THE GRINDING HALT
When First returned, Second and I met secretly with him. He detested our ideas; he was a Federation soldier through blood and soul. After hours of convincing, and more than a few blade-wielded threats, he listened to the story of Sir’s betrayal. At the idea that his beloved Federation would murder to cover its misdeeds, he relented.
Regardless of his loyalties, he admitted a serious reticence to the Federation and Mustela’s handling of things. “The Federation has too much power now,” he said. “Those in command are now hungry for more, unsure of how to handle the problems they’ve created. All of this began over a simple matter of coin, and now it has escalated to full, galactic war.”
Second reassured him, “And that was never what the Federation, nor the Council, were given power to do.”
It was true too, neither of these entities had been created to allow minor factions to cause chaos through-out the Galaxy. In point of fact, the opposite was their purpose– to swat down those that attempted to and preserve peace. Instead, The Federation’s politics had ensured their resources could one day lead the Mustela to victory. Unfortunately, war does not end with one side proclaiming victory. It takes years of devolution to skirmishes, hit-and-runs, and feuding systems before it fades for good. And that is if it does not flare up again. What we needed was an abrupt resolution, the grinding halt as it were.
We approached Sharok carefully, at a time when she would be most docile– just after a victory from some of First’s most recent intelligence. It seemed the most fitting; we had given her something and now she would honor us with the gratitude of an audience.
Second gave word to the guards to dismiss them. We waited for them to join the festivities down the hall from Sharok’s door, then entered single-file. Sharok sat in the middle of the room at her desk, her feet up, and a glass of liquor in her hand in triumph. Second and I waited beside one another as First closed the door behind us.
She sipped lightly, motioned us forward in good humor, “Either there is to be a coup, or the three of you have something to say.”
Second stepped forward to speak– she was, after all, Sharok’s right hand. She glanced at First, “Lock the door, please.”
“Something on your mind, Kadè?” Sharok asked with Second’s nickname.
“Yes, my friend, you need to know of a deception against you.” She paused for a reaction. Sharok gave only a sip from her drink. Second hung her head, as if ashamed. In truth, I believe she was preparing herself for battle. She spoke with that same gentle comfort I had heard in her quarters, “We three have been sent here.”
“Sent, Kadè? By who?” Sharok asked, her tone never changing.
“The Federation,” I replied.
In one lightning move, she had leapt and flipped through the air. Her glass hit Second’s face, her blades drawn at First and I. We anticipated her, dodged to either side. We each grabbed a wrist as she landed and disarmed her. She lifted a leg to kick First, jolted me sideways. Second was on her with a hard kick to the back of her knee. First and I followed through to force her arms ’round, and Second shoved her to the floor.
She pinned Sharok’s head against the ancient stone, whispered as a snake might, “If I had come to kill you, my friend, I would have done so whilst you slept. Your show of strength has been bested, and now you will adhere to the code, and listen.”
Sharok spit obscenities against the floor, but relented, “Then release me and speak.”
First and I retrieved Sharok’s blades from the floor. Second released her. They were both immediately up. A tense silence fell over the room. Sharok’s arms crossed at her chest. First and I stood firm with her blades in-hand, while Second began to tell of the Einheit; our elaborate hoaxes, our mission, our recruiters and their betrayal, and our present plans.
Sharok took it at first with the snarl that one who has been betrayed might, but it soon faltered. In truth, none of us had ever put the Band in any danger, and for her to believe otherwise was to dishonor us. Moreover, for her to believe the Band could truly be endangered dishonored its ways as a whole. It was with this creeping realization that she began to settle.
She sank against her desk, leaning with her arms crossed, to take things as a strategist might. Second emphasized that our orders were never to harm herself nor the Order, and that we had in-fact, brought about many more deaths to our own side in order to protect it.
She then relayed the perceived failure of the Einheit, “Only two of us returned with the training; Third and Fourth. Both are now imprisoned and under investigation. No-one within the Federation nor the Mustela has received instruction. If Sir’s betrayal is an inclination of things to come, none should ever receive it.”
Sharok asked a sensible question then, “What do you seek of me then?”
First relayed our feelings, “An end to this war, a just end.”
I added, “Where no side has any more advantage than the other. Until now you have not dealt in sides, only coin. But you have the resources to end this.”
“I did not start this war,” she reminded.
“No,” I agreed. “But your honor is at stake because of it.”
This gave her cause for alarm.
You see, when the Lord Verbero’s army began their hit-and-runs, her own people were aboard the ships to provide protection for the intervening trade-routes. While we in the Einheit knew they were unconnected with the attacks, the Galaxy at-large did not. The reason for their neutrality was even simpler than honor; Sharok took no-sides and her people followed her orders alone. It was the sole reason why much of the ground-fighting had ended in stalemate; the Band members refused to fight. However, only the most perceptive of Galactic citizens could ever recognize this. As such, the Band’s honor was at stake if Sharok did nothing.
At this she sensed that, though we needed her, she needed us more.
This revelation was clear in her face as she spoke with stratagem on her tongue, “In order to bring about our way of end to the war, several things need to happen. Each of the factions involved must become leaderless. This means Lord Verbero, the Mustela representative and The Federation’s Council must all be eliminated at once.” This was the simple part, we all knew, and she continued to this effect, “Lords and politicians sleep in grandiose rooms with high-walls and windows. It provides a false sense of security. These designs are perfect for well-trained Band assassins.”
We agreed. She immediately sent word for her best assassins to be assembled in her quarters. It became cramped in the room. I have no hesitation in admitting discomfort in a roomful of assassins. These men and women might as well have been eunuchs; everything but their eyes were shrouded by black cloth, the only color that of the Red Band on their biceps and the sheathed blades at their back.
Sharok spoke in great detail, but with paradoxically few words; the assassins would preform their jobs on a single night, synchronized across systems to cause a unanimous chaos among the three factions. None of them would recover fast enough for the next phase of our plan to begin. New lords and politicians could arise in time, but the rest of us would ensure their impotence.
I watched Gal-Net’s reporters, in terror, relay the mass of assassinations that had taken place. The remaining Einheit members sharpened our blades beside Sharok. As it stood, the Band had more than enough members to carry out the next phase with similar synchronicity. However, allowing them adequate time to return home seemed near-impossible.
We would render the largest fleets, and most dangerous ships, inert. Or, in other words, blow them out of the sky. It could be done, Sharok assured us, but it would have to be done right.
The Mustela were the easiest target with the fewest ships. At that they had but a handful of cruiser-class ships– mid-range escorts with fighter-defense weapons. The Verbero too had few cruisers, but countless frigates. These cargo haulers were no match for any skilled pilot in an attack-class fighter. Fortunately, the Band occupied most of them, and only a single command was needed for their crews to be eliminated and the ships commandeered.
The main brunt of the Band then, would have to target the Federation’s ships– invariably the largest concentration of cruiser-classes. The greatest obstacle would be the flagships. These were six times the size of a normal cruiser with the capacity of roughly a metropolitan city. It wouldn’t be terribly hard to destroy them along with the others, but it seemed a waste. Sharok and I agreed on this point, but First and Second questioned what to do with them.
“We take three,” Sharok said with confidence. “All at once. Destroy the rest.”
“How do you suppose we do that?” First asked, dumbfounded.
“Sneak aboard the Bridge, seal it off, and vent the ship into space.”
It was cold, elegant, and simple. Getting aboard and taking the Bridge wouldn’t be difficult for any Band-member, let alone the four of us. Even venting the ship wasn’t too bad an idea.
Second spoke, “It seems a needless waste of life, my friend.”
Sharok revised her assessment, “Then seal the Bridge with a five minute-warning to the crew.”
It was settled. We had the plan in place. All that was left was to tie-up loose ends.
“What about territory?” Sharok asked.
“Leave it,” I said. “We don’t want control, just peace. If any side tries to chase us down, we take it piece-by-piece until they calm themselves.”
For one, single moment, the stars were like fire-flies in our hands. We executed the plan with over a thousand Band-members. In one hour the Band of the Red altered the entire course of the Galaxy. Frigates were emptied of Verbero, their bodies torn asunder by blades while blood splattered their cock-pits. Cruisers detonated remotely from triggers in Band-members hands as they made for safety. Flagships burned over the skies of dozens of planets with nary a fighter launched. And in the chaos, Sharok and the three of us claimed our three ships.
We gave our five minutes of warning, then with reverie in our eyes, vented the ships. I stood a the large command console with that reverie, and entered in the course on the holographic display. Even at the jolt of hyper-jump, I stood firm, staring out on the emptiness before me. Each of us began the long series of jumps back home as whatever bodies did not escape were blown out into space to drift forevermore among the stars.
Such was the way it went; simple, elegant.
When the time came for Gal-Net’s daily reports, the death tolls were astounding, but the war was ended. A single act of defiant honor was carried out with professional skill, and moral conviction. And without the Council, the Mustela representative, or Lord Verbero to guide them, the three factions were in utter despair. With no fleets left to launch in anger or retaliation, the systems went silent. The Band lost not one person, and not a single soul was truly certain who had caused it, but the war came to a grinding halt.
The factions remain equally powerless even now, our flagships ready to smite any whom would attempt to replace war-fleets. We’ve since kept our eyes on them, but there is not much to see. No-one who might have truly wished revenge was left alive to seek it. There are still civilians, and their ships, disagreements and skirmishes, but there is also peace.
I suspect, and others agree, that this was a welcomed incident– a way out of the battle for those many draftees and would-be defectors. None of them wanted this war, and those that did now lay dead with their gold-laden pockets to weigh them down.
Sharok remains in power over the Band of the Red, its reach greater than ever, but she is no longer concerned with coin. We three, remaining members of the Einheit stand by her, policing the space around the Band’s planets with our flagships manned by skeleton crews.
Where we began seems so far away now, that it is almost anti-climactic in the eyes of one who has lived it. But this is simply my story– my ascension through The Band of The Red.
We have since taken all military ship-building plants in pieces aboard the flag ships, dividing them as best we can to set down to build our own fleet. Presently, Second and I share a special place with one another in this endeavor, while First heads up the creation of a new Galactic government. His virtues are true, as are the Band’s: No more will the want of a few coin-fixated men and women, determine the fate of billions. The Band of the Red will forever be in charge of the galaxy. With its resources, and code of honor from eons past, it will be a fine flag of peace for the masses; this in spite of its former, treacherous dealings. But at least now, the Galaxy’s people know to question their leadership.