The First Order - Chapter 1236
Martial law was already implemented inside Stronghold 144. Zhang Xiaoman had led a full infantry brigade to set up checkpoints at various major streets in the stronghold to ensure order during the evacuation.
His task was to ensure the civilians would not get hurt in case anyone took advantage of the chaos to commit crimes.
Earlier, everyone was still discussing in the conference room what kind of unexpected situations might come up during the evacuation and what contingency plans were needed to handle them.
When this topic was raised, everyone turned to look at Ren Xiaosu.
After all, Ren Xiaosu was the only person in the entire Alliance of Strongholds qualified to be called the Stronghold Destroyer.
Detailing Ren Xiaosu's experiences, he had been involved in almost 90% of the alliance's strongholds that were destroyed.
Stronghold 113 was attacked and destroyed by the Experimentals and face bugs after an earthquake.
The Li Consortium's stronghold was attacked and destroyed by Li Shentan and the Experimentals.
The Yang Consortium's stronghold was nearly destroyed when it was attacked by the Li Consortium's nanosoldiers.
The Zhou Consortium's Stronghold 74 was surrounded by the Experimentals and got destroyed by a Qing Consortium nuclear strike as a result.
Stronghold 61 was destroyed during the creeper vine calamity.
The strongholds of the Pyro Company and the Kong Consortium…
Even cities in the Kingdom of Sorcerers were no exception.
It was as though Ren Xiaosu was either destroying strongholds or was on his way to destroying them, even if the cause of their destruction was largely unconnected to him.
Therefore, when this data was compiled, everyone in the conference room hoped Ren Xiaosu could start with his own experience and shed some light on the matters they should pay attention to during an evacuation.
Although Strongholds 143, 144, 145, and 146 were not destroyed yet, their situation was actually the same. They were all facing an unavoidable catastrophe that would cause order to collapse to a certain degree.
Ren Xiaosu looked at everyone's expectant gazes and could not help but sigh. This was not a topic worth ruminating. He would rather not have gone through those situations.
"If order collapses during an evacuation, every crime imaginable will be committed." Ren Xiaosu said, "Trust will be lost between people, but that's not something they'll have control over. Everyone will feel like they're drowning, and all they can do is grab onto whatever might save them.
"Everyone will start rushing into shops in the strongholds or other people's homes and barbarically plunder their property so that they can gain a bargaining chip for their survival.
"Children, women, and the elderly will become the most disadvantaged groups as they flee. Some men will start trying to establish a primitive form of authority to dominate the allocation of resources and people's freedoms.
"Food and medicine will become the scarcest resources, and currency will constantly devalue. If there's starvation, lives will likely be lost over getting a bite of food.
"The people will start cursing those in power because the situation is a consequence of their actions. But very quickly, they'll stop complaining as they'll become too focused on escaping to care about anything else."
Actually, Ren Xiaosu had never personally experienced the harshest and most tragic conditions while fleeing. That was because he was strong.
But most people were not as lucky as him. Sometimes, when the escapees set off again after a rest stop, some bodies would be left behind at the campsite.
No one cared how those people died. They could have been robbed or violated, though anything could have been possible.
Ren Xiaosu continued, "With war looming, of course we can't spend more effort to protect the civilians. However, we still have to provide them with the necessary supplies. As long as everyone can still have a bite to eat, the situation will not be as desperate, and that will lead to fewer people taking unnecessary risks."
Therefore, the most important thing in their evacuation plan was food.
The potato, winter melon, and pumpkin fields Zhou Yingxue had conveniently cultivated became key for this evacuation. These crops planted by the maidservant were so high yield it was unbelievable.
Back then, in order to protect the health of the stronghold's economy, Wang Yuexi constantly objected to the mass introduction of these crops into the market. He even quarreled with Zhou Yingxue over the matter.
But now that the world had turned chaotic, the crops' usefulness would come into play.
Although the crops were few in variety, it would be good enough if they did not have to starve to death at a time like this. No one would be particular about the lack of choices.
A large number of supplies were brought to the stronghold's western gate while the rest were transported to the Northwest to be used for establishing relief stations in the wilderness.
The relief stations were set up every 80 kilometers or so along the evacuation route. Based on the estimated distance ordinary refugees could cover, which was usually 60 kilometers a day, it would be enough to ensure they would not starve to death along the way if the relief stations were planned this way.
When the loudspeakers in every corner of the stronghold sounded out, the infantry brigade led by Zhang Xiaoman immediately turned more alert.
But to their surprise, when the residents of Stronghold 144 discovered they needed to evacuate, their first reactions were not panic but silence and curiosity.
Amid the quiet, convoys of military transport trucks and supply trucks drove off westwards. There was indeed an atmosphere of an impending storm looming.
Somewhere, the sound of glass shattering rang out.
A few young people were loitering on the street where it was less crowded. When they heard the announcement, they thought their opportunity had arrived. They found a grocery store that sold cigarettes and alcohol and wanted to take advantage of the chaos to rob it.
To them, this brick was like a signal. As soon as they threw it, the stronghold would immediately descend into chaos. At that time, no one would care about their actions.
A similar incident happened more than a year ago when the Zong Consortium's stronghold was destroyed. Thus, they were old hands at this now.
However, it was a little different this time. Just after they threw the brick, they realized the surrounding residents were watching them coldly.
No one followed in their lead. The glass of the display window was smashed, but the loud crash only amplified the peculiarity and quiet of the situation.
Their intent gradually weakened as they prepared to flee like little kids in the wrong.
A middle-aged woman shouted on the sidewalk, "You there, aren't you Old Li's kid, the one living at the end of the street? Hurry up and go home! Or else we'll see how your father deals with you!"
Before she could finish speaking, the young men who smashed the display window had already scattered.
The farce ended as quickly as it had started.
Some people started looking around for the infantry brigade's soldiers and asking, "Was the broadcast a prank? Who's the enemy? Does our Northwest Army still have enemies we can't defeat? Do you need us to do anything?"
These words stunned many of the soldiers. They already knew what kind of enemy they were expecting, and they were also well aware it would be very difficult for the Northwest Army to contend against it.
But this was not what the commoners thought. With communications cut off, even the various newspaper firms were not aware of what had taken place in the Central Plains. The commoners only felt that since the future commander had gone with the 6th Field Division to the home field of the sorcerers and wiped them out, and with the tavern storytellers going on daily about how powerful the Northwest Army was, their Northwest Army must be the best. In that case, why would they still have to be forced into a retreat?
A soldier from the infantry brigade said, "The enemy is really powerful."
At the side, an old man said with a smile, "Be more confident. We all believe you can win."
The soldier of the infantry brigade replied, "We really can't defeat them on this flat terrain."
The old man said, "Really? I don't believe it."
The soldier of the infantry brigade explained, "This will be a strategic retreat. This place will soon turn into the main battlefield. If you all stay here, you will only be affected by the flames of war."
Only at this moment did the old man say, "Oh, a strategic retreat? I know that maneuver. Alright then, let's retreat immediately!"
The soldiers of the infantry brigade spent a great deal of effort explaining to the civilians before they were convinced to return home and pack their belongings.
The stronghold administrators, led by Wang Yuexi, were even more anxious. They started urging over the radio for everyone to evacuate and answered some questions that could be clarified.
For example, the residents were taught how to locate relief stations and advised to travel light, keep up with the main troops, and set off as soon as possible. They also made announcements saying that women with children and the elderly could head to the 6th Field Division's military-controlled zone within the stronghold to be evacuated in groups.
The stronghold's refugee town at the west gate had already made way for a large open space. All residents who passed through here and evacuated westwards would receive a portion of cooked potatoes.
When Zhang Xiaoman came to patrol the area, he initially thought it would get very chaotic and possible scenes of evacuees fighting over food would erupt.
However, nothing like that happened. The retreating civilians lined up in an orderly manner to receive their relief rations before following the majority of the evacuees towards the northwest.
At the beginning, Zhang Xiaoman felt that his implementations were pretty good since he had the situation under control so quickly. He felt that he could go and seek the future commander's recognition for his efforts during the night.
In the presence of a heavily armed infantry brigade, who would dare cause trouble for the Northwest Army at a time like this?
But gradually, he realized something weird. Some people who tried to cut in line were told off by the other civilians before the infantry brigade's soldiers could even take action. The line jumpers could only head to the back of the line and line up obediently.
Some people also rejoined the line after receiving their rations, hoping to steal another portion of the relief ration for themselves. Such people were also called out by other civilians and chased out of the group.
Meanwhile, there were also some refugees who did not collect their rations at all.
Zhang Xiaoman stopped a middle-aged woman who did not collect her ration and asked with some doubt, "Auntie, why didn't you collect your ration? Is it because my soldiers are showing you attitude, or are they refusing to distribute any food to you?"
The woman was amused. "Didn't they say there's going to be another relief station 80 kilometers from here? My family still has a lot of food, so it's not like we can't last the 80 kilometers if we don't collect our rations. My neighbor who's a young man said that you all still have to stay behind to fight the enemy and there might not be enough food to go around. I just thought I shouldn't trouble you all further."
With that, the woman opened up the cloth bag she was carrying. There were even fried pancakes inside. "Do you want some?"
Before Zhang Xiaoman could reject her, the woman stuffed a fried pancake into his hands.
Zhang Xiaoman was puzzled. Why did the situation turn out different from what the future commander had said?
A message from weirdo and Legge:
Thank you all for being such patient readers in this tale of Ren Xiaosu. It has been fun translating and reading your comments, and I hope the quality was up to expectations. Every word chosen, and every character's motivations were analyzed to reconcile possible "out of character" behavior. It is my belief that translations should bring across the author's intended message in its most original form.
I know I took a long time clearing up at the end, but I know you'll understand. Yes, we're really reaching the end. My thoughts are that The Speaking Pork Trotter had planned out the story very well, and most side characters were not forgotten. Their backstories also endeared to me as I translated their parts. My personal favorite has to be P5092, depicting how everyone has two sides to them. Sometimes, you just can't judge a person if you don't understand their motivations. Who can forget Hu Xiaobai and Wang Yuexi, two side characters who aren't extraordinary in strength but made a difference in the Prosperous Northwest goal. Zero's story affected me pretty deeply as well.
It was not only Zhang Xiaoman who was baffled. Actually, Ren Xiaosu was also a little puzzled.
As Yang Xiaojin and he walked together on the streets, the sights he witnessed during his previous escapes had still not happened in Stronghold 144.
However, Ren Xiaosu quickly figured it out. "The chaos of the war has not reached the stronghold, so the residents here aren't panicking like what I've seen in the past. With the relief stations set up and transparent handling of the situation, they've yet to truly feel the pressures of starvation and fear. So there's still some sense of rationality among these people."
Yang Xiaojin said, "I suppose it's also because everyone trusts the Northwest Army."
Ren Xiaosu shook his head. "What's trust worth when the situation gets really extreme? Before I became a supernatural being, I also felt that kind of fear. I even needed someone to keep watch for me while I slept, so why would I have any trust when I was surrounded by strangers? I hope the Northwest doesn't end up in that kind of situation. Before the real disaster arrives, we can only try our best to maintain the status quo."
Yang Xiaojin smiled and said, "You don't have to be so humble. You, Wang Yuexi, and Uncle Fugui also had a part in keeping the situation under control."
Ren Xiaosu shook his head again but did not continue arguing.
He rarely had any faith in human nature because he had witnessed too many inhumane acts.
Therefore, Ren Xiaosu felt the refugees were probably still clueless about what they were about to face since they had not reached that level of desperation yet.
At this moment, Ren Xiaosu saw an old man sitting on a small foldable stool at the entrance of a house. The old man was watching calmly as the stronghold residents retreated.
Ren Xiaosu walked over and asked curiously, "Grandpa, didn't you hear the announcement? The elderly aged 55 and over need to hurry to the military-controlled zone at Anning East Road to assemble. They'll arrange for you to retreat over there in groups."
The old man looked at Ren Xiaosu and said with a smile, "Never mind that, you young people should leave quickly instead. Don't worry about me."
The old man did not seem to know Ren Xiaosu's identity. Ren Xiaosu wondered, "You aren't leaving? Why? Is it because you can't bear to leave this place after living here for so long? Don't you know that the enemy is coming? The Northwest Army can't defeat them. If you stay here, only death awaits. It might even be a situation more unbearable than death."
Ren Xiaosu sometimes wondered if the people under Zero's control were still conscious.
Perhaps they could still see, hear, smell, taste, and touch.
But if all their five senses were intact, and they were forced to eat the broken limbs of insects and animals to replenish their protein intake and swallow the internal organs of animals to replenish their fat, how terrifying and cruel would that be?
The old man sat on his small foldable stool and looked up at Ren Xiaosu. He said with a smile, "I heard from the young man next door that the enemy is coming and the Northwest Army is making a strategic retreat. It's not that I don't want to leave this place. Although I've lived here my entire life, I still wish I can get to see the sights of peace and prosperity after the Northwest Army defeats the enemy. It's just that I have a lame leg, so I can't walk anymore. I can't get to Fortress 178."
Ren Xiaosu wondered, "Didn't the broadcast make it clear enough? Someone like you who's above 55 doesn't need to walk that far at all. Someone will naturally make arrangements for your evacuation."
The old man said with a smile, "I know the Northwest Army is kind-hearted and is probably gathering the women with children and elderly together so they can be transported in vehicles. But with so many people in the stronghold, how can the Northwest Army cope? I'm old and I don't want to trouble them."
Ren Xiaosu felt a little helpless. Although it was said during the broadcast that there would be arrangements made for group evacuations, it did not mention anything about the enchanted doorways. On one hand, it was not easy to explain the operating mechanism of the portal, and on the other hand, it was unnecessary to say too much.
Ordinary residents would immediately understand what was going to happen upon hearing about the unified arrangements for the old, frail, women, and children. However, this old man did not want to cause any trouble for the Northwest Army, so he simply did not report to the military-controlled zone.
Ren Xiaosu asked softly, "Why? Isn't it good to have someone to assist you?"
The old man chuckled. "When I was young, the Zong Consortium was still calling the shots around here. At that time, everyone didn't actually think the situation was too bad. In any case, we just ate whatever the consortium gave us and made do with it. We weren't particular about what we were getting. Although everyone knew life was very tough, we could still bear it. We thought everyone else in the world was also in the same shoes as us. It was often said that people at Fortress 178 led such good lives, but no one had any concept of what 'good' meant. That's because we never saw it for ourselves, so we thought it was only a myth."
The old man continued, "Later on, when Fortress 178's Northwest Army arrived, the atmosphere in the stronghold finally turned lively. Everyone became more daring to speak up, and the fair maidens also plucked up the courage to dress up and head out to shop. When they encountered the soldiers, they did not feel scared anymore either. If it were the past, families with such beautiful daughters would have their hair cut short and raised as boys. They would not even dare to let the Zong Consortium members get a glimpse of them. It was only then that everyone realized they used to live in dark times, and now, the sun had just shone in."
Ren Xiaosu asked, "Since the good days are just beginning, you should aim to live longer."
"You're still young; you don't understand." The old man smiled and said, "What kind of enemy would it take to force the Northwest Army to retreat? It must be a very terrifying one they can't defeat, right? After the Northwest Army came to Stronghold 144, they reduced taxes for everyone and set up an administrative service center. Then, when the future commander of the Northwest Army arrived, he even increased the food supply for the residents, distributed farmland, and led improvements in the irrigation infrastructure. In times of crisis, if it were the Zong Consortium, those soldiers would have already fled. Meanwhile, the Northwest Army's soldiers have not abandoned everyone and retreated from here by themselves. Instead, they set up relief stations and helped the old, frail, women, and children. But I know they're probably thinking about us even though they can barely take care of themselves."
The old man continued, "When a great disaster is impending and they still have me in their thoughts, I can't act like I'm oblivious to what's going on. What's the big deal with me dying at my age? I have to let a few more of those Northwest Army soldiers survive so that our Northwest can be victorious. If the Northwest Army wins, our future descendants on this land won't have to live in a gutter like I did when I was young."
If he did not realize what the world was supposed to be like, it wouldn't actually be a big deal for him to live under the Zong Consortium's rule. After all, that was how he had been living since he was born, so he would still survive no matter what.
But he had witnessed this short period of peace and prosperity in the Northwest, so he could no longer bear the life he had experienced. He did not even want those living on this land in the future to experience the dark times he had been through.
In the old man's opinion, it was far more important to preserve the Northwest Army's strength than for an old man like him to live.
Ren Xiaosu stayed silent for a long time. He waved his hand to signal for two soldiers from the infantry brigade on the neighboring street. He said, "Bring this grandpa to the military-controlled zone."
These two soldiers recognized Ren Xiaosu. They immediately picked up the old man and left without another word. In Stronghold 144, anything that the future commander said was akin to an imperial edict.
The old man was dumbfounded when he was lifted up and carried for a dozen meters.
He suddenly started to struggle. "Let go of me. I'm not leaving. Take the others with you and go!"
The two soldiers said in a low voice, "Grandpa, please don't make things difficult for us. Future Commander has already given his orders. Even if you scream your lungs out today, we'll still have to bring you to the military-controlled zone to be evacuated with the others."
The old man was stunned. "Who did you say that young man was?"
The two soldiers were amused. "So you didn't know you were speaking with the future commander after talking with him for so long?"
The old man was completely stunned.
Ren Xiaosu stood in the alley and assessed the stronghold's situation. He sighed and said, "I hope there'll be enough time to evacuate everyone."