“There it is!”
Deo didn’t break concentration, not even a glance. But then he knew the announcement.
The alliance between Bast, Daedal, Vallis, Natung, Tholi, Amineto and Diemberj have finally declared war, meaning that Garghent can now be formally attacked. The politics and bureaucracy of the Sister continent dictate that war must be affirmed by all parties before invasion can be legitimized in the eyes of the other cities. A war without casus belli could lead to a total embargo by each city on the aggressor or aggressors.
Considering half of the cities were in this current alliance, war was legitimized easily. The last couple months had seen the alliance, who named themselves the Coalition of the Sister, gather to the surrounding land of Garghent in preparation for the siege. They used their time wisely as the documentation for war was drafted and finalized. The combined armies of seven cities camped within a few kilometers of Garghent’s walls on all sides.
The first step was to capture or destroy the farming communities and villages as well as mining facilities outside of Garghent, all of which are freely targetable without declaration of war as the law only protects land inside of city walls..
The second phase in the Coalition’s strategy was the actual declaration of war. Something they just now made.
Deo was busy on his phone, sitting on a bench in the locker room of the barracks. One of the other recruits, albeit a man at least a few years Deo’s senior, addressed the violet eyed boy-turned soldier.
“Coalition can attack the city now. Get ready, Deo. We’ve got to report to Cull Cillian.”
“In a minute.” Deo said without acknowledging the speaker.
“What are you even doing on that thing Deo? I thought we weren’t supposed to have phones in the barracks.” Another recruit blurted out. Deo’s regiment consisted of a hundred soldiers, all draftees. Apparently they all knew his name, though Deo hadn’t committed any of their names to memory, or faces for that matter.
“Playing a circuit.” Deo answered off-handedly and distracted.
“A what?” the first soldier asked again.
Deo didn’t respond for a second as his current engrossment required his full attention.
“It’s a circuit of logic, memory and strategy games. You play against an AI computer and have three seconds for each move or turn before switching to the next game or puzzle. It repeats in a cycle with six games.” Deo hoped that explanation would suffice, he was already distracted enough. “Stuff like chess and word games.” He added the quick example as an afterthought.
Deo missed the exchange of odd looks between the two soldiers.
“What’s the point of that?”
Deo’s fingers were moving furiously around the phone screen as he made his moves without end.
“To exercise the brain. It’s an app developed by computer science engineers who wanted to test the multitasking abilities of their hyper intelligent AI. The loss rate is ninety-seven percent for humans. It is nearly impossible to beat.”
“So the reason you’re not getting ready to be debriefed on the upcoming war is to play a bunch of games you never win?”
“You are a strange one my friend.”
“So I’ve been told.”
The circuit actually held thirty-two games in total. When one game ends, a new and different game starts in its place in the circuit. Each game varies in length and skill. Each completed game adds a score to the winner. Once all thirty-two games are finished, the player with the highest score is the overall winner, which is always the computer. Using an extremely complex learning algorithm, the AI constantly readjusts its strategy to maintain the perfect move for each round. Deo had played here and there before, but since he was drafted to the military, he spent a good portion of his laconic free time playing the game. Honing his brain and multitasking skills served as his main reasons for playing. Passing the time was simply an added benefit.
“We’ve got to go, man.”
“You two go ahead, I will catch up in a bit.”
“You know the captain’s going to grill us if we’re not all on time.”
Deo ‘tsked’ but closed his app. He checked out of habit if there were any messages from Hales. Of course he knew there wouldn’t be.
He turned off his phone and stuck it in his locker’s hidden compartment. Deo threw on his military jacket and slid his feet into his boots.
They were the last three out the door and despite Deo’s slow walking pace, the other two soldiers stuck with him.
“How did you even sneak that phone here in the first place?”
“Our rifle ammunition clips when fully loaded are remarkably similar in weight to my phone. I hollowed out a magazine where the bullets would go and jammed it inside.”
“Nobody cared that you broke a piece of equipment?”
“I reported it as faulty once I got my phone inside to my locker.”
One of the soldiers laughed and smacked Deo’s back. “You’re clever, I’m sticking with this guy!”
“Hey Jermain, where do you think they’ll deploy us?”
So the older soldier is named Jermain.
“Well Yut, probably the front lines. They’ll want us to absorb the bullets ya’ know?” And the younger soldier, probably Deo’s own age, was Yut.
“You seem overly excited about being fodder.” Deo pointed out to Jermain.
“Why should I be worried? We’ve got Yut over here who scored the highest in the marksmen training of our company and you, my friend, the smartest of our company.”
Jermain moved in between Deo and Yut, slinging his arms cheerfully over the shoulders of the two.
“So what have you got to offer?” Yut asked suspiciously.
“Ah, me? You see, I happen to have the incredible knack for picking the right friends!”
Deo shook his head and couldn’t stop himself from grinning. Yut bit his lip in anxiety.
“I’m surprised they drafted you. You’d think they’d have an intelligence standard,” teased Yut.
“Oh but they do, lad! You never wondered why you’re in the fodder platoon?”
Yut cursed in response and this time Deo laughed.
“He insulted you too!” Yut yelp, his voice reaching a higher note than he intended.
Deo shrugged, “Doesn’t bother me.”
Yut and Jermain continued their casual banter, joking through the nerves.
The trio came up to the large auditorium room. They entered and filed in their spots among the rest of the hundred drafted recruits of their company. The entire building was packed with several other similar platoons.
There were thousands more like this. Of the eighty million citizens of Garghent, at least fifteen million were eligible to serve in the military. Garghent’s normal standing military was about two million. In mere months that number had grown to seven million. In a couple months further the city would reach that fifteen million. The efficiency at which Garghent could organize its military was unparalleled in the Sister continent. The exact reason so many other cities allied together. To bring down the tyrant metropolis that is Garghent.
“Company eight-seven-nine-three! We will be positioned outside the walls of Garghent on the north side. General Garald is leading the defense there along with four hundred other platoons. We will be a part of his force too. The goal is to recover supplies to feed back into the city and to stall direct attacks on Garghent until it is adequately prepared. The Coalition of the Sister is planning a years long siege to wipe Garghent off the face of the world. We are fighting for survival!” Cull Cillian’s voice projected easily to every corner of the auditorium. Deo knew from the directory that Cull Cillian was not a Specter, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t a skilled soldier or leader. Obtaining the rank of Cull required years of successful missions and operations. Now she was in command of and responsible for six hundred new soldiers.
The lights dimmed and a projector showed a map of the area of operation.
“We can set up operating bases along the side of the Garghent mountain range, this will protect our flank while giving us access to food, water and resources that can be mined while we camp. The Garghent mountains are purposefully preserved as a hidden goldmine of resources in the event of an emergency like this. There is enough raw material to construct a second Garghent from the mountain range alone. We are going to take advantage of that abundance to supply the city with the means to survive a full scale siege. However! If we lose control of the mountain range without securing its resources Garghent’s chances of surviving diminish to a single digit percentage.”
“I know all of you had plans for these next couple of years. I had plans of retiring next summer. The reality is we won’t have a next summer without you sacrificing yourselves for the city. All the eligible women and men are going to fight. If we fail, our land, our children, sick and elderly will perish. Some of us are going to die. But we’ll die if we don’t fight! Our choices are limited to those two. I, for one, will not sit back idly as our enemies ravage our city. We fight for Garghent! We fight for a better and safer future.”
“Tomorrow we deploy to the area of operation. Take the day off, say goodbye to your family and loved ones. Take a stroll through the city, remember what you are fighting for. What we are defending… Now I’ve had enough of speeches. I’m parched and will be heading to the bar. Who’s with me!”
The crowd of soldiers cheered. They liked their Cull. Though she could be hard and unforgiving at times, she knew her platoons were conscripts and therefore morale was a tentative beast. Keep the spirits high and the results would be worth it. Unhappy soldiers make for dead soldiers.
Deo slipped out of the auditorium and went back to his locker room to recover his phone. He changed out of his military uniform and left the barracks.
Deo spent his last day looking at flowers, walking through the city and listening to music…
“Status report, sir! Captain Hales, reported missing in action during the evacuation of a failed operation two months ago has returned alive. Mission code, two-two-B. The goal was to recover a mining facility south of Daedal under the command of Cull Marcarios. Enemy intel received an anonymous tip about the mission and set an ambush. Hales was debriefed. No evidence that she had been captured or tortured. Two of her squad members sacrificed themselves, allowing her to escape to the dessert. She was separated from her squad after that and spent the next eight weeks avoiding enemy troops. She was found by a patrolling squad under the command of Captain Baemis and brought directly here after the debriefing.”
“Thank you, private. You are dismissed.”
“Yes sir!” The private saluted and left the room. The status report was standard procedure, a way to keep record of everything and everyone.
“Captain Hales, let me start by saying that I apologize for the failed operation. We are still searching for the informant but we do have some tangible leads. You did the impossible which was to survive. Normally you would be allowed a paid leave of three months to recuperate on account of the military’s blunder, but given the current situation of the city the best I can give you is a week. However, I can pull strings-”
“A day is enough for me, sir.” Hales said, cutting off her superior officer. The operation commander, one of the men in charge of issuing missions to the Culls, the same commander who sent her squad into an ambush, ignored the interruption. Hales, to the military, was a valuable survivor. She could do no wrong after they failed her so awfully. But it was more than that, they needed her power. They would be willing to accommodate anything so long as she remained an active soldier for Garghent’s cause.
“Of course captain Hales, may I ask why only a day?”
“To be honest sir, I have siblings to protect. I had plenty of rest on my way back.”
The commander was openly pleased. Probably because it saved him the headache of having to request special permission from the Generals to allow her extended leave. He wanted nothing more than to move past his failed mission.
“What happened to the rest of my squad?” Hales demanded. She knew she looked like hell. Traveling across the country has that effect.
“Your squad was dissolved and they have been added to various other assignments. I will send for their immediate return under the re-formation of your squad. Do you still wish to serve under Cull Marcarios?”
“Yes that is fine. Espen and Cursten are dead.”
“Excellent.” The commander was confused for a second at the second part, unsure what Hales was getting at. He was going to mention that they were not able to recover their bodies but stopped himself when he realized her meaning. She was all business.
“Yes, you will select two new members to fill out your squad. Does the day after tomorrow work?” Hales nodded. The commander wrote down notes. Usually the military assigned the empty slots but Hales was cooperating more than he suspected she would. The military owed her that much.
“Is there anything else?” Hales asked.
“You will be updated tomorrow in full, so nothing more from me today.” Before dismissing her he decided to ask a question. “I am curious, how did you survive in the desert?”
“You wouldn’t believe me.” Hales asserted.
The commander spread his hands and smiled, “Try me.”
“Talis Ranis found me in an oasis cave system.”
The commander gave a dry chuckle. “You are dismissed, captain. I commend you on your skills. Garghent is proud to have you.”
Hales turned and left, unsurprised of the commander’s disbelief. Which was why she chose to tell the truth in the first place. People, oddly enough, are skeptical of the truth.
Hales’ only thought now was of the bliss of a long and warm bath.
But a soldier standing outside the commander’s office room had unintentionally overheard the last conversation. A missing captain had claimed she found the legendary Fable in the desert. It became a quiet gossip that eventually made its way to a group of disgruntled scientists who lacked any real leads and because of that lacked support from the military to spare them an escort out of the city.
The light in their eyes sparked upon hearing the rumor for they knew, in a spur of scientific innateness, that rumor to be true.