Lan Jue didn’t say anything, and asked no questions. He immediately trotted over to his brother and followed him as Lan Qing left.
Before long a mag-lev car appeared parked nearby. They both got in, and started for the bowels of the camp deep underground.
Eventually they reached their destination – a metal door set by itself far from anything else. Lan Qing exited the car and stood before it as a beam of light swept over his body.
The doors opened with a groan of protest. The brothers entered.
They walked in to a simple room which, like the rest of An Lun’s military base, was mostly metal. Every inch of the place was densely covered in instruments and computer screens. A couple workers were busily toying with the equipment. They all stopped, and snapped to attention as Lan Qing entered.
The vice admiral returned their salute. Without a word, they sat back down and continued their enigmatic work. Lan Qing made his way to one screen in particular, and Lan Jue followed at his heels.
“We’ve already prepared all the mecha suits for your students. Gao Lei is bringing the arm bands by personally.” Lan Qing said.
Lan Jue answered with a nod. “Thank you.”
His older brother waved dismissively. “No need for that. Your students’ due reward, nothing more. Your people for exceeded expectations, a rare thing these days.”
His words were simple and his tone indifferent, but from his mouth is meant quite a lot.
A small smile crept on to Lan Jue’s face. “How could my students be anything less than spectacular? You just commanded an army, and I had a few kids.”
“Don’t be so self-satisfied,” Lan Qing replied. Lan Jue stared back, at a loss after his brother’s chastising tone.
Lan Qing turned on the monitor. A few button presses, and a recording of their simulated battle appeared on the screen. It was showing from the beginning.
As they watched, a series of changes swept across the battlefield. From the staggering charge of the Iron Army, to Lan Jue’s surprise assault leading Delta squad, they watched the fight unfold.
“Why am I watching this,” Lan Jue asked.
Lan Qing stared at the screen with his arms crossed. “We’re looking for problems. You and your students did very well this time. In training, your students do very well especially on an individual basis. As soldiers, though, they’re far from adequate. Where this a real battle, the Iron Army would certainly have come up victorious, despite suffering heavy loses.”
Lan Jue narrowed his eyes as he watched the recording. He spoke, his voice thick with challenge and irritation. “You wanna try it again? I never took you for a sore loser.”
Lan Qing fixed his brother with an even, hard stare. He reached out and pressed a few keys. The image of the screen magnified so every detail was apparent.
As he watched, he saw dozens of black figured darting across the screen. They were An Lun soldiers – rather, a simulation of troop movements, and as Lan Jue watched his smug expression faded.
Among them he saw Gao Lei, who was rushing to meet Tan Lingyun. In the end he’d been defeated, unable to break free from Tan Lingyun’s indelible frontal assault. She’d cleared the path for victory by smashing that part of the line.
However, as he watched there was a change. Gao Lei wasn’t defeat, but perished together with Tan Lingyun in a ball of flame.
Lan Qing’s quiet voice explained while Lan Jue watched. “Each Bloodlust Warsuit comes equipped with a self-destruct system. It varies with each individual, and can only be initiated by the pilot. For pilots without Disciplines, when the energy flow reaches critical mass, they press the button. For Adepts, the suit’s own energy and their Disciplines combine to extend the force and blast radius. When their core detonates, the resulting blast in three times stronger than the pilot’s individual strength. Your assistant wasn’t weak, certainly, but wasn’t suited for command. She took out Gao Lei, but sacrificed her squad in the process. She failed to protect her comrades-in-arms, despite her status as an eighth-ranked Adept. This is not behavior befitting a soldier. If Gao Lei had employed the self-destruct sequence during their encounter, there would be an eighty-seven percent chance he’d have taken her with him. The remaining thirteen percent sees her alive, but rendered combat ineffective. That’s a one-hundred percent chance you lost your squad leader and all her soldiers.”
Lan Jue watched, though incredulity was clear on his features. “But would Gao Lei have chosen the right moment? After all, he’d be giving his life.”
Lan Qing answered by knocking his fist on the desk. He spoke to the soldier on his left. “In the last five years how much of our total losses have come from self-sacrifice?”
The soldier shot to his feet and saluted. “Vice Admiral! In the last five years, self-destruction has accounted for eighty-four point six-three percent of total casualties.”
Lan Jue looked at the soldier in surprise.
What did this mean? That more than eighty-percent of the An Lun soldiers chose death when their mechas suffered critical damage. Once that decision was made, there was no going back – no escape. What Lan Qing was trying to impress upon his brother, was that Gao Lei – in fact, almost all of his soldiers – would have taken his students with them if this were a real fight.
“This is too cruel!” Lan Jue was not a pacifist. On the contrary, he had significant blood on his hands from past battles. A few times he’d been willing to give his own life in the course of a fight, much like on Taihua.
But to require that of his students? He simply couldn’t imagine it.
“Cruel?” Lan Qing sniffed. “There is no such thing in war. Only victory, and defeat. Had Gao Lei chosen self-sacrifice, your assistant would have been lost. His remaining forces would have captured the advantage, and maybe even gone on to win their skirmish without any further losses. One life for twenty – it’s simple math. These twenty soldiers could then go one to support their brothers fighting other enemies. The other engagements would end similarly. Your students are strong physically, but do they have the same strength of will, strength of character? After seeing their friends lost to even just three kamikaze attacks, their morale will have been completely eroded. Ten, and you students would be routed. I’d have needed only thirty percent of the soldiers I brought to secure victory.”
Lan Jue listened carefully, but internally he was conflicted. He felt like he knew nothing.
“But they’re people, not machines!” Lan Jue looked at his older brother fiercely.
Lan Qing, as always, remained indifferent. “Alas, that’s what the Iron Army is – machines of flesh and blood. If you can’t give yourself to the cause, then you aren’t really a warrior of blood and iron. Officers, commanders, vice admirals… we all have this self-destruct sequence installed. Coeus, is equipped. By the time we join the Iron Army and step in to the Warsuit, we are ready to give our lives for the Alliance. What your students faced today wasn’t the real Iron Army. It was like fighting us with our arms and legs tied. Watch!”
He pressed another button. The video slowed to a crawl.
Lan Jue’s keen observations revealed what his brother wanted to show. One by one, as the soldiers’ suits neared annihilation, they brought their right hands to their waist and fumbled for something.
“That’s where the self-destruct signal is initiated. Even in an exercise you can see them, unconsciously reaching for it. You know we’ve carefully calculated how many it would take to destroy a god-ranked pilot. How many would it take to end a ninth-ranked Adept? Confidential military information, of course, and exceedingly important. The Iron Army routinely suffers very little damage in a fight, but our death rates are sky high. Now you know why this is.”
Lan Jue was well and truly stunned. He’d wracked his brain, pulled out all the stops to help his students win victory over the Iron Army. In the end, though, it had all been a game.
Lan Qing started the recording over. “But, if you left those kids under my command, accompanied by a trained combat unit, things would be different. Of your five groups, only one met the grade.”
The video cut to Charlie squadron, led by Tang Xiao. They watched as he defended his team through the conflict, then rush in to secure victory.
“Deployment here was well thought out. Your officer is strong and competent. Clear-headed. The defensive advance caused their enemies to give ground. They had no recourse but to take to the air. They proceeded to wipe the enemy forces without casualties. This, is the bright spot among your chosen teams. This student is qualified. The others are unacceptable, yourself among them.”
“You aren’t far off, but still inferior. The reason being, you were too focused on me.” Lan Qing had no qualms underlining Lan Jue’s faults. “Your tactics were reactionary, revolving around how I paced the battle. You were locked in to one objective and left the rest of the field to their own devices. If you’d have micro-managed better, losses would be significantly lower. But your greatest fault lies in deployment. You students are all Adepts, and not weak. Why, then, didn’t you arrange them by specialty? In this way you did well with this team, though even then their full power wasn’t accessed.”