Although Caity was still in the Capital and Ryan was acting commander of the Phasewalker Corps, every morning, Ryan would still contact Caity to give her a briefing about the major things that have happened for the past day.
And today, Ryan brought some troubling news.
“Colonel Hunter, it’s been a month since the Portal was closed. Our resource storage is still sufficient, but I’m afraid I can’t say the same for the morale of our people. Multiple Commissars have reported of Phasewalkers individuals who have become psychologically at risk.”
Caity bit her lips in somewhat frustration. “We have expected this.”
“Indeed, but by the looks of this, we need to make a decision about the long term goal of the Corps.” Ryan replied. “We have been stranded with no way out. If nothing happens in the near future, I am afraid we need to loosen our restrictions on the Corps.”
Caity knew what Ryan meant. Even after the Portal was closed, the Phasewalker Corps maintained a military rule. Things like patrol missions and training remained. All the rules and chains of commands remained. Phasewalkers still had to sleep in barracks and do morning workouts. This was to keep the combat readiness of the Phasewalker Corps at its peak.
But this was no way of life for a group of teenagers, especially after their cause to fight for no longer existed. Even Ryan, the Regiment Commissar who has always been all about rules and order, was suggesting loosening the limits.
If the limits were gone, Phasewalkers would be able to live in actual houses. They would be allowed to drink alcohol or even hang out at the bars. Some could even have sex with locals! Yep...all of those were prohibited before.
But once that happened, the Phasewalker Corps would no longer be the deadly combat force that conquered New Sara and Camp York. Loosening up was easy. Tightening up...not so much. It was a one-way street.
But at the same time, by refusing to walk down that street, Caity risked running the Phasewalker Corps into the ground.
“I’ll think about it.” That was all Caity could reply.
As the call ended and the Colonel set her satellite phone down, a thought suddenly popped into her head. The Phasewalkers weren’t soldiers. They were teenagers, teenagers taken away from their families and forced to hold the fate of the world on their shoulder. Before, they were enslaved by pride and order whether they liked it or not. Their paths were fixed.
Now, things were different. The Portal was gone, and with it, the duty of the Phasewalker Corps. They no longer had to make sacrifices for Earth. For once, their choices were finally theirs.
Perhaps the United Human Confederacy came in at just the right moment. Perhaps it was God’s way of giving the Phasewalkers a real choice. If the Phasewalker Corps was to merge with the UHC, then those who were tired of the rigorous military life could go join another job. Those exhausted from risking their lives could finally set down their rifles.
As for the fighters, people like Major Nelson and Major Riley and even Ryan Carlson, they could remain in the UHC military. Even so, fighting a battle with a starship in the air would be better than fighting in the Phasewalker Corps, where one only had the rifle in his hand and the comrades on his side to rely on.
Fate has a brilliant sense of irony. Nearly a month ago, she ordered the execution of a local Major who proposed yielding to the UHC. Now, she was making the exact same considerations.
The woman stood up and walked out the door. She wanted to look for Lieutenant Kenneth, but the man found her first.
After three weeks, Jason has started calling Caity by her first name. The reverse was also accurate.
“Jason...” Caity’s voice was cut off by Jason, who seemed oddly excited.
“Caity, follow me! I have something to show you!”
He turned and led Caity out of her house. A few Security Troopers glanced at Caity, wondering if she wanted them to come along, but she shook her head.
The Colonel followed Jason down a set of streets she has never been to before coming to a stop in front of an unflattering two-story building. Strangely, the building had more than its fair amount of sentries. Jason showed a piece of paper to one of the guards, who let the two through.
“What is it?” Caity asked, for the fifth time.
“It’s a surprise. You’ll know when you see it!” Jason replied, for the fifth time.
The two walked into an elevator, and Caity keenly noticed all the floors were negative. In other words, the elevator was going down.
She turned and glanced at Jason, whose face looked villainous under the dim elevator light. She quietly rested her hand on her belt, which held a gun holster for her Defender-C. She trusted Jason, but she wasn’t stupid enough to go anywhere with him completely unarmed.
The elevator door opened, and Caity made sure Jason walked out first. Outside of the door was a literal room with walls on all four sides. There was nothing in this room. Not a table. Not a chair. No nothing. There was no legitimate reason that Jason would bring her here all alone, unless...
As soon as Caity left the elevator, the door snapped shut behind her, cutting off the only exit and her only hope of retreating.
The top half of Caity’s Defender-C was already out of its holster. Even now, her head was spinning. She could draw her gun and take out Jason in one and a half seconds. But if this was indeed an ambush, then there would be multiple hostiles on top of her immediately. She would need Jason’s Defender-C. Only with dual-wielding did she have a chance of breaking out…
That was when Jason walked to one of the walls and pressed a button. Following a loud crack, another wall slowly sunk into the ground, revealing a set of staircases.
A secret base.
Caity slowly pushed her handgun back into its holster. An awkward look on her face.
That made a lot more sense.
“Caity, may I introduce to you, the hope of humanity! Project Salvation!”
Following Jason, Caity navigated her way past a set of staircases onto a lower level where actual work seemed to be taking places. There were multiple rooms along the hallway with glass windows. Since the curtains weren’t up, Caity took the liberty of taking a peek inside.
In one of the rooms, a few scientists in lab coats were doing some tests on a man who seemed to be asleep. Either that, or knocked out.
In another room, some scientists were doing examinations on a Mutant with...fire powers?
In a third room, a scientist dove a scalpel into a woman’s arm and pulled it back out. There was no blood at the wound, which mended itself almost immediately.
“Where is this place, Jason?” Caity turned to the man who she almost killed. “Some sort of Mutant research facility?”
Jason grinned. “You can say that, but it’s one step further. We are not only learning about Mutants…”
“...we are also creating them.”
“Wait…” Caity’s footsteps came to a screeching halt. “is that even possible? Making Mutants?”
“Is it possible, yes. Is it easy, no.” Jason explained. “General Kenneth started Project Salvation a few weeks into the virus outbreak. After it became clear that we can’t put the Mutants down by force, a group of analysts suggested that we use Mutants against Mutants. Fight fire with fire.”
“But, as you probably know, human Mutants are too few in numbers to form an effective fighting force. Our attempts to control Mutated Animals didn't go well either. To solve that problem, a group of scientists was tasked with working on a safe method to convert our soldiers, ordinary, uninfected humans, into Mutants by infecting them with the virus on purpose in a controlled, monitored environment.”
“Project Salvation. It got its name because the moment we can mass produce our own Mutants is the moment we take back our world.”
“It was a costly operation. We lost a lot of volunteers. Good people.” The lieutenant sighed. The dead didn't go down quietly. They died screaming, with their bodies falling apart and the only thing the researchers could do around them was take notes and do what they could to get something out of the tragedy.
“So is their sacrifice worth it?” Caity couldn’t help but ask. “Is the project a success?”
Just a few high level Mutants were able to take on an army on the battlefield. When Tier 3 Mutant Apollo was alive and kicking, the Phasewalkers were more worried about being attacked then attacking. Even after Apollo died, the Phasewalkers had to take the Tier 1 Mutants by surprise to take them out effectively. An army completely composed of Mutants...what could stop them?
“Yes.” Jason replied. “Well, it depends on your definition of success. We created a set of procedures that can convert volunteers successfully, but the success rate is only around 10%. The other 90% of the time, the volunteers will become Mutants, but they will lose their mind and become similar to the Mutated Humans in the first wave of Mutations.”
“Most of the Mutants are Tier 1, but there are some Tier 2s.”
No one knew how many volunteers gave their lives to produce this set of statistics.
As they kept on walking, Caity snapped around to Jason. She had a question for him.
“I don’t understand. Why are you telling me all this? A project like this is likely one of the most well kept secrets in the UHC. I am not even in the UHC. Aren’t you worried that I’ll...I don’t know, do something about this?”
“Here’s the thing, Caity.” Jason paused his footsteps and turned to the Phasewalker Colonel beside him. “You like the UHC. I can tell from all the questions you asked me for the past weeks, as well as the fact that you didn't go back to your faction as you have previously scheduled. But there is a part of you. A part of you that is worried that everything you have seen until now is just a facade, an act designed to deceive you into believing we are something that we are not.”
“You don’t trust us. You believe a group like us is too good to be true in this apocalypse, and I don’t blame you. After all, most people who share our beliefs don’t live long in this world.”
“I can’t force you to believe that we are who we say we are, but what I can do, Caity,” Jason explained. “is to give you my trust. To give you the trust of the United Human Confederation. This is why I took you onto the Destroyer, and this is why after General Kenneth’s permission, I am taking you down here.”
“Trust goes both ways, and I believe, one day, you will finally believe in what we say.”
“And then, we can finally work together without doubt. And then, we can finally take back our world.”
Caity was struck in silence. Before she could produce a word, Jason suddenly let out a small grin.
“The woman that first told us about you and your people, she thinks you are a threat to the UHC. If she knows what I just did, she’ll probably scream at me for my stupidity. But I know better about you that she ever will, Caity.”
“I’m not gonna lie. We sent some agents to your territories, and we learned everything we needed to know about you and your way of doing things. Just like us, you fight to rally humanity for a greater cause. In Camp York and New Sara, you only killed those in your way, those who used their powers and authority to satisfy their own greed. So do we. And for the common people, you never slaughtered or mutilated them, nor did you let them be consumed by chaos and dread. Instead, you put them to work, valuing and protecting every single one of them.”
“You see, Caity. We are not that different.”
Caity stood there, frozen. Everything Jason said about her was accurate. After everything she has seen in the Capital, the UHC felt like an utopia to her. If she learned anything from the books and movies back on Earth, it was that every utopia was hiding a darker intention. She liked it here, but she also kept her guard up.
When Jason took her down the elevator and she thought she was about to be ambushed, Caity barely blinked twice about the prospect of having to kill Jason. Subconsciously, she has always been treating him as an actor. A potential threat.
This was not her fault. This was what she was taught by everyone around her, from the instructors back in Eagle’s Nest to Ryan Carlson himself. Anyone was out to get you. Let down your guard and you might doom yourself and everyone who trusted their lives to you.
Jason saw through it, but instead of getting deterred, he understood her. He had no intention of fooling her into joining the UHC. All he did was present the fact to her, offer her his trust, and let her make her own educated decision.
That realization also made Caity feel moved. Here she was, worrying about how to save herself in case of a betrayal. Yet Lieutenant Kenneth was willing to put this much trust in her.
“Jason…” She said slowly. “I have something to tell you…”
That night, Caity called Ryan.
“Commissar Carlson, I have made a decision. We...we are merging with the United Human Confederacy.”
“That’s not happening.”
“Wait…” Caity paused at how blunt Ryan’s response was. “just listen to me…”
She never got to finish that sentence because, all of a sudden, the door to her house was pushed open, and Ryan Carlson himself walked into the room.
He quietly put the satellite phone he was holding onto on the table beside him. Staring right into Caity’s eyes, he said something slowly.
“We have a problem, Colonel. The Portal...”
Caity’s face turned pale.