Life In The Besieged City (74.4)

This scene contains sexual content.

25th of the Hazel’s Frost 2030 DCE

Ayvarta, Solstice City — Kuwba Oasis Resort

Shortly after midnight a stark silence fell over the guest room.

One final creak of the mattress spring; one last verse in the lover’s ragged duet.

At the peak of their passion the lovers fell onto the bed together.

Parinita laid on her back, looking up at Madiha at her most physically glorious.

Her hair thrown about, eyes half-closed, her breasts rising and falling with her rough breathing. Her skin was smooth and bark-brown in the dark, slick and glistening with sweat that made the slight, lean delineations of muscle in her arms, shoulders and belly more visible. She looked like she had been caught in a monsoon, and she was beautiful.

Her dark, fiery eyes locked to Parinita’s own and she smiled softly.

“Let me hold you.” Madiha asked.

“Of course.”

She rarely expressed a specific desire like that, so it was urgent to accommodate it.

Parinita tittered as she and Madiha shifted in bed.

Taller and leaner, Madiha crawled off from atop Parinita and laid breasts against back, holding Parinita with one arm over her chest and another under her weight. Parinita was a little more plump than her girlfriend, and Madiha seemed to want to dig deep into her. She held her tight, and she locked legs with her and drew her head close. Parinita responded, pulling back her strawberry hair from her shoulder so Madiha could eagerly kiss there. She felt Madiha’s breathing, a warm pulse rolling down her slick flesh.

“I love you so much.” Parinita said.

Madiha held a kiss on her neck a little longer in response.

They laid together for some time, eventually growing quiet and still, Madiha staring into Parinita’s shoulder and Parinita staring at the subtle, waving patterns on the wallpaper. She treasured this chance. Not just because she was horned up. It was not that their sex life was sparse; they had enough opportunity to suit both their levels of interest and endurance. But moments like this, when they managed to lay down together without the pressure of time or the tension of something on the horizon, came only once in a while.

Last time they got to have sex and then bide their time, alone and at peace, without responsibility for hours and hours at a time, must have been Rangda, after the festival. Parinita had been the aggressive one then too — she usually always was. Madiha tended to turn the tables around eventually, however. This time had been like that as well. Though she seemed like a muted person, Madiha was quietly intense. It was delightful.

Parinita often wondered what Madiha thought in these circumstances. She didn’t think to ask. She knew a lot about her lover’s interior life when it came to other matters. But they never talked much about sex or about being in bed, or about their relationship. Parinita felt too insecure to seek the answers; she felt better thinking it must all be fine.

That night however, Madiha seemed finally inclined to make conversation.

“Parinita, I’m going to keep fighting, you know?”

Internally, Parinita sighed. Both fondly, but also a touch annoyed.

“I know.”

“Even if you ask me to stop. I know that I couldn’t.”

“Hey, I would not ask you to. I’m a soldier too! Or do you not consider me one?”

That seemed to give Madiha pause. “I wouldn’t be able to do this without you.”

“Damn right you wouldn’t! I’ve seen the notes you take for that book of yours.”

“Thank you for organizing everything. I’d be like a brain without a spine otherwise.”

Parinita was not sure that was what the spine did, but like animals, maybe Madiha just was not taught much about anatomy. She laughed a little to herself and held her peace.

Madiha sighed deeply.

“Why did you fall in love with me, Parinita?”

It was so sudden that Parinita couldn’t help but laugh nervously.

“This is not how you ask to go another round.” Parinita replied.

She felt her heartbeat swell a little.

At least she confirmed she was not only person with low self esteem in the room.

Madiha whispered a barely audible apology.


“Don’t be. I understand. After all, I’m such a catch. Seventy kilos of film trivia!”

She intended it in jest, but it came off more malicious.

“The sarcasm there saddens me.” Madiha said. “I was just thinking what an amazing person you are Parinita. It’s honestly still like a dream to me that we can be like this.”

Parinita held on to Madiha’s hand, laid on her waist.

“I’m sorry too.” Parinita said. “It’s just a weird question. Let me think about it.”

“There doesn’t have to be a reason I guess. It’s fine as long as we’re both in love.”

“You’re right, there really doesn’t need to be a reason. But I know you like to make sense of the unknowable in all your doings.” Parinita turned around in bed suddenly. She pushed herself a little so she would be at eye level with the rather taller Madiha.

Looking back into those eyes, so deeply, really brought back a lot of memories.

She remembered when she first saw Madiha, in Gowon’s office, the instant she walked into the room to be scolded and made a fool of. Parinita had to admit to herself that she had an awful dirty mind about the whole thing. Within the haze of stress and shame she felt as she was made Gowon’s scapegoat, Parinita thought Madiha was delectably tall, that she looked like she’d aced her PT, and that she had a pretty face to boot.

But she was not about to tell Madiha, “In between almost pissing myself about my boss turning me in, and the shelling, I briefly thought I wanted to fuck you when we met.”

Especially since she only had a few fleeting moments of arousal before a war started.

She recalled another scene however. Seeing Madiha running downhill with Parinita in tow, desperate to reach their comrades as the war started, desperate to mount a defense and to resist the tide of violence. She was in such a haze back then, everything was crazy, and their relationship seemed built on a foundation of such craziness, from Parinita’s superstition to Madiha’s actual supernatural power to their unequal rank in a military structure and to the violence and the threat of violence that pervaded their lives.

That day, however, she realized with a great sadness that Madiha was profoundly lonely. Profoundly, thoroughly, alone, in a world of her own that seemingly nobody understood. Some of it was Madiha’s own doing. She was so obsessed with doing right by others and so selfish in her own sacrifice. She was like that all of the time with everything that she did. She was so like that, she had not asked nor given room for Parinita to reciprocate her tonight, and they were already pretending to have completely wound down in bed.

It was that which, to Parinita, defined Madiha most. Her loneliness: she was unique in a lot of ways, but being unique only made her more alone. Being exceptional made her alone. Being needed of and demanded of, made her alone. And internalizing those things and putting them ahead of herself at all times, made her alone. She was alone because only she could understand herself; she was alone because she expected that only she herself could or should take on burdens and dangers alone. Alone and made alone.

Left to her own devices, Madiha would have died alone in Bada Aso and wanted to.

Parinita saw that in her on that day and throughout the glory and tragedy of Bada Aso.

She saw it in Rangda, at the formal start of their romantic relationship, too.

She even saw it now. Left to her own devices Madiha would die and die alone and want to.

And it vexed her. She wanted more than anything to accompany Madiha. She wanted her to not be alone; she wanted to penetrate that world of hers, to learn and know and see and feel and taste everything that was Madiha. Even if it meant to be the one other person alone with Madiha if that was what it took. Even if it hurt her; or hurt others.

When she saw those lonely eyes bent on their own self destruction, Parinita wanted to burn with her, to burn at her side. She wanted the glory, she wanted the tragedy, and she wanted the moments like this, of the profound peace of two alone individuals together.

Because she was alone too, and she saw the most kindred person in her life on that day.

Left to her own devices, Parinita would have died alone too.

And she would have wanted to.

Maybe that, too, was part of the craziness. Maybe that also did not make any sense.

Maybe it was contradictory.

Maybe it was selfish.

Maybe she concocted it in her own head out of nothing.

She loved Madiha.

“I like tall women with short hair, but not too short. I like them a little feminine.”

Madiha blinked hard and looked confused.

“I’m kidding.”

Parinita giggled. She felt such a surge of emotion looking at Madiha’s eyes.

She started to weep.

“I’m such an oaf, I’m sorry.” Madiha said. “I did not mean to offend you.”

“You didn’t.” Parinita settled down, still both giggling and weeping, and found the words. “Madiha, I fell in love with you, because when I see you trying your hardest to put the whole world on your shoulders and fall to the ground with it, I can’t help but get under there and grab, even though I’m fat and useless and can barely lift a chair anyway.”

She couldn’t help but throw in a little self deprecation.

Madiha drew her face closer to Parinita’s.

“You’re not useless and you’re not fat. You’re beautiful and smart and healthy.”

But she was weak, Parinita supposed. Nothing there about her lifting abilities.

Parinita giggled even harder.

“You are an oaf sometimes, Madiha Nakar! A big dumb oaf!”

She took hold of Madiha and was suddenly on top of her, a big grin on her face.

She threw her hair back, straddling Madiha.

She envisioned herself, towering over Madiha, nude, candle-lit red.

For once she thought, she must have looked glorious.

Her hands reached around Madiha’s hips, tracing teasing lines down her outer thighs.

Madiha looked up at her with a slowly broadening smile.

Leaning down, Parinita took Madiha into a kiss.

“I’m my turn to be on top now.”

Parinita pressed her weight atop Madiha, her fingers sliding from outer to inner thigh.

“I’d love that.” Madiha replied.

She was awkward but clearly enthusiastic.

That, too, was rare.

And Parinita loved it.

She loved it while she could.

Everyone on Solstice did.

They loved, feverishly and with haste, while they still could.

Ayvarta, Solstice City — Kuwba Oasis Resort

It was a brand new day in Solstice. Scarcely 0900 and the sun was already bearing down.

There was a good breeze, however, and the resort had a fresh, tropical scent to it.

In front of the hotel, the bride’s guests stood together, smiling and vibrant, waiting to be sent off. Gulab and Charvi had been a little late, but they looked brilliant, hand in hand, their faces glowing with warmth and joy. Parinita and Madiha were a picture perfect couple (though they would have insisted they were not if pried), recently showered and manicured by the staff, their clothes freshly ironed. They smiled knowingly at each other, wondering idly what had Gulab and Charvi so happy, but being too serene to pry.

Meanwhile, the bride had a rough night. Though dressed well in the complimentary sari and a midriff-bearing choli and skirt, silken and bright purple and blue and gold, Kremina Qote was pale in the face, her ponytail a touch disheveled. She had bags under her eyes and an unfriendly expression on her face. At her side, Daksha Kansal was calm and collected but her posture was a little unsteady and her eyes wandered. Both had clearly drank too much and had a tumultuous evening with the resulting illness.

“Thank you all for helping us celebrate our wedding as our honored guests.” Daksha said.

Kremina handed each of them a complimentary little gift of a lotus flower in a glass orb.

It was customary to treat the honored guests: in this case, the maid selected by the bride (Parinita,) the best man selected by the groom (Madiha) and the wedding shooters.

However, the grace and cheer with which they accepted their gifts only put the bride off.

“Good, good, yes. Very nice, thank you all, etcetera.” She hissed. “Young people are henceforth banned from this hotel! Nobody younger than me, nobody! I don’t want to see anyone under sixty years of age around me! Only old spent women trying to enjoy their honeymoon hangovers are allowed. Dismissed! Go have fun somewhere else. Goodbye!”

She practically shooed away the guests. Daksha looked away from the sight, and laughing and smiling, the two couples went their ways, as the bride and groom looked on.

There was a melancholy air about it, but they were proud and happy in their own way.

“Ugh. It’d be cliche to say, ‘those girls are our future’ or something, wouldn’t it?”

Kremina took a step closer to Daksha and held onto her arm, leaning into her side.

Daksha smiled and caressed her hair. “You could say that, but those girls already have another generation waiting in the wings that they’re going to be responsible for. Time moves too fast these days. It’s us who should have been leaving them soon; I wish we would have left them better than this. What was it Lena said? Communism in 10 years?”

“That was always optimistic.” Kremina said. “You’re not going to let her fight, are you?”

She had changed the subject very quickly. She was referring to Madiha, now.

“She will have her chance someday.” Daksha replied.

Kremina did not push the subject.

She was exhausted, but more than that, she was starved for affection.

“Daksha, I’m sorry for sleeping through our wedding night. Can I make it up to you?”

She reached around behind Daksha’s back and grabbed quite a handful of her rear.

Daksha silently and sternly took her by the shoulder and pulled her up into a kiss.

“You can make out with me.” Daksha said upon releasing her.

Kremina pushed herself back up into the kiss anew and with vigor.

“I’m thinking of a lot more than that.” She replied.

Neither wanted to govern right now, not just yet. For now, they were still just brides.

And the future was still, for just a little bit longer, on hold.

30th of the Hazel’s Frost 2030 DCE

Ayvarta, Solstice City — Kashlikraj, Civil Lodge

Basanti Rahani opened his eyes not in the officer’s barracks but in a sparsely furnished, cozy little private room. His hair had fallen over his eyes. It had gotten longer than he thought. He liked it. It was nice. Somewhere around the shoulder was a good length.

His hair, and his face, were slick with sweat. Solstice was so much hotter than Bada Aso.

Behind his back, he felt warmth, and a strong, comforting embrace.

One arm wrapped around his chest. He felt a kiss on his neck.

Meanwhile the other arm slinked around his waist. A hand cupped tight over his groin.

Rahani let out a delighted little giggle. He kept himself from becoming too excited.

“Breakfast and a shower first. Then we can go again.” Rahani said sternly.

“How long do we have the room for?”

Rahani turned around. He met his husband’s face and pecked his lips quickly.

“We’ve got a few hours.” Rahani said.

“I haven’t seen you in so long Santi. I really want you, you know?”

There was just something delectable about hearing his pet name said aloud again.

Naveen was an technician working with the Prajna super-heavy gun team, and Rahani was a field artillery officer, so their married life had been on and off and difficult. Before the war, Rahani had been angling for a promotion to work as part of the Prajna team. He was closer than ever to getting it; his team’s heroics in Bada Aso and Rangda were well recognized, and all of them were advancing to officer ranks themselves. Soon, Rahani would not be needed to guide them. He could move on to the next step in his career.

And more importantly, to the next step in his married life: seeing his husband every day.

For now, though, they still only saw each other during little escapades like this one.

They were patient; this was good enough. Rahani put on a salacious grin for his man.

“I know Naveen. But until you take a bath, I’m not going back down there for you.”

It was Rahani’s turn to grab somewhere and Naveen nearly jumped at the sensation.

He sucked in his lips briefly and smiled at Rahani, who had him under the sheets, subtly teasing him. Naveen had a precious face, angular and inviting. He and Rahani fit together like lock and key; Rahani’s small, slender softness and Naveen’s tall, round, thick beauty. Rahani truly wanted to just sink into him, but things had to be done appropriately. After all, Rahani was a very clean person, appearances mattered to him.

He wanted to make love fresh, comfortable, smelling like roses and in a pretty dress.

“Come on, if you let me dress up, you can dress me back down.” Rahani said.

Naveen smiled. “Ah, but it’s like pulling back the petals on a lotus flower, Santi. Sometimes its a shame. You dress up so well.” He raised a hand to Rahani’s chin. “Why not just stay here with me. I’m ready to go and you won’t even have to lift a finger.”

As much as the suggestion both appealed and made him cringe, Rahani said nothing.

Instead, Rahani caressed Naveen’s face also. They kissed one more time, this time pulling in each other’s lips for a little longer, enough to taste tongue. Then Rahani rolled out of bed. Behind him, Naveen laid back in the bed, a mixture of placid satisfaction and mild frustration in his face and actions. He crossed his arms and looked at the ceiling.

“If it’s too frustrating, I can dress up in the other room.” Rahani teased.

He had a fondness for feminine clothes, and in general cultivated a very feminine appearance, though he always thought of himself as more of a man, if he was anything at all. On some level, the genderedness of things was felt false to him, but he liked the idea of being a man with straight, silky hair, a delicate figure, a face done up with pigments, and a flower in his hair. From the clothes complimentary to the room, Rahani picked out a sari and a choli of humble make but with nice, bright colors, and a skirt to match. Donning sandals, and plucking a flower to pin with his hair, he bid Naveen wait for him.

Naveen, arms still crossed, continued to stare at the ceiling.

“Take a shower or I’ll be crueler than I have been! I promise!” Rahani said.

Naveen sighed but smiled at the doggedness of his self-styled wife. He got up.

Rahani stared at his bulky figure for one enticing moment before making himself go.

He was almost contemplating just showering with him and doing the deed there.

But proprieties separated the roses from the weeds! It would be worth waiting.

Besides which, he was actually hungry for more than his husband at that moment.

Outside the lodge, Kashlikraj was busy with traffic, the nearby roads choked with vehicles, and crowds on the streets and around the nearby buildings. Its newfound adjacency to the center of government power, after Daksha Kansal moved the central offices of the army to its vicinity, meant a lot more coming and going than the neighborhood had ever seen. It was already one of the newer and more modern of Solstice’s districts, at least circa 2015 when it was near completely redone.

Now with the introduction of many government workers and the conversion of the infrastructure to support them, Kashlikraj was turning into Solstice’s new nerve center.

There were some growing pains, exacerbated by the war.

As Rahani made his way across the street, he found the traffic shaped not solely by demand in the newly crowned district, but by something of a catastrophe. Looking over the line of decorative shrubbery along the street, Rahani saw a massive collapse in the center of the road, exposing water and electric veins and even some of the sewer. There was one civil guard slowly leading small traffic around the corner and past the affected area, and a road sign was put up forbidden the entry of large trucks for the moment.

Several such large trucks were parked on the street farther ahead, waiting.

Rahani approached the hole to get a closer look, and heard several people arguing.

“We’ve had our goods truck held up a block away for an hour now, surely you can’t be closing the entire neighborhood down for one hole can you?” asked an irate manager of some kind of state store. He was throwing his hands up in front of the civil guard.

“I had a truck with construction materials headed for the northern districts turned around and frozen for two hours now! I need you to release it to leave at once!” This second voice came from an older woman in overalls, waving a clipboard at the guard.

Between the two and several others, the civil guard seemed like a scared teenager surrounded by an angry mob. He couldn’t have been any older than Adesh was now.

The Guard crossed his arms and averted his gaze and spoke in an unsteady voice.

“I’m sorry, we’re very short staffed at the moment, we closed down the neighborhood roads and froze incoming heavy traffic to check for structural problems in the roads connecting to this one. I’m afraid I can’t personally redirect your vehicles anywhere. We’ve got some folks from the engineering college coming in soon and if they think the connecting roads are good enough then everyone can go on their way promptly.”

Rahani felt sorry for the whole lot of them. All of the experienced construction workers and civil engineers were farther south, helping build the earthworks and camps and other defenses against the incoming Noctish forces. All they could spare were students to help fix the roads, and because Kashlikraj was suddenly so important, everyone involved with this problem was twice as paranoid as they needed to be about safety and security. The Civil Guard had been heavily tapped for more military power, too, so the average age and experience of the patrolmen and women of Solstice had dropped dramatically.

Rahani wondered if the person back at the guard outpost calling the shots on this was also younger than him and frightened to death at the prospect of more failing roads.

“For god’s sake man! Just let us turn around and we’ll redirect through Yoruba instead!”

“I’m afraid I can’t release any of the vehicles right now. I’m sorry. I’m following orders.”

Around the Guard the crowd grew increasingly agitated. Rahani did not think that a fight would start, but he knew the Guard was under a lot of pressure and that everyone would lean on him to get their side of the affair done, or harass him until he fled responsibility. It was an ugly insight into the way their daily lives strained under the weight of the war. Solstice was understaffed and overwhelmed; Rahani was only given respite because he had already faced two deadly battles with his unit. Otherwise, he’d be straining too.

Rahani turned away from the scene and headed for the civil canteen across the street.

He would pick up some bread and lentils, milk and yogurt, and run back to the lodge.

The first clue that his plans were about to go awry was that the Canteen windows did not have a fresh basket of the day’s ingredients. Wilted greens and some day old fermenting yogurt sat in a forlorn half-empty basket on the storefront. The Canteen was nearly deserted, with only one teenage girl on staff who was sitting behind the front counter with her head on her hands. Rahani walked in and found the banquet tables nearly empty. On a normal day they were stuffed with the day’s goods and arrayed neatly along the sides and corners of the store. Today, many tables were packed up in one corner.

Not to say there was not any food. There was fresh bread, a pot of yellow lentils, a jar of dried fruits and sugared dried fruits, and two serving jugs of clean and carbonated water. There was no yogurt, milk, vegetables, fruit juice or paneer. It was the most barren that Rahani had seen a civil canteen in a major city like this, and it scared him.

At the sight of a customer, the girl looked up and tried to put on a smile, but it was clear that she was under a lot of stress today. God knows how many hungry and irritable people she had to deal with today. It must been such a shock to her and to everybody, to come into a Canteen without food in the Socialist Dominances of Solstice. In Solstice City itself no less! He had to wonder as to the cause of this. Had the war caught up this fast?

The Canteen Girl picked up a hole puncher and bid Rahani to come closer.

Hujambo!” She definitely had a teenage girl’s voice and stature. Rahani smiled back. She snapped the hole puncher in the air. “Sorry comrade, normally we don’t really insist on this much, but they’re really tightening the regulations so I’m going to need to punch your meal card today. You can take anything you want though, don’t worry.”

“Can I take out a card?” Rahani asked nervously. He had left all his things except a little money, in case it was needed, back at the lodge. He expected to walk in and walk out.

Everyone had become accustomed to it in recent years.

Across the desk, the girl averted her gaze. “I’m really not supposed to do this anymore, but I really like your flower and dress, so I’ll make an exception.” She said.

She gave him a little smile and passed him a meal card with one hole punched already.

There were two holes for each day for one week. Rahani was surprised.

It was a much tighter rationing system, one that could change week to week!

“Miss, is this your card? I’m not sure–”

“The Staff eat all the leftovers anyway, so its fine.” She said. “I took it out for myself yesterday and nobody’s checking the numbers yet. Just get one yourself soon. You can’t just pick them up at the canteen anymore. There’s specific times at the local Council.”

“Thank you.” Rahani said.

“Enjoy the bread. I made it myself.”

“By any chance, do you know when you’re scheduled to receive more food?”

In response the girl nodded her head toward the east.

“We’re supposed to have a truck coming. I don’t know what’s happening with it. Don’t expect fresh fruit or veggies for the rest of the week though. We’re making do with dried sugared fruits and canned palms and mushrooms and stuff like that for now.”

“Thanks miss.”

Rahani picked up a box and grabbed some bread, a few cups of lentils, some of the fruits and some plain water, and walked back out. On the street, the guard was putting up some caution tape and standing behind it so nobody could come near him, and turned his back on the small crowd of irate people looking for an answer. Everyone politely declined to jump the tape and bash him; it was still Ayvarta even if they were all mad, and they limited their frustrations to shouting. Nobody had descended to savagery.


Staring down at his box of food and the diminished offerings at the Canteen, Rahani wondered, with fear deep in his heart. Did the same desperation he felt to love his husband and to drink of him all that he could, while he still could, extend to everyone else around him? Without knowing it, was this city beginning to live its last days? How would that desperation grow? Would it remain kind and naive? Would it turn wretched?

Nobody was jumping the caution tape to hit the young, rookie guard. Yet.

All of that vanished from Rahani’s mind as soon as he entered the lodge again.

His desperation grew suddenly greater. He felt, fearfully, that he was living his last days.

He heard the shower going off, and with a swelling feeling in his chest, he stripped off all his clothes and ran into the bathroom. He saw Naveen in the shower and ran to him and threw himself at his back, hugging his waist. Naveen tensed up briefly, then relaxed; Rahani could feel the stirring of his muscles and girth and the softening of him, and he wanted to cry. As the warm water descended upon them, some tears did escape.

“I was missing you already.” Naveen said, in good humor.

He reached behind his back and squeezed Rahani’s hip. Rahani smiled against his back.

“I missed you too.”

35th of the Hazel’s Frost 2030 DCE

Ayvarta, Solstice City — Krashlikraj, The 10th Head

Madiha Nakar threw open the door to Daksha Kansal’s office, fuming.

Behind her, Cadao Chakma, the defense minister, looked insignificantly small.

Opposite them, Daksha Kansal sat behind her desk. She had been in conference with the diplomat from Helvetia, Larissa Finesse, but Madiha had not heeded Minister Chakma’s warnings to remain outside, and barged in suddenly. Larissa raised a skeptical eyebrow upon seeing her, and Daksha sighed and frowned as if she knew what was happening.

“Premier, I demand an explanation for why Marshal Vikramajit came out of retirement to lead the First Solstice Front. As a General I don’t believe this to be a wise course–”

“Did you have ambitions for the position?” Daksha replied. “That’s new.”

Madiha blinked, confused. “New?”

“You’re normally so passive and obedient.” Daksha said.

They were talking almost like mother and daughter. Larissa looked confused.

And yet they carried on the theater in front of her and Chakma anyway.

“I’m sorry ma’am, I tried to stop her–”

“It’s not your fault, Cadao.” Daksha said.

Madiha crossed her arms and grumbled. She was trying to center herself and failing. Everyone could see the fire in her eyes. “I had several glowing recommendations from various officers and volunteered for the position. I even submitted a detailed plan. I think, to pass me over for a man enjoying his retirement is an unduly harsh reprimand.”

“We passed you over because you are needed here in Solstice and your ideas are not needed on the front right now.” Daksha said. “We are not mounting a counteroffensive.”

“My plan has been meticulously researched and is realistic to our strength! Tell me what Vikramajit has done that makes him appear suitable to lead the war for our lives!”

Madiha was shouting.

Daksha sighed and rubbed her own forehead. “We’re not talking about this. You will train the Solstice garrison for now and build up your Mechanized unit. You’re the only one here with relevant frontline combat experience and a glowing academy record. We need you here. For god’s sake most of our army is younger than you right now. Leave the heroics to them for now and focus on rebuilding our officer cadres! We need you!”

The Premier was becoming emotional. Every ‘we need you’ was hoarser than the last.

“Now dismissed!” Daksha shouted.

“With all due respect ma’am–” Madiha shouted back.

“You’re not showing me any respect with your attitude, Madiha. Out! Now!”

Madiha turned her back furiously, swiping her hand at the desk in frustration.

One of Daksha’s pictures fell from the desk in response, for some mysterious reason.

Cadao Chakma bowed profusely and then followed Madiha out the door.

Daksha’s head sank into her hands.

“Oh, this is a shame.”

Larissa picked up the remains of the frame and the photo and put it on the desk.

It was a picture of Daksha, dressed in her cloak and worker overalls, what she wore as a bandit in Bada Aso. On her shoulders rode a precociously tall but still clearly child-like Madiha Nakar, aged 8 or 9 or 10 — who could really know? Madiha was dressed in her own little overalls with a newsboy cap, and had her delivery girl satchel with her.

“You should get this reframed. It’s a beautiful photo.” Larissa said.

“I will.” Daksha replied.

Larissa looked back over her shoulder at the closed door.

“Do you feel like you have to protect her?” Larissa asked.

“This country can’t keep standing on her back. Even if she will keep letting it.”

Daksha put the photo in a drawer and turned her full attention back to Larissa.

“We’ve exploited Madiha Nakar enough. We’ve exploited all our youth enough. It’s time for tired old women to make tired old women decisions for the future of these kids.”

“I see.” Larissa said. She seemed, for once, sympathetic toward the Premier. “In that case, let us resume. We were talking about your oil and gold for our industrial equipment–”

“Yes, let’s get back to it.”

This was all for the best, Kansal told herself.

It absolutely had to be.

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Life In The Besieged City (74.3)

This scene contains serious and not so serious discussions of transgender issues as well as mildly vulgar humor, including sexual humor, and sexual content.

24th of the Hazel’s Frost 2030 DCE

Ayvarta, Solstice — Ulyanova Medical Research Center

Leander rocked in his chair, staring at the paintings on the wall. He saw the odd nurse walking through the hallway outside the door to the Special Treatments office. No additional patients joined him since Naya entered the office. He felt the eerie seclusion of Special Treatments more pointedly than before. Why were they all the way out here?

He started to run over in his head what he would say to the doctor. They had exchanged a few letters on his long way to Solstice, and she seemed so full of advice and kindness. He had struggled to respond to her, mostly because the one question that he had and wanted her to answer felt like it was a combination of silly and impossible. It was always so emotional too, reading her letters. They were full of hope that he didn’t know he should have. The few times he wrote back, his letters were brief expressions of gratitude.

Dr. Kappel had said it would be a few minutes, but it took nearly twenty before the door to the office opened again. Leander stood up and watched, dumbfounded, as the girl he met just a short while ago, Naya Oueddai, walked out in tears, hugging a large cotton-stuffed bear toy and thanking the doctor profusely. She patted Leander on the shoulder as she went and wished him good luck. He reached out, but she was gone quickly.

Leander blinked, and stared with confusion between the amused Dr. Kappel at the door and the emotionally overcome Naya walking out the door. He was briefly speechless.

“Don’t mind her.” Dr. Kappel said. “Come on in! Have a bear! It’s very therapeutic.”

Briefly hesitant, Leander walked past Dr. Kappel at the door and took a seat in the big chair in her office. She handed him a freshly-unwrapped bear to hug and sat down in a much smaller chair. She had a clipboard and she scribbled something on it. Leander was several centimeters shorter than the doctor standing, but on the chair, he was raised up higher than her and had to bow his head a little in order to make eye contact with her.

“It’s so nice to finally meet you, Leander. We’re few of a kind, you and I!”

She reached out a hand and delicately shook with Leander. She was like a film star, like someone you would read about on the papers. Leander had a limited exposure to such things as he grew up traveling with his caravan, but he knew there were city folks who had glamorous lives and made themselves very beautiful for pictures. To Leander the simple eyeshadow and lipstick on Dr. Kappel, and the smooth shininess of her red hair, made her look incredibly elegant and stylish. Her sharp facial features were striking.

“Thank you doctor.” Leander said. “I’m glad we finally met too.”

“Tell me, do I look like you envisioned? Am I as you hoped?”

She winked one eye a little, smiling wryly.

Leander smiled back awkwardly. His own Ayvartan was not too great — the zigan people had their own language, so the communist-constructed Ayvartan Standard Language was his second tongue. Despite this, he knew that Dr. Kappel’s accent was thick and that her pronunciations made speaking to her just a little bit more difficult than with others.

Dr. Kappel nodded in silent understanding of his difficulties.

“How did you like my art? I painted all those landscapes.” She gestured outside.

“They’re nice. Are they places from around here?” He asked just to make conversation, but he felt immediately silly. Solstice was located in the middle of a desert. There were no beautiful white mountains and vast green forests here, just sand and the Qural river.

“They’re from my imagination.” Dr. Kappel said. “When I’m at peace in my mind, I see myself in vast forest or a high mountain. I’ve wanted to paint the desert too. Cities are so busy; I would love to see the vast, ruddy sands with my own eyes. But it’s too dangerous outside the city, they say, so civilian professionals need special permissions to go.”

“They don’t let you leave?” Leander said, in shock.

“I can understand why; once the war is over, I can go dehydrate all I want, don’t worry.”

She reached out and laid her hand on Leander’s own, reassuring him.

“Do you feel ready to talk Leander?”

Leander nodded silently. Dr. Kappel nodded back.

“We’ve already spoken in letters, and I have all the information that Panchali Agrawal forward to me about your case; I know a lot about your condition and you yourself now know a lot more. As a doctor, I want to do all I can to help you look and feel like the man you know you are. There’s a lot we can do, but first I’d like to understand what you want. I want you to know that I am working for you. I will not do anything you do not want. Our goal is for you to be able to live your life looking and feeling like your ideal self.”

Leander nodded. In truth, it was a difficult question, because he was already grappling with what a man was and what a man did with himself. He had heard many different answers from others, even when they didn’t know they were being asked the question; and made many different answers for himself. There were the good men he knew, like Bonde; the brutal, evil men of Nocht too. Leander just knew he didn’t feel well being brought up on dresses, being made a bride, being looked at for his breasts and his hair and his hips as if those things were all he was. He didn’t want to see them on himself and he didn’t want others to see those things either. He liked other girls just fine; he liked Dr. Kappel for example! But he did not want to see himself as one. He wanted to be a boy.

“Dr. Kappel, is it okay for me to say I want to be a boy?”

Dr. Kappel nodded. “Of course it is.”

“But, what even is a man or a boy? What’s a girl or a woman?” Leander asked. “If I can say that I am, is that okay? Do I have to be changed by medicines first? It’s confusing.”

Dr. Kappel blinked. “That’s a very profound question. I could answer it many ways: I could say well, there’s chromosomes and physical developments and we call one set feminine and one set masculine; or I could say, there’s certain social roles people fit into in traditional societies; but all those things are just inventions, you know? Those are things that we constructed that are only truthful because they are enforced as truth.”

“I don’t think I understand.” Leander said. His mind was spinning trying to both understand the message and also make basic sense of the words out of her tongue.

“I apologize; I was born in a part of Nocht known for thick tongues, and my command of Ayvartan isn’t helping with all these big words.” Dr. Kappel said. She squeezed Leander’s hand in her own and looked in his eyes. “Leander, what I mean to say is, that a man is what you feel you want to be. You can accept what others say a Man is, or you can make your own Man who lives in a way you can be proud of. What I want us to discuss is how you can feel better about yourself, how you can live happily. Not how a Man lives happily, but how you, Leander, can live happily as a Man. Do you understand now?”

“I think I do.” Leander said. He was preoccupied a lot with how others would see him. He still was, to a certain extent. But perhaps it didn’t actually matter what people expected Men to be like; after all, was it not a virtue of the caravan for men to make themselves respectable men? Through hard work and determination, you were supposed to convince the elders you were ready to become a Man who could carry his own weight.

Until Leander came along, nobody made “avoid having breasts” a part of that rite.

“So then, it is fine for me to say that I am a Man.”

“Absolutely. As a woman who says that she is a woman, I think you are perfectly alright.”

Leander nodded. “Thank you doctor.”

Dr. Kappel brightened up.

“So Leander, when you view yourself in the mirror, how would you want to be seen? If someone were to paint you — say, me, if I ever took on portraits — what is your ideal?”

Leander blinked. He had hardly thought of it before. There was only one glaring thing that stuck out in his mind that prevented him from being seen as he would like to be.

“I would like not to have breasts. Wearing the binder is hard, and I feel exposed even with it. People who touched me or looked too closely might see my breasts. I worry all the time about it. They’re sensitive and they prevent me from lying down flat, too.”

Dr. Kappel clapped her hands together. “Perhaps you could transfer them to me.”

Leander blinked and stared at her with concern.

“Nevermind, it was a joke.” Dr. Kappel laughed awkwardly. “Yes, we can certainly accomplish that. Recovery can be sensitive, but I have experience with the surgery. I’ve surgically removed many breasts before, and not just for boys like you! Women athletes and soldiers with large breasts have asked me for reduction or removal too in the past.”


“Well, you could’ve taken theirs then?” Leander asked, still thinking about her joke.

“No! I don’t want them! It was a joke! I’m happy with mine!” Dr. Kappel said hastily.

Leander looked down at her and thought, hers weren’t even as big as his.

He did not say anything however, judging the whole thing to be in bad taste.

“Why did you bring it up?”

Dr. Kappel sighed. “I was trying to show you that it is a normal thing anyone can do.”


“Have you ever performed surgery on yourself?” Leander casually asked.

“No! I did not become like this with surgery. I used chemical medicine.” Dr. Kappel said.

Leander laughed a little. Was he starting to fluster her with his silly questions?

She narrowed her eyes at him. But then she smiled again and cleared her throat.

“So! Would you like to, say, grow a beard? Or body hair? I have been making great strides in the development of hormone products for transgender boys.” Dr. Kappel said.

A beard? Leander liked his current unshaven smoothness. His uncle had a beard but he had never particularly aspired to the same himself. “Not really.” He finally answered.

“See, we’re making progress.” Dr. Kappel wrote on her clipboard. She then looked over it, with the pen still on paper, and resumed speaking. “Would you like more musculature? You’re particularly skinny and young, and physically active, so you’ve developed in a wiry and angular way, but as you get older, fat may start collecting in your hips more. It can lead to self image problems — we could tackle that in the future, but if you want to be a big tough lad shaped like a barrel in a year, I could potentially make that happen.”

None of that sounded particularly appealing to Leander. “I don’t really want to be bigger. I guess it would help carry my rifle. But maybe someday I’ll just have a smaller rifle.”

“We can always come back to that later if you change your mind. Remember, it’s never too late. How do you feel about your voice? Would you like a deeper voice?”

Leander recalled some of the men he heard speak. He had never been particularly enamored with his own voice, nor really anyone else’s. However, it sounded interesting, to be able to change his voice. Could he really be made to sound more like a man?

“I might. Can you do that?”

“Hormones might be able to do that for you.” Dr. Kappel said. “I can refer you to a voice therapist I’ve been working with too. I can’t guarantee dramatic results, but we can try.”

Leander smiled. I a strange way it almost felt like he was ordering from a menu.

“Doctor, is all of this really okay? If all these things happen to me, people will notice.”

“It is really okay.” Dr. Kappel said. “We still don’t have a charter for transgender rights in the Solstice constitution or anything like that; but the government readily agreed that its anti-discrimination laws apply to our kind, and Ayvarta is more accepting than Nocht was in my experience. Ulyanova passed laws protecting homosexuals, for example.”


“Boys who like boys, girls who like girls.” Dr. Kappel said.


“And I guess people like me, who like both.”

Leander blinked. Yet another thing he had not given a lot of thought to.

She started to write again on her clipboard.

He then remembered the important question he had been meaning to ask the doctor.

He hugged his bear tight to his chest and swallowed.

“Doctor, do you think if I told someone special about who I am, that this person would hate that I’m like this? In order to be with someone, I would have to tell them, right?”

Dr. Kappel looked up from her clipboard. She put it down and smiled reassuringly, and held Leander’s hands in her own once again. “Well, without knowing the person, I can’t really say. It’s tricky, but I think if they love you they will not mind. And if they become distant because you’re a more interesting boy than they bargained for, that is their loss.”

Though it was not the answer he really wanted to hear, Leander liked the way that she that put it. She, Dr. Kappel, was a girl; and he was a boy, because he wanted to be and could. And he was a very interesting boy for it. Maybe this really was okay after all.

“At any rate, I think we’re done with the formalities.” Dr. Kappel said. She put down her clipboard, having filled out many fields and checked many boxes. “Like I said, you can always request treatment for other things as they come up. I just wanted to check your pulse right now so we could get to work quickly.” She put the clipboard on a tabletop. “We can schedule you for some tests and see when you can come in for surgery.”

“Thank you doctor.” Leander said. “I’m still feeling a bit confused, but I’m happy.”

“I’m glad. That’s all I wanted. Now that we have talked medicine for long enough, I’d love to just talk to you, one transgender person to another.” Dr. Kappel said. “I’d love to hear all about your life so far. I’d be so grateful. I’ll tell you about how I found myself, too.”

Leander felt a little embarrassed to be given so much attention, but also delighted.

“I’d be happy to.” He said. “But, doctor, I’m curious. Are there other boys like me here?”

“In Solstice? There’s a few. I could arrange for you to meet if you want.” She said.

Leander grinned at her. “Thank you. Are any of them as handsome as me?”

“Ah, well, you’ll have to decide for yourself. I think all transgender people are beautiful.”

“That makes sense.” Leander said, laughing a little. He started to tear up.

Solstice was just an old city trapped between walls and rivers in the middle of a massive lifeless wasteland of sand. And yet, it felt like a holy land for Leander now. A place where he and his people lived now. Where they could be true to themselves. It was liberating.

For a moment, he thought about how he would tell Elena everything. It was a nice image.

He was sure that, in Solstice, he could tell her, and she would understand and love him.

25th of the Hazel’s Frost 2030 DCE

Ayvarta, Solstice — North Solstice, Kuwba District

“Not a pakora to be found! Not one in the whole city!”

Gulab shouted in despair in front of the civil canteen, where a dour food service worker stared down at her and also at the empty slot in the buffet-style serving tables that was marked “pakora.” In truth, there was almost no food left and that was always the case at so late an hour. All the fresh vegetables and most of the bread was gone. Everyone was guaranteed two meals (it used to be three) but that was contingent on picking them up at a reasonable hour — past midnight, there was no reasonable way to guarantee fresh food.

Of course, Gulab and Charvi had been indisposed during the day, acting as wedding shooters for the Premier and her bride, a great honor and a personal favor for General Nakar; and though they ate their fill at the wedding, they were soon hungry again.

Well, Gulab was hungry.

Charvi was merely at her side supporting her in her time of need.

“We should’ve returned to base.” Charvi said dispassionately.

“No! We don’t get to travel around the city at our leisure just any old day you know?”

“You could’ve gotten fed at the base.”

“There’s no guarantee of that! And certainly they wouldn’t have pakoras!”

“They don’t have pakoras here either.”

“It was a possibility! A possibility!”

“I could put your names down for pakoras, when we next get any.”

Behind the two of them was the poor woman subjected to their nonsense at the counter, in her state-issued apron and hat. She looked gloomy, but was still trying to help them. Gulab found this admirable, and knew that it was not her fault that the world was in ruins and decaying quickly and that inhuman deprivation had befallen all of them.

That is to say, for this one time, the canteen was out of pakoras. Gulab understood it all.

“No, we won’t be here. Sorry to bother you. We’ll be going.” Gulab said, sighing.

“Here’s a cup of dal for the road. You make a cute couple.”

She handed the each a lukewarm cup of thick yellow lentil soup over the counter.

She tried to smile at them. They tried to smile back.

“Thank you. You are also, cute.” Charvi said, trying to be nice.

At once, the food service woman averted her gaze.

Gulab took Charvi by the arm and led her back to the street. They were dressed as they usually were while city-slickin’. Charvi had on a sundress and wore a hat over her slightly curled silvery hair. Gulab wore a vest, shirt and slacks. She had a small trilby hat, and her ponytail, freshly braided, was growing ever longer. Gulab wondered what she might look like with hair as short as Charvi’s, but it made her anxious to get it all cut.

Still, she loved the look on Charvi. She loved Charvi; she stared at Charvi as they walked, taking in the glistening of sweat on her brown skin as the moonlight shone on her. Her face looked so beautiful and calm and soft despite the unsmiling, neutral expression she wore all of the time. Since they arrived at Solstice they had decided to date officially: they went out together as much they could. Already they spent a lot of time together at their work, but they wanted to try to cohabitate, to go on romantic dates, to kiss.

To love each other.

Gulab felt an irrepressible love for Charvi, a passion, an ardor.

And yet, she still felt, keenly, that there was one final barrier between them.

Walking hand in hand down the streets in Kuwba was just another typical romantic outing for them. When that woman at the canteen remarked upon them, however, Gulab had started to wonder again. Did people see them as two women, or what– and was Charvi fine with Gulab as a woman, or what– it was a difficult question. Would Gulab have been okay with any answer? She had Charvi, she cared about her so much.

However, she could not help but worry about her own self.

Her nontraditional womanhood. And she was not just thinking about the suits and slacks.

“Charvi, do you like boys or girls?” Gulab asked.

She instantly regretted it — what a stupid thing to say suddenly!

Charvi’s expression did not change one bit as she replied. “I like you, Gulab. You make me happy.” She was constructing sentences how she used to, using specific statements she had been taught by a speech trainer. It was her fallback when she was confused.

Her voice was completely devoid of emotion. That was just how she was, though lately she had a few moments of greater lucidity where she almost took on a heightened tone.

She was probably trying to reassure her, but she was also still dodging the question.

“Do you think of me as your boyfriend or your girlfriend, Charvi?”

Charvi glanced at her sidelong and blinked. She stared at her, deadly silent, for minutes.

Gulab was used to this. Charvi just needed a minute to pore over things every so often.

Especially when she was being ambushed like that.

“You can dress however you want and I’d like it, Gulab. I like you.” She then said.

What took her so long to think of that answer? Was she just messing with Gulab now?

She was not utterly devoid of emotions. She could be mischievous.

“Charvi, theoretically, if I married you, would I be the bride or the groom to you.”

As soon as the words left her lips Gulab nearly choked at what a catastrophe this all was.

Charvi raised her hands up and clapped them sharply to indicate her distress.

This was a mannerism that Gulab came to respect and understand keenly.

“Sorry.” Gulab said. “I’m being a fool.”

“It’s okay. I want to help, but I’m confused. Is something wrong?” Charvi said.

It was dark out, so dark even most of the streetlights had gone out to preserve power. Nobody was around. There were laws which held some businesses to round-the-clock operation, particularly state enterprises, but Kuwba was a small district that had grown around the hotel and there was barely anyone around. There was also nothing much to do. There were a few bars, and a theater, but it was the time of the dead, and any normal and sane person would have just gone home and slept and tried to have fun much later.

Gulab felt mortified, but at least nobody was around to listen but them.

“Ah it’s nothing. I just have weddings on the mind.” Gulab said.

“Weddings make me feel peace and contentment.” Charvi said dispassionately.

“You know, the Premier wore a suit, but she was still thought of as a bride.” Gulab said.

“I thought of the Premier as our boss.” Charvi said.

Gulab blinked. Sometimes Charvi was so forward, blunt and slightly unimaginative that it was a little disarming to hear. “That’s fair. She is kind of like that. You’re right.”

“Your concern for gender roles strikes me as sudden and confusing.” Charvi said.

“I mean when you put it that way, I sound like a lunatic, yes.”

Charvi stared at her again. Gulab sighed deeply.

“Gulab, if you wanted to, I would marry you. But we should be steady for a year first.”

Gulab looked at her with surprise. “Ah, heck with that, we should get married right now.”

“It’s a bit soon–”

“We should go have our own honeymoon then!” Gulab joked. “Wedding be damned!”

“Our honeymoon?”

“Yep! Back in the mountain, the bride and groom would get a tent all to themselves far outside town, and they could do whatever they wanted, and be as loud as they wanted to! They would have an entire night and day to themselves up in the mountain pines.”

“That sounds nice.”

“Sure is! I can’t imagine how many kids got made on that spot.”

Gulab started to giggle to herself at the thought.

She suddenly felt Charvi’s grip around her wrist tighten a little.

Quivering slightly, Charvi replied in the most unexpected fashion to those bawdy jokes.

“Yes. Let’s have a honeymoon.” She said. “Just the two of us. Somewhere nice.”


“I’m serious.”


“I think, honeymoons are silly but I think the things that are done in honeymoons are good. That’s what I’m saying. Gulab, I want to have sex, before we try marrying.”


Charvi clapped her hands once. She was likely feeling quite awkward saying that.

Gulab’s mind was still several steps behind the conversation.

“I’ve thought– I’ve thought of exploring a physical relationship with you.” Charvi said.

“Uh.” Gulab blinked. Not in a million years could she have conceived of such a result.

Not that she thought of Charvi as sexless, and she was obviously a rather dirty-brained person herself, as she believed most people off the mountains rightfully were. And yet–

“What do you say, Gulab? I understand this is sudden. If you don’t want to–”

Charvi looked directly into her eyes, turning slightly red. Her touch was warmer.

Gulab was speechless.

Obviously, the idea appealed to her!

She found Charvi very attractive and she had to admit to herself that over the past few weeks, when they were off duty and started technically ‘dating’, that she had more than once thought about her girlfriend Charvi Chadgura in that sort of way. Stroking her silvery hair, feeling her dark, warm skin brush her own as she pulled down the straps of her dress, exploring the contours of her. Necking her, touching her where she was soft–

From one impulsive thing to another, Gulab’s mind began to desert its previous logic.

No longer concerned with philosophies, she was consumed by action.

This was her chance! She would have her beloved Charvi all night!

Before she could even plot out any of the logistics of the situation, Gulab said–

“I’ve been waiting for this day to come. I’m actually an expert at this sort of thing.”

Her voice was grandiose, and she twirled her hat and held the brim dramatically.

That boast, like all her boasts and tall tales, just escaped her mouth naturally.

She did not even think about what it implied.

Charvi was staring at her with a curious expression, fascinated with her.

Gulab pulled on her own collar and averted her eyes.

“I mean, I’ve not, I’ve not really, just– it’s like when you memorize chess strategy.”

“I see.” Charvi said. “I will entrust myself to you. I’ll be your chess piece.”

“Oof.” Gulab suddenly felt that wasn’t the best language to employ, by anyone involved.

Charvi looked around. “But we need a private place. We can’t do it at the barracks.”

“Of course not. We’ll go to the public lodgings. Anyone can get a room overnight.”

She was talking faster than she was thinking at that point.

But they still went along with it. Hand in hand, they walked to the nearest Civil Lodge.

They spoke briefly to the man in the front of the desk, got a room on the ground floor, and locked it behind themselves. They had a bed, a little bathroom off to the side, and it was all theirs for exactly 10 hours, for a very minimal, perfunctory fee. It was good enough to sleep in. It was good enough to sleep with Charvi in. Gulab loved socialism.

“It looks cozy.” Charvi said.

“It sure does.” Gulab said.

She was starting to stall verbally, her brain beginning to transition from the impulse and ecstasy to the mechanical logic necessary to actually do what she had set out to do.

And that required her to once again be very nervous about something she had forgotten.

As Gulab started to hesitate, Charvi slowly walked over to the bed and laid herself down.

“Gulab, it’s very soft here. Like me. I am very soft too.”

Gulab stared at her, narrowing her eyes.


“Perhaps we can be soft together.”

“Is this more speech training stuff? Did someone teach you to say this?”

“I am trying to be provocative and sexful.” Charvi replied.

Gulab shook her head slightly.

“Well, it’s uh. It’s extremely hot, but, I need to clean up first! One moment!”

She then ran to the bathroom and locked herself in.

It was a sparse bathroom. There was not much in there to distract oneself with.

There was also not a window to jump out of.

Looking in the mirror, Gulab assessed herself reasonably.

All of her insecurities started to bubble up inside her head.

Her head, which was hot as a tea kettle, boiling her own brains.

Did she look like a woman? Yes, she thought she did. A slightly bony, brusque woman but she had a pretty face. As good as any other girl from the mountain did, she thought.

Did she feel like a woman? Well, that was up in the air, that changed with the seasons.

Did she want to be a woman? Of course, that had been a driving force in her life.

Would Charvi see her as a woman if she took her clothes off and bedded her?

Gulab ran away from the mirror and back into the other room, half in a nervous panic.

“Gulab, please treat me gently.”

Charvi was still in bed, curling herself up as if it would make her look more attractive.

“Please don’t go fetal on me.” Gulab said. “Please sit up normally.”

Charvi laid up against the pillows. She tried to put on a smile. It was hard for her.

She was starting to overcome her K.V.W. conditioning that had dulled her emotions, once upon a time. However, she was still a generally dour person with no practice in smiling.

Inside her head, Gulab’s brain steeped in boiling water enough and began to steam.

“Oh, to hell with it!”

Gulab crept toward the bed and lunged atop, and she loomed over Charvi.

Staring down at her lover, she felt every part of herself both tense up and waver.

Gulab dipped down and kissed Charvi.

It was a brief kiss, but it was fierce and lustful.

Seizing each other’s lips, pulling slowly apart, nipping their tongues just a bit.

Gulab locked eyes with Charvi, who was breathing rapidly.

She loved Charvi. She just had to go out and say it. To say what she had meant to.

She just had to disclose how she was and explain how she felt. That was all.

“Charvi, I’m not just any ordinary girl.” Gulab said.

“I know. You’re a powerful succubus, come to take me.” Charvi said.

She was not making this any easier!

“What. No. I mean. Yes. Maybe? What are you talking about?”

“You’re not the only one who has been practicing her chess.” Charvi said.

“What? What does that mean? You’ve been practicing what exactly?”

Was this relationship suddenly even more complicated than Gulab thought?

Charvi clapped in mild distress. “I read some books on good lines to set the mood.”

Thank the spirits, it was still as simple and silly as usual. “Burn them.” Gulab said.

“No, darling; you are my fire.” Charvi said. It wasn’t even a logical response!

Gulab grit her teeth, still looming sensually over Charvi in bed.

“Charvi, I’m trying to come clean that something about me different from most girls, in this situation, that maybe, you should know about, since we’re both here, as girls–”

Charvi blinked and seemed to stop trying to roleplay at that point. “Gulab, what is–”

At that point the last remaining slivers of tact left Gulab’s body.

She was about to burst like a dam of anxiety and depression if she did not just say it.

“Ah!” Gulab screamed in frustration. “I keep trying to say this sensitively, but I don’t have a sensitive bone in my body! I’m a loud ignorant mountain bumpkin, and Charvi, I have a dick! That’s what I wanted to say, okay? I just, I don’t want you to think of me like a–”

Charvi blinked and cut in. “I was afraid you were going to say you were a traitor.”

Gulab shut her eyes hard and felt a knot in her brain, trying to unwind that sentence.

“Why the heck would I say that? What would that have to do with us sleeping together?”

“Well, I don’t know. What does this have to do with that either?” Charvi asked.

“Do you–” Gulab pulled herself up a little. She had never even considered that maybe Charvi did not know how to have sex. “Did your parents have the talk with you?”

Charvi covered her mouth to stifle laughter and averted her gaze, cheeks bright red.

“I never thought about your body that way.” Charvi said. “I don’t really think about people’s bodies. Do you identify as a Hijra? I’ve heard Arjun stories about that before.”

“I don’t identify as anything.” Gulab said, sighing. She was almost breathless and her heart was beating so fast, but at least the fact that this turned into slapstick meant Charvi did not feel disgusted toward her, probably. “I just, I dunno. I was always so close to the women I grew up with, and I always felt so great around them. I hated being thought of and treated as a man, and made to be like the men around me. I wasn’t like them, and I didn’t end up looking or being like they were. They were so selfish, and they just wanted everything to be their trophy. When I couldn’t be exactly like them, when I showed even a hint of interest in my longer hair and my colored clothes and even things like having a doll or wanting to knit or something — they hated me and humiliated me for it. All of them were so closed off, so thoughtless. I hated it. Even when they tried to use the strength they were so proud of, they failed to protect anyone. I swore all that off!”

It was a conversation made all the more awkward because Gulab was still looming over Charvi in a bed in a public lodging that they had gotten for the intention of having sex. Charvi, however, was silent, with a very slight smile, and seemed to invite Gulab to keep talking. Her lack of clapping meant a lot to Gulab. She was comfortable listening.

Despite this, it was a monumentally hard conversation to have. Gulab’s mouth felt heavy as she continued to speak. “It’s hard to explain, but I felt– Well, when I came to the communists from the Mountain, they just asked me for my gender, like any old thing, and they just took my answer. Like it didn’t matter. And that’s when I felt like I could be a girl. I could wear my hair long, dress however I want, talk how I want, and I could be myself without pressure; that’s when I realized I never felt like I was a boy anyway.”

“You don’t look or feel like anything to me, but just Gulab. Whom I love.” Charvi said.

“Thanks, I guess.” Gulab said.

She felt mortified about the whole thing.

“Sorry that I just. Shouted in your face about my dick, Charvi.”

“You know Gulab, I’ve grown to love you because of that.” Charvi said.

“Because I have a dick?” Gulab said in shock. “How did you–?”

“No. I mean. Yes. I mean. I mean.”

Charvi began to clap her hands rapidly in succession. Gulab blinked.

“I mean because you are honest and straightforward.” Charvi then said, awkwardly.

“I see.” Gulab said, red as a tomato with embarrassment.

“But I also accept and love. Everything else too.” Charvi also looked embarrassed.

“Well. I am relieved then.”

“Here. I’ll prove it.”

Charvi pulled herself up a little up over the pillows, enough to lift her face up to Gulab’s. She surprised Gulab with a kiss on the lips, taking her waist around her arms. It wasn’t a hungry, lustful kiss like Gulab imagined she would have tonight. It was sweet, bashful.

They stared deep into each other’s eyes. When they separated, Charvi laid back down on the bed, once again safely relaxed under Gulab’s looming body, and she continued.

“Everyone else always treated me like I was weird or broken, because I annoyed them with my mannerisms or because my mind was odd. You never judged me for that, and you believed in me and respected me enough to treat me in the straightforward and honest fashion you treat others. You say you aren’t sensitive, but Gulab, that was the most sensitive anyone has treated me. I never thought anyone would love or desire me.”

Gulab made an awkward face, trying to contain how self-conscious she felt.

“Thanks.” Charvi said. “Thank you Gulab. I love you. I love and accept and desire you.”

“I love you too Charvi.” Gulab said. “Thank you for– accepting this ridiculous shit.”

Charvi put on a very big, very forced smile and half-shut eyes.

It was a genuinely strange, almost creepy expression.

“Oh Gulab~” She was trying to do something with her voice that was not working at all, because she barely manifested a tone to begin with. “I want to have sex with you.”

“Spirits defend.” Gulab said, averting her gaze with shame.

“Isn’t that what I’m supposed to say. I’m supposed to be lascivious.”

“I want to do this, I really do, but I just want you to act naturally.”

Charvi sensually put a finger on Gulab’s face but nearly stuck it in Gulab’s mouth.

“I’ll bury you. Under my body.”

“But I’m on top right now!”

“I’ll bury you upside down.”

“Let’s just go!”

Gulab suddenly rushed down on Charvi and kissed her, pushing her down on the bed.

Charvi tried to reciprocate Gulab aggressively, perhaps to reassure her with enthusiasm.

Their lips locked together; and their foreheads struck dead on and they both fell aside.

Both of them broke out in laughter, and despite everything the urge remained felt and the fire in them burned all the brighter. There were no words, no more jokes, no hesitation. Eyes locked together, Charvi reached over to Gulab and began to pick apart the buttons on her vest and shirt. Gulab pulled the straps of Charvi’s sundress off her shoulders and began to pull the bodice down from over her breasts and to her waist.

They kissed, touched, wounded themselves together, and they loved every centimeter of skin on each other, neither ashamed to be exposed to the other, neither ashamed of where their hands went, what their lips kissed, and what flesh was entered where. Wordlessly in love, breathlessly in lust, enjoying every moment as was natural.

That night, the official honeymoon was not the only one celebrated.

For 10 hours, Gulab and Charvi had their own.

Previous Part || Next Part

Life In The Besieged City (74.2)

This scene contains mild violence and allusions to transphobia and medical violence.

24th of the Hazel’s Frost, 2030 D.C.E.

Ayvarta, Solstice City — Halwa Way

Weighing in at 52 tons, the Mandeha experimental self-propelled gun and its 152mm gun made an impression everywhere it went. It was loud, from the crunching of the tracks as they turned on their wheels, to the coughing of its engine and the rumbling in the dirt as it moved through the town. There was no subtlety to it: its too-tall turret and too-large body compared to the tanks common folk knew made it stand out far too much.

Having been given special provision to use civilian roads on its journey, the weapon and its crew trundled through the main street, down the old southern marketplace and out to the broader and wider-open historic neighborhood of Halwa Way. Known once for its confectioners and toy-makers, a little paradise for the city’s children, the war turned its eye on it as a source of open, under-developed space for military apparatus to expand.

Now there were no toy makers or candy shops. Confectioners produced canned and boxed food products for the military. Toy makers built guns and machined small parts.

The Mandeha headed for a workshop as part of an agreement to be examined in detail by a local cooperative and to apparently produce a limited run of extra turrets for it. Karima did not understand the purpose of doing such a thing but she did not question it.

She instead took in the sights atop the traveling tank, a soldier with nothing to shoot.

Clay brick houses, a few official-looking concrete buildings and many small wood-and-tin workshops were set on big plots of land spaced many meters apart, with waist-high stone divisions and broad dirt road between them. There were many empty, open parks and plazas and vacant, overgrown plots. All of it baking under the midday sun directly overhead. The heat was enough to cause ripples in the air ahead of and behind the tank.

Regardless, there were people on the street. Almost everyone in Halwa Way was dressed either in simple work clothes or some kind of uniform, though there were a few women in saris and one man in a robe and beads that Karima saw. The tank drove by a long line for certain rationed supplies, notably firewood and coal for homes and shops, handed out the back of a truck. They passed by a small clinic where a dozen soldiers in physical therapy practiced standing up on their prosthetic legs. They passed by a large school too.

Heads turned as the Mandeha neared. Older folk gaped and stared at the metal monster. Children clapped and danced and some of the misbehaving ones threw rocks and got scolded for it. There were still children, of course, even as Halwa Way metamorphosed.

To Karima, who was hanging half out of the top hatch, it looked like the children in the school were having a bomb drill. They were minded by a pair of military uniformed officers. After scolding them for the rocks their instructors had them practice ducking and crawling in the football field. There were shallow foxholes dug all over the field and a little sandbag wall. They were probably being taught to do basic earthworks too.

Past the school the Mandeha stopped and turned in place to go around a corner. Karima got a brief glimpse of a 37mm anti-aircraft gun and a group of teenage girls manning it.

Karima watched the landscape passing her slowly and gently by, resting her head on her arms.  It was miserably hot out, and the turret armor of the Mandeha was rather hot too. The long, smooth, shiny sleeves of her tight black tanker bodysuit protected her from being burned by the metal, but did nothing about the overall heat. She sweated profusely.

It was no better inside the tank. Though it was not worse — heat took much longer to penetrate the densely armored interior, so it was about the same temperature as just standing outside, even though it was a metal box cooking in the sun. Mainly, outside the tank at least Karima could feel the calm breeze sweeping up her long, brown arched ponytail and blowing the sweat off her olive skin. In the tank, it’d be cramped and while some air could come through the poor welding seams that was not an intended feature.

“Feeling down, Karima?”

A second hatch opened atop the Mandeha. A young blond woman pulled herself up half out of the hatch, and laid her head on her arms near Karima as if miming her.

“I’m fine.” Karima said brusquely. Lila was gorgeous and a joy but also annoying.

“This heat is monstrous isn’t it? I’ve never been anywhere so dry.” Lila said.

“It’s fine!” Karima said. She started raising her voice.

“You don’t look fine honestly, but I’ll take your word for it.”

“You’re so noisy!”

Without responding, Lila turned her gaze on the surroundings with a smile.

Karima sighed.

“It’s not like I want you around. If you’re gonna be here, just take in the breeze quietly.”

She welcomed the company.

Karima snatched sidelong glances at Lila, thinking to herself that she liked when Lila was staring placidly at something other than her. She felt pressured when Lila stared at her, and resentful because Lila probably didn’t see anything good when she looked.

Lila was beautiful. Her golden hair, tied up out of the way, and her eyes, and her peach colored skin; she looked so lovely, like an angel. Karima found her gaze sneaking down Lila’s slim shoulders and along her back. She had taken off the combat vest, and the bodysuit hugged her figure very well under it. Karima had to pull herself away and force herself to stare at the buildings. Lila would tease her relentlessly if she caught her.

It wasn’t that Karima disliked the teasing, but she disliked her own reaction to it.

Her head was just a big screaming mess all the time. It made everything so hard.

The Mandeha rolled through a small park. As they maneuvered the tank carefully under the decorative arch out the other end of the park, Karima spotted a small crowd gathered ahead of them. They seemed to be trying to push something out from the middle of the intersection. Once they were close enough to see through the heat haze, Karima found the small group of workers and soldiers trying to get a supply truck going again after it struck a nasty ditch in the dry, dirty ground, knocking one of its wheels out of sorts.

“Huh. I wonder if everything’s okay.” Lila said airily.

Karima groaned. “Of course it isn’t. Just look at that.”

Onlookers gathered around the stalled truck, watching as a few men tried to prop the truck up, bang its wheel back into place, or push it out of the way. They did not appear as if they had made much progress. The Mandeha stopped at the edge of the crowd, and the hatch in front of the vehicle opened up. Karima saw their driver walk out into the crowd.

He was a comely young man with a braided black ponytail, wearing a combat jacket and shorts over his black bodysuit. Isa was not the sort who would have offered to help himself. He was probably going to rope them all into pushing on the truck or something.

“Ugh, he’s gonna get involved, of course.” Karima sighed.

“Well, we can’t just go through them, and it is nice to help out.” Lila said.

She turned her smile on Karima again, who turned her own head away from it.


Isa returned from a brief conversation with the men pushing the truck, and waved to Karima and Lila from the ground. He walked around the back of the tank and pulled from one of the storage hatches a hook and a steel rope. He attached the rope to one of the metal handles around the side of the Mandeha’s chassis, and brought the rope over to the truck, and hooked it to the front of it. Then he returned to the tank and dove down into the front hatch. He did all of this without saying a word to Karima or Lila about it.

Lila whistled.

“Huh, I guess he’s going to handle it himself. Our Isa has grown into a dependable boy.”

“We’re his age.” Karima retorted. “And he’s just playing around with the tank.”

“I guess it’s neat to be able to drive it.” Lila said, giggling.

“Less effort than hauling up those awful 152mm shells.” Karima mumbled.

The Mandeha rumbled as Isa started the engine, and began to pull back. The rope stretched taut, and the tank began to force the truck away from the intersection. People moved out of the way, and the Mandeha retreated to the park with the truck in tow and left it in a grassy little square patch once intended for picnickers. The owners of the truck had followed along, and when Isa popped back out of the hatch, they shook hands.

From the back of the truck, one of the men produced a small box, and he handed it to Isa.

“Lets go see what that’s about.” Lila said excitedly, pinching Karima’s bicep.


They climbed down the footholds on the side of the turret, and closed the top hatches. Karima was tall for an Ayvartan woman, so the Mandeha was about the only tank she felt somewhat comfortable in. Its turret was still cramped, but nowhere near as much as the flatter turrets on smaller tanks. Karima could crouch into the turret from above, sit down and spread her arms — a Goblin tank felt like being caged in comparison. Lila, who was shorter and lighter, fit perfectly well inside the turret along with Karima as well.

Once inside, they both leaned down past the turret ring to look into the chassis below.

At the front of the chassis, past the racks of heavy shells, was Isa’s driving compartment. He closed the hatch and turned around just as the women were coming down from the turret. Smiling, he presented to them a little cardboard box. A fantastic smell of bread and spices swept through the interior of the tank. Karima identified it immediately.

“They gave you pakoras?” She asked suddenly.

“Sure did! They’re setting up a food spot for the workers around here.”

Isa opened up the box for them. It was indeed filled with pakoras: crunchy, flaky pouches of fried bread filled with vegetables and spices. He had at least a dozen in the box.

“Half of them have potatoes and peas, the other half are paneer.” Isa said.

“Paneer please!”

Karima stretched out a hand and Isa, in a bit of shock, deposited a pakora in it.

Lila stared at Karima, blinking the whole time.

Paying them no attention, Karima took a big bite.

She smiled and closed her eyes. It was perfect, the crust was so crisp, the paneer tender.

“We got some chutney also.” Isa said, pulling a little plastic cup from under the pakoras.

Karima snatched the cup, set it down on top of the turret ring divider, removed the lid and dunked her pakora into the spicy green mash. It was delicious: hot, minty, sweet.

She felt herself transported to an earlier, simpler time by the food.

“Just like mother used to make.” She said.

Lila and Isa stared at her.

Isa with a blank expression, and Lila slowly filling with delight.

When she noticed them, Karima shot a strong look. “What? Got something on my face?”

“I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself.” Lila said.

Isa crossed his arms and averted his gaze.

Karima turned her cheek on them and climbed back up out of the turret interior.

“She can smile sometimes, I guess.” Isa said.

“She’s great.” Lila replied.

Without the obstruction in the middle of the road, and with the crowd having dispersed, the Mandeha made its way steadily down to the Lower Yard, a series of wood and tin buildings with open walls. There were buildings on either side of the dirt road, forming their own little neighborhood here. In the past they would have been home to many cooperative workers tinkering with mechanical toys, karts, and other trinkets. Now the instant the Mandeha turned into the road, Karima spotted a table with a line of rifles in various stages of completion, and one little building housing a crane vehicle and a tank.

Several workers crawled around the tank as the crane lifted the turret off of it.

There was a lot of hustle and bustle, a sense of urgency, but also a sense of desperate haphazardness. Soon as Karima took her eyes off it, the crane dropped the turret off and almost took a man’s foot out. There were screams out of earshot. She grumbled.


Karima heard Lila calling up to her from below. “We’re stopping soon! Put on your combat jacket, we don’t want to run around in topless bodysuits in a public workshop.”

In response Karima stomped her boot on the foothold she was standing on.

She eventually did don her combat jacket. Her bodysuit was a bit tight up top.

The workshop was no more a building than the rest of Lower Yard. It did, however, house a plethora of machine tools. There were lathes and a smelting furnace and many molds. Everywhere that a shelf could be bolted to, they had bolted two, overburdened with tools and parts. It was busy; there were people running about who barely seemed to notice each other, all engaged in some manner of labor. Karima thought it was too noisy.

Several older men and women in tough, dusty leather work suits greeted them.

Lila, Isa and Karima stepped out of the tank and shook hands with the recently elected head of the cooperative, a stocky, bald older man with black skin verging on blue, by the name of Qeneb Yaibeh. He smiled a broad smile and laughed warmly at the Mandeha.

“Welcome! My, what a piece of kit you got there.” He said. “This is also little Ravana’s work? I did not expect it to be this extravagant. Her family used to be so conservative.”

“Perhaps that’s why she’s taking so many liberties now.” Isa replied.

“I’m glad little Ravana is still thinking about this place.” Qeneb said.

“She said, ‘Chief Yaibeh is the only man I trust with this project.'”

“Oh that’s a lie! I’m just the only man who would bother with that abomination she built! Come, let us talk about it. I wish she had come herself, but you seem lively enough!”

Before arriving, Karima and Lila decided to let Isa handle things at the yard, since out of all of them he knew the most about the machine and its technical details, being the driver and having some small mechanic experience. Whereas Lila was only supposed to be a medic, turned gunner in desperation; and Karima a bugler and general grunt.

Qeneb took Isa away to show him around the shop. Standing outside, Karima could see practically everything they had available and everything they were working on, a few cars, some radios; Lila looked delighted, but Karima was very unimpressed by the sight.

“Ugh. Why are we taking it here? This place is a dump.” Karima said.

Lila shot a suddenly aggravated look at her. Unprepared, Karima almost jumped.

“Chief Ravan trusts these men and women! Look at how hard they work!” Lila said.

Her tone of voice was rather harsh. Karima had rarely seen her become upset.

It made Karima feel defensive. “Working hard for what? Why bother letting them fix a few things here and there when M.A.W. could fix a hundred of them in a day?”

Lila turned sharply and stormed off into the shop by herself, leaving Karima suddenly.

Karima felt a powerful impulse inside her to be very angry herself; but she tried to control it. It was mixed with fear and anxiety. Her head was always mixed up in this fashion, but at the thought of Lila being mad at her, the chaos was all the more violent and cacophonous. She felt paralyzed, not knowing what to do but standing under the hot sun, her ponytail sweeping this way and that with the wind, sweating profusely.

She closed her fists so hard her gloved fingers bit into her palm.


She shouted after Lila, and then turned around and made to leave.

Then she heard a loud crash from the side of the shop.

There was a scream.

Karima cast a glance at her side and then without thinking threw herself forward.

She interposed herself between an older woman and a shelf poorly bolted onto a pair of wooden building supports. Several steel tools crashed against her arms and shoulders and fell harmlessly on the floor. When the shelf itself fully collapsed Karima pushed it back, throwing it off herself and onto the floor. Several glass tubes blew up at her feet.

When it was all over, she felt like her arms had been trampled by caribou.

She looked behind herself, smiling weakly at an old woman in a headscarf and work suit.

“Please be careful ma’am.” Karima said, her voice and hands quivering.

She put her arms down, with some effort, and started to collect the tools that had fallen.

“Oh no dear! Please!” Said the grateful woman, bending down next to her to help.

“You all need to clean up this place! It’s a hazard!” Karima said, growing annoyed.

She turned to the woman and found her staring at her.

“You’re bleeding, dear.”

From her work suit pocket the woman produced a scarf and put it to Karima’s forehead.

Karima ignored it. She collected several drill bits, hammers, and a few pairs of very large bolt drivers, and collected them into a nearby basket and lifted it up. At her side, the old woman was nearly speechless at the effort Karima was putting in for practically no reason. Karima herself, having been struck in the head, was not especially thinking her actions through, but some part of her justified it as ‘showing them how to do things’ and ‘being the decent person in the room’ and other excuses to retain her personal aesthetic.

No sooner had she taken a few steps into the shop that Lila reappeared.

She looked at Karima, first with confusion and then with wide-eyed shock.

“Hashem protect you, what happened?”

She rushed up to Karima with a bandage that quickly turned red as it touched her head.

“I’m fine.” Karima said brusquely.

“Ugh. You don’t have to be so– so you all the time.” Lila said in a defeated tone of voice.

She eventually forced Karima to sit down in a corner and hold a towel up to her wound.

She sat down next to her, sighing.

They watched the people come and go. Karima still didn’t get it.

But she thought, if Lila respected it, then she should just do it too.

“I’m sorry for being me. Please don’t hate me.” Karima said, admitting defeat herself.

Lila rested her head against Karima’s side. “Oh, just– You’re fine. Be quiet.”

Karima pressed the towel harder on her wound.

She guessed that everyone was trying their best to help the way they could.

She guessed there was no reason to stop them.

Ayvarta, Solstice City — Ulyanova Medical Research Center

In the “special treatments clinic” the walls were painted a relaxing peach color and there was a piece of art hanging on every one of them. They were paintings of landscapes, with tiny cheerful trees, sweeping mountains and shimmering lakes and rivers, all in oil paints, with a quirky little signature that read something like “W. Kapp.” There was a corner with a large pillow with big cartoon eyes on drawn on it, and a smattering of random toys. On the pillow there was the same quirky handwriting: umarmung.

There was a reception desk, at which nobody sat, and a door into the office.

That afternoon there were only two patients waiting on the long couch by the door.

“How long have you been waiting?”

A young woman spoke first; she asked the young man at her side.

“Not long.” He said.

“I just got here.” She said. “Have you been here before?”

“It’s my first time.” He said. “But this doctor is very well regarded! So I’m hopeful.”

“I see. I came to get the results of some tests I took in the other hospital. How about you?”

For a moment, the boy hesitated. “I need a prescription for a new drug.”

She did not press him further. “Oh, well I hope you get it.”

For someone sitting in the special unit, the young woman certainly looked healthy. Dark-skinned, with black hair tied into a short tail, she was svelte and fit. The muscular tone of her legs was visible even through stockings, and she had strong shoulders. She wore a long-sleeved, knee-length blue dress and had a pink and blue band around her wrist.

She had the body of an athlete; but nobody would’ve known her true heroism by sight.

At her side the young man was slightly shorter and less physically impressive, with ruddy brown skin and short dark hair. He was dressed in a button-down shirt and suspenders, and twirled a little hat around on his fingers. His face was delicate and pretty, of an ethnic character the young woman thought, but otherwise he looked plain enough; nobody could have told at a glance his unique condition or achievements.

“I’m Leander Gaurige.” He said first, extending a friendly hand.

“Naya Oueddai.” She replied with a quick shake. “Nice to meet you.”

No sooner had they been introduced that the door to the office opened.

Out stepped a red-headed woman wearing a white coat, twirling a pen in her fingers. She was rather dexterous with it, and it spun like a wheel between two fingers and a thumb.

“Good evening you two– Oh!”

She bumped her heeled shoes on a small toy on the ground and nearly fell.

From her fingers, the pen launched like an arrow toward the patients.

Leander gasped and ducked.

Naya thrust out a hand and snatched the pen out of the air before it could strike.

For an instant the room felt like the air had been sucked out.

At the other end of the room the woman sighed with relief. “Mein gott. I apologize.”

She approached the waiting patients, and Naya handed her the pen with a grin.

“Goodness, what reflexes. You must be quite popular at parties.”

There was no mistaking her appearance, she was absolutely the doctor. Her professional dress consisted of a white coat over a button-down shirt and tie with a pencil skirt and black leggings. She looked well into her adulthood, with a striking face, sharp-featured and elegant with well-applied dark eyeshadow and lipstick. Her wine-red hair was collected in a bun in the back of her head with a few clips. A pair of thin spectacles covered her grey eyes. She was tall, slender and broad-shouldered, with a subtle figure.

Leander smiled at her as if meeting a celebrity. Certainly she was well made-up as any star, and she carried herself just as confidently, but the reaction from him was far more than any doctor seemed to merit. His face lit up with anticipation. Naya put her hands behind her head and reclined on her seat. She was sure she had a bit more of a wait on her hands. It definitely seemed to her that Leander knew the doctor and was set to go in.

The doctor bent down close to the two of them and put a hand on Leander’s shoulder.

“I know you’re full of anticipation, Leander, but Naya here will only take a few minutes, and I don’t want to delay her results longer. Can you wait just a little more?”

She spoke with a thick accent and her voice was a little deep and a little nasal.

Leander’s mouth hung open for a moment in response. He nodded his head.

He looked completely deflated, and Naya almost wanted to say he should go ahead.

But the doctor seemed to sense her reticence and comforted Leander quickly.

“We’ll have more time to talk if I’m not worried about another patient. I promise.”

She gave him a thumbs up, and then gestured for Naya to stand.

Naya gave Leander a sympathetic look and followed the doctor to the office.

Leander however looked a little more lively again with the doctor’s reassurance.

Past the office door was a large room built around a complicated fixed chair with several instruments attached to it. There were four large workspaces with multiple drawers and cabinets affixed high on the walls over them. Atop every one of these spaces there were baskets with tools wrapped in clear plastic, as if they were candy at a shop. There was one basket that seemed to actually have candy. One open drawer had several stuffed bears wrapped in clear plastic also. Each bear had a heart with the word for ‘hug’ on it.

Hujambo! I’m Doctor Willhelmina Kappel. Have a seat, and have a bear!”

Doctor Kappel shook Naya’s hand gently, and then ripped a stuffed bear free from its plastic packaging and handed it to her. She instructed Naya to sit on the fixed chair and hug the bear, and though she felt terribly silly doing so, the bear was soft, comfortable, almost therapeutic to hug. Her heart was beating terribly fast as it began to sink in that she would see the results of the tests on her back to see what could be troubling her.

“Though it is the one revolutionary idea I have for which I possess no evidence, I think that hugs are very powerful. I have all my patients hug a bear while we talk about tests.”

“Are all the toys out there for your patients too?” Naya asked cheekily.

Dr. Kappel smiled warmly. “I get a lot of children, mothers with children, so on. I think it is important to make spaces for children in ominous places like this. It might make adults feel silly, but adults can handle feeling silly. Children can’t help feeling anxious.”

Naya got the sense that Dr. Kappel was a genuinely thoughtful person.

Even if she did end up tripping on the toys she so kindly set out for the children.

This was her first time meeting her, even though she was getting the results here.

She had run her tests in the main building, but they referred her to special treatments for the results. Dr. Kappel seemed good, but the very fact that she had to come here and meet her felt ominous to Naya. Special Treatment did not ring as very hopeful to her.

Dr. Kappel sat in a little wooden chair across from Naya and leaned forward, smiling.

“Run any laps recently, Naya Oueddai?” Dr. Kappel asked.

“I’ve been keeping up on my exercising.” Naya said demurely.

“Set any good times on the local tracks?”

Her accent was thicker on some Ayvartan words than it was on others. Though she had command of the language, Willhelmina Kappel was still just a little more difficult to listen to than normal. Naya felt like she had to pay very strict attention to really get every word that she was pronouncing. It was not unpleasant, just different — she was used to such things with her commanding officer, who was partially deaf and partially mute.

Once she mulled over what Dr. Kappel had said for a second she responded.

“I haven’t really been trying, and I’ve never run the tracks around here before anyway.”

“You have the potential to beat some records. Solstice has mediocre runners. The South has always been better than Solstice at running.” Dr. Kappel said, grinning.

Did she mean Naya would be okay? Was that what she was insinuating?

“I’ll give it a go sometime, I guess.”

“Try the medical college track.” Dr. Kappel said.

“Duly noted.”

“How has your back been recently? Has your pain subsided?” Dr. Kappel continued.

“I’m managing, thanks to the drugs.”

“Between dosages, do you feel the pain returning?”

“Not much. I mean, my back is not going to be fixed by painkillers, and I know that, but as long as I take the drugs, exerting myself does not hurt like it did before.” Naya said.

“Would you have characterized your pain before as fleeting attacks, or constant pain?”

Naya felt tired just remembering the pains from before. “They would come and go.”

“And when an event transpired, it was debilitating, yes?”

It felt shameful to admit it, but Naya was honest. “I couldn’t even move sometimes.”

“And you noticed certain triggers for your worst pain events.”

She was starting to wither under the questions.

“I was usually exerting myself when they happened.” Naya admitted.

Dr. Kappel nodded, and reached for a thick file folder on a nearby countertop.

“Naya, would you appreciate a blunt assessment, or a softer delivery?”

Naya felt that request like a hammer to the chest.

Willhelmina Kappel practically held Naya’s life in her hands. Everything that Naya was and cared for could ride on this result. So few people would look at that girl in the ill fitting, borrowed dress with the thick legs and realize the sort of struggle she was in.

Naya was a successful tanker, and recently a medal candidate for her heroism during the evacuation of Benghu a few weeks ago. She was part of an experimental tank unit, and more importantly, she considered herself an athlete still, even if she had not run very much recently. Her physicality was important to her self image, esteem, and identity.

Thinking about it brought a pinprick of phantom back pain that nearly made her panic.

“Are you alright?” Dr. Kappel asked.

“I’m fine.”

She had reached to rub her back, but she stopped.

It distressed her to think that her prized body that she had grown so proud of was failing her. She was managing her mysterious back pains with pain medication, but she knew that she could not depend on her unit medic slipping her painkillers under the table.

“Be as blunt as you have to be.” Naya said. Her eyes were tearing up. The air in the office felt cold and forbidding. She gripped her own dress and grit her teeth and waited.

Dr. Kappel nodded. “It is difficult to determine exactly when, but if you keep going on your current trajectory you will lose the use of your legs. Take a look at this–”

She spread open the folder and showed Naya a strange photograph. There was a human form, and the photograph was specifically of a lower back, with the spine and the hip bones visible and the flesh a flat, blue transparent plane. There were various blemishes on the bones. Dr. Kappel pointed out a few spots along the slightly crooked spine.

“You have a rare condition affecting your spine that is damaging your nerves. Right now, it is only painful, because the nerve is affected in brief, violent events that subside with rest. You can manage it with drugs, but if you continue to push yourself, you will damage the nerve permanently. You will find yourself unable to run, then walk unsupported, and then stand. I cannot tell you exactly when but this is a certainty in your current state.”

Naya felt surprisingly empty of emotion. There it was, the punch to the jaw that she had been expecting. Her eyes were as tearful as they had been — only mildly so. She could not muster the strength to scream. She looked at the images of her compromised bones with weariness and a sense of resignation. Perhaps Dr. Kappel’s bluntness did pay off.

“Is it possible to fix with surgery?” Naya said. She found herself hugging the bear tight.

Dr. Kappel reached out and put a reassuring hand on Naya’s shoulder.

“We have options. For right now, I can schedule for you to receive spinal injections. Though painful and temporarily debilitating, they will give you enough of a respite to remain active and give us options. We can then consult and think about things like disc reshaping and bone grafts, but I must warn you that these are very invasive.”

“But if it can help me–”

Dr. Kappel gave Naya a serious look that chilled her suddenly.

She reached out and held Naya’s hand.

“I know from seeing you and reading about you that you are a fighter, Naya.”

Nodding her head, Naya couldn’t think of a verbal response to her sudden seriousness.

Dr. Kappel looked her directly in the eyes.

“Surgery can keep you walking. However, it would put you permanently out of the war. You would go through a very long recovery process that would involve a group home and regular therapy. Even if I succeed I doubt you would be able to run as you used to.”

Naya was surprised that she brought up the war.

“Am I going to be medically discharged?” She asked.

“I never said that.” Dr. Kappel said. She patted her on the shoulder. “I read your military file. That is why I’m telling you all of this right now. I want to give you a chance.”

Naya blinked, momentarily speechless. Her heart skipped a beat.

“So, Doctor, are you saying that if I just walk out of here–”

“You are gambling with your ability to recover from your condition. Naya, the more you fight, the more you will risk causing harm to yourself that will never repair. You must understand that. I need to be sure you understand the full depth of your options.”

Naya’s mind was racing as fast as her heart was thrashing.

“But I can fight? You will let me walk out and I can fight?”

“I’ll clear you for action. Spinal injections and painkillers can keep you going, for now.”

For a moment, Naya was silent. She wiped her tearful eyes and whimpered.

“But if I keep going–”

“You now understand what will happen.”

“It’s almost cruel how difficult this is, doctor.”

“I understand.”

Dr. Kappel nodded her head. She had a grim look on her face again.

She started to reminisce, as if both to Naya and herself.

“I was born in the Nocht Federation. I pioneered an amazing treatment that would have allowed many people to lead the life they desperately wanted. Because of the stigma against it, I was my only test subject. Soon it became impossible to mask the treatment’s efficacy.” She smiled again, but she looked bitter. “For my efforts, I was subjected to electroshocks and other abusive psychotherapy. When I started, I knew that I wanted to fight not just for my future, but for others. Even if it harmed me or killed me in the end.”

Naya knew what that felt like lately. Even if it broke her back, she made herself keep fighting all those weeks ago. Even when things felt the most hopeless, and when she had no idea whether she would or could succeed or change anything, she still climbed into the Raktapata and took action. She begged to be inside the machine, to be able to fight.

“So that’s why you’re not just forcing me to take the surgery.”

“I want you to take some time to decide what you want. When I came to this country, I wanted to become a doctor who gives people control of their life. Not somebody who creates an unhappy life for them based on my own prejudices. This is part of that. Especially with the current national situation. I don’t want to deny your convictions.”

It was an unbelievably heavy consideration for Naya. To forego surgery for the chance to fight, but perhaps give up recovery by the war’s end; or to surrender the Raktapata and her place in Vijaya for good, but lead something of a normal life by the end of the war.

If there was an end to the war; if after her retreat, her comrades managed to win.

Naya started to tear up again. For the first time, she thought ‘what am I?’ and it was not just a child’s aesthetic considerations, not just a dream for tomorrow. It was a heavy and troubling adult decision that would indelibly shape her. Could she be happy knowingly abandoning the battle? Could she be happy knowingly abandoning her health?

“Doctors are not supposed to do harm.” Dr. Kappel said. “But all the time, Doctors in Nocht did harm to me by treating me the way society expected me to be treated, and not how I felt I should. Naya, you’re the only one who can decide your future. It need not be now. I will schedule your injection. You will have time to think. Take that time.”

Naya stared at the doctor, tears flowing down her cheeks, her nose dripping.

She grinned, the same little shithead grin she gave for her joke about the toys.

“We should race sometime.” She said.

Dr. Kappel laughed. “We had such a heartfelt rapport, and now you want to bully me?”

“How bad were your times on the track, doctor?” Naya said, her voice choking up a bit.

“Oh dreadful. When I fled here I thought I could beat the fields like I did in college. My hormones must have ruined my running. But it was worth it to look as good as I do.”

She struck a little pose, sitting with one leg over the other and wearing a fox-like smile.

Naya clapped. “You look lovely.” The hormone stuff flew over her head.

“Thank you. For that, I’ll open up a spot for you this weekend.”

Dr. Kappel produced a clipboard and put Naya’s name down on it.

“Give yourself some time, Naya, before you decide permanently. As long as you can walk, you can still come back here.” Dr. Kappel said, handing her the clipboard. “It’s your future. Find a way to live it without regrets. I know you can do it. I did it myself.”

Naya took the clipboard and signed next to her name. She nodded, still weeping.

As she handed it back, and brushed the doctor’s gentle hand, she thought that Dr. Kappel was very strong. She was starting to feel the admiration that she saw in Leander’s face.

Previous Part || Next Part

Life In The Besieged City (74.1)

This scene contains alcohol abuse and mild sexual content.

24th of the Hazel’s Frost, 2030 D.C.E.

Ayvarta, Solstice City — Kuwba Oasis Resort

As the sun began to fall, and the sky turned red, the rings were exchanged.

It was not a massive ceremony nor a state ceremony. There was no roaring crowd, no band, no feast, no media. They had no diamond-studded rings and no bouquet to fling. Few people knew of the occasion; fewer attended. Kuwba was their silent witness.

Curtained off with bamboo dividers, the waterside was reserved for the brides and a handful of guests. Standing at the edge of the stone ring around the oasis, framed by the trees in the background, the women held hands and looked at each other fondly, close to tears with joy. Mayor Mazibe said some words, and linked the bride’s hands together, and then stepped aside for them to recite their vows. They were brief vows. Those women, who had fallen in love exiled to a deserted island for anti-goverment activities, knew each other’s vows by heart. They had already been living those vows for years.



They were dressed as bride and groom. Daksha in a sharp black suit, and Kremina in a silver-blue dress. Daksha wore her hair gathered up in a bun, while Kremina had a flowing ponytail ringed with flowers and covered by a lacy veil. Neither one looked her forties and fifties in this scene, in this attire. Both looked like young, romantic girls, openly weeping and trembling with emotion as they held hands and stared longingly at one another. Even before the Mayor started talking, and even after he stopped, the tears would not leave their faces, but neither would their smiles. Under the falling sun, they glowed with a sublime beauty. When they drew in to kiss, even their guests wept.

Parinita Maharani was weeping most loudly, sobbing, covering her mouth with a handkerchief to snort, her makeup starting to run a little around her eyes. She felt small, like a woman struck dumb by the sublime, belittled by a grandeur that shocked her to tears. She was standing in the shadows of giants and she felt completely unworthy.

Madiha Nakar was not weeping, but she admitted to herself that she was near to it. She felt almost nothing coherent at all. She did not have the greatest grasp on her emotions.

Daksha and Kremina broke their matrimonial kiss, held their hands up to each other’s faces, and kissed again. They put their foreheads together and sobbed and smiled. They were laughing, closer than anyone had ever seen them. There was a subdued applause.

“By the power invested in me by the office of the Solstice mayorship, I declare thee both joined in official matrimony!” shouted Mayor Mazibe, so excited by the whole ceremony that he completely mixed his secular, religious, ancient and modern speech together. Everyone was too busy with the bride and the suit-bride, to truly pay him attention.

After the declaration, Charvi Chadgura and Gulab Kajari raised rifles into the air and fired into the distance. They were dressed in matching suits, acting as designated wedding shooters. It was allowed by the resort — they fired toward the empty oasis.

All of it was merely traditional. For Ayvartans the ceremony was truly nothing so grand. It was no joining of a King and Queen. Only the dress and the people stood out.

Two women in love got to have a vulnerable, touching moment beneath a falling sun.

That was all they wanted, and by all accounts, it seemed as wonderful as they dreamed.

After a loving relationship of over 20 years, Admiral Kremina Qote and Premier Daksha Kansal were finally, officially married on the 24th of the Hazel’s Frost of 2030 D.C.E.

Madiha Nakar watched everything with muted emotion, not quite knowing how to behave appropriately or what to say that would be profound. She knew that everything was beautiful and happy, and she knew that she herself felt the swelling of emotion when the brides kissed, and she felt that she wanted something like this for herself.

But it was hard to communicate it in a way that didn’t seem trite, so she mostly kept to herself and Parinita, on the periphery of the ceremony, holding hands and trembling.

“I want a ceremony just like this.” Parinita said. “I want a cozy little venue by the water with a pretty background, a beautiful dress, and a funny little man as the notary.”

Madiha put on a little smile. “We should book this place today, so we’ll get it in a year.”

Anyone could book the hotel now, and so, it was booked very far ahead of time.

“We’ll do it.” Parinita said. Her eyes teared up again. “We’ll live and we’ll shine like this.”

She tightened her grip on Madiha’s hand and Madiha gripped tightly backed.

Their hearts were full of emotion that they could scarcely identify or handle.

Ayvarta, Solstice City — Kuwba Oasis Hotel

“Madiha Nakar! It’s been far too long.”

Kremina Qote extended a hand to Madiha and she shook it, and Kremina laughed in return. Madiha did not know why, and thought perhaps she made some kind of embarrassing etiquette blunder. Maybe she was supposed to kiss her hand?

“Don’t break my bride’s arm, please.” Daksha joked.

Madiha laughed a little herself then, and at her side, Parinita giggled with her.

“I remember when she was just a little courier girl.” Kremina said. “To think she would grow a head taller than me and nearly rip my arm off at my own wedding day.”

“She doesn’t know her own strength.” Parinita said, trying to play along.

“I didn’t pull that hard.” Madiha said, averting her gaze awkwardly.

Kremina patted her on the arm. “Just having fun! Come now, let’s have some drinks.”

Madiha turned to Parinita, who nodded pointedly.

“Come on, of course you’ll drink. It’s practically contractual.” Kremina said.

“Take her up on that or she’ll drink it all herself.” Daksha said. “I’d prefer her a bit sober.”

After the ceremony, Kremina and Daksha relocated to the resort’s Principal suite, their best accommodation, for a short honeymoon stay before resuming their duties. Madiha and Parinita were invited for a meeting before the two lovebirds secluded themselves.

It was a palatial establishment they were given: almost a whole floor of the hotel for themselves, with a kitchen, a hot bath, a game room with pool, darts and shuffleboard, and a bedroom that was passionately red, candle-lit and smelled of sweet incense.

They caught up with Daksha at the foyer, and she took them on a little tour while Kremina dug into the alcohol cabinet, as was her wont. They soon rendezvoused at the dining room, a cozy affair, small and square with the walls decorated with paintings of things like fruits baskets, wine bottles and whole hams. Kremina put out several different bottles of champagne, rice beers, sugarcane wine, and grape wine.

There was also a bit of a spread. Fresh, crunchy vegetables in little cups; small flatbreads; and various spiced dips like lentils, chickpeas, and chutneys.


Before anyone else even reached for a glass, Kremina downed a shot of sugarcane wine.

“You only live once!” She said, slamming the glass down on the table with a satisfied grin.

In no time, she was already pouring herself a second.

Regardless of her drinking manner, Kremina looked stunning at the head of the table. Her face was bright and immaculate, the lines from her eyes giving her a stately beauty that was as well aged as the drinks being served. Her ponytail, already silvery in the past, took well to growing grayer and the flowers around it were fresh. She was well made up, with blue eyeshadow and lipstick that suited her sleek, tidy blue dress. Her shoulders were free, her bust raised up by the bodice. It looked to Madiha as if made of a futuristic metal rather than cloth because the skirt was shiny and unruffled. Madiha was used to big dresses at the very few western-style weddings she had attended in her life.

“I know I can’t stop you, but I can try to empty the bottle before you.” Daksha said.

She seized the offending item from her bride’s hand, and drank directly from it.

“That’s unfair! Well, there’s always the rice beer.” Kremina said, popping a different cork.

Truly they seemed a couple made for one another.

Though Kremina was definitely a sublime beauty, Daksha was no slouch herself. She was reminiscent of her gangster days, sans her iconic fedora, now in Madiha’s possession. Her hair was turning grayer in places, but the gradient-like effect when collected into a bun was attractive; the little lines around her lips and eyes added a regal gallantry to her overall appearance. She wore just a touch of powder on her skin. Her wedding suit was well tailored, with a black coat that accentuated her shoulders, a buttoned vest that was loose enough for her chest but well fitted, and pants that made her legs look perfectly straight. Though she was not quite the wiry brawler that she had been in the past, the Premier was still dashing and handsome enough to match the beauty of her bride.

“Madiha, we have to put up a fight!” Parinita whispered to her.

She picked up the bottle of grape wine and poured Madiha a little glass.

“Social drinking is a contest of wills. We are representing our generation!”

Madiha did not understand the collective madness of the room. Despite this, she drank dispassionately, tipping the contents into her mouth and swallowing, hoping it would please everyone involved. Parinita stared at her critically, until Madiha extended her glass out as if to ask for another pour. This brought a prize-winning smile to her girlfriend’s face, quite a match for those on the giddy brides. She happily complied.

Though it was impossible for them to outshine a pair of experienced wives on their wedding day, Madiha and Parinita certainly tried their best. Madiha herself was wearing a suit, as she was known to do. Her hair, which had gotten long enough again, was tied up in a little ponytail. She had left her coat elsewhere and dressed down to her vest and shirt, which were rather plain, but she thought her height and stature and the gentle smoothness of her face lent her a good mix of boyish-girlish charm. Daksha’s fedora also helped a little to make her stand out. Parinita, however, was the bridal guests’ trump card, in a colorful, traditional Ayvartan garb. She was draped in a purple and gold sari over a matching dress, with a plunging neck and an open midriff. Her strawberry hair was flowing and decorated with flowers, and her gold makeup was immaculate.

There were numerous cheers around the table, and with each cheer, the girls drank.

“To health!”

“To sapphism!”

“To socialism!”

In appearance, as a relatively young couple Madiha and Parinita could hold their own, but it was quickly becoming clear they were amateurs at drinking. Madiha quickly developed a headache, and Parinita was drinking shamefully slowly, trying to mask that she was a lightweight. Meanwhile, between the two, Daksha and Kremina had nearly disposed of the rice beer and sugarcane wine, and taken notice of the snacks too.

“This is too hectic.” Madiha said. “I need water.”

Parinita drooped her head and put down the bottle. “I submit also. They’re too strong.”

“Like the…second act villain?” Madiha whimpered.

“If you’re going to steal my lines, you’ll need to do better.” Parinita said weakly.

Across from them, Daksha and Kremina were giggling, chatting half-sentences and interrupting each other, the alcohol clearly starting to unwind their brains.

“Ah, if only, if only, Anatoly, Anatoly right? He was the guy?” Kremina said.

“It wasn’t Anatoly. I killed Anatoly. He was a rat.” Daksha replied.

“Okay, not him. There was a guy. A guy who drank well, remember?”

“Kremina, we knew a lot of guys.” Daksha said.

“I wish Anatoly, was here. I’d drink him to shame, that rat. I’m invincible at drinking.”

“I told you it wasn’t Anatoly who did anything. You wouldn’t drink with Anatoly.”

“We knew a lot of guys, you say. None of them here at our wedding! How rude!”

Daksha looked at the floor for a second, shaking the bottle of wine, stirring the remnants.

“A lot of them– well, they can’t help it. A lot of them died. They can’t help it.”

Kremina held up a glass. It was empty. She put it to her lips like it was full.

“To the dead!”

Daksha, her head bowed still, lifted her bottle. “To the dead.” She said, much less eagerly.

“You know who was a good drinker? Lena Ulyanova. Fantastic drinker.”

“She was.”

“Such a tiny body, could hold so much alcohol. It was death-defying. I was still better.”

Daksha shook her head. “If Lena Ulyanova was, if she was–”

“‘scuse me?”

“I said if Lena Ulyanova was alive, things would be different.”

“Yes, they would be.” Kremina poured a shot, half on the table. “She wouldn’t be dead.”

“That would be big indeed. But I think she would know get people to do things right.”

“We’re doing things right. We got married finally. We stopped living in sin.”

“I mean, things of the state.” Daksha said. She held up a bottle. “To Lena!”

“To Lena!” Kremina drank her shot.

“Bah!” Daksha put the bottle down, and it toppled over on the table and would have spilled had any decent amount of liquid remained in it. “I’m a lousy cheerer, Kremina. Lousy at drinking, lousy at cheering, lousy at everything. Lena was a genius. I’m lousy.”

Kremina patted Daksha on the shoulder, and with amazing technique, managed to leverage the gesture into a grab, taking the back of her head and pulling her down into a kiss. It was very sloppy, given she was juggling a mouthful of beer as well as her wife’s tongue, but somehow Kremina managed it, and a shocked Daksha played well along.

When their lips parted, Kremina put her forehead to Daksha’s chest.

“You don’t have to be a genius. I don’t want a genius! I want someone like me who understands being trampled and overlooked. I think the people, they want someone like that too. I think these kids need that too.” She turned to look at Parinita and Madiha.

Groggily, the two girls had been watching the exchange, without input.

At the mention of them, they snapped to attention.

“All the geniuses went and died in their lofty dreams. We’re normal people who are making a world for us. That’s our job now. And we’re doing it well.” Kremina said.

Daksha rested her own head against that of her wife. “I hope you’re right.”

They held each other there, weeping lightly, for seemingly as long as they had drank and rambled before. Madiha and Parinita did not know what to say. So they said nothing.

“To the kids!” Kremina let out an anguished cheer, launching her glass overhead.

Everyone scurried for cover. Everyone agreed to stop drinking after that.

Madiha and Parinita left the table less drunk than the brides, but also less confident.

On the foyer there was an old matchlock rifle hung up on the wall.

Madiha had to train with one of those so-called classics in the Academy, for purposes of procession duty. She despised it. Temperamental, slow-firing. Powder was easily ruined, the bullets were old and deformed and sometimes the barrel interior deformed too.

“I know you hate everything old, because your head’s poisoned by efficiency.”

Daksha stood beside Madiha and stared up at the rifle on the wall.

Parinita had gone to look after Kremina, who was, for what she claimed was the first time in her life, taking her drinking poorly and laid up in bed. Madiha wondered if it was time to consider the wedding ruined and perhaps plan a makeup, but she did not voice her concern. She had walked idly around the suite, trying to shake off the alcohol in her own head, when she was taken in by the curious token in the foyer. Then Daksha had caught up. They had been wanting to speak for a long time, Madiha knew this, she knew this desire was shared. However, there had been no good opportunity until now.

“Well, we have better rifles now.” Madiha said. “We could use those for procession.”

“These are historic. They remind us of something.” Daksha said.

“They remind me of how poor these old rifles were.”

“You can be such a child sometimes.” Daksha laughed.

“What is the message supposed to be then?”

Daksha looked up at the rifle with a weary expression.

“For the Empire, these rifles represented pride. For us, they represent sin. You wield those rifles in procession to remind you to be respectful of the tools your predecessors used to commit evil. You toil with them so you understand that even with those weapons they slaughtered countless people, and that you must not just look at it as a mere tool.”

Madiha averted her gaze. She already thought of that quite often.

She just did not think of it during procession at school.

“We should consider a lecture element to procession then.” She said demurely.

“We should.” Daksha sighed.

She contemplated the rifle and crossed her arms, and began her own impromptu lecture.

“That style of rifle was imported by the Ayvartan Empire from the Elves. The Empire claimed all of the territorial Ayvartan continent for itself, including the south, like Adjar, Cissea, and Mamlakha. But they didn’t have the power to back it up, until they exercised one strength that nation-states have over tribes and villages. They engaged in diplomacy with an equal nation, a nation that taught them armed conquest the likes of which the world had never seen before. And just as the Elves spread over Afarland, Borelia, Nort, Helvetia, Mauricia, and so on, the ethnic Arjun of Solstice spread across Ayvarta.”

She referenced two historical ethnicities in Ayvarta. Down South, it used to be the Umma, and in the North, it used to be the Arjun. It was different now. There were all kinds of people everywhere. There was a third catch-all category, created for the Imperial census, called “Zungu,” people who were mixed with ‘white’ or ‘foreign’ people. There were various other ethnicities often unacknowledged. The Hudim, for example, who practiced their own unique religion and were considered an ethnic group; the Zigan nomads; various Barbar tribes in the desert; the Mamlakhs themselves, the Cisseans, and so on.

All of those peoples and territories were beyond the grasp of Solstice once again.

This time it was not an Arjun empire that conquered them, nor was it by their own hand that they were made separate from the rest of Ayvarta. It was the Nocht Federation.

“A lot was done to the Southern peoples, hundreds of years ago. Socialist Solstice has tried to make up for it here and there. We teach what we have of the Umma language, we incorporated it into the Socialist Language Standard. I named the KVW that way, a lot of the Unions, to pay homage to their language group as best as I can. And we also let the South practice self-governance as a bloc. A lot of things were overlooked that way, but it’s what the people wanted there. It’s the least we could do to make up for the past.”

Madiha found questions of ethnicity difficult to answer, but she understood, as one trying to make up for her own past, the need to fulfill those sorts of reparations. She did not hate anyone nor did she think she oppressed anyone for their ethnicity and as a good socialist she tried to be conscious of all kinds of social positions and relations, such as those of class and race and sex. But she remembered Mansa; she hated him completely, and she despised the things that he stood for, and all that he did to her and to Ayvarta.

However, the growth of his power independent of Solstice made sense when one considered the history of ethnicities in Ayvarta. His people looked up to him as a strongman who wielded Umma power in a majority Arjun world. They loved him because he positioned himself against an Arjun orthodoxy that was seen as ineffective and untrustworthy. Even if it had been the Ayvartan Empire who committed the sin in the first place, Solstice in general was tainted by it, and Solstice’s socialist project, as the successor state, had to be the one to make amends. Perhaps they didn’t do enough.

It was all such a mess.

“I really don’t know what to say that.” Madiha finally admitted.

Daksha cracked a little smile.

“I guess it’s unfair for me to act like we’re both complicit. I’ve always thought of you as an Arjun because of your physical appearance. But I honestly can’t know. And at any rate, it isn’t your place to do anything about it. I was the one who was supposed to save everybody from the tyranny of the Empire. I feel like I ended up failing at that.” She said.

The tyranny of the Empire, she said–

It jogged Madiha’s memory. She thought of how her birth was something of a mystery.

And Mansa, too, being on her mind at the same time–

“I am really sorry for everything Madiha.” Daksha said. “We used you. I struggle every day thinking of the backs we built this country on. You were just a child, and I ask myself, is all of this really worth all the desperate measures that I took to build it–”

Quite suddenly, Madiha turned to face Daksha with serious eyes.

“Am I Empress Ayvarta II, Daksha?”

She almost expected to be shot at that moment, in some dark, lurid corner of her mind. Certainly it was a shocking question to ask, and at such a moment too. At least it allowed her to dodge thinking about the question of ethnicities, which was always fearful and puzzling. And it had been on her mind for far too long now, her status. She had been afraid since hearing the insinuations from the villains she came across in Rangda, and since remembering her role in the chaos of the Revolution. She had been afraid that if she was actually some long lost noble child, she was undermining socialism by living.

So, thinking all of that, she expected Daksha to dispose of her, to end the royal line.

Instead, Daksha grinned and shook her head. She looked like she had tears in her eyes.

“On the census, you keep putting down Madiha Nakar every few years. If you want to change your name, you can do it without saying scandalous shit like that.” Daksha said.

She smiled, but there was indeed a glistening of tears she was fighting off.

Madiha chuckled. “I guess you’re unbothered by the whole thing, huh?”

“Did you expect differently? Madiha, I think of you like a daughter. I don’t know where you really came from and I never checked. To me, that doesn’t matter. Didn’t we want to erase class, sex, ethnic discrimination and all of that? Isn’t that socialism? Hell I don’t know my own ethnicity really. I was born in the South. I might be some quarter Umma or something, who cares? I never had the privilege of my ethnicity but I identify as an Arjun to make amends to people who were far more oppressed than me for far longer.”

Daksha turned to her and put both hands on her shoulders, looking into her eyes.

“You’re what you decide to make of yourself. No matter who your parents were. Even if you end up being the long lost Empress, you killed your father. There’s no Empire now. On the census, I could put Umma or Arjun. I decided which and why. You can too.”

Madiha nodded her head solemnly. There was a lot on her mind still. This was not such a liberatory thing to be told. After all, even knowing all of this, and being given a choice, she still did not know what she truly wanted to become or what she could become at all. She just knew what she was good at, and what she was interested (or obsessed with).

She supposed that she had no choice right now but to fight this war.

So she could defer thinking about everything else when there was peace.

“At any rate, why am I being so gloomy on my wedding day?”

Daksha shook her head and picked up the matchlock from its place of honor.

“You know how to use this, of course.”

Madiha nodded. She could use any weapon by touching it. Ever since she was a child.

“Lets have a little contest then.” Daksha said.

Under the matchlock there had been a stack of plates, and a pair of boxes.

One contained charges, the other contained balls. It was a shooting kit.

“I never miss.” Madiha said apologetically. “So, I cannot lose.”

“Bah, don’t be so full of yourself.” Daksha replied. “If I can’t win, I’ll tie you.”

Madiha laughed.

“It would be a moral victory.” She said.

“It will be!” Daksha corrected her.

They went to the roof and twenty plates later, Madiha handily won.

She was not even able to throw the game for the bride’s sake.

Madiha was just not capable of throwing games.

“I’m truly growing old. My youth has absolutely left me. I’m decrepit — a crone!”

Kremina Qote bemoaned her misfortunes in the grand bedroom arrayed for her and Daksha’s honeymoon night. Dressed in full wedding regalia, she lay against the pillows with a hand over her face, tossing and turning, the blood drained from her face. She had drank too much and it made her sick. She claimed this was an unnatural occasion, an ill omen. Parinita did not know that she and Daksha had met because Kremina had fallen dead drunk and essentially got them captured by the Imperial police. She believed in Kremina’s fierce drinking reputation and told herself it was a pity that everyone aged.

“Here, drink this. Drink all of it, Mrs. Kansal. Even if you dislike the taste.”

Parinita came back from the kitchen with a mug of honey-ginger tea and a big piece of salty breaded paneer, fried quickly in ghee. She dropped the cheese plate on the dresser beside the bed, and handed Kremina the mug. “It’s a traditional cure. I vouch for it.”

Her patient moaned and protested, but eventually started drinking the tea.

“It’s awful! It’s got too much ginger!” Kremina said, recoiling from it.

“Trust me, my grandmother knew a dozen hangover cures, but this is what she did when she was hungover herself. That’s how you know it’s the real one.” Parinita said.

Kremina frowned, staring down into the mug. She took another belabored sip.

Parinita pulled a chair up to the side of the bed and sat down. She did not need to read Kremina’s aura to understand how badly the bride must have been feeling. She looked quite worse for wear. Parinita felt like saying ‘it wasn’t even that much alcohol’, but she was playing the role of the healer. Wounding her patient even further would be cruel.

“Ugh, what a way to start my honeymoon.”

Once more, Parinita’s more vicious side wished to retort with ‘you did this to yourself.’

Instead she said, “I come from a family of faith healers! You’re in good hands.”

“Well, it turns out I don’t have faith in healers!” Kremina moaned.

She took another drink of the mug and shut her eyes hard, and clenched her teeth.

For a moment Parinita felt like the bereaved heroine of some comedy flick, caring for her whining mother in the first act to establish a dysfunctional family relation and her drive to escape into a bawdy adventure. Then the hero would arrive and sweep her away.

Unfortunately for her, Madiha was in the other room, already arrived, and unhelpful.

Still, even her current attitude couldn’t mar Kremina’s newlywed radiance. Parinita was stuck by how majestic the two of them looked. This must have been such a massive relief for them, and such a long time coming. Surrounded by tragedy and with the weight of the nation on their shoulders, they finally found the opportunity and courage to make themselves eternal to one another. Their auras had been so brilliant at the wedding that Parinita cried, overwhelmed by their beauty. Truly it was the power of love at work.

It was almost like film. Perfectly shot and directed, beautifully acted. A real fantasy.

Parinita’s fantasy; not that seeing it in the flesh made it feel any more achievable.

After all, Kremina could look like an actress, but Parinita was always her boring old self.

Still, she was quite moved by the day’s events. She was smiling like a bashful little girl.

“Ma’am, I’ve been wanting to congratulate you personally. I was so moved by the ceremony. I really want to know how you two made it so special. There was something in the air, everything was charged with electricity! It was like film, it was perfect.”

In truth there was a part of Parinita that really wanted to have a girly talk session with someone like Kremina, an elegant, sapphic bride to a strong and constantly engaged woman. She wanted to compare notes, almost, to share experiences in loving women and being loved and having a relationship that could lead to a wedding. She had never been able to talk to her grandmother and certainly not to her mother, and the closest other confidant she’d ever had was Logia Minardo — a regrettable person for that role.

Kremina looked upon her with renewed interest and cocked a little grin.

“It’s all the resort, it’s very lovely. You should put in your reservation soon. It’s very popular, and they really only do weddings now that there’s no tourism.” She said.

Her piercing gaze put Parinita quite on edge.

“Well, I’m not getting married–” She said.

Kremina leaned forward with a conspiratorial expression on her face.

“Trust me, you two should not wait. There’s no sense in waiting.”

“Us two?”

Suddenly, Parinita remembered that she could have no such discussion with her.

Parinita and Madiha were not fully open with their relationship, mostly because it was scarcely a month old and they were in the military, and in the same unit. In fact, Madiha was technically Parinita’s boss, which made the whole thing look even worse to outside observation. While it was almost an open secret, people who suspected said nothing, and people who knew, like Logia Minardo, were on their side and not keen to expose them.

So it behooved Parinita then to act dumb when Kremina pressed her.

Though the Admiral and the Premier were like family to Madiha, Parinita did not know how strict they were on her. They might not see the relationship as fully appropriate.

Her own parents would have definitely tried to scare Madiha away!

So she thought, she had to keep this as hidden as she could from Madiha’s ‘parents.’

However, her beet-red face and awkward, averted gaze made everything too clear.

Kremina quickly tried to disabuse her of any fearful notions.

“I see right through the two of you.”

Parinita was so stunned she couldn’t think of what to say.

“Whatever do you mean–”

“Why would she invite you here? Madiha always goes to parties alone, if she goes.”

“She’s not that anti-social–”

“Madiha’s never had a lot of party-going friends. She’s a private sort of person.”

Parinita briefly choked up. “Well– how do you know she–”

Kremina raised a finger to Parinita’s lips, quieting her.

“I know she’s a sapphist. She had a girlfriend before. Perhaps she has another.”

Parinita mumbled nervously. “She has friends, we’re just very good friends–”

She found herself denying everything out of impulse.

Meanwhile, Kremina seemed to be living this moment to its fullest.

“Hey, why don’t you two stay the night? There’s a guest bedroom.”

Kremina rapidly changing the subject threw Parinita entirely off-course.

Staying the night with Madiha in this gorgeous hotel full of silks and wines and candles, in a relatively private room all the way across from the brides, where nobody would bother them. An entire night just to themselves in the most sinfully lavish luxury–

Parinita blinked, quivering. “Why of course, we can’t turn down such generosity–”

“You’ll share one bed, you know. It’s only got one bed.”

Parinita started to shake, and clenched her fingers on her skirts, her face red hot.

“I suppose it can’t be helped–”

“We don’t really have a change of clothes either, so you’ll be a bit exposed.”

Parinita fanned herself. “We’re both girls, it’s okay–”

“Why it’s like your very own honeymoon night, if you were like that of course.”

“It really isn’t–”

“Just you and her, one bed, nothing but robes, warm incense, anything could happen.”

Now she was truly the heroine in a bawdy romance comedy, exposed to the audience in a moment of pure farce. Defeated, revealed to be impure, and laughed at by all.

“You win.” Parinita was shaking with embarrassment at the salacious thought of taking Madiha bedding her in the brides’ guest room. “Are you teasing me or really offering?”

She raised her hands to her face, wearing a crooked, demonic smile.

Kremina reached out and played with one of Parinita’s long locks of strawberry hair.

“Madiha is very lucky! You’re pretty, funny, and passionate.”

Parinita wanted to sink into the earth, but could not truly deny any of that.

At least the latter part of it. She almost thought Kremina would say perverted.

“Oh come on, why are you shaking so much?” Kremina said. “You don’t have to be afraid of me. Daksha and I are both in the military too and nobody will object to it. You should probably keep the secret from your subordinates, in an official capacity, so that you set a good example for them. But you don’t have to keep it from me. I do want to help you.”

She reached into the drawer on the bedside dresser, and produced a key.

“Help yourself.”

She flicked the key over to Parinita. Then she picked up the paneer and took a bite.

“Now this is good stuff. This tea tastes like motor oil, but paneer can’t be done wrong.”

Parinita smiled and faked a little curtsy. “Even someone as useless as me can do it.”

She pocketed the key and felt a little cloud starting to loom over her head.

She felt ridiculous and inadequate. It had all been in good fun for the brides, the drinking and the teasing, but Parinita, she thought if any of it had been serious, then yes, she would not have kept up. She was a bad drinker, a bad liar, a foolhardy girlfriend. She looked fine in a dress, maybe a touch too chubby to really pull it off, but that was it.

“Why are you all gloomy now?” Kremina asked through a mouthful of cheese.

Parinita took a deep breath. “Madiha isn’t lucky, I’m lucky she pays me any attention.”

“What’s this all about?” Kremina asked. “Are you feeling well? Do you want tea?”

She swallowed her cheese and tried to push the mug of tea back to Parinita.

“It’s just difficult standing among titans sometimes. I feel unworthy.”

Parinita pushed the mug back toward her with a sigh.

Kremina smiled warmly and laid back on the bed, looking up at the ceiling.

“And you think I don’t? I’ve never been half the woman Daksha was.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Weren’t you listening when we were all drinking? We shared some wisdom then.”

Had she known Kremina possessed similar insecurities, Parinita would’ve said nothing.

“I’m being gloomy on your wedding day, it really isn’t right.” Parinita said.

“Weddings are beautiful and cheerful, but they are also gloomy too. Thinking about the future is gloomy. And after all the glitz and glamour, you wake up in bed with another person and you have to think about your life together, about all the rest of your life.”

Kremina sighed deeply, but then she sat back up, and she took Parinita’s hand.

“Listen, how you feel about yourself doesn’t reflect how your lover feels. She loves you. To you, she’s your Madiha and you’re her Parinita, and that’s what matters. I should know. I’m a mediocre Admiral who is now married to one of the most powerful women in the world. And Daksha thinks she’s mediocre and foolish and all that too. I make her feel different. She makes me feel different. I bet Madiha thinks that you are wonderful and she is a slug. I bet she doesn’t understand why a beautiful woman looks at her at all.”

Kremina caressed Parinita’s cheek and put on a warm, motherly smile for her.

Parinita smiled a little back. Under that smile, however, she was still worried. These were words that were easy to hear and be comforted by now, but to truly believe them, to deprogram years of living as someone who had to make herself verifiably ‘valuable’ to others in order to live with herself. It felt like fooling herself, like living a terrible lie.

She loved Madiha with all her heart. From that fateful day, when the war started, it was almost like insanity. All the world went insane and she went insane also, and she came to obsessively love a warrior with the world’s strongest, strictest, most insane sense of justice. Someone who stared madness in the face and made miracles happen, not for herself, but for those around her who couldn’t. She grew close to her and discovered her vulnerable side, her charming side, the little moments of sarcasm and levity that could be extracted from her, and the naive wonder with which she beheld certain things.

She grew to love her even more, to want to know everything about her, to want to know her as a person and not an idol, and to want to be by her side forever to see the world that her dark eyes envisioned. She wanted to quell the fire that was killing Madiha from the inside; to save her. But in the back of her head, she told herself, ‘I must get stronger for her, I must be useful to her.’ She could not live in Madiha’s world without strength.

Because she loved Madiha and wanted to remain at her side, to see the justice in those fiery eyes and to love the tender shadow cast by that pyre, she had to reach her level.

Perhaps, instead of being gloomy, she could at least try to be determined instead.

“Thank you, ma’am. I’ll take your words to heart.” She said.

It was a sincere as she could sound then.

Kremina laid back on the bed and put a handkerchief over her face.

“Good. Just remember three things. Let her win sometimes; pretend she’s in the right sometimes; and let her be on top if she wants to. That’s my time-tested wife advise.”

Parinita’s hand clutched the little key Kremina gave her, and she averted her gaze again.

“I’m going to do my best too. Even if I’m drunk and sick, this is my honeymoon.”

Kremina put the mug on the dresser.

“But I’m not drinking that. I’m sorry.”

Parinita giggled.

“What if I told you the tea is what has made you so lucid these past few minutes?”

She hoped to get one over on Kremina at least once.

Kremina shook her head. “Fine. I’ll let you have this one.”

She reached over the dresser and took the mug back with a heavy sigh.

Previous Part || Next Part

Election Year (73.4)

This scene contains racism, graphic violence and death.

44th of the Postill’s Dew, 2031 D.C.E

Federation of Northern States, Republic of Rhinea — Eiserne

Fruehauf fell in an unforgiving cold alleyway, and jarringly, without transition, she woke in a shabby couch in a room furnished with little else besides, the fireplace dangerously close. She feared she was being thrown in and burned, disposed of like the hated thing that she was, and panicked, and fell from the couch and squirmed uncontrolalbly.

Two figures approached her suddenly and touched her and spoke soundless words.

Fruehauf struggled against them. Her senses had not fully returned.

Her vision wavered, and when it set, and the blaring tinnitus in her ears gradually settled, she could see and hear a dark-skinned, dark-haired woman and another. She focused on the first, an object of a dreadful fear, and she panicked and pushed her away and bashed herself against the couch trying to escape without standing from the ground.

Finally another woman, blond-haired, blue-eyed, seized her and forced her still.

“Come to your senses!” She shouted in Fruehauf’s face.

Freuhauf stopped struggling, and her eyes filled with tears, and she gasped for breath.

Over the course of several minutes Fruehauf slowly came to. She averted her gaze from the Ayvartan woman and from the Nochtish woman who clearly understood and resented the way she treated the former. Fruehauf felt deplorable but steeped in that and did not allow herself to mutter any apologies. She well and truly wished she would just be discarded instead of afforded fake kindness, and so she became more forceful.

“Just give me a ride to the Hotel Reich, if you want to help.” She mumbled.

“Who do you think you are? I’d throw you out on the street if it wouldn’t constitute murder at this point!” said the Nochtish woman. “Are you listening to this?”

She turned to the other woman, who shook her head and smiled weakly. “I’m not unused to this, don’t worry. I think she’s just disoriented. Aren’t the soldiers all supposed to come tomorrow? If she’s here this early there must be some other reason isn’t there?”

“I’m not going out of my way to make it my business for this ingrate.”

Fruehauf felt bitter but she didn’t allow herself to indulge in any insults either.

“I’m from the unlucky 13th. Everyone hates my unit so we’re here early, so that there won’t have to be a walk of shame in the middle of the festivities.” Fruehauf said.

Though the Ayvartan woman did not understand the reference, the blond understood.

“The 13th Panzer? I guess that makes sense. It’s awful cruel, but it makes sense.”

She seemed to ease off Fruehauf at that point and Fruehauf hated her pity.

“If you won’t murder me then just drive me to the hotel. I don’t want to stay here.”

Both of the women were wearing robes over short gowns, and Fruehauf allowed herself the scandalous thought that they were cohabitating sapphics, a concept at once both well known and widespread and damned as a taboo. Since she didn’t know their names, or where she was, and was unlikely to be given either, so she guessed there wasn’t any danger in them meeting her like this. She couldn’t report anything even if she suspected, not that she would at any rate, no matter how bitter. Or maybe they were just that bold.

Not that she was going to report them; what good would it do for her? She was as bad.

“Fine, I’ll drive you there if it’ll get you out of my hair.” said the blond.

“Okay.” Fruehauf said. She sounded so bratty, and she hated it. But she couldn’t help it.

“Please take it easy ma’am,” said the Ayvartan woman.

Fruehauf didn’t even look at her. She was too gentle and Fruehauf hated that also.

Federation of Northern States, Republic of Rhinea — Hotel Reich

“Ma’am, this may be our only chance for a long time.”

Across the street from the Hotel Reich, among many cars packing the side of the road, there was a long, sleek black limousine with tinted windows. Though this vehicle served quite a life as a government vehicle, on this night its government markings, on its rear window and along the sides, had been covered by black strips of adhesive tape as a shoddy disguise. The limousine was lightly crewed: there were only two passengers and a driver. The VIP, a voluptuous blond woman in a black mink coat and a veiled hat, sat in the middle seat away from the windows. Across from her was an assistant in a skirt suit.

“Ma’am, I’ll go. I’m sure he’ll understand and acquiesce to a meeting.” said the assistant.

She was a young girl, unremarkable save for her devotion.

The VIP frowned, her lush red lips almost shining through the veil.

Even covered up, she was too easy to spot. Everyone was already always looking for her in a crowd. She was too big, too popular, too beautiful. Her life was not hers to hide now.

“This is stupid.” said the VIP. “What can I do, even with his help?”

“We can find dirt. We can sabotage Lehner.”

The VIP laughed bitterly. “Here I am, ‘sabotaging’ the father of my child.”

“I understand you’re anxious ma’am, but the way he behaves, the way he treats you! It’s horrible, it’s scandalous. I detest it. I agreed with you before, when you said you wanted to get revenge. Ma’am, you deserve revenge on him. He doesn’t deserve what he as.”

Agatha Lehner wondered if she’d hooked another girl with her charms, without even wanting to. Kind of like with Cecilia– would she leave too? But Cecilia hadn’t been unwanted. She could delude herself as much as she wanted. But she loved Cecilia. Perhaps this girl who had admired her for long, had grown to feel that way too.

What was with the women of this nation and their repressed, hopeless emotions?

Agatha wanted to shout. But she was so exhausted by everything.

“Go.” She said finally. “He’ll think it’s a trick. He won’t ally with us. But go.”

Nodding, the assistant left the limousine without even taking her coat.

Agatha reached out to her reflexively. Whether she wanted to warn her to take her coat, or to grab her and kiss her out of wanting a woman to kiss; she wasn’t certain which would have happened. Neither did. So quick was her assistant, so precise, that she was crossing the street before any more could be said. But not before Agatha could miss her.

Outside, the wind was picking up and driving the snow so that it seemed to fall in arcs, like the fire of a howitzer. They had a full blown blizzard on their hands, but there were still people out and loitering, because the event at the Reich was just that grand. Agatha’s young assistant squeezed between the cars and moved toward the crowd at the doors.

She bumped into a man, and was barely able to say she was sorry before darting on.

Pushing her way through a crowd apparently growing denser, she found, in the lobby of the Reich, that Bertholdt Stein was preparing to leave. His entourage surrounding him, and cameras and microphones ensnaring them, they moved meter by meter to the doors.  Reporters hurled questions at him from every which way, flashed him without a second’s hesitation, encircled him from all sides for his image and his words.

At this sight, the assistant panicked. She was too late.

This was not a case of a woman in a professional capacity who feared failing her boss in a task that could have granted her promotion. She would have stopped and give up if so. However this young woman had a sense of empathy toward a fellow woman, perhaps deeper than empathy, and she was smitten with justice and the belief she could carry it out. Bertholdt Stein was certainly privy to the gossip, to the slow humiliation of Agatha Lehner, her disappearance from banquets, her husband’s meetings with other women.

Surely Stein, if he was a real man, would at least agree to a meeting. To listen to her.

Fueled by this irrational desire, the assistant hurled herself through the crowd.

“Herr Stein!” She cried out. “Please sir! I need to talk with you.”

She burst through, found herself directly in front of the man and bowed her head.

Shocked, Stein and his entourage paused to take stock. The crowd pulled back a little.

All of those eyes were on her, and she could scarcely do more than stare and stammer.

It was only when the gunshots rang that she was able to get out another word.

Actions, once undertaken, cannot ever be fully recovered or undone.

In every decision there is the tragedy of the effect caused and the context lost.

Were it possible to step backward through the dimension of Time and arrive at any moment, one would still possess no means to change the future, but merely to create a new and different future through new and different actions. Were it possible to return to a moment in time, one would still fail to understand the fullness of its context, for every detail from the breaths taken and the sights seen, are impossible to recreate as a whole.

Historians work with visions, dreaming into the past. Like dreams, there is a skeleton of the truth, but when one considers the magnitude of everything that encompasses humanity, one realizes how simplistic that which we see as total truly is. One never comes close to the true enormity of the past; one can only create a nonfiction of it. One can reproduce the facts that one has and inject prejudice into them; and call it truth.

Ponderous “what if’s” are viewed as unprofessional, but where there is time, every historian projects their own prejudices to the past and wonders, had the item that vexes them personally been removed from a scene, could life have turned out better then?

Since the 44th of the Postill’s Dew, many have wondered about the assassination of Bertholdt Stein, and what could possibly have been done to change its cruel reality.

Many men have picked one of the several meetings that Stein had after which he could have left the building peacefully and lived to fight another day. A popular prejudice, for those who know of it, is that the meeting with Alicia Kolt was valuable and necessary; beyond that, it is a product of the historian’s bias which of the various consultants, lawyers, men of faith, and other persons with no valuable words, could have been axed.

It was perhaps the final meeting that was most tragic and frivolous, most vexing.

Many men in their bias would judge the woman who held up Stein until he was shot.

They would have cruel words for her, because they would call her and the deep-seated feelings that she held, ‘irrelevant’, ‘pointless’, ‘frivolous’. They would wonder aloud if she was a plant, or if she was Bertholdt’s mistress, or a young woman he took advantage of who desired some satisfaction. She would be utterly picked apart by history, destroyed.

Her connection to Agatha Lehner was mercifully destroyed in the process as well.

After all, what control or influence could one woman really exert on another one.

At any rate, as soon as the guns went off, Agatha was driven away and disappeared.

She was never connected to the scene nor did she connect herself to it, out of fear.

A nameless assistant would take blows in death that no even the shooter himself did.

Niklas Todt knew he was sick, and he knew he was part of a society that was sick.

To a point, Todt flew close to the substance of things, but he kicked off of the planet he was orbiting and became a moon to the truth, never touching it, never colliding. He hovered around truth and made violent tides that disfigured its surface. Nothing more.

Todt believed Nocht was being eaten from within, and he correctly identified that his lot in life was impoverished, marginalized, steadily drained: but not by warmongers and industrial vultures and capital kings who hoarded the wealth literally bled from civilians and soldiers alike. Todt blamed the peace movement, those cowards who tried to steer them from glorious victory; he blamed the subhuman Ayvartans, the mongrel Lachy, the barbaric Loups, and other such peoples whose conspiracies undermined the livelihood of those he considered truly human; he blamed the leftists and intellectuals and elites, now a singular class, unified out of the distortions of his own brain, for undermining an idealized Nochtish culture through the moral degeneracy of their scarcely-read words.

In his mind, he was part of the most hated, harassed, censored group of men on Aer.

In Todt’s life, the singular moment that politicized him was the frog pin that he had received at an Achim Lehner rally, years ago. Political commentators called him and other Lehner voters “Frogs,” who croaked and bleated in tune with their master, who let Lehner think for them so they wouldn’t have to. They let Lehner talk to them about science and progress and a new age for Nocht, about a utopian Nochtish vision were men armed with the greatest intellects in the world, the highest technology, the most iron-clad moral clarity and strength and a perfect roadmap of ideas, would finally solve the problems of civilization and become immortal. Todt had never felt both so angry and so elated. He was part of something; there was finally a place he was not alienated from. He listened to Lehner along with his fellows, and he believed, and he psyched himself up. And yet, that place was ridiculed and besieged. Todt believed he had to fight for it now.

That was as much as his manifesto had to say.

Beyond that, his physical actions were known.

He took his brother’s gun and he made it to the Hotel Reich.

For a long time he was a heavily psychoanalyzed cadaver.

Scholars would interrogate him in absentia for ages.

It was vexing!

He must have known the ramifications of what he was about to do. That there was no way he could escape, no way he would be acknowledged as the hero he saw himself to be. No way his movement would not alienate him for their own sake. And yet, on this score, history would fail. They never truly saw what lurked inside Niklas Todt’s head.

He was a ghost, and he would haunt history and those who lived in it.

A grey Oder Olympus parked across the street, near a black limousine.

None of the people in either car knew how close or how distant they were then.

With a huff, a young woman charged out of the back of the Olympus and crossed.

“Good riddance!” shouted the driver.

In the next instant, there were gunshots from inside the Reich.

Immediately, the black limousine took off, so fast it almost hit the Olympus.

Shocked, Cecilia Foss and Ramja Biswa stepped out of the car and stared at the street around the Hotel Reich. People fled in a panic. A human mass emptied out.

Helga Fruehauf rushed inside out of some soldierly sense of justice.

Even she did not know what she was doing, but the sound of guns activated something in her. She charged through the doorway and found herself facing the back of a disheveled, wild-haired man shooting wildly with one-handed grip. He hit a woman in front of him twice, swung his arm, hit two men, and then he hit finally laid waste to his actual target. Bertholdt Stein got to say to nothing, not even to beg, not even to stop; he was struck in the stomach, and the recoil rode the other shots up, to the chest, to the neck twice.

Fruehauf threw herself forward, barely thinking.

She wrestled a surprised Todt to the ground.

They fumbled with the gun for what was an eternity to those trapped around them.

Fruehauf and Todt both had the insane strength of adrenaline on their side.

But Todt took control of the gun, because Fruehauf was herself, too sick, too drained.

Had she not been so mistreated for the past several months, had she not been on the razor’s edge of life and death even as she walked through that door. Then perhaps.

After all she suffered, she tragically could not withstand any more abuse.

Todt shot Fruehauf in the chest, and, wide-eyed, unbelieving of her situation, she fell.

As Fruehauf died, unremarked upon and unknown, Todt stood back up.

He turned the gun back on Bertholdt Stein and his entourage.

There was a resounding click. His magazine was empty.

That click, like a dog whistle, awakened something primal in the surrounding people.

Todt dropped the gun, and he was beset.

Dozens of people lunged for him, punched him, kicked him in a mob. He was brought to the ground, and beaten with furniture, beaten with the strong steel paperweights of the front desk, beaten with the hard snow boots of visiting guests, beaten with furniture. His face was smashed out of shape, his bones were crushed, his organs stamped to a pulp, he was beaten and beaten and beaten and beaten and beaten like his blood was for painting the floor. Men and women, wealthy guests and poor hotel workers, all destroyed Todt.

His green frog pin turned red and black and seemed to be swallowed by his own flesh.

All of the pain of the human race seemed to be inflicted upon Todt in that one instant.

Everything else was forgotten. Many crucial details would just, be forgotten.

Everything but this aberration, this act of God against their fake peace.

Fruehauf was beyond the help of a hospital, and yet, nobody even offered.

Stein had been practically dead on the spot, losing both heart and artery.

“Oh my god!”

Ramja and Cecilia stepped through into the hotel, minutes after the final shot.

Fruehauf was dead on the floor, away from the mob taking revenge on Niklas Todt.

She was ringed in a tidy circle of blood, like a macabre piece of art.

Ramja covered her mouth in shock, tears bursting from her eyes.

Unlike her people in Ayvarta, she was still innocent and unknowing to bloody violence.

Cecilia grabbed hold of Ramja and tried to pull her away.

She was not innocent to violence; and therefore she could at least shield her partner.

She took her back home, where they wept, huddled together, breathed deeply.

Back home, where they lived. They would live. They were alive. Shocks could pass.

Though they had seen something sudden and shocking they were unprepared for, they could manage to live through it. Nobody was lucky; but they were luckier than some.

For everyone, it was over and one. In an instant, and without satisfaction.

Ambulances came with nobody to heal. Everyone who was hurt was hurt to death.

Police came with nobody to question. Everyone who could explain was too dead to do so.

It was messy, sudden, random, despicable and vexing. Vexing! Who could understand?

There was no moment of grandeur where every life touched by this connected to form a tapestry with meaning attached. There was nothing revelatory; everything was just swallowed in the silent trauma of moving on and forward every day in a sick society. Everyone felt helpless to do anything except hope there would be no more shocks.

If there was one historical angle that could be concrete in year 2031, it was the impact on the presidential race. And yet election analysts, wary of politicizing the incident or implicating the President, which would have been dangerous and unfair in their view, were brief and nearly silent on the matter of Stein, and the politics of the election year.

All that anyone knew was that the constant of the Solstice War was extended yet again.

Could the Solstice War have been ended by Bertholdt Stein in 2031-32 Nocht?

That would remain a question for the idle time of the historian, not for the profession.

Previous Part || Next Part

Election Year (73.3)

It is recommended to read the side-story Scornful Steel before reading this scene.

44th of the Postill’s Dew, 2031 D.C.E

Federation of Northern States, Republic of Rhinea — Hotel Reich

Well into the night, Union’s fundraiser and celebration continued with guest speakers, music, and more and more rounds of drinks. In the midst of all this, however, Bertholdt Stein was pulled off to the side by his campaign manager and carefully ushered out of the room. He waved at passersby and told everyone who asked that he would be right back down; but he had an important meeting and had to be prompt and discrete.

Stein took an elevator up to the ninth floor with his campaign manager and personal secretary in tow. From the elevator, there was one room to the left with a young woman standing in front of the door, and she led them inside and followed behind them. She was a rare sight. Messy black air, brown skin, and a round face, soft-featured, dressed in a black pants-suit with a red ascot and a silver pocket-watch chain. She was not very tall, but she was lean, tomboyish, and had tough-looking hands. He couldn’t tell if she was an Ayvartan or from Pelagos, because her dark eyes weren’t quite as angled as an islander’s.

“This way.” She said. Her Nochtish was almost impeccable.

Past the door, the room was modest for the Reich, with one bed, a bathroom, a desk and some chairs. It was fairly small, with room for one modest occupant. It was the sort of room that would be scandalous for these two women to share; though Stein didn’t judge.

“Thank you for joining us, Mr. Stein. Please have a seat. I apologize for the elbow-room.”

Stein sat on the edge of the bed, close to their hostess. His secretary and campaign manager took chairs at his request, while the door-woman stood behind everyone with a reserved expression. He was not someone who made any appearances for his class.

Sitting in one of the desk chairs, turned to face the door, was the woman Stein had come to meet. She was dressed extravagantly compared to her companion. Her silk blazer was patterned sky blue and gold, and her pants a light grey. She had golden hair tied into a conservative ponytail by way of a simple uncolored rubber band, and she wore a pair of thin spectacles perched on her gentle nose. Crystal-blue eyes gently appraised Stein. She was a beautiful woman; Stein thought the boyish suit was meant to dull that radiance.

“I am Alicia Kolt. I am enchanted to meet with all of you.” She reached out a hand and shook with Stein, his campaign manager and secretary. Her white-gloved hand was soft and slender, like the rest of her. She had a strong grip but did not dwell on it nor employ it frivolously. It was as if she was trying to hold their hands like someone held a tool during work. She sat with a perfect posture and spoke in a passionate voice. “I apologize for being scant in my communications, and I’m glad we could find the time to meet here. I want you to know I remain as committed as ever to invest in Union despite the personal difficulties I have encountered. Whether or not you accept my overtures, Mr. Stein.”

“I see no reason to decline them. Are there any?” Stein asked. He knew a little about the daughter of the Kolt family. She was a Kolt like Rescholdt-Kolt, the military-industrial machine behind a lot of Lehner’s military modernization. Formed from a partnership of two companies, Rescholdt Future Technologies and Kolt Engineering, the firm now collectively designed and implemented almost all the ground vehicles in the army.

Whether Alicia had any stake in the company or sway with it, that he did not know.

“Well, my close involvement with labor has come under some scrutiny.” She said.

“Unions are not poison to me.” Stein said. It was one of his slogans and it came out of him as naturally as the next one. “I was part of the biggest union in Nocht: our armed forces.”

Alicia seemed mildly amused by this. Stein thought he heard a groan from the back.

“Yes, but it’s different when your father is a major industrialist.” Alicia said. “And oh, I realize I’ve been very rude to my dear,” she paused for the briefest moment, “friend, and companion.” She gestured graciously to the woman behind them. “Marit Hale, she could be called a pioneering labor activist. She took part in the Pelagic strikes last year.”

Stein looked over his shoulder with a curious expression. “Marit Hale? Aren’t you the girl who stood in front of the tank on Iron Isle? Amazing. Your bravery is commendable.”

Marit adjusted her ascot nervously and averted her gaze. “Activist is a bit much. I really just help Alicia– Ms. Kolt out a little with getting folks moving and organized is all.”

“Hell, if that ain’t activism nothing is.” Stein said. “Don’t sell yourself short.”

Marit did not answer him, and kept staring at the wall, a little red in the face.

Alicia smiled. “Marit is indispensable to me. And after we met, I realized that as someone who shares a name with war profiteers, I couldn’t sit back and quietly inherit that sort of legacy. There’s Iron Isles everywhere, and people like Marit suffering. Your speeches caught my attention, and your recent popularity has given me a lot of hope.”

“I’m taking that Lehner down.” Stein said. There was an edge to his voice. “No question.”

Alicia nodded her head. “Mr. Stein, I hope you will be discrete with this information, but Marit and I helped organize the Plantation Strikes earlier this month. But our organizing efforts are nascent. After Iron Isle, everyone feels a little hopeless. With all that Marit suffered, and what I saw, we couldn’t let this go on, but it felt impossible to have an effect. But even though the fire in Iron Isle was quenched, it led to a loss of production equivalent to an entire Panzer Division, and that gave me hope for stopping this war.”

Stein felt a slight disagreement but he didn’t air it then. As a soldier of this nation, he felt that the best way to stop the war was electorally: by beating Lehner, getting in office, and striking a deal with the weakened Ayvarta that they would surely sign and bring the boys home. He didn’t completely agree with getting their weapons sabotaged. An uncharitable part of him wondered if Alicia and Marit had red in their hands. Had men died without those tanks? Did men starve as a ripple effect of things like the plantation strikes?

He did not say those things because it was not good politics. He was not running on an anti-war platform, he was running on an anti-Lehner platform. But anti-war folks were part of his big tent. Ayvartan citizens of Nocht were part of it. And labor was a huge part of it. Alicia and her vast Kolt coffers could also definitely be part of it. So he kept quiet.

“Marit helped me decide to fight.” Alicia said. Marit seemed to almost melt in the back of the room, so flustered she turned her back entirely on the meeting. “But all I had was more money than sense. The Plantation Strikes were clumsy, and people got hurt, but in the end we managed to get concessions out of the government. All of it helped me realize you need more than money and a willingness to help. You need an organization and acumen. That’s why we’re turning to you. Mr. Stein, if you convince me that you can be everything Achim Lehner is not, you can have everything that we’ve built so far.”

Alicia produced a folder from her desk and handed it to Stein. Inside were documents for a little firm called Horizon Mobilizations, which boasted of sizable accounts, numerous assets, and contacts for union machines in fifteen districts, including all those once involved in the Plantation Strikes, as well as an inventory of other useful contacts like lawyers, journalists, politicians, academicians and a few sympathetic industrialists.

That was more generous than any of his other single donors so far. Stein already had quite a few unions expressing tentative support, and he was sure if he kept saying what they liked to hear they would come into his camp loud and proud on election day. But if what she was saying was true, Alicia, and Marit, had credibility, and hands-on info.

He passed the folder to his campaign manager, who seemed a mixture of skeptical and impressed. Because it was his job to be skeptical, the fact that he was also impressed was a good sign to Stein. He returned the documents to Alicia and shook her hand too.

From behind them, Marit then approached the assembled guests and laid a suitcase down on the desk. She unlocked and opened it, briefly flashing numerous stacks of Mark bills that lined every centimeter of the case’s interior. Stein had barely been able to look at it before Marit turned it away with a cheeky expression, as if teasing them all.

“We can start with that, and then I can cover other expenses as needed.” Alicia said.

“You drive a hard bargain.” Stein laughed.

“How do you feel now, Mr. Stein?”

“I don’t like to decide things overnight, Ms. Kolt, but I would like to meet again, and to have our lawyers chat, and figure out how we can focus our efforts to seize the capitol.”

“Thank you Mr. Stein. If I may be an allowed an unreasonable request, I would like a few minutes of your time alone to speak one on one on a particularly sensitive subject.”

Stein’s campaign manager and secretary gave him a quizzical look. He smiled, amused by the invitation. He had come in with reservations, but Alicia seemed so formidable now that he couldn’t say no. For the kind of money she seemed ready to throw down, a five minute sit-down behind closed doors was nothing. He raised his hand and nodded, indicating his willingness to stay, and eagerness to get his staff out the door.

Once the room was clear of Stein’s entourage, Marit approached and handed Stein another folder, much like the last one. It was innocuous until opened. There were a lot of grainy of photographs, electrophoto copies of documents and schematics, and a few pictures of a tank and several complicated parts. Stein didn’t know what to make of it, and he felt uncomfortable thinking about what it could be and where it came from.

“Miss Kolt, could you explain what I’m looking at? What are your intentions here?”

Alicia smiled with just a little less energy than before. “Mister Stein, many of those documents concern a prototype tank under development at Rescholdt-Kolt, known as the M4PX Sentinel ‘Heavy-E’. Though the tank itself is mostly a normal Sentinel tank of the type my family’s company is now largely responsible for, the engine is notable.”

From the desk, Alicia withdrew an extendable pointer, and she picked through the documents from afar while Stein watched. She stopped on a diagram of the tank, and pointed at the rear, where the engine cover was. There were big grates over the engine, and in the diagram there were heat ripples drawn and marked ‘heavy ray escape’. There was a sleeve of something called Osmium installed in bands around the engine armor, inside and out, and ominously labeled ‘annihilation sphere regression sleeve.’

“It is powered by a fuel cell crafted from a material referred to variously as Quintite, Agarthite and recently Lehnerite. Mister Stein, this material is under heavy research and development by the Lehner administration, and its implications quite frighten me.”

She showed him photographs of the material and its acquisition. There were photos of people with low-pressure hoses, squirting water at cave walls that were then frozen with canisters of something else. Across several photographs he saw the process of cutting into the wall, freezing water around a chunk of stone, extracting the ice-encased ores and then melting it, metal, ice and all, to reveal an almost alien piece of material. It was a chunk of rock, clearly unrefined, but it appeared to be composed of perfect little cubes.

“There have been 18 deaths in the mining, processing and implementation of the experimental Agarthite cells that the government has covered up.” Alicia continued. “Mister Stein, you might inherit command of these processes next year if you win. Agarthite is extremely dangerous. I will support you only if you help me publicize the truth about Agarthite, and support a clear platform that unilaterally condemns its use.”

Stein was about to tell Alicia that he could not in good conscience leak information from the government if he intended to run in this race; he was already facing pressure from Liberty die-hards and extremists who called him a communist and a traitor just for wanting to end the Ayvartan war, or for running against Lehner at all. Lehner would absolutely bury him if he revealed this information. She must have acquired it through her Kolt connections. But just because the government had some leaks did not make it excusable to gather the water and dump it into the town well. This was serious stuff.

Then he turned a page by himself, and nearly jumped out of his seat with fright.

There were pictures of massive holes in the ground and in walls, perfectly smooth; of people with cube-pattern lacerations and wounds; people with strange lumps on their bodies; and corpses that could only barely be called human anymore in shape. Stein almost felt like he was staring at something anathema to reality. It hurt his brain to contemplate the shapes he was trying to perceive, and he turned away from it in pain.

“I don’t understand. Can this be real? How did you come upon this?” Stein said.

Alicia averted her gaze. “We Kolts have our ways, Mister Stein. Consider my proposal.”

Stein wanted dearly to forget he had seen anything about this, but beneath the campaign trail bluster, there really was something in him that wanted to see justice done. He was not entirely the man he sold himself as — nobody was — but he was enough of a man to follow his own convictions from time to time. He wanted to know more. He wanted someone to answer for what he’d seen and what Alicia claimed. Everything was too complicated for that moment on that night, and he was feeling terribly exhausted.

“Miss Kolt, we’ll talk. That’s all I can say right now. I must go.” Stein confessed.

Alicia smiled. “Thank you, Mister Stein. I hope you will come to the right decision.”

Marit Hale approached and took the folder from Stein. He gladly gave it up, as if he were handing her a hot coal. He was relieved to have it off his hands. It was thoroughly vile.

He composed himself quickly, putting everything out of his mind but the meetings ahead.

There was a lot more to do that night still, a few people to convince, speechifying to do.

Stein shook Alicia’s hand, exchanged some final pleasantries, complimented her servant’s sharpness, and trying not to think about ‘Agarthite’, he left the hotel room.

When he was well out of earshot, the two girls sighed gloomily.

“Don’t fret.” Alicia said.

“Ugh. Should we go also?” Marit asked, not letting the room settle too much.

Alicia was also quick to keep the energy going.

“Let’s stay and have a drink together. We have this nice room to all to ourselves. I’ve spent enough time in conferences. Let’s just lie down together for the night.”

“God, finally. I’d love that. I was starting to think I’d have to stare at these people gorging themselves all night and I’d never get to have anything. I’ll call room service.”

“Hey, you sound more excited for the food than me.”

Marit grinned at her. “You’re part of the food.”

“Oh my.”

And in that way they went about their business.

This would turn out to be a fateful decision for both of them.

Federation of Northern States, Republic of Rhinea — Junzien

The Hotel Reich hadn’t seen such a busy night in months. There was a crowd out front, people filing in and out. There was more street traffic in this blizzard than there had been in the most comfortable nights of the dawning Spring. There was a lot of energy. Everyone was talking about how Stein had come to challenge Lehner in his home town.

Whether they agreed or not, people of all social classes felt a strange excitement about the prospect even in the gloom brought about by the war and its uncertainties.

Niklas Todt watched the people come and go from an alley some distance away.

He stared at the Reich and he felt disgust and betrayal, a loss of something sacred.

All of those people, none of them knew. They thought they were smarter than him, but he read the right papers, listened to the right people. He knew what was really happening, and he felt sick to his stomach thinking about it. All of them thought they were smarter, they did, he knew it; he knew all the things they would say about him. But even a drop-out engineering student was smarter than the rabble. And he knew things damn it!

Years ago he’d turned out for Lehner with his frog pin proudly on his chest, to that very Hotel, the Reich. And it felt like those lights had been made for him. It made him special.

He wore that pin now as he would have a battle flag. There were traitors, conspiracies, foul demonic things happening. There were kids! Kids were involved! It was degeneracy, pure degeneracy, all of it, and he was sick, and he had to do something. Because he knew.

He read the right papers; not the fake ones! He listened to the people who didn’t lie.

It felt heavy against his chest, against his coat. His heart, but something else too.

Todt was angry, but his expression was blank. He steeled himself for what he would do.

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The following scene is purely optional fanservice and it contains graphic sexual content inappropriate for minors.

Federation of Northern States, Republic of Rhinea — Junzien, Eisern

Hot embers crackled in the furnace and by their light two dancing shadows cast upon the wall of the apartment. A bedframe creaked under the weight of the women and their passion. Shirts tore open, brassieres flew across the room. There was giggling, gasping, grasping, and the sound of a sucking kisses on lips, on necks, on breasts and bellies.

Cecilia Foss came out on top. She always seemed to.

“Had enough teasing?”

Ramja smiled as Cecilia’s hands squeezed her breasts tight for an instant. Cecilia kept her nails trimmed but she still felt a bit of a bite on her flesh and she loved it. She breathed out a little moan as her girlfriend released her, scratching against her nipples as she did.

A teasing finger trailed down Ramja’s belly; Cecilia’s other hand reached behind herself.

Ramja’s hands settled on Cecilia’s buttocks.

Cecilia grabbed hold and squeezed them, gently at first and then commandingly.

“Now, now, just relax.”

Cecilia pried Ramja’s fingers off, then took hold of something else; the teasing was over.

Ramja fell back and squirmed, stretching her legs, curling her toes, sucking in her lips with a ravenous pleasure. She was slick with sweat, moist in other places; she was warmed on that frozen night less by the furnace fire and more by the fire raging in her.

“Ah– Sissy–!”

Her whole body shuddered as Cecilia touched her, her soft, warm fingers expertly seizing her where she most desired. No nails this time. Cecilia pulled with the smooth print of her fingers and pressed with the length, playing Ramja like an instrument.

In the midst of her ecstasy Ramja’s vision wavered. She smiled through rough breaths.

Atop her, Cecilia sat upright, framed naked in the firelight like a goddess. Golden hair, perfectly red lips that left their mark all over Ramja, pleasant curves. It was like a dream.

Ramja reached clumsily for a handful of her lover’s breasts.

She was pushed back against the bed in response, and she stayed back.

Cecilia dipped her head down; Ramja threw hers back, and arched herself, clawing the bed as she felt her lover’s hungry kiss on her clit. Cecilia squeezed Ramja’s soft thighs, her fingers biting against them for grip while her tongue plunged hungrily between.

Ramja gasped.

“I– I love–!”

Her chest rose and fell in a sharp and irregular rhythm along with her hips. Her speech devolved into short, primal gasps in both languages that she knew. Cecilia laughed gently, briefly pausing in her ministrations. Prodding Ramja where sensitive, she said,

“I love you too.”

Cecilia stared at her lover briefly, and then turned her eyes down once more.

There was no other way she would have described it: Ramja was devoured then.

She reached down to hold her girlfriend’s bobbing head and fierce, scalding gasp left her lips. Cecilia held her legs tight as her lips locked over every fold between and seized her.

Ramja’s body tensed up and in the next instant she melted back into bed.

Her breasts rose and fell with sharp, balmy breaths. She felt a little dizzy.

Cecilia climbed on top of her with a cheeky grin and kissed her.

“How are you feeling?” She said. Breath as hot as a sauna blew over Ramja’s face.

Ramja smiled and wrapped her arms around Cecilia, pulling her close.

“I want to give back.” She said.

Cecilia averted her gaze, looking embarrassed. “You don’t have to.”

“I want to.”

“You sure? You look tired. I’m fine with leaving things this way.”

“You don’t want it?”

“I didn’t say that.”

Cecilia then dropped off to Ramja’s side, laying expectantly on her back.

“It’s just my aesthetic, you know. I’m supposed to be the playboy.”

“Oh, be quiet.”

Though nowhere near as experienced nor as elegant in her movements, Ramja obliged Cecilia’s silent desire to have her girlfriend reciprocate her. It was a desire that, for her own gimmicks, she never communicated except through innuendo, but Ramja got it.

Cecilia was far quieter during sex than Ramja was. She kept a cool face and a placid smile as Ramja’s fingers slipped into her lingerie and toyed with her. She never broke eye contact so long as Ramja was looking, and no matter how feverishly Ramja stroked and kneaded her folds. It was almost like a challenge, but Ramja was unfazed. The way her legs curled, the way her fingers opened and closed against her bedsheets, and how her hips swung, all of it was far subtler than it was for Ramja, but it was there. When Ramja touched her, she felt just the tiniest shudders, the briefest little gasps of her body.

After getting her worked up enough, Ramja’s hand pulled the lingerie right off her.

The first little loss of composure was a tiny, gleeful wince when her thong peeled off.

Ramja kneeled but continued staring up at her lover. Cecilia never broke eye contact.

That was perhaps the hottest part of it for Ramja.

There was such an intensity in her gaze!

Her eyes smoldered even as her skin shuddered and her hips bucked.

She was expectant, and Ramja was eager to deliver.

When Ramja’s lips closed over her clit it provoked just a bit more drama.

There were only so many things that a thrown-back head and a bitten lip could mean.

But even her collapse back onto the bed, her writhing satisfaction, was so elegant.

Ramja felt almost jealous of it. But she craved that look on her face.

Cecilia never said things during sex, but Ramja felt everything she needed to.

She was not as good as Cecilia, but she enjoyed the look on her face when she came.

A mixture of a grin, laughing haughtily, but straining for composure under orgasm.

“Do you take constructive criticism?” Cecilia teased, gasping a little.

“Oh my god, shut up.”

Mutually satisfied, the two lovers curled up together in bed, Ramja on her side and Cecilia at her back, stroking her midsection and kissing her neck. Ramja giggled.

“I know I’m the best girl you’ve had, for a fact.” Ramja said.

Cecilia played dumb. “Huh? Why this all of a sudden?”

“With the way you are, you’re fine if anyone uses you. I bet you barely got any in return.”

Ramja twisted around, grabbing hold of Cecilia’s breasts and kissing her on the lips.

Cecilia gasped a little, surprised, and grumbled.

“There’s just something about you Ayvartans and your ability to expose our weaknesses.”

Ramja burst out laughing. “We’re stubborn, that’s for sure.”

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