Vulture (76.3)

1st Of The Postill’s Dew, 2031 D.C.E

. . .

At the turn of the new year, almost 90 days since the suspension of the Council near the start of the Solstice War, the SIVIRA of the Supreme High Command issued a statement regarding the end of military-influenced government in Ayvarta. Elections for a new high council based in Solstice were suddenly announced. There would be a two week campaign followed by two days of voting. Any communist party member or union officer could run for the Council, which would have 50 seats; military personnel could not run.

Everyone was caught quite off-guard by this announcement; it was initially stated that military rule would continue for months before special elections could be held, in order to bring stability to the nation and insure the process was safe and fair. There were all sorts of rumors for the sudden change of heart. There were more than a few hushed whispers about the health of the current supreme executive, Daksha Kansal. Gossip then turned to the investigations and purges around Mansa and his political bloc, and around the Central Bank of Solstice in addition, which had now been completed. All of these were parts of the truth, but missed the overall point: Solstice was near a breaking point.

Even with its most titanic efforts, it was clear that the social welfare infrastructure of Solstice was collapsing under the weight of the refugee crisis and the equipping of the armies. Civilian supply was in a state of shock, with food, tools, fuel and raw material rationing spiraling out of control due to the influx of war refugees and the near-collapse of the social workforce. And this second problem created many more: transportation had become disorganized, public infrastructure maintenance was falling behind its tidy norms. All of these problems had been expected to some degree, but their ultimate, dramatic effects were not properly understood; everyone had been too optimistic.

It was easy to diagnose the first problem. Having lost half its territory in a sudden, traumatizing shock after the Aster’s Gloom, the Socialist Dominances of Solstice had to completely change their supply lines. Jomba had to support more of the burden of feeding Solstice than it ever had. There was no fear of famine quite yet, but there would be lean times ahead for everyone. Chayatham overnight became Solstice’s main provider of raw materials, and the industry relocating to the eastern desert cities like Peshwar had to essentially start from scratch, practically rebuilding dozens of factories. All of this had ripple effects. Unions were waiting longer, for less materials, and had to “make do.”

There was a problem with a more immediate solution, and it was the second. That immediate solution, however, required its own monumental labor to implement.

Solstice was suffering from a staggering, screaming shortage of manpower in the civil workforce and especially in leadership positions. Part of it was the fault of the war and the war effort. Solstice’s first priority was to create new armies to defend Ayvarta. But riflemen were the least of the army’s worries. Rather, staff and rear service personnel were desperately needed, and so veterans of the social workforce were transferred to needed army roles. Clerks, doctors, teachers, archivists, and other assorted desk workers, particularly those with seniority, were politely asked or forcibly transferred to military jobs to cover the shortfall. Union leadership in manufacturing was untouched, but Civil Guards and other veteran police were tapped for NCO jobs in the army. And so it was said that the average age of the teaching staff in each school district fell to 22, and the average age of traffic control and guards fell to 20, and the average age of nurses to 18.

Though the SIVIRA’s military pragmatism was in part to blame, it was a fact that across almost every community posting and civilian office, there were already staffing issues. After the dissolution of the previous council, many elected offices were vacated either in protest or as a result of entrenched bureaucrats retiring or being forced to. Then the shock from the Rangdan revolt caused a round of investigations that led to further purges. Taking into account the army sucking up valuable manpower and then the government purging incompetence and negligence from its ranks, vacancies piled up.

Either of these could have been borne by a skilled workforce, but both at once?

There were people who could do all of these jobs. But filling those vacancies was itself a monumental task. They couldn’t simply give the jobs out at random, or it would create even more chaos. But the current crop of government officials and the office of the Premier herself, all of whom came out of the military, had both military and civil tasks to perform. The old Council had hundreds of representatives with their staff all of whom took on the work of managing appointments and vetting candidates and providing for any training and support that was needed to manage the civil infrastructure.

For the Premier’s various Commissariats, it was hard enough to manage the soldiers in a time of crisis like this. Training, feeding, and looking after innumerable amounts of greenhorns who were promised fair working conditions and accountable officers and various other things; if Daksha Kansal really was a ruthless evil dictator, it sure would have been easier! But to do things right for everyone made everything very complicated.

With the army restructuring and rebuilding on their minds, Civil needs were barely met.

Because of a mixture of patriotism, conviction, and a greater fear of the enemy, the people of Solstice and its surroundings buckled down and tried to accept these conditions and do their part. Young people and those unfit for military service did their best to fulfill community jobs, and much of the new workforce could be said to have volunteered for the jobs. Rationing tightened and initiatives to garden and stretch food available were started. Unions began to reach out to one another in the absence of the government inspectors and handlers who typically mediated logistics, and kept running as best they could. Nobody knew how long this could last, and nobody wanted to stretch this faith further. That was the new mood at the highest echelons of the SIVIRA.

Solstice screamed for a dedicated civilian government, and it could not be denied this.

And so, the elections were opened. People would campaign, present their ideas, create a civilian government, and take this heavy responsibility off the hands of the military. It was hoped that the people would rally around the voices echoing the best, most responsible directions for the city and the country, and invite innovation and solutions.

Once a Council was elected, each of those members would in turn appoint their own staff, and begin independently vetting new bureaucrats and reestablishing the social infrastructure. They would fill the hole left behind after the purges of the corrupt staff that had served under Mansa, enabled men like Gowon and even spied for Nocht.

Despite the suddenness of it all, the people were excited by the prospect of an election under this new government of Daksha Kansal’s. It gave them new faith and hope that their army was a guarantor of their rights, and that they were trying to do things the decent and humane way for everyone, and not just callously asking for their sacrifices.

Everyone was handed district maps, informed of their polling places, and a new paper was published every day with thoughts and platforms and ideas, giving every candidate in the election fair room to share and broadcast ideas and become known to people. For this election, the SIVIRA set themselves the goal that people had to be fully educated, and that everyone would vote. They put more effort behind this than they reasonably even could, and though they stumbled at times, their heart was in the right place, and the mood was bright. Had anyone been monitoring the intricacy and care put into these processes, they might have thought it was the height of the ideal of fair, universal franchise once embodied by polities such as a certain Federation of Northern States.

Once one ignored that every candidate was running in the Communist Party, the only legal party, of course. It was still competitive, but they all shared some baseline ideas. And though factions did not drive the competition, there was a regional component.

In a brazen but justifiable act, all territories of Ayvarta were to be represented in this Council, including those that in official parlance, had been “occupied by the enemy.” Solstice did not recognize the polity known as “The Republic of Ayvarta” and only referenced it as “the imperialists” or “the traitors.” As such, in Solstice’s mind, the refugees from Adjar, Shaila, Dbagbo and Tambwe, now residing in Solstice, were the legitimate peoples and government of those territories. Community figures had risen from among the throng of the refugees during the continuing struggle of the Relocation, and these would be perfect representatives for the real, proletarian figures of the South.

Different regions of Solstice voted for the Adjari, Shailan, Dbagboan or Tambean seats in the Council, and each seat was fought over by several ethnic persons from these areas.

These persons would come to represent those territories. After all, anyone in cooperation with The Republic was a traitor or at best a damsel in distress, so those people, perhaps even in the event of a retaking of the territories, would not be polled on their feelings toward these candidates. That vast amounts of people had been left behind in those territories or chose to stay or had no choice to stay; that was lost in the passionate rhetoric, to be resolved another day. For right now, Adjar et al existed only in Solstice.

Going into the new years, these were the topics and events at the forefront of discourse.

Socialist Dominances of Solstice, Solstice City — The 10th Head

Premier Daksha Kansal’s codified role was to be the nation’s schoolmarm or mother. She looked the part these days. Her uniforms now came with a skirt and pantyhose, and her hair was done up by a stylist into a tidy bun. She wore glasses, heels, and gloves. Her stylist told her she had aged very gracefully and that her goal was to make sure the Premier still “looked a fine minx” while also giving off a “subtle air of reprimand.” To that end she also had makeup done: red lipstick, a light blush, and black eyeshadows.

Daksha tried to hold her tongue about her stylist’s opinions. She tried to hold her tongue a lot these days. After all, her words carried an infinitude of power. Perhaps too much.

She was an autocratic ruler now, whether she wanted to or not. She was the nation’s mother, and in the household, the mother said things and they were done. Things she agreed with had political will behind them; things she disagreed with lost that will. Even when she wasn’t trying to be forceful, the respect and power of her office made debate a foregone conclusion. Daksha Kansal was the schoolmarm too. You had the option to leave school and not put up with her scolding, but your only practical option was to stay.

Legally, she was meant to give direction on policy and to make appointments for staff.

Not, she thought, to directly write policy and to be the last word on all decisions.

She had hoped not to become a dictator, but she felt she was being made into one.

Daksha made an early mistake in establishing a ruling character. Her desired style of administration was to stay hands-off and trust her subordinates to execute on policy, leaving the details to them after offering a broad strokes opinion. A few weeks into her Premiership, however, the man she had appointed as the Commissar of Education began an initiative to lower the age for Young Shooter’s Clubs to the 9-12 bracket, down from the original 15-18. He publically announced his intention to raise the youth’s awareness of firearms in order to improve the civil defense and to raise the youth’s physical fitness.

Though she was appalled by the policy, Daksha went a circumspect route. She did not want to arbitrarily reprimand him in private or dismiss his ideas outright. She had appointed him, so she wanted to show her trust and her ability to discuss things with him without outright chaining him down to her will. Any kind of backroom discussion would just intimidate him, she thought. So she did what she used to do in the old days of the original Ayvartan revolutionaries. She published an article in the communist party’s newspaper, which was also the most widely read paper in Solstice in general.

Her column was short and polite, with little embellishment and delivered in bullet points, as was Daksha’s typical style. She criticized the proposed policy on grounds of safety; the issue of supplying arms that could be employed by children, when arms for adults were needed in mass quantities; and the fact that in a time of great stress these very small children should engage in wholesome, calming activities to grow healthily.

Though Daksha intended this to be a level-headed response that could inspire a debate, as she had done before with other disagreements, it was widely read as an excoriating denunciation. Most people did not live the political life back in those days, they did not know the culture of speech that Daksha had grown up in. Everyone felt that the public nature of the disagreement was meant to condemn, not to invite a participatory debate.

The Commissar resigned and retired from all service to collect a pension. Several of his staff resigned with him or transferred for fear of being kicked upwards to his position. For days on end, the SIVIRA could not find another Commissar of Education to appoint. It began to circulate around the city that Daksha Kansal brooked no dissent in her ranks and meant to take the direction of public education into her own hands. It was a debacle.

After this, the Premier’s national character was much more a schoolmarm and mother than it had ever been. People began to take her word as gospel and ask her for ‘Yes’ or for ‘No’ instead of engaging her in actual discussion. She grew so irritated with the state of affairs that she circulated a memo on the sniveling tone of voice she had endured from her staff and bureaucrats and bid them to have conviction in their meetings with her.

This helped, but not too much. Cadao Chakma, the War Secretary, and a few other people with backbone had the courage to speak out when necessary, but at large, most people remained intimidated by her. And so it was that Daksha continued to be a dictator.

A few days after the official announcement of the upcoming elections, Daksha opened her office up to public visits. She normally took appointments only if a letter was sent to her and only after answering it personally. Daksha was busy; she needed some way to cut down the number of people who wanted a direct audience. However, with the upcoming elections and various other issues, she decided to hold a special day where she would forego all other matters and just take walk-in visitors. Anyone could come no matter their work or stature, they just had to wait their turn. Daksha’s staff secretly resented her taking “a day off” like this, and she knew it, but it gave her no pause.

Surprisingly, very few people came in on that day. Daksha had steeled her nerves to have the door slamming open and shut without warning all day — normally a source of constant distress due to a mental trauma from all the conflicts she fought in her life.

And despite all that girding her loins for it, the door had barely opened twice by the midday. She wondered if perhaps there was less urgency in Solstice now that an election had been announced, or if the bureaucrats had gotten good enough at their jobs by now to have fixed most of the problems on their own. Perhaps people had gotten too drunk celebrating the new year. Daksha began to wonder if she should schedule another day.

But Cadao and the rest would have a fit if Daksha was unavailable all day again.

She could not even commit to reading or writing because if someone interrupted her, she would have felt horrible. This anxiety about doing anything rendered her paralyzed.

So Premier Daksha Kansal sat in her office, bored, fiddling with objects on her desk.

Around noon, there was a knock on the door, and Daksha beckoned the visitor inside.

When the door opened, she saw a somewhat familiar face with shining, inquisitive green eyes. Her dark hair was styled into ringlet curls, her light brown skin was well made up with pigments and she was dressed in a pencil skirt and a fine jacket. Daksha knew this girl, and from more than one occasion. When she sat opposite the Premier, she was bashful, unable to meet her eyes. There was no mistaking Chakrani Walters, Madiha Nakar’s old girlfriend. She had been on the wrong side of history many a time before.

She sat before Daksha now with hands nervously clutching her skirt, her eyes turned.

“Chakrani Walters, correct?” Daksha asked.

“Yes ma’am. You remember me, then?” She said, her voice trembling.

“You’re quite a fashionable young lady. It would be hard to forget.”

Daksha smiled, trying to make fun, but Chakrani averted her eyes and bowed her head.

There was a black cloud over her head, and the gloom was spreading across the room.

Just a few weeks earlier she had been investigated for ties to Mansa and given her testimony. Apparently, though she had declined to evacuate immediately from Rangda, once the Elven occupation of the city got underway with the arrival of the battleship St. Irrydel, Chakrani finally chose to flee, and ultimately ended up being arraigned in Solstice. Her words had joined Madiha’s and many others in helping to make clear what had transpired in Rangda and in Solstice for years now at the hand of that corrupt, self-serving monster. That she sat before Daksha now did not vex the Premier. She felt pity for the girl, whose convictions had been trod upon and defeated time and again.

“So, you’ve a few minutes of my time. How may I help you?” Daksha asked.

She sighed internally. She felt awkward. After all, she was something of a mother to Madiha Nakar, something of a guarantor, guardian. This was Madiha’s ex-girlfriend. But this was also a woman who had as part of the Adjar Civil Council nearly authorized a withdrawal that endangered the war effort; and who then went on to serve with Arthur Mansa in his schemes in Rangda. She continuously fell into the role of a foolish villainess.

There was a part of Daksha that felt like Chakrani had treated Madiha poorly. And that was the most awkward, but not the least concerning part of that woman’s history.

“I heard there would be elections held under the full protection of the voting rights and the electoral permissions of the constitution of the city of Solstice. Is that correct?”

Chakrani had said this breathlessly, in a very matter-of-fact way.

“Correct.” Daksha said curtly.

“Is it permissible for me to enter the election?” Chakrani asked, her voice meek.

“Is it permissible?” Daksha asked rhetorically, surprised by Chakrani’s words. “Well, like everyone else, you would have to join the Communist Party of Ayvarta, I suppose.”

Chakrani’s hands clutched her skirt again and she sighed, staring at the ground.

“Are you worried that I am personally stopping you from doing so?” Daksha asked.

She had read her very easily. After all, she knew what Chakrani’s politics were like.

“I had feared that you might be. That someone might be.” Chakrani said.

“Well, I am curious about your intentions, but otherwise, you’ve nothing to fear.”

Over the past few years Ayvartan politics had been terribly tumultuous.

Chakrani’s conviction to oppose the communist party, that had steered her into so much trouble, had formed when her father had been executed for high treason. He had been moving gold, machines and information out of Solstice in exchange for aid in facilitating the return of once-wealthy Ayvartans who had escaped to the Federation, fleeing the communist victory in the Civil War. This and similar incidents were referred to as the “Akjer Scandals.” A violent purge of Mr. Walters and his conspirators was the only thing that Daksha Kansal and Arthur Mansa agreed on in the chaos of the mid-2020s.

Daksha still believed her convictions were correct, and that the threat of these dissidents was a real one to Ayvartan communism. But she knew that her actions helped give Mansa and his bloc the leverage to steer Ayvartan politics right into his pocket. He used her violence and Walter’s dissent both to cast a fatal spell on Council politics. Kansal’s justice could be delivered to anyone, he said, so we must tighten control of the army and draw it down; and Walter’s discontent had to be headed off through economic and social reform, so that nobody would need to think of rebelling or circumventing the law again.

At the time Mansa’s and deeds words struck everyone as reasonable. Nobody heeded the violent Daksha Kansal when she spoke about his duplicity. Instead he gathered many followers, and together with them, some die-hards, some proxies, some puppets, he made many more proposals and changes that ultimately led to this awful Solstice War. Demilitarization, the Honor system that focused only on consumer goods, proportional representation that flooded the Council with his cronies; and those were only a few.

It took an invasion, thousands of deaths, the dissolution of the Civil Government, and for himself and his followers to stage an uprising, for Mansa to finally fall dead in his city.

Of course, a man who was set on twisting a whole political system into his own cult of personality, who was obsessed with empire and with personal wealth, did not just die and leave nothing behind. They had been fighting against his misdeeds for weeks now.

Since learning of the scope of Mansa’s deeds, Daksha felt a sense of trepidation when taking unilateral action. Could anyone else try to use her political violence to their ends? Could someone be profiting from all of her actions, moving her with secret strings?

Even so, at any given point, all she could do was choose the best available option.

In her new position, she had to give even people who opposed her some empathy.

“Is it really being paranoid?” Chakrani said. “Ms. Kansal, I can’t help but feel made a fool of for all my actions the past year. But also, I can’t help but feel there’s more to blame.”

Everyone called Daksha “Premier” now, so to hear “Ms. Kansal” was just a bit galling.

Still, she wasn’t the only one made a fool of. Daksha had to sympathize with those words.

“I admit yours has been a tragedy linked to the tumult in our institutions. However, if you wish to live here peacefully, and become politically active again as you were in Adjar and Rangda, then it will be necessary for you to get along with us and trust us.”

By ‘us’ Daksha meant the Communist Party, but also, she thought, Madiha and herself.

Both of these figures must have loomed so large for the helpless Chakrani.

She must have thought these titans were creating a world directly hostile to her.

Daksha hoped she could turn around. She hoped everyone who was misled could do so.

Many already had; but some were always hopeless. It was always that dreadful way.

“If you are afraid Madiha will denounce you for throwing your name into the election, I can guarantee you she is not thinking about anything right now but strategies and tactics. I don’t think Madiha will even vote. She is even less interested in electoralism and democracy than I am. Much like you have been hurt in your life by communism, Madiha has received no end of pain from the forces of so-called democracy and liberalism.”

Chakrani set a direct, defiant glare on Daksha for the first time.

“Frankly, I believed I had good cause to be afraid. If not from her, then from you. Your disdain for ‘electoralism’ has been made fairly plain. I’ve been afraid all this time.”

Daksha smiled. “I’m too busy to do anything to you, Ms. Walters.”

Chakrani pouted and looked angry. “So even for someone like me, who was arraigned and indicted as a co-conspirator, and made to give testimony; I can harmlessly enter politics again? You will allow this, and will not try to set me back in any way?”

“You were cleared of all charges. Far as I’m concerned you’re just any other girl.”

Daksha had to give it to Chakrani, she was feisty. She just did not give up. Even though she was scared, she was bullheaded enough to keep doing things her own way to the end.

“But like I said, the only game in town is the Communist Party. Nobody will bar you entry from it, but you’ve nursed disdain it for some time now, so it must be hard for you.”

“I have nothing against the communist party. I had and continue to have an agenda against people like you and Madiha who will hurt others and feel righteous about it.”

“Well, you won’t convince anyone to vote for you based on that. Right now, I think the people want to hear about making the canteens more efficient, or improving the railroad, and things like that. I don’t think the average person will vote to denounce me.”

Daksha felt almost amused by the entire conversation at this point. It was just so odd.

“Of course I know that. That wouldn’t be my platform. But I will try to make a Communist Party that is not just about suppressing ideas you disagree with; I want to do what I’ve always done and give the people hope, and education, and broaden their horizons. I will show people a future rather than just stepping on the present.”

“I’m bored by your character assassination of me. Is that all you wanted to ask me?”

Already they had been talking for some time and Daksha just felt like she was being insulted constantly, which did not upset her, but did annoy her. It made it difficult to try to be magnanimous with the dissident girl. Daksha did not want to demand respect from Chakrani and thereby demonstrate “evil authoritarian ways,” or what have you, but she did not want to sit there and quietly absorb abuse either. She was becoming tired of it.

At that point, Chakrania seemed to swallow a lump and produce a series of documents.

“I wanted to have a second opinion on these.” She said, her voice powerless suddenly.

Daksha blinked and picked up the documents. They were outlining various campaign promises. There were a lot of minute details on using more local plants like cactus, promoting responsible water use, indoor growing, and so on, and a big proposal for a cultural exchange program among the provinces based around faster rail travel and guaranteed vacations. Daksha was speechless. It all sounded so silly, but she was right that it was all positive. None of it was military in nature, and nothing reformist in tone. She just wanted to make the desert greener, provide food security, and neat vacations.

This was indeed something of a vision for a future. A future beyond this current war.

“I can’t really disagree with any of it.” Daksha said. “It all sounds rather saccharine.”

These were ideas only an idealist would think of at this stage in history. Daksha was too cynical and had a mind too bloody and violent to think of giving people vacations when there were imperialists to be slaughtered. It would stand out among the other entries.

“I encourage you to run on it.” Daksha said, smiling. “I think people will respond to it.”

Chakrani looked like she had been about to fall from her chair. Her eyes spread wide.

“Do you have any constructive criticism?” She asked. She looked almost ashamed to ask such a thing of the Premier herself. But all of her political allies had fallen with the successive regimes she supported. Only Chakrani herself remained, the friendless survivor of those political battles all of which were terminated by Madiha in turn.

So perhaps bereft of any connections, but still yearning to fight in her own way, Chakrani had been spurred to come here. Daksha couldn’t really hate her for anything right then.

“I can’t really criticize these broad ideas. I’ll put you in contact with the Commissariat of Public Affairs and the University, and they can help you find some organizers and volunteers, I’m sure. Everyone is guaranteed access to the resources to hold a fair and equitable campaign for Council. I’ll try to get you help so you can refine your position, and you can write for the election gazette the same way anyone does. Sound fair?”

Chakrania’s eyes drew wider for an instant before she returned to a bashful expression.

“Thank you. To be honest, I thought you would just laugh me off. Or worse.” She said.

“I’m too busy not to follow the regulations. I’d be busier if I was trying to circumvent every rule and micromanage every campaign to weed out people I dislike. In fact, I’m honestly too busy to dislike most people. I really can’t afford to be any busier right now.”

Daksha was again trying to be a little light and humorous. Again, Chakrani didn’t bite.

“I hope you understand that people have reason to be intimidated by you. To be scared.” She averted her gaze, staring instead at the hydra symbol on a wall. “I hope both you and Madiha understand that, and don’t get carried away with the power that you have.”

“I understand it perfectly.” Daksha said. She was a little annoyed by the direction of the criticism, but it was somehow refreshing to be criticized and questioned too. Had it not been for the fact that this election needed people like her, Daksha might have hired her on to the central bureaucracy instead. She would have made a good manager or analyst.

Perhaps, however, the office of the Premier, and the Armed Forces, had swallowed enough worthy sons and daughters of Solstice. Civil Government needed them now.

After that exchange, Chakrani Walters was escorted out by a lawyer for the SIVIRA who would be helping her to register and start her campaign. A few more visitors came by, but none who were so mentally stimulating as that girl had been. Daksha thought about her silly little campaign all day, and felt charmed by the whole thing. By the end of the day she had seen a dozen people with all kinds of things they needed help and advice for, but no more Council aspirants. It almost felt like she had wasted the day this way.

Soon, the sun had nearly vanished from the sky, and Daksha thought she would retire to her apartment and read the electoral gazette herself. However, just a few minutes before she was scheduled to leave, the bright round face and friendly slanted eyes of Cadao Chakma peeked through the door, tapped lightly. Daksha beckoned her in. The War Secretary had her arms piled high with documents folders. She was a skinny, mixed race woman of eastern and Ayvartan origins, slender but unathletic, wearing a set of glasses over her eyes and little adornment. Her hair was tied in a utilitarian ponytail, and she dressed in a pristine, tidy skirt uniform with new black tights and dress shoes.

Whenever that pragmatic young woman walked in, she always had a pretty smile and a cruel amount of work to deliver. Daksha knew this and felt her spirit leaving her body.

Trying to delay the inevitable, she struck up a conversation.

“Did you see Walters anywhere, Cadao? Chakrani Walters?”

“Indeed I did.” Cadao replied. They were on a first-name basis. Cadao had become another of Daksha’s precious sort-of-daughters in the workplace. “She’s been going this way and that all day. Really taking advantage of the facilities here. It was amusing.”

“Did you see her platform? Isn’t it fun?”

“I heard a bit about it. I don’t know. It sounds too dreamy to me.”

“Cadao, do you think if Walters wins, she’ll lobby for me to get a scenic, culturally-enriching vacation-by-train? I am a citizen after all. Don’t I deserve one too?”

Cadao’s eyes narrowed even further.

“I truly hope not, Premier. I don’t know what I would do if that was the case.”

“You could join me and my wife. I’d let you bring one girl with you.”

Cadao sighed. “There’s nobody to fill that seat. And the government would collapse.”

Daksha truly did not know whether she meant the seat of her girlfriend, or her staff post.

“Oh, I thought Kuracha had an eye on you? What do you think of her?”

Cadao looked positively horrified. “The Commissar-General may not be my type.”

Daksha laughed. She then blew out air in a gentle sigh. “Well. Enough fun I guess.”

“Right. No time for fun I’m afraid, Premier. Only paperwork.” Cadao said cheerfully.

She mercilessly dropped the documents onto Daksha’s desk and patted them down.

Socialist Dominances of Solstice, Solstice City — The People’s Peak

The People’s Peak was the tallest building in Solstice, its only true skyscraper. A massive building, taller than the walls, once full of the mechanisms of power in Solstice. This building used to host the Council and most of the government bureaucracy. Now that many of its functions had been moved to the Daksha Kansal’s “10th Head” and to the Armaments Hill, the Peak was far less lively and busy. In 2031, the building was scheduled to close with the sun, where before it would have toiled through the night.

At the very top of the building, Yarobe Yuba watched the sun going down from a balcony. He was an old man among old men, but his skin was still pulled back tight against his bones, such that the wrinkles only seemed to exist at the edges of his face. His hair was as dark as his skin, cropped close, and his lanky frame was dressed in a humble, slightly shabby suit. Behind him the balcony overlooked the auditorium, and in front of him he could see the city laid out before him. Yuba, a councilman who had been instrumental in the dismantlement of the previous administration, had been spending his days here.

He could work anywhere, but he resisted going to the 10th Head with the rest of Kansal’s people. He ran his investigation of the Central Bank of Solstice and the Treasury Ministry from the People’s Peak. Whenever he convened the courts of inquiry, the People’s Peak auditorium would again fill with people. For a while the purges had given him some sense of justice again. He took special pleasure in taking to task those remnants of the capital class, the treasury managers who watched the global market, handled Ayvarta’s commerce with the outside world and guarded Solstice’s vast stocks of old imperial gold.

When he restructured the economy to create the Honor system, an alternate currency that was supposed to be used for high quality goods but rarely was, Mansa and his gang had spread their tendrils to the Bank. Now the Bank was emptied of those tendrils.

Mansa was dead and everything he wrought had been uncovered, undone, repaired; all of his lackeys found and punished. Daksha had seen to it in the civil sector and Yuba had seen to it in the once untouchable administrations of the Bank and the Court system. Mansa’s one weakness was that he weaved his authority by suppressing armed power and manipulating peacetime stability. He accrued too little force of arms for himself.

All of that was in the past. Hopefully now everyone could look to the future instead.

Yuba was watching the city, the walls, the sky. He sighed with relief. He believed he had done the right thing after all. He was vindicated now. There were going to be elections.

“Yuba? Are you up there, comrade? I finally got caught up with this election business.”

Yuba half-turned and called down the steps. “I’m just taking in the view.”

He knew the voice and was unsurprised to see a middle-aged woman, her head wrapped in a red scarf, climbing up after him. She was a former councilwoman from his bloc, now working as an aide of sorts. Her gentle face, framed by the cloth, seemed to turn as one muscle when she smiled. She joined him on the balcony, looking out over the city.

“Reminds me of home.” She said. “Though we never got the chance to build like this.”

Yuba knew, with an aching in his heart, that home, to her, was a concept that spanned a terrifying distance across their world. It was not something that settled only in Solstice.

In their world, Aer, there were several continents divided by seas and oceans large and small. To the far north of Ayvarta was Nobilis, curling over the sea like an arch, a land known as “the old world.” Helvetia, the Small Kingdoms, the Afarland and the Elven root of continental evil, The Kingdom of Lubon, resided on this continent. At one point, the land shattered, and Svechtha stood as a second arch abutting a sea that contained Borelia and brushed up against wall of the far east, Extremis. There Hanwa oppressed the vast Yu-Kitan. In this complicated globe, the “old world” compared to the lands of Occultis that contained the multitude of states in the Federation, its possessions of Franz and Lachy, the islands of Pelagia, the Higwe, and the massive Occidens; in the old world, Councilwoman Jassir’s home was in the Mafkat, known worldwide now as Petrea.

Petrea, one of many, many countries and lands even great historians barely mentioned.

It was a desert country, much like Ayvarta, and the people there were thought to be cousins to the Ayvartans in a way. Once Mafkat, now Petrea, it had the misfortune of sharing a continent with the Elves, situated as it was to the far south of Afarland. Once home to a mighty kingdom, the Mafkat found itself worn down by history, and the Elves, though they despised its deserts, extended their control over it as they did all of Nobilis.

Though Lubon did not “own” Petrea any longer, it held suzerainty over the land.

Councilwoman Jassir had seen a liberation struggle in Petrea, contemporaneous to the upheavals of Nocht’s Unification War, Ayvarta’s Revolution, the Svechthan Severance, and Vittoria’s Reign of Terror in Lubon. Despite this, they were subjugated by the Elves’ Colonial Authority nonetheless. Though Petrea was no longer a direct possession of the bloody Empress, it was a toy she could pick up again at any time. Jassir and her ilk, unwelcome in their homes, fled to Solstice in defeat and helped build its communism.

Yuba understood all of this, and understood that, more than anyone, she feared the current events as a repetition of a painful history that had plagued all free peoples.

Especially since the Federation had proven itself far fiercer than the Colonial Authority.

“Jassir, I feel content that I have done the right thing.” Yuba said, smiling.

“How did you convince her? I never thought she’d hold elections like this.”

“That’s the thing: I did nothing! Daksha Kansal decided of her own accord. I had been wanting to tell her, and perhaps, those keen eyes of hers saw my silent wishes.”

“I think she just understands it will make her look magnanimous.”

Jassir was a lot more skeptical of Kansal than Yuba. He shook his head.

It was always like this when they talked!

He highly esteemed Jaffir but always argued with her.

“No, no, I think she understands we need to spread the power of decision-making around, spread the responsibilities. I think she’s pragmatic about it. She knows she has not been able to fill enough leadership roles by herself. And without a vast and diverse leadership, a country this massive just cannot function. So this is the best solution for everyone.”

Yuba knew he had made the right decision to dissolve council. The aftermath had been chaotic. He had hoped that scattering those hundreds of councilmen and their staff would remove a lot of slow-moving, bad-acting cruft from the system, and it did. For a while, decision-making was nimble again. But the refugees, and then the purges! Mansa did not even have to succeed in his uprising to strike a blow. Every institution from the armies to the unions to the central bank was found to be infested with his corruption.

Not everyone was a direct cohort: some took money or accepted a position to do one or two things for him. Some kept lines of communication open for him if he needed them. Others were die-hards who were onboard with his vision for a new polity in Ayvarta. Mansa represented as far to the right wing as Ayvartans were allowed to go. He had cloaked liberal reforms and personal power accumulation in the language of leftism.

Not everyone was politically motivated either. There were various riders, like the scientists working on his secret projects. Or the bandits like the late Gowon who just wanted to profit for themselves. Mansa had a shadow nation of thousands with him.

Removing or reestablishing control over all of them had been necessary to do.

But once all of that had been yanked by the root and burned, the field was barren.

In Solstice, there were at least a couple thousand people demoted, transferred, put under new supervision or forcibly retired under watch for breaches of trust; a couple thousand more sent to prison or to prison-awaiting-exile; and a certain number that were shot.

That terrifying work went on in the background to this evil war, and in a way, Yuba thanked the ancestors and spirits and Gods for the Federation as an antagonist. Without an outside threat, everything might have just collapsed under the sheer weight of Mansa’s strings. His secret empire had taken nearly a decade to build. But they took it all down quietly, while the civilian population noticed only the war and the fact that the canteens were sporadically out of food, and the trainloads of refugees from afar.

Yuba had helped Kansal dismantle Council, and it had been the trigger that burst the dam, and let out a flood of madness that had built up for eternities. They had ridden that evil wave and now came the prosaic work of rebuilding, replanting, and repairing.

“As far as I’m concerned, Mansa and Daksha Kansal are two sides of the same coin.”

Councilwoman Jassir put her chin on her hands and leaned up against the guardrail.

“Mansa accumulated power in the same way Kansal did now. He conned and debated all of us through the legal system and made it seem like the decent, civilized thing to do was to let him make the decisions, to let him choose the appointments, and to let his people take over all the difficult work. He got others to speak his words, to make him seem like a builder of a great coaliation. We let him change everything because he and his cronies had all the vision. We shut up and let the man with the solutions speak. Kansal is our new woman of solutions, our great figure of history. She pulled his roots to dig her own.”

Her words were almost painful to Yuba, who was complicit in the rise of Kansal.

“Kansal has better intentions, and no ambition but to stabilize and save this country.”

His defense was feeble, because whatever her intentions, she had even more power than Mansa. That man had to manipulate people to get his way, and though his skill made it seem like no effort needed to be expended, for Kansal, it was the awful truth that she could just do almost anything she wanted without effort. Period and end of story. Mansa took years and years to amass power and personnel to make his bold changes.

Kansal had an unspoken monopoly on power that could do the same in days.

“Kansal would not do this. For goodness’ sakes, she was tortured by the Emperor.”

“I hope you are right. But what about her hero, Madiha Nakar? Looking at the armed forces right now, it’s a shambling mess of old cavalry generals and greenhorns, and then there’s her: basically the only one who’s won anything. Our shining star; our genius.”

Yuba felt scandalized. Jaffir could get loose-lipped, and she was always very honest. He thought this was a fault of hers, when she became too blunt, as she was right then.

“Come now, you can’t believe Nakar bears any ill will to this nation? She’s sacrificed so much for it. None among us has suffered like she has for this soil.” Yuba said.

Councilwoman Jaffir looked up at the stars as they began to appear on the darkest side of the sky. Aer’s moon was also visible, though only barely. She let out a long-held breath.

“I’m a Utopian at heart, I guess I just can never be pleased these days.” Jaffir said.

Utopian was a descriptor for a set of communists that had been at odds with another set, known as the Revolutionaries, since Ayvarta’s founding period. Utopians like Jaffir had once believed the last war would be the final war. That the army would dissolve back into the workforce, that they would do the work of building self sufficiency, focusing on consumer goods distribution, ending currency, and satisfying not only basic needs, but the wants of all of the nation’s free, equal people. Meanwhile the Revolutionaries said that it was naive to think class struggle was over, when foreigners feared and hated them, when trade was becoming global but shutting them out of its growth, and pockets of violent dissent remained dormant within their own ranks. There was no final war yet.

Both sides could find a myriad of flaws in each other’s arguments, and some kind of sin or treason in their beliefs. Thankfully, they could meet each other halfway most of the time. But there was no escaping that the country had been on a Utopian trend the past decade that nearly killed them all. That had been part of the popular appeal of the “conversatives” in Council, under Mansa. They supported social policies and demanded an end to militarizing, to focus on creating wealth for all. They spoke like Utopians.

Alternate currencies and distribution channels for goods had cropped up that were misused and mismanaged and that Daksha Kansal ultimately slashed to pieces; massive production of consumer goods created work and put a radio in every house but almost no guns at the borders, a trend Kansal responded to by turning toy factories into gun factories; and demilitarization, the shifting of swords to plows, that led to their border forces being utterly outnumbered and annihilated and half their lands being lost.

For the people, everything was fine. Nobody touched their food, their stipends, and their little pleasures. Everything worked in their favor, so their complaints were minor.

For the nation, as a whole, however, the past few years were an unsustainable dream.

Not an ugly dream, or evil dream; just one that was founded on lies and couldn’t stand.

Daksha Kansal, a revolutionary herself, held her tongue about Utopian complicity out of politeness and to keep the issue simple for the people. It was the old council, and it was Mansa, and it was all of these flawed actors that caused their defeat, not Utopianism.

For that age-old debate of Utopianism vs. Revolution, however, The Solstice War was a massive shock that gave a sizable, popular advantage to the Revolutionary side. Nobody was saying ‘had we made less toys and more guns, perhaps we would be fine’ but that was a question held back only out of pity and pain and an unwillingness to sow discord.

That was an alternate history that loomed over all of their heads as they moved forward.

“Maybe that’s why we lost Mafkat. We didn’t have an authoritarian strongman.”

Jaffir seemed to have that debate on the mind with the current election and events.

“Come on now, come on. Don’t say such things. This conversation is becoming cruel in a million directions. You and your cohort did not control the full history of Mafkat.”

“And that’s what it’ll take?” Jaffir asked. “For a cohort to control the full history–”

“I was just using poetic language.” Yuba replied. But it made him think for a second.

He felt almost like he did before confronting the old Council last year. Trepidation.

“Madiha Nakar is not as disdainful of democracy as people read her.” Yuba said. “She took militarily expedient measures without considering their politics. This is what led her to fight and dissolve two civilian regional governments in a row. I don’t think she views those institutions as necessarily evil. She was just fighting Nocht by proxy. If they had not held her back or endangered her ability to fight the war, she would have–”

Jaffir stared down Yuba. She was a mature woman herself and though he was quite older, he could still see the age and exhaustion in the gaze she turned on him.

“Yuba, do you think if Madiha Nakar wins this war, she would stop fighting? Or do you think she would see ‘class struggle’ continuing the way she saw it in Adjar and Rangda?”

“This is irrelevant.” Yuba said. “Madiha Nakar is one general with one division.”

“She is a hero, our only hero. I’m afraid, Yuba, because our only hero is a militarist who has fought our democracy before, and not a Utopian with an ideal for the future.”

“You misjudge her.” Yuba said, dismissively, he did not want to think about this. “You’re misjudging her and twisting her character. You are out of line, Jaffir. Neither you nor I really know her or her convictions. She did what she had to do, to fight. That’s all.”

“You think she took militarily expedient actions without acknowledging their politics. I fear she may have highly advanced and consistent politics that we don’t want to admit.”

Yuba nearly sank into the guardrail. He was exhausted. It was like there was never one good decision that simply solved a problem. There was always more trouble ahead, a new storm brewing. It was as if he was swinging from jungle vines, and every vine he grabbed only led to another and another, and if he ever stopped to breathe he fell.

“Jaffir, this country needs heroes. I just hope we make more heroes. That is all.”

Smiling, Jaffir extended an arm over Yuba’s shoulder like a daughter humoring a father.

“I agree, elder, I agree.” Jaffir said, heaving the most tired sigh of all.

Whether Utopian or Revolutionary heroes, they just needed heroes now. Period.

Perhaps, that wish in itself was a flaw in Yuba’s own thinking. He tried to ignore that.

12th Of The Postill’s Dew, 2031 D.C.E

Socialist Dominances of Solstice, Solstice City — The 10th Head

“Ah, Premier, today we’re going to try something daring. I call it ‘the ponytail mommy.'”

Daksha sat indignantly while her stylist, Cour Impreza, a young, fashionable, bouncy blond immigrant from Franz, worked on her hair and rejoiced in experimenting with her appearance. She had been told this woman was a leading expert in style and public relations, but she was starting to feel it all stemmed from some bizarre carnal space in her rotten brain instead. She said all manner of things; was Daksha too old to understand the new generation already? At any rate, her enthusiasm was rather overwhelming.

“They won’t be able to keep their eyes off you, Premier. Combine with the ribbon, and the skirt, showing just a few millimeters more of those tights than ever before–”

Just then, as the ponytail was finally arranged with an austere black ribbon,  the door slammed open, and Daksha’s heart nearly leaped out through her throat onto the desk.

“What is the meaning of this?” shouted Cour, pouting. “Do you not know the Premier’s condition? She has strict orders not to barge into the room like this, you savages–”

Quietly, a pair of KVW agents approached the desk, requested custody of the Premier and bowed in apology, and with them was Cadao Chakma, the War Secretary. She had a grim look to her and was looking more disheveled than was normal for her in the afternoons.

“Premier, Sword airfield was bombed by the Federation air force. One of our air patrol squadrons took damage fighting them off. Ground anti-air did not respond in time, and we could not manage to destroy the bombers. There may be more coming.” Cadao said.

Daksha blinked, speechless. She tightened her fist. This failure would embolden Nocht.

“Sound the air raid alarms. Where do you want to take me?” Daksha asked.

“We’d like you to move to Armament’s Hill’s ‘Central Processing’ for now.” Cadao said.

That was the computer section, where all the greatest math geniuses in Ayvartan academia had been gathered to crunch the numbers on anything and everything. Decrypting, all kinds of analysis, logistical and production trends. That much brain power in a room could probably predict the future, given enough time. Daksha had arranged for all those men and women to be moved there when she rebuilt the army.

Some said it was setting back science a decade to have all those powerful minds set on the trajectories of bullets and the aerodynamics of planes, but Daksha ignored all that.

“Fine. Put Nadia Al-Oraibi in charge of the ground-based air defense in the south. They call her the ‘Genius of Defenses’, let’s see her do it. Madiha Nakar can handle the north.”

Daksha stood up. She put a hand on her stylist’s shoulder, and bid her to come.

“Thank you for standing up for me. You can continue your work at the Hill.”

On the armored car that took her from the Headquarters to Armaments Hill, Daksha was troubled. Though there were no enemy planes directly overhead right then and there, it spoke to their vulnerability that their patrol was hurt, their radar was ineffective, and one of their four major air fields with all its power and defenses was struck to shock.

“We can’t afford any more setbacks.” Daksha thought.

She knew the country was teetering, on the brink.

They needed more time for the people to grow, for the masses to become harder and stronger. They could not exist with just a handful of heroes. They needed so many more.

Previous Part || Next Part

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