D-3 until the invasion, the directors told the squad leaders to meet their squad members as soon as they receive the list. When a courtier handed me the list in the morning, I counted 25 members and Squad 7 at the top of the list. The first thing that popped in mind: how many of 25 will survive? And how many will actually follow orders? The operation was certainly a rash decision. They should’ve informed, at least the rankers, some weeks before the D-day. Only three days maximum to get to know the group members, train, and debate strategy. This was absurd; I wondered whether Jerrod has gone mad by then.
It would have been much easier if I knew the listed people, but half of the people, I did not recognize, and all the people in the list were strangers. Michelle was a separate squad leader so there was no one I knew around me during the battle. At least, I read at the very bottom, they had Scarlet to be our squad transporter.
It was unlikely for me to wonder about how to fight in battle. Until this moment, everyone fought as individuals. And I especially fought the Hunters alone because I had enough ability to do it. To lead a group of two dozen people who I barely know to survive was something I did not expect, nor did I intended to strive for. And the thing was that nobody would care apart from their families. The executives will encompass them to the KIA list and that would be all. Of course, underlying that victory is achieved. Reluctantly, I walked to the command center to have a glimpse of my team. My concept and strategy was simple: as long as they follow my pace, they will survive.
I was the latest to come as usual. The directors assigned spaces for the rankers to meet their squad members and have a talk. Entering Squad 7’s room, twenty five faces turned and looked straight at me. I saw exhilaration, eagerness and motivation from their expression. But there were also doubt, anxiety and uneasiness in some. To who the feelings point at, I did not know.
I stood at the middle with fifty eyes focused on me. Uncomfortably, I looked back to see a screen. It was thoughtful of the directors to turn the computers on and had a project file ready. Then I realized… not even the rankers were debriefed specifically. I awkwardly turned back, facing the faces of twenty five Crusaders. Beyond the door and the wall, I already heard slight sounds of conversation. With nothing particular to say, I stared back at them in silence while they continued to focus on me. Perhaps a several minutes passed when Han burst in.
“Wrap it up in one minute…” he lost his words looking at twenty six people in one room soundlessly. He glanced at me and sighed, closed the door and left. The faces began to lose focus on me, which was good news for me. Still, with Han bursting in, I felt a queer obligation to say something. Finally after like five minutes of total quietness, I opened my mouth.
“I don’t have much thing to say but I if you follow me well, I guarantee you survival,” I said aloud. Then the directors announced to leave the rooms and go back to training. I met Michelle on the way out of the building.
“How’s your team?” she asked me. It was a meaningless question I did not need to answer. She knew better that I wasn’t sociable enough to run around with other Crusaders. Yet, when I did not answer, she seemed taken aback. “Then tell me how many people are in your squad.”
“Scarlet,” I said. She brightened up.
“That’s good news,” she said. “At least you have her. I guess you haven’t debated anything during the meeting time.”
“You have no idea,” I muttered. Michelle only sighed in response. I took no notice. I was already used to such stuff.
Michelle and I went down to the training room and into the arena. Michelle wanted me to teach her something more. She said she wanted to protect and lead her squad members with confidence.
“You’re already strong,” I said before we began training. “You’re the only person other than me to fully perform my technique.”
“I look strong because I am the only person other than you to perform your technique. We have duty to protect people and that does not always mean the civilians Leon,” she said. She raised her sword. “Almost half a year passed since I began to master it. I want you to teach me everything else.”
I looked at her. And all of the sudden, an image of a Hunter replaced her figure. Surprised, I stepped back, rubbed my eyes and saw straight at her. Michelle is human; this nightmare is not getting away…
“Leon, are you alright?” asked Michelle. She came closer. I waved my hands.
“I’m fine…” I said. After stumbling a little, I regained my balance. Then unsheathing my sword, I readied myself. “Let’s get back to work.
A few strokes of blade went back and forth. After some time, we began to fight almost at our maximum. Each strike of the sword made enormous sound and the protective glass and wall around the arena seemed to shake. I noticed she was starting to feel tired.
“Your weak point is stamina,” I said, putting my sword down. She took a deep breath and lowered her sword. “So you either need to overwhelm your enemy so that the fight does not last long or control your strength.”
“In a war, I can’t fight for a short time. I’ll go with the latter,” she said.
“Then you’ll have to rely on strategy to on fighting. Since I’m not the delicate type, I’m reluctant to use the technique, but I’m still working on it. Once you can fully practice it though, it will be incomparably stronger than simply using sheer force,” I said. I raised my sword and dashed towards her. She interrupted my stab and deflected sideways. With my free left arm, I struck her side. She stumbled backwards but managed to maintain her balance. “The point is to force a certain movement. I’ll require speed, decisiveness and wits, but it’s possible to deliver an ‘economical’ strike against your enemy.”
She charged at me, twirled around and swung her sword from left to right. I blocked it with my sword and at the same time, back-stepped. She swung her sword once more, from the opposite direction. I deflected it fasters this time by foreseeing it. Then she suddenly loosened her sheath and with her left hand, smashed it against my chest. I staggered back, but instantly caught the sheath with my free hand and pulled it towards me. Michelle let go of her scabbard and freed herself from getting pulled. She leaped forward and attempted to strike me from the top. Turning sideways, I glided behind her and swung my sword against her back. She rotated quickly and blocked it.
She suddenly kicked my hand holding the sword and let it flying over a distance. She brandished her sword against my weaponless body. Then I rolled inside so that the blade was unable to reach me. I pushed myself and slammed her body towards the glass wall. Michelle legged my foot and tripped me to the ground. Without hesitation, I tackled her as well. She fell to the ground and the sword slipped out of her hand. I stood up first and caught it. Michelle stayed down and sighed.
“You didn’t even use your ability,” she said with a cynical smile. “And…”
“You’re strong; more than you think,” was all I could say. I helped her stand back up. Out in the arena, there were around a dozen of people watching. The spectators were curiously watching. I looked around at them with distaste and walked out of the arena.
Michelle and I fixed ourselves lunch right after. From the balcony of the restaurant, Sector 3 was really becoming a city. With nearly thousands of people striving to construct a new district of houses, the process was astonishingly fast. Already, the camps started to diminish and the outer patrols were standing on top of towers instead of grass. Soldiers already made a foundation for a new barricade as by disposing the inner one. Thinking of soldiers, the number increased noticeably. Did Jerrod already take control of the entire army of five settlements?
“Michelle, do you know how many soldiers there are combining all five Sectors?” I asked while looking out to the settlement.
“Probably around 1300 soldiers. Maybe less from constant fighting and stuffs,” she said. She was vigorously eating her food. “Why?”
Because 1300 soldiers mean he can force anyone to do what he wants. “Just curious,” I said. The thought disturbed me. Jerrod was a born dictator as a captain from the Ark, but somehow the normal people did not see him as that way. They saw him as a magnanimous captain of an Ark, floating around in the space for nearly a century, who ‘faithfully’ serves the people. He engaged in every single major event in the Ark even though he had no authority over it. He altered them to his favor, but somehow managed to hide his intention and package with something that seems beneficial to the citizens. The same thing was bound to happen on Earth.
“You are not thinking about Jerrod are you?” she said after some time. I was so surprised, I fell from the chair.
“When you’re not in combat, you are very predictable, Leon,” she said with a shrug. “He’s not such a bad person. You should let go of that time when…”
“How can I simply let go of the time when my parents died?” I blurted.
“Your parents are…” she paused. As if she made some mistake, Michelle continued eating her food. I tried to ignore what she was going to say.
“My parents are what?” I demanded.
“I mean… it’s not all Jerrod’s fault they died,” said Michelle. I was furious. Out of all people I knew, she was the last person to say such thing.
“Then is it the Hunter’s fault that happened to be there? I don’t think so,” I said. I looked back to the distance out from the balcony. “It’s more convincing that it’s Jerrod’s fault to send them there. And refusing sending aid to help them.”
She did not say anything back as I continued to stare out into the distance. The sun was high up in the air and the weather was marvelous as always, but an inevitable feeling of emptiness and discomfort was all I felt. Everything was supposed to be right. Scarlet, Michelle and I lived rather satisfied with our lives. We withstood the Hunter invasion without any of us dying or getting harshly injured; the days after were quite peaceful and calm. And yet, everything just did not seem right, like the silence before the storm – or more like peace before misery.
Not much Crusaders were seen outside of the gym that day. Exhilarated with the shocking mission they received, everyone was busy training. They were fools though. They only knew about killing their enemy. People would comment that a soldier’s job is killing their enemies. But we’re not soldiers. Crusaders are not soldiers. Soldiers form lines, follow direct orders and have a strict chain of command. Soldiers are systematic in combat and non-combat status. And have a sense of companionship with one another. But Crusaders do not. They were never trained as soldiers. They were cooks, teachers, parents, businessmen before they were genetically ‘enhanced’. So Crusaders simply rampage around with swords in the middle of the enemy. No system. No order. No typical companionship with others.
‘Crusader’ sounds noble – like some savior for the mankind. But they are killers; killers without much to think. And if they were given the right cause, by ‘right’ I don’t always mean just, I don’t think they’ll hesitate to kill each other or the citizens.
And now, four, no three days onward, those group of unorganized killers were going to come together and strike a Hunter lair. I expected more than half of the entire population of the Crusaders dying in the process. Most of them will be those inside the gym, eagerly training. They might have motivation for themselves, but death will come to them all the same. I imagined myself in a middle of a war. A warzone not some battle like days before; with hundreds of enemies swarming towards and petty squads of Crusaders and soldiers against them. What would it be like? Would I feel fear? Would I die? Would Michelle die? Would Scarlet die?
I was probably going way ahead of myself. I was exaggerating, imagining the worst case scenarios and stuffs like that. So to get rid of my complicated thoughts, I took out the book Michelle gave me and opened the cover I haven’t in days.
The thickness of the book and the size of the words was enough to make me drowsy. I still remember, I at least read it until the chapter that began to talk about the First Crusade.
“My timing is perfect, Jerrod,”
“I can’t believe I accepted the invasion. This is suicide mission. Hundreds of Crusaders will die. It’s better to abort –“
“But most of the soldiers will survive. And Crusaders are bound to cause trouble in the future. Your power comes from the military of the Dominion, not the Crusaders.”
“The soldiers are not going to be enough to protect the settlement! We are bound to lose –“
“No. We are bound to win, I can guarantee you that. Maybe three quarter of the Crusaders will die but we will win in the end.”
“Leon and Michelle is it?”
“Well, fine. But what happens after that lot of Crusaders die? Even if we have the best surviving, we don’t have enough fighters to pull off any additional invasion.”
“As I said, my timing is perfect. Raven Project will be ready to launch, then you won’t need any Crusaders. If the Crusader Project was phase 1, this is phase 2. But it’ll be much orderly and obedience.”
“But what if –“
“I’m about to make history Jerrod and there is no ‘what if’s in history.”