The noise of trucks driving across the Portal was a sound welcomed by nearly all the Phasewalkers.
After over a month of being cut off from their Motherland, the sons and daughters of Earth were once again reconnected with their home planet. Before long, the stream of fresh supply trucks restocked the semi-depleted warehouses. Fresh recruits, 4,000 Generation V Phasewalkers who have been in training when the Portal was cut off, marched into World Alpha. Soon, they would be divided into all the established units and spend their lives for the Phasewalker Corps.
More importantly, the notion that the fate of the world once again being entrusted on their shoulders served as a boost to the morale of many Phasewalker units.
Using this time of peace, many Phasewalkers signed up for some time off. Caity and General Kennedy decided to process these requests based on individual units and their contribution to the Corps. The 1st Armored and 2nd Airborne had a fierce competition with each other for the first week. The 2nd Airborne won out. The 1st Armored was scheduled to take a break on the second week. And then it was the 4th Motorized, the 3rd Artillery, and finally the 5th Motorized.
Even the opportunity to take breaks was used as an incentive in the Phasewalker Corps.
Everything that happened to the Corps was reported back to Section X, General Kennedy, and then all the way up to the President. Caity made no attempt to hide what truly happened to the United Human Confederacy. The massacre of 400,000 people would likely be a war crime back on Earth that would inspire international outrage, but Caity believed she did the right thing. She was certain no one in Section X would punish her for saving the world at the expense of those of another world.
People were always selfish, especially when it came to their safety.
The experiment to seal the Portal was declared a success. Scientists believed that the principle behind opening and closing the Portal was solid. The only reason it took so long for the Portal to be re-opened was because once released, the Key Energy became scattered in the surrounding. They did return to where the Portal was, eventually, but it took them over a month to do that.
This was really good news. This meant if things really got too heated in World Alpha, then the Phasewalkers could always retreat to Earth and simply seal off the Portal, keeping whatever deadly threats isolated in a whole different world.
Caity found herself standing in the middle of a rather busy shopping mall.
Several days after the Portal came back online, she took a trip back to the Earth along with the 2nd Airborne Battalion, leaving Fortress Alpha in Ryan’s care for the moment. It didn't take her long to borrow a car from Section X and drive all the way back to her hometown.
Right now, for obvious reasons, she wasn’t in the Guardian IV Armor that she has gotten used to wearing back in World Alpha. There weren't really any fashion choices back in World Alpha and even the officers who were at no real risk of danger wore the light body armor simply as their uniforms. Caity wasn’t bothered by that. In fact, she quite liked it.
Instead, she was wearing a black hoodie that helped cover up her entire head.
People walked by her. Some were in a hurry. Others had casual footsteps. Some were empty-handed. Others were gripping onto more bags than any human should carry. Some were young. Others, old. All these people came together and drew the picture of a nice, peaceful society on Earth.
“Hey, what do you think about the new Taylor Swift song that came out?”
“James? What birthday cake do you want?”
“Look! An adorable puppy!”
“Hey! That store’s on sale today!”
Caity could hear conversations all around her. Questions. Statements. Facts and opinions alike. All the voices and laughter and whispers offered something World Alpha never did: a sense of liveliness. A sense of peace and security.
She was here for one simple reason. She wanted to ask herself one thing. This world. This Earth. Was it worth everything that she did to protect?
Now, as she stood in the busy mall, the answer came to her like never before.
Of course it was worth it. This was her world. This was her people. And she would go to hell and back just to keep this Earth and these people safe and sound.
A young woman slowly walked up to her. Caity sensed her coming, but she didn't move. She was no longer the recruit who almost died taking out three bank robbers. Plus, she was armed. Nothing in this mall could hurt her.
“Ummm...I’m sorry.” The woman started. “My name is Amelia. I’m a waitress in the restaurant next door. We saw you standing here for a while now, and my boss asked me to check on you. Are you...are you alright?”
Caity glanced at the woman. She couldn’t be more than a few years older than Caity. She had a warm, polite smile on. Caity could see she had nothing but kindness and care in her eyes. The Phasewalker Colonel let out a small grin.
“Yeah...I’m fine. It’s just that I haven’t been here for a while.” Caity replied. “It is only after you leave the world that you realize the world just goes on without you. It’s sad, really. So many people, living their lives like what they do matter. Yet, when they eventually die, they will just go down in history as another number. But...but sometimes, living out a peaceful life as just another number may not be the worst thing possible. At least these people get to live. Many don’t share that option.”
She turned to the waitress. “That’s it. I’ve just been having some thoughts.”
“That is...deep.” Amelia had no sign of leaving anytime soon. Instead, she kept Caity talking. “So...you lived here before?”
“Yeah, and then I left.”
“To where?” Amelia immediately realized how demanding she sounded. “I mean...I’m just curious. If you don’t want to tell me it’s totally fine.”
“Well, let’s just say it’s somewhere far, far away. And I’m going back there, soon. Chances are, I’ll never come back.” Caity suddenly smirked. “Not alive anyways.”
“Uhhh…” Amelia looked like she had no idea what to say. “I mean...do you have to go?”
“Well, I can choose not to, but if I do that, bad things will happen. Actually, not necessarily bad things. It’s just that there are a lot of things at stake here, and I don’t trust anyone but myself to handle it. It’s...it’s my responsibility, at least I think it is.”
“So...do you want to go?” Amelia had no idea what Caity was saying, but she could see the emotions deep in Caity’s eyes. “Do you want to go to wherever you’re talking about, even if it hurts you?”
“Always.” Caity suddenly let out a small smile. “Relax, Amelia. I know what you’re worried about. I’m not going to kill myself, and the place I’m talking about isn’t Heaven. Well, it’s actually closer to Hell.” She reassured her. “Thank you for your time. I wish you the best of luck in the years to come.”
She turned and walked away, leaving the waitress alone and in confusion.
When Caity returned to Fortress Alpha, she was feeling much better. She even managed to make a few jokes to Ryan.
“So...let me see. Astra Carlson, Generation V Phasewalker. Imagine my surprise when I found out our Regiment Commissar promoted his own sister to be his close aid! I thought Commissars were supposed to root out nepotism!”
Ryan was quick to defend himself. “Indeed, Astra is my sister, but her performance in training was ranked amongst the top of the class. When Section X thought we were all lost, she was meant to be a part of the new Phasewalker High Command. I feel like she has the qualities needed to be a good Commissar, so I had her be my aid...”
“Ok, ok.” Caity grinned. “Look, Ryan, we have known each other for a long time. I know even if you care for your sister, you would never place her in a position where she’s not fit for.”
Ryan let out a small smile. He was glad to see Caity has mostly recovered from the trauma. Even now, the things she said to him two days ago were still ringing in his head. Even Ryan had to admit he felt more comfortable around the Caity here and now than the dark, depressed Caitlin back then before the Portal returned.
Returning to her own office, Caity sat down in front of her table and started going through the reports and documents. A lot of new events have been created since the Portal came back. Her secretary Cara helped organize them into different categories based on urgency, but it was up to Caity to look over them.
“Hmmm...requests by Armored Troopers and Airborne Troopers to transfer to the 4th Battalion? Aren’t there Assault Troopers from the 4th Motorized trying to leave? They can just switch places.”
“Section X scientists requesting doses of the Salvation Serum? Fine. It’s not like we can use them. Might as well tell Eric to take a trip back home and make the delivery. Have him bring the notes over as well.”
“The Majors from the different Battalions finally came to a consensus on how to divide the Generation V recruits? Well, of course, the 1st Armored is getting the top pick. But Chelsea and Riley can’t agree on who gets the second pick?”
Caity tapped a key on her desk.
“Tell Major Adams and Major Riley to come to see me. I want to talk about the recruit distribution.”
Five minutes later, the two Majors walked into Caity’s office. It was a good thing both battalions were stationed right here in Fortress Alpha.
“Talk to me.” The Colonel instructed.
Major Riley was the first to begin.
“Colonel, ever since its creation, the 2nd Airborne has been the sharpest blade of the Phasewalker Corps. We have done the most, and we have lost the most. We singlehandedly crippled the Arbiter X fleet outside of the Capital. We played crucial parts in taking New Sara and Camp York. By the idea that the units with the greatest contributions should pick first, we have no reason to go after the 4th Motorized.”
Right beside him, Chelsea quickly moved to defend herself.
“Your unit took down an Arbiter X fleet. The 4th Motorized took down an entire starship, and we helped with seizing the Capital. The 2nd Airborne did well in New Sara and Camp York. Was the 4th Motorized slacking off?”
“Maybe not,” Major Riley scoffed. “but the 2nd Airborne has been patrolling the perimeters of our territory. And what have you been doing? Driving out there and hunting down defenseless survivors? Where’s the contribution of that?”
There was a conflict between the two Majors, and it wasn’t just because of the recruits. Major Riley was a traditional leader. Much like his predecessors, he was by the books. The actions of him and his battalion were precise strikes. They only killed when necessary, and they acted as quickly as possible in the process.
It has become no secret that Major Chelsea Adams was the complete opposite. After making sure everyone in the battalion could kill, she worked to make sure everyone could torture and brutalize. If death by itself wasn’t enough to strike fear into the heart of the foes, then maybe pain and terror had to be used. Chelsea was more than happy with letting that happen.
“The 2nd Battalion needs elite, coordinated troops.” Major Riley continued. The disgust in his voice was clear. “All your battalion needs are heartless psychopaths who can pull the trigger of a weapon!”
“That is hardly true.” Chelsea protested. “As a matter of fact, efficient and systematic mass execution is an art that not everyone can master.”
“That is just insane!”
“Ok.” Caity finally spoke up. Both Riley and Chelsea were capable leaders within the Phasewalker Corps, and Caity had no intention of putting down either of them. “How about this? Your battalions can each set up a panel for the recruits, provide them with all the information, and let them do the choosing themselves.”
“That works fine.” Chelsea replied with a satisfied grin.
Major Riley growled in frustration. In the past, the 4th Battalion could never compete with the 2nd Airborne on things like these. But he could see Caity was favoring Chelsea and he knew a further discussion wouldn’t change things. Begrudged, he reluctantly accepted the deal.
As that matter was settled with, Caity turned her attention back to the affairs at hand. As she worked through the paperwork and issued commands that she knew would impact hundreds, if not thousands of people, she couldn’t help but feel a smile climb onto her cheeks.
This was where she truly belonged.