Chapter 88: Astra Carlson
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Fortress Alpha. World Alpha. 

The sound of bells rang out at exactly 6 AM. Immediately, the entire camp was sprung into action. Phasewalkers and locals alike quickly woke up, got dressed, cleaned up, and left their barracks. After a brief breakfast at the meal halls, they would proceed to carry out whatever missions they had for the day. 

Among these thousands of Phasewalkers was a woman with dark hair. After the bells tolled, instead of laying on the bed and groaning, she quickly got up and changed from her pajamas into the standard Phasewalker uniform set. After she was fully dressed, she folded her blanket into a square and placed it on one end of her bed. 

By the time the others were done with their blankets, she had already finished the basic hygienes. 

“Wow, Astra!” One of the girls joked as she walked into the bathroom. “Look at you! Aren’t you always the model Phasewalker?”

“We’ve been here for two weeks! It’s not my fault you still have trouble falling asleep at night and getting up the next day!”

Astra replied with a grin. When the girls disappeared into the bathrooms, Astra quietly walked to a set of shelves next to the wall. Inside were the weapons of all the Phasewalkers that slept in the barracks. This was to make sure, in the case of a surprise attack, the Phasewalkers wouldn’t be hunted down without a fight. 

She pulled a Defender-C handgun and an army knife out of her compartment in the shelf and placed them into the holster that came along with her uniform. Having armed herself, she leaned beside one of the walls as the other girls in the room got ready. 

Finally, the girls left the barracks and joined hundreds of other Phasewalkers toward one of the dining halls. 

The dining hall was based on the original dining hall back in the days when the entire Phasewalker Corps only consisted of three hundred Generation I Phasewalkers of the 1st Battalion. But throughout the multiple expansions the Corps went through, the halls have been made many times larger to handle the additional need. 

By the time Astra and the others walked into the hall, one-third of the seats were already occupied. At one end of the hall, chefs and waiters, almost entirely composed of local survivors, were busy making food and delivering them into a set of containers along a lineup. The girls walked over, waited for their turn, before grabbing the breakfast they wanted. 

As they sat down at a long table, the girls suddenly noticed a group of Phasewalkers walking into the dining halls. Their Gauss Rifles were hung on their backs by leather belts. On their utility belts were all sorts of grenades. The markings on their arms were green. 

“Assault Troopers. 5th Motorized.” One of the girls reminded. 

“They were on guard duty last night.” Astra added before suddenly making a comment. “It’s gotta hurt.” 

“What?”

“Imagine you are a part of something as incredible as the Phasewalker Corps, and all your job consists of is walking around at night.” Astra mocked quietly before letting out an innocent smile. “Well, I mean...everyone has a duty in the Corps. It’s not like any single duty is better or worse than the others.”

But behind her smile, the cold, mocking look in her eyes couldn’t be mistaken. 

The girls quickly finished the meal before separating and each going to their own tasks. Only a few of them were combat personnel. Some were secretaries or advisors. Others might be technicians, mechanics, other backup personnel. 

But Astra’s job was different from all of them. Alone, she made her way toward the center of Fortress Alpha, where the offices of the Phasewalker High Command sat. Slowly, after getting her ID checked, she found her way to a small office room right outside that of Regiment Commissar Ryan Carlson. On the door of that room was a name tag.

Astra Carlson. 

Astra quietly walked to the table and turned on her computer. As the computer was loading, she walked right into Ryan’s office. After knocking, of course. 

“Good morning, brother.” She greeted him. 

“Astra. Good morning.” Ryan nodded back. 

Honestly, Ryan didn't expect it when, two weeks ago when the Portal reconnected Earth and World Alpha, he came home and realized his own twin sister had been added into the Phasewalker program in his absence. Apparently, for whatever reason, she also qualified as a Phasewalker, and the young woman was more than happy to say yes to the recruitment officer. 

Just like Caity said, Ryan wasn’t one for nepotism, but he had to admit he was impressed by what Astra accomplished in training. If Ryan was a good recruit, then Astra was a brilliant one. He suspected that if Astra was a Generation I Phasewalker, then he wouldn’t be the Commander of the Shieldbearers today. 

Then again, he shouldn’t be surprised. Ever since they were little kids, Astra had always been the tough one. She was fearless. Whenever Ryan was bullied in school, it would be his sister that stood up for him. This was a woman who was willing to get into a fight just because Ryan was called a nickname he didn't like. 

No wonder she prospered in the program. 

Ryan didn't hesitate to make Astra one of his most trusted aides, both as the Regiment Commissar and as the Shieldbearer Commander. He told her pretty much everything, which seemed reckless at a first glance. But the fact was he could trust his sister a thousand times more than the practical strangers that composed of the first generation of Shieldbearers.

They didn't fail him, and he was sure she wouldn’t either. 

“By the way, Astra, I looked into the materials you gave me yesterday. The accusations they contain are accurate.” Ryan added. “I have given Major Tian of the 5th York Battalion a call. If you want, he can have those people arrested, tried, and executed right now.” 

“Awesome, but actually, do you mind telling him to hold that action for a while?” Astra tapped her chin. “I really want to be there for the takedown.” 

“Alright.” Ryan nodded. “By the way, you told me a few days ago you wanted to visit the 4th Motorized Battalion? I talked to Major Adams and she agreed. There’s a deployment today, consisting of the 41st Company. Mission briefings are here.”

As he handed a file to Astra, there was a sense of concern in his eyes. 

“Also, what made you choose the 4th Battalion, of all units?”

“Well, you did say Major Chelsea Adams is who you are most concerned about out of all the Captains.” Astra shrugged. “I want to talk to her. See if I can understand her logic and maybe win her over.”

“I see.” Ryan slowly nodded, satisfied with the response. He wasn't too worried at all. He knew Chelsea, and the woman was as kind and compassionate to fellow Phasewalkers as she was cruel to the locals. Maybe she wouldn't get along perfectly with Astra, but there shouldn't be too much friction between the two. “The 41st Company leaves in half an hour. I suggest you get moving right now. And, Astra?”

“Yes.”

“Be careful out there.” 

Ryan's words were brief, but the emotion inside was clear.

Astra grinned and did a quick, cheeky salute. “Of course, brother.” 

Ryan watched in silence as Astra left the office room. 


“Major Adams. Lieutenant Carlson reporting in.” 

Chelsea looked at the young woman who was saluting her. Without hesitation, she returned a salute. 

“Lieutenant Carlson. It’s a pleasure to have you here. I have heard a lot about you and, of course, your brother.” She gave Astra a warm smile. “I have to say, I am truly impressed by your courage.” 

All around them, the 41st Company of the 4th Battalion was getting ready to move. The induction of 4,000 Generation V Phasewalkers expanded all five Phasewalker battalions. The 4th Motorized Battalion now held a total of 2,000 Phasewalkers. Just the 41st Company had nearly 400 Assault Troopers. 

As the Assault Troopers got onto their Leopard APCs, Astra keenly recognized multiple fellow Generation V Phasewalkers that trained in the same facilities as her. It has only been half a month since their induction to the 4th Motorized, but a look in their eyes could tell they were no longer the recruits who haven’t seen blood.

In fact, the fact that they were still in the battalion signaled for a significant level of disregard for human lives. Interestingly, the disregard of lives was just the basics. Many of the Assault Troopers might even have grown to enjoy the process of taking lives. 

Astra was well aware of this, but she didn't seem bothered. In fact, there were sparks in her eyes that suggested she was quite the opposite of bothered. 

As the detachment moved out, Chelsea invited Astra to sit in her Humvee. The commander of the 4th Battalion has been a fan of both Caity Hunter and Ryan Carlson since she was no more than a mere medic recruit. Throughout the trip, she kept on asking Astra questions about Ryan. 

Astra gladly answered those questions. As they talked and the convoy drove, Astra couldn’t help but look at Chelsea intriguingly. It was amazing how conflicted human beings could be. When talking about Ryan, Chelsea looked like a harmless fangirl. But in reality, Chelsea was so dangerous and unstable that Ryan didn't even dare incorporate her into the Shieldbearer program. Chelsea could be the politest human possible to those she deemed worthy, but to those she looked down upon, to those she deemed as unfit for her respect, she could be the most sadistic devil mankind had to offer. 

And honestly, Astra liked that. 

The convoy had driven out of Fortress Alpha and was moving to the East. Astra read over the mission briefing before she arrived at the 41st Company. Apparently, a squad of UHC survivors has taken shelter in a territory East of New Sara. That was fine, but what wasn’t fine was that they tried to spread the news in New Sara that the Phasewalkers were responsible for the fall of the UHC. 

That was 100% true, which was why these people have to be taken care of. Caity Hunter herself ordered their execution, and her butcher was more than happy to oblige. 

After half an hour of driving, the 41st Company finally came to a stop behind a sea of bushes. In front of them, a pathetic wooden wall was protecting nearly a dozen tents. 

Squads of Assault Troopers dismounted from their vehicles and moved to circle the entire camp, cutting off all the retreat routes. This wasn’t the first time they have done something like this. At extermination missions, they were professionals. 

Chelsea watched as some local survivors walked out of their tents. To them, this was still early in the morning. Some greeted each other while others ate. They had no idea this would be their last meal. 

Before giving the order, Chelsea turned and glanced at the guest beside her, only to find Astra waiting there with her eyes widened in excitement. Finally, the Major gave the command.

“Move in! Round them up!”

Assault Troopers emerged from their cover with their Defender Rifles raised. By the time the survivors saw them, it was too late. A few men pulled out their own weapons, only to be shot in their arms and crippled by Defender-III Sniper Rifles. 

Screams and cries filled the settlement as they realized what was happening. 

When the camp was secured, Chelsea slowly walked into the settlement. Astra was trailing right behind her. Before Chelsea could even start, one of the survivors, a man with just one arm, screamed and charged at her. He barely made it out two steps before the butt of a Defender Rifle stopped him, knocking him in the face and sending him collapsing onto the ground.

“I’m taking you’re their leader.” Chelsea didn't seem offended at all. As a matter of fact, she found the attempt to resist by the man hilarious. “Let me guess. Former UHC soldier?”

“6th Armored Battalion!” The man growled. He was still on the ground, struggling to get back up, but the fury in his voice was bright as day. “I was there when you selfish bastards marched into our city! Right when we were under siege by the damn Mutants! I even killed one of you! Shot him dead right in his tank! It's just a pity I couldn't kill more of you!”

The smile on Chelsea’s face disappeared at the declaration. She quietly turned to one of the Assault Troopers. “Tie him down. He dies last.” 

The man screamed and bit and cursed, but the grip of the Assault Troopers was iron steady. Astra watched with unsympathetic eyes as the man was restrained. At this point, the other survivors knew what was going to happen. Some responded by swearing and cursing and fighting. Others simply drowned themselves in tears.

The executions were extra brutal. Astra observed in silence as instead of using their rifles, the Assault Troopers drew out their army knives and finished their victims off in close quarters.

“It’s one thing to pull a trigger and watch as your enemy dies. It’s another to push a knife into a man’s chest, feel it sink deeper into human flesh, and watch as his life is slowly drained away.” Chelsea announced quietly. “To be the Whip of the Corps, we need to be able to do both.” 

Right next to the Major, Astra watched in silence as men, women, and children alike were butchered. This might be the first time she has seen a mass execution like this, but there was no fear or disgust in her voice. Just interest. As the last survivor fell dead, Astra suddenly tossed her hands up in dismay. 

“Oh, you forgot to save one for me!”

Chelsea almost coughed in surprise. This wasn’t what she expected Astra to say. She fully expected Astra to be just like her brother, not afraid of killing the innocent, but not enjoying it either. But what was with this disappointment in her voice?

That was when it occurred to Chelsea that Astra might not be the same as her brother. But guess what? She liked that!

The Colonel gave Astra an apologetic look before suddenly realizing there was one more survivor left. She turned and pointed at one-armed former UHC soldier.

“Sorry about that, but at least he’s yours.”

Astra felt her lips curl up in excitement. With quick steps, she walked up to the restrained man. With a swift move that matched many of the most sadistic Assault Troopers, she pulled out her army knife from her tactical belt and buried it inside the neck of the man. 

There was no doubt. No hesitation. She watched with a sadistic smile as the man slowly choked to a gruesome death. 

It was at that moment that Chelsea looked into Astra's eyes and saw the same look that she herself had. The look of a psychopath.

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