The smoke above the tiny settlement was obvious from miles away.
As the massacre came to an end, the 41st Company buried all the bodies of the dead in a giant ditch before lighting the tents on fire. Between the flames and the earth, any evidence of what happened here would be erased. The Assault Troopers worked with great expertise and experience.
Finally, when all the loose ends were tied up, they were ready to go home to Fortress Alpha. That was when Astra came forth with a request.
“Major, can you send a vehicle and take me to Camp York? I have some business to handle there.”
“Oh, sure!” Chelsea had no problem with that. In fact, she went a step further. “You know what, Captain Dark! Take the 41st Company back to Fortress Alpha and report to Colonel Hunter for me! I’ll take two APCs and take Lieutenant Carlson to Camp York!”
“Thank you, Major Adams.” Astra offered her gratitude as the car drove on.
“Lieutenant Carlson, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Major Tian of the 5th York Support Battalion greeted Astra as the convoy, composed of a single Humvee and two Leopard APCs, drove into Camp York.
Major Tian was a tall man of Asian descent. When talking to Astra, a woman whose rank was leagues below his, he was strangely polite. In fact, if someone looked at the situation and ignored the ranks, they might think Major Tian was the underling.
No one knew that, in reality, Major Tian was always kept on his toes. He might be the Commander of the 5th York Battalion with the entire settlement of Camp York under his domain, but he would be a fool if he thought that made him somebody important! In fact, his predecessor Major Dunkin was one of such fools. He thought the Phasewalkers couldn’t live without his support.
Guess what? One day, he went to a meeting, and he never returned. Legend said that he said something wrong to Colonel Hunter. What was the result? Secret incarceration. Secret execution. The Major just disappeared off the face of the planet and no one, not even his personal guards, dared to ask where he went.
Major Tian wouldn’t make the same mistake. Every day, he reminded himself of his place. He wasn’t a lord or a leader. He was just a servant.
The local Major knew a little about Lieutenant Astra Carlson. She might be just a petty officer, but her brother was one of the most powerful members of the Phasewalker High Command. Some might even call him the most powerful. She wasn’t someone to mess with. Not if he wanted to live to see another day.
Chelsea got off the Humvee as well. She snickered at Major Tian, not even bothering to greet him.
“Major.” Unlike Chelsea, Astra was a lot more polite. Facing the local commander, she nodded politely and respectfully. “I believe my brother has told you about the situation?”
“Yes. My men have the targets in their sight. As soon as the order is given, they can make the arrests.”
“Good.” Astra replied quietly. “Here’s what I want you to do…”
Ever since the Phasewalkers took over Camp York, they have enabled mass reforms. Either for practical purposes or just as a matter of pride, Caity couldn’t allow Camp York to remain as the filthy pit that it was under Apollo.
Sanitation equipment was shipped all the way into Camp York from Earth. In the first weeks they were here, the Phasewalkers provided food for the survivors, but soon they changed things up a bit. An additional requirement was created. If survivors wanted food, as long as they were capable of doing so, they had to do some menial labor for the Corps in exchange. The Phasewalkers refused to feed those who provided no value.
These menial work included anything from cleaning the streets to rebuilding houses destroyed in the recent conflicts to building new bathrooms and sanitation. Some of these works were difficult, but the survivors did it without question. Being exhausted after a day of hard work was infinitely better than being starved to death.
As a result, several months after it had fallen into Phasewalker control, Camp York was a completely different place. The faint smell of rot and decay in the air was no more. The streets were wiped clean. Garbage cans and public toilets could be seen at every intersection. The homeless along the streets were mostly gone...one way or another.
Even the prostitutes were no longer wandering across the streets, looking for customers. As a practical leader, Caity had no intention of abolishing prostitution and shutting down their livelihood. She offered a way out for those who wanted to do physical work instead and earn their food that way. But for those who chose to remain at the job, she put them in safer, more comfortable houses. After all, sometimes people do need such services.
In the center of Camp York, the building that used to be the luxurious Sun Throne was no more. After the camp was conquered, the Phasewalkers tore down the entire building and cleared up large areas of space. A concrete command center was constructed in its place, but the command center only took up part of the open field.
Usually, the rest of the field was just left alone, but today, it was about to serve a purpose. Dozens of York Troopers were running around the field. Rather than rifles and grenades, they were carrying wooden beams, hammers, and nails. As they worked, an elevated wooden platform started forming across the field in front of the command center.
Several SUVs started driving around Camp York, telling the survivors that something important was about to happen in front of the command center. Almost all the survivors decided to go and take a look. In an age with no tv, computers, or phones, there was little entertainment. Many survivors were dying to see something happen.
Beside the stage, Astra watched in silence as more and more local survivors arrived. Finally, when most of the audience was in place, the Generation V Phasewalker walked up a set of stairs onto the stage. Almost as soon as she got up, the chatters below the stage disappeared.
That was not because Astra instantly got their respect, but because many survivors recognized the Phasewalker engraving on her armor. Facing members of the faction that slew Mutants like dogs and transformed this entire settlement with an iron fist, these people were just too scared to interrupt.
Astra scanned the crowd. Her heart was accelerating, not because she was stage-fright, but because she was thrilled by what was about to happen. Taking a deep breath, the woman started.
“Residents of Camp York! I am Lieutenant Astra Carlson of Fortress Alpha!”
“Two months ago, our forces liberated every single one of you from the oppressive reign of the so-called Lord Apollo and his band of Mutant thugs. We offered you everything they didn't. Food. Sanitation. Housing and protection. For some of you, we even offered you trust by making you officers and officials of the settlement. We offered you a chance to serve and protect your own people.”
“Unfortunately, it has come to our attention that some of that trust has been misused. Some of you have used the positions we put you in for your personal advantage!”
Astra’s voice was a mixture of disappointment and fury.
“Four days ago, I was under the orders of Regiment Commissar Ryan Carlson to investigate this matter. I arrived at Camp York in secret, and I have been gathering evidence and anecdotes of these traitors. And today, I am here to bring them to justice.”
She turned and nodded at someone off the stage. Soon, two York Troopers dragged a man onto the stage. The man’s hands and legs were cuffed, but many of the York survivors still recognized him.
“It’s accountant Hughs!”
“You know him?”
“Yeah! Yesterday, when I went to collect my food tickets, he told me I needed to sleep with him or I won’t get any! Hahaha! He deserves this!”
On the stage, the accountant could hear all the swearing that was directed at him by the residents of the camp. He closed his eyes, knowing all too well that he was doomed.
The young woman called out, and instantly, the crowd went silent at Astra’s command. Satisfied at her authority, the woman continued.
“Mr. Hughes, any defense for your crimes?”
She didn't get an answer, which led her to draw her handgun and press it next to the man's head.
“In that case, in the name of Colonel Hunter, I, Lieutenant Astra Carlson, sentence you to die.”
The gunshot was welcomed by all.
A second man was brought up. He was wearing a Camp York uniform, but the two York Troopers still pushed him onto his knees mercilessly.
Astra pointed at the man. She could tell the people weren’t as familiar with him as they were with the first man, so she did some explaining.
“This man was an officer in the 5th York Support Battalion. Five days ago, he sneaked into the room of a woman and raped and murdered her. She was just 19.”
The look from the audience turned from surprise to disgust.
“Lieutenant! Please!” The officer begged. “I...I was drunk! It was a mistake! I have shed my blood for Fortress Alpha! I was there in the Capital and I killed two enemies! Please! If you will just show me mercy, I swear I will give my life for the Battalion!”
Astra smirked, something that she made sure everyone could see.
“Do you really think that makes you better than the woman you killed? Or do you think just because you are a member of the 5th York Battalion, the rules don’t apply to you?”
She raised her voice. She was no longer only addressing the prisoner.
“I want you, all of you, to listen to me very, very carefully! The laws of Fortress Alpha are absolute! I don’t care how. I don’t care why. No one in this camp can break the law and earn impunity! Perhaps Major Tian will offer leniency, but if you break the laws, I will personally track you down, and when I do, I will make you pay for your crimes tenfold!”
Bang. The officer collapsed in a pool of his own blood.
A few more prisoners were brought onto the stage and executed. These were people who, one way or another, have committed crimes that not only went against the instructions of Fortress Alpha, but also disgusted the locals of Camp York. With the backing of Fortress Alpha, Astra acted without pause.
You are the friend of Major Tian’s son? I don’t care. Bang!
You have powerful connections in the military? Still don’t care. Bang!
Oh, you are the leader of an underground crime syndicate in the city? I don’t...wait, I actually care. Major Tian, investigates this crime syndicate. If it exists, well, make that statement no longer true. Either way, Bang!
Finally, as the last body hit the floor, the audiences were looking at Astra with admiration. She looked like the champion of justice, having come down from the heavens to instill law and order back into the settlement. The sinners, regardless of what their backgrounds were, perished at her hand. Nothing could stop her.
This was especially true since many of these criminals were reported by ordinary survivors. These were victims that, by themselves, could only suffer the torment helplessly. But Astra stepped in and changed that.
At the end of the day, the name Astra Carlson was engraved in the mind of many Camp York settlers and York Troopers alike.
Finally, the session came to an end. The audience slowly dispersed, but judging by how frequently Astra’s name appeared on their lips, it was clear they would be talking about what happened here for quite a while. Astra walked down the stage and found Chelsea looking at her with interest in her eyes.
“You know, Lieutenant, you were the last person I expected to see doing that.”
She commented as they walked back to where the Humvee and the Leopard APCs were parked.
If she just met Astra, then Chelsea might take Astra as the woman she saw on the stage: the fearless executioner who was all too eager to make criminals pay for their transgressions. But after everything that happened earlier today, it was clear that Astra didn't give a damn about human lives.
“Well, I just didn't take you for the law and order type of person.”
“As a matter of fact, I love law and order. There is nothing more dangerous than a chaotic world.” Astra replied quietly. A sense of coldness was in her eyes. “Crime is like an infestation. It sneaks into society and brings it down from the inside. The only way to stop it is with a decisive and liberal use of force.”
“Fair enough, but I just didn't realize you care so much for the locals.”
“Well, what can I say? I guess I’m just a compassionate person. Can’t stand to see innocent locals get hurt.” Astra replied with a small smile as she got onto the passenger side of the Humvee.
Chelsea grinned at the joke. Very funny.
As the three vehicles started making their way back to Fortress Alpha, the Lieutenant’s eyes darkened.
Care for the locals? That was one way to put it.
Making a name for herself in both Camp York and the Phasewalker Corps while portraying herself as a heroine among the Camp York survivors was another.
Also, shooting people point-blank just felt really, really nice.