Riding with the Red
Duchess of Zeon
The coastal railroad running down from Circassia along the Black Sea coast had seen countless trains of war before; a few of them had even been vital ones. This one was different. The signals were handled in the utmost secrecy. Upon sealed orders, the lights changed, flashing from red to green. All other trains were shunted into sidings in advance. Nothing was allowed to delay its progress. At each way-station along its indefatigable course, the water and coal were prepared for immediate loading by local men press-ganged for the event. Nobody knew in advance who was coming, and nobody could know, until the train itself eliminated all doubts.
Along the big five-foot gauge tracks the broad train ran at full power. The massive engine never slacked from it. It ran continuously full-out on eight driving wheels of tremendous size, the team of firemen barely keeping up with the demands of the firebox as they shoved in the Donetsk coal with the aide of an auto-stoker. A hundred men ran that train, for it was an armoured train and its owner expected it to be ready to fight. They wore red uniforms, and they were Leon Trotsky's Red Guard.
Dawn split the horizon to reveal the vehicle which produced that thunderous sound upon the rails through the night. Drivers churning against steel, the sleek armoured bulk of the train was solid black, save for a brilliant red star at the centre of the front and the two red flags that fluttered at the head of the engine. Her running lights were on but they could be blacked out with the flick of a switch; her armour contained an integrated snowplow forward, and the whole train looked as if it were a black centipede covered in a steel carapace.
She was there, and then she was gone, racing through the city of Poti at a continuous speed of eighty-five miles to the hour, heading south, driving rods churning and a long trail of black smoke instantly drawn far back behind her by the great speed; the crew next to the firebox sweated as they always did, burly peasant muscles worked to exertion in the heat to drive the great engine onward, their bodies seeming like the hieratic depictions of a propaganda poster more than real and living flesh and blood. The gunmetal blue of the barrels was the only slight contrast to the pure black of the train save for those brilliant symbols of Bolshevism at the head of the Engine. Poti was not a stop for her, and the armoured train raced through, not even slowing down as a bag of dispatches to valuable to be transmitted by wireless was heaved off at the station, even as other such messages were grabbed off the dispatch bar by a hook wielded by a skilled conductor in the blink of an eye.
Those for the train's engineer went forward; those for Trotsky went to the rear. This was the train of the President of the Supreme Soviet, the absolute ruler of all the old domains of the Tsars. He had started riding on it three years ago and in those three years he had rode upon it for a hundred thousand kilometers, fought twenty-one armies, and managed fifteen fronts. He had won every single time, and simultaneously had defeated every single opponent of his in the internal civil war that had followed Lenin's untimely death. The arrival of this train was something that had becomed feared by his enemies and adored by his men; it arrived everywhere, and every General of the Red Army of Workers and Peasants knew they could receive an unannouncd inspection in a heartbeat. Ivan Krasnov, after all, controlled the trains, and he was Trotsky's man.
It seemed impossible to the men of Europe that this academic, this Jew, had become such a general overnight. But it happened, and somehow he had fought back from those dark days after the October Revolution when the Whites had been on the verge of taking Moscow. For three years he had counterattacked. For three years he had defended. He had crushed every threat, external or internal; he had recovered every territory of Russia save for Poland and Finland, and even now his armies were invading the former to spread the workers' revolution.
He was indefatigable; like his train he was more inhuman than not, a powerful machine of steel and steam that did not seem to tire, that did not seem to suffer any of the normal failings of the human body. Trotsky sat calmly in his office in his car of his train; he lived a spartan lifestyle upon it, comfortable, certainly, but without fine food and without the luxury of space, rigorous in the management of his time. Rarely sleeping, he spent every waking moment either composing messages to the Presidents of the regional Soviets, or dictating orders for the production of armaments, perhaps directing the nationalization of industries, then turning at the issuance of orders to Felix Dzherzhinsky, the redoubtable commander of the “All-Russian Extraordinary Commission to Combat Counter-revolution and Sabotage”, or simply CHEKA, ever loyal, his invaluable asset in fighting off the Party enemies after Lenin's death. Between all of these things he was constantly receiving reports, and in particular military reports. These would be read and orders would be issued without hesitation.
More often than not, the orders that Trotsky issued were the correct orders and the Soviet forces triumphed in that particular crisis. It seemed impossible that a man could do so much; revolutionary ideologue and genius of a general all at once, he was unflagging in his command of every situation whilst the whole of Russia was torn with war. Throughout it he never abandoned the lifestyle of a revolutionary, nor did he abandon the rigour of Bolshevik doctrine. Thirty thousand Tsarist officers fought in his ranks; yet he had signed the death warrants of countless right-deviationists and utopian anarchists without hesitation, without regret, and without sign of human emotion. Unflagging, relentless, his ideological commitment seemed to overcome the normal bounds of human capability. Superhuman without flair, his grim dedication seemed the ultimate expression of the human social evolution which had itself been unleashed by the machine.
In days to come there were those who would call him a monster. He was surely a fanatic, but in that steady gaze, in that tremendous brilliance, Leon Trotsky showed the heights to which the human Will and human Intellect could be pushed by the intensity and the commitment of fanaticism. And today, nobody could doubt his cause, nobody could condemn his effort. The Dominate of Drakia was attacking Erzurum with the strength of her veteran legions which had at last cracked Turkish resistance. The old Tsarist armies here held out under Aleksei Bruzilov, who controlled most of the Transcaucasus.
Precisely because of the danger of a Drakian attack, Trotsky had refused to move against Brusilov and his forces, who for the past three years had maintained a relatively stable state in the south. It was exactly this reason—a necessary buffer—that the Turkish Triumvir, Enver Pasha, likewise was now the first man to face Drakia in Central Asia, his Turanist Republic buying time for Trotsky to mobilize and redeploy the necessary troops. Now, however, it was time to come to terms with Brusilov, and it was time for Brusilov's troops to be brought into the fold of the Red Army.
Trotsky read over the dispatches from Poti and wrote something down swiftly in shorthand; then he turned back to the missive he was composing as one of his messengers immediately took the note to the wireless room as part of a silent clockwork. The train raced through the southern outskirts of the city, those who had awoken early looking on at the eerie spectacle of its passage. They were unnoticed, just another component in the grand scheme of revolution for which Trotsky's whole existence had been completely committed. There would be rumours spoken, in time, about Lenin, and about other men of the revolution. They would never be uttered against Trotsky.
Here, now, in the space of a week he had traveled from the Polish border, supervising operations there, to the Crimean, where General Alekseyev still held out, and now down into the Transcaucasus, against the Drakia. He must at once conduct the necessary negotiations with Brusilov, coordinate the deployment of the Red Army to relieve his forces, provide tactical assistance where possible, and furthermore, complete all of these preparations for the defence of the Transcaucasus region within a single week. That was all of the time he had alotted himself, for then the train would head back north, and east, to Almy-Ata. The defences there must be prepared excellently in every respect for the impending attack, and even as the train sped south, the Soviet Union's unlikely Generalissimo was planning the operations on both fronts. The Drakia would be halted, and then the counterattack would begin. Trotsky, who gave himself no respite, would never consider to allow one to the enemies of the Revolution.