“Two hours ago, sentries reported seeing black substances converging at where the Portal used to be. The same substance that made up the Portal. That means…”
“That can mean a lot of things.” Caity snapped loudly. “Maybe it’s just a natural phenomenon or something. Maybe it’s the aftereffect of the Portal being closed. Even if the Portal is back, who is to say it’s still connected to our world? It doesn’t mean anything!”
“Perhaps you are right.” Ryan wasn’t taken back. His tone was as quiet as ever. “But there is a chance that none of what you said is the case. There’s a chance that we are connected with Earth once again, and that chance, no matter how small, is worth fighting for.”
“Fight? Fight who?”
Caity was almost afraid of the answer.
“The United Human Confederation. If the Portal is back, we need to cripple, if not destroy, the UHC.”
Caity closed her eyes in frustration. She was trying to make a last-ditch effort, but she knew her worst fear had happened. “Why?”
“You know why, Colonel.” Ryan didn't pull any punches. “The United Human Confederacy is hell-bent on restoring the glory of humanity. Their humanity. If they find out about the existence of a Portal that leads to another world, one untouched by all the war and destruction, what do you think they will do? Sit back and beg for our government to send help? No! They will invade our world, which is countless times easier to take over than recovering this planet from the billions of Mutants out there!”
“With their starship and fleet of starfighters, and their tanks as large and as well armed as fortresses, they will march across the Portal we have sworn to protect and onto Earth. Perhaps our world will not crumble at the first engagement, and perhaps we can hold the ground on our side of the portal, but the UHC will not back down. They are a world forged in the flames of hell and most of our world doesn’t know about World Alpha. If conflict erupts, we will pay a heavy price."
He paused. “Of course, if the Portal was gone, that is no longer possible and we have nothing to worry about, but now that the Portal has returned…we can’t take any chances. The UHC has to go.”
“You don’t know that. Maybe we can establish a relationship with them the same way we did with Apollo.”
“Apollo was a fool who had little further ambition than residing in the Sun Throne. He didn't care about saving anyone, nor did he want to restore anything.” Ryan destroyed Caity’s hopes mercilessly. “A full-fledged faction with legions under its command, dedicated to a single cause…they will be more deadly to us than Apollo has ever been.”
"Perhaps, but I am confident we can force the UHC into an alliance." The Colonel continued, her eyes lighting up as she saw hope for peace. "If we have to tell them the truth about Earth, then so be it. Earth and the UHC...we can be allies, both forces of humanity fighting against the tides of chaos and mutation out there on World Alpha! As long as we pose a sufficient threat to the UHC, they will not turn to war. They simply don't have the assets to fight us and the Mutants at the same time!"
"True." Ryan nodded. He had thought about this possibility when he came over. "Maybe, if we show the UHC if they try to invade us, we will nuke their invading forces to the ground, and we do manage to form an alliance. We give them resources and help them retake their world. They give us technology and help us develop our scientific knowledge and weapon systems. Perhaps, we will be fine in the short term."
"But then what?" He sighed and bit his lips. "The UHC is, at best, an ally. It has its own command structure and its own objective. Whether we like it or not, the UHC will not allow us to conscript local factions as we did before, especially if they find out about the Portal. They won't fight us, but they're not gonna let us expand as quickly as before, just like we would never let an outside faction expand on Earth. And a delay in the Corp's growth...that is unacceptable"
“But what if they never find out? We managed to keep the Portal from Camp York for months! If we can convince the UHC we are just another ordinary group of survivors, then your concerns will never come into fruition.” The Colonel retaliated once again.
“Again, the UHC is not Camp York. Apollo was satisfied with the story we made up. Someone as talented and ambitious General Kenneth won’t be. He will question where all our resources came from, and sooner or later, he will find out.”
Caity sat there with her eyes closed, almost as if she didn't want to acknowledge the harsh reality. The harsh choice that she had to make. Ryan frowned.
“What’s the matter, Colonel? The Phasewalker Corps has been taking out local survivors ever since we came here. New Sara. Camp York. Ford. Caleb. We killed all those that might pose a threat to us, human or not. What changed?”
Caity opened her eyes. The despair in her gaze was clear as day. “The UHC, they’re different. It’s one thing to take out settlements that are falling apart already, but the UHC...they have everything under control here. Their people are not just alive, but they are happy! They have a set of laws against crime that is strictly enforced! They even have schools for children! We don’t even offer that to the locals! I...I actually think they have a chance of taking back this planet!”
Ever since she has been in contact with the UHC, they have treated her with nothing about dignity and respect. No treacheries. No backstabs. They didn't force her to do anything when they absolutely could. This level of honor was unseen before, and yet, just for a possibility, Caity had to betray them?
The ironic thing was she had been expecting a betrayal from the UHC the entire time. Instead, in the end, she was the one who might do the betraying.
Ryan waited patiently for Caity to finish the argument. When she finally did, he said something that sent chills down her spine.
“Colonel, I think you have made a mistake. The objective of the Phasewalker Corps isn’t to save those in pain or defeat the thugs in power. It never was. We are not a humanitarian force. We are the Phasewalker Corps, not the Peace Corps. The objective of the Phasewalker Corps is to strengthen our world, our people, regardless of the means. We are not the saviors. We are the looters and plunderers who will watch a world burn as long as it’s not our world.”
“The only reason we rescued all those survivors and fed and clothed them wasn’t because we are more humane than the Mutants that ruled them before. It’s because we need their husbands and sons and fathers to die for us. We need their arms to operate our machines, for our advantage. The value they provide to us is the only reason they are still alive. It was a deal, nothing more. Protection in exchange for their service.”
“This is the true nature of the Phasewalker Corps. Of course, for some of our own people, the idea that we are the rescuers may make them feel better. I am fine with that, but you, Colonel Caity Hunter, as the leader of the Corps, you have to set your mindset accordingly.”
Caity almost collapsed in her seat. Ryan was right. From start to finish, every single word Ryan has said was correct. This was something Caity has long known, deep down, but a part of Caity simply refused to admit it. So she tossed it to the side and forced herself to ignore it.
So...the Phasewalkers weren’t even different from Apollo and his band of thugs? Caity remembered comparing the Phasewalkers to the UHC. That was a drastic oversight. At least the UHC genuinely cared about humanity as a whole.
She looked up at Ryan.
“What are you suggesting?”
The answer was obvious.
“The Mutated Ants.” Ryan replied coldly. “These Ants have a fascinating behavioral pattern. We have long speculated that these Ants have a central leadership. While you were here, I deployed resources to learn more about them. It turns out our speculation was only half correct.”
“The Ants don’t have a single queen or leader. However, they do have scouts, specialized Ants that are spread out into the wild in the hundreds. Whenever they encounter suitable prey, such as a horde of low-tier Mutated Animals or a human settlement, they emit a type of hormones that the rest of the Ants will trace. At a certain level, the hormones send the Ants into a frenzy.”
“By my orders, Stasis Troopers under Lieutenant Zarkin were tasked with hunting down many of these scouts and collecting their hormones. As of the moment, we have a large storage of them left, enough to manipulate the horde’s movement to a certain degree.”
Ryan was originally going to give the order to Eric, but upon realizing the true meaning of this mission, Eric refused. That was why Austin Zarkin had to take over the mantle for this specific mission. Ryan left that part out on purpose.
“With these hormones, we can easily turn the Ants upon the UHC. Due to our inaction, the Ants have grown into a horde of hundreds of thousands. Even if the UHC somehow survives, it will be too crippled to ever threaten us again in the near future.”
His words were quiet, but the meaning behind it was chilling. If this plan was indeed carried out, then the casualties would be beyond count.
“How many will die?” Caity asked quietly.
“Hundreds of thousands, at least. Our analysts estimated that even in the worst-case scenario, the Ants will reach the walls of the Capital.”
Caity sat there in silence. Her mind went back to everyone she has met in the weeks in the UHC. Lieutenant Kenneth, the man who gave her his unwavering trust. General Kenneth, the former UEC commander who made the mistake of blindly following orders, and has been trying to atone for that ever since. Even Jaime, the Mutant woman who didn't trust her, and rightfully so.
The numerous recruits, soldiers, and crew members, all united under a single banner and fighting to restore what had been taken away from them.
She turned to the Regiment Commissar.
“And if I refuse?”
Ryan didn't seem surprised at all.
“If you refuse, then you are a threat to the Phasewalker Corps. As the Regiment Commissar, I will do my duty and relieve you of your command. The plan will still be carried out, except I will be the one giving the orders, not you. Humanity will emerge victorious...our humanity.”
That was when the Colonel snapped.
“Don’t give me that bullshit about humanity! You don’t care about human lives, Ryan! You’re a damn psychopath! You just want to follow the rules and do what you’re told! You just want to look all nice and badass! We’re talking about unleashing beasts onto half a million human beings! Don’t talk to me about damn humanity!”
For a moment, her human side got to her. In the end, despite all the uniforms and orders, Caity Hunter was still a young teenage girl, and sometimes, just sometimes, the girl part of her would take over. This was one of such times.
The room was dead silent. Once again, Ryan didn't seem fazed by the outburst.
“It’s actually for the best, actually, if you are not the one giving the orders.” He suddenly said quietly, his voice oddly soft.
“If this plan fails or is revealed, then someone has to take the blame. If I relieve you of your command by force, then when people demand justice, you can just have me and my culprits arrested and executed for treason. This way, you can claim that you tried to stop me, and when it’s all over, you still have a chance of protecting Earth from the UHC from the inside.”
That moment, Caity thought about a lot. She thought about General Kennedy and the instructors and the hopes they put in her. She thought about Captain Hemley Shane, who sacrificed himself so the Portal wouldn’t be compromised. She thought about her own parents. She thought about all the friends she had in high school.
She thought about the hundreds upon hundreds of Phasewalkers who bravely marched to their death so Earth could live.
Ryan observed the Colonel quietly. He respected Caity. He really did. In a sense, he was even proud of her. She was a young woman who was forced to make tough choices, but instead of shutting down all her feelings in an attempt to be more efficient, she embraced those feelings. That was her strength. That was what differed her from Ryan, and that was why she was the perfect choice as the commander.
Ryan could make difficult choices with ease. He could order the death of millions of locals without batting an eye, but at the same time, he could also do the same with millions of his own people, people he was tasked with protecting. Give him the ultimate power, and the only thing keeping him from abusing would be the rules he forced onto himself. But if he got to make these choices for too long, eventually, he would learn to bend those rules. After that, there was nothing keeping him on the right track.
Caity’s emotions were as much a danger to her as it was a guide. A guide to take her and the Phasewalker Corps down the right path.
He just hoped she would make the right call, just like what she did countless times before.
He wasn’t disappointed.
When Caity looked up again, her eyes were cold and fierce once again.
“We will burn in Hell for this.”
The Commissar grinned.
“Then it’s a good thing I’m an atheist.”
The harsh wind blew across the dark night.
In the airfield of the 2nd Airborne, in Fortress Alpha, a pair of pilots suddenly walked up to the sentries and showed them a paper order. The sentries let them pass. The pilots found their way to a specialized Arbiter X and brought it into the air and out of Fortress Alpha.
Both pilots were Shieldbearers. Even common Phasewalkers couldn’t be trusted with news of the atrocity that was about to be committed.
The Arbiter X followed an established path, making its way to the South. Phasewalker assets in the air have long been keeping an eye on the movement of the Mutated Ants. Originally, the Phasewalkers would use noise to direct the Ants as far away from Phasewalker territory as possible. As the horde got larger, that became more and more difficult.
Luckily, this Arbiter X had scientists behind its back.
The gunship was flying at top speed. Soon, the pilots caught the sight of hordes of darkness on the ground below. Mutated Ants. Thousands of them. In fact, that was just a tiny portion. Just in the day, Phasewalker pilots counted at least five hundred thousand Mutated Ants, spread across dozens of hordes.
One of the pilots nodded at his peer, who returned a nod. The main pilot pressed a button.
An air vent was opened up underneath the gunship, releasing a set of hormones into the open.
Half a minute after the hormone started releasing, half the horde below became obviously alerted. Many of them were looking into the air. Some were even waving around their denticles aggressively. A full minute after that, the entire horde was screeching into the air. Many of them leaped into the air in a futile attempt to reach the Arbiter X. When that failed, they kept on trying.
The Arbiter X started moving to another Ant horde, with the original horde chasing after the gunship. Half an hour later, as the Arbiter X flew in the sky and led the way, hundreds of thousands of Mutated Ants were following tightly behind. Hundreds of Mutated Ants alone fell over and were stampeded to death by their own kind, who were making a desperate attempt to reach the aircraft in the air.
The hormones were usually placed at where the targets were, but the Phasewalkers couldn’t wait for the Ants to spend days moving into UHC territories. They needed the Ants to move fast and strike quickly, so an alternative method had to be used.
The sound of hundreds of thousands of giant Ants moving in unison caused the ground to shake violently, a phenomenon that could be felt miles away from where the movement took place.
The Shieldbearer pilot looked down on the scale for the hormone reserve. There were more than enough to carry out the rest of the plan.
The migration went on for another forty-five minutes. The Arbiter X wasn’t slow, but the Ants were thrown into a state of frenzy from the hormone. They weren’t quite falling behind either. With incredible speed, the Arbiter X led the Ants straight to the North. To their East was the UHC territory, but the gunship kept on going.
Finally, the Arbiter X turned to the East and started moving back South. The Phasewalkers wanted the UHC to take the full brunt of the Mutated Ant assault. That was why they wanted the Ants to move into UHC territory from the North. This was the only way they could get into Phasewalker territory, which was on the Southern side of the UHC, was over the dead body of every settlement in the UHC territory.
When a small human settlement was in sight, the pilots knew their job here was done. They pressed a button, which shut the air vent and turned off the hormone emission.
“Stealth mode, engaged.” The pilot said quietly upon pressing a button. Immediately, a set of noise cancellation system was put into effect, minimizing the sound generated by the gunship itself. Under the cover of the darkness, the Arbiter X sped away from the Mutated Ants at top speed.
Many of the Mutated Ants were still in the frenzy state. The disappearance of the hormones only made them more aggressive. That was when many of them smelled something not far away...it was the smell of human flesh! Not long after, the entire horde charged toward the tiny human settlement.
Moments later, a few scattered gunshots echoed through the night, followed by the screams of horrified men and women. But all of that was short-lived. Soon, the only sound left was that of Ants chewing through human bones.
The feast has begun.