Chaos' Heir
Chapter 469: Leadership

The remaining interviews went relatively smoothly. The profiles had already given Khan an idea of the best candidates, and seeing them in person confirmed it. He assembled a decent team by the end of the process, but his schedule didn't grow any lighter.

The new week brought additional tasks. Khan fulfilled Pandora's invitation to the gallery on the first day and forwarded the specifics of the mission on the second. Lucian was busy getting his infusion, but Khan needed him to deal with the various authorizations, especially those involving vehicles and weapons.

The dinner with George and Anita's families also gained a date. Khan planned to meet them on the weekend, but that didn't make the other days freer. The mission had a team now, so simulations became mandatory.

On the afternoon of the third day, Khan made his team gather in a special training hall near the hangars. The place could simulate most ships and environments, so Khan had no problem replicating the mission's conditions. Still, issues remained, and his companions were to blame for that.

"Boss, I have a question," Manuel, one of the gunners, announced. "What do you exactly mean by don't shoot pointlessly?"

"Sir, the assignment is indeed confusing," Leona, the second gunner, added. "How can we understand when firing is allowed?"

Khan's eyes darted left and right to inspect the two gunners. They were sitting on opposite sides of a holographic ship, and the lights around them created bright cannons. The hall provided a perfect simulated environment, but that didn't help with their doubts.

Truth be told, Khan expected similar questions, but the gunners' characters made them harder to solve. Manuel was a trigger-happy soldier looking for a chance to unload his magazine, while Leona wanted to improve her profile, which required actual shooting.

"We are on a tight budget," Khan vaguely explained. "Your magazines are expensive, so you must hold back the bullets when possible."

Khan had spoken nothing but the truth. He was doing everything in his power to cut expenses. He had also used the Headmistress' support to get those training sessions for free. Yet, short explanations weren't enough for the gunners.

"Boss, I have another question," Manuel continued. "Why did you hire two gunners instead of one with more magazines?"

'Because the regulations force me to have at least two for safety reasons,' Khan thought but decided to give a different explanation. "If things go south, the mission's success will be in your hands."

"Sir," Leona called, "Knowing all the mission's details would prepare us for that eventuality. It would also help us decide when firing becomes necessary."

"Focus on your current tasks," Khan ordered. "If I feel the need to share more specifics, you'll know it."

"You heard the Captain," Lieutenant Clayman stated from the center of the holographic ship. "Prepare for the simulation."

Khan held back a sigh when Manuel and Leona turned to focus on the holograms. The two gunners were as confused as before, which could affect their performance. Still, Khan couldn't risk telling the entirety of his plan to people that enemy parties could easily buy.

Moreover, Khan's plan wasn't exactly easy to trust. A lot depended on his battle prowess, which many wouldn't be ready to believe. His fame was incredible, but simple soldiers would still have doubts, especially when they were understaffed and theoretically ill-equipped for the mission.

The chain of command forced the team to stick to Khan's orders, but the symphony in his eyes revealed a disheartening scene. He could see his underlings' lack of trust and confidence. Even Lieutenant Clayman was no stranger to those feelings, no matter how much he hid them.

Khan could find external aspects to blame but decided to focus on his shortcomings. He had already experienced the weight of leadership multiple times, but that situation felt different. In a way, it also gave him a better idea of what it meant to be a Captain.

Istrone, Nitis, and Ecoruta had featured crises in which Khan mostly needed to survive. That task wasn't only straightforward. Khan also had the chance to show his prowess in those situations, which granted him the undisputed trust of his companions.

Teaching had a higher purpose, but Khan could use his goodwill to compensate for his rough methods. He lacked the training and education to convey his subject properly, but he knew how to make his students experience it, which solved his problems.

The mission in Reebfell's Slums was a simple matter of experience. Khan didn't really lead there. He was the only one who knew how that place worked, so people listened to him.

Milia 222 was the closest thing to Khan's current mission. It had a purely financial purpose that didn't affect Khan's beliefs. Still, he had mostly acted alone there, and his interests in alien species and arts had often taken priority.

Instead, Lucian's mission featured a horrible combination for Khan. It had nothing to do with him, its goals were money-related, and its budget was awful. The threat of political issues also prevented an open approach, which made earning the teammates' trust quite tricky.

'Maybe trust is a luxury in these missions,' Khan considered. 'I just need them to follow my orders in the end.'

Khan could come to terms with that idea, but that didn't make it any happier. He knew he didn't want to be that type of leader, and the current mission could set the right foundation. He just didn't know how to do it from inside a training hall.

"Sir, we are waiting for your orders," Lieutenant Clayman declared, forcing Khan out of his many thoughts.

"Perfect," Khan exclaimed while peeking at the back of the holographic ship. "Seth, list the requirements."

"The turrets need one minute to target the landing area," Seth, the tech expert, explained, "Ten minutes to land, and two minutes to go online."

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"Tyler, when does the clock start?" Khan asked while turning toward the holographic pilot's cabin.

"As soon as the ship is in position, sir," Tyler, the pilot, replied.

"Gunners, when is your window?" Khan questioned.

"We go online once the ship releases the turrets, sir," Leona responded.

"And we stop firing once they activate," Manuel added. "If the boss ever authorizes us to fire at all."

"Manuel, don't disrespect the Captain," Lieutenant Clayman scolded.

"Alright," Khan shouted. "Start the simulation."

Lieutenant Clayman complied, tapping his foot to start the training program. The floor immediately changed color, creating a realistic distant sea. A few black and many red marks also appeared to replicate the environment the team would find during the mission.

"Calculate the ideal target," Khan ordered.

"Calculating, sir," Seth claimed, and a circular target appeared on the floor.

New holograms shone in front of Khan to give him a better idea of where the target was. He saw that mark descending toward the red dots before stopping somewhere among them. It even changed color, and Seth didn't hesitate to explain what it meant.

"Ideal target found, sir," Seth shouted.

"Fire," Khan ordered, and the hall's ceiling helped depict the scene.

A holographic missile came out of the ceiling and crossed the ship before fusing with the floor. Khan could keep track of its movement from the images in front of him, and the explosion that followed cleared most of the red dots.

"Disenga-," Tyler began to say, but Khan interrupted him. "Negative! We must wait for the radiation to stop messing with our scanners."

"Sorry, sir!" Tyler promptly stated, and Manuel couldn't hold back a mocking smirk.

"Scanners online, sir," Seth eventually stated.

"Disengage main ship," Khan ordered, and Tyler complied.

The holograms changed to replicate the ship's movements during the mission. Four huge pillars also materialized at its sides while the images in front of Khan showed its trajectory.

A few minutes had to pass before the ship reached its destination, and Khan had to hold back the desire to curse when silence reigned. Someone had forgotten his role.

"Tyler?" Khan called, mustering his calmest tone.

"Yes, sir," Tyler replied.

"The ship is in position," Khan reminded.

"You are correct, sir," Tyler announced.

"Then, say it," Khan ordered.

"The ship is in position, sir!" Tyler shouted, raising his voice in a lame attempt to cover his mistake.

"Seth, target the landing area," Khan ordered, "And start the clock."

"Yes, sir," Seth stated. "Targeting program engaged."

"Tyler, keep us still," Khan declared. "Don't move the ship for any reason."

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"Yes, sir," Tyler replied.

"Gunners, study the area," Khan continued. "The explosion cleared the way, but new Tainted animals will arrive. Be ready for them."

"Boss, I thought we weren't supposed to fire," Manuel pointed out.

"You fire today," Khan explained. "I want to see how you do."

"Is there something at stake, boss?" Manuel questioned while exchanging a glance with Leona. The two gunners showed their competitiveness, and Khan didn't miss it.

"The most accurate between you gets priority on the first necessary shot," Khan decided to add fuel to the competitiveness.

"Now we are talking," Manuel laughed, and Leona responded with a snort.

"Fire only when the turrets are in danger," Khan uttered.

"Yes, sir!" Manuel and Leona shouted at the same time.

"Sir, landing area targeted," Seth stated.

"Launch the turrets," Khan ordered.

"Launching turrets," Seth repeated, and the four pillars at the ship's sides fused with the floor before turning into part of the scenery.

Khan checked the holograms before nodding in approval. Tyler didn't mess up during the discharge, but the mission had only begun, and the rest of the simulation would provide important data for his role.

The floor didn't show any change for now. The pillars descended safely and approached the black mark at high speed. That peace allowed Khan to move his attention elsewhere, and he decided to point it at the pilot.

Khan crossed the holographic ship to reach the pilot's cabin. Tyler was so focused on the images in his vision that he didn't notice his arrival, but that was fine. Khan preferred that over a panic attack.

However, Tyler's mana and his behavior showed red flags. A few drops of sweat had appeared on his neck, and his hands held the fake steering wheel too tightly. Khan could see him survive a simulation and the test, but an actual mission was bound to make him more anxious.

'It's a miracle he got his license,' Khan thought. 'Maybe he has connections with some higher-ups.'

Of course, Khan didn't voice those thoughts. The floor even claimed his attention in the next seconds since red dots began to reappear in the area.

The missile was bound to scare many animals, and the following radiation could keep packs away. However, Lauter's Tainted creatures were very territorial and hated when foreign forces or items entered their environments.

The turrets were safe, but the incoming red dots were targeting them. There were only four of them, but their numbers were bound to increase in the next minutes, and the pillars still needed nine to reach the black mark.

"Boss, can we start firing?" Manuel asked as more red dots appeared in the previously cleared area.

Khan didn't immediately answer. He would already be down there during the actual mission, but his task was still a secret. He planned to use the simulation to get an idea of how many Tainted animals he would have to fight, and seeing the gunners' performance wouldn't hinder that project.

"What's your professional opinion?" Khan questioned.

"Sir," Leona called, "If we don't start firing now, too many enemies will enter the turrets' range."

"Alright," Khan announced. "Remember to focus on accuracy. Fire!"

Manuel laughed while immediately pulling the trigger. Leona started firing only a second after him, and the hall applied their inputs to the simulation.

A few red dots disappeared, but more replaced them. There seemed to be no end to those enemies, and they all saw the descending turrets as their main targets. They charged recklessly at them, but the gunners contained their numbers.

Khan kept track of the clock as the simulation continued. Manuel and Leona were doing a good job, but two gunners were too few for the mission. By the seventh minute, the first Tainted animal reached the turrets, and an unstoppable chain reaction followed.

More and more Tainted animals escaped the barrage of bullets and reached the turrets, eventually destroying them. By the ninth minute, the four pillars were no more, and the simulation marked the mission as a failure.

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Curses and sighs resounded in the hall. The simulation had shown the limitations of such an understaffed team, and many gazes turned in Khan's direction. He was the only one who could affect the mission, but he kept his eyes on the floor.

'Twenty to thirty Tainted animals,' Khan calculated. 'Fewer if I can be a good bait. I can't really miss either. It's doable with some bullets, but the final two minutes might be troublesome.'

"Sir?" Lieutenant Clayman called since Khan was still immersed in his thoughts.

"Manuel has forty percent accuracy," Khan exclaimed while checking the images. "Leona wins with forty-two."

"Are you for real?!" Manuel cursed. "Boss, I fired more than her. If we consider the number of bullets-."

"I can calculate how much money you wasted," Khan interrupted. "I told you to focus on accuracy."

Leona voiced a mocking scoff aimed at Manuel, but Khan didn't let his speech end there. "Still, these numbers are too low. I want both of you to raise your accuracy above sixty before the mission."

The gunners revealed their shock, and Khan didn't give them a chance to address the matter. He took out his phone to check the hour, and a curse resounded in his mind.

It wasn't late, but the lessons had ended only a few hours before that gathering. Khan had done some homework during the trip in the cab, but more waited for him once he left the training hall.

Moreover, Khan needed to review past lessons with his friends, spend time with Monica, and train. He would usually resort to the simulated mental battle during those busy periods, but a lot of the mission would depend on him, so he planned to hit the training hall once Monica fell asleep.

The dinner with George and Anita also required some preparations that Khan had to stuff into his schedule, and he couldn't take time away from the simulations. His team needed as many of them as possible before the mission.

'Depending on the number of questions,' Khan calculated, 'Each simulation takes twenty to thirty minutes. I can fit five more of them before dinner. Hopefully, the others can remain focused.'

"Sir, can we have a word in private?" Lieutenant Clayman requested while Khan kept looking at his phone.

"Of course," Khan agreed. "Prepare another simulation and review your roles in the meantime."

"Yes, sir!" Everyone shouted while Khan and Lieutenant Clayman headed for an isolated corner of the hall.

"What is it?" Khan asked.

"Sir, I believe you should rethink your approach to the mission," Lieutenant Clayman went straight to the point. "The team isn't ready, and I'm not sure the pilot will ever be.'

"The authorizations will take a while to arrive," Khan explained. "I plan to practice every day except for the weekend until then."

"Sir," Lieutenant Clayman said as his expression grew sterner, "Failing this mission would put a red mark on your otherwise immaculate profile. You won't ruin your career, but many will question your leadership skills."

"Thank you for your honesty," Khan replied, "But the opposite is also true. If I succeed, many doors will open for me."

"I understand, sir," Lieutenant Clayman nodded. "Though, I think you already have countless doors ready to welcome you."

"They are never too many," Khan chuckled as past conversations surged into his mind. He had gone over the topic with Monica and George. Succeeding in the mission could give him access to the jobs he truly sought once the semester ended.

"I understand, sir," Lieutenant Clayman voiced without adding anything.

"What about you?" Khan wondered. "You are almost a third-level warrior, right? Are you aiming for a promotion?"

"If the Global Army finds me worthy, sir," Lieutenant Clayman responded.

Khan glanced at the rest of the team inside the holographic ship before turning to the Lieutenant again. The latter definitely was the most qualified among his underlings. Having him as second in command at such a low price was actually incredible.

"I don't know how much influence I have," Khan announced, "But set them straight, and I'll try to make some calls. Of course, the mission must be a success first."

"I'm flattered, sir," Lieutenant Clayman performed a military salute as a twitch ran through his stern expression. "I'll whip them into shape."

"Go ahead," Khan laughed, and Lieutenant Clayman immediately turned to reach the rest of the team. Orders also came out of his mouth, but Khan barely heard them. He had remained conflicted until now, but that last gesture felt right.

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