Band of the Red: Part 3

3.

THE EINHEIT

To those allowed to know of it, it was called the Einheit. There were only five of us as too many attempting sabotage or subterfuge is easy to discover. As a precaution, each of us was to join the Band of the Red through separate systems. We required the utmost secrecy, our role vital to the survival of Billions. It was a harsh thing for spirits, but there was little choice in the matter. Our only Commanders were the needs of the Federation. But we received orders through dozens of hidden channels, forced to decipher layers of code.

Only as a group could we decode a full message, but our messages were our own. It forced us to work in shadow, hone our evasion, and disregard the whole for the sake of our own progress. We were one men splinter-cells.

This is where the Einheit’s infamy was gained. Nobody, save a select few that cobbled together our orders, knew our identities. Everyone we met as individuals assumed we were green, draftees, inexperienced in combat. It was a dangerous ruse to uphold considering our skill.

When the first of the Einheit infiltrated the Band, he held himself well. Though never discovered, he was highly suspected of treason. Such was his skill that he could disappear and reappear with the wind, but even still the Band distrusted him.

The reason? From the start, we had one, crucial piece of information to be used against us; we were known, Federation draftees. Anyone could find our names in public records over Gal-net, see that we had once been pulled to the fray, but we each used it to our advantage. If questioned, the rebuke was simple; we had families we wished the best for, and were willing to do whatever it took to protect them and end this damnable war. It was clever, obvious, but enough to allay suspicion. There was no shortage of former-loyalists– defectors from the Federation and Mustela’s militaries– that begged ging for aid or surrendered en-mass. Only five of us however, were under orders.

Reluctant to bestow First his Acolyte status, The Band assigned him several tasks to prove his worth; sabotage shipments of D-335 and shipbuilding facilities, while reporting extensively on the movements of the Federation and Mustela’s militaries. The Gal-Net could not report the latter of these, it surely showed the vids of Federation facilities exploding from afar as they took possession of D-335 shipments from Mustela freighters. Ignorant to the greater scheme of things, the vids called the attacks “monstrous,” “atrocious,” all the while unaware that their own Council had ordered it.

I remember watching the approach to Mustela-Four on the Intranet during chow. Mustela-four is a simple moon of the systems home-planet, but with an ionosphere that regularly exudes nebulous, electrically charged gas. I smelled the hint of First’s leaks to the Band in that attack: the way the Federation’s cruisers approached Mustela only to be met with an entire fleet flanking them from the rear. Verbero ships had come from the far side of the moon, so close to its powerful ionosphere that they’d been cloaked to the Federation’s sensors. They never saw the Verbero coming.

When the Verbero fleet took position, they unleashed batteries of particle-beams that lit space with waves that no ship could avoid. The fighting was over in moments, every ship flanked, destroyed. It was the first time an entire, Federation squadron been eliminated en-route. And it was First that had done it– on orders from the Council.

The massacre proved First’s loyalty, and Sharok bestowed him the title of Acolyte. She trained him herself, sensing his promise. It was this personable nature that eventually led to a cataclysmic event, of which I will speak later, as well as the Band’s suspicion of First.

With First as an Acolyte, Second made her way to a recruiter in the Mustela system. Her ruse was the most clever of all, mired in a lore of the people whom did not directly know her, but rather stories that she took claim to. It was, therefore, easiest for her to infiltrate.

She was known as a defected draftee, but then came the lore: Many defectors had hidden themselves on the planets of the contested-zones, knowing that they would be secure until the Federation began its ground wars. Until then these defectors, were willing to sell information to the Band and the Verbero to remain out of harm’s way.

Second’s information was highly-valued, though none of us were aware of its contents. Her reward, and the only way she would hand over the intelligence, was to join the Band at Sharok’s side. She wished to strike against the order’s oppressors with a vengeance fueled by past sufferings of prejudice. Either this attitude struck a soft spot in Sharok, or Second’s information was so valuable as to warrant it, that she was recruited outright.

Now, both first and Second had joined Sharok’s ranks. And it seemed, were perfectly poised to decimate the Band. However their orders seemed, unequivocally, to be watch, learn, and wait.

It then came time for Third and Fourth to join, but they took a rather foolish approach. It was summarily rewarded with some of the greatest atrocities witnessed by the Einheit.

Third and Fourth allied themselves with the Verbero fleet, staying close to one another, but not so much as to garner suspicion. The Verbero fleet immediately engaged in attacks and raids on Federation planets the savagery of which we knew not could exist. Gal-net soon revealed what little civilian footage they could of countless bombardments, but the Intranet showed it all.

The Verbero fleet directly targeted defenseless planets for hit and runs, with no more aim then to decimate morale. I remember the distant flames of Vermeer-six as the particle-artillery rained like white-rain, only to meet the ground with immense explosions of black and red. Just before the civilian vid cut-out, deathly wails of mourning and pain stung our chests. The screen surged white, then went black. We all knew then what had happened.

But for Third and Fourth, the worst had yet to come. What became known as the Blackmane Massacre took place, and the Einheit simply sensed Third and Fourth’s involvement. It began with Verbero’s fleet positioning themselves upon the surface to seek out companies in need of assistance in gaining a foothold. Blackmane, once a mining colony, had been terra-formed to an industrial world with several metropolises once its mines ran dry.

As the Verbero landed, nearly the entire planet was immediately overwhelmed by sheer barbarism. In training, the Band of the Red neglected to pass over their style of honor to the Lord’s army, and the result was the literal rape of the planet’s settlements. The Verbero slayed any one they found, advanced a burning trail across the planet, and stood up the ruins to rape women and children. In the middle of it, Third and Fourth were forced to were forced to join, hoping in time they would find sanctuary in the Band.

Stories surfaced from the Einheit’s classified-files regarding Third and Fourth’s time in with the Verbero, but most are too horrific to repeat. But for the usual coded, exchanges I have had little contact with them, and as such, can neither confirm nor deny anything. Of Third and Fourth’s journey, I know only what I have told until their appointment within Sharok’s ranks. I do, however, know that no war before or after could damage a man as this one has undoubtedly damaged them.

Finally there is but one Einheit member whose introduction into the band I have yet to; my own. Elements of this story may appear plagued by embellishment. This is not true. I have no use for lies outside of the Einheit, and will impart the most detail admissible to the events of my recruitment in the Einheit, and training with the Band.

And we’re back! Short Story: The Governors of the Universe

Thank you to everyone for waiting patiently for the next story, and sorry it’s a little late today. Enjoy!

The Governors of the Universe

Part One

In the midst of the cold blackness of space, beyond quasars, pulsars, and novae left behind from the poignant Big Bang, stands the Blue Sphere. Half illuminated at all times by its massive star, and with it’s orbit elliptical, and fused with a rotation all its own. Its axes, tilted twenty-odd degrees, shift ever slowly over aeons while its poles magnetically transfer by micrometers with each rotation.

Known to it’s inhabitants as Earth, the planet stands as a silhouetted, blue marble, suspended almost majestically in space. It is the third in-line from its mother-star, eighth in planetary order, and the only inhabitable by its unique form of life.

It seems, one day, hundreds of millions of years ago, life crawled from its seas to stand upon bi-pedal vestiges to harness the land around itself. Shortly after, the warring began. This planet, billions of years in the making, and having graced its inhabitants with a stellar dust all its own, motioned to them. The wars ceased abruptly, though for only a short time. The inhabitants looked skyward, to the stars. They built ships– large and sluggish though they were– and sent them high. Leaving their planet behind, albeit briefly, they stepped forth into the machinations of a cosmic infinity to place their feet firmly upon their revolving satellite.

Too shortly these few men, as they call themselves, left their satellite and returned to their Earth. For a short period, these strange creatures, infatuated as they were with the skies, launched innumerable artificial satellites. Though none were so magnificent as that of their planet’s own, natural one, they had looked deeper into the recesses of nothingness than any of their world’s other inhabitants. For what must have been, even to them, the briefest of periods, they built more machines to thrust themselves upon the blackness; more machines still to rest there outside their fragile atmosphere, and look further from themselves.

Then came a period where, one-by-one, they felt fulfilled in the minute faculty of what they had seen, accomplished. One by one, their eyes turned once more upon their lands. One-by-one, they resumed the in-fighting and warring among themselves. And one by one, and little by little, the artificial satellites filled the skies with nary a “man” to be found. With each new satellite, another was abandoned to the cosmos. Litter and debris filled the orbit of that once majestic blue marble.

So here we sit. The first regiment and invading party of– what to them– is an invisible civilization waiting for their ascension beyond pettiness of their own differences. Their wasting of time and littering of space have angered our leaders. The Federation that would have welcomed them with open arms, now only wishes destruction upon them, and so has thrust my Company and I marble-ward. No doubt our weapons and tactics will be merciless to them. Some will attempt surrender: they will be equally as crushed beneath our might. Once more, My company and I will wipe from the universe, this galaxy, and existence, another of the seemingly infinite plagues.

For you see, there is an unending supply of pests such as these. They are allowed to mature, for either way they stay contained, until they look heavenward. Following there first forays into the inter-spatial voids, they are kept under close watch– For it is much easier to exterminate the hive, than it is to hunt pests individually. This is what my Company and I are; Galactic Exterminators, for someone must keep in check that which is as hell-bound, destructive, and wasteful, as these beings.

With knowledge comes responsibility, and all pests follow the same course in their leanings. Once their flights of fancy begin, it is only a short time before again they look downward, resuming their transgressions, eschewing the responsibility of evolving, maturing, through what they have learned and seen. If the universe is to stay at peace, such aggression must be stamped out at its source. So we will drift down into their atmosphere, lay waste to their settlements where millions dwell in frenzy. We will destroy them en-masse, push them back from the brinks and into the recesses of their habitat. And when it is through, never again will they be capable of mounting ventures outward.

For this is what we do, my Company and I. We are exterminators, carefully keeping in check the parasites that emerge in the universe. We leave civilizations in ruin, imparting to them the utmost profitable of all lessons: Humility.

The signal resounds that their atmosphere has been breached. We shall take our positions upon the ship’s weapons, and above their greatest masses, commence the slaughter. And Slaughter we will, my Company and I.

Part Two

They came with disinterest, indifferent to all but wiping us from the Earth, in their ship and on a sunny day. Strolling through Central Park, I found myself caught in the fervor of natural beauty around me, unaware of the news that their ship had descended with a fierce predilection. We learned all too soon what I had missed.

They began with the largest cities, laid waste to them one-by-one with terrible weapons like something out of Wells. Invisible heat-rays burst forth with unimaginable speed, left swaths of destruction in their path. I have a mind to say, perhaps Wells saw forward to our own time, or rather was thrust into it by his machine. In either case, his vision was near complete. Though they did not come in tripods, nor cylinders, nor so far as we know, from Mars; the destruction was total all the same. So far as we know, they did not show themselves– that is, there is no account beyond that of the ship.

In itself, it was truly a spectacular sight, if not the most violent and frightening one I might ever lay eyes upon. Wide as a city, tall as Everest, it stretched star-ward with reckless abandon; constructed of several sections, and obliquely spherical. Though we never truly saw its topmost sections, I am inclined to believe it was merely a space-fairing bubble of some strange viscous material. Within, its commander stood, pridefully gazing at the wonton destruction reigned forth. Its lowest sections housed Wells’ heat weapon, though it was far superior to what he had envisioned. Where his Martians held it in their tripod’s arms, our invaders’ weapon encompassed the whole of the bottom of their ship.

They struck without mercy, unhindered by our greatest feats of modern life. They came fast to their position, halted long enough to charge and fire their weapon. From all directions, the heat emitted in a massive dose akin to that of a Sun. It laid waste to cities in mere seconds, sweltering miles of their outskirts.

When I first heard of the attack, I immediately removed myself from New York. The radios were filled with reports from all over China, Russia, and Europe. The attacks, only seconds long, bore a heat and destructive force that has caused a global rise in temperature. It has since thrown our environment into chaos. The invaders hovered overhead for a brief moment, long enough to target their foul weapons (or perhaps, long enough for those below to recognize their defeat), fire, and disappear.

We attempted defense once our eradication was evident. Like Wells’ English cities, we laid massive guns in hiding. Though in the years passed since War of the Worlds, our defensive technology has grown by bounds, still our weapons were useless. Bullets rebounded from the ship like rubber off steel skin. Bombers dropped the highest yields of explosives ever concocted upon the ship’s exterior, yet no damage was done. The ship’s materials, we knew, were immensely strong. Perhaps for a dual purpose: both intergalactic space flight, and defense. I believe, though I can not be sure, that the ship eventually left our atmosphere in the same pristine condition it had entered.

As the beast descended swiftly upon Canada to work its way downward, hope for humanity was lost. True though it was, that many minor cities still remained, there was already unanimous agreement that the human race could never recover. Billions had already been wiped from existence in a small matter of hours; their fates predetermined by a higher intelligence within the ship’s theoretical, viscous bubble, extinguished amid the most formulaic indifference man has seen.

Some argued rigorously– until their own demise– that these invaders were intelligently-minded. Enough even, to recognize a surrender if one were presented. Conversely, others cried to repent, for this was His work; an apparition of a modernized horsemen for our own bemusement. In equal parts they were struck down without regard.

I, for one see it for what it is: we have been systematically eliminated as a species. For what could naturally occur in that short chaos that would so fully hide massive numbers– allow us to survive, rebuild? Nothing. That they knew. They were exterminating us. Our species and its greatest endeavors were as pests to them. They moved swiftly from one nest to another to eliminate our largest swarms before targeting the left-overs.

And that they did. Only mere hours after the attacks began, the largest cities upon Earth had been utterly destroyed. Yet unsatisfied, these intergalactic exterminators reversed their movements, started to lay waste to every remaining city. Attempts were made to contact them. Scientists and mathematicians, soldiers and politicians, radio astronomers, even HAM radio enthusiasts, searched dutifully for the cosmic frequency to raise the white flag. Until their final moments, they fought with valiance. In the dejection afterward, true white flags rose by the thousands. Every Human, feeling threatened, stopped amid the confusion to cast out their pride and surrender without contemplation. Still the invaders plundered us; cosmic bullies in our own yard.

When it was over, the few left were driven into hiding under the ground, and back in caves like the pests we were seen as, treated like. New-found humility has ebbed its way through the survivors; if, in fact there are any. There can be no doubt of it either way. No man, woman, nor child, no matter their arrogance, could miss the point of this event. Though I may be the only human left, and have been wandering for days, I know it to be true. How many days? I cannot count. I have succumbed every night to utter exhaustion, suffered by an insurmountable hunger. In the rising global temperature, I am quite literally dying of thirst, but have yet to come across a clean stream of water– though I would take a dirty one at that.

My bones and muscles grow weak, weary. I fear the end may come before I find another living soul. In a day, our species has been targeted, attacked, left to whither and die painfully. Futile attempts will be made, I’m sure, to rekindle the flame of our species. It is doubtless our numbers will increase to sustainable once more. At that, should we venture anywhere into the near, observable space beyond our great, Blue Marble, we shall likely be smote down once more.

I will attempt to recollect more soon, but am too weary now and require rest. The next days shall be spent in search of food and water. Perhaps the futile nature of pests is among us. We push ourselves so futilely to live on in caves, beneath rocks, and underground in search of simple sustenance. All the while we crave to preserve ourselves, persevere for some primal reason unknown to us. I for one, believe that was the reason for the attack– though belief now seems superfluous. We took more than we gave and someone took notice. The notion of our species as a parasite is not new, and with this development in our history, it is safe to say it is correct enough.

Perhaps, on a rock somewhere in space, or in the great void between rocks, rests a civilization that is always watching. They observe growth until critical mass is reached, then send their envoy to teach the pests of humility by swatting them back from the brinks. When they are done, those left, too fearful of retribution, reconcile themselves to a better way or none. For they are the Invaders, the Galactic Exterminators, and the Governors of the Universe.

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.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Finding the Sea Part 5

Desert Rain

 

She moans in her sleep,

needs something to eat,

must do more to earn her keep.

Yet she will not release.

 

Grips my arm,

looks forewarn,

it’s coming on now,

the heart will be torn.

 

Slowly cascading,

curving steadily.

Defying all the earth,

and laws of gravity.

 

The first rains,

this desert has seen,

in a thousand years,

of forgotten dreams.

 

So small and isolated,

yet great in its own,

finally she’s seeing,

how important is her home.

 

With us wherever we go,

no matter what we know,

or what we try to show,

all that glitters is gold.

 

Her sadness reaches me,

somehow I’m not ready.

Something appeases me,

something I’ve missed to see.

 

Her eyes open.

Concern, confusion.

 

– I’m sorry must’ve been a nightmare.

Sounds like life, I’ve been there.

– I feel so strange and so close.

Our minds have no distance,

all we see is cloaked.

 

She smiles at me,

“I love what you do,

Set me up, let me see.

If things were different,

I know what you could do to me.”

 

Comfort.

Amazing.

Amusing.

Beautiful.

 

We can’t know who we are

until we do,

the unthinkable.

 

She laughs.

Desert love and sweet repress,

things will be different now,

– Nothing lasts.

Her decisiveness,

my relapse.

 

I’ve known now,

the most despairing kinds of love.

I see how we are all,

“sent from above.”

 

Nothing more in this world,

should be shown,

than true loving passion,

life’s sweet cologne.

 

We must love to pass time,

we must burn to shine.

 

Only our first day

already past dismay,

Now death and dying,

and earthly decay.

 

Today it has rained

in the Desert of Forgotten Pain.