Preparations For War
The diversity of the mages amazed Gin. From the rough skins of the fire elementals to the mages with tubular holes embedded within their flesh, every single person made Gin want to reach out and touch them, his curiosity overwhelming him. However, his self-control restrained him, binding him to his spot.
Gin estimated about two-thousand mages either sat or stood up in the packed hall, waiting on the colonel to take centre stage. Their chatter filled the room, each question along the lines of why she called them in the first place. Gin wondered the same question himself.
Then the noise died down. All eyes watched the colonel making her way to the front of the room. She eyed the remaining talkers, forcing the last of the chatter to dissipate. Her commanding aura radiated to the extent that you could feel a chill down your spine.
‘I have gathered everyone here to make a special announcement,’ the colonel boomed, making sure even those at the back could hear her. ‘After decades of inactivity, the MBP has finally given us the chance to go to war!’
The room erupted. The colonel smiled. Are the mages just fight junkies? Gin thought, wondering how risking your life for something as trivial as war could be celebrated.
‘For too long we have been looked down upon,’ the colonel continued after letting the cheering die down, ‘We are seen as the worst Squadron in the whole of Eurasia, only accepting the ‘rejects’ of the MBP. They wouldn’t even give us a chance – how impudent! But now, we are given an opportunity to show our worth. If we win flawlessly, we are sure to be promoted and get much larger rations, more bases and a stronger force.’
‘How did you do it?’ a mage called out, the room bouncing with excitement.
‘It is true that we have been only given the worst jobs for the past few hundred years; Harvesting crops, surveillance works in essentially our own backyard, taking in the low ranked mages that no one else would,’ the colonel listed. ‘Nothing that you can consider promotion-worthy. But we have a new asset that has changed all this. I would like to call upon our newest recruit, Wontiferus Poxim.’
All eyes set on the lanky figure that walked between the people. He strode in a swagger that oozed confidence. He didn’t need an introduction. Most people already knew that he transferred from squadron A and mutterings amongst the crowd filled in those who didn’t. Everyone wondered how such a weak looking figure could have come from Squadron A, but they still kept their distance out of the unconscious fear they had of him.
Wo stood beside the colonel, back straight, and searched around the room. His face lit up when he found his target, directing a grin straight at Gin.
‘Yo! Gigi! Come join me!’ Wo shouted, waving at Gin.
Gin looked away, adopting the uninterested look. However, his fellow battalion members stood nearby, smiling at their infamous ally. They chanted ‘Gigi’ over and over again, pushing him towards the front as they did so. The name spread and soon the whole room called Gin out.
‘Gigi, set up the map like we discussed the other day,’ Wo told Gin.
‘Did you really have to call me Gigi in front of everyone?’ Gin whispered to Wo.
Ignoring Gin’s comment, Wo turned to the crowd, ‘Thanks to Gigi, we get to see something, unlike anything we have witnessed in our lifetime. Take it away, Gigi.’
Gin grabbed an INS from his belt and activated the mechanism. The silver cuboid grew two rods, one on each side, which bent downwards. Gin placed the INS on the floor, with the rods acting as a stand, and pushed his finger into the second hole of the INS. A bright beam of light emerged from one end and shone on the wall opposite. Everyone stared in amazement. Right before them was the map of the world, with detailed labels of the cities and three large labels for the continents: Eurasia, Afro-Australia and The Americas.
Gin’s skin crawled as the sudden silence unnerved him. He stood up and saw expectant gazes fixated on him. He wondered if he did anything wrong but dismissed the idea when Wo smirked at him. What did he do this time? Gin thought.
‘As you can see, Gigi here has been bred to manipulate these objects for our use,’ Wo explained.
Bred? Gin noticed.
‘Because of that, we get to see the whole world in front of you, shown as a convenient map. Gigi, play the slides,’ Wo continued. ‘We are here, just outside the city of Israel in our little town of Jerusalem. Due to the sudden inactivity of The Americas, the Afro-Australian Alliance are increasing their pressure on us Eurasians. As a result, we are forced to move most of our squadrons to the bases in France and China. This leaves us short on forces elsewhere.
From reliable sources, we are now told the AAA is planning on sending a little scouting squad from Egypt. They’re not really seen as a threat so the MBP is happy to let them go for the time being. However, along with my ties with Squadron A, I have managed to land the privilege of letting us take on the AAA’s small army.’
At Wo’s signals, Gin went through several pictures, including tactics, formations and zoomed-in maps of the place of battle. Most battles between the Eurasia and Africa were fought over the sea, but this skirmish was on land. A small strip of land connected the two continents, from the city of Jordon to the city of Egypt. Being relatively close to the strip, Gin could see why Squadron W became the ideal force to be dispatched for the mission.
‘This was a plan we have planned a while ago,’ Wo explained. ‘In fact, we’ve already sent two of our squadron members beforehand. They will aim to assassinate one of the commanding officers. If they succeed, then we buy us several months while the AAA sort themselves out. If not, we best be prepared for departure soon.
‘Oh, one last thing,’ Wo added. ‘There is a catch for our mission. We can’t use any A ranked mages or above,’ Wo proclaimed. ‘As you may know, Squadron W is in a rough spot. The MBP is happy to let us be. In all honesty, it is a miracle they gave us this mission in the first place. We aren’t given any meaningful missions that can alter our rank. Therefore, to test whether you’re worthy to be used in the future, this limit is in place. I hope you don’t fail our expectations. That’s all for your briefing. Thank you for listening.’
With that, Wo bowed in front of the audience and made his way to the exit. Along the way, he patted Gin’s shoulder and gave him an encouraging wink, though Gin didn’t know what for. Wo’s scheming nature always annoyed Gin and this instant wasn’t any different.
‘The whole of Eurasia sees us as the rejects of the MBP,’ the colonel took over. ‘The government doesn’t see the AAA’s invasion as a threat and so want to test us. They don’t want the ‘strong’ winning the fight for us and want to see what these ‘rejects’ can accomplish by themselves. This is our only chance to prove ourselves. I don’t want us to just pass this test of theirs. I want us to commit an act of perfection!’
The room exploded into a deafening cry by the rallies of their leader. The Colonel set the stakes high and the mages took them with outstretched arms. A sense of belief filled the room, each mage brimming with anticipation. Was the societal pressure really that bad? Gin thought. Despite the speeches from the colonel and Wo, he still wasn’t convinced.
‘I’ll probably ask Alder later,’ Gin muttered as everyone made their way out.
While the mages chattered throughout the corridors, excited by the mission, Gin went back to his room to work on his INS. For the first time using the projector, it went smoothly. However, Gin still went through all the slides to make sure it worked, to get rid of any possibility of beginner’s luck.
‘Hey,’ Joan said, tapping Gin on the shoulder.
‘Do you need anything?’ Gin sighed, focused on his slides.
‘It’s time for your check-up.’
‘I told you already, I’m fine. There’s no need to do this after my heart was recreated.’
‘Dealing with you is really frustrating, you know that? At least stand up and face when speaking to me,’ Joan scowled, tugging at Gin’s ear. ‘It’s rude just sitting there toying about on your, erm, whatever it is.’
Gin got up in reluctance, swatting Joan’s hand away. He reset the projector back to its cuboid shape and slotted it on his belt before meeting Joan eye to eye.
‘First of all, it’s called an INS- Integrated Nanobot System – I’m sure I’ve told you already,’ Gin clarified. ‘Secondly, I don’t need you looking after me.’
‘Sheesh. Why must you be so hard to deal with? You do realise I am your medic?’
‘Only to avoid Wo being my medic. You don’t actually have to do any work.’
‘I don’t like it either but Maria assigned me personally.’
‘So, it’s the colonel? Just ask her to give you another task while you pretend to be at my side.’
‘The answer was still no.’
Gin sat back into his chair and took out the INS that Wo used against Alder. He twisted one end of the INS, detaching a segment from the end. Gin flicked a switch that resided on the inside of the smaller piece and then pulled on the edges. It extended, showing off a screen in the centre that turned on in a flash of light. After placing his fingers on the screen, Gin went to work.
‘Shall I do the check-up?’ Joan asked, using it as a reason to continue watching without being an awkward bystander. ‘Might as well while I’m here.’
‘Gah,’ Gin moaned, slipping up in his work. ‘Mind being quiet for a bit? Busy concentrating.’
‘Oh, look at me,’ Joan replied with sarcasm. ‘I get special treatment but I’m going to act ungrateful.’
‘Ugh. It’s not like that, Joan.’
‘Haha. I know. Just teasing you.’
‘Just get on with it!’ Gin snapped.
‘Sure thing!’ Joan obeyed in a mocking tone.
Gin took off his shirt for Joan to examine and went back to his INS. His body hair baffled Joan as always. Most mages opted out of having body hair, apart from the ones that have fur with defensive qualities. Even for those that do have hair without use, they grew it out like a coat of fur, rather than the thin strands that protruded out of Gin. He even had a beard. Who grows facial hair anyway?
Joan pierced Gin’s skin around the right shoulder with her nails, entering his veins. It acted as a blood test. Her nails reacted to the different compounds in the blood. She took out the nail and checked. The pink hue meant that nothing was out of the ordinary, though the way the nanobots felt unnerved Joan somewhat.
‘What are you doing anyway?’ Joan asked.
Gin paused for a moment, wondering if he should ignore Joan or not.
‘Trying to increase my gun INS’ power,’ Gin said, deciding to tell her in the end. ‘It felt too weak when Wo used it against Alder.’
‘I see. Right arm, please,’ Joan ordered.
Gin shifted the INS towards his left side and stretched out his right arm for Joan. However, his speed remained the same despite the change of hand, his ambidextrous nature proving useful.
‘Wow. Alder really likes cutting you up, huh?’ Joan commented while inspecting the scars on Gin’s arms.
‘Don’t care what he does,’ Gin responded.
‘Did something happen between you two?’ Joan asked while adding gel to the scars from her nails.
‘I’m just a bit annoyed at how he’s using my INS,’ Gin replied, wincing at the stinging the gel caused.
‘What’s he done? Did he break it? I know you hold your INS with a sense of pride.’
‘He…well, I don’t really know but he’s using his Xernim1XernimA parasitical entity that sometimes benefits its host.’
‘Why’s that a problem? Left arm,’ Joan instructed, moving to Gin’s left side.
As Gin switched arms again, he thought about Joan’s question before giving a meek reply. ‘Guess it’s because it’s a Xernim.’
‘Wow. I thought you weren’t like the high-ranked mages.’
‘Eh? What did I do?’
‘Are you one of those that think Xernim users are cowards that can’t use their own strength?’
‘I don’t see why I should think that way. To be honest, I find his Xernim incredible. If I could, I would love to find out how he manages to control it.’
‘You’ve lost me. Anyway, now that I think about it a bit more, it’s probably because I don’t like the idea of a parasite working its way through my devices.’
‘Gin, squadron W is based on the lack of prejudice we hold on one another. I’m sure Alder wants the best for you. Give him a chance. Just don’t make any rash decisions when you see him, ok?’
‘Fine. I’m done with my programming, by the way,’ Gin announced.
‘Programming?’ Joan murmured. ‘Um, well I’m done with my check-up as well.’
As Gin put on his shirt, he went into deep thought about what Joan said. Maybe she was right. Gin didn’t check what Alder was doing in the first place and made unnecessary assumptions in the process. With a new determination, Gin set his sights on his next lesson with Alder.
‘Um, Joan,’ Gin called, realising that she had already made her way out of his room.
‘Yes?’ she replied, turning back.
‘It’s not that you’re a bad medic or anything. Talking with you is quite enjoyable, to be honest. Just please don’t visit me every day at least. I’m quite busy, you see.’
‘Did you just compliment me, Gin? Didn’t expect that from you.’
‘Well, you are the only one of the few that calls me by my real name.’
Smiles grew on both of their faces as Joan left. Between the training with Alder and the embarrassment caused by Wo, Gin hadn’t had much time to smile himself. He found it satisfying and smiled some more.
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