“What were you doing out there? You could have gotten yourself and her dead!” said Commander Jerrod. He was the captain of the 3rd Ark, now a commander of Sector 3 who controls everything – literally, everything.
“I – uh, we, held the Hunters back. If they reached the barricades, I bet more men would have been lost. So in the end, it’s a win-win situation and you are overreacting,” I said cynically. This person, who calls himself commander, is a stuffed up guy and a pain. From the moment I never liked him since joining the Crusader project. What I couldn’t understand was how this hard nut ended up being the most esteemed figure in this Sector.
“But you did violate orders,” he demanded angrily. “You instigated confusion within the bureaucratic system of the Crusaders and I had to organize a convoy team to get you inside again. Yes, you may have prevented the Hunters from causing further potential death, but I cannot just let and see the chain of command becoming more and more unclear. Thereby, I suspend you from any Crusader activity for the next three days.”
“What am I – ten? A real mature decision, commander,” I scowled at him and stormed out. Michelle was just waiting by the door. She walked with me as the door closed behind.
“You know he dictates everything here – and that you just spat at his face,” she warned. Michelle and I walked down the alley exiting the main headquarter. “You should really start to be careful; you can’t always solve problems through physical force.”
“I’m going down training, do you want to come?” I asked her, intentionally ignoring her advises. I turned direction as soon as I stepped out of the building and strolled towards the structure right next to the command center.
“When in the world will you listen to my advice?” she said with a heavy sigh. I replied with a smile. Michelle waved her hands. “You go and train yourself. I’m getting some rest.”
I didn’t go to the training center – just lost interest. Instead, I headed towards the airfield just several buildings away where Scarlet would be. She was a helicopter pilot. I never actually saw her driving one in combat, but she must be quite good at it since not many pilots are authorized to command an aircraft. When I arrived at the field, I noticed her making landing. The engine ceased roaring and I watched her as she exited from the aircraft. Then I noticed there were some passengers also climbing down the helicopter. It was strange. Not only did Sectors rarely communicate with each other’s these days, but air travel was scarce as it was deemed extremely risky and dangerous. Scarlet noticed me standing. She ran towards me at once, with her long, bright brown hair brushing her face and the big blue eyes fixed on me. She was wearing the same cap she always wore when piloting her aircraft; some sort of lucky charm I guessed.
“Now this is new. You don’t often come down here,” she said in her normal, cheerful tone. “I suppose you have nothing to do because Michelle is off to do something else?”
“Uh… yeah,” I staggered. “Who are those people?”
“People from Sector 1 and 2. The famous Dr. Greg is also among them. Beyond that, I have no idea. But guessing by the position of all those people, I think it’s quite serious,” said Scarlet looking back at her passengers of five. An airfield crew greeted them with a salute and led them straight to the road that heads to the main headquarter. “See those two people in their military cap? I think they’re commanders of Sector 1 and 2. The two in suits, probably the analysts from each Sector, and the last old man in his white jacket is Dr. Greg from Sector 1.”
I turned to follow the visitors toward the main headquarter, determined to find out what brought them here.
“Where are you going?” asked Scarlet.
“To check out why they’re here,” I answered.
“Their meeting is most likely going to be confidential. I mean I don’t think they’ll allow you in. If I had the authority I will obviously –“
“Yes, I know. Still, it’s worth a try,” I said waving back. Either out of disapproval or disappointment, Scarlet followed me, grumbling during the the rest of the journey. When the six men entered the command center, I went straight into the control room of the building with Scarlet at my tail.
Though it’s somewhat embarrassing to say, but I was never really sociable with others, so I kept to only a few people within the population of over a thousand in Sector 3. One of them, besides Scarlet and Michelle, was this senior official managing the control room, Bill Ornell. He was in his middle-age and was quite a ‘large’ man for his height.
“Hey Bill,” I said to the man who was on the upper deck of the control room. He saw me and immediately looked ten years older. “Guess what? I have a favor to ask.”
“No you don’t. I advise you to leave,” he snapped frowning. When Scarlet showed herself up, Bill's face lit up again. “Oh, hello Scarlet, what can I help you?”
“I –“ Scarlet pushed me backwards and intervened me during my talk.
“I was just curious with the content of the meeting that’s about to start right now; involving four executives from Sector 1 and 2 and Dr. Greg,” said Scarlet straightforwardly. Even Bill, who always welcomed Scarlet (and other women), looked uneasy when he heard Scarlet’s request.
“How did you know these things? It was strictly classified information,” he said. The next moment, his eyes glared at me.
“She told me,” I denied, pointing at Scarlet at her back.
“I was the one who flew them here. You can tell me, can't you?," she cooed in a voice that would have normally made me wince. Bill looked around at the workers in the lower levels of the room and then, corridors, and even the ceiling. When he finished scanning, he still stood in front of us, scratching his head and replacing his glasses.
“Hey, aren’t you curious of what they’re going to talk about?” I finally asked him. “We haven’t had any senior executives like them flying around the air and landing at foreign Sectors for a secret meeting in ages. Isn’t this… a little funny?”
“You are hopeless,” he said with a heavy sigh. Then he signaled us to follow and we did. Bill carefully proceeded deeper into the control room with Scarlet and I following behind. We reached in front of a white door – looking just as same as every other doors in the control room – and the door clicked open as Bill swiped his master card. “Come in.”
The room was as tiny as my sleeping compartment. The room had a computer, several headphones connected and couple of foldable chairs. With three adults in, there was little room left. Bill booted the computer and connected to a certain camera that showed a full view of the six executives and another two, probably with Sector 3. Scarlet handed me a chair and I settled myself, putting on the headphone. I wasn’t quite surprised when Bill also sat down with a headphone just beside me. When I started to hear the voices, the meeting seemed just begun.
“We beg you to provide refuge for our citizens. We are well aware that Sector 3 is a powerful settlement,” said a man in suit. The six men were sitting at two sofas, each opposite side of others. As the man spoke, the other man in a suit opposite of him nodded.
“I think we must be briefed with everything you people know first,” said Commander Jerrod in his usual no-nonsense voice. “After that, the settlement will be fully cooperative with your people.”
“Commander! We already promised that! This is not the time. There are people dying as we speak!” a man in his military uniform raised his voice. “We need to combine forces and start right now!”
“Commander Soren, we also promised that. But I have to say Sector 3 needs information of what we’re up again first,” claimed Jerrod. This man - called Soren - looked as if he would punch him in the face any second.
“Commander, you need to think carefully. If we try to stand individually, we have no chance. Our soldiers are still able to fight. Creating a perimeter first is our priority! I guarantee you that Sector 3 will not be an exception to… to this catastrophe,” stated the other commander. “You have our words that we will reveal everything down to the last letter, if you just open the gates. Think about your citizens.”
“Beg your pardon, Commander Rackel but I am thinking about my citizens more than anything else. For all I know you haven’t been in touch with us for the last ten months. Now you’re asking us to open the gates to let in over one thousand people along with combat soldiers of nearly five hundred. I honestly have to say suspicion is the first thing that pops to my mind,” said Commander Jerrod sternly. He paused and slowly scanned the two commanders of the other Sectors. “I hope you gentlemen will not misunderstand my statement but I insist that I am considering very seriously about citizens of Sector 3 by doubting your claims and that I need visual proof or intel on this ‘incident’.”
A dead silence ensued. With my headphones on, I glanced at Scarlet and Bill concentrating on the monitor. Commander Jerrod and his analyst sat on the single sofas facing the two long ones that the six executives were sitting. They were sitting comfortably on it and almost looked as if they were enjoying people pleading them for something. Four officials of other Sectors were either sitting at the edge of their seats or uneasily folding their arms for consideration. The only person from the visitors who looked just as calm as Commander Jerrod, was Dr. Greg who hasn’t spoken a single word yet.
“I suppose none of you wish to speak so… Dr. Greg, what do you have in mind?” questioned Jerrod.
“I can only say commander, you are one stubborn bastard,” stated Dr. Greg with his typical wry smile. The commander only responded with a smirk. “But I can understand how you feel.”
“I’m pleased to hear that from you, doctor,” said the Commander, though his voice did not sound pleased at all. He scanned the other four officials quietly listening to the talk. “It’s a pity that only one of five gentlemen here understands my concern. Then Dr. Greg, I know you’re not a specialist in this kind of matters but what do you suggest?”
“I’ll stay in Sector 3 until everything’s settled,” said Dr. Greg. The four executives looked taken aback.
“Doctor! You are our crucial medic needed on the front line. You can’t just stay here idly waiting for this man to come to a decision!” wailed Commander Soren in disapproval.
“Commander Soren is speaking the truth. Your presence is almost everything that keeps us fighting,” pleaded Soren’s man.
“I’m afraid my company doesn’t allow my leave,” shrugged Dr. Greg casually. Jerrod did not say anything. “Then how about this, Commander: I will give you as much information as possible while I stay here. In return, you can lift your barricades for the evacuees from Sector 1 and 2. After all, we are all human beings. We need to stay as one against mutual enemy of our race, don’t you think?”
Commander Jerrod scratched his shaved chin, fixing his eyes on the ground. Dr. Greg leaned back on his seat. The rest looked first at the doctor, then at Jerrod. Just then, Commander Jerrod’s eyes met with the camera in the room. It was a sharp gaze; as if he was actually watching us and aware of our snooping. His stare went on for a few seconds. I felt Bill flinching at my side.
Then the monitor turned black and white.
There was a sudden knock on the door.
We instantly removed our headphones and stood up to replace the chairs back where they belong. Just before Bill opened the door, he signaled us to back off from the door, so we stood just behind the doorway.
“Mr. Ornell, I have some reports to hand in,” said a voice from outside. I almost heard Bill’s sigh of relief that moment. “Is there… something wrong?”
“No, not at all. I’ll take that, and… yeah. Keep up the good work. But… how did you know I was here?” asked Bill cautiously.
“Well, I asked Chris about it and he said you went into one of the rooms of this corridor with two other people,” said the voice casually.
“Right,” answered Bill awkwardly. This worker must have stayed in front of him for a few seconds. “Well, you can go on and do your work now.”
The footsteps faded away and Bill exited the room first, signing us to follow. He guided us just outside the control room and turned directly at me.
“Damn you Leon, you are bound to cause me trouble,” he said distastefully.
“Who’s the one watching that monitor so closely, other than us two?” I rebutted. “You didn’t get caught anyway. And, that wasn’t something you hear at meetings every day, don’t you agree?”
“Well…” he let out a sigh. “Just don’t go around talking about what you heard today.”
Bill left us as he reentered to his workplace. I shoved my hands to my pocket and walked idly with Scarlet at my side. Instead of heading out, I sat down on one of the vacant benches around the lobby.
“What do you think the commander will say?” asked Scarlet when we sat down. From her tone, I realized she too was intrigued by the conversation. “Do you think he’ll reject the doctor? But Dr. Greg is… you know, a legend! His words are not only highly respected but hard to turn down.”
“Well, I won’t be surprised if that stubborn bastard rejects him. He doesn’t seem to give a damn about other people,” I smirked. “Or, he might not care about us either.”
“The officials said something about a catastrophe in Sector 1 and 2. Do you think…?” she ventured.
“That’s ridiculous. For all I know, Sector 1 and 2 was quite cooperative with each other and their number of fighters are almost twice of ours. If any one of their settlements goes through some ‘catastrophe’, I bet the other Sectors would have known beforehand,” I replied. Basically, Sector 1 and 2 had better resources than any other settlements. Their distance wasn’t so far and was known to protect each other when needed. Yes, the Hunters were strong but won't likely pose threat to the entire settlement. But it was unimaginable to think of settlements destroyed simply over night. “And, they have Dr. Greg.”
Then, the small telephone on my wrist beeped, signaling the Crusaders to rally up to the Crusader headquarter.
“Well that didn’t take long, did it?” I said looking up at her. She shrugged back. “I better get going. I’ll see you later.”
Located at the 3rd floor of the main headquarter, not many had been punctual at reporting back to the meeting place. Most likely, they were hurrying back from whatever ‘leisure’ they were enjoying. Though many of the Crusaders were theoretically capable to fight Hunters after biochemical engineering, almost a third of their abilities degraded due to laziness or excessive reliance on scientific power. What was more hilarious was that none of them recognized their flaws.
As I entered, I saw Michelle sitting down on a chair, still looking very drowsy. She failed to notice me until I sat beside her.
“I hope you'd cleaned my room too,” I said. She glared back at me with her eyes red.
“When your parents asked me to look after you, I don't recall cleaning your room being part of my responsibilities,” she said. “Now, please. Let me have some peace until everyone arrives.”
“That’s not going to happen for-“ I looked at my wrist watch. “Like the next five minutes or so.”
“Exactly,” she said and drowsed off to sleep.
And… guess what? It wasn’t five minutes until everyone arrived; it was five minutes later when the director arrived, another five for the rest to gather up. I woke Michelle up and Director Han began his talk.
“We have a very special guest today. Doctor Vincent Greg from Sector 1 arrived today and decided to stay here to inform you about our enemy more specifically,” announced Han. “You Crusaders, should be well aware of his reputation and contribution to the viability of the Sector 1 and 2. I expect you to pay hims with greatest respect. If it wasn’t for him, there wouldn’t be a Crusader or we couldn't have managed to sustain so long on this wild planet.”
Dr. Greg appeared from the back door with the same white gown I saw at the airfield. I got a better look at the old man. He had that typical doctor-glasses and short white hair covered his head. The first impression as he walked in: a very, ordinary-looking doctor of some very, ordinary-looking hospital. He was, the ‘father of biochemical-engineering’ and a ‘genius scientist of the century’ but there was nothing extraordinary from his looks.
As he stepped up, the Crusaders automatically clapped.
“Today, we aren’t going to go through any specific matters, because, well, I’m sure I already bothered you from whatever you you were doing. So, I’m just going to say hello and allow your leave,” he said. “What I’m going to do while I’m here, is to inform you with the investigation regarding the ‘Hunters’ to be any help in getting a better understanding of your enemy. And through the result of this research hopefully, I will go back and help the Crusaders back at Sector 1 and 2 better fight Hunters."
“My stay here is out of my own curiosity. I heard that Crusaders in Sectors, 4 and 5, are struggling with Hunters. But Sector 3’s defense results have been very successful, despite the fact that you are less aware of your enemy than Sector 1 and 2,” said Dr. Greg. He then flipped over his sheet of papers in his hand. “Then I found a reason just before I arrived while looking through performance record of Crusaders of this settlement. So, I will cut it short for today. Everyone can leave except Leon Veridi.”
“Pardon me?” I asked surprised. All the others scurried back out. In seconds, the only people in the headquarter were the director, Michelle, the doctor and me.
“Well, well, I guess you are finally getting promoted,” whispered Michelle from my side. Then she left the room as well.
“Yes, son. Let’s have some talk in private, shall we?” said Dr. Greg smiling.