The rain was pouring down when me and my team landed on the airfield. The armor itself was waterproof so the rain wasn’t a problem. What bothered me was that when I arrived, there was an entire line of people waiting outside the public auditorium. The structure was one of the largest buildings in the city, able to hold over a thousand people. It was supposed to be used for entertainments like concerts or musicals but it ended up as a place for announcement from the authority on special occasions.
“What do you make of all that?” I asked Scarlet. She shrugged.
“I heard there was something Dr. Greg did,” she said. “But I have no idea what it is.”
“I heard,” said Kale, suddenly intercepting. “The doctor is about to launch another project just like the Crusader, except much more powerful and it doesn’t have that much qualifications.”
“And how the hell do you know that?” I asked, suspiciously.
“My father works for him, he is like one of the chief adviser for him. He said it’s ultra-secret – I mean jail-for-your-entire-life confidential,” he said and glanced at the line of people. “But, I don’t think that matters anymore because I think they’re going public.”
“What are they called?” I asked and smiled cynically. “Berserkers?”
“He called it the Raven Project and also said they might replace the Crusaders,” Kale added. I looked at the rest of my team, following me in the back. They also looked quite intrigued for their eyes were all headed toward the auditorium. “They might even replace you, Leon!”
“I’d love to see that,” I answered. One part of me thought it wasn’t going to happen but the other part… I felt sort of relieved that I can finally be gone with this fighter’s life – no, not yet, I have works to take care of before I rest. “And even if that’s true, it only adds another cause for us to carry out the plan.”
Kale smiled contently and left. I turned around and dismissed so that they can join the others to head for the auditorium. As expected, not a single one of them headed the opposite direction from the structure.
“You’re not going? Aren’t you curious?” Scarlet asked me as she glanced back and forth.
“Nah, I already heard enough from Kale; you’re free to go if you want,” I said.
“I’m too tired for that,” she answered with a grin. Scarlet held my arm tighter and we went back to undress our armor.
By the time changed into my casual clothes and left the Headquarter building, the auditorium was closed and already doing whatever it was doing. Scarlet must have caught me staring absentmindedly at the structure.
“You seem quite interested,” she giggled.
“I am, actually,” I said, taking a last look at the building. “But I don’t think it’s worth the time. Come on, we have work to do.”
Vincent Greg had just finished his announcement – well, more of a speech – about the Raven Project and was stepping down to the backstage. The doctor always wanted to see what this marvelous building was for – he wanted to see what it would be when it is used for its original purpose, not for some governmental speech just in case it rains. He looked around the backstage again and admired the design.
“Dr. Greg, sir,” a scientist ran toward him hurriedly.
“Oh, Ben, What’s going on?” Dr. Greg, who was in quite a good mood, asked him pleasantly. The scientist, however, appeared even more nervous to say anything.
“Sir… I’m afraid we have a problem,” he said, almost whispering. “It’s about her–“
“I believe the Raven Project is finished and I currently have no other projects at work,” said Dr. Greg. He looked irritatingly at the scientist. He noticed what he had done wrong and lowered his head silently. “I’ll see you after a few minutes.”
Vincent went into a changing room and took off his formal suit and wore white shirt and jeans instead. When he walked out of the auditorium from the back, the same scientist was waiting for him, holding an umbrella. Dr. Greg was annoyed: partly because something happened, and partly because the assistant came at a horrible timing. He walked over to the doctor and made sure he didn’t get wet as he held the umbrella for him all the way outside the city. When a Humvee finally arrived to drive them out, the assistant was the only one who was soaking wet.
“Next time, I insist on being careful of what you say inside the city,” said Dr. Greg. He did not bother to move to talk but the scientist was all very tensed by his short statement.
It was a short ride. The Raven twins were the first to exit. They took off into the woods while leaving the doctor and the scientist in the vehicle. When they returned, the two helped Vincent out and the four of them entered the hatch.
“So what is this problem?” inquired Dr. Greg.
“Her body is… well, showing high resistance,” the scientist replied. He glanced anxiously at the doctor and continued to walk through the corridor. “I mean her brain is practically refusing to synchronize with the injected DNA.”
“Is it only her brain?”
“Because her brain is resisting, the entire body began to repel very soon.”
They arrived at the center of the facility. It was a huge open space with railings on the outer perimeter. In the middle was an open space, save the large cylinder where the entire test was processing. Dr. Greg looked up at the test subject, floating unconscious inside the cylinder filled with liquid.
“If there were no problem, how long do you think it will take to finish everything?” he asked.
“Currently, the difficult part is almost done – I would say about 30 percent is finished. Without the resistance… I expect it to finish until the end of next week,” said the assistant.
“No. I want this to be as accurate as possible. Time is with us this time and I don’t want a single mistake happening even it takes over a month,” said Vincent. The assistant looked surprised. “Since the original DNA is repelling the alien DNA, I want you to manipulate it so that it can combine with hers.”
“Which one do you want me to alter?”
“The Hunter’s. Changing hers is only going to make problems worse,” said the doctor. He looked up and down again at the cylinder. “Erase everything but the physical abilities: memories, appearance, all that stuff is useless. Make it like you’re applying it to a normal person. And… include ‘it’ at the very last. That’ll minimize any further resistance.”
“Dr. Greg… but we have to say, we expect considerable biological defiance during the last process –“
“I am very aware of that too, Mr. Kent,” was all he said as the doctor turned his back with his twins and left the facility.
Where we arrived was in front of the newly fortified barricade that was like ten meters high and a meter thick. I guessed they tore down five space Arks to strengthen this thing so it was not much of astonishment.
“Is this it?” I asked Scarlet. She looked around where we were standing. It was daytime and the rain had just stopped. Sun was up and it was when people crowded in the street the most. Yet, the place we were at was practically empty. The alley was dark due to shadows of huge buildings. The only people who can possibly see us seemed to be those looking out the window from those structures. Currently, there was not a single figure behind the window sills. “I can’t believe you found such an isolated area in such a small city.”
“I wander around a lot when I’m alone and bored. I guess I just walked into this place,” she answered. “The only problem of this place is that it’s right behind the gym. Well, the gym itself is actually hiding us but it also means people can find us when they have to.”
“That won’t be too much of a problem. At night, there won’t be anyone who will just wander here nor will there be some random person staring out from the window of a gym,” I said. I crouched down and went closer to the barricade. No tower was near too, that meant no patrols. “This is perfect. We can start as soon as everyone made up their mind.”
“What if they don’t?”
“They will. I can pride myself that I was convincing enough. Besides, they already lost too much to turn back from what I said.”
“Let’s say they do, but we don’t even know when they will,” she argued. I said nothing.
“My plan was dangerous the moment I thought of it,” I said. She sighed, probably in grim frustration. “I know I said it wasn’t dangerous or stupid. But I was in fact, aware of all kinds of consequences if this didn’t work. I have nothing to lose for my own. And I promise you, I will keep you safe, whatever it costs.”
“That is not reassuring,” Scarlet only murmured quietly. I pulled her arm lightly.
“Let’s go back. We need some rest if we are to carry out the entire scheme,” I said.
I had Scarlet rest at her house. I lied to her that I will do the same but instead, I went back to the command center. Inside the room, Han wasn’t there. Puzzled, I looked around the building. Then I looked out of the window at the auditorium. The announcement already ended so it didn’t make sense of him being there… also it wasn’t normal of him to leave the room unless of special occasion. He couldn’t possibly be at his house either.
I left the building without any profit. I decided to come again an hour later when I saw Director Lamy leaving the auditorium. She was walking directly towards me. I waved my hands and ran to her.
“Leon? I thought you were on a mission?” she asked me, obviously surprised.
“We encountered… something unpredictable and it ended faster than we thought,” I replied. “Do you happen to know where Han is?”
“He’s in the building right there,” Lamy said, pointing at the structure she just left from. “Why?”
“I need to see him,” I said him and ran pass her.
“He’s not in a good mood, Leon. You better not –"
I slowly opened the door. I followed a long corridor that led me to the seats. I sneaked up and looked down from the top at the stage. Jerrod was there, along with the four other directors, including Han. The president was obviously talking to them. He was onstage the rest were listening to him at the front row. None of them saw me entering.
His voice was barely audible; I caught a few phrase as he spoke but individually, they were obsolete. Then, Jerrod exited toward the backstage and the three directors started to move as well. Han stayed where he was sitting. I stood up and revealed myself when Jerrod had completely gone out of sight.
The directors that left the building from where I entered were surprised to see me but didn’t speak a word to me. Feeling strange, I stepped down the stairs to where Han was sitting. He was indifferent of seeing me here.
“You’re early,” he said monotonously. “I guess you didn’t listen to the announcement all the same.”
“Kale told me the key points, I had nothing to hear more,” I said.
“You should have. It was quite amusing.”
“You don’t look amused,” I blurted.
“I’m enraged, Leon, more than I am amused. Dr. Greg thinks this is all a joke, some game of his where he could choose who he wants to use when we are all the same kind,” said Han. “What’s more abnormal is that people like him! And now, even the president fears him.”
“What?” I doubted what I just heard. I thought Jerrod was always the one who controlled the scientist…
“Never mind what you heard. We’re all about to lose our job in… like two weeks,” he said. After that came a short period of silence until Han looked up like he just snapped out of something. “On second thought – what are you doing here? I thought you should be resting.”
“It’s about the scout mission,” I said. I paused and he waited patiently. “I want you to authorize a full-scale assault on the lair, tomorrow.”
“Why should I?” Han snapped.
“It’s crucial. We scouted the area this morning and the structure is growing fast. We might even need to wage another war –“
“I always thought you were… erratic. But what you’re asking me has gone beyond the line,” said the director. “All I can expect is another dozen of Crusaders’ death. And I need every Crusader alive to prevent us from getting completely replaced by those ‘Ravens’.”
“I’ll make sure no one dies. I’ll protect everyone,” I said confidently. He snorted.
“You know what you are doing these days is an absolute set of falsehood? The inconsistency is making me nervous, Leon. What are you now, some guardian? You’ve become very random after Michelle’s death,” the director argued. “I say it again – no, I won’t because there’s nothing I gain.”
Shit... He wasn’t the type of person who can turn down a request so harshly. Whatever the announcement was, it exacerbated his mood and I knew it wasn’t worth trying to persuade further.
“Michelle’s death is one person’s death, nothing more, nothing less. And I decide what I have become, not you,” I said and turned back toward the exit. I slammed the door of the auditorium and left the building. I felt quite insulted, but this is nothing. I was willing to sacrifice myself, as long as if it doesn’t mean my death, if I could just fulfill what I had intended.
I was that desperate.
Han felt like he just drunk fifty bottles of rum. He felt all emotional and particularly annoyed. Then, he sensed something behind the curtains on the stage. He had a vague idea who it was.
“You can come out now, doc,” said Han. He finally stood up. The scientist came out from the curtains naturally as possible with arms wide open like he was about to embrace him.
“Han McCline, it’s been a long time since we talked,” he said with a welcoming smile. Han sneered.
“You heard the whole thing?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Then you should bloody well know not to show that sly face of yours in front of mine,” Han growled. Dr. Greg acted like he was surprised, raising his eyebrows.
“You know nothing, Han. And that means you can’t judge me,” said Vincent. He walked down from the stage. “But I know you. I know every bit of information about you except the tiny bit that still lies in that brain of yours. Now that is some information that justifies this: I can judge you and reach out whenever I want to.”
“…” Han murmured something to himself quietly. The doctor didn’t hear him.
“Did you say something?”
“I said,” Han moved with incredible speed to approach right in front of Vincent. He grabbed him by the throat and bashed his back against the wooden stage. The force was powerful enough to crack the wooden planks. “You better not come any closer.”
Vincent Greg didn’t have the chance to wail out or cry out in pain. But he signaled with his fingers and two figures came out from nowhere. They immediately surrounded Han and pushed him away from Dr. Greg. He coughed and blood trickled from his mouth. His back hurt so much he couldn’t stand up for a moment.
The twin attacked Han without a second thought. As skillful as he was, he managed to fend them off. Dill suddenly embodied disastrous force just with his bare hands and smote the director in the chest. That total knocked him off guard and off ground. He flew all the way back to where he sat. When Han regained his sight, he found himself sitting powerlessly in front of the twins.
“That is the second time,” the doctor paused, touching his throat and wiping his blood. “I’ve been threatened to death.”
“What are these things? Your own puppet?” spat Han as he spat out blood. Phill made a fist and tried to punch him when he said that.
“You might kill him.”
“Why won’t you?” Han smiled mockingly.
“I don’t know, Han. Why won’t I?” the man snickered and disappeared through the backstage. The twins also followed their master but Phill still looked at Han with extreme hostile eyes. Han took no notice. Instead, he waved his hands for him to leave like he treated some animal.
I called up my scout team for a meeting a remote café. Well, there’s nothing that’s really ‘remote’ in this small settlement but for some reason this café never seemed have to any customers. When I entered to see everyone at the table, there was, as always, no one else.
Everyone looked tired and reluctant. But how they felt didn’t matter. They swore to help me and they will have to help me if they wish what they want – what I want. I took a seat beside Scarlet who just woke up from sleeping.
“What is it now Leon? I thought everyone already agreed on supporting your cause,” said Mia. The other complained, agreeing with her. I neglected their criticism.
“You all heard about the Raven Project announcement right?” they nodded. I stood up. “Then everyone should know we have a damn good reason to speed up.”
“What are you planning to do?” asked Numen.
“I asked Han a few minutes ago to authorize an official assault,” I said and paused. They all looked hopeful. “He turned down at once, without a thought.”
“Now what? Doesn’t that affect every timeline?”
“That’s why we are going to attack the lair tomorrow. It’s why I called everyone up here – to give a head warning,” I said. They all started to murmur in doubt.
“You mean the whole lot of us is going to disobey the order.”
“From what I heard, he didn’t authorize an official assault. He didn’t say about banning every single attack against the lair,” I said. I pulled out a small hologram device. I activated it and the hologram projected a full map of the lair. “So, we are going to ‘accidentally’ destroy the lair.”
“You mean, we destroy that thing and lie, in our report, we did what had to be done – which can be something like an aggressive act of defense?” Kale suggested.
“But we’re only twenty Crusaders,” Tyson argued.
“The best 20 Crusaders the Dominion currently has,” I highlighted. “And you’ve all survived the Hornet’s Nest. This one is a piece of cake compared to it. The approximate opponent is about 120 basic units, two commanding units and a Controller. I can guarantee you that none of them will be as strong as the Chimera.”
Fortunately, I was convincing enough; one by one, they began to nod and think it’s not a bad plan. I drove the final wedge in.
“When this is all over, they’ll know that Crusaders still has potential and people will again, praise about us. That gives us time until the Raven Project replaces us,” I said shrugging. “And, you will have a nice memory before you go.”
“All right, let’s do this then,” Numen shouted out. He encouraged everyone to support him and that was it. All the Crusaders stood up and agreed for the cause. I glanced at Scarlet and he gave me a thumbs-up.
“So, I want everyone to get a good rest today. What we do tomorrow, is the actual first step to making change to this world.”