Chapter 1.3: A change of scenery

“Congratulations on your successful mission Captain.”

I snapped to attention and saluted as Major Qiao Long entered the dimly lit briefing room.

“As you were,” he said, returning a tired salute before dropping into one of the ampitheatre’s plastic seats, gesturing for me to do the same. I sat down in the cheap rigid seat, feeling grimy and uncomfortable having just spent the best part of a day in an armour suit. A long shower and my bed beckoned as soon as I’d finished this debrief.

Qiao Long let out a long sigh as he rubbed his face in his hands and slouched into the chair. I took the opportunity to study the man, the harsh pale light of the holoprojector picking out and deepening every wrinkle and furrow on his face. There were more of those than I remembered from my time serving alongside him as captains in the 27th Zuyong Invincibles Regiment on Yutang. They made him look much older than his 35 years. Losing most of your Regiment to the Uprising will do that to you.

He lowered his hands and looked over at me, his eyes two black orbs in the flickering light, shrewd and focused despite how tired the rest of his face seemed. “How’s your team?” he asked.

It was my turn to let out a long sigh, “Nothing ever seems to bother Corporal Feng Bo and Sergeant Tai Sheng is.. well, Tai Sheng. We managed to extract the Cubes of the drop troops Shi Delan and Ren Yan, as well as that of the sniper Mao Zhong, and I’ve already taken the liberty of drafting recommendations for their resurrections.” I reached up to massage the back of my neck and grimaced as I caught a whiff of my own sweat.

“Bai Xia had served for some time with Mao Zhong, they were both on the Binzhou together, but he seems fine. You know what the Haidao are like, it all seems a big joke to them. The engineer, Mo… Lao? Lei? Mo Lei. Well, she’s a little shook up. I think it’s the first time she’s seen frontline action like that. And up against an Ikari Black Team. She was pretty near Mao Zhong when he got hit by the missiles. I’ve asked Tai Sheng to have a word with her but I’d recommend she get rotated onto a maintenance draft for a while.”

Qiao Long nodded, his black eyes remaining focused on me throughout the back brief. “Well, pick the ones you can’t operate without and get me a list of any replacements you need. You’ve been drafted.”

I could barely contain my shock, “But… but why? We’ve just built up our positions on the Shinozuka border. We know the Panoceanans are helping the Japanese in Koritawa to establish a TAG factory. If they get an O-Yoroi Regiment into the Iwamura Mountains then they’ll be able to create a new defensive line straight to Odinheim. They’ll have direct access onto the Bei Sea! And while they may still be licking their wounds you know the Ikari Company damn well aren’t! Today we got lucky. They’re-”

“Enough.” Major Qiao didn’t shout but I halted my tirade immediately. He turned to look into the holoprojector displaying the strategic map of the region, his focus on something more distant.

“Crane Liu Fe and his team have begun analysing the information on the Cubes of the traitor and the Hexahedron agent. Obviously the Hexa has high-grade encryption so it’ll be a while, if ever, before they can decrypt it. However, they got into the traitor’s Cube and something they found there worried them. Badly.

“I, along with everyone else, was kicked out of the int cell before I could see anything. A little later an incensed Liu Fe came out and informed me your Strike Team had been selected for a delicate mission under the Special Operations Command. You and your team will fall under his command until the completion of your mission and return to us. This is all strictly confidential stuff. Officially, you’ve been sent to the Yinxian Front on Paradiso to fight the alien menace.”

I took a moment to process the new information. A million questions sprang to mind but looking at Major Qiao Long’s haggard and defeated expression I got the impression he felt the same.

“Crane Liu Fe and your team will board the corvette ISN Baoding at 0500 tomorrow and transit directly to Satori, the second moon of Paradiso. That’s all the information I can give you. Crane Liu Fe will brief you further on the transit. Say your goodbyes and brief your team.”

I stood up and bowed, my head still reeling from the revelations. “It has been an honour to serve under you Major. May the Emperor guide your steps,” I said, before marching out of the briefing room. At the door I paused to look back and saw, my last memory of the Major, him sat in the dark room staring into the harsh blue light of the strategic map, searching for answers he wouldn’t find.

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