It was the winter of the year 2029 and a troop of two hundred soldiers was making their way towards a nearby city. Upon closer inspection, one could discern that this motorized team was carrying along a hoard of everyday supplies like food and water. It was obvious that it was on supply acquisition detail.
There were still fifteen days left to the date of departure and everyone was on their final leg of supply gathering. By that time, the base was housing about twelve million people. Of those people, half of them were Asian with the Chinese totaling at five million. There were also 1.3 million civilians from the US, 1.4 million from European countries, and another 1.2 million from Australia and Canada. Rounding up the population were nine thousand or so Africans. The academic community had grown to about nine hundred people, while technical workers such as engineers and smiths were about three thousand in number. They were protected by an army about 1.5 thousand in size.
Thankfully, Noah Two was spacious enough to support such a big population. After all, it had been assembled with worldwide corroboration and had taken twelve years of construction with an initial purpose of space colonization. Calling it a spaceship would be a misnomer; it was more precisely a space city. Its size spanned an exact thirty-five kilometers going one direction and 2.4 kilometers going another with a height of three hundred and seventy meters! It was a momentous mechanical accomplishment, one worthy of being called the ninth modern wonder!
It had a maximum capacity of twenty million people! With enough supplies, it could sustain a population of this size ten years in space!
However, as Yao Yuan's team had found out, it had ironically been abandoned due to its impressive size. Since warping required an immense supply of force, Noah Two's size was a hindrance. This was not even considering the people that it would have on board during warp! That's why Yao Yuan's initial plan was only to gather ten million people, but after five months of rescue and selection, they had ended up with twelve million people. Even though they had tightened their selection standards, they didn't really have the heart to turn people away to their deaths. And so in the end, they decided that they would just have to make do with the excess two million people.
Due to this stringent screening process, these twelve million people in general were citizens of good standing. There were no felons and their general level of education was above average. Counting the scientific and technical community, the strength of this population could very well rival that of the best mid-sized countries of the twenty-first century!
Following this gigantic population was a rise in supply demand. They needed a stock of clean water, food, everyday necessities, and materials that could last them for an extended period in space. Resources were the only things they couldn't skimp on, because these were the things that would be unavailable after they leave Earth. There was no guarantee what they would need in space, and that was why the list of resources had undergone five updates, each time broadening the categories of items they would need. The supply acquisition task force had also increased accordingly from the original fifty people to a staggering four hundred. The one task force had also grown into two, and they had been busy scouring America's major cities for supplies.
The troop we met at the beginning was such an acquisition unit. The two hundred soldiers were recruited from around the globe from forces of different loyalties, but they were all now subordinates to the unit's leader, Guang Zhen. Guang Zhen's motorized convoy had gone through six other cities already and was on the journey to their last stop before returning to base.
Based on the freeway sign above him, Guang Zhen could tell that they were thirty kilometers away from their destination. Based on the speed they were going, it would be dark by the time they entered the city. It had been five months since the initial eruption of chaos, but it was still impossible to tell whether the city they were heading into still had rebel hold-outs. Despite their better discipline and equipment, Guang Zhen wouldn't want to risk any casualties if not truly necessary.
Hence, he made the decision to halt progress and set up camp for the night. Using his walkie-talkie, the order was relayed. "Cease all movement. Units one, two, and three, canvas the area. The rest prepare to set up camp. I repeat…"
His team dispersed into action. An area was quickly zoned out using their vehicles, and within the quarantined area, tents were erected. Before sunset, a temporary encampment was completed by the freeway. After their perimeter had been cleared, the overall atmosphere of alertness quickly devolved into one of cheer.
The dinner for the troop that night was scrumptious. This was because even though lots of shops has already been raided, more concrete storage spaces such as warehouses were safe from vandals. These were treasure troves of valuable supplies. And since some of these perishables wouldn't last the journey back to base, the supply team was never short on upscale food and luxury.
The menu served by the culinary attachment that night was roasted rib-eye with caviar sauce and fruits dessert. Coupled with deluxe cigars that weren't normally available to these members of military, life was fine.
Amiable conversations also streamed back and forth within the encampment. Topics of conversation included their families, loved ones, and their hopes for the future. It was Yao Yuan's intention to primarily recruit army officers with family members remaining to foster a sense of belonging to the community they served. Incidentally, this helped bridge strong bonds between these family men. Knowledge that their service in the military granted their family members preferential treatment, like the fact that they wouldn't need to brave the elements in tents but rather in secured residences, also contributed to this cocoon of camaraderie and joy.
Even Guang Zhen found himself engaged in affable exchanges with his troops.
Between bites, an African soldier next to him commented, "Second lieutenant, everything's nice with the base, but why is everyone's rank so low? For example, I used to be a navy lieutenant but now I'm just an upper class soldier. The huge demotion surely needs some getting used to, and my friend here, Tom, he's now an ordinary soldier even though before this he was a navy sergeant. He almost chewed my ears off griping about this."
Guang Zhen laughed off the question, thinking these men weren't really concerned about frivolous matters such as ranking, but he then realized they were all waiting attentively for his explanation. Clearing his throat, he said, "That's because the whole of our military is only one thousand plus large. How could we have so many sergeants or lieutenants? Imagine a unit where everyone's a sergeant and one lieutenant. Or a unit where the leading field officer has subordinates that ore all sergeants. It's just impractical, so unless there's an expansion, everyone will be demoted a rank. It can't be helped."
Another Caucasian soldier piped up, "Second lieutenant, honestly though, why haven't we expanded? An institution of only 1.5 thousand is disproportionately small when compared to a population of twelve million. Our hands are full with miscellaneous tasks like rescue, patrol, search, and even resolving civilian conflict. A brother of mine, also an upper class soldier, is now tasked with handling civil disputes. He has been complaining to me non-stop, saying that he wishes dearly to be out in the field. So, second lieutenant, maybe we should consider expanding? Or perhaps setting up a police branch?"
Guang Zhen shook his head and replied, "We have to understand that we are the military, and there's jurisdiction. What you're suggesting goes under the executive and legislative sectors. The decision process is out of our hands. The most we can do is submit suggestions. But I did overhear the major saying that there is a plan underway to establish a committee staff to make the military branch's competency system more robust, and that would make expansion necessary."
The few upper class soldiers were excited at hearing this because it carried with it the prospect of promotion, which would bring along with it direct and indirect benefits, and even if it didn't, a higher rank still had a better ring to it than being an upper class soldier.
Suddenly, in the middle of the conversation, a shrill whistle sounded off not far away. Every soldier reflexively readied their weapon, and the upper class soldiers rallied their respective units as they waited for orders from Guang Zhen. Guang Zhen signaled his order and a few squads trailed him as he moved towards the direction of the whistle.
They were quite dumbfounded by what they discovered. It wasn't rebels but hundreds of refugees.
The group was wide-ranging in terms of gender and age, but what was similar were the looks of destitution. Every single of them looked small and frail, hollow and afraid. A few of the younger among them had wooden clubs as weapons, but with some of them barely having the energy to stand, it was hard to see them as threatening.
They were probably attracted by the light and smell of food from the camp. As they walked into the circle of light, they stared dumbly at the gaggle of military before them. Slowly, the dullness in their eyes turned into suspicion, fear, and finally, amazement. Nevertheless, none of them stepped forth or spoke a word; they just stood there, rooted to the ground, staring at the space before them.
The soldiers turned their attention back to Guang Zhen, but they didn't relax their alerted stances. Their weapons were still aimed at the group of unexpected dinner guests.
After a moment of hesitation, Guang Zhen issued an order to an upper class soldier beside him. "Get two units to help them. Erect another camp next to ours and give them some food… After that, you know the protocol; inquire and screen for people that we could bring along."
Gladdened at his second lieutenant's show of mercy, the soldier saluted and carried on with his order.
Under the troops' guidance, the refugees were led to the encampment with Guang Zhen trailing behind silently. While they were in the middle of dispensing food, another trilling screech screamed through the air, which put everyone back on alert once more. A few seconds later, a pinprick of light appeared down the horizon. The halo of light grew in size until they realized it was a hovercraft heading their way.
This made Guang Zhen apprehensive. All these anti-gravity-operated hovercrafts were futuristic vehicles that they had found within Noah Two. There were only thirty of them in total, and they all had been chartered to search for important rescue targets such as researchers or scientists. The fact that one was heading towards them sounded an alarm. Maybe there was trouble back at base?
Without losing much time, Guang Zhen ordered his men to clear an empty space for landing. As the hovercraft hit the ground, a few soldiers rushed out, saluted Guang Zhen, and requested him to join them onboard. They told Guang Zhen that a higher official wished to speak with him through the craft's communication device.
Gripped by anxiety, Guang Zhen rushed aboard the hovercraft. As he picked up the communication receiver, from the other end came Yao Yuan's agitated voice.
"Wong, there is a change of plans. The asteroid had a sudden acceleration this afternoon. The astrophysics team has issued a state of emergency. Their most optimistic evaluation gives us five more days, but their advice is that we leave within the next 24 hours… Tell your team to pack up and prepare for warp, which is scheduled at six P.M tomorrow. But you take the hovercraft and return here immediately. We have a Black Star mission, and it's related to Zhang Heng and Ying…"
"When they were searching for Zhang Heng's father around China, they were ambushed by a foreign army. The entire search party was wiped out except for Ying, who barely escaped alive, and Zhang Heng, who was captured. The enemy party somehow knew about a spaceship being in our possession and demanded that they be brought along! We shall not be intimidated by such a despicable request!
I've called the remaining Black Stars to gather and I need you to lead them and another five hundred soldiers to dismantle their base of operations! Take the hovercraft and electro-magnetized ammunition and bring Ying and Zhang Heng safely back to the base before six P.M tomorrow! We shall not be deterred now!"