The Komneniad: First International

The Communist rebellions of Victoria 2 are its worst feature. They happen without rhyme or reason, whether your population have aeroplanes and radios or half of them are in labour camps. They’re not actually that hard to put down, since the rebels don’t have any guns, unless of course half your army joins them. And there are three more risings in the middle of the first one.

April 3rd, 1874
Parade ground of the XXXI Thermopylae
Morning

“Attention to orders!”

The Third Cohort stood in neat ranks, staring straight ahead, rifles sloped across shoulders. They were small men, for the most part, recruited from the industrial slums of the great cities near the Chinese border; their flat Oriental faces showed, properly, no emotion. Nonetheless Lysandros could smell the tension in the air.

At least half the soldiers were wearing red armbands.

“The Cohort will bring to mind”, the tribune began in a good carrying command voice, “Section 4 of the Army Regulations. I quote. The uniform of the Legions is prescribed by the Senate and People of Rome for the purpose of identifying soldiers as members of a millennial tradition. It shall be worn in a manner suited to maintain the high respect due the Legions; no item thereof shall be worn while dirty, in a state of disrepair, defaced, or otherwise prejudicial to discipline. The uniform shall not be altered except by such insignia, cap badges, and points of privilege as may, from time to time, be granted to individual units by the Senate and People.” The tribune looked up from his book of regulations. “Several soldiers of the Cohort appear to be in violation of this regulation. They may remove the offending items, and nothing more need be said; no names, no pack drill.”

Nobody moved for a full minute. The tribune sighed. “Very well,” he said, still in that hard voice of command that carried to every ear. “Arrest that man.” He pointed to a soldier near the end of the ranks, wearing a red armband; the military police who had been standing behind moved quickly to obey the order. For a long, long moment it seemed that discipline would hold, that rebellion would be limited to silently disobeying orders. Then a rifle butt smashed into an MP’s face, and the line of sullen, silent soldiers dissolved into a knot of struggling and yelling men. The tribune had chosen a red armband with no others around him, hoping that isolation would make the arrest easier; but if the soldier hadn’t convinced his friends to join him in his demonstration, they were still his comrades and not about to let the dreaded Eidikon take one of their own away to who-knew-what fate.

The MPs, skilled at their task, managed to isolate their victim and drag him away from the line, his resistance much weakened by a boot to the stomach. But that wasn’t enough, now. Somewhere at the back of the ranks, a voice began to sing: “Arise, ye prisoners of starvation”. Others took it up; but more ominously, rifles came down from the shoulder arms position, and bayonets clicked into place. The cohort had not been issued ammunition, but it wasn’t hard to come by; and there were six hundred soldiers and only thirty officers and men in the headquarters contubernium, plus the twenty MPs. Lysandros sensed a disaster in the making.

The tribune looked indecisive for a moment, but only a moment. Then he began to rap out orders, not to the cohort, which clearly wouldn’t be obeying, but to the troops he still controlled. “Right. Weapons out, gentlemen; load war shots, but don’t shoot unless I order. We might still be able to retrieve this with only a decimation. We’ll walk to the barracks, calmly but quickly, and call for reinforcements. And we’ll pray that our cohort is uniquely bad, and that we here all deserve to be broken back to the ranks; for if the rot has struck this deep into other units… then Christ help the Roman Khanate.”

The mocking refrain of “unites the human race” followed their retreat.

——————————————————

November 18th, 1874
Siege lines outside New Byzantium
Morning

The Chinese guns thundered yet again, continuing their desultory barrage, and Lysandros writhed inside with humiliation. Bad enough that it was necessary to bombard New Byzantium itself, where his parents and sisters might yet live as captives of the Commune; bad enough that there was every chance his family’s mansion now housed a rabble of filthy lice-ridden agitators, and was therefore a military target. But worst of all was that the Legions he was still, despite all, proud to serve, could not even muster their own artillery for the task. A man ought to shoot his own dog; a country ought to kill its own rebels and bombard its own capital. A rule that rested on foreign bayonets, no matter how close the alliance, was no true sovereignty.

But there was no getting around it; needs must when the devil drives. To retake the City, artillery was needed; and while that technical branch of the Legions had, by and large, remained loyal, it had been stationed at the borders of the Khanate, watching the Russians. Now roads and rail alike were a snarl of ambush and counter-ambush, and a journey that in peacetime might have been done in days could not be reliably completed in months. The rebels were not well coordinated, but on one thing they all agreed: All military movement towards New Byzantium was to be interdicted to the very limit of their powers. And while they held the capital, there was always the risk that some foreign Power would take the opportunity to intervene, to declare that the New Byzantium Commune was the de facto government of the Khanate, and send troops and weapons. Worse, the Commune held many Senatorial families as hostages, and who knew when they might have a rush of bloodthirstiness to the head and decide to start executing the bloodsucking imperalists?

Lysandros looked again at the barricade. Shells were falling with metronomic regularity in the streets, but nowhere near where they’d actually be useful; the Chinese guns had already acquired the nickname “Strict Neutrality” for their rather erratic shooting, as likely to kill government troops as rebels. Just one good shell hit on the rebel position, and he’d lead the charge and push the government lines that much further into the city; but he needed the one hit.

New Byzantium had no walls, but the streets in its industrial outskirts were narrow and easily barricaded; a long line of improvised fortifications ran in a circle around the built-up region. It was manned by bearded Red Guards, rebellious troops formerly of the Legions, supported by the Red Militia recruited from New Byzantium’s proletariat. Lysandros felt his lips draw back in an involuntary snarl. His two sisters had been in the city when the Rising began, and he’d had no word of them… but he had seen how the rabble treated women of the upper class.

He itched with the need to be charging those barricades, overrunning them sword in hand and sabring the insolent rebels who dared to defy the might of Rome. He looked at his men again. They wore the cap badges of a dozen different cohorts and Legions; broken remnants of shattered regiments, he might have said in another context. But these were the ones who had remained loyal to their salt at great risk to their lives; who had fought their way out of rebellious armies and found an officer in the chaos of civil war. If he led them, he thought they might take even an undamaged barricade; they were trained regular troops and had fought together for months now. Against units that elected their officers and even their NCOs, and did so on the basis of revolutionary zeal rather than competence… but no. No. The rebels had been fighting for months too. The worst incompetents had been weeded out of their ranks. Even if he took this barricade, as he well might, there would be another around the next corner; and another, and another. He had only these few irreplaceable regular troops; he had no right to risk them merely to make on barricade among hundreds fall a little faster. He settled back and composed himself to wait in patience. Sooner or later, even Strict Neutrality must hit the barricade; and when it did… he would paint the street red with revolutionary blood.

——————————————————

February 23rd, 1875
Kleon’s Gymnasium, New Byzantium
Afternoon

The gymnasium still smelled faintly of the honest sweat of exercise; but it was overlaid with the reek of fear and tension and, increasingly as the day went on, with the sharp copper scent of blood. Lysandros picked up the carpentry hammer that was serving him as a gavel, feeling lunch lie like a lump in his stomach. Another four hours and the day would end.

“This expedited tribunal of the Senate and the People will now come to order. Bring up the next prisoner.”

The prisoner was a boy of perhaps fourteen, wide-eyed and scared. The machine guns had been rattling outside all day, every time the number of men sentenced to shooting reached ten. Lysandros looked at the boy without favour. Once he had sentenced a young Cossack to death for the crime of killing a Roman subject, and that had given him nightmares for months afterwards. Now he felt nothing. The boy had played at a man’s game of rebellion; very well, let him pay a man’s price.

“His crimes?”

The prosecutor – a sergeant in a hastily-improvised court toga – read out in a nasal monotone, “Carrying messages, scouting for the rebel forces, distributing subversive literature.” Near the end of the siege the rebels had run out of food, and had tried to maintain the morale of their people by running their printing presses day and night instead. Some had tried to eat the pamphlets. Lysandros nodded slightly. “Not taken in arms against the Legions, then?”

“No, your Honour.”

“Very well. And he is young. Perhaps he can learn. Five years in the salt mines.” The carpenter’s hammer made a satisfying thud against the gym horse he was using for a desk, and the boy was led off. “Next prisoner.”

An adult this time, dressed in ragged remnants of a Legion uniform. Filthy bandages around his head and both legs testified to stubborn fighting; the rebels had known there could be no mercy, and few had been taken alive. This one wasn’t very alive, at that; he could barely keep his head up, and had to be supported by his guards. “Crimes?”, Lysandros asked, and listened to the predictable monotone: “Desertion from the Legions, unlawful rebellion, taken in arms against the Senate and the People of Rome.” Lysandros nodded; it wasn’t a difficult case, unlike the previous one.

“Crucify him.”

That woke the rebel up sufficiently that he managed a brief plea for mercy. Lysandros ignored him; shooting was too good for the Red Guards. The Militia were one thing; they had fought for a cause they believed in, and had broken no oaths. But the Red Guards had taken Rome’s salt, and sworn the oath to serve it “although scourged with whips and burnt with fire”; the same initiation that had left a small star-shaped scar on Lysandros’s right thumb. He had no mercy for them. He hoped the rebel would take the full three days, dying.

“Next prisoner.”

The long, weary line shuffled forwards.

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