There were 167 dead, and 212 wounded, leaving only 53 Red Cloaks still physically active. Only one was missing in action, and no one wanted to tell Maddie the news.
Mitchell looked sullen, Jessica was expressionless, Carla was downcast, Troy was sympathetic, Joe was uncomfortable, and Mason didn’t see look at her. Of course, Mason was the person who she was asking.
"Mason, where’s Derrick?"
Mason closed his eyes and steeled himself. ”Leader of Squad 3… Derrick Roberts, has been reported missing in action” his tone of voice was formal, as if he was giving a report.
Maddie had a look of pure horror on her face “Is… Is he dead?”
"We… don’t know"
"What do you mean you don’t know!"
"We don’t have a body, or a dog tag! Also, an Elite told Khan, ‘we got one’ and Derrick was the only one MIA, so that probably means the Kalen have him!"
Maddie was frozen, like a statue “What are they going to do with him?”
Mason steeled himself again “Torture him… most likely. They know he knows a lot, and they plan to get every bit of information out of him…”
It took almost an hour for Maddie to stop crying.
The remains of the Red Cloaks rode back towards Penn District. It was a silent ride. No one wanted to talk. David was at the back of the truck, where the dead were, clutching Sarah’s corpse. Jaylen joined Team Mason in the car.
As they slowly passed through a town, the townspeople left their houses to see the sight. Judging by the amounts of bodies, they assumed the mission was a disaster. Mitchell found it hard to blame them.
"Waste of tax money!"
"Go to your mothers fuckin’ children!"
Suddenly, David snapped “THE MISSION WAS A SUCCESS YOU UNGRATEFUL SHITS!!!” Immediately after the tears flowed out of him again.
After an hour of silence in the car, Jaylen spoke up. “Was it worth it?” Everyone knew what he was talking about, but stayed silent. This time he looked at Mason and was more direct.
"Commander, was the success of this mission really worth the casualties we sustained" Mason stayed silent.
"That’s up for you to decide."
"What the hell do you mean by that. We nearly all died back their, because of your decision. We at least deserve to know what you think."
Mason put his head on the back of his chair in frustration “If you don’t think it was worth it, then that’s fine, what’s done is done. I believe it was because we took an entire district back. More importantly, we defeated two armies of Kalen and set their plans back. That should be a good enough reason to die for.”
Jaylen set himself back onto the seat. ”This was a terrible decision to have to make.”
Mason didn’t have the time to open his mouth “Jaylen, this whole world is terrible. We are fighting a war for our survival. We live in a world where we draft fucking teenagers to fight an alien menace in order to keep up. This world is full of terrible decisions that we have to make, but that’s why we’re here. To make terrible decisions so the people we protect don’t have to make them.”
"Thank you, Carla" Mason sighed.
There was an awkward silence before Jaylen spoke again “Commander, I need to trust you more, but I can’t unless I know you understand that with every choice you make, you are affecting many more peoples lives because of it”
Mason almost laughed “Trust me” he pulled up his scarf a bit “I know”
He then turned toward his team “I’m going to need your help when we get back.”
"What for?" Mitchell inquired.
"Something no one should have to do.
Mrs. Walters rocked in her chair, knitting. Life was lonely in her house. Ever since her daughter left for the Red Cloaks, it has been abnormally quiet.
She wondered how she was, her daughter promised Mrs. Walters she would com back to visit her after every mission. Sarah left for her first mission yesterday. She should be visiting soon.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
Mrs. Walters immediately got up. She could feel the anticipation building inside her as she approached the door. She smiled widely as she opened it.
Almost immediately after opening it, she froze. Sarah was not there to greet her, but instead, the acclaimed Mason Lagner, flanked by three soldiers on each side, all in salute.
She immediately grabbed Mason by the collar with both hands and said desperately “Where… is… my… daughter…”
Mason closed his eyes.
"Red Cloak Soldier Sarah Walters,"
"member of Squad 1, Team 5"
"Has been killed in action."
Mrs. Walters immediately dropped to her knees, crying at Mason’s feet. Mitchell and Maddie were already on the verge of tears. Mason continued.
"The Red Cloaks give their sincerest condolences"
After a few minutes, the heartbroken mother stood up with puffy eyes “Was… she… useful?” She choked out another sob “Did… she… do her duty?”
Mason took her by the shoulders. “She was a fantastic soldier. She saved my life. I’m so sorry this had to happen. Here, you should have this.”
He reached into his scarf and took out a single dog tag, with Sarah’s name on it. Once again, Mrs. Walters started crying, and she sunk into Mason’s shoulder.
After another few minutes, she choked out “She’s gone… She’s really gone” Mason put an arm on her back comfortingly. “Those who are gone never really leave us”
She looked up at the dark-haired man. ”W-What?”
"She’ll never be gone, her memory is still there. As long as their is one person out there who remembers her, she’ll always be there, in your heart."
Even more tears flowed. However, Mrs. Walters did managed to say a broken “Thank you” through choppy breaths.
After they left, Mitchell was impressed by how well Mason handled it. Has he really become that emotionally hardened?
"Do you ever get used to that?"
Mason paused for a moment before answering.
"You heard me"
"We fucking did what we told you to do and we took Boston District back!"
"Look we’re giving you triple priority on new recruits to replenish your deficit of troops. You still cost us by asking for help from the other branches"
"That wasn’t me!!!"
Mason gritted his teeth in frustration. There was still a chance to make it out. If only Joe didn’t call them in so soon.
"Doesn’t matter, the point is we lost troops, and that is on your hands. You had how many? Sixty troops when the National Defense saved you. You’re lucky the Red Cloaks still exist at this point."
"We still gave you a whole district back!"
"And that’s why you’re not disbanded."
Mason walked away from the president, who was taken aback by Mason’s attitude.
"Look, Mason, there will be a meeting with all the branches in a few weeks, bring the Red Cloaks with you, because we’re going to decide our next plan of attack there, and you will be doing what we decide immediately."
"YOU’RE EVEN GOING TO EVEN TELL US WHAT WE’RE EVEN FUCKING DOING!?"
The two squabbled some more, but eventually Mason submitted.
"Get out of my sight."
"With pleasure." he turned and made his way to the door.
"you’re on thin ice, Lagner!"
He left before the president finished his sentence.
When they got back at sunset, the pyre was ready to be lit up.
Mason delivered a speech, about how great the soldiers that have given their lives for humanity, with practiced ease. Mitchell took notice of how easily he gave it.
The fire raged brightly over the bodies. By the time the fire reached its peak, the sun set, darkness surrounded the Red Cloaks. Quiet sobs could be heard from many of the soldiers that went on their first mission.
David could be seen, crouching, with his hands on his head, crying. He watched Sarah’s body burn, and it filled him with regret. His childhood friend, gone. Forever. Although, they always felt closer than that. It’s like they were… he cut his thoughts short, and continued to sit there. Alone.
As the fire crackled, Maddie let some tears loose. Mitchell put a hand on her shoulder to comfort her. They stood in silence, not knowing what to stay. Jessica stared intently into the fire, as if she was surprised, but her eyes told a different story.
Troy took an arm and brought her close, which caught Jessica’s attention. Troy didn’t break his stare at the fire. ”You don’t need to do this” she whispered to him.
"I want to"
"But I’m fine"
"The look on you begs to differ, and who said this just about you needing me"
Jessica looked at Troy. His expression was distraught, face contorted with fear and regret. She looked around. Everyone was acting the same, either acting strong, like Joe, or actually accepting their emotions, like Maddie. Jessica knew she was no different.
On the outside, Carla seemed downcast, but the truth is, it was much worse in her heart. She felt a familiar break in it when she saw the bodies, and the young soldiers that try to act strong for what they think is for the dead, but really for themselves.
She looked at Mason, his face hard. Eyebrows furrowed, and a look of disdain on his face. Carla wondered if he was acting the same as her.
As the last crackles of the fire died, one by one the soldiers walked back to their cabins, the wise ones leaving their pain behind.