Nearly 800 fresh recruits stand on the training grounds, all wearing different expressions on their faces. Some with hope, some with fear, some with determination. Almost all of them, however, are deathly afraid of the drill instructor in front of them. As he walks by people, they shudder a little behind him. His shouts rattle people to the bone.
“It’s time for me to teach you a few rules! Rule One, whenever a superior greets you, you will salute them! Who here knows how to salute?” A few hands go up. “You there, shorty, get up here!” A quiet boy with brown hair and timid eyes walks up. “What’s your name kid?”
“M-Mitchell Walker sir!”
“And how do you salute your superior” The drill instructor shouted back.
Mitchell quickly took his right and put it on his forehead, index finger and thumb touching his forehead. He quickly put the other hand straight down his side and stood as straight and rigid as a street lamp.
“Very good Mitchell, you may be worthless, but at least you know how to show respect. Now get back where you were before you lose what little chances you have of becoming a decent soldier!”
Mitchell quickly went back to his position, feeling a little proud of himself. Troy, standing next to him noticed this, and murmured teasingly to him with a grin “I could’ve done better” That only made Mitchell smile a little more.
“Oi! Wipe that shit-eating grin off your faces before I do” The two friends quickly turned back to a more composed state.
“Now I understand many of you are drafted, if you were assigned to a specific branch, report to that branch’s barracks, any enlisted report to the barracks of your choice, and you will stay there.”
There was a commotion getting passed everyone. The government put the community grounds in the middle of the training area. This caused masses of people to go to several places at once. Mitchell and Troy both went to the Red Cloaks training ground.
When they got there, they noticed that there were definitely less Red Cloaks than the National Defense and Air Support trainees. He also knew that many would not be skilled enough to pass the qualification test, which meant that they would be put together and spend the rest of their lives working for the military, which was even worse.
Today would be one of the few days that they would not be spending all day training. Not long after the trainees left the mess hall they gathered around a stern faced man with a crescent shaped scar on his cheek.
“Good morning trainees, my name is Mason Lagner, I am the commander of the Red Cloaks, and I will be training you for this following year. The Red Cloaks are by far, the most dangerous military branch and therefore, have the highest casualty rate. About 50% won’t survive the first year”
There was a worried murmur that spread across the crowd. “However, your chances of survival go up drastically when you perform as a team. With this in mind we will be sorting all of you into separate, 5 person dorms, as is the minimum requirement for a team. You will then stay as a group for the entire year, and you will be in the same team for your entire military career.”
“Team 1: Carlos Dominguez, Thomas Peterson, Kevin Riley…”
This took almost a half hour. As the final names were said, Mitchell was extremely excited at the fact that Troy and Mitchell’s names were not spoken.
“Team 37: Mitchell Walker, Jessica Robinson, Joseph Baker, Troy Phillips, and Madison Roberts”
Mitchell tuned out now. He didn’t care about everyone else. He was just happy that he would be able to be with Troy on the same team.
“These are the people who you will be spending a good part of your life with. So I suggest you make friends with them. However, if some of your teammates do not complete training, which will probably happen, you will merge partial teams together. I don’t expect all of you to make it, but I urge you all to try your best, for you are what stands in between the Kalen and what’s left of humanity. Now, training will begin in one hour, you will spend the time before getting your room settled and meeting your teammates. Dismissed.”
Mitchell and Troy quickly made their ways to their Team’s room. Troy was mumbling the numbers of every room as they approached theirs. “26… 27” Mitchell has grown used to this while living with him. He would always do this while searching for something. It used to bother Mitchell a great deal, but the two soon had to put up with each other’s tendencies and quirks in order to not be driven insane.
“34… 35… 36… ah, here we are, room 37.” When Troy unlocked the door with the keys he got from one of the Red Cloaks. As soon as he opened the door, he knew that this was going to be a long year. The room was not unlike a hotel room, just even more cramped and much less inviting, which was a huge problem with Troy, he enjoyed Rooms that were big enough for him to sleep a good 5 meters away from everyone else. The room had 3 bunk beds, a table, and a bathroom.
The other three residents were already in the room. The one sitting on the left bunk bed had icy blue eyes and blond hair running down to the chin, which was clear that she cut her hair in front of her eyes, because it was uneven around the forehead. She was average height, probably around 170 cm, and had a quiet look on her.
The Second girl in the room was a couple centimeters shorter than most, had reddish brown hair, and energetic, hazel eyes. She carried certain liveliness to her, like she was actually happy to be in the Red Cloaks.
Lastly, there was a scrawny, tall, man with thin rectangular glasses and short brown hair. He seemed to be in his late teens or at most 20. As opposed to the brown haired girl, he looked like he loathed the idea of being in this hell hole.
“Hi, I’m Maddie.” The brown haired girl said with a smile.
“Mitchell” he said holding out his hand. She shook it kindly. Troy did likewise. Looking over at the other man, Mitchell said “I’m guessing your Joe”. He nodded and waved. He looked over to the blue eyed girl. “And that makes you Jessica.” She walked over and shook hands with both.
The 5 quickly started talking about themselves. The hour was spent talking about who they were, where they were from, what they were doing in the military, and what they wanted their future to be.
“Alright, I’ll start.” said Troy, “I’m Troy Philips. I used to live in the Boston District along with Mitchell. “Both of our families died when it fell, and with some money I stashed, we were able to live together in the Penn District for a year until we were drafted. Honestly, I don’t even know what I want to do with my life, I’m just here, and in this world it’s tough to live a separate life without war, so maybe when this war is over I can live a full life.”
“Cool, I’ll go next” Maddie quickly started telling her story, “My name is Maddie Roberts, I live in the Washington District. I enlisted into the Red Cloaks so I can fight the Kalen and contribute to the war effort.”
“Why would you want to do that?” inquired Joe. “You weren’t drafted, why would you be willing to throw your life so quickly? You should’ve just stayed as long as you could before the death sentence came to you.”
Jessica was bothered by this. ‘Who does this guy think he is, she made a decision and she wanted to fight, what’s wrong with that?’ She decided to speak up as Maddie’s smile faded, and was replaced with slight dejection.
“You know, some people would find that very honorable, and you would be considered a coward” She glared, “She made a very difficult decision, and probably needed to leave her parents because of it. You however, sat in your home, avoiding the draft waiting for them to make you, because you were afraid to die. I enlisted, and I didn’t even have parents or a home.”
Joe seemed a little thrown off, but he quickly turned it on Jessica, “Well you have nothing to lose, so why do you want to join?” A flare of anger could be seen in her eyes. She was irritated that Joe put her on the spot like that, but she quickly turned that into rage towards the Kalen.
“I… need to kill as many Kalen as possible… drive them off our planet… they took everything from me.” She quickly turned upset.
Troy put a hand on Jessica’s shoulder. “I know how you feel.” He tried to help. Jessica quickly snapped out of her depressed state and shoved off Troy’s hand.
“I’ll be alright. But I can’t fight the Kalen by myself, that’s why I need to depend on you guys, and all of the Red Cloaks. So I find people like you Joe useless, because you won’t be willing to fight when the time comes.”
That got under Joe’s skin. He had parents that belittled him in order to make him do better. He left them because of that. Because of this, the word useless fleshed up old wounds, anger coursed through him. ‘I’ll show her’ he thought. ‘Never again will I be deemed useless’.
Day 1. 209 Red Cloak trainees.
The bright summer sun beat down on the recruits. They were going through the obstacle courses for the 19th time. Several trainees have already collapsed from exhaustion and were sent home. This was the preliminary check to see how many trainees were unfit to be a part of the Red Cloaks.
‘Must keep going’ Mitchell chanted in his head. He was watching as a Red Cloak ran out of energy trying to climb up wall, and now he was just dangling there, drenched in sweat.
“Oi! Get your ass over that wall or you’re going home!”
THUD! The poor trainee just fell from the wall and hit the ground. He was breathing heavily and unable to move. “Get him out of here” growled the drill instructor. The boy was picked up and sent to the cart out of the training camp. He would be gone by the next morning.
Mitchell’s strength was fading; he could feel his muscles starting to give in. The pain to keep going was too much. He was going to- “That’s enough for today, you can head to your rooms and in an hour the mess hall will be ready to server you.”
As soon as Mitchell got into his room, he collapsed on his bed. Joe was exactly the same; Troy put a sweat covered hand on Mitchell’s shoulder as he lay face down on the bed. “Nice going Mitchell. If you could do this then you should be fine physically.”
Maddie was sleeping while Joe looked like he was going to throw up. Jessica however, seemed fine, she was tired, and covered in sweat, but it seemed like she went through a regular workout.
An hour passed and they all went to the mess hall. It was bustling with activity, but there was a notable absence in the amount of trainees still in the room.
Day 2. 146 Red Cloak trainees.
Now it was time to start training as groups. They went through basic team exercises, though it was difficult. Joe was trying to compete with Jessica rather than work with her, and she would be far ahead of all the others, making her isolated. Troy was just staring at Jessica dumbfounded, while Maddie was trying to get everyone to work together, without spending time actually working on what they needed to do. Mitchell was watching it all, it was slightly amusing, and if the drill instructor wasn’t going to cut off their pinkies if they didn’t accomplish their task, he would be laughing and just mess around.
“What the hell are you brats doing!? Start working together or I’ll kick you all out!” At first, Mitchell though this was an empty threat, but the look on the drill instructor said otherwise, so he decided he needed to get serious.
An hour later of trying the team exercise out and they worked together well enough. It was not anything special, but it kept them from getting kicked out, so Mitchell was happy with that. By the end of the day, the team successfully completed it
The drop in trainees was not nearly as bad as yesterday, but at this rate, no one would be able to finish the year.
Day 15. 129 Red Cloak trainees.
Two weeks have passed. Teamwork is becoming more and more important, but thankfully, Joe and Jessica aren’t fighting anymore. They were told they needed to have a Team leader. They get back into the room to discuss this.
“So who should be the leader” Mitchell started. “I think I should” said Joe “I’m the smartest, so I’ll know what to do.” Jessica decided to butt in “But you lack courage and the ability to make split second decisions” Joe glared at Jessica “Then who do you think it should be?”
“I think it should be Jessica” Maddie said. “She’s the most skilled after all”
“But she doesn’t cooperate as well as the rest of us” Joe added, “She wouldn’t be good either”
Mitchell has been thinking it over. ‘Jessica is a lone wolf, Joe lacks courage and decisiveness, Troy doesn’t think on his feet quickly enough to assess a situation, Maddie isn’t good with thinking up plans and I don’t like taking responsibility for other people.’
When he stopped thinking he looked up and saw everyone looking at him. He was confused until he noticed he voiced his thoughts without noticing it. He thought everyone was going to beat him up. “W-Well… I… I just…”
Troy smiled “I think you should be our leader.”
“Are you kidding Troy?” Joe scoffed, but Troy was undeterred.
“Mitchell is extremely perceptive of other people. He already knows the flaws in us, and therefore he knows what the best course of action would be and what we should do”
“I agree with Troy” said Jessica
“Me too” added Maddie
“But… I don’t know if-” Mitchell started, but Troy cut him off “You’ll be great Mitchell, besides, we outnumber you and Joe” Joe crosses his arms in a huff.
“So I guess we know who our team leader is” Jessica interrupted “So don’t screw up!
Day 67. 120 Red Cloak trainees.
Mason was walking through the training grounds, watching the new recruits spar. Most seemed pretty average, except for this one girl. She was dropping every trainee she sparred with in a matter of seconds. He walked over to where she was, and watched her put another trainee to the ground.
“What’s your name?” Mason asked.
“Jessica Robinson, sir!” She drops into a firm salute.
Mason smirked a little “Well, Jessica, I can tell you will be going far. I look forward to seeing you in the Red Cloaks” Jessica was surprised, but she made sure not to show it in her expressionless face. “Thank you, sir”
“So, would you like a real challenge?” Mason said. Everyone around him froze. The leader of the Red Cloaks was going to fight the most skilled hand to hand trainee. This was going to be a legendary fight. The crowd started to form a circle around the two.
“Half a meal says the commanders going to win” said a trainee
“No, I’ve fought Jessica; I think she might actually win”
Jessica couldn’t turn back now, the two went into their stances and the fight began soon after. Jessica quickly charged, but dashed backward as soon as Mason started to react. She threw a quick jab at Mason, which he dodged. Mason quickly swept his leg under her, and Jessica nearly lost her balance.
Mason quickly followed with a jab to the stomach. It knocked the wind out of Jessica, but she grabbed his arm, and threw him on the ground. Mason swept his leg and brought Jessica down with him. Both got up at the same time and started exchanging series of punches and blocks.
Mitchell was watching this fight, and he could tell Jessica was doomed. Mason was slowly gaining ground, and it was clear that Mason was still holding back. He estimated she’d lose in another 10 seconds, when out of desperation, she’d make a bull rush.
He was right on the money.
Mason quickly took Jessica by the waist, lifted her up, and dropped her. He quickly took he arm while she was down and held it behind her, making the more she struggled, the more it would hurt. Mason then helped her up after she was beaten, and he smiled “Very impressive, if the rest of your team is like that, then I’ll have an elite team indeed.”
“We need to be the best” said Mitchell.
Day 139. 115 Red Cloak Trainees.
“The Kalen” the instructor said “are an alien species that have highly developed technology. They are bipedal and appear to be closer to reptilian in nature, having rough skin and claws similar to most lizards. They are a race completely devoted to war, wishing to crush the remnants of humanity. There are 2 main types of Kalen. The first is generally stronger and far more common. They usually carry weapons that shoot an intense beam. It burns through most substances. They usually lack intelligence, and resort to violence more than communication. They are called ‘Grunts’. The others are called ‘Elites’”
“Elites are more intelligent and relatively weaker than the grunts, but still stronger than humans. They carry two swords made of an unknown metal, and can electrocute anyone who is struck by it. The shock is usually lethal if the wound isn’t. With only the North East part of America remaining, the Red Cloaks have a large task, and that is to take territory from the Kalen. You all will need to rely on hit and run tactics and depend on teamwork and constant over watch to keep each other alive.”
Day 241. 111 Red Cloak trainees.
Things are reaching their toughest in the training grounds. 20 obstacle course runs, 5 team exercises that vary every day, 2 hours of target practice, and running 5 miles a day wears down on them.
Mitchell has been noticing something weird with Troy. He noticed that he is acting weird around Jessica. He was stammering and sweating around her. It was funny to watch, but he was wondering why that he did that unless –
A big smile swept over Mitchell’s face, and he looked a Troy.
“What?” he said.
Mitchell prodded “You like Jessica, don’t you?” Smile still ear to ear
Troy sputtered. “Wh-Wha? I… I don’t… You…”
“C’mon Troy admit it!”
“I don’t know what you’re…” Mitchell gave him a look, and Troy relented.
“Fine, but don’t tell her”
“Ask her, then.”
“But nothing! I’ll tell her if you don’t.”
Mitchell smiled, “You’ll thank me later.”
Troy thanked him later that day.
Day 365. Graduation Day. 105 Red Cloak trainees
The night of the last day was exciting. Lights surrounded the edges of the g
Mitchell felt a surging pride in him. Team 37 was the best of the best. They were going to join Commander Mason’s team.
The trainees standing in salute in front of Mason Lagner were prepared. However, he knew that not all were willing to fight.
“All of you stand here because you were able to prepare yourselves. You were able to accomplish the year of training. You all can fight the Kalen. However, not all have the will to fight. I hope this year of training has convinced you otherwise, but I’m not holding any of you back. You may leave if you want, and you will not be punished. I urge you all, though, are you willing to fight for humanity.”
There were a few deathly silent seconds, and then people started leaving. Mitchell was tempted, but he knew that this world wasn’t about what he wanted to do, but what humanity needed him to do. There were a lot fewer trainees standing in the training grounds by the time the cowards dispersed. At first, he thought Joe left, but he saw him, trembling, willing himself to stay.
Mason looked expressionless at the crowd remaining
“It’s unfortunate really, how few are willing to fight”
Day 365. End of ceremony. 68 Red Cloaks.