The Children’s War (79.2)

You may want to read the side-story “V: The Loss Of Innocence” before this chapter.

15th of the Postill’s Dew, 2031 D.C.E.

Ayvarta, City of Solstice — Armaments Hill, Postill Square

Daksha Kansal felt a hit of grim nostalgia in the old fortress tower at Armaments Hill, overlooking Postill Square. Last year she had contemplated and plotted rebellion in this building. Armaments Hill’s old infantry barracks and its associated guard tower paid home to the KVW, Civil Police veterans and Revolutionary Guard who, at her command, abdicated their positions to protest the Council’s weakness and indecision.

Against the wishes of Madiha Nakar — the temporary, acting commander of the air forces and foremost proponent of hiding Kansal in a bunker for the next few weeks — the Premier had set herself up in the tower to think, and to take meetings. She had to make several difficult decisions about the future of Ayvarta and the way it presently treated many of the difficulties it faced. And she had to decide them soon.

Accompanied by her staff, Daksha read proposals and lost herself in thought.

And of course she could not help but drift back to the past. She always did.

As a woman in her fifties, she had much more past than present to think about.

So many people shared that past, and shared this building with her.

Very few of the people who joined her on that day remained.

They had gone to the frontlines, whether now or months ago or years ago.

And almost all of them had perished in the act.

Among her legions of the damned, the KVW made the biggest sacrifice.

Because of their conditioning and therapies, agents indoctrinated into the KVW, Guards and Civil Police officerdom literally lacked certain fear responses and had dulled emotional reactions. The result made them much more likely to die in battle. Normal soldiers, fearful and imperfect soldiers; they all lived to fight again another day.

Her ‘perfect’ soldiers who knew no fear and had unswerving loyalty, they died instead.

Knowing no fear, and desiring nothing but to serve their comrades, selflessly hurling themselves into the vanguard and ignoring pain and hunger; this was how they died.

The Premier had always known that Ayvarta could not be saved by the KVW. They were a force that had assembled in the shadows to help the proletariat rise up. She had a handful of divisions of them at the start of the war, a percentage of the size of the total land army and a fraction of the forces that Nocht brought to bear on them. Without normal people, in their multitudes, liberation was not possible. What she did not know was how great, how vast, how brutal, the sacrifice of the KVW would be.

Her army, her ‘private army’, some had called them. But it was all gone now.

“Cadao, how fares the number of KVW among our forces?” Daksha asked.

She knew the situation was dire, but she still wanted a reminder of how dire.

Cadao Chakma, Daksha’s minister of defense and the brain behind the Golden Army’s logistics and organization, took on a fatalistic tone of voice. It was a tough question. She ran a finger through the hair on her ponytail and adjusted her glasses with a sigh.

“They’re a fraction, a handful of percentage points. Not worth mentioning.” She said.

“I see.”

Daksha had already disbanded the training cadres and indoctrination groups that administered the psychotherapy that produced KVW soldiers. She had done so after taking power, both as a sign of cooperation and openness to the civil authority, and also because there was no reason to continue those programs. It was pointless: if it made soldiers who would willingly throw themselves to death, it was not worth doing.

She could not have foreseen the result would have been so dreadful.

And yet, she had always had that inkling of understanding. The KVW could not liberate Ayvarta. It was always had to be the people, in their fearful and traumatized masses.

So it was done. There would be no more KVW agents than there were currently.

Soon there would be none at all. There were reports that existing, active agents were beginning to overcome the conditioning anyway. Exposure to war, or maybe some hidden x-factor like Madiha’s suddenly burgeoning E.S.P. or the mysterious presence of the mineral Agarthicite in the crust that was just starting to be fully investigated; whatever it was, something was breaking the conditioning for many of the KVW. All of them who remained would slowly revert to people who feared, who hurt, who cried.

All of them had reasons to seek out and volunteer for the training that hardened them.

Things they would rather forget; fears they would rather feel nothing about.

All of this they suppressed through the methods of indoctrination.

All of that “magic” was waning as surely as the real magic already dead in their world.

And with it would go the magical, mythical KVW soldier of the revolution and of 2030.

It truly felt like every form of magic they had was waning now.

There would be no more tricks up their sleeve. Now the conventional war began.

Not even Madiha; Daksha would simply not allow her to become what she was again.

“That’s enough dwelling on the past.” Daksha said. “As much as I indulge myself in it.”

She said this aloud, more to herself than to Cadao, but for Cadao to hear also.

“Recognizing there’s a problem is the first step to solving it.” Cadao said.

She offered a small smile.

“Speaking of: you have something you are nervous about telling me.” Daksha said.

Cadao Chakma was a nervous, bookish girl who was thrust into a position of social and economic management because of her high level of skills. When it came to the economy she was a genius: creating efficient work structures, plotting production and distribution, allocating resources where they were most needed, and using accounting tricks to make resources stretch or even appear whole-cloth where they were previously missing. Cadao’s magnificent plan for victory had given them an army.

Her witchcraft, however, was still rooted in reality. Sacrifices were always needed.

It was another form of magic that was waning, no matter how much they fed it.

“We need to talk about feeding the troops ma’am. Even at the expense of civilians.”

Cadao was sweating. Her brow was furrowed and her shaking hands balled up.

She had definitely been thinking about a hard truth, deep in her troubled brain.

When she spoke, her voice was tremulous, but she made herself say everything.

“Right now there’s holes being poked everywhere in the universal rationing standards; some folks aren’t getting their greens, others are lacking for fruit and juice, meat is scarce, and so on. I propose to recover all present supplies and redistribute under new parameters to ‘reset’ the ration supply, and follow these new standards for all future orders to insure it’s going where it’s most needed. Something has to be done to insure our fighting men and women receive the nutrition they need to keep struggling. After them, arms industry and transportation labor should take priority. For everyone else, we’re going to have to stiffen the ration for months. We need a tiered system, ma’am.”

“I’m ill disposed toward that framing.” Daksha said. Unlike Cadao, she was calm. Her emotions were controlled. They had to be. Her words carried too much weight, and she had been punished again and again for letting slip her natural aggression. “Should we impose too much of the burden on our people we will lose legitimacy and collapse.”

Cadao nodded her head. She drew in a breath and recentered herself.

“I’m not asking for much ma’am. We have enough food to prevent starvation, and caloric intake need not drop much, but it simply has to drop for some. Right now, the ration policy means everyone is seeing some kind of shortage. We have to decide where the food goes to first and adjust from there with emergency supplies for the second-line distribution targets. My proposal is to use the Enset reserve for the civilian population and to allocate the fresh foodstuffs to the military. What do you think?”

“For a member of the civil government, you sure are predisposed to the military.”

Daksha averted her eyes and made a pitiful shrug, knowing her words were ridiculous.

Cadao narrowed her eyes at her. “Forgive me ma’am, but look who’s talking?”

“There’s a core of truth I’m trying to hit you with.” Daksha replied, partially amused by Cadao’s own equally pitiable response to . “Both of us are military women, as is most of the cabinet staff right now. If we show too much preferential treatment to the army it will be politically troubling to the population. Especially where it concerns food.”

At this, Cadao put her fist up into the air and spoke in a comically deep voice. “We will appeal to their patriotism! Oorah! Eat enset for the motherland, comrades!”

Daksha sighed openly. “I wish the elections could have been decided already.”

She put on a petty, curmudgeonly face, and grumbled openly.

“Process is process, ma’am. It must be respected, if it is implemented at all.” Cadao replied. “So am I right in thinking this is your new scheme ma’am? You held the elections so the Council could become the villain who set the food regulations.”

“It’s about time for someone else to be the villain for once.” Daksha replied. “Whether it’s food regulations, political and speech rights, or anything else. I’d love for anyone else to have to shoulder as many decisions as I have had to in the past few months.”

Both of them cocked little grins. There was a hint of bitterness, but it garnished a sort of humor. A dark humor that had arisen to cope with the critical situation they were in. Was it not convenient that Daksha’s turn to democracy was well-timed with a series of difficult decisions that needed to be made on the course of the country; or perhaps it was the other way around, and disaster after disaster only arose when Daksha finally settled on a time to revive the Council and share power with popular representatives?

No matter what, there was no way history would overlook the coincidences.

“At any rate,” Daksha steepled her fingers on her desk, resting her chin on them, “You do realize that the moment Enset starts making an appearance in people’s bread and soup in the canteens, there could well be a mass depression among the refugees?”

“Premier, what is the point of famine food reserves if we never use them?”

Cadao looked exasperated. Daksha was reiterating a popular, but inconvenient thought. It was irrational, and Cadao obviously hated it for that, but it captured the mood of the population whenever the Enset was tapped into. It was a harbinger.

Enset was grown in vast tracts of low-quality land on the northernmost edge of Jomba, the breadbasket of the Socialist Dominance of Solstice. Enset was a member of the same family as bananas, and its fruit was similar, but starchier and tougher. The Enset had a workmanlike taste that excited nobody, but it was a miracle food. Every part of the Enset was edible, from its roots, to its long, thick fruits, to its herbaceous fronds and the thick, leafy stem-like body. It grew in the worst soil one could throw it in and it required relatively little water. It was hardy, shrugging off blight and weather.

During the old Empire, which was wracked by frequent local famines in the south, Enset was discovered as a crop that hardly failed and was used as a hedge against famines. Culturally, Enset became associated with hardship and poverty, and during the destructive reign of the mad Emperor Kanawe Ayvarta II, the crop was reviled by the royal family as a symbol of Ayvarta’s backwardness, and burned away. Under the socialists, the Enset reserve was slowly rebuilt. It was again nearly spent during a series of food shortages in the 20s. In the past few years it had been rebuilt anew.

Ayvartan socialists tried time and again to promote the trees as comrades; but no amount of propaganda could turn the culture around. The hardy Enset, the bosom to which Ayvarta had crawled to milk in its worst seasons, was resoundingly thought of with morbidity and gloom. People saw Enset as a sign of bad times, and though they ate it, and though it could be spiced and enjoyed with adequate care, there was no away to escape the fact that they only ate Enset in the absence of ‘real’ foods. So whenever the Enset came, the Ayvartans knew that they were being deprived.

Daksha Kansal knew that distributing Enset would be read as something of a defeat.

“Let’s go over our other options.”

“Fine, Premier.”

“What’s the status of our food supply right now? How much did we manage to save from the south? When do we expect anything more from Jomba?” Kansal asked.

Cadao Chakma rearranged the documents in her hands to pull up the appropriate page. She was always found with a folder or a planner in hand, ready to answer any question. Even a question as broad and difficult as this was already filed in her brain.

“Given the circumstances, it’s a miracle we managed to get anything out of Shaila and Adjar, since there was no kind of disaster plan for such a situation. Because everything lay in the efforts of local commanders and authorities, the results vary wildly and are very mixed.” Cadao began, matter-of-factly. She sighed. “So, from the top: we had crops awaiting the fall harvest period in Adjar and Shaila when Nocht invaded. Adjar is chiefly a soybean region, while Shaila is more diverse. From Shaila, the Tukino pocket and the defense of Knyskna slowed down Nocht enough for a major evacuation. We managed to evacuate 80% of the grain, 50% of the green vegetables and 40% of the fruit. We did not move any oil plants or tobacco: the locals prioritized real food over it.”

“How much grain was saved in real world numbers?” Daksha asked.

“Not enough. Ma’am, I can give you the reports, but right now, do we really want to count bushels of grain aloud? I’m sorry, but this feels like procrastinating. You’re just trying to distract from the issue. I’m willing to indulge, but we must talk about enset.”

Nobody else would talk like that to Daksha Kansal. Cadao looked guilty and avoided her gaze, rubbing one hand over her other forearm. She was tense, but she still spoke her mind. This was the kind of relationship they had. Daksha smiled back at her. As uncomfortable as it made Cadao to challenge her, Daksha liked being talked back to.

“You’re right, of course. You usually are. But please, do indulge me for a moment while I collect my thoughts. This is all evidence, after all. So; what happened in Adjar then?”‘

Cadao nodded. She started to regain some of her cool and returned to her pragmatic tone of voice. “Thanks to the efforts of one illustrious Madiha Nakar, Dori Dobo was defenseless and the Dobo Broadland planting area was entirely lost to the enemy, with almost all our soybean harvest from the South clime. Much of it was taken by Nocht outright, but about 20% was spent by the troops themselves during the battle, so it’s more acceptable than it seems.” She said that in good nature. No one could do anything but heap Madiha with praise, but her actions had not been perfect. She had made choices and they came with consequences like this one. “However, the spirited defense at Bada Aso allowed for the evacuation of all of the fruit, green vegetables and oil plants in the eastern and southern parts of Adjar. I don’t believe it was Nakar’s primary intention to save our supply of vitamin-rich food, but she did it all the same.”

“Knowing Madiha Nakar, she was probably hoping the people would have a chance to escape, with food or without it.” Daksha said. “Not enough of them did, anyway.”

“The Republic of Ayvarta counts several millions of our people as their ‘citizens’ right now; but they don’t count on the southern bumper crop we were expecting this year.”

Cadao was not a cruel person at heart, Daksha knew, but someone drowning in numbers who could only contextualize them in a fully utilitarian way. To humanize them too much would break her heart and brain. It had already done so before.

Unlike Daksha, Cadao was not yet numb to the screaming violence of one’s brain trying to process a history of warfare. But she confronted their reality in her own way.

“Dbagbo had a limited agricultural footprint.” Cadao said. She went right on from her morbid little quip to the facts of matter once again. “We managed to save some of the grain and vegetable harvest, but the most important resources there were fuel-related, especially aircraft fuel. We focused our efforts on that instead. Meanwhile, in Tambwe, the situation was similar, but most of its resources could not be moved. Tambwe was home to a lot of logging and mining. Hard to move that away.”

“We did evacuate the factory equipment, if I remember correctly.” Daksha said.

“Whole factories are being moved to Jomba and Chunar.” Cadao said.

“What of our meat supplies?” Daksha asked.

Daksha herself did not eat meat, and most Ayvartans had some dietary restriction regarding meat. Many were vegetarians, but most people at least ate chicken or fish. Pork and beef were both subject to extensive taboos among large populations, and so neither pigs nor cows were chiefly raised for their meat. Chicken, fish and then lamb were the majority of the meat consumption. Chicken was the largest of these industries: they also produced eggs which were enjoyed by most Ayvartans.

“Most of the meat was not evacuated, but we’re not exactly hurting for chickens.”

Cadao was brief; the meat industry was not too important in the overall scheme of things, and it was easy enough to restart. Animals could be sourced. Agriculture was difficult to uproot and move, and strongly seasonal. For Ayvartans, it was grain that was the lifeblood, and for planners, it was grain seasons that determined life and death. Lentils, wheat, and soybeans got the communists through their days. With a little milk and fruit besides, they could live happily; but they needed the grain.

Right now, they were starting to see holes in the cycle of grain that sustained them.

Daksha resumed the conversation, having come to a decision in her mind.

“So we managed to get some of our food from the south, but not all. I take it then that the influx of refugees outpaced the amount of food we managed to evacuate too.”

“Correct.” Cadao said. She looked out the tower window, at the low lying buildings of the old districts. “Millions of people evacuated ma’am. Most of them were factory workers and their families. They’re used to doing hard work and being well compensated for it. We exalt the worker in Ayvarta. They got good food, they raised big families, and they broke their backs for us in return for that prosperity.”

“And now they’re in tent camps waiting for a job assignment or a rifle.” Daksha said.

She closed her fist over the desk in frustration. Utopian dreams were sadly always outmatched by the scarcity of the moment. They were flush with people and nothing else. Moving people to work sites took time and vehicles, making new work sites took fuel and steel and even more time, and doing each of these things limited their ability to move troops, to move current workers; and all the while the poor refugees ate the fair ration for one uninvolved in work and sat restless and miserable waiting for work.

Many of them joined the army, to get revenge or to do their patriotic duty. For those that did, it was the same excruciating idleness, except for training and equipment. Waiting for tools, waiting for a vehicle, or waiting for a divisional deployment.

Ayvarta promised to feed and house everyone, and in the moment, they were able to hold up their end of that promise, but only just so. Housed in tents, and now, fed enset; housed in barracks, waiting for violence to come to them, and perhaps, eating well. What had become of the Ayvartan dream that the communists had promised them?

Absolutely miserable; not at all the glories that Daksha had so hoped for this land.

Cadao could probably sense the frustration in the room. She averted her gaze.

“Jomba’s spring harvest is coming up, but with all the refugees to Solstice and the northern regions, we don’t expect to see significant surpluses in the food system until the Fall harvest season. At that point, we can rethink the rations again, but to get there at all, we need to cut now, ma’am. Jomba’s harvest last year was not as large as hoped either, so we’re starting from a disadvantaged position no matter what. We need to distribute enset, ma’am, and we need to give it to people who are not actively participating in the war effort. That’s the long and short of it. We have no options.”

Cadao had gotten better at laying her foot down. Daksha was almost moved to smile.

She could appreciate it being her own neck being stomped on, just this once.

Daksha smiled, but also she grit her teeth behind her lips.

“Not a lot I can say in return, is there? I just want one favor, from a friend. Please delay the entry of the enset reserve as much as possible, and transition the food supplies little by little. We will also need to launch a propaganda campaign about enset.”

“Don’t worry, Premier. This isn’t like before. People will understand.” Cadao said.

Daksha steepled her fingers on the table and laid her hand on them.

They had to do anything it took to win, to prevent this state from becoming perpetual.

Someday, there would be plenty again. But right now, they had to suffer for that future.

She hated having to think that way, but it was the reality she was faced with.

“What if we change the name to something like: victory loaf?” Kansal suddenly said.

She was again met with a pitiable little sigh.

“We’ll have professionals working on it, Premier.” Cadao replied.

She walked over to Daksha’s desk and softly patted her on the shoulder in reassurance. Daksha sank against the desk, her face lost into her own arms.

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