4 of 5 | Chapter 15


The building had only one floor situated at about three quarters of the structure's height. It was solely accessible by stairs from the ground level, and by elevator from above. When the ASEC delegates exited the elevator at the meeting point, all of the invited candidates were panting from their climb. The floor was rough, useable, but still in an unfinished state. Not single column broke the vast expanse of the bare floor.

A group of exactly fifty-five people waited, standing scattered throughout the space. They watched uneasily as Sean Steersman stopped in front of them, accompanied by a company of robot guards and some unknown figures. None of this served to ease the tension.

Murinko had brought three of his men and the group was rounded off by Trenerry and Karen.

Karen stepped forward.

“Good morning, my name is Karen Colella. I'm sure it came as a surprise to you all yesterday when you received notice of this meeting. The message gave you a short and succinct summary of what this is about, but now I would like to elaborate,” began Karen. “After November 13, significant changes took place in the global balance of power that have caused hairline cracks in an already delicate stability. The ASEC has recognized that it contributed to the turn of events. We're now at the point where we can no longer allow such conflicts, especially in light of the devastating weaponry that nations have long had at their disposal. We can no longer turn our heads and ignore this frightening situation. Therefore, we are taking an active role in protecting the future by establishing a defense corps that will allow us to defend all that we consider important, and any who stand in need of protection.

You are among the first to be invited to commit yourselves to achieving the appropriate readiness to participate in maintaining global stability. Using the tools we will entrust you with, you must be able to find the means to carry out the duties you will be given, either with fleets of fighters, battalions of soldiers, or simply with the mental resources you have available in your own minds. If you meet the requirements, you will be honed into the finest and most efficient operational experts the world has ever seen to represent peace, humanity and common sense above all else,” Karen stopped and looked to her right.

Trenerry stepped froward.

“My name is Oliver Trenerry, I am the leader of communications at ASEC. The program you'll be taking part in is unique, as is the goal for which it was created. You need to know that by accepting this training you're opting in for the entirety of your lifetime. If you stay here, you will remain here. If you succeed in becoming an ASEC commander, you will gain honor, respect and prestige, but in return you will be expected to give utter dedication, the highest degree of discipline and unparalleled strength of mind. This will be your life!” Trenerry emphasized each statement to make them all understand what it was they were committing to. “One more thing. The prerequisite for becoming commander is having completed a PrEUST degree with outstanding results, majoring in an area of science or technology. As commanders, you have to have an understanding of your area of expertise to the highest level.” Trenerry paused, glaring at them. “So, take your studies seriously if you haven't done so till now, and become masters in your field. Please, meet your training leader, Chief Commander Murinko, whose job is to ensure that everyone here gives their best performance.”

The commander stepped forward, moving closer to the candidates so that he could see their eyes clearly.

“Welcome to the ASEC Commander Training Base. This proposed project can be summed up extremely quickly. It will consist of two parts: training and evaluation … repeatedly. Congratulations to those who are here now. You have passed the first commander evaluation, a selection based on the consideration that you all have the fundamental skills and qualities to be leaders. You were selected for the program on this basis, but that is still not enough for you to remain here and become commanders, because if you do not have the will and the desire to be the best, your presence here will be dispensed with. I can guarantee to each and every one of you that further screening and evaluation will not be so painless.” Murinko spoke calmly and without color. “This is not to scare you! Pain will be an integral part of your training, like an unstoppable force, a friend you're thrilled to have with you, but at the same time wish into the darkest depths of hell. If you haven't yet felt pain within your minds, then you're about to have your first taste of it, because the toughest part of your body … will be your mind.” He pointed to his temple. “During the training, we will evaluate your progress in two areas: character and spirit. We will deal with the latter in order to increase your capacity and endurance. Although your physical fitness is not strictly relevant, your brain will be challenged indirectly through your bodies. Remember, however, that even those who have the physical stamina and strength will be found unsuitable if they are unable to consistently stay focused and bear the repetitive stress that will be placed upon them. If your situational awareness and problem-solving ability prove to be poor, regardless of how rock-solid your character is or how unwavering your stance, you will not make the grade and become commanders!” Murinko glanced at Karen.

“Before we go any further, please ask any questions you may have now, because when the program begins you'll be thrown from one location to another, from one situation into another, and there'll certainly be no opportunity for questions.” Karen looked around expectantly and waited in silence.

A hand shot up at the back.

“Yes?” said Karen, pointing in the direction of the hand.

“I'm just wondering, how we'll be able to reconcile our PrEUST studies with this program, in terms of time, I mean.”

“The program will be running along a desert island training format, which essentially means that from time to time you'll be taken from your day to day routine and you'll disappear for a period of time: days, possibly weeks. These training periods will be coordinated in advance by the ASEC with the university and with your families. All missing lessons and study time will be made in your own time.”


“Any other questions?” Karen looked around expectantly. “No?”

“Okay!” said Steersman suddenly. “First of all, forget all study habits you have learned to date. Forget the traditional schooling system, even the PrEUST system, because the ASEC commander training program will not follow any currently existing training program. There are no subjects, no timetables, no papers, no final exams, but there are training commanders whom you will have to obey. There will be tasks that have to be executed. If, based on your abilities, you're able to hack the pace, then you'll be subjected to testing at any time and in any place, especially when you least expect it. As long as you live, your education will continue, just as ours will.

The first live action will take place as it becomes a necessity. It may happen in one years time, or it may be in five years time. The ASEC aims to nurture leaders, who will develop under any circumstance that the organization dictates, who will learn, live, play, eat, breathe and work as the organization sees fit. If anyone here finds this unacceptable, you're free to leave now,” Steersman looked into the audience.

No one moved, or at least no one dared to move.

“Okay, as you are all seemingly sure about this, listen carefully,” he continued. “As strange as it may seem, my duty during your training will be to get rid of you. During each training exercise I'll be doing everything I can—within the rules of the training program—to have you dismissed.

Why? Because I need only the best of the best. If you think that I will rely on you for life and death decisions, regarding human lives or living ecosystems, if the slightest hint of hesitation or the barest sign of cracking under pressure should arise, then you are sorely mistaken. It is an enormous responsibility to be in charge of assets worth trillions, and vehicles of unbelievable size. To be able to coordinate human troops and robot units of these numbers will demand pragmatism and strength of will far beyond normal human tolerance. You will not be able to execute your duties unless you can withstand pressures comparable to thousand of tonnes weighing upon your shoulders. You may find yourself in a situation where you have to decide between losing your best people, or completing a mission that saves our planet. It is only when you are prepared for any possible, or even impossible situation then that will be good enough for us,” Steersman finished.



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