Serenades, chapter 16

Deviation Actions

Literature Text

“Damn those bastards to hell!” Marciana shouted. The purple ribbon she had clipped to her hair, a sparkly ultramarine tippet wrapped around her neck, her long heartsease-print white slip over a palustrial gray shirt and blue jeans did little to negate her distressed look. Concerto for Contrabass and Radio Static was playing in the background, something that may or may not be just a badly degraded recording from a shortwave radio.
“That’s not like you,” I told her, inside wondering where Theopemptus was so I could beat him to a bloody pulp myself. “Anyway, I found some letters in Theopemptus’ apartment.”
She calmed down. “Hmm. I suppose it could be decrypted with an algorithm and a bit of time. I doubt that it’s a simple substitution cypher. In fact, if they had a bit of clarity, they’d write something with spelling errors that would decrypt into something coherent and very wrong. By the way, if you want to try your own messages, I suggest giving it to Purajana to crack. If she can do it, you have a problem. Right now, we have six Malachim hiding in the city, and this needs to be dealt with. Let our rival factions know about this. Trust me on this one, I didn’t spend almost a year among the PLA without learning a thing or two about tactics. Especially tactics where there are groups that hate each other almost as much as they hate us. Let them lose a Decemviri squad on each Malach, that’s the ideal situation.”

“I found Ava. Mind if she joins us?”
“It’s fine, I guess.”
Ava walked in, silently, in a bright chartreuse shirt that exposed her navel and made her mood seem more subdued, jeans, a thick blue and black plaid scarf. The three of us sat down at the table. Marciana wrapped a duvet around her like a cocoon. Ava listlessly sliced some cucumbers, made a salad with coriander, olives, turmeric, and dried chili peppers. She wordlessly offered me and Marciana some.
“There’s a type with chameleon armor. I heard about those when I was in Hindana. They had ten of them hiding in Dakyanus when they withdrew. Who knows? Maybe they have some hiding here. Now, if we had a patrician on our side, which is about as likely as the Knights supporting me in my relation with Khenpo.”
“I’m sorry,” Ava said, “I can’t eat any more of this.”
“Oh, and not to mention, the Knights of the Cross and the Saints’ Legion have their own ambitions here. As you already know by now, their proposed aid to our factions was never meant to actually help us. Truth is, we have more ideological White allies than we do in the Blues or Grays. At least the Whites don’t want to take the right to vote away from the majority who live in apartments or rent their home.”
“I don’t want to stay, anyway. I’m growing increasingly dissatisfied with the way things are going. We’re appeasing the Knights and Saints’ Legion and their little masturbatory fantasies of destroying us too much, while doing little for us and not giving us any representation on the Assembly except for Nai-Thim, and a fellow by the name of Berhare, from Adulis, who’s just there for show. It’s like he’s just there to show our tolerant side even though he never gets a chance to speak. Why even have them on the Assembly if it would be the same thing if we got some moderates in the National Party and the occasional Labour member like the ones who voted for Marcellian? Our police department is ineffectual. We’re squabbling amongst ourselves when outside forces want to destroy us. The aristocracy has their own ambition and Lepidus is afraid that Mediolanum falling would encourage revolutions in Vendelicorum, Nicopolis, and Lauriacum. And he’s going to try very hard to suppress this one. And with that thick head of his, he’ll probably keep trying even when he knows he’ll lose more of Selinia. I know, I know, I said that I didn’t want to be a part of the new government, that I didn’t want the burden, but fuck, I’ll be better than half of the people in it. Seriously. I recommend kicking out all the sheetheads and all those other racist fucks back to Dyrrhasium or whatever, and we keep order before elections, and I go on an extended vacation in Lanxang, and if they fuck up, I get myself involved in another revolution. That’s how it should be.”
“If we won, we wouldn’t need them anymore. That’s why we have to win. We need to convince the skeptics amongst the Whites that we’re not going to create another ecclesiarchy like Pannonia, a direct democracy where very few are allowed to become citizens like the Palmyrenes, or an inept and brutal despotate like the Exarchy in South Qataban. We are not rabid anti-intellectuals like Khaosai’s followers. We are not a corporate state where property is valued more than human lives like Scarbantia.”

“I knew the Knights of the Cross weren’t interested in helping us,” Marciana said.  “Things are going terribly awry,”
“What is it,” Ava groaned.
“What happened?” Her eyes widened.
“We’ve been betrayed to the Selinians.”
“Who? Joannicus?”
“No, not him. He’s still with us. It was Theopemptus”
“What happened?”
“Sold us out to Selinia. Rivasoa barely escaped.”
“What a shock. Why?” Ava sounded sarcastic.
“I have no idea,” she yelled, tears of distress clouding her eyes. “I don’t associate with the bastard. We didn’t think he was with the Selinians, we thought he was with the blacks or the Cleisourarch. Anysia told me to kill him if he did anything suspicious, and we’d blame the byproducts or Selinia. He’d be a martyr and our enemies would be rallied up to fight Selinia instead of us.”
“I knew him. He was a shit, even when he was masquerading as one of us. He started to launch a public campaign against me after I blew up at him for saying something stupid about the Adalese. Or maybe that was that whore Dipavali. He kept calling Ver a tinker.”
“He wasn’t with the Knights before. I’m sorry. For blowing up at you, anyway. And for refusing to accept. I didn’t know if he was being serious or joking with Veridiana. Or maybe I wanted to think that because there’s no way someone like him could make it to triumvir, even if he was appeasing to the average Selinian.”
“He was clever enough to notice the plot against him, I’ll give him credit for that. I’m going to call a meeting of the Greens and Reds.”

They held the meeting in a garage; gray cement and sodium lamps, with tables and couches brought in from outside. The city was prepared for an invasion by Selinia and for the attacks from within; there were surface-to-air missile batteries and large coilguns on wheels for destroying smaller floaters and bombers. I heard that the expeditionary frigate Vijelia was brought down outside the city, the front turret and three of the chainguns still worked, but it would only last as long as we had ammunition.
“First, in a recent speech, Lepidus promises that Selinian troops will never leave Mediolanum. I say we help him fulfill his promise.” The room erupted in cheers.
“Second, the Cleisourarch has been consolidating his power for some time since the recent disaster. Don’t look so surprised. Most of us saw it coming. We know that Theopemptus was involved, and Veridiana and I agreed to remove him from the triumvirate. I will hold an election at this point. Also, please use this time to consider minority representation, as many of you have complained about the lack of it in the Provisional Assembly, even before Volusian and Adheritus began carrying out purges. I don’t want you to think that I’ve unfairly elevated my friend when I nominate Rivasoa.” Rivasoa stood up, a young, dark-skinned woman, dressed in the palustrial green jacket and checkered keffiyeh of a Green soldier, a floppy hat with ostrich plumes, bracelets of arabesqued gilt and blue-stained metal and lacquered wood with sapphire and almandine. To me, it seemed like the hat was a nod to Celestine, but I wasn’t sure. There was something Archipelagian about her face. She was a Menuthiasi, says Marciana, from a cluster of islands to the south and east of Dakyanus.
Veridiana stood up, as always looking more like an artist than a leader, in a white silk shirt with lace trimming and lace ribbons, black crocheted vest, brown scarf with beads and embroidery on the edges, a pendant of a apple with gold leaves, half of the plastic skin peeled away to reveal flowers made from colorful semiprecious stones and gearwork of silver, amethyst earrings, billowy violet-print skirt, a headband of red and yellow and brown feathers, her lips pink and her eyelashes decorated with red glitter. “I would like to nominate Marciana. People would take us more seriously if we had her.”
“It’s utterly fucked up that we’d need three ethnic Selinians, even if two of them have only had rights since the first civil war,” a young man reclining in one of the couches uttered. “Are we going to start complaining about so-called sexual deviants or the lack of males?”
“My group still has a reputation of being thieves and mountebanks and vagabonds who never work honestly. I know, as an artist, I don’t help much,” Veridiana said. “And I’m the oldest of five children, plus Ava lived with me, and I don’t think that helps much. Nothing like hypocritical nonsense from people who are paid to have children.”
“We had a token Selinian male who’d probably be category 3. And look how that ended up. I don’t want another triumvir who’s there to pander to factions that would never support us to begin with,” Anysia said. She did her best to look professional, in a black coat over a collared flower-print shirt, brown boots, long red silk and black lace skirt, a red tippet with embroidered geometric patterns and tassels on the end. “Honestly, you have no business being here if you’re going to vote for someone like him over a more qualified woman or minority. We’d all be happier if you sod off and go home.”
“I agree with both of you,” Veridiana responded. “And that says more about them than it does about us. We need someone highborn. Our family names, Bratianu and Doletskaya, don’t add much prestige. Marciana would add that, even if she is of a fallen house.”
Marciana spoke. She was in solemn earth tones, a brown paisley shirt that bared her navel despite the cold, a black skirt with gauzy trimmings and polished black knee-high boots, a marking of ashes on her forehead. “I feel Rivasoa would be competent. I will still accept your nomination, as many of you have concerns about Rivasoa and have concerns about needing prestige.”
“Marciana, please don’t get offended. You’re very intelligent. But you could be incompetent and get away with anything, and if Rivasoa tried to do that, everyone would say that she’s only there because of our meddling.”
“No offense taken.”
“What about Ava?”
“She has declined all requests for a seat on the triumvirate. She said that people already mock her by calling her the anointed one and splashing piss on her while the Grays paint themselves the ones who will save Mediolanum from themselves,” Marciana said. Ava was a figurehead, her lost childhood a reminder of what we fight for. “They want to parade her around the city naked and bound with stinging nettles before executing her. Maybe she used to dream of fame, but I don’t think she wants it now that it’s in her grasp.”
“On to the subject of the constitution. We forbid discrimination based on age, religion, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. We must guarantee freedom of speech in all its forms, except when used to incite violence or suppression. Art, music, film, animation, theatre, opera, games, and literature are all classified as protected speech. I do wish to tax religious groups who wield too much influence, and I will dissolve any church and jail any heads of churches inciting suppression if they do not stop. Pillar of Fire comes to mind. I know I’m not going to be popular for that, but I’m not trying to be popular amongst the non-Green masses, and I trust the people will do the right thing. Anything else?”
“We need freedom of knowledge and freedom of education as well,” Veridiana said.
“Triumvirs should be elected every two years to terms of six years,” an unseen man said.
“When we established a legitimate government,” Anysia responded. “As for succession, we can survive as a duumvirate for a month, and a reelection should be held as soon as possible, with a week’s notice.”
“Abolish the death penalty and forcing family members to pay for an execution or imprisonment.”
“That’s a given,” Anysia continued. “Pannonia is the only nation barbaric enough to use it on anyone, even Selinia only used it for war crimes between the Civil War and Lepidus’ seizure of power.”
“What about citizenship?” Ava asked. “Don’t make it too hard.”
“Dissolve the Siguranta!” someone yelled.
“And we need the right to food and shelter and clean air and water and education and health care.”
A young mother in a white dress and black coat sang a lullaby to her child, “dream, my little one, soft dream flies, it flies to your eyes, be silent, little baby, our dreams were hushed away by grim despotism, and only hunger sung our song.”
A black-haired woman in white angora and a crimson scarf seated next to Anysia said “We need true equality, not this nonsense they thrust on us when they encouraged us to not use surnames to hide the fact that the well-paying jobs and positions of power are still held by category one and two people. How many of us are there, Veridiana? Mappalicius Leoveanu, former director of the Siguranta. And that’s all I can think of.”
“And we need to be allowed to speak our language in public and to not be forced into segregated schools and to not be fingerprinted for being who we are. We have to end the sumptuary laws, and have the freedom to wear whatever we want.”

I left, and it seemed that the Battle of Mediolanum was underway, our anti-tank guns amongst a hastily-constructed fortification made from piles of rubble amongst the walls of a destroyed brick building picking off distant warmechs.

“What day is it? Eighteenth? Nineteenth?” I asked. We sat down on a bench waiting for the train to arrive. A poster said ‘equality,’ showed couples of various ethnicity and sexuality. The chamber, reminding me of a buried cathedral of the future, was lit by fluorescent tubes and by lamps behind orange and gold stained glass in the rough stone walls. The floor was brick. There was a platoon of men and women, a quad chaingun and several regular ones, but this was just one in a series of defensive lines, and they seemed lax. The major front was at Mulberry Street; there was even a mobile flamethrower there for emergencies.
“Something like that,” Marciana said, world-weary and dejected. She took off her mittens and hat and put them in her bag. “I know because I gave up alcohol for the next forty days, and I hope nothing terrible happens because I don’t have Ava’s sense of self-control.”
“At this time last year, we were lying on a beach outside of Dakyanus, staring at the stars and letting the sand trickle from our hands. But we could still hear the war going on. I wanted to think kids were setting off fireworks, but it probably wasn’t.”
“I was training PLA recruits. I think we should use some of their tactics. Get some hand grenades, wrap them in rubber bands, when our enemies come to burn our buildings so we can’t use them, the rubber melts and the lever is released, kaboom.” She threw her hands out for emphasis. “They throw them in the fuel tank for warmechs and assault vehicles, but I’d rather an intact warmech under our control.” She said it loud and defiant, daring anyone who hears it to mess with us.
“I wonder how much longer the trains are going to run for.”
“Not much longer, I’d imagine. Anysia says we can only get two at a time, so they just go back and forth within our zones of control. She thought about setting up a way for them to turn, but she can’t figure out how to do it.”
It took an hour for the train to get here. Marciana and I sat under a poster with a crying woman shielding her infant from a SWP rifleman, the caption “if you tolerate this, your children are next.” Across from us was one of sad-looking faces, the statement “Dehumanization is the first step towards genocide.” I got up to look at it. Below each face was an ethnic slur. “Racism is counterrevolutionary,” someone wrote.
“Oh, hi, Marciana. Did you get a translation of that yet?” said a young man in flannel and jeans and heavy boots, a mop of brown hair.
“Yeah, I think the algorithm was faulty. It said that it’s Selinia’s first success at engineering a malach-model.”

“Let’s believe in her. I know you two aren’t getting along so well, but I want to leave too, and give Purajana to Thuy Anh. I’m not interested in finding out what will happen to Purajana if the Blues or Grays get control. The Blues not so much, they just want noble rule again, and to take the vote from anyone who isn’t a property-owning Occidental male, while the Grays want their own living space, and they’ll kill Purajana if they can’t send her back to her homeland. And the Whites would make it intolerable by reintegrating us fully with Selinia. And there’s the Blacks. The less said about the Blacks, the better. The Reds, well, they’re our allies, but I think too expansionist and violent, and while they may agree with us and they’re going to win the war, I can’t imagine them lasting without major problems.”
“Blacks and Grays aren’t exactly different factions,” Ava said. “One’s the fucking militant wing, and one’s a bunch of fucks dressed up and making a pathetic attempt to look professional. It’s like the SWP and the Heritage Front all over again.”
“The Grays are willing to use violence.”
“I know, and I don’t want Purajana here either.”
“What’s Dipavali part of? She reminds me of those fundamentalists we encountered when we were in those ruins in Vengi. You remember, don’t you?”
“Probably a fucking Gray. She acts like one. And the other one, openly supporting the Grays when he calls my parents sellouts for falling for each other. What a fucking bloody load of hypocritical nonsense.”
“I think he was in Sarnath,” she muttered. “They might be Blues. A lot of the Blues are Palmyrene condottieri and paid troops the nobles bring in to fight their wars.”
“She could be with a bored aristocrat who became enamored with Hinduism while still thinking they all worship Shiva’s erect gizmo and tainted it with his own beliefs on ethnicity.”
“I doubt it. Lanxang and Yunan are offering their support, you know. They don’t recognize the Grays as a legitimate government,” I said.
“I know. What about the others?”
“I think the Palmyrene government is siding with the Blues or Grays, but I’m not quite sure which. The Synod of Pannonia wants both an ally and a threat to Selinia and Ain Sifna, and perhaps the Near East as well, so they’re throwing their lot in with the Grays and Blacks. They tolerate Selinia because they’d help deal with insurgents massing on their side of the border and striking from there, but less so since Salomea wanted no part of it and Lepidus’ forces are already too occupied to bother. A chunk of the Reds are members of the Pannonian Revolutionary Front, so you can guess who they’re siding with. The Near East also wants a threat to Selinia. They’re taking a gamble and joining the Reds now that the Grays have begun carrying out purges of religious and ethnic minorities. The Council sends their moral support to us but can not afford to send soldiers at the time, and I’m not sure where the remnants of the loyalist goverment lie. I’ve heard they’re serving in the Selinian Army now. Aleria and Scarbantia are steadfastly with the Blues. The Reef Isles, I’m not sure. If they don’t remain neutral due to their proximity with Selinia, I expect them to throw their lot in with the Reds or Greens. Champassak is neutral, although the peoples’ loyalties are split between us and then between the Grays and Whites. I’m afraid the current Prime Minister has her hands tied. She’s mostly there because the occupation of Kantipur ended in disaster.”
Marciana smiled at that remark.

“Um, kiddo, I have to leave. But don’t worry, you’re going to live in Tan Long. It’s very far away, almost on the other side of the world. It’s safe there. And I’ll come visit you, I promise. I’ll miss you.”

“I talked to Veridiana and Anysia. They’re going to appeal to the rest of the Greens about evacuating Mediolanum and perhaps deal with Theopemptus and find this Arun person for us. We’re not going to wait for them. We need to get out immediately. The moon is almost new. It’s a good night to escape. No light for them to follow us.”
“Where are we going to go?”
“East. The journey will be a harsh one.”
“We’ll die out there.” Wind whipped fallen snow through the air and into my flesh like stinging needles. I pulled my greatcoat closer.
“We’ll die here too. This whole city is going to become a battlefield, the Selinians and the Grays and the aristocracy and the Pannonians all want us dead. We’ll come back. We just need to aim the knife at their heart first.”
“Anysia, I’ve located the askari groups,” I typed into my handheld. The Carmanians, Gedrosians, and Vengians would make easy targets.
“Ok, good, we can punch a hole through them. Once we launch the rockets, run through and don’t stop for anything. An electromagnetic pulse will follow half a minute later. I’ll send snipers as well to pick off the officers, but we don’t have many long-range rifles or people with any idea how to use them, so don’t depend too much on them. They’ll plug up the hole as soon as possible with Selinians and Palmyra’s Azure Legion.”

“The hobilers, katiushiers, and snipers are in position right now,” Anysia texted. “I’m so moved by their loyalty to a nation they will never be a part of that I will send them straight to Paradise.”
“Thanks. I’m ready.”
“Leave when the first katiushya salvo flies overhead. And turn your handheld off. The pulse will blow that out too.”
And we came out once more to see the stars.
The last line is from Dante's Inferno.

For comparison, the colors with their real life equivalent.

Reds: I want to say Maoists or Leninists, but not really.
Greens: Trotskyists, democratic socialists
Blues: Seikijuku? Chetniks? I don't know much about royalist groups.
Grays: KKK; the immigration forum on city-data, Save Our State. They won't hesitate to terrorize minorities, but they'd be content with deportation.
Blacks: Ustase.
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