In the room where General Saigo and his team were at the moment, there was a stunned silence as everyone stared at Markus Rellen, the noble "prisoner" that had just spoken. There were mixed reactions from the team, with Lieutenant Azai showing shock on his face, Baiken being similarly shocked but seemingly conflicted as well, and Saigo having a thoughtful look, as if he had foreseen this all along.
Baiken was the most surprised out of the group, as she would have never anticipated that Markus would offer to sacrifice his own life in this situation. She still considered him to be the spoiled, corrupt noble that she perceived all nobles to be. Despite Markus coming to warn them about his brother and his help since he had been made prisoner, Baiken could not let go of her prejudice towards nobles that easily after all they had done to her clan. But seeing him now, volunteering his own life, clearly scared yet with a determined light in his eyes, she had doubts about how she perceived him until now.
On the other end of the connection, Zoey had to take a moment after she realized it was Markus who had spoken. She never intended to sacrifice anyone's life to shut the city down, nor had she expected someone to volunteer! There was also the matter of if anyone could even survive long enough in there to do anything at all…
"That won't work," Zoey said, finally breaking the silence. "I won't sacrifice someone just to do this, and I doubt it will even survive long enough to complete the shutdown."
"Then ask whoever you were talking to if it will work. You know this is the only option right now, and if we wait any longer, people are going to die," Markus rebutted quickly, his voice carrying a barely noticeable shake.
"He's right Zoey… this may be the only way right now… As far as I can tell, either someone goes in there to shut it down, or we go back to help defend the clan while we try to find another way to free the Stella Tenebris. Either way, there are risks involved, and there will be casualties one way or the other..." Saigo said, breaking his silence as he watched Markus with that thoughtful look still in his eyes.
"The process will take one minute to complete. My calculations show that it will be fatal for anyone without protection, but the process should be complete before consciousness is fully lost," Praesidio chimed in.
"There, see? I can do it. Just… let me help," Markus said. "It's either me, or who knows how many from your clan… I think we know which has more value."
Zoey was torn. She didn't want to sacrifice a life just for this. Something so simple, yet I can't even accomplish this one thing! She thought angrily at herself. The choice was her crew or a noble prisoner volunteering his life, so the decision was obvious, but it did not mean Zoey had to like it.
"Fine. Let's just get this done," Zoey finally said. What Saigo and Markus had said was right, they had no other options right now. "Praesidio, upload the shutdown routine to his Eve and ready up."
Markus felt a flood of emotions flow through him when Zoey finally agreed. He already had his mind made up. He would sacrifice himself to save the remnants of the clan that his own family had nearly destroyed. Somehow, he hoped that this would in some way pay for his sins and the atrocities that the Rellens had caused. A death like this, dying to save others, had there ever been a Rellen in history that had given their life this way? Markus didn't know, but he planned on being the first.
"If… If Athena manages to save my sister… tell her thank you… and tell Volaia that I'm sorry for not being strong enough to save her," Markus asked quietly as he stepped forward towards the door, ready to do what he must.
"Wait," Saigo said in the next moment.
Zoey paused and turned her attention back to the interface when Saigo spoke. They were running out of time.
"I will go in to perform the shutdown instead of Markus," he said with finality as he stepped between Markus and the door, the orange light illuminating his silhouette as his words stunned everyone again!
"Sir! You Can't!" Lieutenant Azai exclaimed.
"General! No!" Baiken also shouted instantly as Markus stared dumbfounded at the old man in his way.
"Saigo are you crazy?! I forbid it!" Zoey also roared through her comm-link, her voice even louder than the others!
Zoey was being biased, but she didn't care right now. Having Markus volunteer was one thing, but General Saigo was one of her crew, an important part of the Asurai leadership, and Max's grandfather to boot! There was no way she could allow him to do this!
Azai and Baiken were strongly against this as well. Why would their leader, their General who had led them for so long, offer to take the place of a useless noble and sacrifice his life when it was not necessary?!
"LISTEN!" Saigo ordered sharply, silencing them all with his voice filled with authority. "I am General Saigo Asurai, and I will not let my clan die!" he roared. "I will not allow someone to die in my place when the lives of my people are at risk!"
His words had the normally unshakable Baiken on the verge of tears, and Azai with a pained expression on his face. The General had been a surrogate father to many of the Asurai who had lost their family, and both Azai and Baiken were among that group.
Zoey had her fist clenched in anger, and was about to retaliate to tell him that this was a stupid, useless sacrifice, when Saigo sent a private message to her interface using his Eve.
"Zoey, this once I will be pulling seniority on you and disregarding your orders. I will be taking that boy's place, and that's final. With my innate talent I can survive a little longer in there than he could, but that's not the reason I'm doing this...
Max's mother, Naomi was not the only one with the ability to see the future… I too have that skill, and though it is far weaker and more limited than hers was, I am able to see some things, and this happens to be one of them. This is something I must do to ensure the future of my people."
Zoey stayed silent after he finished, her beautiful face showing anger and helplessness in the face of the General's conviction. What can I even do or say at this point?! My role here is one of failure! She thought in anger as her fists clenched even tighter.
General Saigo then looked at Azai and said, "Lieutenant, I expect you to continue to serve young Taigen as admirably as you have served me. It was my honor to have you under my command."
Faced with the man he admired above all others saying his goodbye, Azai could only salute and say in a choked voice, "It was my pleasure, SIR!"
Saigo returned the salute, then turned to Baiken who was no longer holding back the tears as they ran down her cheeks. In an instant, she ran forwards and embraced the man who had been a father and mentor to her and her brother after the tragedy that had decimated their clan and claimed their parents.
"This isn't fair!" She choked out between the tears and the General hugged her back.
"Fair or not dear child, it is my fate," replied Saigo quietly as he released her and held her hands as he looked at her tear-stained face, his eyes filled with a father's love for his daughter. "Be strong, and take care of your brother for me, he's always been a troublemaker."
Baiken nodded tearfully, then stepped back, straightening her back and wiping her face, her tears and sorrow receding behind an impassive mask as she took control of her emotions.
Lastly, the General looked at the young noble, Markus Rellen, who was still staring at him with stunned confusion on his face. "You may not understand now, but eventually you will. This is not to be your fate," Saigo said quietly. "I am old, getting to the end of my years, you are young and have your whole life ahead of you… Make it count."
Then, General Saigo took off two rings from his left hand and tossed them to Baiken before turning and facing the door that awaited.
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"Zoey, let's shut this city down and save the Asurai clan!"