Chapter three – The chain of command
‘… promise you won’t come out, no matter what you might hear!’
‘NO, Ciel! Let him go!’
The scream still rang in my ears when I woke up and opened my eyes a bit. My pajamas were damp from the cold sweat that had dripped down my back during the nightmare. It already was a familiar feeling. The first few years had been the worst: I’d woken up screaming and had not been able to calm down until someone gave me a sleeping sedative. It had gotten better over time, and now the hurt from the nightmare had turned into a mere hollow feeling in my chest. The horrifying images from that day were locked in a very dark corner of my mind. It had not been easy, and I’d had to shut out almost all of my emotions to keep them from returning to the surface.
I slowly rose up and pushed the blankets off of my body. The uniform I’d cast off the other evening was still hanging over the wooden chair in the corner of my barrack. I could hear sounds coming from outside; walking footsteps, muttering voices and the noise of morning activity. It had to be just after sunrise.
That meant that I was running late.
I quickly took off my pajamas and changed into the uniform, pulling a comb through my dark hair in the process. A shower could wait until later; right now, I had to make haste and head to the place I was expected to be. Just like the other higher-ups, the colonel did not like to be kept waiting. That’s something I’d learnt over the years. I probably had only a few more minutes to spare before he’d get mad and degrade me four ranks on the spot.
I tied my shoelaces together and rose up again, walking towards the front door. I was there in a few steps; my barrack was only a few square meters big. Others complained about the little space they had, but for me, it was fine this way. Sleep came to me easier in a small room than in one of the giant sleeping barracks, where there was more room but also many other soldiers to share that space with.
Pushing the door open, the scent of roast bread entered my nostrils. A small group of men had occupied the iron bowl between the barracks, and had started a campfire. Two of them were holding bread on sticks in the flames, careful not to burn the bread. They were having a loud, happy conversation until one of the lot, a dark-haired bloke with greenish eyes, noticed me walking past.
He poked his neighbor on the shoulder and nodded towards me. Their conversation came to a halt almost immediately, and the group cast glances at me from the corners of their eyes. Some were curious, others disapproving and the look on the green-eyed man’s face was just plain hostile. I pretended not to notice any of them and walked past, not giving them a second glance.
‘I can’t believe they’ve let women apply for the special forces,’ one of them mumbled under their breath as I passed. ‘I mean, what is wrong with this country?’
‘She could just be a regular,’ another voice muttered.
‘A regular at this exact place, just before our briefing? I don’t think so,’ the first voice responded. ‘It’s a disgrace to the army.’
‘I don’t care as long as they don’t place me in the same squad as her. Weaklings. Can’t depend on any of ‘em when the going gets tough.’
The men were still mumbling among themselves when I turned the corner and left the grounds, heading for the building next to the barracks. It was still early, but the sun was already high up in the morning sky. Terrain wagons with supplies were being let in and out of the grounds, with soldiers carefully checking everyone’s paperwork. They could never be too careful, after all.
I made my way past the ruckus and coursed straight to the army headquarters: a big, well-maintained building in the middle of the base. My gaze fell on a single man in uniform standing next to the front doors, looking left and right as if he was searching for someone. I recognized him right away. It was the Colonel, and he had obviously been standing there for a while.
‘There you are, Raven,’ the Colonel said, as soon as he noticed me. ‘I was starting to think you weren’t going to show up anymore.’
‘My apologies, Colonel,’ I said, saluting him stiffly. He dismissed me right away, waving his hand in a sign to look up at him.
‘We have much to discuss, now that you’re here. Accompany me to the briefing room. We have about twenty minutes before they arrive, so we need to be swift.’
I nodded and followed him inside.
‘Thank you all for being here today. It is my personal pleasure to have such talented men sit here before me.’
I put my hands behind my back, watching from the shadows as the Colonel took charge of the briefing. It was the first official gathering of the newest Special Task Force, one that had taken a long while to assemble. But the long and tedious recruiting had finally ended and, according to statistics, the men that were gathered in this room belonged to the amy’s finest.
There were four of them in total. A very small number compared to the size of a normal squad. But this was not intended to be like a normal squad, so it was acceptable.
‘I believe you have all been informed about the official purpose of this task force,’ the Colonel continued. ‘Now allow me to fully explain exactly what the threat is that you will be facing.’
He nodded to a person standing at the back of the room, next to a small projector. With a single press on the power button, the light screen hanging on the wall behind the Colonel was lit, showing a single picture. The four-person crowd started mumbling amongst themselves.
‘So it’s true,’ one of them, a young man with white skin and light-brown hair, said. ‘They really are on the rise.’
He was frowning; his eyes were narrowed and obviously hostile against the thing that was displayed on the screen.
‘Yes. While the cause is unknown, these things have dramatically increased in numbers over the last thirty years. They are incredibly dangerous to our civilization, and there have already been several serious accidents. Until now, the combination of the government and the military has been able to cover everything up, but just barely. The people are getting suspicious and those creatures are starting to get more and more bold in their attacks. We, the army, have to put a stop to them before the situation gets any more out of hand. That is why you have been recruited into this Special task Force. This is your true mission.’
‘Killing vampires?’ a man in the back said. He was slightly taller than the rest, with curly hair and a somewhat mischievous twinkle in his eyes. ‘Won’t the things from the stories be enough to take care of those things? You know, sunlight and garlic?’
His comment was met with a few snickers from the other soldiers gathered. The Colonel, too, smiled for a second, but then his expression went back to serious.
‘I can understand why you would think that. Unfortunately things aren’t that simple. Let me tell you that the things you call vampires are from a certain image that history and fiction have created into your minds. They are not like the ones in the romans, they do not fear the sun and garlic or holywater does not appear to have any effect on them.’
‘So to answer the question, all you’ll get are tanned vampires with bad breath,’ the younger-looking man said. Another snicker went through the crowd.
‘Do not underestimate them,’ the Colonel said, this time without a trace of humor in his voice. ‘These vampires are ruthless killing machines. They do not feel compassion for anything. humans are nothing but prey to them. In the last two years, they have already launched attacks on three hundred residential buildings throughout the continent, none of which has left any survivors. We do not know why and how their numbers are increasing so dramatically, and it is not our task to find out. Our task is to make sure not a single one of those things survives. If we do not put a stop to them soon, there might not be a future left for any of our race.
I ask you this now. You know of the risk, and the danger. Are you prepared?’
Any smiles left on the men’s faces had long since disappeared. All of them looked up at the Colonel, with dedication shining in their eyes. They were dead serious, aware of the huge responsibility that rested on their shoulders, the fatal risk that they were about to take. All of them had different reasons for being here, but at the same time they were joined together under a single purpose. A single calling.
‘I will not say any more,’ the Colonel nodded, slowly looking down on their faces. ‘Welcome to the Special Task Force, gentlemen. Now let me introduce you to your squad’s Captain.’
The Colonel turned his head and gestured to me over his shoulder, telling me to come forward. I did as he asked, finally emerging out of the shadows and into the light of the projector. The group of men recognized me: I could see it in their eyes. They were baffled, although most of them regained their composure quite quickly. One soldier, however, was more than just surprised. The guy with the green eyes I’d seen before was clearly not happy. With a frown that almost made his eyebrows join together, he was slowly shaking his head in disbelief. I placed myself right in front of the projection screen and cast them a long, strict look, before finally saying:
‘My name is Raven Adams. I’ll be Captain of your squad for the next four years.’
Exactly five minutes after that, the briefing had ended. With the Colonel’s permission and a list of names and background information, I had left the building right after my future subordinates and retreated into the barracks once again, planning to take a shower. My hair felt greasy, and the nightmare hadn’t done my hygiene level any good. Luckily, the rest of my morning schedule was empty, and I could take as long as I wanted to rinse myself. The showers weren’t far away. I’d stop by my barrack first, to get everything I needed.
However, when I arrived back at the sleeping quarters, my future squad was already there. They’d occupied the same iron bowl that they’d picked earlier, only without the fire this time. Mumbling and foul looks in my direction showed that the men absolutely weren’t satisfied with their situation.
‘… And she should lead us into battle?’ the green-eyed man said, so loud that it was impossible not to hear. ‘She’s barely in her twenties! You can’t get more rookie than that!’
‘Shh, not so loud,’ the man with the curly hair mumbled. ‘She’ll hear you.’
‘So what? Let her hear us! You can’t possibly be happy with this, can you?!’
‘No. But she’s still our captain.’
My eyes narrowed as I listened in to their conversation. The name list in my pocket was screaming to be read. I swiftly took it out in the open and searched for the two men talking; they were found almost right away. The curly-haired one was called Tybalt, and Derek was the name of the guy that was obviously looking for a fight.
I folded the list again and put it back in my pocket. Then, with firm steps, I approached the talking men.
‘What do you want?’ Derek sneered. It would be so easy to have snapped back at him for that welcome, but I held my tongue.
‘Gentlemen. I couldn’t help but hear you talking about me. Is there something the matter?’
‘There’s nothing,’ the younger-looking bloke said, facing away from me.
‘I’d like you to look me in the eyes when you speak to me, Yurick Malcom. And as long as you serve under me, you will refer to me as “captain” or “m’am”.’
‘Fine… captain,’ he slowly responded, looking me straight in the eyes this time. My gaze was met with a wall of resistance from his side.
This was going to take a long time.
‘That will do for now,’ I nodded, already turning around. Then Derek spoke up again and I froze dead in my tracks.
‘That ain’t gonna do at all! You’re no captain of mine, so don’t expect me to ever call you that. In fact, don’t expect me to take any order of yours, women.’
I slowly exhaled twice, before finally turning around again. He had risen up from his seat, his fists clenched and clearly defying me.
‘Say that again, soldier.’
‘I’ll gladly!’ he spat. ‘You don’t belong in the special forces, you don’t even belong in the army! That’s a man’s job! You’re barely even an adult, and you look like I could snap you in half with one hand. Why would you think I would follow any orders from a women?! I’d rather become captain myself! There’s no way a weakling like you would ever have the right to be-‘
His sentence was cut short as I instantly covered the distance between me and him, knocking a chair to the side and slamming his head to the ground with a single strike. The other men gasped and jumped backwards, away from the fight. Derek had barely picked himself up again when I kicked him in the stomach and grabbed his throat, slowly lifting him up from the ground. I could hear him sputtering and gasping for air as I pressed his airvents closed.
‘Did you know? In the Special Forces, disloyalty is a crime punishable by death,’ I slowly said, lifting the man above my head. Derek struggled and waved his arms around as his body slowly suffocated; his skin turned purple. From the corner of my eye, I saw the others gawk at me with eyes almost falling out of their head.
‘If you’re that eager to throw your life away, I’ll gladly give you a hand…’
Finally, just before Derek would stop moving, I let go. He fell on the ground with a painful thud and stayed down, coughing heavily.
‘Do any of you share the opinion of mister Mitchell?’ I asked, calmly turning around to the rest of my squad. The young man named Yurick flinched and shook no, while the only man I hadn’t learned the name of yet opened his mouth.
‘Easy, captain. We’re sorry. No complaints here, okay?’
‘Good. I’ll trust your word on that.’
And with that, I left them on their own. Without casting them a second glance, I walked away and turned the corner, just as Derek picked himself back up from the ground.
I looked back over my shoulder to see Tybalt staring back at me, his face filled with disbelief. He had his mouth open and seemed like he wanted to say something to me, but didn’t know what words to use.
‘You… lifting like that is just… it’s just not… what kind of a monster are you?’
His question was followed by a long, cold silence. I kept my mouth closed and looked at the four men that I was supposed to train, really looking at them for the first time.
‘I am a vampire hunter.’
And then I turned around and walked away, this time without anyone calling me back.