“And what is our role?” Tatiana said. The group of volunteers stood around them, listening intently. They too wondered what exactly the military has in store for them.
Sergeant Phillip glanced at Tatiana, and then blinked, then looked at her again. Tatiana’s suggestive smile inched wider. It seemed that the good sergeant was so intent on his mission that he hadn’t truly looked at any of them. Now, he was momentarily struck dumb by Tatiana’s sensual appeal.
‘This woman regularly calls me Viking,’ Randidly thought, feeling deeply wounded at his own earlier mistake.
“Uh… hello ma’am… uh… you… um…” Sergeant Phillip stumbled for a bit, then seemed to regain his momentum. “You will form small groups and fan out among the buildings. No need to go in, because it looks to be a lot of apartment buildings. Just stand outside and direct people back towards where the reserve detachment of 25 men is waiting. They will evacuate the people into defensible shelters.”
“How will we know… when the monster Level reaches the danger zone?” Randidly asked quietly.
Twisting his mouth, Sergeant Phillip said, “That’s the difficult part. We will be partially relying on reports from the security detachment, but there will be a delay between the monsters spawning in the new areas, and wandering outward to the place where the squad is watching for monsters from higher Leveled areas.”
It seemed that Tatiana realized what Randidly meant after Sergeant Phillip answered. They exchanged a long glance. Basically, they would know because they would now be being attacked by Level 30 monsters. Everyone around them turned grim-faced. The truth of it hit them too. There was now a definite edge in the glances that looked towards Sergeant Phillip and his crew.
The Sergeant raised his hands. “I’m aware of the eventualities that are going through your head. But let me assure you, this won’t happen instantly. There will be a gradient. The Levels of monsters will be noticeably rising. I recommend you form groups with this in mind. Those that have the ability to handle something near Level 30, split up.”
Then he sighed. “We are all working under… less than ideal conditions. Congress isn’t giving us enough money to fund these rescue missions. Most of the soldiers who came are volunteers, using their off day to help. It is unfortunate that you were all swept up in this, but we need the bodies. Please. These people aren’t ready for the cruel realities of our new world. They need someone to be there to help them.”
The mood shifted. It was a small thing, but it was enough. Everyone remembered what it was like that first day, when everything went to hell, and no one knew what was going on around them.
Randidly was inwardly wondering how quickly the Levels would rise, and how quickly they could evacuate the populations. Because hidden in this scenario that was developing was a decision on Randidly’s part. Say only half of 10,000 people had been evacuated, and then the military withdrew due to the monster Level. Would Randidly choose his anonymity over the lives of these people?
Of course he wouldn’t. It was just a bitter thing, that all his work might be for nothing. But very quickly, Randidly crushed that feeling. After all, there was a lot he could do to assist without actually appearing to assist. The worry was just too many high-Level Skill uses would wear at the ‘substance’ of the illusion, whatever that was.
Sergeant Phillip continued to speak. “We recommend you focus on the realities that the people can grasp now, and not try to overwhelm them with the truth at the beginning. It can be, after all, a little overwhelming. Instead, tell them there has been a power failure, and that people are being evacuated to a station a mile away. We will be passing out cadet uniforms to give what you say a bit more weight. In addition, the firing from the Borderlands will be audible. That might scare the hesitant ones into moving.”
There were further explanations, but they were largely ignored. Sonya began to question the other people, dividing them into groups with enough strength to fight against something that was Level 30. Tatiana drew Randidly to the side. As it happened, Randidly was very aware of how Sergeant Phillip’s eyes followed Tatiana as she moved with Randidly.
“It’s annoying, but we should split up,” Tatiana announced as if she had only come to this decision after a large amount of thought. Randidly blinked. He hadn’t even thought for a second they would go together. Both of them were strong enough to resist the Level 30. They should be apart.
Then she gave him an amused look. “What? You thought we were just going to hang out the whole time?”
“No, you’re right. I was just surprised. You’re acting like we-”
Her eyes flashed dangerously, but Randidly ignored it. “-you are acting like we are friends. Ah, well, that came out wrong. I suppose we are.”
Now it was Tatiana’s turn to blink. Then she giggled girlishly, all the sensuousness falling away to reveal a pure mirth. “Ha, I suppose I deserve that. Well, I think neither of us are people that make friends easily. Me, because of my occupation, and you because… well, because you can’t be bothered. But it is a lonely thing, to be out in the country without a friend.”
Randidly nodded slowly. It had been a long time since he had thought about loneliness. It was… strange to consider now. Then he shook his head. “That’s fine, but promise me one thing.”
“This isn’t all just a ploy to get closer to Sonya, is it?”
Rolling her eyes, Tatiana pushed at Randidly. He took a half step to the side so she didn’t just throw herself backward with the push on him. Then the two parted. Bemused, Randidly walked over to Sonya and she gave him the few people that would be under him during the evacuation. All looked at him with extremely respectful looks in their eyes. They likely saw Gregory, Sonya, and most of all Tatiana consulting him and accepted him as that sort of leader. Which felt like quite the hassle.
Randidly glanced over his shoulder. Tatiana was brought by Gregory to a group of 3 young women and men that she would be leading. Very quickly Tatiana said something, and the whole group was laughing. But while the group laughed, she glanced over their shoulders at Randidly and winked at him. Then she turned back to her group.
Randidly shook his head sorrowfully, looking at his group. How did she do that? She made leadership look so easy.
“Let’s… uh, do our best,” Randidly said awkwardly. The group waited as if they expected more, but Randidly didn’t have anything else to say. They stood in awkward silence until the operation began.
Alan’s hands were clasped tightly together. “You have the footage of this group from East End fighting against that Tier III Raid Boss. What can you extrapolate from that in regards to the strength of… this Rawlands.”
Ghost was silent for at least 10 seconds, which was a very long time for his predictions. “...in a war, we would draw. In anything less than a war, we would be crushed.”
Alan frowned. “How does that make sense? And give me some context. I need to speak in front of Congress in an hour.”
“Allowing me to speak at these sessions would be much more efficient,” Ghost said almost sullenly. Alan just closed his eyes. Again, ten seconds passed, before Ghost’s oddly metallic voice was heard.
“...most of our research has been with an eye towards this final point in the System. We have prepared the equivalent of a nuclear option, based upon manatech. For this reason, an all-out war against them would have a much more favorable outcome for us. However, if we do not rely on the nuclear option, their individual strengths would inevitably suppress our military.”
“-the difference in population,” Alan began, but he was interrupted.
“LIkely, it would not be so much of a factor as you think. As people grow stronger in the System, they become not only more efficient but also gain a higher window of operational efficiency. Let me lay this out in terms you can understand. If we were to place these Squad Leaders, Kayle and Paolo, onto the Tier system, they would be Tier 6 citizens. That is simply the Skill they have shown. Based on observation, I estimate them to truly be something near to a Tier 7 citizen.
“These are individuals that are worth as much as a few hundred well-trained men. And people below Tier II will likely by of little to no use in handling these characters. In addition, through conversation and inferences, my analytics suggest there are at least 20 of such Tier 7 individuals. And one Tier 8, this Alana. Randidly Ghosthound is also somewhere between those two Tiers. We do not have anyone above Tier 5.
“Further, our weapons were created as tools, not as enhancements, due to your predecessor’s shortsightedness. We have not developed equipment to provide stats, it solely adds more of a barrier for the wearer. They are better equipped better trained and have better Skills. Their Classes are diverse and effective. Although they fight in an archaic manner-”
Alan’s eyes opened. “The decision wasn’t just made by the former President. It was also heavily influenced by Dr. Karman.”
Ghost fell silent.
Sighing, Alana asked. “You haven’t thought more about Father Foster?”
“Your concern is amusing, but rest assured I have every processor at my disposal carefully analyzing data regarding his murder. If I so much as find a hint of a clue-”
“If you are using all of your processors trying to catch the killer, how are you making these grand predictions about Rawlands?”
For the third time, Ghost fell silent, and this time it was a silence that continued to stretch. It seemed that the robot truly didn’t know how to respond to its figurative speech and Alan’s literal criticism. Alan shook his head; this is why machines couldn’t speak in Congress. Aside from not being an elected official.
“... so you recommend the political route. Peaceful trade. And in the meantime, we engage in an arms race for control of the danger zones,” Alan said slowly.
Shaking his head, Alan stood. That was the expected outcome. It seemed that not all things had changed with the arrival of the System. As always, individual power took a backseat to the strength of an entire nation. Although each Zone was powerful in its own right, they were ultimately working together against the System. There was not yet proof that it was worth it to waste their resources fighting each other.
All was not lost, however. Ezekiel’s reports indicated a rift between the different cities in Rawlands. There was no monolithic authority, just the long reach of power.