When I asked Fumi and Ayaka to train me in the art of self-defense, this was not what I had in mind. They led me to the bleachers on the field, had me climb onto the horizontal railing, and wanted me to walk back and forth. I was a little confused, but I did as they asked. Or at least I tried.
I slipped off the railing several times, but Fumi and Ayaka were already ready to catch me. I just needed to get the question off my chest. So I asked, “What is this training for?”
Fumi replied, “You wanted us to teach you the way of the sword; this is the most basic training I can think of. The foundation of the way of the swords is not our hands, but in the sole of our feet; stance, balance, and footwork. We don’t have the years to spend on building your stance, but we can try to improve your balance and footwork.”
“Years to spend on stance?”
“Stance is the most basic foundation training. Stance is not simply standing firm in the right posture or building leg strength; it’s the process of learning your own center and the relative position of all of your body parts. I’m not explaining very well. I believe another word for it is kinesthesia. Like I mentioned before, we can teach you techniques, but we can’t compensate for lack of foundation. And don’t take offence when I say this, but when you walk, I notice that your center of balance is off.”
“It wouldn’t matter if you hadn’t planned on learning martial arts. This exercise will help you better find your center of balance.”
“I understand.” I believed I came across the term before in one of the movies I had seen. I couldn’t remember the title, but it was about a super thief trying to steal a priceless artifact from a room with a laser security system. The character from the movie could bend and contort her body exactly where she wanted to be to get through the lasers. She called her ability kinesthesia or something very similar.
I could never hope to be able to do that.
If Fumi and Ayaka said I needed to work on my footing and balance first, then I won’t argue. I just hoped that it wouldn’t take years to master. There was simply no time.
An hour and a half later, I was still trying to walk across the railing without falling off. Even though Fumi and Ayaka caught me whenever I slipped, my body still felt bruised from being caught in the same place over and over again.
“Hang in there, ma’am. Lunchtime is in half an hour,” Ayaka said to me.
“How many hours did they make you train a day?” I asked out of sheer curiosity.
“From sunrise to sunset,” Fumi replied.
“Every single day?”
Both Fumi and Ayaka nodded. “As soon as we could walk on two feet, we were trained to walk on tight ropes.”
“…” I felt fortunate that they decided not to start me out walking on tight ropes. I climbed back onto the railing to try again. I wasn’t doing this for fun and games, or sheer impulse that I could back out at any time. I was doing this for survival. My son’s fate was tied to mine. No matter what it’d take, I had to survive.
As I continued to walk the railing, two men approached us. When they had gotten too close, the four armed soldiers assigned to me blocked their path. I minded them no attention and continued.
One of the two men tried to take another step closer to us but the soldiers reacted by readying their firearms and aiming them at him.
“Turn around or we will open fire,” one of the soldiers warned.
The same man smirked and said, “I thought your base had a rule that said military personnel cannot get into conflicts with civilians.”
The same soldier replied, “This is not conflict. Take another step forward and we will open fire. You have been warned a second time. There will not be a third.”
The man’s lecherous gaze went from Ayaka to Fumi, then finally to me. He was scrutinizing my body parts with obvious desire in his eyes. I didn’t care enough and looked away, continuing my training. I did notice, however, that he said ‘your base’, which meant that his group wasn’t a resident there. If he was allowed to come into the inner wall, shouldn’t he be on Liam’s tour? Apparently, he decided to go on a tour without the guide.
“Ladies, can I come over to talk?” He asked us, knowing that he couldn’t take another step without permission.
“No,” Fumi dryly replied.
Those two had no other choice but to walk off.
I had planned on eating my lunch at the fourth-level cafeteria today to avoid the guests, but I changed my mind. I wanted to see these guests for myself to determine their level of threats and help Liam determine whether to accept them or send them away. Things on this base were fine as they were, but they most likely won’t be in the future if we let the wrong mix into the population.
At lunchtime, I showed up at the third-level dining hall. Liam was a little surprised when he saw me because I’d told him that morning that I was going to eat lunch on the fourth level.
“What’s wrong, Angel?” Liam hurried to me and asked.
I smiled and shook my head. “Nothing. I just thought I’d join you for lunch.”
“Come.” Liam placed a hand on my back and led me into the dining hall with a table full of guests. I recognized three of the men sitting at the table were the people from earlier. Liam walked me to the table, and introduced me to everyone there. “This is my wife, Sienna Carmichael.”
Liam pulled a chair between his and William’s for me, and I sat. Under the table, William reached for my hand and played with my fingers.
I looked at him, but he wasn’t looking at me. There was a stern expression on his face, solemn and dignified, as his gaze slowly scanned one face at the table after another.
General Grant sitting on William’s right side was asking the guests if they had enjoyed the tour. While he did that, I was spying on their auras.
I got a batch of mixed results. There were good people and bad people in life, I supposed. I made a mental note of the bad apples at the table so I could inform Liam later.
I was told that each guest could bring no more than plus two. There were twelve guests seated at the table; three men in uniforms and nine people in civilian clothes. Three of the nine people in civilian clothes were women and they were seated together. I recalled Liam introduced the woman in charge as Anastasia something.
I assumed the next three sets of people were from the same party. The man sitting in the middle was the most eye-catching of all. His auras seemed different from other people, brighter and took up a larger space. It was like looking at the brightest star in the sky. I believed his name was Chase, but I couldn’t recall if that was his first or last name.
I observed him a little closer. He appeared to be in his late twenties or early thirties, muscled, thick brows, chiseled symmetrical face.
I felt a squeeze on my hand and turned my head to look at William. He wasn’t looking at me so I followed his gaze to the set of three people I hadn’t gotten to yet. There was a man in his late fifties and two younger men in their twenties. One of the young men was the same one that had approached me earlier. I remembered his name when Liam introduced him to me. Andrew Ellis. Sitting next to him was his father and older brother. All three were bad apples as far as I could tell.
Andrew Ellis was running his lecherous gaze all over me like he had done earlier when I was in the field, and he made no effort to hide it. When he saw me looking his way, he smiled and winked at me.
William was squeezing my hand even tighter.
Liam sitting to my left followed our gazes.
Chase sitting at the other end of the table answered that he thoroughly enjoyed the tour but, “General West, General Grant, when can my people be admitted into the inner walls?”
“I want to know the same,” Anastasia joined in.
“Mr. Chase, we have an admittance procedure here,” General Grant replied.
“Can you give me an idea of what the procedure is like, or at least give me a rough timeframe? My people have traveled far to get here and we’ve lost many on the way. They’re tired, they’re restless, and to be completely honest, since you haven’t started the admittance process yet, everyone is on edge.”
General Grant looked to William, and William replied, “Mr. Chase, the purpose of today’s tour is to introduce ourselves to you, to show you what life is like here.”
“You have a wonderful community here,” Anastasia complimented.
“I don’t know about wonderful, but I have a functioning community here and that’s what I want all of you to see. I run this base on rules and codes to maintain order and I want all of you to understand that. Every man, woman, and child walking through my gates must learn my rules by heart.”
“When in Rome,” Chase replied. “If my people agree to live by all of your rules and codes, you would let us in?”
“Mr. Chase, we just met a few hours ago on this tour and I don’t know the first thing about you or your people. I’m showing you what we’re all about. It’s your turn to show me what you’re all about. In the meantime, your people are perfectly safe within the wooden wall. Let’s get to know each other first.”
“General West, we are running dangerously low on supplies and we don’t know how long we can hold out for,” Anastasia candidly revealed the status of her group, a worried expression on her face.
William replied, “You are guests and we will provide provisions to everyone during your stay here. My people are working on it as we speak.”
Anastasia exhaled a sigh of relief. “Thank you. In that case, we will wait as long as it takes for you to get to know us.”
It was now that Hugo and a few helpers started bringing out our lunches. Unlike last time when everyone had their own plates, Hugo brought out a table full of an all-you-can-eat buffet, using all the ingredients available to us: fish, pheasants, vegetables, etcetera. The dining table was a colorful display of casual and fine cuisines. The helpers that General Grant had selected to help serve lunch today went around the table offering red and white wine to the guests.
Our guests were staring at the food on the table, speechless.
They were speechless for a long time.
“Angel, would you like to say grace?” Liam asked me.
“Of course.” William let go of my hand and I copied what the children used to say when they were asked to say grace at the table back at the vineyard. After grace, I reached for a salami and lettuce sandwich from a plate of a dozen on the table.
“What’s the matter? Is the food not to your palate?” William asked our guests who hadn’t touched anything on the table yet.
“No, not at all!” Anastasia used the fork and spoon to get herself some helpings on her plate.
“And what does everyone else eat on this base?” Chase asked.
Colonel Lee replied, “Our current rations are 1800 calories per person per day. Every child under twelve also gets a glass of milk daily, unless they’re allergic to dairy. In which case, we’d give them supplements to ensure healthy developments. Our children are the future.”
Chase thought it over for a short moment, and then grabbed a sandwich off the large plate too.
Anastasia’s eyes lit up. “Yes, they are! Don’t mind me asking, but… do the children go to classes?”
Colonel Lee smiled and said, “We don’t have space for formal classrooms right now, but we do have shared rooms that we’re using as classrooms for the children in the morning.”
Anastasia was thoroughly impressed. She turned to General West and said, “General West, I sincerely want my people to join your community. This place is… beyond anything I was expecting before I decided to come here. To be honest, we’d prepared for the worst, but we were desperate. If there is anything I can do, anything at all for you to get to know us better, please don’t hesitate a single second. My people are mostly women and children. If you send us back out there, we’d surely perish.”
“We also sincerely want to join your community,” Chase said.
“Us too,” said the older gentleman whose last name was Ellis.
One of the men in uniform said, “General West, the Underground Pentagon sent us a message–”
William lifted a hand to stop him from talking. “Not the place or time to discuss that.”
The man in uniform immediately apologized and continued eating the food on his plate. The other two men in uniform didn’t add anything either.
William then said to everyone at the table, “The process of getting to know each other may take weeks, it may take months. We currently do not have room in our underground complex to house any more people. There are many constructions in progress within the inner wall as well. If you’re coming here looking for a safe place to settle down, then I will section out land within the wooden wall for each of your groups. I will give you building materials and help you build your own settlement on that land. I will provide your people with food, clothes, medical supplies, and whatever you need to establish a firm footing here.”
Our guests turned heads and exchanged looks with their own party.
“However…” William drawled. “As long as you’re on my land, you will live by my rules. Anyone steps out of line, I will have full power in dealing with the matter. If the representative of the group disagrees with my method or objects to my decisions altogether, then he or she can start packing. I will not tolerate insubordination on my base.”
Anastasia was the first to say, “Your offer is generous. We accept.”
“We gratefully accept,” Chase said soon after.
“We accept,” Ellis replied.
Since they got that major boulder out of the way, the thick atmosphere at the table cleared up significantly. Our guests started getting comfortable in their seats and continued eating their lunch.
While we were having lunch, Andrew Ellis said to Liam all of a sudden, “General West, you have a very beautiful wife.”
Liam stilled the fork in his hand and looked up at the man who was talking to him. William and I also looked his way.
“I have a collection of beautiful women myself. How about… we come up with an agreeable arrangement that will make both of us very happy men? I’ll even let you pick as many as you like in exchange for a fine woman like her,” Andrew said while running his eyes all over me again.
Andrew’s father slammed his fist on the table to stop him from talking.
The table went completely silent right after. Everyone stopped whatever they were doing and turned their gazes to Andrew Ellis’ direction.
Liam’s deep blue eyes darkened significantly. In a frighteningly calm voice he said, “Mr. Ellis, if you were not a guest at my table right now, I would have cut off your tongue and other parts of your body to feed to the dogs.”
Anastasia pushed to her feet and angrily shouted at Andrew, “What the fuck did you just say?!” The other two ladies at the table held her back before she could launch herself at Andrew. “You fucking disgusting pig treating women like objects! I’ll kill you, you fucking bastard!”
I blinked. Anastasia then blurted out a string of profanity I had never even heard of. She was so refined when speaking to us before, this was a side to her I had not expected. She got one hell of a temper. But I liked it.
“He’s a guest at your table, but he’s not mine,” Chase got up to his feet and threw a hard punch at Andrew Ellis’ face. Ellis flew a good ten feet before hitting the ground. That was one hell of a punch. Andrew’s brother tried to go help him, but his father stopped him from getting up. Andrew got knocked out by the punch.
“I sincerely apologize for my son’s behavior,” Mr. Ellis said to us. “He fell in with the wrong crowd and–”
“Mr. Ellis, I’m afraid I have to ask you and your sons to leave,” General Grant said, his statement was as firm as an order.
Mr. Ellis tried to continue, “General West, General Grant, I–”
“NOW,” William grounded out the word, every bit a command.
The soldiers standing by outside the dining hall started flooding into the doors. Mr. Ellis and his two sons were forced to leave.
The soldiers cleared the dining hall and left us to our lunches again.
“I see why you want to get to know us better,” Chase finally said after a long moment of silence. “I don’t want to get mixed up with those lots either.”
No one said anything for the rest of the meal.