Band of the Red Part 2

2.

THE FIRST DAYS OF WAR

In the days and weeks that followed the resolution, many were drafted. Gal-Net’s reports of the numbers hit home with vids of lines of men and women that filed in to report for training. These outposts had, for security reasons, remained unnamed, but even so, their lobbies and ports were filled with civilian shuttles and masses of bodies whose fear and confusion were obvious in their wanderings. Until my shuttle arrived, I was merely an on-looker. That changed as my body was jolted outward and into the port’s shielded hangar. Then, I simply became one with the mass.

The military’s intranet, their own version of Gal-Net, said that the senior recruits had gone to war while they awaited their reinforcements to complete training. Never have I had such confusion underpinning depth-less hatred as when I was shoved to a desk with little more than a number card and the clothes on my back. It was undignified, humiliating– for myself and our species as a whole.

It took several months to train a company of a hundred or so men and women, and at first, only three companies were trained. This gave those higher-up strategists pause; if many too companies fell at-once, few could replace them out-right. It was therefore of the utmost importance that more effective training be devised and completed. The first wave of draftee’s training shifted from simulated-battles and tactics to Officer’s corps training.

As I was trained, so were two-hundred and ninety-nine others. We spent day and night drilling in simulators, strategizing as mock-fleet commanders, and practicing scenarios where-by, having simulated the loss of others in our squadrons, we were forced to take command. Only the best of us, with the most formidable skills were chosen to continue as commanders.

We had little time to indulge in personal pursuits. Each day was a mere few hours to recuperate, a moment to eat, then training. More than a few recruits were rushed to the infirmary after collapsing in a heap, but after revival, were immediately sent back in to complete training.

After our basic training, Commanders like me went straight to overseeing others as we had been. Where once there had been only two to three companies, now there were dozens. Each of us ran our companies through the same exercises we had practiced– until their limbs ached and their minds cracked. Time and time again draftees and recruits alike were forced past failure to sustain the Federation’s lust for new bodies.

Though they learned well and fast, something was unnerving about the training. All of it was being done in simulations, and almost none in physical respects. As most battles are carried out through the use of operator-guided weaponry, it appeared a sensible stratagem to the higher-ups. In the Officer’s eyes, it was not. We had not faced an adversary in thousands of years, but we knew our weaponry was more than sufficient. As operators at the controls, we were nigh-on perfect. But we had, in no way, been prepared for physical confrontation.

At this revelation, had there been a debate on which side to choose for combat-merit, regrettably, I’d have chosen the Verbero. Verbero caravan-guards were shrewd and vicious but combat experienced, pinned as a devastating threat far before the war had ever begun. Their experience was ten-fold that of any Mustela or Federation draftee. This made them a pendulum on which the battlefield might pivot. It also, however, made them a prime target if handled delicately: If the Verbero’s mercenaries could be infiltrated or eliminated outright, the Federation could level the playing field. This had seemed a futile proposition to even dream of, as just as The Federation and Mustela were building their armies, so were the Verbero. The difference? Training. The Federation’s training, while sufficient in defensive-weaponry operations, did not prepare its recruits for offensive combat, nor a style of warring unknown to us for thousands of years; Guerrilla combat.

Verbero’s mercenaries were guerrilla fighters, and damned good ones. If they hadn’t been, The Federation would have put Lord Verbero down for hiring them to protect the trade routes. But the specific Order the mercenaries were hired from was infamous, even in the furthest reaches of the Galaxy.

Gal-Net had done exposes on them along with the Intranet. Both showed vid-evidence of their protection of the former trade-routes against pirates and slavers. In all cases, vicious, skilled fighters, used ancient weapons and styles to cut literal swaths through their enemies. Each one it seemed, was also an expert marksmen with extreme agility. This was witnessed in one member whose primary blade-weapon lodged itself in an enemy. He seemed not the least bit impeded. I still remember the speed with which he hurled himself sideways, retrieving a plasma-blaster mid-roll to rise and clear the rest of the pirate scum from the room.

This was our most dangerous enemy: deadly no matter the engagement, and always– for a reason unknown to any– bearing a red cloth tied ’round the bicep of their right arm.

Known as the Band of the Red, the Order was infamous, deadly. But for as long as we cared to remember, the Band of the Red had been diplomatic to The Federation– at their worst, simply indifferent. Though blamed for the D-335 raids by some, evidence suggested it was solely the Verbero wreaking havoc while the Band was present. As far as any could tell, the group never took more than their share. Their price was firm; in exchange for protection from pirates and other, anarchic scum, The Federation over-looked the droves of illegal activity on the dozens of planets they called home.

This last point requires elaboration. There was certainly corruption involved in the Federation’s dealings, though its intent was purely altruistic. Gal-Net never bothered to say it, nor investigate it, but yes, murders and drug-trafficking were overlooked. But no-one in their right mind crossed the Band. It was suicide. If one had found themselves in so deep a debt that they could not repay, there were other agreements to be reached. The Band’s leader, Sharok, was said to be a reasonable, logical woman, fair in her dealings. She killed anyone that would dishonor her by saying otherwise. Though few reports were ever released on the Band, those that were, revealed Sharok would parlay any indebted. What happened afterward was a private matter, but it was said any debt could be repaid with service to the Band.

The Intranet exploded suddenly after I began training my company. Vids of Verbero armies training by the hundreds, as we were, were led at the front of each company by a single person, a single, red band at each of their right biceps. We knew then that this war would become more than our mere simulations could handle. The vids never reached Gal-Net. The Council had barred them from releasing the evidence. The reason was obvious; if the Federation’s general populous learned they would be fighting Band-trained enemies, the number of defectors would reach new heights. Our army would be unsustainable.

Secret talks began then between the Officers, myself included, positing that the Federation might seek out Sharok to attempt to reason with her. I still remember my own disbelief that such an action would merit the desired effect: with all of their indifference, they were still weapons for hire to the highest bidder, and held their contracts to the highest honor. Perhaps then, some said, The Federation could buy-out Lord Verbero’s. This too was a futile notion, I knew. The matter of coin was substantial, but Verbero had undoubtedly promised much more than Sharok would willingly speak of. Thus she would hold a silent card against us in negotiations, its face impossible to read. Inevitably, she bluff to gain more than she Verbero had offered. The only possible course then, would be to engage the Band-trained men in combat.

But again, this was only so simple to the non-combatants. I was not one of them. I saw the path the war was taking, and it appeared to have more than one phase. In the first, battles had occurred in space over contested regions of the Mustela system. But everyone, the Band included, knew this was our field. There was no way to level it unless a paradigm shifted. I saw phased two before it ever began.

The battles would turn from space to ground fighting, as the Band and Verbero’s military would place the system’s planets in a foothold not easily dislodged. This speculation ran rampant through the Officer’s ranks until it broke free, reached Gal-Net’s civilian forums, then its vid-casts. Many from the Federation and Mustela’s support circle silently withdrew there support. Rumors of private conspiracies abounded. One-time loyalists now hoped to bring about the downfall of The Federation and the Mustela, and end the war altogether. The reason was obvious; fear.

Coupled together, the fear and rumors led the The Federation to conceive of a special military unit for one purpose alone: To infiltrate the Band of the Red. When it leaked from the Intranet that a new, classified unit had been formed for an even more secretive purpose, outcry flooded the civilian and military sectors alike. Though the unit’s soldiers were unknown to all but a few, they had been hand-picked for a certain set of specialties. Espionage would be their tool, subterfuge within the Band’s ranks their game. As I speak now in confidence, I have no reservations in saying that I was part of this unit.

Update and Story!

Happy Friday Everyone!

So I’ve decided, in addition to Tuesdays and Thursdays, I will begin posting longer stories in “parts” each Friday. I have several novella/novelette-length stories that I’m working on, and a few finished.

For the next few weeks, I’ll be posting the first of these longer works called Band of the Red. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it and the others to come.

Also, I may be adding more pages/content (not stories) to the site in the next few weeks, so keep an eye out and enjoy your weekend.


 

Band of The Red

1.

PRELUDE TO WAR

At peace for thousands of years, and presided over by the loudest voices in ten galaxies, The Federation’s open-court held deliberation. The issue at-hand was whether or not to break treaties passed long ago by ancestors whose names have been forgotten. The leaders of many, great worlds pled for continued peace in the council’s enormous chambers. They cited that no man nor woman has a warring sense about them any longer. The strategically minded agreed; there was no favorable outcome to aggression, our weapons were powerful, but our tactics untrained. These voices echoed endlessly off the Council’s great, metallic walls.

And in reply? Nothing more than their echo back at them.

How did it come to this? The truth is, it should not have. At least it would not have, had the decision been left to those whom would fight. But they were not the individuals in the position to make the call. Those old, robed fools merely sat on-high, deciding the fate of Billions with less consideration than a larvae to its evening meal.

So, what then was the motivation to break three thousands of years of serenity, tranquility? It was, as it always has been, personal gain.

Two major factions began a conflict that led to Federation intervention; the Verbero, and the Mustela. The Verbero, represented in council by their Lord and namesake, sought profits with an unchecked desire. Verbero was a fat man in the grandest of senses. His robes fell over his stained undergarments, that rarely (if ever) were cleaned or changed. Jewel-encrusted rings shined across his plump fingers that groped mercilessly for all within grasp– in both a literal and figurative sense.

For many years, he and his faction had been responsible for trade among The Federation’s planets. He held himself a king. But fiefdom was not the Federation’s way. Often Verbero-shipments were accompanied by the Lord’s personal men; scoundrels and dregs of the galaxy that hassled merchants for increased payment on delivery. The Verbero (both the man, and those whom took his namesake) were unscrupulous scoundrels.

The Mustela, until very recently, were a poor and simple folk– farmers, hermits, the like. They wore the obvious rags of their station, and it was said their Council representative owned the only suit to be found in the whole system. Only after massive veins of the mineral D-335 were discovered within their planetary system, did the representative even have cause to wear it.

For whatever reason, (perhaps at the beginning of time, the formation of their solar-system allowed it) this mineral seemed most abundant in their system. As the main component to The Federation’s defensive weaponry, the discovery placed the Galaxy in a unique position. The balance of economic and political power tipped from Verbero to the Mustela.

In a literal, over-night sense, this tattered, agrarian system became the most important political power in The Federation. Their representative quickly curried the Council’s favor through his home-grown charisma and ever-present suit. Gal-Net news briefs showed him in Council perched humbly in his seat, or at banquets for those of The Federation’s highest esteem. As such, his voice became both well-heard and well-regarded.

That was, to everyone but Lord Verbero.

Ancient and unforgiving, the fat, old-bastard felt entitled to a share of profits from the D-335 mines. As far as the Mustela were concerned, he was not. For a moment, this was only a minor source of contention with either side pitted against the other in negotiations.

Why there were negotiations in the first place is beyond me. Had you asked, I’d have said Verbero wasn’t entitled to a damned thing– but I digress. The contentious negotiations later broke down. The Federation’s mediator, a neutral party if Gal-Net were to be believed, as well as the Mustela representative, failed to see reason for a tithe to Verbero. Though the mineral was found along his trade routes, he had not found it. And so long as the Mustela did not use his caravans to transport it, he had no rights to it. In simplest terms, the mediator sided with the Mustela even before the talks broke-down.

Gal-Net went wild when The Federation formally denied all tithe Verbero sought. Some called for Verbero’s head, others for annexation of the Mustela system. Still more made speculations and predictions of what was to come. Though most of them were wrong, the few that later turned out to be right, wished they weren’t.

What followed Gal-Net’s formal reports was the beginning of a series of hit-and-runs that turned to a formal declaration of war. While no evidence against Lord Verbero personally, was found, even a fool could see it was his men ransacking the Mustela trade-routes.

One such incident was widely reported, amid obvious rumors, on Gal-Net: Mustela’s caravan had made its hyper-jump between its system and the next, only to emerge before an armada. The plundering thieves tore through the Federation-appointed guard, and boarded the Mustela ships. They murdered all aboard, took the D-335, then made for the black market. The few Federation scouts that escaped did so with brutal, visual evidence of the attack. Even now, years past, the images of their scorched ships are used as a symbol of remembrance.

Following Gal-Net’s report, many system-leaders chose sides. Those seeking profit sided with Verbero, hoping to create a veritable aristocracy among the stars. The others, seeking justice and retribution, sided with Mustela. This led to a precipice of peace, where it was possible look down into a chasm of war.

How could we war over this? It was undoubtedly foolish, selfish even. But as I said before, it is not those who take up weapons to fight that have the final say. The Federation has always had a vast army, but its main purposes are defense, posturing. The Verbero though, have always had vast riches at their side. At that, rumor suggested that Lord Verbero, with aid from certain mercenaries, was building an army to rival The Federation’s own.

This was the point where we attempted to jump the chasm– leap its distance and land on the other-side at a peaceful resolution. A final round of peace-talks began. But the chasm was as wide as it was deep, and stretched into the bowels of planet as volatile as the Lord’s lust for riches. Little hope for peace remained, and when the talks once more faltered, The Federation began drafting recruits.

There was no point in lying to ourselves anymore. War would begin in the coming days. Ships and weapons that had not been launched or fired in anger for thousands of years would immediately loose themselves upon the stars. Until the first shots came, some held hope with bated breath that a last-minute resolution would be reached.

I for one, held no such hope. I had been drafted. The final session of Council in those blasted chambers determined my fate. With The Federation at his side, the representative of The Mustela appeared on Gal-Net to personally condemn the attacks suffered on the D-335 trade routes. Though the word was never said, war had been be declared. Undoubtedly, the fighting immediately began; either side laying in wait for the formal acknowledgment with their first targets already sighted.

But how did I feel about it? The truth was, it didn’t matter. I’m one of the few who smelled the Verbero’s treacherous nature before Mustela’s D-335 was ever discovered. I knew their Lord, greedy and ruthless as he was, would one day bring an end to peace. The only thing needed to spur the warring was something valuable enough to both he and The Federation. The trade-routes presented ample fuel for the fire, and I sensed it outright.

Never has a thing been more dangerous nor depraved than a leader whose sole pursuit is riches.

I smelled the proverbial fire before it was ever thought to be lit. And in the nights of the first peace talks, I dreamed of assassinating Lord Verbero and his seconds. I wished nothing more than to see his bloated corpse begin to rot beneath my outstretched hands. In the years that I have lived, the Verbero traders have slowly imposed their stranglehold on The Federation. Inside it has been near-invisible. From the outside, it has been subtle, insidious, but even with the greatest foresight there was little to be done about it; the Verbero had monopolized trade. At the formal declaration, that trade came to a screeching halt. The majority of The Federation’s populous who’d sided with the Mustela would starve before the end of the war unless something were done.

When the council adjourned live on Gal-Net, The Federation had split damn-near down the middle. It was almost as if one could see the aristocracy rise and exit the chamber to one side, while the crusaders wandered out the other. Regardless of my feelings, I prepared for war.