The Stars Came Back -037- Rules of battle contracts

Fade in

EXT – Day – grounds next to the ship

The recruits, SGT Kaushik, Cpl Kaminski, and Harbin stand in the morning sun. The recruits in formation (two rows), with Kaushik and Kaminski as the squad leaders. They are all dressed in simple camo fatigue uniforms. Arrayed before the formation are a series of mannequins, each clad in a different style. In order from left to right there are:Just cloth, with nothing but a belt knife and a staff leaning against it;

Padded cloth reinforced with simple leather arm, leg, and chest protection, with saber and spear

Roman-esque body armor, grieves, shield, helm, sword, vambrace, spear

Mail and some plates, good helm, sword, bow, spear, ax

Full articulated plate of steel, sword, crossbow, bow, ax, mace, flail

No body armor, just a uniform, helmet, simple bolt rifle, bayonet, and revolver

Very high-tech body armor covering more, obvious electronics, semi-auto rifle & sidearm

Full articulated power-assisted synthetic/composite armor, lots of electronics, several weapons

Full space armor, remote-powered beam weapons, machine guns, grenade launcher, etc

Harbin stands before them, and paces back a forth slowly as he talks, looking them in the eye to emphasize points, occasionally shrugging to acknowledge that he knows he’s simplifying things a LOT, and it’s a topic he’s talked about many times.

Harbin: If you get mugged, your home is attacked without cause, your ship is hit by pirates and you are dumped in a desert, or you are fighting for the survival of the species, you fight with whatever you have, and the only rule is: WIN. That’s been true since before humankind had language to call ourselves “human”. But humans seem to LIKE rules, even when they don’t all make sense. And there are ALWAYS charismatic egomaniacs, or God’s Prophet of the week, or someone out to save us from ourselves that think THEY know how to run things if ONLY we’d just do what they say and follow THEIR rules. (He snorts in derision). Sadly, there are ALWAYS too many bloody ignorant save-the-worlders, my-tribe-firsters, and NIMBYS willing to do what they say and try to enforce their laws on folks. So here WE are. In an undeclared war, the rule book is pretty slim. In a declared war, the rulebook may be a bit thicker, and the contract spells out the details. The rules might sound stupid at first, sometimes, but there ARE reasons for them.

All of you have heard this before, but not from me, so I’ll keep it brief. Today we introduce you to the basics of the combat levels. Following the bloodshed of the mid- and late 21st century, people thought we needed MORE rules about warfare, something with more teeth. Then the stars went away, and we were all fighting for our survival system-by-system, and everyone sort of came up with their own rules. After the the stars came back, not every planet was on the same tech footing, but some people STILL managed to piss in everyone’s oatmeal, or have competing interests, even WITH a hundred worlds. Humans are not the most rational pieces of meat.

And we STILL didn’t know anything about the Planet Movers, except they had tech at LEAST as high as our best, and about the only common element of their carved symbols that we DO understand are the sword and spear. So, the surviving planets decided that we would only allow fighting between declared combatants at whatever level was the lowest military technology the would both agree too. More rules. (he shrugs as if to acknowledge that rules were often only as good as those they applied too). If there is significant fighting in an UNDECLARED war, ANYone can show up to the party and have target practice, and there are a few groups that seem to just LOVE to do that, so most people have learned to keep things at least SORT of honest.

As a potential Plataean soldier, you have to learn how to use EVERYTHING, because you might have to use it. If you try to cheat, you open the entire unit to ANY AND ALL offensive firepower ANYONE wants to have fun shooting your sorry ass with. Smuggle a level seven pistol to a level four sword fight, and you might find yourself finding out how well your chain-mail handles a close-laid barrage of artillery shells that a neutral observer and camera crew send your way for shits and grins and film rights because they’re bored. You WILL adhere to strict level compliance, or you WILL get killed by the first officer or NCO who sees you doing something illegal. You can always use lower tech, and sometimes it’s all you’ve got. Occasionally it’s even the best choice. Again, none of this applies to self-defense in a criminal attack. Sometimes it seems stupid, but it’s what the contract says that you must live by, or die by. If you can’t become competent at them all, then you can’t become a Plataean citizen by being a soldier, you’re only good as a limited-contract temporary. But you CAN still find good jobs if you can do ANY of them particularly well. First, we’ll give you a basic introduction to each one, and see how well your natural instincts match it, with basic movement, simple sparing, and exercises. You won’t get much more advanced training until you have passed the second phase of initial training with a larger group. Any questions so far?

Horkle: So, if I get attacked, I can only defend myself by what a contract says I can use?

Harbin: In a declared battle setting, correct.

Darch: So if I’m about to get killed by a spear when I’m standing in a shield wall, and I shoot the guy with a pistol-

Harbin: Then I’ll cut you down myself if I have too. Anyone else seeing it is expected to do the same. You MIGHT survive a spear thrust from the enemy, with medical attention. You will NOT survive your unit if you betray their trust and endanger them.

Sanchez: That’s kind’a messed up.

Harbin: That’s how you keep wars small, and prevent destroying another billion people, laying waste to planets, and entice leadership onto the battlefield to be properly dealt with. Few politicians are willing to actually fight for their beliefs – shaming them into actually defending them forces a LOT of them to back down on the REALLY stupid shit and wise up. Not a perfect system, but it’s ONE way to keep some of the snollygosters honest, or at least sidelined.

Horkle: So why don’t they just not declare a war and use whatever they want?

Harbin: Because assassination and declaring war is a two way street, and there are ALWAYS guys willing to hire out for the right price to settle a dispute, and many free-lancers are as good or better than the government hires – especially in governments run by cronyism and nepotism. Some folks forget the lessons of history, and it’s up to people like US to remind them from time to time. Bargain honestly, and a pol is safe, even if stupid. Not so honest, not so safe.

Sanchez: Would you assassinate someone like Darch’s dad?

Harbin: (pauses thoughtfully, then looks Sanchez in the eye as he stands next to Darch) Not really my decision – I don’t usually sign the contracts. But, from what I know of Councilor Darch, his policies are ineffective, expensive, counter-productive, self-serving, anti-freedom, and often overturned. But he is technically honest in most of his dealings, even if he abuses the INTENT of the law while complying with the LETTER of it, so I would not accept a contract against him personally at the current time.

Recruit Darch looks a bit shocked at the baldness of Harbin’s assessment.

Harbin: Many laws and rules ARE stupid, and with time you will learn which you can ignore, or bend, or work around, and which are essential. But to have NO rules or principles is worse, and you guys are too young to really understand that. Just remember; if I tell you how to do something, IT IS THE WAY TO DO IT! We care about WHAT WORKS. Even if it’s something as simple as how to shit in an outhouse, LISTEN and REMEMBER, because there IS a reason for it!

Darch: (smart-ass voice) So, how DO you shit in an outhouse?

Harbin: (Flatly) Close the lid. Drop your gear. Open the lid. Shit. Wipe. Close the lid. Get your gear back on.

Harbin stares directly at Darch, whose smart-ass smile fades, and as the giggling around him fades, he realizes Harbin is quite serious, and Darch straightens up and his face goes blank, knowing he’s not making his life any better.

Harbin: So, let’s get started, and see how badly you can hurt yourself while trying to hurt your opponent.

Dissolve to a series of scenes as the recruits try various armor styles.

Recruits in normal camo, with quarter-staff, variously spinning and trying to look cool with them. They are frequently dropping them or sending them flying. Then they start doing basic drills of parry, thrust, strike. Then Harbin briefly squares off against a recruit while the others watch. The recruit takes a big overhead swing down onto Harbin, who casually deflects it down and to the side, using it’s force to get his own staff spinning around to bring it blindly fast around and stopping a small fraction before hitting his head, holding it motionless, as the recruit sees how badly he would have been thumped if it kept going. Harbin looks at him, and nods for him to try something again.

Cut to

The Recruits are running a simple obstacle course in high-tech body armor, carrying small packs, lots of do-dads and gear and rifles, along with belts and bandoleers of ammo. They are clearly struggling with the weight, bulk, and restrictions of the gear, even going over simple low walls, through a slalom course of 6” diameter posts set in the ground, or swinging on a rope across a short gap. One of them is trying to go between two posts and is stuck, hung up on the gear. Kaminski grabs him, pulls him back a bit, unhooks some gear caught on the post, turns him sideways so he is narrower, and pushes him gently through the gap.

Cut to

Recruits in Roman-eque armor, with shields, in a line. Facing them, about 25 meters away, is a line of mannequins with shields. Kaminski steps up, hefts his pilum, takes a quick step, and tosses it forcefully. It makes a fast, low arc and buries itself in the shield, coming out the far side a ways, just missing the dummy’s shoulder. Darch, next in line, takes a step forward, tries to throw it. It makes an awkward, flat arc, and lands, sideways and flat against the ground only two thirds of the way to the target. SGT Kaushik steps forward, and taking a quick stutter-step throws his pilum. The arc is higher than Kaminski’s, not thrown as hard, but it comes down THWAK into the shoulder of the target dummy, not the shield. He looks at Kaminski, does a friendly smile and small bow of competitive “top THAT!”. Kaminski nods in friendly acknowledgment. Then recruit Sanchez steps up and throws. It sails imperfectly through a high arc and the tip THWAKS at an angle into the side of the face. Darch glowers at him, Kaminski claps him on the shoulder, and Harbin grins and nods approval.

Cut to

Horkle and Darch run over to a port-a-potty off to the side of the training field. They are still wearing the Roman-esque armor. Darch hurriedly hands Horkle his spear and sword, then leans his shield against the side. He opens the door, and steps inside. There is the rattling of shifting gear, then a splash of something large. Suddenly, silence.

Darch: (disgusted with himself at dropping something in) Aaahhh, ssshhhiiiitttt.

Horkle: (stifling a laugh) Lid?

Darch: (angry) Oh, go stick it in a diseased donkey!

Fade to black.

So, um, yeah. I get to have sword-fights ‘n stuff in my space-western, to go with all kinds of guns and high tech. Seemed like a good idea at the time. We’ll see how it all works out.

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11 thoughts on “The Stars Came Back -037- Rules of battle contracts

  1. Pingback: The Stars Came Back -036- The Book | The View From North Central Idaho

    • Well, they still have to get the ship flying, and I have at least four missions, not counting a couple of threads that run more or less across the whole thing, before the “fly off into the sunrise” ending that leaves things wide open lots more adventures. So, I’m thinking novel in screen-play-ish format. I’ll worry about how to make money on it later. If it were to get put into production for on-screen, it would be mini-series or two normal movies, minimum, I’d think. In the mean-time, it’s fun to write, and seems to be fun for at least a few people to read.

    • I was hoping that this scene didn’t come off as too much speech-i-fying, but I hoped I had enough bits of humor and character building that people still liked it. Sound like it worked OK. And you can just hear the old drill-sergeant type saying that rather drolly, just observing the obvious, but in a way that kind of makes you think a bit.

      • Yup. Its standard boot-camp speechifying. Lots of talk, drumming the rules into the maggots’ heads. Then physically beating it into them as they practice/train. No worries, it flowed rather well, and Harbin has more than enough badass cred built up that he could walk out wearing a pink tutu, fishnet stockings, and waterwings and folks would still pay attention.

        Speaking of which….if you’re interested in doing “deleted scenes” or “outtakes”, that would make for an interesting one!

  2. OMG, the outhouse drill ! The entire ms is a double thumbs-up just because of that. Interesting treatise on limiting rules in warfare, too.

    • Glad you liked it. Seemed both practical and educational to the reader (a lot of people DON’T know the drill), funny with a simple humor that seems to be pretty universal, and helps paint a better picture of the guys in the story.

  3. Pingback: The Stars came Back -038- Plaque and Power | The View From North Central Idaho

  4. Minor correction: “through a slalom course of 6” posts set in the ground,” from context it looks like that should be “slalom course of 6′ posts” (6 foot vs. 6 inches).

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