After her surprise encounter with the shadow division unit, the rest of the day was a bit of a blur. It had been a hectic day so perhaps that was understandable. Before she knew it, she had returned home to the hab and said goodbye to Nora.
As soon as it was only them, Mertha lifted her up into her vines and held Cleo in a thigh embrace. Cleo did not have the physical or mental energy to resist any sort of affection at this point and embraced Mertha in return.
Mertha smiled “how was your first day at work?” There were many ways to answer that question.
Cleo puzzled a bit into a vine “it was good, was nice to be productive again…I know I don’t have to, but it was still nice.” Mertha’s stern gaze melted and her affini squeezed her a bit. Mertha seemed a bit distracted for a minor second.
Then her gaze returned “how are you doing without the conditioning and C-t?” Cleo thought about it and was a bit surprised at what she found.
It was a bit of relief “not that bad actually, working must have kept my mind busy.” Mertha smiled even wider and hugged her closer, her biorhythm was filled with relief. For a brief moment, Cleo felt entranced by the melody before Mertha shook her a little.
Mertha carried her over to the table and sat her down “I made you some sushi, but you seem quite tired. Want me to feed you?” Cleo blinked a few times, what? But yeah she was tired….Indulging Mertha in this was not going to cost her anything.
Cleo yawned a bit “okay, don’t get used to it though.” Her affini smiled warmly and everything felt a bit easier. The vines began to order her mouth and fed her small pieces of fish and rice. Despite it being a bit humiliating, there was no one else here and it was relaxing.
Mertha also pat her a few times while feeding her “I’m very happy that you are feeling well and that you are finding the work fulfilling. Just know that you can stop at any time, okay?” right, work. she had almost forgotten about that with all of Mertha’s affection distracting her. She would allow it to distract her a bit longer.
Cleo motioned for Mertha to stop feeding her for a moment “I know, but I still have to do this. There are too many lives in the balance.” Mertha nodded understandingly, she seemed to be more comfortable with the idea now. Cleo still felt a bit guilty for putting Mertha through this but there was no other way.
While Cleo was fed her mind moved back to work, to The Game. She hoped dearly that her plans would work as she suspected they would. The casualties had been low so far but that could quickly escalate and get out of control, she knew that out of experience. The memories troubled her, if she had worked harder, better, then those other crises would not have spiraled out of control, she could not make the same mistake now. How could she have le-
“Hi cutie, you got a visitor!” Her train of thought was broken, she looked up at Mertha.
Her affini fed her the last sushi piece “that must be Vonzin, I’ll go get her.” Cleo noticed a slight bit of worry in Mertha’s voice, perhaps she was concerned about her health.
Mertha walked over to the door and let Vonzin in, the two had a quiet conversation in affini that Cleo could not hear well enough to decode. Then Vonzin came over “hi Cleo, just going to do a quick checkup to make sure that you are fine, okay?” There was something a bit off with Vonzin’s voice, the vet was likely stressed from all the extra work they had to do.
Cleo could at least make this quick for them both, she rolled up her sleeve and let Vonzin get to work. There was a very slight sting in her arm as the Vet began to check her levels. Vonzin looked at the data pad, it seemed her eyes were focused on one particular spot, Cleo got a bit concerned. She had not pushed herself that far, had she? “Vonzin, is everything alright? Any big problems?” If her health was deteriorating fast…
Vonzin smiled and put away the data pad “no, everything is fine. Just make sure to rest a lot, understand?” That was a relief, resting…yeah she could do that. Vonzin put a vine against her forehead “do you have a headache or any such pain?” Cleo shook her head and Vonzin smiled warmly.
Vonzin left a bit later and Mertha lifted her up once more “Do you want to cuddle before you go to bed?” Cleo had planned to do a bit more work but cuddling honestly sounded better, Vonzin was right about her not being able to help anyone if she collapsed.
Cleo nodded “that sounds nice, but no class-A. I need to be ready for tomorrow.” Mertha smiled and picked her up, soon they were in their usual spot on the couch. It felt so nice to be close to Mertha and hear her biorhythm again. In almost no time at all, she fell asleep.
Vonzin had been right, her health was still very good. In fact, walking seemed effortless at this point. She and Nora were making their way to the station and for once did not feel like an effort to keep up. Once they got there it only took a minute before the tram came into the station. Cleo embarked and found the spot she had used yesterday, Nora joined her.
Nora seemed a bit anxious “are you feeling okay?” Cleo could only conclude that the question she just received would be asked many, many more times in the coming days.
Cleo gave a reassuring smile “I’m fine, I got a good deal of sleep. I'm refreshed for another day of work, don’t worry.” At least she was fine at the moment, she would soon have to check the casualty numbers…if her estimations were correct she would not feel fine after that. It was always best the first day and then it would keep getting worse until it was resolved, she braced herself and took out the data pad.
She went to the updated files she had received and….the numbers were low, surprisingly low. She must have underestimated the affini’s capabilities again. Cleo breathed out in relief, things were not as bad as she had imagined. This did not mean that things were good, what it meant was that she had to fix this before the number could reach any higher. Using the shadow division would help with that, but she needed more control.
She looked through a few more of the files, not all were as positive but there was at least a good deal of improvement, she also began to form some further plans. She had received another message from Trexal.
[GreatBigCuddler]: good morning and first of all, great work! many of the suggestions will probably help a lot. I have talked to the others, and we agreed to give you direct access to the members of your cabinet. There might be a slight delay, we are still working with the overnet online as you advised. Please come by at 12:00 so we can discuss further plans.
Cleo was a bit befuddled, direct access to her cabinet? That would give her an incredible degree of control over the departments and with that, power. Had her reforms bought that much faith? If she took this opportunity then…she might even be able to plan behind the affini’s back. Maybe she should say that it was a bad idea and deny it….but it would make her more efficient, and she would be able to help more people. She had already crossed the line when she decided to use the shadow division, this was just as necessary.
Cleo felt a bit of guilt for deceiving the affini, it was for their own and the planet's good. Doing the things that needed to be done would be far worse for an affini than for her. If anyone was to carry the burden, she was the one. A bit of guilt bubbled up from the depths of her mind, where had such thinking gotten her before? She crushed the doubt, now was not the time.
She and Nora got off the tram and made their way to the office. The paperwork she had requested had already been delivered, large stacks of white paper filled the desk. Cleo cracked her fingers and got to work. Nora sat down in one of the spare chairs and took up a data pad, she was probably chatting with Serla and Darla. Cleo felt a bit bad dragging Nora away from her owner and pinnate. Well, it was her choice and right now Cleo had work to do.
Cleo looked over the documents, going through the stacks one by one. Her reforms had not yet come into effect so for now it was time to focus on other problems. With each document, the web got a bit more detailed, the strings a bit more in focus. At around 11:10 she got a report stating that around 83% of the bureaucrats were back on the job. The resignation ploy had worked wonders, the remaining 17% were sure to follow soon.
Cleo used the new communication device on the desk to send some orders to members of the cabinet. There was a delay of a few minutes before she got any answers, but it worked. She would wait with giving any orders that the affini might disagree with. The opportunity was there, and she would use it when it became necessary.
Soon it was time to head to the meeting with Trexal, she collected her recommendations and plans in her briefcase “Nora, it is time to go.” Nora seemed distracted by the data pad, that was not like her “Nora. It is time for the meeting.” Cleo spoke a bit louder, though she doubted Nora’s inactivity was due to her not hearing.
Nora shook a bit and put away the data pad “sorry, got a bit lost in thought. I’m ready.” Cleo rolled her eyes a bit, probably something to do with Serla, it had to be.
They made their way to the captain’s office, 4 minutes before the meeting. As soon as the clock struck 12:00 Cleo knocked on the door, and it opened. Trexal was alone and waiting, Cleo sat down in the chair and the meeting began.
Trexal spoke first “good to see you so lively, your plans are already bearing fruit. I hope the direct access to the departments will be helpful in future work.” Was Trexal testing her? Either way, it was best to play innocent.
Cleo got the documents out of her briefcase as she spoke “yes, I believe it very much will. I am happy that the casualties are so low, but I fear they may rise a lot soon…therefore I have some proposals to hinder that.” She dumped the documents on the desk, Trexal look at them with excitement.
The captain smiled, seeming a bit less tired. “go ahead, I have some things I would like advice for as well but let’s start with your ideas.” That sounded good in her book, Cleo pointed at the first sets of documents.
She had identified a major problem “currently, all supplies come from the compliers at the outreach centers. While anyone that comes there receives all the material needs they could need, many are too afraid to go there. Based on some reports it seems that the families are exploiting this by sending agents to collect supplies at the outreach centers and then selling them to the population. This has allowed them to economically pressure a great deal of people back into their ranks, I estimate that their forces have grown by at least 74% since the crisis began.” Trexal looked over the documents she handed them.
The affini sighed “that is certainly problematic, but it is not like we can refuse people food and medicine.” Cleo took out a small folder of documents and put it on the table.
The plan was rather simple “I will not suggest we do that. The problem stems from people not trusting you yet, but humans on the other hand. I suggest we start a citizen militia….don’t give me that look, we are not sending them to fight. Instead, they will get large amounts of supplies from the outreach centers and then distribute it amongst the people. The garrison will contact community leaders and call for volunteers to organize units. We can also use this as a way of spreading our intel network and distribute propaganda.” Trexal was nodding and flipping through the folder with a vine.
They looked up “many of these places are unstable and dangerous, I don’t think it is good to send civilians into these locations.” This was indeed a risk, a necessary one.
Cleo cleared her throat “yes, but these are also the areas with the most need for such help. Once the garrison is strong enough we can use them to escort the militia.” And it would not be long before that happened, the shadow division was always effective and successful in their task.
Trexal still had questions “and who would oversee this?” Now that was the big question, with two natural answers: Either the outreach centers and the affini, or the garrison and therefore in effect: Her.
The militias could be used in ways that would save many lives, a simple neighborhood watch system would go a long way to reducing violence. But that would mean putting more sophonts in danger and that the affini would be very cautious about doing that.
Cleo came to a decision “I think the garrison and the department of planetary security. They will have the most trust of the people and it will make it easier to coordinate, we also can’t afford to waste any more affini if we don’t have to.” All solid arguments but only a cover, had she pushed too far?
Trexal nodded, seemingly satisfied “that seems reasonable, I think we can move on.” That was it? the affini were being far too trusting, but she would use that for all that she could. Her mind spun with ideas on how she could use this to her advantage, the options were many.
The meeting went on until the matter of the Terran rebels came up, Trexal wanted advice apparently “the Ocul is ready to jump but the Terran ferals are very split up, do you have a good idea of where they should help first?” Cleo thought about it
They would have to prioritize “I think it should jump and attack the Terrans bombarding Rembian III. It is urban and has the largest population, aside from Centhia obviously. What is the state of the other affini vessel we were expecting? the Linum” They needed those ships now.
Trexal looked at one of the many data pads on their desk “I believe they will arrive here within 12 hours, got something in mind?” She always had something on her mind.
The next target was clear “tell it to ignore Centhia altogether and jump to the Cebrex system, Cebrex V is a rural world, so the bombardment has done little damage so far but if they find a refugee camp….” That implication was obvious.
Cebrex V…..the way she had handled the agrarian revolt had been a mistake. She could have turned them to allies, but she was too distracted with stabilizing Centhia from the Terran loyalist purge to give it enough attention. Using the shadow division had worked…but it was just another showcase where her lack of dedication had made things wo-
Mertha came through the door and broke her train of thought “hi, I brought you lunch! Are you doing well Cleo?” The smell of melted cheese from the pizza was mouthwatering and Cleo lost her concentration for a bit. Either way, it was a good idea to take a small break.
Cleo nodded and gratefully began to eat the pizza while Mertha gave her a few pats. She suddenly noticed “Nora, do you want some?” Nora did not respond immediately, she looked half asleep in the chair.
Nora blinked a few times “oh no, it is fine. Serla made me some this morning” She pointed to a small purse hanging over the chair. How had she not noticed the purse before? Her focus on working was likely the culprit. Cleo ate the rest of the pizza, it was not like she regretted the ability to eat all of Mertha’s cooking.
Cleo did feel a bit tired already “Trexal, would it be fine if we ended the meeting here? I think I would like to do some work in my office before I end the day.” Not only would that be a bit less taxing but would also give her the chance to send orders to the cabinet.
Mertha ruffled her hair a bit more “I think that sounds like a good idea, I need to leave now but I will see you soon.” Mertha gave her a soft kiss on the top of her head and then left the office.
Trexal was too scared to go against Mertha and she spent the rest of the workday in the office. The rest of the day followed the last, and soon she was home once more. Mertha fed her some food and before she knew it she was asleep in her vines.
Cleo stood on the rail platform once again, waiting for the tram. Despite how quickly she got tired these days, the vast amount of sleep she had been getting, along with Mertha’s affection, made sure she was refreshed today as well. It definitely made her memories a bit blurry with the rapid change of energy in her body.
Cleo thought about it “Nora, did I speak with Serla yesterday? I think it was time for a mental evaluation, but I can’t remember.” The fact that she couldn’t remember might be a good enough sign that she should slow down…but what cost would that have?
Nora smiled “yes you did….oh wait no, she told me you had fallen asleep when she arrived. Apparently, you were very cute…are you feeling fine?” Cleo blushed a bit and looked away.
The tram was arriving “yeah I’m fine, these last days have just been a bit much. But I can handle it.” She had to handle it.
They got on and Cleo prepared herself, took out the data pad, and looked at the reports. Once again she breathed out in relief, the casualties had grown a bit, but not by much. The garrison was also getting its people back together, though not as fast as she had expected. Something may be slowing the shadow division down. She would know what when she listened in on the broadcast in a few hours.
Except for that, things seemed to be going, perhaps not well, but at least better. The low casualty numbers were scaring her a bit if she was honest. They did not match with her estimations and that might mean that they would spike soon.
Cleo walked through the many doored corridors of the bureaucracy and entered her office. A new set of white towers awaited her inspection, they were taller than yesterday. She began her work once more, there was a lot to do. The garrison was finally in fighting shape and the President’s citizen militia was forming, soon she would have far more power over the endless gray streets on the planet below. The bureaucracy and its new structure were humming like a well-oiled machine, under her control.
The web was finally beginning to align itself around her, as it had before the Terrans rebelled against her and the affini had to intervene. When she was the center of the web, she could pull at all its strings and make sure things went right. She still needed a few more strings, there was never enough of them to be completely secure.
Part of her was fully embracing having power again, it felt right, and she felt safer. Being at the mercy of the universe was never a good idea. Things were going well at the moment and that meant she had to strike while the neo-steel was hot. That part of her did not want to give up the safety when the situation was over, it did not want to be at the mercy of the affini again….Hopefully the part of her that understood that fighting against the affini was a pointless mission would win out when the time came.
She worked dutifully to prepare for the meeting with the cabinet tomorrow. After a few hours, it was time for the broadcast, she took out the headphones that Mertha had compiled for her. She knew the frequencies of the cover station the shadow division used and turned to it. The cover station was playing some auto-generated music, it had no soul, but this station was not for art. The auto-generated songs were perhaps soulless but excellent for hiding messages within them.
The broadcast began and Cleo wrote down the messages as they were played like small beeps underneath the corporate tune. 35 minutes later and she had 5 pages worth of intel, now she could sift through it.
To her surprise, the intel did not concern collaborators or getting the deserters back in line. The only intel was about enemy troops and resource movement, at least it was very extensive. Some small attacks on outlying districts, a few minor skirmishes, weapon transport, talk of sabotage…hold on.
Cleo looked over the intel again and felt the blood drain from her face. She grabbed the intel and ran to the door “I need to talk to Trexal! Catch up when you can.” That was all she said to Nora, who had been lounging in a chair, before she sprinted out the door. Her heart was beating heavily in her chest.
She reached the captain's office and ran in without knocking, Trexal was luckily not talking to anyone. They did not look as surprised as she had expected, but they were definitely not prepared “Cleo? Our meeting is not in another ho-“ she did not have time for this.
Cleo did not even sit down “there is going to be an attack! Look at this.” She handed them the intel, hopefully, they would not ask where it came from.
Trexal looked confused “are you sure? What kind of attack?” Cleo could practically see the family and mercenary troops prepare their weapons as they spoke.
She pointed to the intel “they are dragging out the garrisons to fringe areas, I have seen the family use this tactic before. I suspect that they will, in only a couple of hours, begin large-scale attacks on population centers all across the planet. They will not fight to control, only to destroy!” She had seen the destroyed districts where such battles had taken place, if they did not act fast millions could die in mere hours across the planet.
The exhausted affini looked horrified “why would they do this?” Cleo stopped for a moment, why? creating panic was not enough for such a massive undertaking, she looked over the intel once again and saw the pattern.
Fear turned to terror “the generators….they want to destroy the affini generators! If they do that…”
The concern in Trexal’s eyes betrayed their understanding “….then the replicators will go offline, and so will the entire planet. The old backup generators might keep health clinics operational but…” Cleo felt her hands shake, it would be beyond horror.
She knew her voice was shaking “there will be famine, panic, a lack of all vital resources. We have to mobilize now!” Cleo could hardly imagine the consequences, it would be beyond anything Centhia had ever seen.
The door behind them opened “Trexal, I got the reports yo-oh hi, Cleo! Is this where you have been helping us?” Cleo spun around, it was Azalea, the affini that comforted her on the tram. The red leaves of the affini bristled a bit “you look a bit shaken, what are you two doing?” Cleo lost her concentration for a moment.
Trexal stood up “Cleo was telling me that there is going to be an attack on the generators.” Why was they suddenly so calm about this?
Azalea walked up and looked down and the intel “I don’t know, does not look like it to me. What do you think Trexal?” Cleo was sure of it, all the signs indicated an attack…still, something about Azalea made her feel calmer.
Trexal looked over the intel again “you are right, it does seem to be just some minor skirmishes. Nothing that would signify a large-scale attack. Cleo, could you point to what you were talking about?” What? Cleo looked over the documents again, the two affini were right…it did seem like nothing. Cleo looked up at the two affini.
Azalea looked worried “you look very tired Cleo, are you supposed to be here this long?” Was it not the middle of the day? she was tired though…
The door opened again, and Nora peered through “Cleo! There you are, I have been looking all over for you. Mertha is going to kill me!” Cleo felt far calmer but also far more confused.
She looked at Trexal “what time is it?” It could not be past 13:00 or….
The affini looked at the data pad “oh, dirt, it's 17:13. I’m sorry I have kept you here for far too long.” 17:13? She was supposed to be done at 15:00….Cleo tried to retrace the day in her mind.
She had woken up, eaten breakfast with Mertha, got to the bureaucracy, worked in her office, had a meeting with Trexal, then she had done some last work at the office when she had received the broadcast and then ran here….
Cleo collapsed down in the chair “I’m sorry….time blends together when I am working sometimes.” She looked at the intel “I still think this is important, maybe my timing is just a bit off.” Nora came over and helped her out of the chair. She was far too tired for it to be 13:00, she had to be losing track because of the stress.
Trexal smiled reassuringly “I’m sure it’s important. I’ll get people on alert, and we will make sure the generators are safe. for now, you need to get home and get some sleep, okay?” Cleo nodded, she should have talked to Serla yesterday.
Azalea gave her a vine for support “I can follow you two home, it seems like it has been a hard day.” Cleo smiled, at least she could get some help through this.
Nora and Azalea guided her to the rail station, and they boarded one of the waiting ones. Azalea helped her up in one of the affini chairs and as soon as she sat down, sleep claimed her.
“hi cutie? Hello?” A vine snapped in front of her, and Cleo opened her eyes. She was sitting at a meeting table, there were 8 affini in the room, and sprawling across the large conference table there was a detailed map of Centhia’s different cities and districts.
The closest affini looked at her “you must have fallen asleep waiting, we are all ready to start the meeting.” At least she had not fallen asleep during a meeting itself.
Cleo was a bit confused “I’m sorry, still a bit groggy I suppose. What meeting is this?” it was a bit of an embarrassing question but the affini did not seem to mind.
It smiled and used a vine to point to the documents that were in front of her “Trexal told us that you suspected an attack was going to happen yesterday. So far there has been no sign of it, but we decided that it might be best to be prepared.” Right, that had been yesterday….still no attack, that did not fit her estimations at all. Had the intel been faulty? Doubtful, the shadow division was always accurate.
The more likely cause was that she was stretched between too many projects at the same time, it was bound to be that some of her estimations would be wrong. Being prepared was a good idea “got it, I can help with that.” Best to look over the documents to refocus her mind.
While the affini prepared she sifted quickly through the documents. Again, the casualty numbers were low, if they could prevent this attack from being harmful then that might remain. Earlier today she had a meeting with her cabinet…yes, of course, that had gone well, just as expected. She felt a bit more organized in her mind now.
One of the affini handed her a document with a long vine over the table “if this scenario were to happen, what would be the best course of action?” The document detailed a large-scale and multi-pronged attack on several population centers in New Bergen. By her estimations the scenario was quite realistic, the main problem was the shortage of affini to handle the battle. She gave it a few seconds of thought before answering.
She pointed to the map “the best solution would be to use the few affini available to hold the line, but not push. The garrison forces can then begin large-scale evacuations to safer districts. Using the rail system should be avoided, one cluster bomb and thousands could die. We must also keep a small squad of affini near the generator and secure the area around with traps in case they try to attack it.” The affini around the table nodded in agreement.
One of the affini tapped on another district nearby “what if they decide to attack here as well?” That was a more difficult task to solve and a likely strategy by the enemy, trying to split them up.
Cleo frowned. “That part of the city is designed to have a lot of small alleyways, garrison forces can keep that without us having to divert too many affini.” And so, the meeting continued, with the affini providing different scenarios and them with her help trying to find the best solution. The affini seemed to be in a bit of a rush, they were probably working too much as well.
The meeting dragged on, and Cleo could feel exhaustion start to weigh on her. yesterday had left her more drained and it did not seem like she had recovered like she usually did. Maybe she should take a day off?
No,no,no there was too much to do, and she had a duty. At this point, so much of the work she had done relied on her continuing to provide orders. If she took a day off, then who knows what might happen? She had to continue until she had full control of the situation.
Cleo knew that she was pushing herself now, these last 5 days…yes 5 days, were blending into each other and her memory of half the things she had done was blurry. At least the documents gave her clarity. They never lied, and this was far from the first time she had needed their certainty.
A few hours later and the meeting was still ongoing, they must have gone through hundreds of scenarios in each of Centhia's five main mega-cities and dozens of the smaller cities that only housed a few dozen million.
All the while there had been a soft buzzing in the background, it sounded like people talking. She had heard of older members of the bureaucracy that could hear bureaucratic background noise wherever they walked, perhaps she needed to get that looked on by Vonzin.
Focusing on this was unproductive, she needed to get more done. If the attack came then they needed to be as prepared as possible. By her estimations, there would still be many, far too many, dead even with the best response possible. There were just so few affini and too many human hostiles.
And whose fault was that? Hers, if she had made the Agraria come when it still had more crew then the planet would be much easier to hold. At least she had the opportunity to correct her mistake….who was she kidding? People had already died because of her…there was no correc-
Nora interrupted the meeting “Cleo, Mertha is here to get you home!” Cleo felt a temptation to argue that she should stay at the meeting a bit longer, it felt very important. But at the same time, it was important that she got her rest, if not she would just be weaker the next day.
Cleo excused herself from the meeting, it would last a whole lot longer by the looks of things, and followed Nora outside. As soon as she came out of the meeting room and saw Mertha, her worry and the slight buzz disappeared. She walked up to Mertha, at least walking was still as easy as ever despite her exhaustion. Cleo looked up at the affini “come to pick me up?”
Mertha chuckled as she did indeed pick her up “after what happened yesterday I needed to make sure that you left on time. Just relax and I will carry you home.” The words were easy to obey, not long after she had been nuzzled comfortably into Mertha’s vines, she allowed sleep to embrace her exhausted and confused mind.