folding of the Serrano government, they wanted to be anywhere but Ancho, which represented additional headaches for the Union occupation authority. For the immediate moment the occupation authority abolished rents and debts, which brought a lot of relief to the farm workers.

Lovers of fresh foods in Serrano were in for a rude awakening. The Union would simply not accept the large scale waste which fresh food export would entail, and the market pressures that governed it. They had no profit incentive to make such niche goods for the markup they entailed in the Imbrian market. Ancho station would have to be geared toward growing high-yield Union GMO crops for large-scale distribution and preservation. It would be a laborious undertaking, but not an impossible one.

In Serrano itself, under orders from Admiral Kolokotronis and later Admiral Champeaux-Challigne, a rationing system was implemented. There was an immediate freeze on cash transactions. All storefronts were inspected and commandeered, supplies were tallied and earmarked. People were encouraged to visit their same shops as before for their food and goods, but they would receive a certain amount of items, and there would be no buying and selling. All fresh food which would’ve gone bad was cooked and handed out in whatever way made sense, often in an ad hoc fashion. All food which was scheduled to be thrown out was reevaluated and disbursed immediately where possible or eaten by occupation soldiers, for whom stale bread and slightly browning fruit was nothing new or particularly unappealing.

Needs began to be identified, and particular attention was placed to what would need to be brought in from the Union. Serrano’s biggest import need was in medicine, particularly medicines for chronic conditions, which were under-produced and highly marked up in the local economy. Even as the Union began to set up the occupation authority, people were dying of relapsing chronic diseases for lack of medicines. Fluids, oxygen and blood for hospitals were in chronically short supply, particularly due to recent spikes in violence and illness, and the Fleet could only donate so much from their own stocks.

Bhavani listened to the unfolding explanation with a variety of facial expressions, while Nagavanshi frequently handed her a portable terminal with numbers and graphics on the screen depicting all the findings of the Union functionaries. Capitalist economy in Serrano had essentially collapsed, which was a boon to the Union because there was less of it for them to visibly destroy by their own hand, allowing the station to more easily accept communist integration in the future– or so the planners hoped.

But materially, Serrano would be a charity case for the Union for some time, which would bite deep into the surplus stocks of food and goods that the Union was building up, as well as its ambitions to build a deeper and broader reserve against famine. This would be compounded if the decision was made to halt construction on a new agri-sphere and its attendant bulk haulers in order to develop more warships.

“Who was put in charge?” Bhavani asked. Nagavanshi showed her a picture on her portable.

A light-haired, dog-eared woman, tail furiously wagging, delivering a big speech in a Serrano park.

“Admiral Marceau Laverne De Champeaux-Challigne. Fleet Admiral Kolokotronis is scheduled to return to the Union soon for the big victory lap, and the fleet wanted an ethnic minority to be visibly in charge, as a counterpoint to the Volkisch sympathies exhibited by the previous station authorities.” Nagavanshi said.

“Yes, that woman is one ethnic minority who will be incredible visible. Incredibly loud, too.” Bhavani said.

She said this with a bit of fondness in her voice and a knowing tone.

Nagavanshi put on a little smile. “She’ll do a fantastic job. She has empathy and irrepressible drive, which is what we need from the political leadership. Everything else is being handled by a legion of analysts.”

Having gone over the whole story, and after a brief discussion of the numbers in greater detail, Premier Bhavani Jayasankar could do nothing but heave a long sigh at the situation they got themselves into.

“This is pretty grim, but we knew from the get-go that it was going to be bad.” Bhavani said.

Nagavanshi nodded. “It makes us look magnanimous, however. Just think of it– the capitalists abandoned this place, but the gentle hand of communism will save them from starvation and take them from living in gutters to having rooms and clean clothes. It’ll make for good domestic propaganda.”

“Speaking of which, what are we doing about the press?” Bhavani asked.

“All state media has been given the appropriate level of information and access.” Nagavanshi said.

“We’re not being too hamfisted about it, are we?” Bhavani asked.

“They’re not being told what to say. They are simply being given a treasure trove of heavily on-message information which they can sort through and make stories about in their own voices. I think that should be acceptable? If it were up to me alone, they would only be reporting approved talking points.”

“If it were up to you we wouldn’t have a press. But it’s a valuable asset, if you know how to manage it.”

“Look at you, giving the people a bit of democracy and free press as a yummy little treat.”

“Don’t be such a brat unless you’re looking to get disciplined, Parvati.”

“At any rate. We have also approved a few specific media figures to travel to Serrano to report on the conditions there. We are not using war messaging, but calling the prior events a special operation.”

“Good. Calling it a war would needlessly raise the hackles of all the old codgers in the Councils.”

“Speaking of those codgers, we are collating reactions and developing lists with regards to the Councils.”

“Good girl. We are about to transition to the homefront phase of the special operation.”

Bhavani winked at Nagavanshi, who, her expression still entirely deadpan, winked back.

“My vote to retain is coming up. But I don’t fancy being voted on in some joke election.” Bhavani said.

Nagavanshi raised her brows. “You don’t like your numbers? It’s not like there are any strong contenders.”

“I’ve floated the idea by you before, why are you surprised? How does Grand Marshal Jayasankar sound?”

“You needn’t scan my expression so suspiciously. Of course I am always going to support you.”

Bhavani smiled. “Everything is going to get ugly and complicated. Are you really so sure?”

Nagavanshi fixed her eyes directly on her Premier. “I told you before. We’ll burn in hell together.”

“I appreciate the devotion, but I wish you’d be so optimistic as to say we’re deserving of heaven.”

The Commissar-General’s cloak billowed a little as she took a few quick steps to the Premier’s desk.

She leaned over it, looking her even closer in the eyes. No on else had ever seen Nagavanshi so close.

“To the class that got to define heaven, people like us can only belong in hell.” She said.

Without word, Bhavani took hold of the back of her head and drew her in, kissing her long and deep.

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