1-2: The Birth of a General
Wha…? Where am I…?
The boy named Red was lost in an endless darkness. As far as he could see, there was no end to it, as if he had his eyes closed. He put his hand in front of him and could see nothing, making him doubt his senses, as well as his very existence.
So… I died? …man, the afterlife sure is a boring and lonely place. Maybe I shouldn’t have accepted death too easily.
It was a voice in front of him. Indistinct, but vaguely familiar.
“What are you doing here, son?”
I’m…dead, mom. I’ve followed you.
I sacrificed myself in order to protect someone dear to me. I’ve pretty much done my job, so I resigned myself to death. This incident will soon be covered up as an accident, and Catherine – the one I died for – will have one less burden to deal with.
“Burden?” There was a slight pause. “Is it because you have feelings for this girl and she can’t reciprocate?”
…yeah. I’m just in the way of her feelings for someone else. I was able to exit stage left while saving her at the same time, so I’m satisfied with my ending. I tried to be just like you. You’ve always been so selfless, so kind…you understand the willingness to sacrifice yourself, right?
“Yes, I do, and I’m really proud of your courageous sacrifice. Nothing less from my own son, but Red, I know you can do much, much more.”
There was a word that did not make sense to him. More? But I’m dead now. I’ve done what I had to do. She’ll be happy even without me. It’s game over, so there’s no “more” for me.
“Is that really how you feel, Red? Are you ready to accept death this early in your life?”
Huh? I told you, Mom, I’m just in the way. Dying to save her is the best and perhaps the onlypossible outcome. She’ll be happy even without me.He had to repeat that last sentence to reaffirm his resolve to give up.
“What makes you so sure that Catherine will be happy without you? Are you really willing to leave her happiness to someone else?”
Red hesitated to answer. Indeed, he knew that the only way to find out if something would work out or not was by doing it. That was the same logic that made him recklessly jump in at that dark alley. He had to save Catherine himself. He could never be at peace if he didn’t see her safe with his own two eyes. He couldn’t just wait for the police or any other trained professional. Even after being shot, he had to take matters into his own hands and carry her to safety himself. No one else could protect Catherine like he could; it was he who treasured her the most.
“Are you sure you want to disappear right now, Red?” the voice repeated. “Disappear and leave that smile you were willing to give your life for?”
Red finally knew what his mother was getting at.
…no. His answer was clear. Not yet.
Red’s eyelids twitched. The eyes that had almost shut for eternity suddenly opened.
He was in a hospital room, with an intravenous line stuck in his left forearm. He didn’t know what it was for. He was feeling perfectly fine at that moment.
“But wait…I’m alive?”
No. He wasn’t supposed to be alive. He wasn’t supposed to be fine. He was shot. He lost an insane amount of blood, and was supposed to be dead. Yet there he was, lying in bed with no pain whatsoever. This was simply not possible. Doubting the current situation he was in, he slapped himself with his free hand.
Pain. He felt the pain, so this had to be the real world. He had to be alive. But that didn’t explain why he was fine. What happened? What did the doctors do?
Whatever they did, I should still be in pain right now from that gunshot wound, and I should be critical from losing all that blood, he thought. Right now I feel like I can just stand up and walk away from here as if nothing had happened.
Nothing had happened.
That’s right, he concluded in his head. The whole incident with the drunkards never happened. I was never shot. But then…why am I in a hospital? None of this adds up.
Just then, he noticed someone nearby. “Who’s there?!” he said as he looked at the open doorway. No one was there. No, I’m sure someone’s hiding over there. “Show yourself!”
As soon as Red said his last line, a spark of flame appeared near the door, and with it the scream of a woman.
“I’m so sorry!” came the voice. A female nurse hurriedly entered the room. She looked flustered as she covered the lower half of her face with her clipboard. “I noticed that you were already awake and had no idea how to approach you. I’m so sorry, Sir Red!”
Approach me? “Sir” Red? What? Just as Red was wondering what was up with the nurse, he heard a familiar man’s voice.
“So you’re awake now, eh Red?”
It was a man in a white lab gown. He had thick, unkempt hair that seemed to scatter in all directions, thick-rimmed glasses, and a stubble. As he entered the hospital room and approached Red, he laughed and spread his arms.
“Look at you, son!” he said. “When I first came here last week, you were barely alive, and now you’re so energetic. Even flames are sprouting out all over the place!”
True enough, Red noticed that small flame sparks were appearing above him the moment he saw his father. “What the hell is going on? What did your twisted science do to my body? I was supposed to be dead! And wait, I’ve been unconscious for a week?!”
With his last sentence, a ball of fire larger than the others appeared on his forehead, causing him to panic.
“Whoa, crap! Put it off, put it off!” he exclaimed as he jerked his limbs around. “Dammit, dad!”
Red’s father, in a panic as well, pulled his hair. “Dammit, son!” he shouted back. “You’re gonna cause the alarms to go off!”
And as if in cue, the fire alarm rang in the entire hospital and the sprinklers were activated. The nurse ran out, saying “I’ll let them know that the situation is under control! Please excuse me, Sir Adam, Sir Red!” while Red and his father froze in an awkward silence as the water doused the flames.
“I…” Red finally managed after a few seconds. “I give up. I’m shutting up right now, and you will explain everything to me.”
Red’s father, Adam, snapped out of it by shaking his head and wiping his face. “Right, right. First off, let’s get you out of this place. You’re gonna want to be able to freely move around for what I have to tell you. I’ll go call the nurse so that she can assist you. Meet me outside the hospital.”
“I’m a what?!”
The term was “general,” and Red had no idea what it meant. Generals were supposed to be high-ranking military officials with medals of honor and crests and whatnot. But he was just a teenage high school kid; one who could somehow bring out sparks of flame, sure, but a normal boy nonetheless.
Red and Adam were at a large open room beneath the ground, something like a secret base they feature in films. It was a very hi-tech area, something straight out of a sci-fi movie: metallic sliding doors that activate via retinal recognition; numerous traps that his father showed (without fully activating) including, but not limited to, laser detectors, spikes, trap doors, and AI-controlled guard robots; and in general an overall metallic layout. It was complete with countless rooms, a cafeteria, laboratories, a meeting room for higher-ups, a much larger conference room that could fit over a thousand people, and an even bigger spacious room filled with weapons for combat practice. Right now the two were sitting across each other inside one of the laboratories along with a third member, Adam’s younger brother Allen.
When and how did they make this thing right under the public’s nose? Red had wondered. But now was not the time for that. His father had just called him a general, and this only furthered the confusion he was already having ever since he got up from his supposed death.
“You’re a general,” Adam replied. “Soon we will be at war with all the other countries, and you will stand at the helm of our army.”
Before Red could finish his sentence, Adam put out his index finger to stop him. “Not so fast, kiddo; let me finish, because this will be a lot to digest.” He cleared his throat. “After you got shot and the ambulance came in for you and your friend Catherine, I-”
“Wait! How is she? She had bruises and a wound on her head when I saved her. Is she okay?”
“Relax. Compared to you, she’s the epitome of okay. She’s been safe at home. She was discharged several days ago,” his dad reported impatiently. “Now let me finish, kid. A few weeks back there was a global conference, one where the representatives of the world gave the go signal to start this thing called the ‘Global Unification War,’ a worldwide war between the five countries to determine who will lead us all. Try processing that information for now.”
“So these autonomous countries are finally gonna be interacting with each other beyond trade, eh?” Red commented. He remembered this lesson from school. The five countries co-existed and traded goods without being under a lone ruler. “But still, a war? Isn’t that just a tad bit extreme and twisted?”
Allen heaved a sigh. “I said the exact same thing to this guy when I heard the news,” he said, pointing at Adam. “But you have to admit, winning a war does hold more weight to it than even logic, especially in something as vague as who should lead the world. If they just sat together and discussed pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses, the decision would take forever. The higher ups must have been really desperate.”
“I see.” Red still had idealistic misgivings, but he let them slide. “Go on, dad. I wanna get to the part that explains how the hell I got involved in this.”
Adam nodded. “All right. So anyway, each country is given 1001 biologically-enhancing serums. The 1000 serums are meant for the main force of each country’s army, the soldiers. And then there’s what we call the general serum, separate from the normal 1000. Whoever is injected with that becomes more powerful than the regular soldier, who should already be around as strong as 20 normal men.”
“And you’re telling me,” Red began, “that you injected this country’s general serum into…”
“That’s right, kiddo,” Adam replied. “You’re the Crimson General.”
“Wait, wait, wait.” Red briefly made a time-out sign with his hands. “There are several things I’d like to ask, but first: We have names for generals? Why crimson?”
“Oh, I just came up with the name,” Adam said with a laugh. “But before you question my naming sense, take a look at yourself.” He had a hand mirror in his pocket, which he took out and gave to Red.
Red held the mirror and, wondering what was up, looked at his face to find something out of place.
“What the hell is wrong with my eyes?!” His eyes were dyed a deep crimson, a far cry from the dark brown he was used to. “C-could it be…that my eye color…?”
Adam nodded as he took back the mirror from Red. “Yep, you’re the Crimson General because of the eye color you assumed upon being accepted by the serum. Also, it seems you’ve gained the power of fire alongside an increased peripheral sense and, as you will see eventually, combat prowess.”
“What do you mean ‘it seems’?” Red was confused. “Aren’t you this country’s head scientist? You’re supposed to be at the helm of this research! Why the uncertainty? How am I supposed to figure out what to do with this general crap if you don’t even know what it does?!”
“Calm down.” Adam heaved a sigh. “Unlike the soldier serum,” he began, “which, by the way, Allen here possesses, the general serum is something that even we find to be a mystery. Theoretically, it would kill anyone that could not contain its vast power, and I’ve heard reports from other countries that stated they have not yet found a general. You were my first test subject. Quite miraculously, even in your dying state you were able to conquer the serum and bounce back to life, putting aside the fact that it took you a full week to wake up. It was pretty impressive, if I do say so myself, that you ended up becoming a general. Otherwise, it would have killed you and the serum would have exited your body in a mercurial form.”
“Exited? As in oozed out? From where?”
Adam shook his head. “You wouldn’t wanna know. What’s important is that this country finally has a general, and that person is you. Right now, I ask that you train with Allen and get to know your troops in preparation for the war.”
“Pleased to be working with you, Red,” Allen said with a grin. “Now you know why I’m here.”
Red raised his hands in a stop gesture. “Hold on, pops, you just expect me to accept all this and take part in a war between adults to determine the fate of the world?! You can’t be serious! I mean, I’m just a normal teenage kid. Dammit, I was supposed to be dead! I don’t know jack shit about leading an army, ruling the world, or deciding a global ideology for everyone!”
“Red, Red, calm down, son,” Adam said, slightly leaning forward in Red’s direction. “Remember what I said about the war? The one who leads is the one who wins. Now tell me, is there anything you’d like to use your powers for? I mean, how would you want to use them?”
Red thought for a while, pondering on whether to speak up or not. He was thinking of Catherine, of how this serum business could ultimately protect her. Being a general was scary, but this way, he could secure the happiness Catherine deserved, that smile on her face. Adam patiently waited, until the words came out from the boy’s mouth:
“I…actually saw mom while I was unconscious,” he said. “Well, not really ‘see,’ but I did have a little chat with her.”
Allen made a whistling sound. “Oh man, right when Adam was about to lose his kid, this very kid talked with his late mom? Close call, huh Adam? She almost took him for herself.”
Adam hit his brother on the head. “Shut it, Allen.” While Allen flinched, Adam faced Red. “So what did mom say?”
“She asked me about the girl I saved, Catherine. She…asked me if I wanted to leave Catherine’s happiness to someone else. And I realized that no matter how deep in trouble I get, no matter how much I get hurt, and even though my feelings for her will never be returned, I…I just have to be the one that protects her. If I’m gonna create a new world order, then I’ll fight for a future where Catherine can smile to her heart’s content.”
“Then fight for her,” Adam said, causing Red’s eyes to widen in surprise. “If that’s what will propel you forward, then take that as your incentive and fight. Whether you’re right or wrong will be determined by the results of this war, not on what other people say.”
Allen put out his index finger. “There’s the problem of your troops, though,” he commented. “I bet they’ll be pretty shocked once they find out that they’ll be fighting under a teenage kid, sure, what more if their young general is fighting simply for a girl he likes? You can’t get their loyalty like that.”
“But I don’t have any noble ideas right now. I’m a kid,” Red said, frustrated. “Look, could you give me some time alone? I need to take this all in first. Once I’ve come up with a direction to move forward in, I’ll let you know. The fact that a kid’s been forced to become a general still remains, you know. This is gonna take some time.”
Adam nodded. “Fair enough. The war won’t start until 3 weeks from now, so you can take your time. Just be sure to be prepared by then, either to fight or to die.”
“Wait, die?” Red was surprised his own father used such a word.
“A country loses,” Adam began in response to Red, “if its general dies. The war won’t be over until only one general remains. That is the gravity of the situation you’re in. Then again, you’re supposed to be dead now, so that shouldn’t be a problem for you, right?”
“You bastard…” This was an adolescent reaction on Red’s part. He couldn’t believe his own father would say this. “It’s like you have full control over my life now.”
“I gave you that power,” Adam said. “Don’t underestimate the power of the general serum. Once you have your resolve to fight, explore your new powers and see for yourself what I mean. For once in your life, you’ll feel like you can protect anything.” This was the serum that I dedicated my life into making. Of course it has to be that powerful. It has to be, so that the tragedy with Amy never happens again…”You’re dismissed.”
Red temporarily glared at Adam, unleashing a small spark of flame on his forehead, but Adam was unfazed. Seeing this, Red heaved a sigh that extinguished the flame, got up from his chair, and began walking away with his left hand raised as a good-bye gesture.
“I guess I’m off, then,” he said. “I’m the general, so I can access everything in this place for free right? I’m gonna go grab me a week’s worth of food now.”
And after that I’ll find my resolve to fight the world.