Arc 2 Intermissions [II.5]

Awaiting the Storm

“I hope I did not keep you waiting too long.”

“What are you talking about? You’re right on time as always.”

“Oh! Look at that– I could have sworn I’d disappoint you this year.”

“Of course not. I had complete confidence in you.”

New Karach Station had declared there would be a simulated rain in the park and some commercial tiers of the station that day. Simulated rains were infrequent, because they annoyed ordinary station-goers, but it was viewed as a valuable way to keep people in touch with nature and its volatility. For Shimii, who made up most of New Karach’s population, there was a unique importance to weather simulations. It was a way to remind themselves of the acts of God, which could be seen in deep readings of their religious literature. Such literature was fragmentary, much of it having been lost in the tumult of history, but it did mention things like sunshine, clouds, rain. It was important to do what they could to experience these things that God had meant for them, to subject themselves to natural adversity with a sense of humility.

In Martyr’s Park, which had been built around the Union Shimii’s memorial cemetery, the rain was also meant to inspire mourning that day. Water came down from the high ceiling of the broad tier that encompassed the park, with an artificial hill overlooking a plain of grass intercut by a concrete path through the gravestones. None of the graves contained actual remains, but that did not matter.

There was a single large tree in the middle of the park, and it was real, not in a bubble or kept alive by machines, it was real, carefully tended, and on that day, buffeting gently in the simulated breeze that drove the rain at an angle. It was pouring rain, the ceiling elements cycling desalinated water in large amounts for the task. It was the birthday of Movlid Omarov, a hero of the Union’s Shimii, so on that day, the sky was weeping. He who had been first to break his shackles, and whose next action, was to break the shackles of his neighbor, and the neighbor after that, until he had freed scores of his kin.

On that day, Bhavani had dressed in as fine a vest and pants as she owned, took up a parasol from a rack in the elevator, and after traveling the winding cemetery path in Martyr’s park, she arrived at Omarov’s simple grave in a corner of the park. There were already stacks of handmade gifts left to him.

At the grave she joined Omarov’s daughter and sole remaining relation, Milana Omarova.

A tall woman, light brown skinned with long, golden blond-brown hair and dark orange eyes, standing under her own parasol, dressed in a ruffled green synthetic cape over her chest and back, beneath which was a Union navy uniform. On her hip, she had a holster for a diamond sabre, with an LED in the handle indicating battery power for the chainsaw motor. Her tail necessitated its own multi-section plastic covering to avoid the rain, because it was very large and very fluffy, a trait which all of her family and many displaced Volgian Shimii shared. For this occasion, she wore very light red cosmetics.

Milana was younger than Jayasankar by over a decade, having been a teen in the revolution. She was in her prime, lean, long-limbed, with a good figure and beautiful smile which she brandished as they met. Despite everything, she was like a ray of sunshine, full of energy, shining in the heavy rainfall.

As-salamu alaykum!”

“Greetings, Milana.”

Bhavani had thought she might have been late, but Milana assured her she was right on time for their yearly ritual. With everything else happening, Bhavani really had to fight to set aside the time to visit New Karach. That very night, she would have to be on a ship bound for Sevastopol Station to headline Maya Kolokotronis’ award ceremony. From there she had to meet with the Shipbuilders Union in Daman Station, and travel to Lyser to gather all the stakeholders for a final decision on the agricultural program. Then she would be going back to Solstice to prepare to fight out the Council’s “Motion to Retain” in the coming weeks. Milana would actually be joining her on some of these excursions, at least.

After all, she was the leader of the “Omarovist” Shimii brigade loyal to Jayasankar.

So she and her father were always worth the visit. It was an event both heartfelt and convenient.

Once they exchanged their initial pleasantries, the two of them paid their respects.

Milana went down to her knees in front of the grave, holding the parasol with one hand.

With the other, she rubbed her fingers over the smooth carving, displacing water from over it.

“These are chaotic times, father. Death and duty hang over us, as they loomed large over you and your generation. I have been thinking about you throughout. I know that I will surmount these challenges, because it is of course nothing like the suffering our ancestors endured, and I am thankful for their deeds, the same as I am thankful for yours. We miss you dearly, but Allah, subhana watala, saw fit to relieve you of duty, with your work done. All I can ask is for you to smile on us. We’ll find our way, by the grace of the most exalted and merciful.” Milana smiled, her bushy tail gently waving behind her. “Bhavani has visited again this year too, of course; and aren’t we blessed? Does she not look gorgeous as usual?”

Bhavani knelt down next to Milana, in front of the grave. She remained quiet, reserving her thoughts as a non-believer in the Shimii religion. For “Mahdist” Shimii, there was an element of positive reflection to visiting graves. Milana did not come to this grave to cry, as Bhavani might have cried and screamed and shouted on the graves of her parents– but to seek strength and the example of her father as a living man who lived right and took care of his family and his duties. It did not matter that Omarov had died unjustly.

Milana did not cry, and her tone of voice was always moderated, as if speaking respectfully to a man who was still in her presence. The way she controlled herself and kept positive was truly inspirational.

After paying their respects, Milana recited a prayer, and then they left the cemetery together.

On the way back, Bhavani became curious about her attitude and tried to air her interest.

“I had to keep silent, because when I think about what happened to him it burns me up.” She said.

“I’m glad you kept quiet then. You know it’s not a time for that today.”

“I do know. But how do you maintain such an iron will? You didn’t even shed a tear.”

Milana glanced at Bhavani with a little smile. “I put everyone in a grave who deserved it. Their families mourn them and their deeds now. It’s not me who needs to be thinking about it. What do I have to be sad about the past for? I will be killing for the rest of my life, but when it comes to my family affairs, I’ve paid back the blood and ended the feuds. There is no use thinking about my father’s killers anymore.”

Bhavani smiled back. “You’re a uniquely strong individual, even for your family. I hope you know that.”

Scary girl. I did help her with that killing, so at least I don’t have anything to worry about there.

“Will you stay for the procession? At 01600. There’ll be songs and cheering.” Milana said.

Bhavani smiled, with a bit of guilt. “I’m afraid I am too busy this year. I would love to, but–“

“Then you must at least stay for a meal.” Milana said. “We can talk about whatever business then too.”

She just knew; Bhavani always had some ulterior motive.

“Sorry, sorry,” Bhavani said, in a sing-song voice, before switching to a more neutral register, “I can’t help but have business everywhere I go. I hardly have time to just bask in good company anymore.”

“I understand perfectly well. I appreciate the visit, you know. We all love you here, Bhavani.”

Milana gave her a playful little punch in the shoulder and smiled brightly.

She meant the visit; but not only these visits. Bhavani had visited often.

Among other things, these visits led to the building of three Mosques and several other amenities.

“I am flattered as always, Milana. This is the most homey place I ever have a chance to visit.”

“I’m glad you think so. Not much has happened since your last visit, but let me take you around anyway.”

Bhavani smiled and nodded in acknowledgment, and Milana led the way to the elevator.

New Karach Station was a multi-section pillar on the border between Ferris and Lyser. Set into a rocky crater 1500 meters below the surface, it was initially an excavation hub for mining, and had both above ground and below ground facilities. Crucially, the yields were mediocre. It was only Shimii slave labor that made it profitable for Imperial companies to dig here. Brutally exploiting free labor for construction and extraction allowed the Empire to settle down anywhere. But once the Union overturned colonial rule, New Karach was made into a habitation that would allow the Shimii within to lead dignified lives. There was no point mining here, but the people of New Karach needed homes, and wanted to retain their community.

There was one habitat, an enormous dice cube shaped structure, positioned above the seafloor, but it was the size of four habitation blocks of other Union stations stacked together and astride. When the station was founded, the Shimii were crammed into the underground section of the station while the Imbrian colonists and officers lived in discrete sections above them, with luxurious amenities. The Shimii were moved to these sections, which were overhauled to allow more people to live in them. Thereby, no Shimii lived entirely underground anymore, a symbolic victory for the residents. The underground habitat was converted into commercial spaces, that housed state-owned distribution centers, co-op shops, several mosques, and other amenities, such as schools, clubs, theaters, plazas, sports fields, among other things.

There was also the large “industrial” section underground where the Shimii retained the equipment left behind by the Empire. They gave the mining equipment to the Union for use elsewhere, but kept the imperial assembly line and manufacturing. They focused on producing finished goods with materials ferried in by the Union. They spun synthetic textiles and manufactured things like plates, mugs and cutlery with Synthestitchers, and built complex parts for ships and computers using Ferristitchers.

New Karach manufactured weapons too. Reportedly the best AK-pattern rifles in the Union!

There was also a massive underground dock at 2000 meters depth for commercial and industrial traffic, accessible by several hatches and tunnels on the exterior of the New Karach crater. A section of the port had become the headquarters of the “Omarov brigade” and its associated Fleet Combat Group.

Martyr’s Park was above all of this, at the highest level of the station, closest to God.

When they left the elevator, they walked through one of the commercial areas. It was the newest one, slowly built in place of a decommissioned prison section. Bhavani and Milana arrived at a multi-story interior pavilion, each story linked by elevators and staircases. There were several spaces all of which were colorful, brightly lit with LEDs and displaying signs and banners, some of which were animated.

Directly from the elevator, Bhavani could see study hall where several dozen Shimii were gathered on mats, learning scripture and the Fusha language together, and practicing song-like prayers; there was a co-op “Shawarma” shop; a state-owned clothing and laundry center; a large food court that occupied several “lots” in the commercial area by itself; and a messenger station where people could get help connecting to long distance friends or relatives, or pick up physical mail if they received any.

They were on the second tier, so they could look over the railings and see the plaza below, which was being used as a football field. There was a heated match underway between rival clubs from the station and their supporters and banners were gathered on either side — it was quite lively.

“It feels like every time I come here it’s more active. It’s very positive.” Bhavani said.

Milana nodded. “It’s not all fun and fancy, but we’re thriving compared to how it was.”

Everywhere Bhavani turned there were people, out on walks, eating, praying, reading, diving into the clubs for live music or dance. Everywhere she turned there were fluffy cat ears and gently swaying tails as well. There were over 300,000 civilians inhabiting this station, mostly Shimii, and near entirely Mahdist Shimii. Milana showed her around, pointing out a few new venues that had been received state licenses recently; boasting about the taste of the local biostitched shawarma, almost like real meat she said; explaining the football club rivalries. People recognized her along the way gave her their blessings.

“Commander, may the favor of the almighty be with you.”

“Commander! Praying for your good health!”

“Thank you for your visit Commander!”

Bhavani smiled. “My, my– you’re quite popular.”

“I’m on local TV frequently.” Milana replied, as if trying to brush it off.

As they wound their way through, they picked up food to go, and walked back to an elevator, crossing again in front of the study hall. There was no music, but the prayers were so melodic by themselves that it felt like there was song. Even though they were young amateurs learning, it still sounded beautiful to Bhavani’s ears. Inside the study hall there was a big banner with a symbol in Al-Fusha, the Shimii “High Language.” Bhavani recognized the shape: it represented the “Mahdi,” a legendary Shimii figure who was admired as the savior and ruler of the first underwater Shimii civilization in the far past. It was not permissible to depict the Mahdi as a person, so he appeared only as these written characters.

All Shimii believed the same origin story: a grand figure known as the Mahdi revealed himself at the hour of the Shimii’s almost assured demise during the destruction of the surface world, and shepherded them to the ocean. He became their first king, and along with his companions, established life underwater. “Mahdist” Shimii were unique in that they believed that the legendary Mahdi had been betrayed, and that the following Caliphs, Shimii kings, distorted his dying wishes and perverted the religion to seize power.

Due to these firebrand beliefs, the Union had to be delicate in how they treated the community.

“Milana, if I may be so bold as to ask–“

When they returned to the elevator, and the doors closed, shutting the sound of the prayers, Bhavani grinned to herself. She had the history of the Shimii in mind, and it brought another curiosity forward.

“Do the Rashidun Shimii here give you any trouble?” She asked with a slightly mischievous tone.

Milana gave her a skeptical and mildly annoyed little look.

“Of course not. They know how things work. There’s like a handful of them. I know them all by name.”

“Oh I understand how meticulous you are, believe me. I’m just curious.”

“It’s entirely fine. We’re all Union here. Those feuds stay in the Imbrian Empire.”

“It’s not so much the feuds as the religious curriculum that I’m curious about.”

“They know how things work. I said it’s fine, Bhavani. Don’t concern yourself with it.”

Milana’s implication was clear: the mosques in the Union were by and large Mahdist mosques. The Rashidun Shimii were the majority in the Imbrian Empire, and that was the reason why the Mahdist Shimii became a majority of the Shimii in the Union. So the Rashidun Shimii here would just have to suck it up for standing by or supporting the ethnic cleansing that transpired to create this situation. Milana would have no sympathy for them. Bhavani supported Milana: so the Union would not have much sympathy.

“I am unconcerned. I support you unconditionally. I just want you to know you can lean on me.”

Her younger companion laughed raucously as the elevator doors opened.

“I’m not a teenager anymore, Bhavani. I can handle this. But thank you for the offer, nonetheless.”

Such a conversation to an onlooker might have carried an implication of a benefactor haranguing her subordinate, but Bhavani had a lot of affection for Milana, and simply couldn’t keep herself from mothering this quite grown woman to some degree even now, after all these years. She wanted to tease her, to poke at her feelings, and to coddle her like a daughter. There were some in her cabinet who did not grasp the sheer importance of Movlid Omarov and the Omarov family had for the Premier.

On a personal level she had fought alongside Omarov, and respected him greatly as a fighter and as a statesman. She and Ahwalia both had promised to take care of Milana, though Ahwalia did not care much for this promise in the pursuit of his grand dreams. But Bhavani had wholeheartedly wanted to share the power of the Omarov family, a girlish dream of twenty years past, she admired him almost as much as she had admired her teacher Daksha Kansal. His name deserved to be spoken in the same breath as her.

On an ideological level, while he was not necessarily the best-read communist, Omarov was keenly aware of the nature of power. To Bhavani, Omarov was not just a hero. He was a template, for forms of power she needed to command. Omarov understood that politics entailed suppression, the wielding of power.

If your ideas did not suppress your opponent’s, theirs would be adopted and yours would be crushed.

So your aim should be to suppress your opponents and crush their ideas to reproduce your own.

This was the only way to create the world that you desired, which was the aim of politics.

After all, why would you fight for ideas you did not believe to be necessary and true?

Necessary and true enough to kill for? So he united his Shimii kinfolk with that sense of urgency.

Those who treated politics as a game would be swallowed by those who engaged in it with zeal.

Before Jayasankar knew this, Omarov knew this. He didn’t write books. He knew it in his skin.

Knew his comrades, knew his enemies, knew his aims and ambitions, and his vision for the world.

The Shimii militias were perhaps the most fearless, disciplined, and ruthless revolutionary soldiers.

Ahwalia’s utopian supporters denigrated the Shimii behind their backs, calling the influence of Omarov by a pejorative Volgian term, an “Omarovschina.” But Bhavani took this as a term of endearment. If such an “Omarovschina” existed then this phenomenon fostered great and laudable deeds in the Revolution.

Legends like Khadija al-Shajara arose out of the “Omarovschina” and achieved great victories.

Omarov’s influence rallied the Shimii, and rallied them not only together, but with the rest of the Union. Gracious and humble, it was Omarov who proposed alliance first, he was keener in that than Ahwalia or Kansal. It would be a more fragmented Union without the Shimii community, and so Bhavani placed a lot of importance in them, and their special needs– and that importance she channeled through the figure of Omarov, his history, his place in the revolutionary legend, and thus, promoted the “Omarovschina.”

It was the influence of the “Omarovschina” which meant that Bhavani could walk alone in New Karach. At ease without an escort, coming and going like a member of the community. Watched over by everyone. Given blessings on the street, loved and welcomed and thanked as if she herself was a Shimii too. It was this way, in part, because nobody would dare mess with Milana Omarova or one of her guests.

Within New Karach, Milana Omarova was what Bhavani Jayasankar wished to be: without enemies.

“Follow me to my office, we can eat and chat in there in peace.”

When the elevator door opened, the two of them stepped into a central lobby which snaked off into several directions. There were larger rooms with multiple people, hallways with smaller rooms. Bhavani saw an open door to a large room where the floor was padded, and several cat-eared men and women were learning hand-to-hand combat. Without the padding, their instructor would be knocking them to a metal floor. In the far distance, even through the soundproofing, Bhavani could hear the reports of rifles from the training range. There was a small break room with water and bread– the general mess would be far larger and was likely on a floor below, along with the barracks and the quartermaster’s warehouse.

Every wall was steel grey-blue, unpainted, unadorned. Only the prayer rooms had been done up, with colorful quilts on the floor, the ceilings and walls projecting false polished masonwork and an ornate domed roof where there was not any such thing. As they traveled the halls, marines and support staff saluted Milana and Bhavani, some cheerfully crying “Urrah!” or “Allahu Akbar!” when they saw her, particularly those visibly sweating and breathing hard from a round in the training rooms.

“Such excitable and hard working folks.” Bhavani said fondly.

“Hah! They’ve just learned to find it fun because its mandatory!” Milana said, her voice without malice. “You put a fish in an aquarium full of knives and they either learn to love dodging them or die.”

“Colorful as always, Brigadeer Omarova.”

They had taken the elevator down to the lower level, the headquarters of the Ashura’s “3rd Separate Brigade”, the “Omarov Brigade.” They had a fleet of twelve Frigates and the Cruiser “Kaman”, as well as two troopships to transport the Brigade’s 3200 dedicated Marines. They were not all bunked and mobilized at that moment, as the headquarters had the room to house about three thousand personnel total. Half the fleet’s ships were manned at any given moment. Personnel were cycled in and out of reserve so they could be among their community. Between the Marines, ship crews, and support staff there were almost 10000 Shimii personnel involved with the Omarov Brigade when fully mobilized.

“Does Nagavanshi have some kind of spy tailing you to make sure you’re okay?” Milana asked.

“I’m sure she does, I just don’t know who or where.” Bhavani replied, her tone casual.

Milana briefly narrowed her eyes and then sighed. “You’re probably right.”

“Does it not sit right with you? Would you want to be out of her reach?”

“No, I just don’t want some lout reporting gossip to her. About us being alone together.”

“We’ve been alone together before.”

“We’re at war now, so I’m afraid of auntie Nagavanshi being at her most paranoid.”

She said the word “auntie” in a quite derisive tone of voice.

Bhavani grinned. “Now it’s my turn to tell you: don’t be concerned about that. I can handle it.”

Milana shrugged her shoulders. She stopped at a nearby door, swiped her keycard.

“If you say so. Right this way.”

Though Bhavani had a similar same age gap to Milana that she did to Nagavanshi–

Milana was like a daughter to her. She would never.

While Nagavanshi was her little snake, and was treated accordingly.

Past the door, they entered an office about 5 meters by 10. There was a long couch against one of the walls, and on the wall opposite the couch was a large framed portrait of Movlid Omarov, a stocky, well-built man with a keen glint in his eyes, greying fur on his cat-like ears, and graying hair on his head, dressed in a Union uniform. This was a revisionist sort of image– Movlid did not live long enough for the green uniforms of the Union navy to become standard, nor did he live to wear the many medals on his breast, but it did not matter. Had he not been betrayed, he certainly would have been honored like this.

At the back there was Milana’s desk, which had a computer terminal with a screen on an arm mount, from which Milana could make video calls or perform other tasks. Behind her desk hung a very large flag, the Omarovist flag, all green with a yellow half-moon and a yellow sword crossing over the thin side of it, framing a yellow star in the middle. On her desk there was a much smaller Union flag on a little pole, all red with a yellow plow and sword framed by the black, globe-like shape of an Agrisphere’s main module.

Milana set her lunchbox on the desk, and she removed the diamond sabre in its sheathe from her belt and dropped it on the side of her desk surface. She then sat back in her desk chair, and gestured for Bhavani to sit. From the floor in front of the desk, a chair lifted up that Bhavani could make use of.

“Crack it open, it’s good. Lunch is always fantastic here.” Milana said.

Bhavani sat as requested and opened the lunchbox.

Indeed, it was fantastic. The multi-section lunchbox contained a fired flatbread wrap around pickled tomatoes and cucumber and smoked cheese, along with a dish of stewed beans and chickpeas, some intact and some slightly mashed for contrasting texture, topped with crumbled hard cheese drizzled with the corn oil the cheese had been packed into. There was also a baked cutlet of chickpea and potato, and a small container of a watery juice drink, which had been enriched with some needed vitamins.

Soon as Bhavani began to eat, she could not disguise the sounds of pleasure drawn from her by the tastes. Everything was delicious. She loved the oven-fired char on the bread, the mellow tang of the cheese, and the starchy richness of the beans. People assumed that Bhavani must have lived large as the Premier, but she was not like Ahwalia, who gave himself the free time to have dinner parties. As an obsessive who insisted on having her hands on every project, Bhavani’s most frequent meal, aside from Nagavanshi, was broth, pickles, biscuits and coffee that were ubiquitous in every workplace.

Things within reach that she could push down quickly. Things she could taste out of sight.

Milana did not interrupt her. While Bhavani ate uncharacteristically slow and savored everything as if it was a gourmet meal, Milana tucked her food away efficiently, like a soldier at the mess. She was done minutes before Bhavani, but did not insist that her guest eat any faster and did not distract her with questions until Bhavani had finished everything. But she did scrutinize the lunchbox every so often, as if to check that everything was indeed being eaten. A habit of how thrifty she was raised, no doubt.

Once they were both done eating, Milana collected the lunch boxes.

“I’ll drop these at the collection point later. So, Bhavani, how is everything? The vote to retain is coming up, so that must be why you’re visiting. If it was about the war you would have asked me much earlier. If you’d left it up to me I would have had Serrano in the pocket even faster than Kolokotronis.”

Milana put on a softer expression, despite the fact they were now ‘discussing business.’

Bhavani relaxed in her chair as well. If anything, this was a more natural environment for her.

All of her relationships were in some way transactional– that’s just how things were.

Once the transactional quality was laid bare, and the facade broken, she felt more at ease.

They were both using each other. But that didn’t mean there was no love between them.

“Right, it’s about that.” Bhavani said.

For that instant– she hesitated. She was only human, after all. Any biography that touted someone’s impossibly decisive character was propagandizing them. Bhavani Jayasankar, the staunch communist militarist bent on imposing her vision of the Union, could hesitate, and did so then. She thought of what she would say and what it would mean and she hesitated. Because it was simply an enormous task.

She paused for a moment– just enough for Milana to interject.

“Bhavani, you know I am your infantryman. Just tell me what you need.” She said.

This girl– this woman, had so much respect for Bhavani. Her soft eyes were full of genuine emotion.

It hurt to ask her to fight for her. She dreaded the moment that was to come for them.

Because the guilt she felt then, worming its way around her heart–

If she ever had to send Milana to her death, she would never live that guilt down.

But what Milana had said was true. She was, through and through, “Bhavani’s infantryman.”

So she had to overcome her hesitation. For the world that they envisioned.

That was what it meant to desire power, to gather power, and to wield power.

Milana; Nagavanshi; even someone like Murati Nakara–

They were people she loved. But also the tools that she had at her disposal to achieve her ambitions.

“Right now, Ahwalia’s supporters in the government and the Council are arraying against me in opposition to the war, our alliance with Veka and other policy shifts. Left to their own devices, they will only prolong a state of political stalemate. I’m having to take action outside the system, mainly through the military. The war is an escalation on my side, and there will be more. I want Ahwalia to escalate in turn– I want his people to think they have a decisive chance against me. We are going to provoke them, bait them into risking everything. Then we will destroy them once and for all. This situation will become complicated, and I will need your help. Nagavanshi is aware of this. I will be asking a lot of you.”

There it was. Laid bare. Her ambition, and the future she felt brimming in her skin.

She did not say everything, but she said everything she needed. More could be said later.

In the next instant, with a dark grin on her face, Milana put a fist up to her chest.

Her ears perked and there was a red, bloody glint in her eyes.

“So the time has finally come.” Milana said knowingly.

“It is coming. If we emerge from this storm, it’ll be our Union henceforth. No more compromises and no more backroom dealing. We’ll build our righteous Union that spans the ocean.” Bhavani replied.

Alhamdulilah.” Milana replied. All praise be to God. She was still smiling.

Bhavani smiled back. “Glad to fight by your side once more, my lion.”

Tightening around her heart, those thorny coils of guilt. She did not flinch despite the pain.

For those who pursued power, this feeling would forever live in their chest, no matter what.

No matter how righteous their ambitions, how correct they believed their ideology.

Humans felt guilty; humans using other humans for their own ends could only feel guilty.

Bhavani knew, in her guilt-stricken heart, that, when even the great man himself armed this girl, his little daughter, and had her fight and kill to achieve victory at whatever cost– Bhavani knew that Movlid Omarov felt the exact same way as she did. Every painful step toward his new world, the defeat of his enemies and the dignity of his allies, the great works he envisioned and the peace that he desired.

Each step like this, was one more ugly, grim brick in the edifice, the cracks filled in blood.

No matter what the bricks built. There was no beautiful way to wield power. No bloodless revolution.

She could only hope that after everything was done, she would be remembered as well as he.

That the edifice of her Union could be seen to shine as brightly as his vision, despite the blood spatters.


When Fuhrer Lehner would have received the news, he was in the middle of his private lunch.

He ordered the officer arriving outside his office to wait, regardless of the urgency.

Lehner was the great leader. It was he who decided urgency, and nobody else.

He was in his unofficial office at the top of the R.N.N. main building in Thurin Station. The R.N.N. building had become the fortress out of which he ruled, despite the seat of administrative power lying in Weimar. Military officers and politicians thus came and went from the R.N.N. building– but the news kept going out regardless. Because it was already messaging “pro-Conservative” in the past, it was pretty easy to turn the dial on the R.N.N’s broadcast up a notch to “pro-Volkisch” and full-throated support of Lehner.

At his desk, alone, Lehner had a lovely lunch served out in front of him that day.

Honey-garlic glazed ribeye steak on a bed of polenta served as the main course. Lehner focused his attention on the steak, mainly, ignoring the polenta. On the side, he had cubed, battered and deep fried potatoes served with melted cheese, and a salad that was lightly flecked with greens and onions but was mainly shredded egg and bready white croutons. Despite their ubiquity in the diets of his citizens, there was no dark bread, no pickles and no sausage on his plate. Lehner despised all three of these food items.

He didn’t inherit a fortune from his family to be eating crated-up preserved rations like the rabble.

Once he had thoroughly savored his meal, Lehner allowed the officer to meet him.

It was the chief of staff of the Rhinean National Navy, his direct subordinate, Walther Weddel.

“Why are you always so dumpy? At least try to look heroic.” Lehner said.

In Lehner’s mind his chief of staff should be an absolute mound of muscle, enormous, a man who looked like he lifted Diver suits, with angled jowls so deep it looked like he chewed through bones all day. Instead he had Walther Weddel, a smooth, egg-like man with a boyish face who was always sweating. His uniform hung off him like a grandmother-gifted coat. Had Lehner the luxury, he would have told him he should be ashamed to promote himself as a racial superior, but Walther’s administration skill was sorely needed in order to keep the Rhinean forces in order. Only Walther could organize their mess of a Navy.

“I’ll try, Fuhrer.” He said. “I apologize– I hate to be the bearer of bad news.”

Lehner locked his eyes on him immediately.

That was how Lehner learned of the loss of roughly a third of the Volkisch Movement’s fleet.

Walther told him what they knew at the time.

Their operation in Serrano had been absolutely crushed — by the Union of Ferris, Lyser and Solstice.

At first he looked incredulous. This wasn’t unbelievable but he needed specifics.

Without specifics, without people to berate other than Walther– he had nothing.

“Do you have a report? Numbers? Names?”

Walther glowered and stuttered. “We are trying to confirm who is alive and get a timeline of what actually happened. There’s some fog of war– I just thought I’d inform you– we– we– may need to–“

Lehner began shouting. “Consider me informed, and go find out what actually happened! Tell Warteburg and Jagow! If we really had a complete collapse in Sverland it’s the front line that needs to know! Fuck! What am I supposed to do Walther? I can’t just pull out a chess board and figure this all out for you!”

He sent Walther away to find a way to reword the loss and report on it when Lehner was in a better mood. It wasn’t that Lehner didn’t believe him. Lehner believed him completely. But he was paralyzed with frustration, and did not know what orders he could give, or to whom, to fix what was broken. He had not even considered the Union, hiding in the remnants of the Empire’s colonies, as a threat, until then.

One more enemy in a world full of them.

For the Volkisch, their bid to become the true lords of the Imbrium ocean was going awry.

They had given the Royal Alliance several black eyes in the open waters between Sverland and Rhinea, but the Royal Alliance’s defenses within the Yucatan Peninsula itself had completely stopped the momentum of the Volkisch forces. The Royal Alliance had baited the Volkisch into overextending while they remained near their stations and bases, where they would be close to supply, and benefit from the support of stationary torpedo and cannon emplacements, missile launch sites, Diver bases, and minefields.

Meanwhile the Volkisch supply situation was a mess, their lines overstretched, the supply of raw materials and finished goods subject to irregular delays. Their officers were unwilling to engage in siege warfare and still sought an impressive maneuver victory. Lehner had to specifically order Reichsmarschall von Jagow to reform the Volkisch line closer to Rhinea and regroup, because he became alarmed at the enormous salient stretching into the Yucatan. It didn’t take a genius to see the problem– so why couldn’t his command staff figure that out? Lehner had begun to worry that his entire armed forces was useless.

While they had the most advanced industrial complexes, in the form of the Rhineanmetalle group, the resources needed to replace an entire fleet were enormous. Shipbuilding wasn’t even the most immediate problem either– staffing their Navy was. There was a surplus of militiamen, and from them, they had trained rudimentary marines and diver pilots. But it didn’t solve the lack of experienced sailors and officers who could staff ships and do the grunt work of maintaining a sailing, blue water navy. While the Volkisch rabble could beat up unarmed liberals on the streets, they were being exposed as poor warfighters.

Those 150 plus ships they sent to the Serrano region was the result of weeks of recruiting and training, filled in with some of their veterans from the Rhinean Defense Force of the old Imperial Navy. They could rebuild that many ships before the end of the year if they set their mind to it, but the training, the leadership, if it had all been destroyed, could they replace it in time to crew those ships? They had been deemed too green to fight the Royal Alliance effectively– and now it appeared they were also too green to fight the Union effectively as well. So in what capacity could they be used to support the war?

As Lehner ruminated on this, it was not even the worst news he received that day.

“You’re fucking kidding me.” was his response to the next emergency call that he received.

Strikers at Rhineanmetalle steelworking plants in Kreuzung had completely paralyzed steel production. They had occupied the plants, and were effectively keeping out local police. Rhineanmetalle forbid the use of lethal weapons in their plants, fearing the destruction of expensive equipment or the deaths of skilled workers who would be difficult to replace. A stalemate was forming, and orders went unfulfilled.

Lehner met with his economic ministers, with representatives from Rhineanmetalle, with quartermasters–

This situation could become dire. They were not ready for work stoppages. Production was too tenuous.

Without continuous production of armor plate, coilgun missiles, cannon barrels, and other such things, they would not be able to support day to day fighting at the front within weeks. Furthermore there was a possibility if this strike dragged on it would inspire more strikes. Lehner went with his standby solution to every problem: cracking heads. He promised he would have Marines in there beating the unholy fuck out of those steelworkers until they were back to soldering plates through the pain of broken hands.

“With all due respect,” the Rhineanmetalle representative did not call him ‘Fuhrer’, so he avoided saying any title, “Heavy fighting inside of our plants is categorically impermissible. Our equipment is specialized and delicate, difficult to replace. The Trade Union knows this very well. What we demand is an economic stimulus package, then we can pay the strikers and continue to meet our supply obligations for the navy.”

“You just want to bribe them? What if they ask for more?” Lehner shouted.

“We’ll meet that when it comes. Going forward we will be taking steps to insure the workforce is unable to occupy the plants so easily, but right now, we will not support any fighting in our plants. We believe there should be ample funds from the former Rhinea’s surplus years to cover such a cost. This is the only request of the Rhineanmetalle Group and affiliated entities. We hope to see a speedy resolution.”

Lehner was furious after the string of meetings.

Rhineanmetalle only cared about their own pockets. They just wanted a bigger war chest to feel the burn of negotiating with the trade unionists less in their yearly corporate earnings. Meanwhile those trade unionists had no patriotic sense of duty whatsoever. They only cared about their own stomachs, not that their country was torn apart and their region locked in a war! They knew that this strike would hurt Rhinea massively at this exact moment. They had probably been biding their time, waiting for this opportunity.

He didn’t care what Rhineanmetalle wanted. There was only one viable solution.

Crush the trade unionists, now, and force all of them back to work without objection or negotiation.

One problem begot another, however. What forces could he send to do this?

Kreuzung was a gigantic station-complex, and Rhineanmetalle did not only have the plants in Kreuzung, they owned the mines in the same region, Eisental, and they owned the petroleum industry and carbon manufactures too. Those were also Rhineanmetalle workers, and he could not take the chance that the trade unionists had not gotten them involved too. In Lehner’s mind, this situation was quickly escalating to a total state of emergency for the entire Eisental region. If he sent a small force just to slowly grind the workers at the Kreuzung plants, it wouldn’t be enough if it became widespread unrest and labor riots.

He needed enough forces to crush all dissent decisively and dissuade further uprising.

Not just at Kreuzung, but enough troops to patrol Eisental and make sure the unrest did not spread.

Eisental was a big place. This would be an enormous undertaking. Who could get this done?

He could not send the north border force, even though it was closest to Eisental. That would open a hole that Erich von Fueller’s Grand Western Army could exploit. He could not send his frontline troops, obviously. There were available reserve forces for the front, but the frontline commanders would go insane if he took their reserves from them. So it would have to be militia and internal security troops. But he needed the bulk of the Stabswache to enforce order in the political centers, like Thurin and Weimar. It was a tenuous time and without the firm hand of the Stabswache, the liberals and anarchists might rally. Hell, the strikes in Eisental could spread into Central Rhinea– then everything would be truly fucked.

Lehner walked in circles around his office, thinking himself sore.

Militia could absolutely not be sent alone. They had to be supervised by the Stabswache.

Or could they–?

No–

Volkisch militiamen might just wreck all of Eisental’s industry in the process of suppressing dissent.

God damn it– the militia could definitely not do this without tight supervision.

He convinced himself.

Stabswache, his elite political troops, would be needed– but which unit? Who would lead it?

He needed a force that was large enough to patrol an entire region with a station-complex that had twelve towers, and a dozen other stations besides, six agrispheres, and several industrial works.

Size wasn’t the only issue either.

He needed an elite, disciplined force, that was already equipped and able to not only fight in stations but patrol in the open water; but one that would not be missed at the front, nor in the political centers. He needed it to be led by someone intelligent, but who would be careful with the logistics of the operation. Someone with a vested interest in smoothing things out, who could get Rhineanmetalle on board. But who was ruthless enough to not slack off or go easy on the trade unionists for the sake of peace either.

It couldn’t just be a Volkisch zealot– they would be just as bad as the militia.

Who did he trust to take this issue seriously?

Then, he remembered, buried deep in the ledger in his mind–

Like a bolt of lightning–!

Vee.

Vee!

Vee was both a Stabswache commander and a major Rhineanmetalle shareholder!

Vee had a force with personal loyalty and their own equipment!

Vee (Lehner pointedly avoided pronouns and this person’s proper name in his mind) could handle this.

Vee had a personal and financial interest in this mission. The 7th Stabswache was unorthodox, but the one thing they weren’t lacking in was discipline and skill. They were also walking a thin tightrope as one of the ethnic legions of the Volkisch– hungry to prove themselves, and willing to go all out in the service of Volkisch interests. This could be their chance to prove they were worthy, and worth more than just a reserve force. Lehner hated having to ask, but this was his best option. The 7th used to be part of his mercenaries after all, the Lehner family private army. By right, he should be able to call upon them now.

His mind was racing. A thousand kilometer per hour, breakneck g-forces of thought–

Vee– Vee was difficult. Extremely difficult– Lehner felt ancient pains unearthing themselves.

It could end up embarrassing for him if word got out– about their relationship.

But he had no choice. Vee was in the Stabswache for a reason. Independent even of his own judgment, the 7th Fleet had come to join the violent pastiche of the Volkisch Movement for their own interests, but they had served excellently so far. And nobody in the Volkisch political class would miss them if they were gone somewhere– they were not Imbrians after all. He convinced himself. It had to be Vee.

She–

She– that was right.

He would call Vee a she to butter her up a bit. Then she (he was practicing) would definitely agree.

She was whip-smart, a genius, enough to make her own money, serve her own interests.

It was decided. He had no choice. His manic energy had finally given him a good solution.

Yes– everything would get taken care of now.

Lehner called his secretary. “Connect my office through to the 7th Stabswache. I don’t care where they are. Put me through to Vee– just connect to the Aleksandr and the communication officer will know!”

Even his secretary was a little shocked at the request.

After a few minutes of finagling behind the scenes, Lehner’s office was relayed through various laser stations until, on the border with Sverland, he connected to the Cruiser Aleksandr. A bewildered Shimii woman answered the call first, but then quickly put the Fuhrer through to the commander of the vessel. On the main screen of his office, Lehner put the commander’s wry little grin up and began to chat.

“Vee, I’d been thinking about you a lot lately.” Lehner said. “You look amazing in uniform. Real heroic.”

He segued easily into the act. He was her political leader– but also a concerned father.

And Vee responded to the act with her own, immediate restraint. Playing along cheerfully.

“Opening with the compliments? I’m surprised. Maybe I’ll actually believe you were thinking about me.”

On the screen, the confident young woman staring back at him rested her head on a fist, with a delighted grin on her soft, slim face. Her all-black uniform was pristine and expertly fitted her lean proportions. She had a peaked cap with silver, cat ear-like decorations atop, and a red armband indicating her membership in the political paramilitary of the Volkisch, the “Stabswache.” She toyed with her long hair, mostly light blue but with one pink stripe running through several long locks which she spun around one finger.

Lehner had to grit his teeth around this one, but he had no choice. In the end, as much as he disdained his son-turned-daughter, this really was a situation he could only entrust to her and to her troops.

“So, are you ready to owe me a favor? Or perhaps you’re ready to talk seriously about Pan-Imbrianism?”

Said Violet Lehner, Oberführer of the 7th Fleet of the Stabswache, “Zabaniyah.”

Presaging the discussion that would lead her and her troops to Kreuzung, into the stage of history.

Carried by the currents on a collision course with a certain traveling band of revolutionaries.

And the next site of their destiny.


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