Modern weapons are terrifying. Propelled at a significant fraction of the speed of light and capable of faster-than-light translations they can crack a planet wide open like an overripe fruit. They make all-out wars all but unthinkable. The stability and adaptative nature of the commune system limits armed conflicts even further. However, in some cases, unfriendly confrontations can still happen.
Enter the Flower Wars.
[Ancient traditions, modern wars]
Taking inspiration from pre-colombian history this practice dates back to the Low Age and consists in the replacement of large-scale industrial conflicts by ritual wars that take place within a specific legal framework. Contrary to their historical Aztec counterparts, Flower Wars are generally bloodless and are more on the side of spectacle than anything else. If they do not directly solve most conflicts, they're seen as a very good way to have some kind of violent catharsis and conduct shows of force. Communal Space calls them "In-Framework Conflicts", but Flower Wars is a better name.
In legal terms flower wars are true wars, in the sense that they create a difference between combattants and non-combattants, that they abide by the interstellar regulations on war prisoners and war crimes and that they do create a real, if very limited, amount of casualties. Flower wars are overwhelmingly considered as one of the last resort options when a conflict between communes cannot be solved through conventional means. To qualify as a flower war in the eyes of the powers that be (and their devastating orbital weaponry), a military operation must satisfy several criteria, the most prominent of which are :
- The use of lightly to moderately lethal weaponry.
- A common agreement between the two sides to select a specific combat area and an asset that will go to the winner. Or, alternatively, an agreement to be signed if the side supporting it wins.
- The complete evacuation of the selected area and monetary compensation for any material damage resulting from the confrontation.
- A third neutral party to act as a judge and arbiter - and if the situation degenerates, capable of swift and decisive orbital intervention.
Flower wars are basically intricate displays of storytelling carried via heavy weapons - from desperate and carefully staged last stands to three-way engagements with neutral "villains" disturbing the flow of combat, it owes more to the ancient sport of catch than to judiciary duels of old.
In present day the weapon system of choice for flower wars are combat mechs, for several reasons. First, mechs are spectacular and over the top, which plays very well with the nature of flower wars - as much a show as an actual conflict. Second, mechs are not very practical in real, highly lethal engagements where tanks and combat suits often have the upper hand. Third, there's a real allure to mechs. In a world where most "real" weapon systems operate from millions of kilometers away and travel near the speed of light, legged machines fighting with lasers and metal slugs are reassuring and familiar.
The vast majority of flower mechs are directly piloted instead of teleoperated, for reasons of prestige and posturing. They are equipped with weapon systems at the lower end of lethality, that aim at minimizing collateral damage all the while retaining enough impact power to sprovide adequate spectacle Flower mech pilots - also known as flower warriors or flower pilots - are a rare breed, attracted to this line of work for many reasons that can range from personal convictions to the attraction of fame and prestige. They're as much warriors as performers, carrying the colors of their communes in staged engagements. While some of them are operating in freelance, going from contract to contract, the majority of flower pilots are hired by mercenary communes to work in groups of three to ten called Lances or Phalanxes. Some of these communes have grown to be known across all settled space, with names such as Ihamura or Deadwater being almost a synonym of flower war.
There's generally no real hatred between flower pilots, as most of them are mercenaries who do not care a lot for their employer, except for those who are directly and permanently emmployed by a commune or qith. While much less lethal than real battlefields, flower war engagements are still relatively dangerous : it is not uncommon for flower pilots to be grievously wounded or killed, even with the underpowered (if spectacular) weaponry used by combat mechs. Such occurences are rare but not unheard of - when the props are weapons, even stage plays can be dangerous.
While they are commonly accepted as a way to prevent conflicts from escalating further, flower wars are not without very vocal critics. Many a powerful commune considers them as a waste of time and an utter failure of diplomacy, while some others have voided flower wars of their very meaning by essentially turning them into harmless conflicts devoid of any stakes in an open mockery of what they represent. Finally both the Moon Communes and qith Sahaak are openly wary of mercenary communes which they consider as a potential threat - after all, even pretend war is still war and flower pilots have a real expertise for applying violence.
The reality is that flower wars are meaningless in and of themselves. They are but the highest amount of organised, legal violence accepted in settled space. If large and powerful communes wanted to disregard the outcome of a flower war, they could do so without any problem. A single missile strapped to a high delta-v engine is all it takes to nullify a planet, after all. The fact that flower wars still have a real impact on politics is a testament to the stability of the communal system.
Illustration from Brigador.