When the convoy entered the Capital of the United Human Confederation, Caity almost thought she was back in a city on Earth where the Alpha Virus never happened.
As the heart of a faction with 400,000 people, the Capital used to be a military fort where the headquarters of the 12th Field Army was first stationed. Its former UEC designation was no longer relevant. After all hent went loose, countless people flocked to the Capital and gradually occupied the area around it. As more and more land near the Capital was cleansed of the Mutants and more survivors found their way over, more and more territories became inhabited.
Before long, the UHC became a faction that covered over 40 kilometer squared of land, with the Capital in the dead center.
Obviously, even with the UHC prowess, those who lived on the edge of the territory were still vulnerable to Mutant attacks. Thus, the rich and the powerful would try to find ways to the Capital. This way, if things went wrong, they would be the last to die.
As a result, numerous resources were poured into turning the Capital into a city. When food and safety were no longer concerns, people started paying attention to luxuries. On the way in, Caity has seen more open bars, restaurants and hair salons then ever before in World Alpha. She even saw what looked like a strip club.
“These structures divert some resources from the front.” Lieutenant Kenneth complained briefly as the Humvee drove past the stores. “But they are needed. You know, to help people get rid of their stress. Just because we live in the apocalypse doesn’t mean we have to turn into desperate animals, you know?”
“Yeah, I understand.”
The convoy came across several more checkpoints. After every checkpoint, the defenses got more and more intense. Things like bunkers and machine-gun posts were too common to count. Multiple Predator II and Arbiter X were on standby. Their crew waiting just steps away, ready to jump into combat on a moment’s notice.
Caity even saw a type of tank at least twice the size of the Predator II. It was so big that when she first saw it, she thought it was a built-in fortress.
“Titan V. It was at its prototype stage when the war broke out. We were able to get our hands on a dozen of them. They only run on Energy Cells, so most of the time, they just act as stationary defenses.”
Energy Cells were a type of power source created by compressing chemical energy with a specific set of equipment. Each Energy Cell held more power than any battery ever could. Most light vehicles or aircrafts in World Alpha still ran on gasoline, but it would take too much gasoline to power things like starships or, in this case, Titan V. To avoid having to load half a starship with fuel, the UEC scientists invented the Energy Cells as an alternate power source.
These cells were really rare and expensive. Caity hasn’t seen a single one of them before. All the Arbiter Xs and Predator II ran on gasoline.
This beast of war only made Caity feel even more concerned. How could the Phasewalkers take a mammoth like that down?
Finally, the convoy stopped in front of a heavily guarded building. This was the Command Center of General Kenneth himself. Lieutenant turned to Caity.
“I’m afraid your guards can’t wait here. My men will take them to a parking lot, where they can park their cars and take a break.”
Caity nodded and relayed the message to Commissar Charlotte. Finally, she got out of the car and, following Lieutenant Kenneth, entered the building. Cara followed behind her.
As she moved, she couldn’t help but compare the home of General Kenneth to Apollo’s Sun Throne. The differences were obvious. Apollo’s Sun Throne was built as much for protection as it was for aesthetics. There would be golden walls and decorations that served no purpose at all.
General Kenneth’s Command Center was completely different. It was surprisingly similar to that of Caity herself. Little to no decoration or coloring. Plenty of guards in black armor. Caity spotted multiple security cameras that likely covered the entire building inside out. If anyone tried charging in here with guns blazing, they wouldn’t last a minute.
That was the difference between the military and civilians. Even if civilians were given the power and the resources, they could never be as coordinated as a military force.
Lieutenant Kenneth stopped in front of a closed door, which was guarded by two sentries. He waited there for a few seconds, patiently. Suddenly, the door was pushed open from the inside, and a man in his fifties walked out. Even at this age, he was wearing a clean suit. His hair was obviously treated with hair gel before he came here. A look of annoyance on his face. He ignored Jason and Caity and walked right by them.
“That’s Governor Hanson.” Lieutenant Jason explained as he led the way into the room. “I’ll tell you more about him later.”
Caity Hunter followed him into the room.
At the end of the room, a man was sitting in front of a table that was packed with all sorts of maps and charts. Again, unlike the Sun Throne, this room was filled with men and women in uniforms. Some were writing something. Others were deep in thoughts or discussing with each other quietly. Seeing his son enter, General Kenneth didn't appear too impressed. Jason might as well be another one of the hundreds of lieutenants under his command.
“General.” Jason saluted his father before introducing Caity. “General, this is Colonel Caity Hunter. She leads a human faction that has retaken the city of New Sara.”
General Kenneth raised his eyebrows. It was obvious the last sentence Jason said caught his attention.
“New Sara? That is...very impressive.” In fact, he was so impressed that he actually stood up and pulled a chair over for Caity to sit down. That caught the Phasewalker Colonel by surprise. For a moment, Caity froze there, not really sure what to do.
Apollo would die before doing something like this even if he believed Caity was backed by a civilization of millions strong. This would feel insulting for someone of his caliber.
“Uh...thanks!” Caity did her best to hide her surprise.
“No need to thank me.” General Kenneth sat back down. A warm smile on his face. “I should be the one thanking you. New Sara is, was, part of the jurisdiction of the 12th Field Army. We were supposed to protect it, but…” He sighed. “the casualties were just too great. Multiple Armored Divisions were wiped out in the streets. In the end, we had to pull back and abandon the millions in the city. It was a necessary decision, yet...”
He quickly recovered. “Either way, I am grateful the city has fallen into human hands again. So, Colonel, mind telling us about your faction?”
“Of course,” Caity was expecting this. She knew if there was a time to flex the strength of the Phasewalker Corps, it was now. “we have 8,000 combatants and 20,000 civilians. We have three settlements in our control. Camp York. New Sara. And Fortress Alpha. We have multiple Predator II tanks and Arbiter X gunships under our command.”
“Wow! 30,000 people.” General Kenneth nodded in acknowledgment. Most of the factions he has encountered had hundreds of people. Thousands, at most. A faction of 30,000 was never seen before. “I am happy to learn that. In this era, every human life is sacred.”
“So, Colonel…” Finally, when the information was in place. General Kenneth started getting to the point. “if it was Governor Hanson here, he would be talking you through all the hoops. But I’m a soldier. I like to be straightforward and save some time.”
He glanced at Jason.
“Has Lieutenant Kenneth told you about our intentions?”
“Yes,” Caity knew the key part was coming up. “You want to offer us an alliance so we can stand against the Mutants and take back our world, together.”
“Yes, and what is your answer?”
“We have the same goals. I don’t have any problem with an alliance.” Caity said slowly. “I just think we need to do some discussion on the terms of the alliance.”
She had to make sure this alliance wouldn’t be a merger in disguise. Whatever the deal was, the autonomy of the Phasewalker Corps couldn’t be challenged. Fortress Alpha had to remain in Phasewalker control. Honestly, Caity wasn’t too sure how she could do that. The Phasewalkers themselves didn't like the idea of “the underling of my underling is not my underling”.
She was prepared to face challenges, even threats, from General Kenneth. Threats that she had to respond carefully. Not too soft, but not too hard.
“Of course.” General Kenneth wasn’t surprised. The leader of a normal human faction would just be handled by one of his second-in-commands, but a faction of 30,000 was well worth his time.
“First of all, our people prefer to be more...independent. I doubt they will enjoy their privacy being intruded by...outsiders.” Caity tried to be as indirect as possible.
“Of course.” Instead of being outraged by this condition, General Kenneth acted as if it was nothing out of the ordinary. “We are allies. We are on equal ground. There is no reason for us to intrude on your territories.”
“Thank you... what?” Once again, Caity was taken by surprise. What? She was dealing with a faction that wasn’t using its power and influence to force others into submission? She had a full booklet of arguments, with no need to use any of them. “...uh...my gratitudes.”
“Uhhh…” Caity wasn’t absolutely not expecting things to go like this. “that will be all.”
That was when General Kenneth frowned. Caity felt her heartbeat accelerate. Did he just remember something that made him want to back out of the deal? Before she could say anything, General Kenneth asked a question.
“Your faction. How many Predator II and Arbiter X do you have?”
“Hmmm...12 Predator II and less than a dozen Arbiter X.”
That wasn’t too bad. It was the result of the scavenging by thousands of Phasewalkers across months. They would’ve had more, but many of the weapons were returned to Earth for research. Combat casualties claimed more.
General Kenneth obviously wasn’t satisfied.
“That is not enough for an army of 8,000, nor is it sufficient to protect 20,000 civilians. Lieutenant.”
“Sir?” Jason answered.
“Go to the armory and have the gears of an Armored Division ready for transport. Colonel Hunter, do you want our men to deliver these to your territory, or do you want to arrange your own convoy?”
“Uh...wait, what?” Caity was almost coughing in surprise. What the hell did she just hear? “You...you’re giving us those wargears? For free?”
“Yes.” There was no doubt in General Kenneth’s voice. No mockery. He was being dead serious.
Now Caity truly didn't know what to say. In fact, every single part of this conversation has been defying her expectations. She expected to be questioned. Even pressured. Instead, she felt like she was walking into the house of a philanthropist.
She sensed a conspiracy.
“Our...our own convoy should serve just fine, but General, what’s the price? What do we have to do?” She felt like she had to ask this question right now so her cognitive mind wouldn’t be broken.
General Kenneth must have some impossible demand, right? Why else would he be so nice to her? This was the apocalypse. All the philanthropists were dead long ago.
“Yes. You do have to do something.”
Here we go…
“Whenever the United Human Confederacy enters a conflict with the Mutated Animals, you are obliged to come to their aid.”
Caity nodded and stayed silent, waiting for job number two. It took her a while to realize there wasn’t one.
“But…” Caity paused before nodding in agreement. “of course, General. We will uphold our end of the bargain.”
“Very well.” The UHC leader smiled in satisfaction. “And how’s your food supply? Any danger of starvation?”
“No…” Caity answered quietly. For a moment, she sat there, deep in thoughts. A part of her was screaming at her, telling her to take the deal and leave. This was a brilliant deal for her side. No need to ask any more questions. But she knew she couldn’t. Not until she got the answer.
“If I may, general. Why? Why are you doing this? You are pretty much handing out an Armored Division of equipment for free. What...what is it that you want in return? What are you after from deals like this?”
Her questions were brutally direct. Caity knew it would play right into what the General preferred, but she had no real choice.
General Kenneth sighed as he slowly stood up.
“Everyone knew that when the Alpha Virus first appeared, we, the UEC Military, were dispatched to put it down. But did you know we didn't do all we could? Once upon a time, we actually had a chance to stop it all.”
“What?” Caity was slightly taken back.
“When the first wave of virus struck, some areas were hit more than the others. The 12th Field Army was able to hold its ground, at first. But the 3rd, the 9th, and the 22th Field Armies were all nearly wiped out. The wise thing to do then would be to step in and reinforce their position, but...”
“But at the time, in the District of North America, there were two factions in the military. Two dueling factions, competing for power. I was in one of them. Those three Field Armies were in the other. When their defenses crumbled, I and a few of my peers were ordered to remain in our position. The...the official story was that we didn't have the forces to reinforce, but I knew the real reason. The leader to my faction wanted to use this as an excuse to target the other faction. To wrestle power.”
“Our world was being overrun by monsters, and our leaders were still playing with politics!”
General Kenneth’s voice darkened, as if he was taken back to a period of time he didn't want to as much as remember.
“I should’ve disobeyed the order and acted, but...but I looked away. I was afraid of losing my position and taking the blame for the losses. I did nothing. Absolutely nothing. In doing so, I may have sealed the doom of millions.”
“In the end, without reinforcement, the defenses completely crumbled. Armies and divisions alike were separated, trapped, overran, and devoured. The entire District of North America fell. This, this is what politics and manipulation got us. This is the curse of a selfish leader who only wants to win. Who only wants to profit out of every deal they make.”
The general snapped back to Caity.
“I am not doing things for myself. I’m not trying to be emperor or king. All I’m trying to do is atone for my mistake, my sin, by protecting those who I have failed once already.”
“Yes. Perhaps by giving you those weapons, we will get nothing in return. Perhaps when the time comes, your faction will betray our deal and deny us aid. But all I know is one thing. Arm your faction, and more people may live. Arm your faction, and more of those Mutants will perish. That...that is all that matters.”
There was nothing but honesty in his eyes.
Caity was silent. She bit her lips before quietly standing up and saluting the man. Not for his authority. Not for his power. Not to impress him. She saluted his honesty. His selflessness.
In a sense, the man was ten times nobler than what she could ever be.