Volume 1 Chapter 5
Lena woke up upon hearing a message notification from her PDA, sat upright, and stretched her body. It remained active, the holographic screen showing a still image from the gun camera, and the battle report printouts forming a sea of paper.
Her window was facing east, and the sunlight shone through the curtains, lighting the room. She picked up the thin robe that was thrown onto the blanket made of near transparent material, put it on, combed her hair simply with her hand, and got off the bed.
She opened the mail, and found it was from Arnett.
"Next month’s the anniversary of the Revolution. Let’s go pick a party dress during our next break."
After a little pause, she sent a reply,
"Sorry. A little busy recently. Please invite me next time."
Arnett quickly responded.
"I say, Lena, you haven’t been appearing often."
And then Arnett sent another message,
"Even if you do work hard for the Eighty Sixers, you won’t gain anything, you know?"
Lena turned her head around, and glanced behind her.
She had been analyzing the battle records of Squad Spearhead until she slept. The battle reports were concise and explanatory. The deftness and intelligence of the author was clearly conveyed with the reports, which were sent along with the data files from the Mission Recorder of the "Juggernaut." Though the patrol reports were devoid of content as per usual, the material obtained was a treasure trove of intelligence to be used in the battle against the <Legion>.
Surely they were not without benefit.
This information would definitely allow everyone to return alive.
"—It should be fine to attend that event, isn’t it?"
Shinn polished the assault rifle that was usually placed in the cockpit of his "Juggernaut" as he flatly replied to the one on the other end of the Para-RAID. Other than her daily contact and his reports, they would chatter from time to time. The report stated that it should be the time for them to patrol.
It was the afternoon, and he was in the bunk of the barracks. The kitten had been dumped outside, for it may otherwise touch the gun parts in the room, and so it was clawing away at the door.
"But what if they are to attack at that moment?"
Lena pouted in response. One had to wonder if she was too serious, or if she was inflexible.
"We’ll figure out something."
"Also, it is unreasonable to have a party while a war is going on."
"There’s probably a certain zone in the middle of battle. But anything within the <Grand Mur> won’t affect the frontlines."
He pushed the cam pin down, removed the bolt from the carrier group, and put it on a laid out cloth. An assault rifle would do almost no damage to the <Legion>, but it certainly did not mean that it was useless. It would be the only reliable thing as a last resort, and thus, daily maintenance was necessary.
"I do think it is fine for you to participate. While I’m grateful that you are able to help analyse the enemy, this isn’t something worth taking up your personal time."
Lena suddenly went silent once he said that,
"Am I doing something unnecessary…?"
"No, you have been of great help."
He was stating the truth. He would never waste his time on a useless Handler trying to satisfy himself.
"Besides, we know the frontlines, that’s all. It is beneficial to have an officer who had been military trained analyze the greater scope."
"But there is no need to devote your all into this."
Shinn could practically see Lena purse her lips unhappily, he took out the extractor pin, and while doing so, replied in a flat tone,
"If you get too involved in the battlefield, you will end up like us."
Lena sighed at Shinn’s words, unsure if he was joking or sincere. She had no intention to be funny.
"You do like to joke around from time to time, Captain Nouzen… understood. I shall try to enjoy the boring party, or the painfulness of wearing high heels and a dress."
She retorted with this joke, and Shinn seemed to chuckle.
"The anniversary festival of the Revolution, you say? I do remember such an event."
"…I remember there are fireworks, right? At the garden with a fountain, right in front of the palace."
Lena lifted her head.
"Yes. At the presidential Lune Palace in the first legislative zone… did you live in the first zone before?"
The first zone contained the posh residential areas that existed since the Imperial era, and most of the residents there were descended from families who lived there back then… the Albas, who used to be royalty, took up the majority, and even nine years ago, it was rare to see Colorate there.
I might have met him before, she thought, and there was some sadness arising in her heart.
"I don’t really remember, but I guess that’s right. I think I went with my family… back then, my brother held my hand."
Ah, Lena shriveled back. She messed up again.
"I really am insensitive. Back then too… I mentioned your brother and parents…"
Lena was dejected, and Shinn’s tone was as blase and aloof as usual.
“It’s fine. I’ve pretty much forgotten about them."
"I don’t really remember my family. I can recall a few things here and there, but I’ve mostly forgotten their appearances and voices."
Lena did not think Shinn was being deliberately insensitive.
He was probably so young when he bade farewell to his family. After that, he spent another five years fighting for his life.
In the chaotic battlefield, it might be expected of him to forget precious memories.
At that moment, she seemed to visualize a lonely child standing in the middle of a battlefield of ruins, not knowing where he should return to.
"—He said that he had to make it back alive, return to you."
Lena tried to convey those words as accurately as possible, as she recalled what Ray said, and his appearance back when he said that.
The Para-RAID transferred the voice through the shared consciousness, and also the emotions of a face-to-face conversation.
She hoped to pass on her feelings to him. Ray might be gone from Shinn’s memories, but Lena still remembered him. She could still visualize his silhouette, words, and kind heart.
"Obviously he does miss you, saying that 'You probably gave up.' I can feel that he treated you as important family. Your brother really wanted to return back to you."
"……Let’s hope so."
He answered after this long silence, faltering in a way that was not easily noticed. It seemed while he did hope so, he thoroughly understood that the wish could no longer be granted.
Shinn did not answer. Lena realized it was not a topic she should be touching on, and did not say anything. The soft tapping of metal were the only thing heard from time to time in this silence.
And once she heard this distinctive, louder sound, Lena tilted her head. That was…
"Captain, are you cleaning a rifle now?"
"It should be patrol time at this point, no?"
The latter did not answer.
No wonder there was nothing important in the patrol reports. So Lena sighed.
However, Squad Spearhead’s actions were exceptionally fast, and one had to wonder if they could detect the <Legion> without the use of a radar. She had yet to inquire about this.
"Since you have determined that there is no need for that, I suppose there is no need to… and as for the rifle."
Officially, Eighty Sixers were forbidden from wielding rifles.
"You have determined that there is a need to use that. I will not say anything much, but please follow through with the required maintenance."
Lena heard some confusion in the voice, and blinked her eyes.
"Erm, did I say anything weird?"
"No… I thought you would be fuming."
He was surprised after all. Lena was startled.
Since the moment she took command, she had demanded that he was to submit detailed, timely reports, and often bemoaned her colleagues at the National Military Headquarters for being so lax and unruly.
"I… will not be so rigid about meaningless rules and regulations. I repeat, I shall respect your decision if you have decided whether it will be beneficial to combat."
Besides, I am not the one fighting. I have no right to tell them off here.
She had this fleeting thought, and shook her head, diverting from the topic.
"There is a need to carefully maintain the weapons at hand for the battlefield. For us here, we found the assault rifles manufactured by the Republic to be too heavy, and nobody actually uses them, not even in training."
The Republic’s Army required massive caliber bullets due to the firepower needed to combat armored forces. Thus, the guns models were all heavy, made with sturdy metals.
However, Shinn was taken aback.
"Heavy? You said the gun is heavy?"
Lena was initially taken aback by his extremely perplexed voice, and then she understood.
Yes, he is a boy. That weight is not a bother to him…
And the moment she understood this, she felt strangely flustered.
Speaking of which, she had never spoken to a boy of her age for such a long time.
The Para-RAID could convey the emotions of a face-to-face conversation. Shinn probably could sense Lena blushing.
"I-It is nothing. Erm."
Suddenly, the mood on the other end changed.
There was no sound, but Lena could sense Shinn standing up, looking afar.
"Please prepare to take command."
She had a look at her intel terminal which showed no alert. However, Shinn sounded convinced.
"The <Legion> is coming."
Shinn had already been synchronized with Lena, so Lena participated in this squad briefing.
Once she heard the explanation on various aspects, including enemy numbers, formations, and attack paths, Did they create a strategy with so much information at hand? she was left dumbfounded, and, at the same time, she proposed a strategy for this operation. Once this strategy was made, the briefing ended, and the operation began.
"The main enemy forces are composed only of Grauwolfs."
All units were lying in ambush. Lena compared the information she had obtained from the frontline scouts with the radar signals and the battle records; she made a deduction with regards to the vague enemy composition.
"Considering the production and maintenance rates, the Löwes destroyed in the last battle may not have been all rebuilt. It is hard to imagine the enemy having the Stier lead the charge."
The Stier had no mobility, and practically no armor. It was a unit typically used for ambush. Due to their resemblance to the Löwes, they were often mistaken for the latter when they were first introduced, and the humans managed to fight them off..
"While the "Juggernaut's" grenades are of no effect against the Löwe, the lighter armor of the Grauwolf will mean that the support fire of the Scorpions will be limited in effectiveness. I think that if we eliminate the Ameise first, they should be of no threat."
"Werewolf to all hands. Confirmed. Exactly as the Major had guessed."
Speaking up was Raiden, who went forth to scout. He sounded impressed, and stunned.
"But seriously… you’re talking about talking about production and maintenance rates? Did you get any proper sleep?"
Shinn suddenly spoke up.
"Major, please switch off the Para-RAID this time."
"A chaotic battlefield is inevitable, especially since we are going to be fighting several Grauwolf. There are too many enemies… it will be dangerous to remain synchronized with me."
While Shinn had spoken in fluent Republican, Lena did not comprehend. What, did he just say?
Many black sheep?
"If you want to hear me out, I’ll explain to you once this battle ends. Please break off now."
The skirmish was about to start, and it was understandable that he did not have the time to explain. However, Lena was unhappy about this arrangement.
"You have not disconnected with the other squadmates, am I right? The Eintagsfliege are still around, and wireless communications may fail. I will not disconnect."
She refused to do so. Shinn probably had some words to say, but he swallowed his words once he saw the approaching <Legion>.
"…I’ve warned you."
After saying this grim line, the "Undertaker" stood up.
As Shinn said, the battlefield was chaotic, and the blips indicating both ally and foe intertwined upon the barely working radar that was affected by the interference. Lena kept staring at the monitor, covering an ear with one hand. For some reason, the noise was abnormally shrill. It was either a sound coming from inside her room, or the sounds Shinn and the others heard on the battlefield. What was that noise?
The red blips indicated the enemies, and they were approaching the blue blips indicated as allies, including the "Undertaker," Shinn’s unit. Both sides were closing in on each other at the battlefield far away, within combat range. Both blips clashed, and at that moment—
An unknown voice echoed shrilly in the ears.
That voice was hollow and fleeting, the murmuring of a dying person saying this with his last breath.
Lena stopped, frozen in place. The voice continued to echo however, the lingering memories and feelings that vanished in a puff of smoke before Death, as an empty voice groaned away,
"Mama. Mama. Mamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamamama…"
She felt her hair stand on end.
She covered her ears with both hands, but it was pointless as the voice came from the the Para-RAID. The dying child calling for his mother seeped in like the tide. The intelligible yell swarmed upon her consciousness like a landslide, repeating itself over and over again. The blunt, loud explosion cut off the voice calling for the mother, and similar voices quickly echoed
"Save me save me save me save me save me save me save me save me save me."
"It’s hot it’s hot it’s hot it’s hot it’s hot it’s hot it’s hot it’s hot it’s hot it’s hot it’s hot it’s hot."
"No… no… no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no."
"Mama, mama, mama, mama, mama mama mama mama mama mama mama mama."
"I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die I don’t want to die I don’t want to die I don’t want to die I don’t want to die."
Lots of dying voices swirled like a vortex, silently devouring all shreds of rationality and thought. Amongst them, Shinn’s voice rang.
"Major! Disconnect now! Major Millize!"
The usually poised boy showed a tinge of rare anxiety in his call, but he was unable to reach the ears of the panicked Lena. She covered her ears in pain, shrivelled up with an urge to run away, and let out a hoarse cry. However, she was losing her last shred of sanity amidst the endless waves of dying groans—
Shinn clicked his tongue and disconnected. The dying voices vanished.
She stiffly lifted her head, and gingerly loosened her hands… she could hear nothing. She had disconnected with all the Processors.
In her fear and frantic breathing, she slowly widened her eyes, and stared at the dim control room, and found herself fallen off the child, tumbled upon the floor.
…What, was that…?
It was not the voices of the synchronized Processors. None of those voices belonged to them, and they were much more in numbers.
And amongst the endless groans, she could identify one.
—I don’t want to die.
Shinn disconnected with Lena, and was fighting a large swarm of "black sheep." He narrowed his eyes as the dying voices saturated his ears. Most of the enemies were Grauwolf, and the high frequency blades they had could cut armor like water. Thus, he was late to disconnect as he had to deal with the incoming slashes.
Screams, pants, groans, roars. All kinds of voices echoed, deafening when they were up close, so much that he could identify a voice. Seo could hear one of them through his Para-RAID, and groaned,
"Damn it…! That was, Kaie…!"
Shinn could sense a few gasp. The communicator was filled with commotion.
"Kaie…!? Was she taken away…!?"
"Damn it… Angel should dealt with it already…!"
He ignored the furious yells of his squadmates and identified the location of "Kaie." Unlike the others hearing this through the Para-RAID, only Shinn could do so.
He could easily identify where she was, without having to focus his hearing. The precision of his hearing was superhuman, one capable to finding a needle in a haystack.
And closest to her was — Krena.
"Gunslinger, two o’clock, distance eight hundred. Leader of the squad with fifteen units, the Grauwolf second from right."
After a cannon shot, the voice of a soul that had lingered even after death, Kaie’s begging voice to live finally vanished, as the destruction brought it back to the gates of Hades.
Shinn stood still in the mind-crushing vortex of grudges and screams, sighing in pity,
"A battle to mourn the dead, huh."
The souls of the Dead would never return until they were destroyed.
They seemed to yearn a return to the solace they deserved.
That Handler girl probably will never contact us again… Shinn momentarily felt some lingering regret, and frowned.
By the time she summoned the courage to synchronize again, the sun had already set.
Whenever she had the urge to do so, her heart would be filled with lots of fear, so much that she was nauseous. She could only pause, ease herself, and try again, rinse and repeat. Only when nightfall arrived, when it was lights out on the frontlines, did she finally send a transmission.
Will I be causing him an inconvenience at such a late moment? she thought, and she exerted a lot of effort into shooing those thoughts away. If she left it for tomorrow, she might dither upon the same excuses again, and would have no courage to synchronize again.
She took a deep breath to restrain her frantic breathing, and activated the Para-RAID. Luckily, he was not asleep, and she managed to get through. There was only one person on the other end.
He was the one who said to disconnect, and warned her not to remain synchronized. Naturally, he was the one she had to ask.
She sensed Shinn widen his eyes.
"This is Millize. Erm, is it okay to talk now?"
There was a short pause.
And for some reason, she could hear some water during this time, as though rain was falling.
"…I’m in the showers."
It was the first time Lena had heard herself give such a startled squeak.
Her ears were completely red, and while she wanted to reply, she was tongue-tied, and she had ceased all thought. She was left terrified in a different way as compared to earlier in the day, and finally eked out some words.
"So-Sorry, erm, it is late now… I shall disconnect immediately."
Shinn’s voice was as poised as ever, and it was a little irritating to Lena.
"I don’t mind, personally, and I’m going to sleep once I’m done showering. If there is anything, please ask. Also, please don’t mind."
"Is…… that so? Then…"
Even so, Lena’s father died early, and she had no brothers, and no lover. This predicament was a little too stimulating for her. She spoke up, sensing that her face was still sizzling.
"Ah… yeah, erm, how did the battle go? Are there any casualties? Or, KIA…?"
"Not at all… is that all you want to ask about?"
No matter how sharp they were, there was no assurance that they could return from the battle against the <Legion> in one piece.
Furthermore, they fought in the echoes of screams, she was utterly terrified to imagine that the squad had been wiped out, that nobody would be connected if she tried to synchronize.
"Captain… the voice I heard during today’s battle was…"
Once she said that, she felt a chill in her body.
There was some noise in the background of the transmission, as per usual. It sounded like the rustling of a deep forest, or chatter in the distance.
And at this point, the distant chatter resembled a collectiveness of countless voices of the dying.
She finally understood why Shinn was called the "Undertaker," why the prior Handlers were utterly terrified of him.
The reason was those voices.
"What, were those…?"
The sound of water alone echoed in the pause.
"In the past, I had died."
From out of nowhere, there was a blunt pain coming from her neck, as though she was being brutally strangled.
The pain did not come from Lena’s own senses, but through the Para-RAID… in other words, it was Shinn’s.
"Rather, I’ll say that I died once back then. So I can hear the voices of the souls who died and yet remain in this world… because I’m like them."
Suddenly, she recalled the accident Arnett’s father went through.
He pushed the nervous activation rate of the Para-RAID to the theoretical maximum value, and fell into the consciousness of the world itself, never able to return
If that was the case, if all the dead must return to the deep bottomless world.
Then those on the brink of death, who nearly fell into the abyss — might be able to establish contact with the other things inside that abyss, as easily as using a Para-RAID. For example, the ghosts that would never perish for eternity, that had fallen into the bottom of the abyss after death, and residing in the bodies that were still struggling to climb out.
But that was…
"The <Legion> …is it not?"
She heard the sounds when the Grauwolfs were right in front of Shinn. Before the battle, Shinn had said,
"They, the <Legion>, are ghosts. They lost their purpose as weapons when the Empire was destroyed, had no mission, and no need to fulfill their obligations, but they continue to linger on this world… they are the ghosts belonging to the military of a destroyed country."
"…Wait, so the reason you are able to detect the <Legion> is…"
"Yes, I can hear their voices. As long as they come close, I can hear them, even when I’m sleeping."
Lena groaned. He had just mentioned something she could not simply pass off.
He could hear them while they approached? Even though the nearest enemy base was some distance away from theirs? He could tell how many of the <Legion> was moving within that range!?
The voices of the Dead were like footsteps far away, the rustling of the leaves.
As the Para-RAID was set to the minimum value, she could only hear the voice of the one she was synchronized with, the sounds within arms' length of the synchronized, and loud sounds.
To Lena, whenever she synchronized with Shinn, the background noise simply seemed jumbled to her… but what did they seem like to Shinn?
"How many voices can you hear now, Shinn? How large is the range, and how much…"
"I can’t say the exact distance, but I can hear all <Legion> inside the former lands of the Republic… I can hear some voices further away, but I can’t figure them all out."
That world was beyond imagination.
Even if a single voice was a murmur, including the total numbers of the <Legion>.
He had been listening to them the entire time, even in sleep.
"Do you not… find it a burden?"
"Got used to it. It’s been a long while."
"When, did it start…?"
He did not respond, so Lena went to the next question,
"I heard the voice of Lieutenant Kaie Tanya. Is that because, she… has become a ghost too?"
There was some bewilderment in her words. This fact remained so surreal to her.
A short pause. The sound of water stopped, and it seemed he was wiping away the water on his hair.
"The Republic government determined that this war will end in another two years at most, right?"
"Eh, yes… how did you know?"
Lena was a little perturbed with regards to the sudden change in conversation, but she nodded anyway. The government did not reveal this, in order to prevent the Processors from having hope.
"Heard it from Seo. He heard it from his old Captain… the CPU of the <Legion> was designed to have a limited lifespan, with less than two years left. Am I right?"
The Central Nervous System of the <Legion> consisted of fluid nanomachines that mimicked the nervous system of a mammal, and granted the processor capability similar to the neural system of a large mammal. However, in the the blueprints maintaining these structures, there was an imposed time limit and self-destruction process that could not be removed.
"Once I heard Seo’s explanation, I got it. The <Legion> sounded like machines, with no rhyme or rhythm. Then, one day, human voices entered. I can guess what happened, but I didn’t know why they did so."
There then came the sound of hair being dried in a crude manner a female could not imagine, followed by the soft sound of cloth rubbing. It was obvious the clothes were of low quality, rough and stiff.
"If the Central Nervous System blueprints are gone, they can simply get a replacement… and the thing that can be used to replace it is right next to them."
"Yes. The Central Nervous System that is exceptionally advanced even amongst mammals. The human brain."
A moment of thought was enough to leave Lena revolted. This was far beyond grotesque; it was an outright desecration of human dignity. In contrast, Shinn remained stoic as per usual.
"My guess is that it is a replica of a human brain. The brain of a dead person will rot quickly, and there aren’t many well preserved corpses that can be used, let alone those without damaged brains. In fact, we have encountered <Legion> with the same voices at least once. I am guessing Kaie should be elsewhere."
The girl was no longer alive, her plea remained sealed in a machine, repeating itself like a music box.
"So while I say they are ghosts, they are different from the norm. I would say that they are more of a residue instead. They do not have the will of humans, and no intention to communicate. What they replicated is the brain of the Dead, at their last moments. Their thoughts are just a replay of that moment, and they became ghosts residing amongst the <Legion>."
"Yeah, the Black Sheep, mutated ones possessed by ghosts, are mixed amongst the White Sheep called the <Legion>. Right now, the black sheep have far surpassed the white sheep in numbers."
Even though they started to rot from the moment of death, the human brain remained the most advanced amongst mammals. The Central Nervous System of the <Legion> mimicked the human brain, and surely its capabilities were superior. Though the blueprints had failed over and over again, the incessant voices of the Dead showed that the mutated Black sheep were multiplying faster in numbers.
She had a feeling Shinn was pitying the <Legion>, for they had lost their hometown, the reason to keep fighting, and the reason to exist, yet they were mechanical ghosts, scavenging corpses, always fighting as defined in their parameters.
"…I can somewhat understand the reason why they keep attacking the Republic."
"They are ghosts. They should be gone, yet they remain, until they are wiped out. I suppose they want to go back, and that’s why they are attacking those that are also ghosts before them, wanting to bring them along."
Who was he referring to?
Was he referring to the Eighty Sixers who remained alive, but were not deemed human, and no different from the dead in society?
"The Republic died nine years ago, right… is it anywhere to be found now, the spirit of the five colored flag that formed the basis of the country?"
The calm words from Shinn contained his scathing criticism that hit too close to home.
Freedom, equality, fraternity, justice, and purity. For no rational reason, they degraded people into classes, and had no shame or pity in having millions lose their lives… this country had long lost its right to exalt its values.
The Republic delivered its own demise. It died off completely nine years ago, the moment some of its people persecuted different groups.
Perhaps Shinn could hear the voice of that which had died, and yet lingered, the voice of the massive ghost called the Republic.
Lena had nothing to say about that. After a short pause, Shinn suddenly spoke up, his voice was stoic as ever, narrating what appeared to be a well established fact.
"Major, you will lose this war."
He did not say "we."
"What do you mean?"
"I’m saying that the <Legion> might not cease function just because the Central Nervous System is disabled. In fact, I can sense that their numbers aren’t decreasing, but increasing… then, what about the Eighty Sixers? How many are there left?"
Lena could not answer. She did not know. The Republic never counted them.
"I’m guessing the only ones left are two, three years younger than us. Once they were detained in the Concentration Camps, the Eighty Sixers never reproduced, and half of the babies back then died."
The adult Eighty Sixers who were detained were practically wiped out two years into the war. None of the recruited soldiers survived, and the others who were mobilized to build the <Grand Mur> were put through harsh conditions, made to do tough manual labor meant to wear them out, and they perished as a result. The elderly and sickly, of no particular use to anyone, passed away during these nine years.
"…Why, the babies too…?"
"Are you asking about the mortality rates of the babies, in an environment bereft of proper medical services? …In the Concentration Camp I was in, none of the babies survived the first Winter, and I’m guessing it’s the same for the other Camps. Of the surviving babies, half of them were sold."
"Yeah, by some soldiers and the Eighty Sixers for money. I don’t know if they’re sold in whole or in parts though."
Only a tad later did Lena understand the significance. She felt her face pale.
In other words, in this Republic, there were people who derided Eighty Sixers as pigs, who did whatever they wanted to the children of those pigs, and used their organs to extend their lives.
All that was left were prepubescent teenagers, and they were sent to the battlefield, until they could no longer fight.
"The <Legion> will not drop in numbers, but the Eighty Sixers will die off. At that point, will you be able to fight? You don’t know how to fight, don’t understand battle formations. Without a second thought, you had the Eighty Sixers conscripted and pay for the military spending Do you think you will be able to arm yourselves and fight?"
Probably not, he sneered.
He was not mocking those who were inflicting the pain on others and were going to suffer from the same predicament; he was mocking those who only cared about the benefits before them, ignoring reality, residing in the brief, fleeting solace, and had degraded into backward creatures without ability to protect themselves.
"If nobody is willing to volunteer, forced conscription is the only way out. Under the establishment of the Republic, this will only be done at the last moment, when danger is imminent. By then, it will be too late… a flaw of modern Republicanism is that decisions can’t be made unless it is a matter of life and death."
Lena kept imagining a bright, realistic image of defeat as Shinn said this, and frantically shook her head to shake off the notion, trying to deny it. It was not because she had a reason to refute, but that she could not accept the sudden, unimaginable possibility that her country would be wiped out in a mere few years.
"B-But, the <Legion> detected are decreasing in numbers! It is already half compared to years before…"
"That is the number that can be detected within range, right? Due to the 24/7 electronic jamming from the Eintagsfliege, everything from the Contested Area to deep within <Legion> Territory can’t be detected… it’s true that the <Legion> numbers on the frontlines have been dropping, but that’s because they aren’t sending any more than the necessary numbers needed. On one end, they continue to battle in a war of attrition, while on the other, they reserve more forces at the back, and are increasing in number."
There was only one objective.
To preserve strength, cease the war of attrition that wore them down, and launch a full scale attack, breaching the defenses of the Republic in one fell swoop.
"But the <Legion> does not have such intelligence to make such decisions."
"It didn’t. This is another reason for your defeat."
Unlike the pathetic response from Lena, Shinn's voice remained calm and nonchalant,
"There are few corpses with their heads unblemished, but on this battlefield, there are millions of corpses that were not taken back, and it is possible to find a head that has not rotted… for humans, it’s easy to make the decision to build up the forces when fighting against an enemy that can’t be defeated otherwise. So, assuming that there are <Legion> units with intelligence on par with humans, what happens next?"
Black sheep. The <Legion> that had duplicated the human brain structure. Even after rotting, they would possess better capabilities than the Central Nervous System.
Thus, what if they found a way to be immortal, that they could find a human brain that had yet to rot?
"We call such <Legion> units the <Shepherds>. The <Legion> are soldiers that are tasked to action, but the <Shepherds> are the commanders leading these dead souls. At this point, we've fought a few enemy squads led by <Shepherds>, and they’re a lot more vicious than those without command. There’s no comparison."
"Wait. You mean those machines aren’t just an assumption, that they really exist? Can you—"
"I can hear them. The voices of these commanders reach from far away, and I can distinguish them easily even amongst enemy units. There are dozens of commanders along all the battlefields, and in our First BattleZone — there is one."
At that moment, Shinn’s voice got chillingly cold, like a blade reflecting the moonlight, giving off a sharp, dangerous, maniacal presence similar to when he mentioned his dead brother.
She was terrified.
The Republic would be wiped out, because of its incompetence and foolishness, because millions were sent to the battlefield and perished, because their ankles were grabbed by the dead souls of the Eighty Sixers they were too lazy to bury.
Suddenly, Lena spoke up, as though she thought of something.
"That is… only if all of you die out, right?"
"Then, if we can beat the <Legion> before then, it will not happen. If it is you… Squad Spearhead who can figure out where the <Legion> are hiding and attacking, this is not impossible, no?"
If it was them, who could fight off the harshest of the <Legion> assaults.
"With enough manpower, equipment, and time, there should be a possibility. All forms of warfare require such conditions."
"Then, let us beat them. I too—"
She was about to say I will fight, but corrected herself as she felt it was arrogant of her.
"I shall do my best. Whether it is to analyze the enemy, formulate strategies, anything I can do, I shall… that should be the same for the other battlefronts."
Surely, if she could obtain detailed enemy intel and plan the basic countermeasures, it would be beneficial to the Republic. With this logic, sharing this experience with others was not a difficult task to accomplish.
"Captain Nouzen, your service will end this year, right? Let us… live until then."
Shinn showed a wry smile, his voice filled with a tinge of kindness.
After disconnecting with Lena, Shinn returned to his room in the barracks, lights out and all quiet.
He entered his dim room, and the glass window reflected his appearance under the moonlight of the full moon.
The blue scarf remained on his neck even in battle, but he would remove it whenever he slept. He intended to sleep once he was done with the shower, and thus, at the collar of his army clothes that were hastily worn over the undershirt, the familiar blue was nowhere to be seen.
Having lived a life of battle, each one a matter of life and death, his slender body was honed to be as strong and fast as a leopard. On this elastic neck, there was a dark red ring mark.
The nerve-wracking scar was not a straight line, but jagged. It was as though his head was once severed, and then sewed back on.
He then lifted a hand, gently caressing the scar on his neck.