[NO LONGER UPDATING] Ceres's Chaos: A Tragic Space Opera
"That was amazing man, I didn't expect the plan to be so easy to pull off!" A random player patted Ceres on the back. They were celebrating the win and checking the war credits and rank points they earned in the post-game lobby.
A good number of defenders surrounded Ceres, asking him what exactly had happened, while the more experienced players simply watched a video replay of what Ceres did.
"Well, it was really simple, the jetpack at the back didn't allow for backwards motion, and I needed to perform rapid dodging in all directions, so I just strapped essentially a broken-down jetpack in the form of its directional thrusters at the front of my suit. I rigged the floor to blow and that's that." Ceres shrugged.
However, deep down he was about to jump up and down for joy looking at the war credits for how much damage he inflicted on the attacking team that mostly grouped up nicely for him around the respawn beacon. Maybe he could finally buy better stuff now!
A flood of questions and friend requests came in, some asking how he modified the exosuit, while others claiming they could 'carry' him to a higher rank, or others asking for a simple party up as they felt like they too didn't belong in this low rank.
Ceres still had an anonymous nickname set as SentientHamster189, as he didn't bother tailoring his account settings before playing.
One player decided to upload the clip of Ceres performing his aerial dodges from the observer point of view, which then spread into the wider empire net. Not a lot of views were generated, but many were inspired to adapt his method into a form of a suicide bomber, which generally only worked at lower ranks and in a very specific scenario.
SentientHamster189 started to become synonymous with intentional feeding, as most users who adapted the method failed to achieve anything other than blowing up their teammates or just giving free points and war credits to the enemy.
Naturally Ceres didn't know any of this, returning to the real world to comfort Ardan who still couldn't get over Ceres's accidental betrayal in the very first match, sulking in the practice room.
The kids in the Zone 17 Military Orphanage knew what was coming all too well. Once a year, the orphanage director will tell them someone very important was coming to visit and do a speech to motivate them, but it always turned out to be some old fart who retired a hundred years ago or more.
Sometimes it was even their own teachers, making the orphans lose actual hope that anyone important was going to show up.
Ceres was of exactly the same mind, playing Glucose Rush yet again with earphones this time. "What are you listening to?" Erik quizzed, while waving at Ardan who was sitting with his year's class near the front of the sports hall where everyone was gathered and sitting cross-legged on the floor. Braton wasn’t sitting down, instead stretching his calf, bemoaning the existence of ‘leg-day’.
Ceres didn't reply, only passing a spare earphone to Erik, who listened it and felt his entire generation of potentially dead ancestors get insulted in every shape or form possible. "Is this a insult ASMR track? Are you a masochist? How did you even get this?" Erik shivered as he started shifting away from Ceres after throwing the earphone away.
“You can find anything on the net if you look hard enough.” Grabbing the earphone back and focusing on his multi, Ceres was doing well in Glucose Rush until a consistent vigorous slapping from Erik on his shoulder that increased in frequency over the last 5 seconds finally made him take off the earphones.
About to shout at Erik for ruining his potential rank increasing stage clearing, Ceres was instead being shouted at by Erik excitedly "He's here! He's actually here!"
Wondering what was going on, Ceres looked at the stage of the hall and saw a familiar face, which he actually seen on the media terminals during the trip to the museum.
It was a young man in his thirties, wearing a sharp orange and white striped uniform with lapels that bore the insignia of the planetary police enforcers department of Athen, with another badge specifying his posting to the Griefing City branch.
"Hello children, I'm Henry Lesion, and I previously graduated from this orphanage about 16 years ago. I was recently promoted as the new deputy director of the Outer Zone's division, so I take care of crimes in this area as well." As the young man spoke into a microphone, Ceres had to stifle his shock with his hand.
He realized that this was the champion of the competition from 16 years ago. In fact he was the only ‘outer’ to have won in the history of the city and planet.!
Ceres smiled as he nudged Erik with his hand, who was still awestruck. Both of them had been talking about trying to win the competition, and here right in front of them now is someone who actually did, and from the same starting point as them.
Henry began to talk about his life journey as a police enforcer, side-tracking into some of the more interesting crime cases to keep the orphans’ attention. However, he soon noticed that there were a few restless kids in the crowd.
"Well, that was all I had to say. I'll be here for the rest of the day, so you can ask me any questions you want any time" A small hand shot up from the crowd.
Henry chuckled "Well, I wasn't expecting a Q&A right now, but go ahead"
"Good morning sir, are you related to our director, Ms Lesion?" Erik stood up straight saluting.
"Yes I am, she is my adoptive parent, she is the very reason why I was able to win the graduation competition." A wave of shock spread through the crowd, though Ceres was still busy scrawling through his multi, trying to dig up as much information as he could from the network.
Finally landing on something, Ceres stuck his hand out, and asked a question when prompted by Henry. "Is it true that after winning the graduation competition and participating in the system-wide competition, you entered the Alpha Legion?"
The Alpha Legion, unlike the Dest Legion, wasn’t based in the Strathon system, but rather in the capital! It was considered the most elite military legion and it only answers directly to the current emperor and no one else.
Not even a military general could make it move without an express order from the emperor for a temporary change in the chain of command. How the hell did an orphan from the backwaters of Athen make it into there?
"Of course I did, I served a good five years in the Alpha Legion. And I didn't just participate in the system-wide competition, I made it to the quarterfinals even on that year!" Henry proudly stated, his chest seemingly being puffed a bit more than his usual stature. He was obviously proud of that fact.
"Then why did you come back to Athen to be a police enforcer?" Ceres continued the line of questioning, not noticing that Henry's face darkened for a split second at this question, before resuming his public charming friendly persona.
"Well, I was away from my adoptive mother for a good while and I didn't want to spend the rest of my life away from home. Sooner or later, you'll have friends and family that you can't bear to part, and as an orphan growing up, I put a much greater emphasis on that." Henry smiled as he answered.
Ceres didn't really have any significant family or friends that could ground him on Athen, so he couldn't sympathise with what Henry said. If he ever got into the Dest Legion, he would be slightly sad saying goodbye to his friends, but not that homesick to give up what he earned.
A few more questions and jokes were thrown around, at the expense of some teachers who had been around in Henry's time, while Ceres and Erik was just content knowing that their short-term goal of winning the graduation competition wasn't just some pipedream; someone before them had done it!
"The kids seem a lot more active these days" Henry said as he sat down opposite the orphanage director in her office, who poured him a cup of coffee. "One of them even threw me a curveball of a question, asking me why I came back from the Alpha Legion"
"And what did you tell him? Are you having regrets, Henry?" Ann asked she also took a seat.
"I lied of course, saying that I was coming back because of friends and family. No, Mom, I don't regret coming back at all. I felt like if I was still in the Legion, I wouldn't be able to survive the discrimination at all" Henry started to slouch in his chair.
His face darkened as he recalled the intense bullying and unfair punishments he had to endure during his time in the Alpha Legion. Not every thing was as pristine as they made it sound, with the elite legion naturally being elitist.
His mom knew all about it, having received letters regularly from Henry. She got up around the desk and patted Henry's shoulder. "Don't worry Henry, you did the right thing, people like us don't belong in that kind of world.”
“Let's just save who we can right here and now. Like what you did with those kids just now. I know it was hard of you to take time off to come back and see the kids and also visit me, but I'm glad to see you in person doing well for yourself."
"Thanks, Mom. Sorry for not visiting earlier, I was too caught up in a case"
"Don't worry, I understand."
"Any chances of some kids winning the competition this year?"
"Henry, no other orphan has won the competition apart from you from any outer zone orphanage. You're an outlier and a rare genius, you know that. I really do wish the best for the kids, but I don't think any of them is going to get past the quarterfinals if I'm being honest. The best I can do now is give them the best nerval jack installation I can afford now." Ann sighed.
Ann pulled up a holographic window, showing Henry which hospital would the kids be performing the installation in. Henry was taken aback by where the installation was being done.
"Wow, Zone 4, Seras General Hospital? That's expensive, Mom, how did you get the budget for this? You must have paid a lot of cash out of your own pocket! I didn't think an inner hospital would agree to this."
"Don't worry Henry, I have my ways. All you need to know is that everything you're doing helps give a better, safer life for these kids, and I'm doing the same. We're in this together."
Henry nodded, still internally surprised at the availability of inner hospitals to perform installations for outer students, seeing as the installation procedure was happening at the same time for most students who were participating in the graduation competition. He put his surprise aside, continuing to talk and laugh with his mom who he hasn't seen in a while.
Back in the bunk, Erik and Ceres were doing a Glucose Rush duel. Somehow Erik had caught on to the training officially known as 'Insult ASMR Duelling', and they both essentially wore earphones playing the same insult track while duelling each other.
Theoretically, they could have insulted each other directly, but they didn’t want to get caught up in the heat of the moment and start lambasting each other about their sleeping pattern or how they organized their wardrobe.
Ceres was still currently beating Erik, but Erik was slowly starting to get the hang of it, although he still wasn't able to touch a single combination on Ceres' grid over the last three hours.
"Something felt a bit off about Henry" Erik muttered, which shocked Ceres more than the insults against his genitals that were playing through his earphones.
"What do you mean? The guy would literally be perfect if he wasn't held down by his friends and family. Could've been a legion general if he wanted to." Ceres aggressively stated, while he tried to recover his original speed that was dampened by the initial shock.
After reading up on all the news coverage about Henry Lesion, he became a sort of guidepost for what Ceres could potentially achieve, minus the coming back part.
"Like, no way an Alpha Legion soldier comes back and is only barely a deputy director on one of the considerably backwater resource mining planets in the empire. We’re at the border!" Erik continued.
"Well maybe he isn't that good at solving cases. Or maybe, because we’re at the border, crime flows through here much more than other places, hence being here." Ceres replied.
"Yes, but he seemed fairly smart, I don't see why he would have to grind through the promotions since coming back eleven years ago and still remain as a deputy director, which need I remind you, only happened about two weeks ago. That's a really long time if you asked me." Erik sighed, as his extended speech cost him various combinations that Ceres rapidly tapped, who started to treat slander against his newly appointed guidepost as a form of emotional training too.
"Look, what I'm trying to say is that there must be forces that are opposing him too, forces that he can't overcome. I know you can't see him as anything other than perfect, but to me he serves as a great example that there's always a bigger fish out there, no matter how well you perform." Erik said.
"Well of course there's a bigger fish out there, and that's me! Still don't get what you're getting at, Erik." Ceres replied.
"I just don't want us to reach there and fall into the same trap he did. Maybe winning the competition isn’t that great of a thing, seeing what happened to Henry. Is it really worth it to get into the military legions?" Erik said, giving up the duel in which Ceres was absolutely destroying him.
Ceres stood up confidently, crossing his arms. "Hey, we agreed to do our best for this competition, and that means winning! I’m not going to let you pull out of this, we’re a team!"
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