Chapter 342: If They Fail to Meet Expectations, We’ll Throw Them Ou
Although Cillin had never fought Songba Leruo for real, he knew that his senior was anything but weak. He was a former B Squadron commander who advanced into the A Squadron via his own power and an important figure in Vanguard. He wasn’t the all-brawn-no-brains type either, so there was even less of a chance of him getting hurt unless the circumstances were truly exceptional. And they were.
“Hat guy was ambushed during a mission,” Barthes continued.
He said “ambushed”, not “attacked”, meaning that the enemy had set up a trap specifically for Songba Leruo. Cillin quickly discovered what this meant.
“One of us betrayed Vanguard?”
Barthes played with his beard but said nothing. His silence in itself was an admission.
“You remember what happened to the Seventh B Squadron? Well, a little something happened to the Second B Squadron as well. So watch your back when you fly to the headquarters, okay?”
Barthes’ tone was normal, but Cillin sensed a weight behind it. It was impossible to say if it was because of the ambush on Songba Leruo, the issue with the Second B Squadron, or the fact that traitors had appeared in Vanguard.
“I’ll do that. Thank you for the reminder. By the way, senior Barthes, do we have a base at the headquarters? The Eleventh Squad is a new squadron after all.” It was one of the things Cillin was going to ask a relevant person about if Barthes hadn’t contacted him first. It would be awkward for everyone if they arrived at the headquarters only to discover that they didn’t even have a place to hang out temporarily.
“This, you don’t need to worry about. Vanguard has several bases in reserve specifically for future expansions, and one has already been allocated to the Eleventh Squadron. You will know when you arrive.”
Barthes had already told Cillin everything he wanted him to know, and he wouldn’t reveal anything deeper than that. So, Cillin bid him goodbye after a brief conversation and remained inside the lounge, thinking.
The Great Four had all experienced betrayal on a large scale before, but they usually happened among the B Squadrons only. The A Squadrons had never seen a reason to treat it seriously—especially because Vanguard was hardly the only hunter regiment to experience something like this—until now. Whoever this—or these—traitors were, the signs of disloyalty within the A Squadrons must’ve become so obvious that Barthes felt the need to warn him.
Songba Leruo used to be the commander of the Second B Squadron, but he wasn’t the type of person to abuse his authority and interfere with a B Squadron he no longer belonged to unless things were that serious.
And now, not even the A Squadrons were reliable anymore.
Now that he had more information, Cillin could make a couple of educated guesses as to why the meeting was held in the first place. If this was just a regular meeting, they could’ve just held a full teleconference, and there was no need to summon all the B Squadrons to the headquarters. Something big was looming on the horizon.
Would it be a large-scale clean-up? Or a re-org? Anything could happen during the meeting.
Cillin considered his own squadron before deciding that they were safe. He had a small crew, but that was why he could say with certainty that everyone was as trustworthy as they came. The Eleventh Squad should never become a target of the clean-up operation.
That being said, it was better to be safe than sorry. The super AI must be installed, and the armor must be ready for use before the meeting!
The difference between an AI and a super AI was like the difference between an ape and a human, hence the word “super”. The project was complicated, but Xi Kai was expected to complete his project given enough time. The problem? Time was exactly what they were lacking right now. Worse, they couldn’t cut corners because it would only hurt themselves.
Czedow, Moon and Sigma were already giving the project their all. To quote Xi Mu, all three robots were super AIs in their own rights, the above super AIs to be exact. Therefore, their experiences contributed a lot to the research.
Xi Mu promised that he would complete the armors as soon as possible. All Cillin could do was wait now.
Cillin gave his forehead a rub after he did a round inside the ship. His arm had been recovering well. Tico had informed him that he would be fully recovered by the time they reached the HQ, but in reality he was 95 percent there already. However, he had no plans of removing the healing device attached to his arm even after they reached the HQ, at least not immediately.
Cillin moved his finger a little and took out a box. Inside the box was the red gem Wheeze had picked up from that Douance transport ship whose crew was slaughtered to the last person. He still had no idea who the gem belonged to, but it had to be someone of status.
The word “chaos” befit the current state of GAL alright. The entire alliance felt like one giant ball of threads that was impossible to unravel. Every organization and every person felt like they were masked by a shroud of mystery.
In the end, they were able to make it in time. The installation of the super AI was more or less complete before they reached Sector K, and the finishing touches were expected to be done before they arrived at HQ. Xi Mu was almost done with his armor as well. He should’ve been done by now, but Xi Mu had higher-than-normal standards. For starters, he was extremely displeased with the armor he gave Cillin in a hurry last time and took it away for further optimization. Cillin didn’t inquire about the details because the technology didn’t belong to him. Unless Xi Mu revealed it himself, Cillin wouldn’t force him to say anything.
While the scientists were working their magic, the rest of the crew were undergoing enhanced training. Normally, in a large gathering like this, the B Squadrons—especially those who were acquainted—would meet up with one another to have fun. And in most cases, said fun involved sparring with one another. Just like how schoolmates attending a school reunion would boast about their wealth, hunters spar to show off their strength and their squadron’s. Although it was just a game between acquaintances, some level of seriousness was unavoidable in a fight, not to mention that their performance directly impacted their image. No one wanted to be that loser who brought shame to their squad if they could help it.
The freest bunch in the ship was of course the gluttons. That was fine though. Unless they disrupted or destroyed the whole ship somehow, Cillin had no plans for them.
“Should we fly straight to the HQ, commander? Or do we want to visit the transit planet for a bit?” Beaver asked.
“Let’s stop by the transit planet when we reach it. I’m curious to know how it’s doing right now,” Cillin replied.
No one had any information on the transit planet. Since GAL had fallen into chaos, the hunter regiments of Sector K had undergone a drastic change. Even the Great Four were tiptoeing around each other these days, so Cillin had no doubt that the transit planet—which was mostly occupied by the Great Four—had experienced a period of turbulence as well.
Dias let out a sigh. “A lot of hunter regiments have declined, disappeared or devoured by another entity during this time, so their liaisons on the transit planet have ceased to exist. Assuming that it is still functioning as normal, it will truly be the Great Four’s planet right now.”
“I wonder if that dessert shop is still around,” Wheeze said while licking its paws. The shop was the cat’s clearest memory regarding the transit planet because the milk tea they served was pretty tasty.
Everyone had their ideas as to how the transit planet had developed across the years, but when they finally arrived they discovered that the place was desolate and bleak. Once upon the time, the street where the liaison departments of the Great Four was located—also the busiest street on the planet—would be jam packed with hunters. But now, all the shops around the area were closed, and the sign “Closed” hung in front of every building entrance. It was an unpleasant sight even though they were seeing it through the screen.
All four liaison departments of the Great Four were closed. Naturally, the other hunter regiments fared no better. Shrapnels could be seen everywhere, and some buildings were even burned to a crisp.
It was as quiet as a dead city.
For a time, everyone in the ship watched the scene in silence. A while later, Dias asked a question that wasn’t really a question, “I wonder when it’ll regain its vibrance.”
It was impossible to tell. Even if people were to return to the planet, and the offices were reopened, things would never go back to the way it used to be. There were far more dead hunter regiments than there were new ones, and things looked like it was only going to grow worse from this point. How many more hunter regiments would be dead by the time it was finally over? Not even the Great Four dared to claim that they would survive this great chaos.
The entire District J of Sector K belonged to Vanguard, and at the heart of the district was Planet K-J100.
The high strung crew finally relaxed when they entered District J. No place was truly safe, but they were certainly safer in their own domain than anywhere else.
Patrols were posted at specific entrances to inspect and register the vessels coming in and out of the district. Any vessel that didn’t do so would be attacked on sight by the patrols. Assuming that the vessel belonged to a B Squadron, the entire squad and all other relevant personnel would be punished as well.
“The Eleventh Squadron?”
The inspector commented to no one in particular as he examined the Eleventh Squad’s starship with a curious look. Their flagship was small, they had no accompanying ships, and their crew count was laughably small. What the hell was command thinking?
That being said, the inspector didn’t delay them for longer than they should. The general meeting this time was extremely important, and no one had the balls to make trouble for no good reason. They let them pass after the inspection was over.
“The inspection is stricter than before,” Xiao Shang complained.
“Of course it is. Just look at the galaxy around you. In fact, I would be fearing for our lives if they’re lax with their inspection. We are the one who will suffer if the enemy manages to slip into our ranks,” said Cary while juggling the fruits Sigma delivered them.
Hands placed beneath her chin, Tang Qiuqiu commented, “I wonder how our new base looks like? Please let there be a big shooting range, and not a virtual one. I can’t get a sense with a virtual one.”
The rest of the trip after they entered District J was short and quick. They soon arrived at the headquarters, Planet K-J100.
Unlike the transit planet, Planet K-J100 looked very lively. A great number of spaceplanes were flying in, out, and across the planet, and people could be seen floating outside the spaceport and subspace stations and working.
“Where should we park our starship? The spaceport seems a lot different from before. Little Eleven, can you zoom in on the spaceport please?”
The feed on the screen immediately enlarged and sharpened on its own. There were even a couple of popups containing power analyses of the fighters and spaceplanes on the spaceport.
“Thanks!” said Cary while moving closer to the screen and researching the changes to the spaceport. Xiao Shang did the same as well.
“You’re welcome.” A babyish voice came through the speakers.
The owner of the babyish voice or “Little Eleven” was the starship’s new super AI. Ever since it was born, all humans and non-humans on the starship were freed from piloting duties. It was because Little Eleven could handle it all by itself.
“Eh? That’s strange. I don’t see a single B Squadron starship on the spaceport,” said Cary in a puzzled tone.
“No way! It used to be full of them!” exclaimed Ba Dao in surprise while examining the screen closer.
“Huh, you’re right.”
While the crew were discussing the anomaly, a transmission request came through from the space station. They also received a guide map.
“According to the new rules from above, all eleven B Squadrons are required to park their starships at the space station above their base. Please follow the guide map you received and head there. For now, no B Squadron starships are allowed to park at the spaceport…”
The crew stared at the guide map after the transmission was over.
“Is that red highlighted area on the map our new base? Huh. That area used to be restricted,” said Cary while pointing at the end point of the red line leading up to their destination, “Is this all the data they sent us? I guess we’ll have to wait until we get there to see our base.”
The guide map only marked the location of the base and the way there. It didn’t show how the base looked like.
“Let’s go, Little Eleven. Take us to the base,” said Cillin.
They arrived at their destination. As mentioned by the coordinator earlier, there was a space station on the space above the red highlighted area. There was a docking platform on top of the space station, and the huge number “11” painted on the walls of the space station.
“Oh, is that our space station? That’s so awesome! I can’t believe we have our own space station now!” chirped Carry excitedly. He probably didn’t realize how pitiful it sounded.
After the starship had docked safely, everyone wanted to take a spaceplane down to the base.
“Little Eleven, stay here and guard the space station, okay? If anyone tries to approach you without permission, feel free to teach them a lesson! We’ll contact you again once we reach the base,” said Cillin while walking to the spaceplane.
The cute super AI replied and blasted the customary battle march music to send them off. It lifted a couple of spirits for sure, at least until Cary poked his head out of the hatch again and shouted, “We’re just going to our base, Little Eleven! Not going into a fight!”
As it turned out, the Eleventh Squadron’s reserve base was more or less the same as what the other B Squadron’s got, except that it lacked a couple of structures, it wasn’t decorated, and its key areas weren’t mapped yet. It was a new base, so this was to be expected.
“New base! Meow yeah! New base, new territory!”
The moment the hatch opened, Wheeze took to the sky immediately to patrol its new territory. Snowball jumped onto a hoverboard to give chase, and Dough jumped onto Snowball’s head for a free ride.
“Alright, let’s get ourselves settled into the residential area first.” He beckoned everyone to walk inside after clearing the necessary verifications.
To be honest, the new base was a bit too big for them right now. If there was one thing the Eleventh Squad was lacking, it would be numbers.
Tang Qiuqiu asked Sha Rou to prepare a room for her. She herself raced to the training grounds to check out the shooting range.
And so the squad spent the first two days tidying up their new base, and the end result spoke for itself. What was a lifeless place before had now gained a bit of liveliness.
The base’s research area had also been distributed after a long discussion. Xi Kai, Xi Mu, Shi Tang, Tico and Cillin all had their own private research labs. Cillin also took the opportunity to transfer some of his parasite samples to his new lab.
Nothing much happened during the first few days especially because not every B Squadron had arrived yet. Long story short, the general meeting wouldn’t begin until everyone was present. Free time was free, so Cillin used it to research some of the recent happenings in GAL. They didn’t speak the whole truth, but they gave an idea on how the overall picture was forming. Hopefully, this meant that they wouldn’t be too surprised when the next big thing happened.
The new base was a curiosity to everyone, but that curiosity was immediately transferred elsewhere when Xi Mu finally distributed his armor the next day. Everyone still remembered how Cillin had run right through the parasite swarm like they were nothing, and how he ran and fought on the surface of the transport ship unhindered. To say that they were looking forward to the armor would be an understatement.
Technically speaking, the armor Xi Mu gave them wasn’t finalized yet. First, he put them in the environment simulation room and made them go through a series of adaptability training. It was so that he could figure out their quirks and the armor’s strong and weak points in different environments before adjusting the armor accordingly. The armor should fit the wearer, not the other way around.
Finally, on the ninth day the Eleventh Squad arrived at their new base, Cillin received the notice to meet up with the A Squad and participate in the general meeting. He left alone and after giving out his last instructions. This time, he chose not to bring Wheeze with him because the A Squad was in general, for the lack of a better word, more uptight than the B Squad especially considering the current situation. Wheeze wasn’t a cat that would stay still, and it was almost certainly going to cause trouble if he brought it with him. With that it mind, it was better off staying behind at the new base and enlarging the indoors fruit garden for Sigma.
Cillin soon discovered that his suspicions were well placed. Not only was the A Squad stricter than the B Squad, the atmosphere permeating the entire headquarters was heavy and solemn.
After he parked his mini spaceplane and verified his identity, Cillin started walking toward the meeting hall. To his surprise, he encountered a familiar face after just a couple of steps.
“You’re here,” greeted the man as he rose to standing position on the stairs. He was Shawton.
“Long time no see, commander.”
“Stop it, you’re the commander of the Eleventh Squad now, not me. I’m just the former commander of the Sixth Squad. Call me senior if you must. Ah, I hate fussing over titles. Anyway, I was waiting because I had a feeling you would show up around this time.”
Shawton, the former commander of the Sixth Squadron, had purposely waited for the commander of the new Eleventh Squadron, Cillin to arrive. A person not in the know would’ve wondered why, not that Shawton cared much for their opinions. Most of the people he knew had left the Sixth Squad already, not to mention that the current Sixth Squad commander would only treat him with suspicion even if he walked up to him and said hello. Long story short, there was no love lost between him and the current Sixth Squad.
Cillin and Shawton chatted about the Eleventh Squad until they entered the meeting hall.
The meeting hall was shaped like an oval, and at the center of it was the admiral, Ji Feng. Rings and rings of seats surrounded the center seat, and they were filled by A Squad veterans and former B Squad commanders who were promoted to the A Squads. Active commanders like Cillin were seated three rings away from the center.
Each ring was made up of many disconnected arcs, and each arc was made up of a specific number of seats. Before the Eleventh Squadron was formed, the arc Cillin was currently sitting at only had ten seats. Now, a new seat had been added to the arc.
Shawton’s seat was just in front of Cillin. They stopped talking since the older seniors had arrived.
The person sitting to the left and right of Cillin was the Tenth Squad commander and the First Squad commander. Both commanders were examining Cillin with a critical eye. It was hard not to. Not only was he the youngest commander in the hunter regiment, he was the commander of the newly formed Eleventh Squadron. It was hard not to be curious about him.
They weren’t the only ones who were watching him, of course. After al, it wasn’t everyday you submitted an application to form a new squadron and actually succeeded. There was envy, disdain, suspicion and many other emotions behind their gazes, but Cillin ignored all of them. Instead, he took out a cup from his table, picked a type of tea leaf and started boiling them in leisure.
Songba Leruo appeared soon after, but he went straight to his seat and sat down in silence, brooding about something. He didn’t try to look or speak with anyone. The one consolation Cillin got from this was that Songba Leruo’s wounds looked much better than before. Even if it wasn’t, it shouldn’t affect his everyday life.
The attendants finally withdrew their gazes when Ji Feng showed up. Then, the meeting officially began.
Ji Feng spent the most of first part of the meeting talking about the bigger picture and the A Squadrons. Near the end, he briefly touched on the B Squadrons and the situation that befell upon the Second and Seventh Squad, but that was all.
Cillin listened to everything Ji Feng and a couple of seniors said seriously, but most of these issues didn’t concern the B Squadrons. Also, the important points everyone needed to hear had already been said, so they were just waiting for their turn.
When Ji Feng finally got to the part where the B Squadrons were concerned, every B Squad commander present straightened their postures. This part, they couldn’t miss a single word.
“Vanguard will be conducting a sweep to flush out the moles. In fact, the sweep had already begun the moment you entered this meeting hall.”
That very first line Ji Feng said to the B Squadron commanders stunned most of them. A sweep? He ordered a sweep without informing them, the commanders? What the hell? Did he really think that they would bend the rules for their crew?
Before the commanders could digest his word, Ji Feng’s second line stunned them and even some of the A Squad commanders even more.
“Also, after a careful discussion, the management has decided to conduct a reorganization. A number of A Squad members are on the way to your respective bases already. They will be joining your squadrons as new crew members.”
Not one of the ten B Squadron commanders was prepared. In fact, no one except the core of the management and a small number of A squad members were informed about this. When did they arrive at this decision?! And what if a fight broke out while we were absent?
The only one who didn’t frown or worry in some form was Cillin. That surprised a couple of people.
“Is there anything you would like to share about the decision, Cillin?” Ji Feng asked him.
Cillin slowly set down his tea cup before replying, “Not much, really. If they want to enter my squad, they’ll have to prove themselves to my crew. That’s all.”
Cillin’s declaration caused the meeting hall to erupt into commotion again. Even the core of the management—the people seated at the first three rings at the center—were either frowning in puzzlement or sneering out loud.
What a boast!
Who the hell do you think you are? Commander you may be, you are still a brat compared to us!
Plus, we all know how small your crew really is! You think you can keep someone from the A Squad down with those numbers? What a joke!
Ji Feng didn’t react too much though. He simply raised his eyebrows and pressed further, “And if they fail to meet expectations?”
Cillin replied just as calmly, “We’ll throw them out.”