Red Snow

On a distant planet in the distant future, humans are at war with a race almost as violent as themselves. They battle the weather as much as their Hatregas enemies and for over 70 years, there has been no end in sight to this horrible war.

Joe Santeera, whose father united all the human armies to fight the Hatregas as one, joins the United Forces days after his father's funeral. He digs too deep into his father's death, and in doing so uncovers dangerous secrets about the war, and the human motivation behind it.

This story contains the sort of swearing you'd expect from a group of young men who each have something to prove.

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1. Prologue

 

Prologue

It had been two weeks since the summer had ended in Dragada. The snow had returned and again topped the front gardens and driveways of the sleepy suburb of Whitewood. Standing in her meagre, suburban home in front of her roaring fireplace was Julie-Anne. She was looking at the towering skyscrapers of the Dragaden capital: Kraylin. She liked the way the mist from the snow seemed to engulf the top floors of the gigantic glass towers and she wondered if the people inside them could see out of the windows.

The window ledge bore a photograph. It was of her husband Randall on the day he finished basic training and ascended to the Rank of Private in the Dragaden Army. She softly kissed the photo, as she did every day, and held it against her swollen belly. She turned cold as she felt her mind betray her to think he might not be back to see their firstborn child. She may never see the love of her life again. She glanced over at the calendar on the wall to be relived and smile as the nasty thoughts scurried away. One day left. He’d have one day left in the field and one day of travelling back home. His tour was nearly finished.

She looked away from Kraylin over to the misty silhouette of the Bluefoot Mountains, for she knew that over a thousand miles of miles behind them was Randy, in the perilously cold Kolklod Region. Randall’s friend Rob from the army was coming round to see Julie-Anne today. Rob had become a family friend after he was stopped from returning to Kolklod by having his legs amputated.

Back when he and Randall were privates, on their first mission, they had destroyed a small communications building. Rob was slow to leave and a large, burning beam of wood came crashing down on his legs. Randall, being his impressive and generally heroic self, decided to run back in and help him. He was able to drag him out of the building before it killed him but his legs were permanently crippled and the doctors saw best fit to amputate them.

She hadn’t remembered that Rob was coming round for a chat and a few cups coffee today. She was reminded by the sound of hard plastic wheels crunching he snow on her driveway. She rushed to the dimly lit hall and grabbed the wide wooden board they used as a ramp for when Rob came round.

Rob laughed his usual gruff laugh. “Always forgettin’ the cripple” He had learned long before his operations that laughing at your problems was the best way to deal with them. He rolled himself into the living room and saw the picture of Randall slightly moved and he knew she had been holding it again. He decided not to talk about Randall or Kolklod and instead ask about the baby.

“So, do you know the sex of the baby yet?” he asked, pointing a stubby finger at her belly.

“Found out yesterday, it’s a boy.” She responded, beaming heartily. At this, Rob smiled and spoke his reply.

“That’ll please Randy. He always wanted a boy. I mean – you know, like first, before any more kids.” His stumbling here showed Julie-Anne that he thought he’d revealed information he probably shouldn’t have.

“It’s alright Rob,” She said in response to this, “I know Randy would rather have a boy. He sees himself taking him to the firing range, teaching him to shoot, teaching how to talk to girls and shaving and all that cliché dad stuff. But really I know he’s just gonna be happy so long as the baby’s healthy.”

She walked back over to the window. She lifted the photo of her husband again and looked back out towards the Bluefoot Mountains. Rob stayed silent as usual when she did this and his mind traveled as hers did to the war zone with Randall and his comrades.

* * *

Thousands of miles away, flying in a helicopter over the ice desert in the polar region of Kolklod was Corporal Randall Santeera. He and his friend and teammate Damien Cooper would usually be shouting about the mission they had just executed, both for a need to be heard over the helicopter and from the pure adrenaline rush of being shot at. But today, the mood in the chopper was subdued and sombre; one of the squad was missing and Randall held his tags.

Their squad leader Staff Sergeant Michael Corrigan had perished in the last mission. The team had rigged a Hatreagas fuelling station for tanks and planes to explode. Before the last charge was detonated, the detonator was broken in the chaos of battle. The severity of the situation was so ingrained in him, that he saw it best to execute the mission at the potential cost of his life, he decided to run to the charge and detonate it manually. He wasn’t able to escape the radius of the blast in time and was engulfed in flame. When the smoke cleared, the Hatreagas shot him to be sure. Knowing that he was walking into almost certain death, Staff Sergeant Corrigan had given Randall his ID tags before running out.

The Helicopter began to descend over Camp Defiance, the main Dragaden base in Kolklod. Randall opened the sliding door of the chopper and began to hang out of the side, ready to jump when it got close enough to the snow on the ground. He didn’t want to talk to anyone; he just wanted to go to sleep. On this occasion, however, Damien was too quick for him and stood in his way.

“You can’t just go to the tent. You need to give the commander a battle report.” he said calmly.

“Mike - Staff Sergeant Corrigan was like a dad to me! Can’t you just let me be?” Randall had no intention of being so hostile but couldn’t refrain from shouting.

“He left you in charge of the squad. You have to give the reports. You need to tell the commander that he’s gone.” Damien was still composed even while being shouted at by his best friend.

“I don’t even want to admit that to myself! I don’t wanna talk to the fuckin’ commander! You’re the same rank as me! You do it!”

“He gave you his tags. He told you to lead the squad to the extraction zone. He wanted you to take control of our squad.” Damien’s voice had become firmer now but he was still purposely refraining from shouting.

“I can’t take over the squad! I’m nowhere near qualified enough! I won’t be able to keep the whole squad alive! I’m not replacing him!”

“I’m not asking you to replace him, just take over from him. What did he say to you before we set out on this mission?” Now Damien began a slow walk towards Randall and repeated what he’d heard earlier: “Randy, you’re a great soldier capable of great things. One day, you could make the change that’ll win this. You’re a born leader, and a visionary.”

Randall backed up at the same speed of Damien’s approach until he bumped into something. He turned around and looked up slightly to see the commander staring down at him.

“Corporal Randall Santeera?” His voice was as deep as any Randall had heard.

“Yes Sir.” he responded promptly and clearly.

“Is what you and the corporal been arguing about true? Is Staff Sergeant Michael Corrigan dead?”

“KIA Sir.”

“And he gave you his ID tags?”

“Yes Sir”

“Follow me into the command building, Santeera”

Randall did as he was told and followed the commander. The command building consisted of a large central room with a gigantic computer screen showing a satellite image of Leoda which zoomed in on specific parts of Kolklod as controlled by a man who sat at an almost circular desk in the middle. Large and complex computer terminals lined the sides of the room and in the corners were offices. It was one of these offices that the commander took Randy into.

The door of the office said “Commander L. Regis” and it only just struck Randy that he was learning the commander’s actual name for the first time. His office was cramped and mostly made up of a desk, two chairs and a lot of filing cabinets. The commander sat behind his desk and gestured to the chair nearest the door for Randy to sit in.

As Randall recalled the events of the day, he saw that the commander definitely agreed with Damien and Sergeant Corrigan. Randall was promoted to the rank of sergeant. He had a small piece of fabric pushed towards him, taken from the commander’s desk. Randall saw a referral form there from Sergeant Corrigan dated two weeks before. Had he planned to die, or did he just want Randall to be a sergeant anyway? Either way he had good news and bad news to tell Julie-Anne when he returned to the cambooths.

He was still devastated that the man who’d taught him everything he’s known about soldiering had died. Everything he knew about the war, the army and even the Hatreagas was taught to him by Staff Sergeant Corrigan. He used to sit and discuss strategy and the unlikely end of the war with Mike, he vowed to never forget him. Randall was torn in two. He felt so guilty for being happy on the day he the Staff Sergeant died, but he couldn’t help himself. He was a Sergeant, even though the man that taught him had died, his ability as a teacher could not be doubted.

The cambooth was a small soundproof box with a screen inside. It was used like a telephone by the soldiers to call home. Randall used it that night to call Julie-Anne and tell her both the good and bad news. But she beat him to it. After hearing that he was going to have a son the news of his mentor dying seemed somewhat softened. Nevertheless, he told her and she was very sorry for him, she had known Randy’s opinion of Michael Corrigan and had met him once, and always said he was a true gentleman.

The only thing that calmed Randall more than the news that he was going to have a healthy baby boy, was the knowledge that he would be returning home to his wife in a couple of days’ time. He would be able to rest and ease his way into his new position of power as a sergeant. The other soldiers in his squad took well to him rising from among them to being their squad leader.

Before long he was sitting up near the front of the large, dark cargo plane that had horribly hard, steel seats temporarily attached to vast floor of the plane for the transport of soldiers from the battlefield back to Dragada. He was the only person on the plane except the pilots (hopefully) that was not stupid with alcohol or druhanchi, but he didn’t mind, he was high on life and going to see his wife again. He was going to be there for the birth of his first son.

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