Chapter 297: Wait and See
“Here our ideas diverge,” Lan Jue announced. “You’ve done it right – the well-disciplined do not break. But don’t forget what the Clairvoyant told us; we will face a cataclysm, one that’ll threaten all of humanity. It’s something not even the Iron Army will be able to handle on its own. You’ve forged a powerful unit, but it isn’t absolute. What if it isn’t enough to repel the invaders? I feel that the Iron Army’s prestige and training would do better if disseminated to a wider audience. The more soldiers you turn in to warriors the better, not just sitting on our haunches.”
Lan Qing’s brows knit tight. “You don’t understand the military. One hundred poorly managed units can’t stand up to one crack team. When you join the An Lun forces, you’re walking a path only the greatest soldiers have walked. When you serve here, you do so with the best of the best. My men, are all supersoldiers. If humanity should encounter a terrible war for survival, you can bet the Iron Army will lead the charge.”
Lan Jue, upon listening to his brother, was struck with how little he understood about this world. His brother was called the god of wisdom for a reason. “Maybe you’re right. But I’ll prove that these kids I’ve brought are the best of the best.”
Lan Qing replied, his voice low and indifferent. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Lan Jue replied with a nod. He opened the car door once they’d arrived and stepped out.
Lan Qing didn’t step out of the car, but followed his little brother his eyes as Lan Jue returned to the barracks. What the demon drillmaster didn’t see was Lan Qing sitting alone in the dark car, with the faintest ghost of a smile on his lips. There was something else there, too, hidden within the grin. Relief.
BEEEEP! The ear-piercing screech of an alarm broke the silence. The exhausted students were very rudely torn from their slumber.
A cold voice broadcast over the announcement system. “You’ve got five minutes to get ready, and five minutes for breakfast. Gather at the door when you’re finished.”
Their brains still sluggish with the fog of sleep, the students began to mill about and prepare. But as they did they noticed that the voice didn’t belong to their normal tormentor.
Luckily the previous month of training had prepared them for this sort of life. Many were somewhat surprised to discover that they were fresh and ready to go after last night’s recovery. They felt ready to take on whatever An Lun had for them.
On the bedside tables there had been placed MREs for breakfast, arranged at some point while they slept. To them this was bed side service!
Ten minutes later, the students were waiting in orderly rows at the door to the barracks.
Lan Jue in his golden mask, and Xiuxiu, Mika, Wang Hongyuan and Tan Lingyun in silver, stood facing them.
Gao Lei, in the same uniform he’d worn yesterday, lead the small contingent to the training field.
There was surprise written in the eyes of the battalion commander of the First Independent Mecha Combat Regimen. Obviously he didn’t expect these young pilots to be ready in such a short time. But more importantly, they all seemed ready and raring to go, as opposed to how they looked yesterday. T was like they were entirely different people.
“Drillmaster Lei Feng.” Gao Lei addressed Lan Jue. “For the next month, my brothers and I will be leading your group in training, but we are only responsible for executing the program. We will not stop to make sure your charges can keep up. How much they can handle, is up to them.”
“Fine.” Lan Jue’s response was as tepid as his brother’s.
Gao Lei turned away, and looked at the students with a distinct light of scorn in his eyes. He shouted at them in a booming, commanding voice. “Atteeeeention! Left- face! Get to running, maggots!” He was off like a shot, with his small coterie of soldiers close behind.
Lan Jue followed with his assistants and students in tow.
As they left the barracks area, Gao Lei picked up speed. The base had been under constant development for the last ten years, so it was vast and well paved. Everything fell under a protective shielding that kept An Lun’s toxic atmosphere at bay while they worked.
There was a tradition among the Iron Army soldiers, that unless you were on official business or there was an urgent matter, you got to where you were going only by virtue of your own two legs. It strengthened both one’s body and one’s will.
And so, their training had started the minute they stepped out of the barracks.
Gao Lei continued to increase the pace. The decorated soldiers on his heels kept up without any trouble. Stamina, after all, was one of the pillars of strength for An Lun soldiers.
Any sluggishness the students may have been struggling with melted away as they started to run. Their curiosity and excitement took its place as they remembered where they were and what they were doing. This was planet An Lun! They had been accepted in to an elite military base, to train with the East’s most lauded warriors. How could they not be excited at the prospect?
The world of stark metal buildings passed around them, and the students tried to take it all in as they passed. Despite its location deep within the fissure, the headquarters did not want for space. In the distance there was a tarmac for airships and, what was that? It looked like a giant mecha! The nearby warehouse was likely where they stored their excess energy cells. And there, specialized mining equipment? Clearly they were still in the process of exploiting the planet’s abundant resources.
Under command from their curiosity, the students tried to look in every direction at once. They let the novelty and excitement flow through them, which mitigated the strain from their full sprint Gao Lei was subjecting them to.
It was, of course, deliberate on the part of the battalion commander. Let the students get a taste of what true work was, he thought.
Gao Lei, commander of this crack independent unit, was truly one of the best military personnel this floating rock possessed. The First Pilot was what the title suggested, the first among his peers, best of the best. He was a weapon, and the soldiers of his unit were the tip of the blade. He couldn’t remember how many accolades he’d received, how many times he was chosen for a job. And then there was today. He had been confused, upset when the order came down that he was to be responsible for these children. He couldn’t refuse, of course, but that didn’t stop the displeasure from living in the back of his mind. This was a waste of time, time he could be spending training his own people, or performing missions for the betterment of the Alliance. Looking after these kids was nothing but a waste.
He made the determination that they needed to know what really went on here. He would show them no quarter, and then he’d see how much they enjoyed their little field trip. Best case scenario, they’d complain enough and quit. No one could blame him or his people for that, he was just putting them through the same training his soldiers received. Another An Lun tradition was fraternity, and every upper-level officer made it a point to protect their own. How could they be expected to be an iron wall against their enemies if they couldn’t rally to each others’ side?
There had once been a conflict within the Eastern military forces. Many thought their commanding officer had spent too long on An Lun and wished to switch him out. When the army failed to listen, their response was to call in for their papers and retire – over three hundred of them – all of whom bore the Mark of Blood and Iron.
This news had spread like wildfire. Before long over one hundred ships from all of the alliances converged on An Lun, in the hopes of snatching up some of these talented – if disgruntled – ex soldiers. Luckily the East was able to backtrack somewhat, and reworded the release papers so that the officers cycling out were simply going for ‘advanced studies’ off site. When they returned they were all reinstated, and given promotions. There were no more complaints after that.
With that painful experience still fresh in their minds, the top brass of the Eastern armed forces released a declaration that all future commanding officers in An Lun would be internally selected from men who’d actually served there. This was an important announcement, one that showed a great deal of autonomy for the Iron Army. That’s how important they were. 1
The officer who spear-headed the revolt was Lan Qing’s predecessor. He became the supreme commander of An Lun’s forces until old age forced his retirement. He felt he could no longer effectively direct An Lun’s affairs, and stepped down of his own volition. He recommended Lan Qing as his successor, who was only a colonel at the time.
He had been groomed for three years for the position. With the blessing of An Lun’s officers, he was elevated to the highest office this border planet had.
This was the tale of An Lun. Gao Lei knew his visitors were familiar with it.
Half an hour passed, and in that time they covered at least forty kilometers. They were almost at the training field, so the First Pilot finally began to reduce his speed. He looked over his shoulder.
What he saw nearly made him stumble in disbelief.
The students were just as organized and in step as they had been when they left. Not only hadn’t any of them lagged behind, but they were in perfect rows. If it weren’t for their school-issued flight suits, he might have mistaken them for actual soldiers.
These guys are in excellent shape! No wonder they chose this place.
But while Gao Lei was surprised at the run, he still didn’t find it overly remarkable. Being in shape didn’t make one a soldier.
The training area was a large, flat field that was separated in to numerous sections. The one thing missing, the students noticed, were sim pods. The field was surrounded by several towering warehouses, each delineated by a large sign.
Gao Lei brought them to the center of the training area, where they stopped to catch their breath.
“In accordance with our military orders, we’ve arranged a training program for you. It will be modulated by your capabilities. What this means is that you will progress through the course only if you are able to pas the early portions. Today, its running. Our little jog here was a warm-up. Ten circles – do that in a reasonable time, and we can move on.”
The field was massive, with one circle being easily ten kilometers. He was asking for a hundred kilometers from these kids.
Why so little? Is the An Lun training program really this easy?
None of the students could actually say what they were thinking, though.
- I’m not sure if the author intended this, but this small aside bears interesting parallels with the Tian An Men riots. The chairman at the time, Deng Xiao Ping, was trying to consolidate power after the train wreck that was Mao Zedongs final years as overlord. To do so, its reputed that he had to make nice with the army. This afforded them with a daunting amount of power, so much that Deng couldn’t effectively contain them. When the democratic protests erupted, Deng was forced to rely on the military again, who responded in tragic, exceedingly violent fashion. The army was too important for Deng to ignore or weaken, so he had to let them do their thing. It resulted in tragedy. At least, this is how I understand it/was told. If anyone knows a different story, share in the comments. Sources are even better! ↩