The Recruitment Rise of the Free Fleet

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They called it The Recruitment. Thousands were kidnapped and trained to fight. One fought back.

James Cook was a gamer headed for the biggest gaming match on Earth. Instead the Planetary Defense Force kidnapped him, his team and twenty-thousand others.

Their alien trainers don’t care how many of them survive, they only care that they can fight.

James Cook was a gamer, but his avatar Salchar, he was a fighter, a leader and the man the recruits need. James must put his doubts about himself aside, there’s no guide to this, no strategy and it’s definitely not a game. He will need to become Salchar, with one goal, to protect his people.

This is the story of Salchar, his recruits, and the Rise of their Free Fleet.

Check out the first chapter below!

Chapter Rude Awakening

I woke on my face, making an impression in the floor. My body followed as I rolled over slowly. The floor was slightly rubberized, but it made little difference as I felt the dull pain of new bruises. Slowly, I tried to push myself up with my right arm. I exhaled through my teeth as I turned my head to see my shoulder, finding four inches of a katana sticking out of it.

Fuck. So that wasn’t a dream, I used my left arm to pick myself up. My hair hung down, covering half of my face. I usually kept it tied back, but it had come free, as usual. I flicked and blew the black mess out of the way and looked at the others in the room who were looking at me –  from the one-year-olds and eight- year-olds to the 22-year-olds. I was of average height and a leaner build than the kids that looked to be eighteen like myself. I could see their fear, most of the kids actually crying and the older ones trying to control their fear. I didn’t know why they were looking at me, but I knew I didn’t want to deal with their fear as well as my own.

One boy, not even ten years old, tugged on my arm. “What do we do?”  He asked, clearly confused, his eyes were burning into mine. I looked away after a few moments, the pain and belief that I had the answers making me feel guilty.

“How should I know? I’ve never done this before,” I said to the floor.

“You’re Salchar; my daddy says there’s nothing you can’t win!” His lip began to tremble as his eyes dampened.

“I play games, kid, this isn’t a game,” I said.

He burst into tears, causing more of the other kids to do the same.  Had to tell the kid the truth didn’t you, asshole, I thought.

I waaaant my mmmmmommy!” He hyperventilated as I walked to the nearest wall, making sure to not jar the blade in my shoulder. I sat down, trying to not focus on the crying kids.

Way to go, Salchar, you’ve been here five minutes and you’ve made the kids cry.

I risked another look up; the kids had all grouped in one corner, keeping away from the older looking teenagers who made smaller groups based on some unspoken similarities. Then there was one girl, quite fit from what I could see, who also sat by herself, studying the room as I was. She turned as if sensing my gaze and I felt my blood run cold as I looked into my old enemy’s eyes.

This day keeps getting better. Why couldn’t I just be playing against her back on earth instead of being in this damned conscripted army!  I growled as I looked away from Yasu Ono, the blade mistress and my nemesis.

She looked at me with her flawless skin and model worthy face and body which had been honed through rigorous training. Her hair was kept in a braid which hung over her shoulder, framing her face and its Japanese features.

I looked to see a tube descending from the ceiling and another person drop out of it with a groan. He too had found the floor face first. I moved to go help he.

Now, when I mean nemesis I don’t mean ha ha, you’re my nemesis, I mean downright hated my existence and everything I did – she seemed to be disgusted with. I was an orphan in America, gaming from a young age and being picked up later on by the Korean team Mecha Tail.  I climbed to the leader boards of a few games. She was the heir to the biggest gaming corporation in the world, and her father had personally designed Mecha Assault One and Two. Mecha Tail became my family as we became the world champions of MAO. When MAT came out it was a physical response system, meaning someone acted out in the real world and it was translated into the game. Yasu, who had trained to be a fighter her entire life, gathered a group and took over the scene as Mecha Tail trained.

She was asked in an interview what she thought of MT and myself, she had said how talking about a group as dishonorable as mine would only sully her reputation.

MT was made up of Monk, Psychotic Cheerleader, Iron Bok Soo, and myself, Salchar We were closer than blood relatives and we came back with a storm, much to the apparent disgust of Yasu and her team Samurai’s Revenge with Stone Warrior, the Sato sisters, and herself – the Blade Mistress. We were just about to fight for the title of champion when something had happened

I closed my eyes as I cleared up my still scrambled head.

I was about to play against Yasu Ono’s team, Samurai’s Revenge, in the world Mecha Assault Two championships in Korea. Mecha Tail and I were just taking the stage after Samurai’s Revenge when the monitors throughout the stadium changed to a purple tinged humanoid. It had webbed hands, gills, and clear eyelids which didn’t move; the words came from an unknown source, due to its lack of a mouth.

“Population two, four-nine-five, you have been called up for service. Recruitment will now begin,” it said.

That was all the alien said, leaving me stunned as the monitors cleared. The roof exploded as boxes rushed down to grab people. People screamed in panic, running whichever way they thought was the safest. A box darted for the stage as I ducked and rolled, a section of the stage behind my splintering.

“Lei!” I yelled.  The minor player had a thing for swords and brought his lucky sword with him wherever he went. Without thinking he turned and, opening his duffel bag, he threw me his sword. We were like family, and ours was in danger. The other members of MT were already rushing forward to protect the others. I cut off the data cables that would translate my movements into in-game data as I turned to Monk, who was ripping them off as quickly as possible.

I saw another box dart forward over Iron Bok Soo who was having a harder time disconnecting the feeds from his wheelchair. I jumped, the katana connecting with the meter-thick cord.

“Fuckers!” I heard from inside the box.

The cord went taught as I hit it with the Katana. Two things happened: the katana broke and the box sailed up into the air.

“Shiiiiit!” I whipped my head to the side, my own momentum carrying me forward as the tip of the Katana came back towards my head.    Adrenaline pumping, I didn’t know where the blade had gone until I turned to look back at where the box had been, finding it lodged in my shoulder.

“Lucky sword, my ass,” I hissed, throwing the hilt and what remained of the useless sword away. Another two box-like grabbers snagged Cheerleader and Monk as I tried to get to them. The rest of Mecha Tail turned, rushing outside as if to find some other way to get to the boxes.

The entire arena was chaos as boxes darted down, closing around their prey and hauling them up to a ship. I could see tens of them through the holes in the arena. There was no getting away from these bastards.

“Well, come on you fuckers! Take my family, you better take me,” I ground out, suddenly I was suspended in the air as a box snapped around me, yanking up and away. I never felt as helpless as I was suspended without the ability to touch the floor or the walls. I felt like a plush toy in an arcade machine as I heard gas from above me. I struggled to move, to get anywhere as I felt consciousness slipping away.

Well, that explains a few things. I tried to get rid of the fuzzy feeling I had. The majority of the children, and even a few of the adults were crying. Being an orphan I was used to being thrown around and having to adapt. Instead of focusing on them and what was going on, I went to what I knew. I looked around the bright white featureless room. There were no doors, windows, seats or even an indication of where I’d come from, just plain flat white.

I looked at the katana in my shoulder.  Wounded, I mentally added to my situation.

The ceiling opened and a box, identical to the one that had grabbed me, ejected a blonde man.

“Sounvabitch!” he said, wind milling till he hit the floor. I winced, the man grunting as he turned himself over.

“Ow,” he said simply.

“You okay?” I asked the blonde man who was looking at the ceiling in annoyance.

“Not my best day,” he said, picking himself up, seeing the fragment of katana in my shoulder “Looks like it was better than yours though,”

The katana was starting to hurt like almighty hell, the adrenaline was apparently wearing off.

“Remind me not to buy Japanese,” I growled, my faith in old sword-making techniques sorely lacking. Once you have half of one in your shoulder, they don’t look so hot.

“Yeah,” he said as realization sparked in his eyes. “You’re Salchar!”

“Yes,” I said. My celebrity training took over as I masked my feelings of pain. Replacing it with a confident smile, looking over the people in the room again. All of them were stunned and looking for direction. I was already thinking as I realized the man was still talking.

“I watch your games, you’re awesome!” he said.

“Why, thank you,” I said.

“Best to pull the sucker out,” he said, nodding as I felt my face go pale.  It already hurt like hell getting it lodged in my shoulder, pulling it out doesn’t sound much better.

“I’m not sure if that’s the best idea,” I said hesitantly, not sure about the guy who wanted to play doctor on me, who had fallen on his head and I’d met a minute ago.

“Ah, it’ll be fine,” he said.

He went to work examining the blade and the wound. He quickly fished out a small first aid kit from his pants that seemed to have more pockets than sense.

“I’m Rick, Air Force Reservist,” he said.

“Well, I think you…” I growled as he yanked the katana out. I hadn’t seen his hand snake behind my back as I grunted in pain and he grinned.

“See, easy,” he said. His smile was still there as I could only shake my head at his undeterred playfulness.

He quickly sprayed antiseptic and put a bandage on my shoulder, securing it.

Disinfectant is fricking painful! Smells like Russian vodka.

“Good,” He checked his handy-work before he laid on the floor, facing the ceiling and obviously tired from his work.

“You’ll live; you need to move it as little as possible and let nature take its course,” he said.

“Goody,” I said sourly, my arm now throbbing in pain.

“Plus, you’ve got a souvenir,” He grinned as he handed me the four-inch piece of the blade.

“Thaanks,” I drawled, grinning at Rick.

“Well, my mom always told me I was the best at getting gifts,” he said as I chuffed a laugh, realizing that it was becoming harder to breathe. A hum filled the room as the air became thicker and harder to breathe and my entire body became heavier.

I started coughing from the air, which made me hyperventilate in an attempt to get more air. I started to panic before I forced those thoughts from my head.

They could’ve killed you on the ground, now get the fuck up, time to buck up, or shut up.  I fought my body, forcing myself to breathe through my teeth as I looked around the room, the others occupying it having similar troubles as myself, most panicking and collapsing into unconsciousness.

My eyes, nose, mouth and even my skin gained an itchy burning sensation. I tried to ignore it as best as possible, the wound in my shoulder like the worst mosquito bite I’d ever had. I buried my nails into my hand to resist scratching it.

The ceiling opened as three more people were dumped unceremoniously onto the floor around me.

I heard them almost immediately hyperventilating.

“Control your breathing, short breaths or you’ll pass out,” I said.

They took my advice, getting their bodies under control as I slowly got to my feet, my head thumping from the lack of oxygen.

“Thanks,” one said from the ground as I was rethinking my thought to stand up.

“No problem,” I ground out. Talking and standing made my head swim. I was breathing heavily by the time I was upright.

Every head turned to see a red alien step out of a hatch in the wall which shut seamlessly behind him. Barely any lines that would’ve showed the outline of the door were visible on the sheet metal looking wall.

“Get up!” he demanded, his guttural clicks turning into English and other languages. Two other identical aliens moved to the groups, yelling at us to get up and beating those that were too slow about it. I got up slowly as one came near me, hitting me in the stomach without warning. It was like being hit by a train as all my breath left me and I flopped to the ground, trying desperately to regain the air and control over breathing I’d lost.

“Faster, recruit!”  he bellowed. I had no idea if they were male or female. He punched me in the face, making me see stars as I felt myself slipping into unconsciousness. I fought against it.

You’re Salchar, the kid that dominated Mecha Assault One and Two. You’re not going to pass out in front of these people.  I pushed myself up with sheer will until I was standing. More than one person had passed out. Two aliens who seemed identical to the first went through the grouping of humans, pulling people from the floor and forcing them into position.

Everyone was breathing heavily as our lungs fought for air, and we wanted to slump to the floor as everything seemed heavy. A few dropped, but they were set upon by the two wandering aliens and forced to stand.

The kids weren’t the only ones crying as reality was sinking in. After a few got beatings, no one else fell down.

“Get into two lines facing me!” the first barked, swatting someone that had paused to get his breath, dropping like a tree in the wind. Slowly but surely, people were forced into a position with kicks, punches, and yelling.

“You are the worst recruits I have seen in my entire service!” he barked as I studied him beneath hooded eyes. I couldn’t help myself – he was the first alien I’d ever seen in the flesh. He didn’t look anything like the one that had announced the Earth’s forced recruitment, other than his humanoid-like stature.

He had two arms and legs, but that was where the similarities ended. His pupils were slit vertically, his skin brilliant red scales. His mouth was more like four tentacles with razor sharp teeth, than anything human. Yet he talked in unaccented English, then Korean, Japanese and every language of the people in the room. All I could think was, well, someone was wrong about them being green.  As I continued to study him and the others in the room with an almost clinical view, seeing them and realizing the implications but not letting the emotional feedback cloud my judgment. As I found myself coming to terms with the alien presence in front of me, the one barking orders started talking again. His body was like a statue as his eyes looked at us with as much disdain as someone would look upon mold.

“That said, it is my job to make you acceptable members of the Mecha Corps. From now until the end of recruit training I am God, what I say is law. My name is Master of Arms Taleel, but you will refer to me as sir. Understood?”

There was a stuttering of yes’s thrown in with a few sirs. The alien’s eyes seemed to darken. He lashed out at the nearest person, a small girl, no more than 12 years old, sending her sprawling.

“Do you understand?” He sounded that he would find dealing with crap on his shoe would be better.

It took fifteen times before he was satisfied, all of us – including me, getting a fist to the stomach. My throat felt raw and itchy from yelling mixed with the atmosphere.

“Strip,” he said. After a few seconds, no one had moved.

“Help them,” Taleel said to the other two.

I doubled over as Taleel punched me in the stomach. I swayed on my feet, as I forced the foul air into my lungs.

“Strip!” He demanded again. We obeyed.

I made a small pile of my belongings in front of me, the children bawling as they were forcefully removed from their clothing and beaten for their perceived insolence.  You’re a coward, Salchar, I thought to myself as I stood there and looked at my clothes as children were beaten just feet away from me.

They should be playing games, out with their friends, and watching TV, not being beaten into soldiers, I ranted in the safety in my mind, shame filling my body. The two assistants took our clothes as Taleel talked.

“I am in charge of getting you implanted and able to fight with a Mecha and maybe be of some damned use at the end of this expensive trip paid for by the citizens of the free planets,” his voice ended in a growl.

“You are my squad, if you step out of line, I will deal with you personally,” he said. His eyes stopped roving across the room, locking with me as a shiver went down my spine.

“Now we will begin implantation,” he said in a voice that brooked no argument.

“What is implantation?” I asked, my mouth working before my brain caught up to it.

He stalked right up to my face. “What did you say?” He looked happy.

“What is..,” I asked. there was a black rod in his arm which he touched to my stomach, causing pain to radiate outwards across my body as I dropped.

“Get up!” he said, kicking my head. I was disoriented but I tried to follow his commands as he punched me in the gut. I doubled over, using the floor to support myself as he walked back in front of the squad and I quickly got to my feet.

“You will not bark out questions like an untamed dog. Am I understood?”

“Yes, sir!” we yelled, the fear audible in our voices.  I barely held my fear in anymore.  I just want to be back with Mecha Tail. I was on the verge of tears, angry at myself for being so emotional.

“Neural implants and ports to upload to your Mecha’s as well as a basic translator, sleep teaching implant, audio and visual recorders, and a locator unit. Now come along,” one of them said. A door opened into a room with two more aliens and a seat. Cords like the ones that had been attached to the boxes but smaller rested around the seat. Everyone in the room automatically moved away from the doorway at the somehow ominous room.

“Get back in line!” Taleel was sounding as if he was already regretting a decision he’d made. Sighing, he brandished a prod that crackled. The other two bared identical prods as they herded us like cattle into lines again.

The young ones were crying as the three silent aliens beat them into line, only making the crying louder. I looked at the ground in embarrassment; to help would just get me beaten more.

“You first, since you’re so curious,” he said. My face automatically turned into a calm mask.  The facial and mannerism trainers were worth their weight in gold. I shrugged, trying to hide my very real fear.

“Very well,” I said, feeling none of the confidence I spoke with. Celebrity training that had come with being in Mecha Tail – the biggest gaming team in the world – had meant that I could easily hide my true feelings.

Hoping that I was still in control of my facial appearance and mannerisms, instead of showing how scared I was to the point of nausea, I walked into the room.  Feeling so scared my legs were weak as the door shut behind me. I guess that’s what I get for opening my big mouth.

Inside there were another two aliens and a chair.

“Please, take a seat, or you will be forced to,” they said in bored tones.

I hung my head, not saying anything, trying to cover myself as I sat down on the cold chair. The aliens grabbed my limbs, forcing them down into clamps as I tried to push them off; it was if I was trying to fight a tank with a pool noodle.

As soon as I was secured, they stepped back as more clamps covered my body and I was laid out on my back, perfectly vertical. Panic started to settle in as I couldn’t move an inch and the arms around the chair in my peripheral vision started to move.

Arms set to work on my shoulder, pulling off the bandage; it felt like they’d poured liquid metal in my shoulder.

“Three years will be added to your military contract,” one said, obviously bored.

“I don’t want it added!” I yelled through gritted teeth, just barely holding onto consciousness within the alien atmosphere.

“Then you’re useless to us with an arm that doesn’t work. We might as well just throw you out of an airlock,” the alien that had been addressing me said, its face so close I could smell the rotting pieces of food stuck between its razor sharp teeth.

“Do you want to be spaced?” he asked me, his eyes boring into me. I looked away, shame filling me. It was clear they didn’t care how many extra years I got added.

“No,” I said, not looking them in the eyes.

“Then you will have three years added to your military contract. Yes?” The medic asked, as if talking to a petulant child.

“Yes,” I spat, self-loathing filling me.

My shoulder burned even more as I heard a high pitched humming which increased as I tried to turn and see where the noise was coming from.

I screamed as the humming changed pitch and I could feel the humming as they cut into my flesh and spine.  I’m going to die on this table with drills gouging through my back. I cried, feeling my bladder release in fear.

“Disgusting creatures, they spew waste on themselves at the pain. They are a waste of our time and training,”  I half-heard one alien say to another as I cried and screamed.

Now, before I’d heard of a spinal tap where someone gets a needle into their spine to gather spinal fluid. The person had volunteered for it and said it had been the most painful experience they’d ever had. This was worse than I had ever imagined – to have drills with heads the size of a pencil go into my spine down its length. My body was not my own.  Drugs relaxed my body but not my nerves as they were grafted to implants. I lost my voice and I silently screamed, my body finally releasing me as I blacked out.

I opened my eyes and feeling returning to my body as I looked around. The alien stuck its face in mine, pushing my head around before releasing me.

It grunted something in its guttural language to the other and looked away with a bored look, as if my living or dying was a non-issue.  I’m still alive, I thought angrily to myself.  Just wait until I’m free, I thought. I regretted being conscious as things were shoved through the open wounds in my back and into the holes that had been drilled there. They had mated my nerves with an external port.

There was a spray of something cold as I felt the area around the wound numb. It turned to lancing fire as it had with my shoulder and my body fought the restraints as I arched in pain, every muscle flexing. My jaw shut, too tight to even scream, as it felt as if I’d been electrified, and then it was over. Then the table was becoming a chair again as arms cleared away the waste I left behind. An alien bodily shoved me at another door.

“You have twenty seconds to clean yourself,” a disembodied voice said. I touched the back of my neck, finding solid hexagons lining my spine. I quickly moved my hand away from the oddity as my pain was replaced with shame at having peed myself.

“You have eighteen,” the voice continued.

I walked in the room. A shower activated.  It smelt like battery acid, but at least it was liquid. It felt like battery acid as my skin interacted with it. I held in my screams, my throat hurting as I cleaned my lower half, my genitals feeling as if they would melt off my skin was so raw. The shower turned off as a door back to the main area my group was in opened.

I dried in seconds as I walked out, keeping my head high.

I walked through the door to Officer Taleel and the nineteen others. They gasped and made noises as they saw my back, pointing and talking.

“Stay in line!” Taleel growled, hitting the nearest to him.  I saw Rick doubled over from the blow to his stomach as he took a few seconds to right himself. A girl who looked barely ten started crying, another alien cuffing her, causing her to splay on the floor as he kicked her to get back in position, causing her to cry more.

I felt something snap as I ran to her, not knowing what I was doing as I rammed the alien with my shoulder. It was like hitting a wall.  All I got was a blow to the back of my head. It made me dizzy, but it left me in seconds as I turned to the girl and the alien hit me again.

“You need to get back in line,” I said softly, pushing her back into position. I got another cuff to the back of the head and my world went fuzzy, but I came back quickly as I felt some more fire like pain where I’d been hit.

“The hell fire is still rampant in his system; he’ll keep healing just as fast as we keep hitting him,” the other helper said.

“He should be slaughtered; the officers are Drefini if they think that they can make anything out of these ignorant flesh bags,” he said looking at me like I was slime as I tried to hit him, his height and reach putting him too far away. I saw flashes of light and my lungs felt as if they were bursting.

Taleel’s eyes flashed as he moved next to the enforcer in seconds.

“Talk about the officers that way and you will be the one that is out of the airlock next!” I realized that there was now no lag between them speaking and English coming forth. My implants were now translating for me.

The alien seemed to droop as his arm slackened around my neck; I fell to the ground and I coughed my breaths.

“Yes, Officer Taleel,” the alien said, looking at the deck. Taleel went to the front of the line.

“Let’s see how much hell fire can fix,” They began kicking and punching me with glee, leaving a few minutes later with my body and bones broken; I could feel them sitting back into position painfully as muscle tissue repaired itself.

“Watch yourself, flesh bag,” The enforcer hit me and I passed out.

I woke up again minutes later. My body felt like it was on fire as every muscle tensed painfully. I found myself unable to move as bones popped into place and reformed together.

After having the ports bored into my back, the broken bones being forced together was jarring. It was painful and weird, but it was bearable.

Rick came to me, helping me up slowly, his own nerve ports gleaming in the absurdly bright lights of the room.

“You okay?” Rick asked, pitching his voice low so the others couldn’t hear him, wincing as his ports moved.

I put on my most winning smile, straightening myself, hiding the pain.  Would I want to be lied to?  I thought as I slumped.

“It’s pretty painful and scary,” I said.

I looked at their scared faces. “But I know everyone can make it through it,” I smiled, hoping they gained some kind of confidence.

The younger ones were blatantly staring at my back.

“They’re so shiny,” one boy said, probably around fourteen.

“They are, huh? I can’t really see them,” I remarked as I made to look at my own.

“How much did it hurt?” an even younger girl asked, probably around eight.

“Quite a bit, but I know all of you can do it,” I said. If you want to or not because Taleel will have you hauled in there.

Taleel gave me a strange stare as I backed away. I was dizzy from the pain the increased gravity and the weird atmosphere, which was now hard to see in as well as hard to breathe in.

We’ll be waiting for you when you’re done,” I said to them with a smile. Rick and I sat down near the exit from the showers. We were careful not to lean against the wall.

Rick turned to me, anger in his eyes.

“What kind of fucked-up military does this to children?” I didn’t think to remind him how children were used as soldiers all over Earth. I still agreed with him.

“One that needs to be ended,” I said, gauging his reaction. He nodded as he touched his ports, flinching as he found cold metal. It was a moment before he talked again.

“How do you look so confident?”  Gotcha, I thought as he wasn’t arguing the point now, but rather trying to figure out himself how he’d be able to mimic me.

“I just smile and act natural; we don’t want to scare them,” I said under my breath, my back to the others.

“But-” Rick said, confusion and insecurity warring across his face, he was an open book to me.

“Now laugh like we’re sharing a joke,” I said following my own instructions, thankfully Rick did as well, hiding his inner fear. It was interesting how much just changing your facial features could make you feel different.

I didn’t need a panicked group of people on my hands. My time in an orphanage showed me that scared people are the worst people to be around. I needed malleable and useful people.

He paused, as if in thought.

“They must be some kind of interface between our neural pathways and some piece of technology,” he surmised as a look of curiosity and excitement passed over his face.

“What part of the Air Force were you in?” I asked as he looked to me.

“I was a guard originally you know, patrol airbases. Then, after a few comments to an engineer, I was selected for a think tank,” he said.

“On what?” I pried, suspicion coloring my mind.

“On developmental technologies,” he said.

“I thought it might’ve been something like that,” I grinned.

“Why?” he asked with a perplexed look.

“Your eyes lit up as you began wondering the potential for the technology. Most people would still be in the ‘oh shit I got kidnapped’ stage,” I said.

“Ahh,” he said, looking a little embarrassed before shrugging.

“What can I say, new things interest me,” He grinned and I couldn’t help but return it. “Though these new things are quite uncomfortable,” he added, tilting his head to look at his nerve ports.

“Yeah, I’m as willing to try new things as the next person. But I don’t think I’d ever get these willingly,” I said, trying to find a comfortable place on the wall to rest so that my new ports wouldn’t touch it and elicit more pain.

“Why did you put up that charade?” Rick asked, something in his voice stopping me from throwing him a white lie.

“I want them to be confident,” I said finally, looking to them.

“Why?” He asked, more intense now.

“Simply because I know them more than I know another group,” I think it was time to spin some bull for the good of morale, of course.

“No matter what, we’re going to have to work together. There might be just us in here. We need to look out for one another, build up trust and create a team capable of breaking out of this prison,” I said. Breaking out from our new enslavement wasn’t going to be easy. Hell I didn’t even know if it was possible. But I knew one thing, hope is a damned powerful motivator.

Rick’s eyes lit up at this as he looked back at me, he nodded slowly before looking away. I seemed to have past some kind of test. The hope monkey had him. Now I had to get a few more loyal to me and I could start putting a plan into action – whatever plan I came up with, that is.

The door opened to the chair room as the shower opened. One of the smallest kids, no more than seven, came up to me. He probably recognized me as Salchar the gamer and latched onto me because I was something familiar from his regular life.

I seized up for a second as he wrapped his hands around my neck in a hug. He was so small that his head was level with mine as I sat.

He wiped his eyes, his body shuddering as he looked at me.

“That huuuurt,” he said into my neck, sniffling.

Sadness tore at me as I hugged him back, patting his back, careful to miss his ports, nakedness and awkwardness forgotten.

“My name’s Salchar. What’s yours?” I asked gently.

“I’m George Everez,” he said, his body jerking from the after effects of constant, ferocious crying.

“Well, George, you’ve got cool new ports don’t you?” He nodded numbly.

“But I want my mommy!” he said, hyperventilating as if he was building up for another crying episode.

He wrapped his arms around me as he cried silently, after a few minutes he peeled away, taking hiccuping breaths as he’d run out of steam.

“I know, George, but you got through that just now, you can get through anything,” I said with a kind smile. He looked up to me, searching for more.

“That makes you like us adults,” A look filled his eyes, one of a child who didn’t understand adulthood but wanted to be one all too much.  I have a feeling you’ll be an adult sooner than you think, I thought unhappily. “I need you to do something special for me,” I continued.

“What?” He asked, temporarily mollified with the idea he could do the elusive ‘grown up things’.

“I want you to calm down the people as they come out of the showers,” I said.

“Why?” he asked, frowning, not understanding how that was adult.

“Then you can show how brave you are – being, one of the first, – and they’ll stop crying too, because they’ll want to be as adult as you,” I said. He looked at his feet, nodding I could almost hear the gears ticking in his head.

“I’ll help,” he said, a glimpse of a smile appearing. I grinned in reply, messing up his hair as he tried to bat me away, a grin forming on his face as I stood up.

I wanted to cry and lash out in frustration, though it would do me no good. I needed to get my family back together, and then we would destroy these bastards, every last one of them. I kept smiling as I watched George go talk to the other kids, everyone listening to him, a few crying and others looking defeated. But there was a glimmer of hope.

He turned to the door and walked over to it slowly as one of the younger kids came out, bawling her eyes out as well. George got her to stop within a few minutes and I felt more guilt hit me, because I was using the kids just as this Planetary Defence Force was.  I just used George like these aliens did. Though I’ll do my best to keep him happy.  I looked to the other kids in line.  All of them happy.

It felt like I was in the orphanage intake. That had always been a depressing place, where children were introduced to the home for one reason or another, their parents giving them up, or died and no one else wanted them. They would cry for days, weeks, and months, realizing that no one was coming for them.

It had been a great place to set up my gaming station as no one wanted to go there because of the racket. I found though, if the children were tired of crying, they would find me, gathering around to watch me play video games, temporarily leaving reality behind. That was what I was getting George to make the others do. For a few minutes they could think that they didn’t want to cry in front of someone younger than them. I’d keep their minds off of what was happening by any means necessary until I could get them away from these bastards and back to their families to live out their childhoods.

I knew, just like those kids that entered the intake at the orphanage, none of them would be the same.

A group of kids had gathered around me, and I had them telling one another their names and let them take it from there. The older ones wandered by, striking up an attempt at conversation. I made idle talk, getting a few names and striking up some conversation that was essentially the same with every person.

“So, you’re Salchar, eh?” They’d ask.

“Yeah, the one and only.  Why do you ask?” I said, bestowing them with a kind smile, just like I would greet any other fan.

“I watched a few of your games, remember when…” They’d talk about some fragment of a game I barely remembered and talk about how it was a brilliant win or what they would’ve done and such. It was strange; here we were abducted and still talking like we were on Earth.

More and more gathered as the children started asking the teenagers and adults their names, acting as if they were adults themselves, giving out handshakes as if they did it all the time.

I smiled as I studied those around me. I began heartlessly categorizing them. It was a habit from MT. The one that had charged Taleel looked to be an overgrown fifteen-year-old. His size made him look as if he was eighteen. I was the oldest, or looked like it, although I was far from the biggest. An Asian man with kind features who moved as if he was trained in putting people down took that spot.  Have to get better acquainted, muscle is always useful.

Then there was Yasu, nineteen and deadlier than anyone in the room. She didn’t look like the deadly creature she truly was as I noticed her hand shaking slightly. It stopped, turning to a fist. She must have sensed my stare, a look of disgust crossing her face. I saw past her slim frame and remembered how I’d seen her fight. She straightened and walked into the implantation room without a trace of her previous nervousness.

I was a strategist, and for my skills to work I needed people; it was as simple as that. Before, in MT, I had been given my dream team, but here I had to take these people and turn them into a tool. The implants were the first obstacle, then came building myself a team that I could use to get me out of this prison and make our abductors pay for what they’d done to us, in blood.

So far I had the kids and Rick tentatively on my side. Though there was little I could do with their small bodies, lacking in the majority of the skills I needed. They didn’t know what was going to happen, but I had a grim idea as I looked at Taleel and his enforcers. They’d be getting some of the skills I needed from them through Taleel soon enough.

One by one people filed into the chair room, Rick quieting them as they came out of the showers. It did two things:  it showed that I had Rick, a military person, doing as I said, and it also established a hierarchy, with me at the top. I felt guilty as I was establishing control while these kids were terrified and confused. It was the best time to make a structure. It would give them stability and affirm my position.

I didn’t need them to know me; I just had to have them trust me to do what I told them to do. That meant I was going to have to become Salchar, not just a gamer called Salchar. It was cold reasoning, but I needed to free MT. Guilt made me want to throw up. I was just using these people.

Maybe there’s a way to help everyone. No, I can’t. There’s no surety MT will survive. I need to do this. I hated my own reasoning. I knew that my resolve to just save MT would crumble as I got to know these people.

One of the last people to get nerve ports came out yelling.

“Fuck, that hurt you assholes!” A wiry looking teenager said, his anger boiling over.

“Don’t’ swear in front of the kids,” Rick growled as the other older teenagers gave the guy a harsh look, the younger ones looking slightly confused.

“It’s all your fucking fault,” the wiry one said, pointed to me as he walked up to me.  He had a slim looking build, but his features and hair product put him as someone who was wealthy.

A larger guy joined him as he walked. From their body language I could see what was going to happen, they were two scared young men with too much anger and knew no way to release it but on someone else.

I was the biggest target, and with my own slim build they would probably think that they had me at a disadvantage.

Rick was beside me as I looked for somewhere to run. I only knew how to fight through an interface. I imagined them as two Mechas, but I was having issues as they kept on coming, Wiry getting into my face.  Shit.

“Who even made you the boss anyway? I think we should have a vote on who should be the boss around here,” The wiry one said, looking past me and ignoring me like I wasn’t even worth the attention.

I could see the challenge in his eyes and body, no one did anything. I looked past Wiry, seeing Taleel watching – interested. Hell, it looked like he was enjoying himself! Yasu also looked on with interest, her panther-like stare watching me.

There were two things that I had been made aware of as I joined the professional gaming circuit with Tail. One, the fans were more brutal than football fans (the world version, not American). If their team lost, they would find where you were and beat you up.  There had been more than one incident of team members being killed because they won against another team.

The second was that the gamers, especially those in Asia, were nearly as bad as their fans. For some of them, if they lost a battle then they would have to regain their honor in another battle. For some a battle didn’t need to be fought on just Mecha Assault and instead fought IRL, or in real life.

I’d seen videos of fans trying to attack Samurai’s Revenge. This wasn’t your average team, they were all highly trained in hand to hand and knew how to handle most weapons and use them. One time, when they’d defeated the top Korean team Skriver, the fans had attacked them. Their bodyguards were overwhelmed so they jumped into the fray. Other than bruises and scratches they’d been fine. The opposing fans had run in fear and no one had attacked SR ever again.

“No one,” I said, his face inches from mine. He let a sultry breath of air go as he looked away. I saw the blow coming as he turned viciously, his fist coming up. Pain lanced across my jaw as I stumbled; I used the blow to move around Wiry. I found the bruise was itchy due to the strange atmosphere. Thankfully the pain of breathing had lessened, it must’ve been due to the injections and implants that had been put in my body while in the chair.

I kept Yasu in my peripheral; I didn’t need her seeing my fighting style. If she was like me then she would need a bit of time to see how I held myself, how I struck and defended, giving her the one up on me.

Wiry continued to talk, turning away from me and gesturing to me, as if he had no care that I would fight back.

“Look at the weakling, can’t even fight. Who wants a leader that can’t fight?” A sickly grin on his face as the others cowered away from him, except for the large man that had followed him.

“I don’t,” he said, a feral grin on his face as he clenched his fists. I could see in his eyes he had already looked past beating me. He wasn’t just going to hurt me because he felt he needed to, he wanted to do it because he liked the feeling of power that came from it.

He wasn’t the first bully I’d encountered with the same look on his face.

Anger welled up inside me. I knew what would happen if he got control, everyone would be his slave. I had seen it before. I remembered when I had first entered a family home after I had been found to be gaming in an apartment building with no adult supervision, at the age of fifteen, after having hacked the adoption society and create a fake family to get out of the cursed system.

Look, it’s that kid that wanted to live by himself, the loner. The others in the room sniggered at the nickname. I had the feeling that it was going to stick.

Leave me alone,” I said, putting my few possessions on my bed. The government had taken all of my stuff, saying that they believed I had stolen it. I had found out on my Asus pad within five minutes that they were selling it online; even my characters and basic translation suit.

There was a thud as the boy got off of his bed, and three others followed him.

Did you just tell me what to do, Loner?”  he said, dragging out the word as if to rub it in my face more.

Just leave me alone,” I said, wishing that I could be anywhere else.

You think you’re kind of special, huh?” He said, a smile coming to his lips at my anxiety. He fed off of it, like some kind of vampire.

He pushed me on the ground, his eighteen-year-old strength overpowering my fifteen-year-old skinny frame.

I felt my face screw up. It was so unfair!

He squatted down. “Are you going to cry now?” he said, jutting out his lower lip, making his words sound babyish. I turned away as my eyes burned; his hand snaked out as he viciously brought my face to look at his.

You’re Loner now, Loner. You’ll do everything I say or I’ll kick your ass,” he said, raging building in me, but I was helpless, anger was replaced with fear.

He threw me back down, my head cracking on the floor so hard I was dizzy.

I stood up as I felt fury run through me. I had spent three weeks of hell in that home before I could fake transfer papers out.  I’m not going to be bullied, or let you bully them.  I thought, looking to the kids and the people I’d only just met.

“You want to fight? Alright, I’ll fight; no scratching, biting, gouging or low blows. If the other taps you release,” I said, my hands relaxed and by my sides.

“Look at you and you’re fucking stupid rules. This is real life, not some video game,” he said, making a show of it, jabbing a finger in my forehead and pushing me back.

“Do you want to fight?” My blood was up; I wasn’t looking for anywhere to run now.

“Why would I fight a cunt like you?” His eyes filled with disgust as he curled his lip.

I reacted. My first punch connected with his stomach. His eyes bulged as he backed away. I grabbed his neck, bringing his head down fast. My knee viciously connected with his face. I felt his nose crunch against my knee as his head shot backwards. Blood was already covering his face.

He raised his hands to his face. I needed to put him down. I kicked as he feebly attempted to block. He stumbled backwards as I advanced. I didn’t give him time to recover as my fist connected with his solar plexus. He collapsed to the floor, all of his wind forced out of his body.

The atmosphere and his now inability to breathe turned his pain to panic. His veins bulged he spat blood and his chest refused to inflate.

The bigger guy charged me, driving me into the wall. I cupped my hands, slapping them against his ears as he roared in pain, his hands darting to them. I dropped to the floor. He turned to face me, his hands just leaving his ears. I didn’t have time to think as I stood up. Using the power of my legs and my arm I drove my fist into his chin. He had a blank look on his face as he fell backwards, unconscious. I cradled my hand, which was throbbing, looking at my attackers.

“The hell?” someone said as they came out of the implantation room at the two downed bullies. I walked over to the wiry one, leaning down to check his breathing and put him in the recovery position.

I squatted down so only he could hear me.

“Challenge me anytime, next time maybe you won’t survive,” I felt disgust roll through me, I was the bully now. None of that flickered across my emotionless face, seeing the understanding the wiry’s eyes.

“Why are you helping him? He was going to beat you up. He said so in line,” Yasu asked calmly, clearly trying to disrupt any control I was establishing over the others.

“He’s still human, part of this squad. No matter what happens, we must remember that we are human. The Geneva Convention says that we should care for one another. If we are enemies or not. Life is hope,” I said.

I stood to face everyone as I shook my hand, trying to get rid of the pain from punching big boy in the face.

We moved out of the way of enforcers, waiting for blows as they, instead, they grabbed the two bullies and took them to the chair.

“Might be of some use after all flesh bags,” One of them said, grabbing Wiry’s arm and dragging him. I had a feeling they were used to it.

“Well, Wiry was right about one thing. It does hurt a hell of a lot,” I said, turning to the rest of the squad, rubbing my neck nerve port for emphasis. For now we’d escaped a beating.

Grins appeared on more than a few people’s faces.

“Fun’s over, into formation, two lines!” Taleel barked. All levity was lost as the twin enforcers began beating us back into our positions. It was clear we were seen as no more than reasonably useful cattle in their eyes.

“Included in the implantation package is a kill switch and a pain implant,” Taleel said, every head in the room snapped around to face him as I felt my blood go cold. He looked almost pleased, which I was already feeling didn’t mean good things for me.

“The pain implant is to keep order; if you do not obey then it will be activated. It is similar to the pain prod; it activates the pain centers of your brain and body causing you to feel immense pain while having no physical damage, except on higher levels. The kill switch is used if you disobey orders and are deemed as unacceptable. Your officers will have control of both at all times, keep that always in mind,” he said as if commenting on the o’dourves at a restaurant

I reeled in shock, others reacted more verbally.

“You never told us about a kill switch!” Someone yelled out as some cried and others touched their ports in fear.

“Of course I didn’t!” He pulled out a black box.

I half heard Taleel. If there is a way to activate them, then there is a way to deactivate them.  I just need to find a way.

“I’ll demonstrate,” The next thing I knew I was on the floor crying and screaming as I thrashed in unbearable pain. Pain that made me wish my life would end. It finally stopped after a few seconds. I found myself still crying as I was unable to move from the floor. My nerve endings were on fire, touching anything felt as if I had needles digging into my body.

“We’re going to get you conditioned to dealing with Mecha’s now,” he kicked me as I cried out again, getting to my feet even through the pain. I didn’t want to give him another reason to activate the implant.

We were now dogs with collars that could kill or punish us at anytime.

Another door opened in the wall. The wiry man and his henchman were now looking as they had before they’d come at me. The enforcers put them before me and Rick.

“Alright pups, get moving. Don’t worry, I’ll be back here to give your rears a good zapping if you slow down,” I felt myself shake; Rick and I were at the rear.

“Go into the implantation room, we’ll be fine. It doesn’t hurt at all,” Wiry’s henchman said in a mocking voice in front of me, turning to face me with a sneer on his face. “Watch yourself, buddy; accidents happen all the time in training,”

Oh I will be.  We began running.

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