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.

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