Chapter 296: The Brothers Meet

    Chapter 296: The Brothers Meet

    These were real men! Tan Lingyun's heart was full of admiration for the young soldiers. At the same time, a face swam up to the forefront of her memory, a face she'd never actually met. However, she'd lost count of how many times it appeared when she closed her eyes.

    Gao Lei lead them to their quarters, which were nicer than expected. In fact, they were nicer than the NEU dorms as well. Though only around eight square meters, each student had their own room. It had a bed, a bathroom, a cabinet, and a desk. Everyone had their own space, and that alone was a very pleasant surprise.

    The rooms, like the structure itself, were entirely composed of galvanized steel and were linked one to the other. There were about five levels, connected by ladders.

    Gao Lei turned to Lan Jue. "These are the barracks. You'll be staying here for the duration of your visit. If I may, Drillmaster Lei Feng, when is your training set to begin?"

    Lan Jue nodded. "It's about four o'clock local time, yes? We'll begin tomorrow."

    "Simple meals will be provided by conveyor belt to every room," Gao Lei said in response. "Please make sure to remain in the barracks unless training. There are many restricted areas around the base, tell your students that if they trespass they do so at their own risk."

    With his instructions delivered, the soldier turned on his heels and left without so much as a wave of his hand.

    In truth Gao Lei couldn't understand why the brass had permitted these kids to stay here. They all looked sickly and unsteady. Would they be able to train with the soldiers? And then this 'Lei Feng' guy with his ridiculous mask. The whole thing was a farce.

    But following orders was the duty of every soldier. He didn't make the rules, he just executed them.

    Tan Lingyun and Wang Hongyuan didn't need to wait for Lan Jue's instruction. They were already in the process of assigning rooms to their charges, and telling them to rest up.

    Long flights were always exhausting, especially without any sort of crew cabin. And then, of course, there was the g-force training.

    Even the students' excitement over training with these heroic men wasn't enough to keep them awake. The moment their heads touched their pillows, the world went dark. Before long every one of them was comatose.

    Lan Jue's next command was directed to Xiuxiu. "Inject each of them with a nutritive solution. It'll help them recover from the fatigue."

    His long-time Amazon looked apprehensive. "Boss, aren't you afraid this is too much? They've suffered through quite a lot in this last month."

    Lan Jue smiled behind his mask. "A person's potential is almost limitless. You know what I'm talking about, you remember my training."

    Xiuxiu nodded, then left with Mika to perform the injections.

    Lan Jue exited the barracks. It was also the first time he'd visited this famed place, but he didn't share the novel excitement of his students.

    He's lived here for ten years! He started as a private, and now he's actually a vice admiral. To rise through the ranks so quickly outside of wartime was spectacular.

    Of course, what price Lan Qing paid for it, only he knows.

    Lan Jue examined the meal they were offered. They were vacuum-sealed bags, MREs, with a thick and unappetizing contents. The scentless sludge was packed full of everything a body needed - assuming you could swallow it down.

    Conditions on this planet were not ideal for habitation, which meant there was a spartan simplicity required to make it work. Life here wasn't only war and preparation, but it was still more than most could suffer.

    The moment Lan Jue stepped out from the barracks, two soldiers blocked his path. Laser rifles were raised and trained on him.

    "You are not permitted to leave the barracks without orders," the soldier on the left nearly growled.

    Lan Jue nodded, but did not move. "I'm waiting for someone."

    The two men lowered their weapons, and returned to their watch. They were like statues, standing in resolute silence on either side of the door.

    Lan Jue remained as well, with similar posture to the young soldiers. Silence prevailed as the drillmaster waited.

    The soldiers paid him no mind in the beginning. But as time passed, and no one came, they began to grow curious. Half an hour crawled by.

    Life on An Lun was exceedingly lonesome. Any outside visitor - aside from those they were meant to kill - was an interesting development. In fact there had never been visitors such as these, so far as most of the soldiers could remember.

    The Iron Army didn't accept new recruits. Soldiers were chosen from a pool of servicemen who'd been on active duty for at least three years. Only after selection were they allowed to begin training here.

    Nor was the treatment here stellar, and yet there was no shortage of warriors desperate for a chance to join. Three years was the minimum required tour, but no one stayed less than ten years. It was considered a disgrace to leave before then, not to mention you would be ineligible for the Mark.

    Today's medical knowledge has extended life considerably, so ten years wasn't a life-long commitment. But once you rotated out of An Lun, you returned to civilian life a hero of the Alliance with a bright future ahead.

    Every year business moguls would send people this way as veterans left the service. They would attempt to ply them by any means necessary. Some would take the offers, and others would remain as career soldiers. Those who remained were fast-tracked for officer positions.

    But every year, the number of young men and women who reach that coveted retirement stage were only in the double digits. Most of them bore debilitating injuries.

    So what was it about this place that gave it such unique charm? No one could say. But for the Iron Army, this place was their pride and joy.

    The clanking sound of metal on metal drew Lan Jue's attention. In the distance, a figure approached.

    The two soldiers who'd been curiously waiting for Lan Jue's friend to arrive were shocked when they discovered who it was. Even for soldiers here, seeing this one was a rare treat. They snapped to attention, and gave a flawless salute.

    The figure stopped a few paces away and returned their salute. He would not deny them the respect, despite their low rank.

    "Come with me." The three curt words were directed at Lan Jue.

    The Demon Drillmaster complied, nodding as he fell in behind the man. This time the soldiers didn't dare block his way. How could they? He was leaving with the An Lun Supersoldier, their Vice Admiral - Prometheus!

    Who was this golden-masked man, where the Vice Admiral himself would come to get him?

    The guardsmen weren't permitted to speak, but everything they wished to say could be expressed with a look. They saw their confusion and curiosity mirrored in the others' eyes.

    Lan Jue watched his brother, with his straight spine and chilly persona. He was bemused to discover that these soldiers were all essentially cut from his mold.

    A soldier was also a representation of their commanding officer!

    A verti-car waited fro them outside the barracks. It was not a fancy transport, and was fitted with only what a soldier might need. Lan Qing swung in to the driver's seat, and Lan Jue took shotgun.

    As the doors closed, the two brothers were cut off from the outside world.

    "I've prepared a month's training already," Lan Qing's quiet voice assured.

    Lan Jue nodded, looking over his uniformed older brother. He didn't know why, but suddenly he felt a wave of sadness pass through him.

    Lan Qing, perhaps sensing the emotive change in his sibling, looked his way. "Have you spoken with that one from Skyfire Avenue?"

    Lan Jue knew his brother was referring to Thunderclap, known to the denizens of the Avenue as the Driver. The one with the yin to his yang.

    Lan Jue nodded again. "I've been good friends with him for a long time. Once this business with the students is finished, perhaps he and I will start joint training. He's a racer, though, and I believe he'll be leaving for the West soon to participate in a competition."

    Lan Qing's brows furrowed. "It's been a long time since you've been back. When do you think you'll have time to visit home?"

    Lan Jue felt a sharp pang in his chest. A confused and complicated look flit across his eyes. "Have you been back?"

    "Last year," he answered. "Dad's doing well."

    Lan Jue opened his mouth, but hesitated a moment before speaking.

    "Did he mention me?"

    Lan Qing shook his head. "I tried to. I saw disappointment in his eyes. I actually called him not long ago and let him know what was going on with you. He didn't answer."

    Lan Jue reacted by sputtering a bitter laugh. "Really! I'm a disappointment."

    Lan Qing let the silence hang in the car for a moment. "You should go visit."

    Lan Jue only nodded.

    "So if these guys do well enough in your training course, brother, do you think there's a chance for them to join the Iron Army?" Lan Jue asked.

    Lan Qing shook his head without giving it too much thought. "No. We can't buck tradition. If they want to come to An Lun they need the requisite service experience. Then there are all the assessments and tests. Anyway, do you think these kids are actually interested in being soldiers?"

    Lan Jue was silent for a moment. "I can't say if they want it, but I can sense the tenacity in them. The things I've put them through can't be much different than what you do here. You just wait and see."

    "You should know, there are no exceptions here," Lan Qing assured. "You've only been permitted by special approval. I'm guessing the Avenue must have been involved to make this happen."
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