As she sat in her corner of the temporary command center and heard the accounts of the battle as they were laid to her, Claire started to feel quite nauseous. Mister Zhou, Miss Epstein, Miss Nguyen, and so many others, dead. Some of the leaders survived, either by sheer luck or because they hid while the traitor militia and government soldiers stormed into the main base in the mountains, but they were still under medical care.
Claire kept staring blankly at the table in front of her while the news kept coming. A young man who had served as a communications technician until now was laying them down to her. He had told her his name, but honestly Claire couldn’t remember it. She herself still had a lot to cope with.
Mister Zhou, and all the others…
The UEC offensive against the core of the rebellion in the Belus region had failed. But part of the rebel ambush force had betrayed their comrades and joined the governmental forces. As a result, what should have been a clear victory for the miners ended up with both sides incurring terrible losses, although the rebels still managed to stand their ground.
On the other front, inside the tunnels of the Enuma Mountains, some militia fighters had opened the doors to what was described as a commando team, who wreaked havoc inside the base. When they were done in causing enough confusion, the MAVs came in, and the few defenders found themselves in the fight of their lives.
Still, the rebels managed to resist, and as soon as the attackers were informed of the failure of the main offensive, they also pulled out to lick their wounds and assess the result of the operation.
In the end, the rebels won the day, but the cost had been terrible. While the enemy could take a few of those defeats, the rebels couldn’t possible survive if they kept winning in those terms.
“We did manage to capture a few salvageable enemy MAVs,” the tech said, apparently oblivious to the fact that Claire hadn’t truly heard half of his report. “We may have them repaired and ready for combat in a few days if we divert personnel from repairing-“
Claire raised a hand and the young man’s voice trailed off.
“It’s enough,” she told him.
“It’s quite the situation,” Xoán declared. He was leaning against the wall, arms crossed and expression grim.
“We’re screwed, that’s what it is.” Mayor Izzet was sitting across Claire. His expression was hopeless, and it was obvious that he was panicking.
“And what do you intend to do, then?”
“Do? There is no ‘do!’ We’ve lost! If they come back at us they will kill us. We need to surrender.”
Sitting beside him was Eva Gotha, the blonde Head of Logistics. Until that point she had been content with keeping the gears turning while the others made the important decisions. But with Faizan now trying to contain the desperation of the civilian population back in the colonies and everyone else dead, there was no one left to be there to discuss the next course of action.
“Maybe we can negotiate our terms,” she muttered.
“There will be no negotiations,” Xoán retorted. “If we surrender, they will have us killed and our people turned into little more than slaves, or worse. At this point, there is no way back.”
“You can’t be serious.”
Gotha seemed to be about to say something, but stood silent. Everyone did. At this point, Claire finally looked up from the table and across the small compartment, to the only other person who seemed to have a sliver of resolution left. As her eyes and Xoán’s locked, Claire knew he was thinking about the same thing she was.
How long ago did it happened? Just a couple months? It felt like years. Sometimes it was as if she had never existed.
But when she was alone, she could feel it. The void inside her.
Terra had died, sold her life to oppose the encroaching subjugation. Just like the others who had fallen that day.
Slowly, Claire rose from her chair.
“Claire?” Xoán queried. “Anything in mind?”
“We cannot give up,” Claire said. “We have come too far, and lost too much.”
In the faces of those around her, Claire saw different emotions. Despair, fear, and some flickering hope. They needed to be pushed in the right direction, but lacked the initiative, or the energy, to do it themselves.
“We cannot win, Claire!” Izzet cried. “We were curb stomped out there!”
“Then we’ll need to take Mister Zhou’s advices more seriously. We need to choose our allies better. Kut and Siris have sacrificed as much as we did, so their people can be trusted for the most part, but we cannot say the same from others.”
“I’m sorry to be that guy,” Xoán intervened, “but we’ll also need to formalize our hierarchy if we want to go on. We cannot be an amateur outfit anymore.”
Gotha shook her head. “We are miners. I really doubt our people will want to become militarized. They’ll want to maintain their identity.”
“But we’ll have to make concessions.”
Claire agreed with Xoán on that. She tapped the tabletop while she organized her ideas. “We will make concessions. We must, so we can survive. But we won’t forget who we are, either.”
“Nice words,” Izzet said. “But if we are to keep fighting this war, we’ll need a direction.”
“What you mean is that we’ll need a leader.” Xoán’s eyes shifted back to Claire. “Do you want the job?”
Claire felt her heart skip a beat. She wasn’t qualified enough, not by a longshot. On the other hand, people seemed to listen to her.
Even so, she wanted to contest Xoán, tell him how wrong he was. But she didn’t want to hear the remaining rebel leaders squabbling and losing time when there was none to be lost.
The one real way was forward, that much was obvious. Thus, she said the only thing that seemed to make sense at the moment.
“For now. Until we find someone better.”