The position for the last place quickly changed and a different volunteer was targeted. There was bound to be someone lagging behind when running as a group. Naturally, the attacks thrown to these targets motivated the entire group to increase their pace in an attempt to avoid being targeted.
Soon enough, there was a stench of sweetness in the volunteers’ breath. The manufactured crystals fueling the defensive coats fueled had run dry long ago. Now they were just ugly, cumbersome objects soaked completely by the rain. White steam started to emanate from the runners, as the coat was repeatedly drenched by the rain and dried by the trainees’ body temperatures.
EDN: The “stench of sweetness” refers to a common Korean saying about peoples’ breath after exercising. When you engage in high-intensity exercise (e.g. fat-burning exercises or in this case, long, intense running), your body burns fat, producing a byproduct called acetone that gets exhaled through your mouth. Acetone has a tell-tale fruity smell, but mixed in with sweat and high body temperature from exercise, it can get pretty nasty. It’s also a main component in nail polish, so you may recognize someone’s breath as smelling like nail polish. Source 1. Source 2.
One of the most difficult trials for humans is to repeat an action without a goal. They run on and on without knowing when they can stop. They drop their pace when they run out of stamina, only to be targeted by the North Bears’ clubs within mere moments. The runners sent glances at Rivelia, who stood at Isaac’s side like a statue, for assistance. But she remained unmoving. Little by little, hostility began to possess the eyes of the volunteers.
“Ha! They really are smart.”
Isaac had lost interest in the run he ordered at the volunteers in the morning, sending intermittent glances once in a while. But when lunch was approaching, he decided to look at how the volunteers were doing, only to find out the volunteers were cheating.
Although they were all agents of Central, their specialties varied greatly. Some were ‘brawns’ who used their physical prowess to get the job done, while others were ‘brains,’ who used magic for combat. Obviously, it was the brains who grew more exhausted as the time went by.
Isaac’s exercise naturally bore down hard on the brains, but they used the fact that the North Bears only targeted the person at the end of the line. They switched places every half lap. A strategy to help one another and survive as a whole with minimal casualties instead of going at it alone.
It’s something that would never have happened in his old world, where selfishness was the cornerstone of human civilization, but it was natural in this world.
It was uncertain if this was orchestrated by the senior agents or if it was a silent agreement among everyone. But one thing was certain. Isaac wouldn’t be having much fun out of the runs.
“It’d be so much more tasteful if I got to empty a magazine right about now…”
Rivelia flinched when she heard Isaac’s disappointed mutter.
“I guess we should have our lunch.”
“Shall I bring it here?”
Rizzly, who had been standing by for some time, immediately asked as if he’d been waiting for this moment. Isaac looked at the dark, gloomy skies as he answered.
“Bring their food here as well and place it in front of the stage. Let’s wrap this up.”
Rizzly immediately blew his whistle and the volunteers began congregating to the front of the stage with the sigh of relief knowing that it was over.
Isaac smoked his cigarette while looking down on the volunteers, who were drenched and covered in mud. By the time Isaac finished his cigarette, the North Bears arrived, carrying a couple of tables, a container full of rations, and utensils.
“Hm? No need for a tent. Utensils too. Just put the food down for now.”
The North Bears questioned Isaac’s order in their heads but did as was told. Even as rain poured down on them, the volunteers couldn’t help gulping anticipation as they watched the food being arranged on the table.
Rain wasn’t even an issue. They were used to eating in the rain during training led by the College’s instructors.
“Preparations have been completed.”
Rizzly said to Isaac, and Isaac stood up from his chair.
“Everyone, it’s time for your meal. You can’t fight on an empty stomach right?”
Isaac smiled and stepped down from the stage, walking toward the tables with the food. Rizzly rushed over to hold an umbrella over Isaac.
“I swear, the Campus always outdoes themselves when it comes to food.”
Isaac looked down on the table, filled with salads that had been garnished with a myriad of dressings, meat, soup, and a variety of desserts. Nodding with satisfaction, Isaac kicked the table over.
The volunteers looked helplessly as their food mixed with the muddied water. Isaac returned to his sofa as if nothing had happened, and spoke down onto the volunteers as if he’d done them a favour.
“Go ahead, eat. I’m sure you’re all starving.”
“Ah, as a note, this isn’t just a one-off bullying on my part. From now on, you may only eat what has been dropped onto the floor. So go ahead, eat.”
“T, this is a violation of human rights!”
One of the volunteers stepped up to complain with his fists shaking in anger. Isaac nodded as he replied.
“That’s right. I will not treat you guys as human beings. You are all but toys for me to play with. But that’s better than being target practices for me right? You can give up now if you don’t like being treated like toys.”
The volunteers were dumbstruck, blankly looking at Isaac. They couldn’t come up with a counterargument when Isaac was so up front with his explanation.
Isaac smiled warmly toward the volunteers and continued.
“Now that the simplest method is off the table, I will do whatever it takes to kill you lot, physically and mentally. All you need to do is survive. Such simple training.”
While the rest of the volunteers were left stunned, a man stepped up.
“I have a question.”
“Hm? You’re still here? I thought you’d given up? Don’t you know you’re priority target number 1?”
Kainen was rattled for a moment, but he clenched his teeth and stared directly at Isaac as he asked.
“What is the goal of this training?”
Isaac took out a cigarette in response to Kainen’s question and announced to the volunteers.
“Ah. Have I not told you? This training is to turn all of you into dogs that will obey my every order, no matter how much you despise and wish to kill me.”
Every aspect of the explanation greatly infringed upon human rights. Kainen glared at Isaac before answering.
“Know that I will never become your dog, no matter what you try.”
Kainen boldly stepped forward and sat onto the muddy ground and without hesitation started picking up the muddied food by hand.
“… Ha! Aren’t you a vicious one.”
“I have to survive if I am to restore my family’s glory.”
Kainen said as he spat pebbles from his mouth. Isaac watched Kainen with keen interest.
Most students who had enrolled into College had lived a good life. Having been insulted like this or experiencing such starvation that they’d eat off the ground would be beyond their imagination.
But Isaac never suspected Kainen, one who lived such a life, would step forward. He wasn’t sure if it was fueled by his hatred toward him or his determination to restore his family’s glory, but thanks to him, one of Isaac’s plans had been foiled from the beginning.
Isaac’s plan was to eat away at the volunteer’s pride by forcing them to give up or resist until tomorrow and submit out of starvation. But with Kainen stepping forward with his goal of bringing back his family as justification, others would join him using their own reasons.
There was a significant difference between one who questioned why they had to do something and one who did something with a goal in mind.
“Well, this is just the beginning.”
Isaac’s declaration that he’d kill them wasn’t a bluff. Nor was he lying about treating them as toys, not humans.
Isaac’s physical challenges didn’t put any of the trainees’ situations into consideration. In fact, it was more of a hunt rather than training. Isaac ordered the trainees to hide in the forest, and the North Bears were sent to find them. At first, the trainees resisted the North Bears’ efforts well with their remaining stamina. But it grew increasingly impossible as time passed by.
First of all, they were limited in what they could eat and drink. Not only did Isaac throw all the food onto the ground as he’d announced, he started reducing the number of meals. From 3 meals a day to 2, then 1, then 3 every 2 days, 2 and then 1. Even the most prideful of the volunteers succumbed to the starvation and joined with the others to eat off the ground.
Isaac saw these people eating the cleanest food on the ground, so he started scattering the food thinly onto the ground or stomping it deep into the mud.
Isaac also barred the volunteers from using showers and baths, stating that toys didn’t need such facilities. The stench of sweat, dirt, and filth on the volunteers grew stronger by the day.
Plus, Isaac awarded one pot of honey for each quarry the North Bears found, so the North Bears who had been turning a blind eye out of mercy began approaching the hunt with great zeal.
There was no way these starved and exhausted volunteers could avoid the eyes of enthusiastic North Bears. One by one they were hunted down, tenderised by the clubs like bags of meat.
The defensive coat helped the trainees resist them for some time, but they couldn’t afford to let their guard down since they never knew when the coat would break. The North Bears also found it difficult to control their strength, so a number of them had been beaten to death by accident.
The lack of rest accompanied by injuries and diseases made their lives even more miserable. Rivelia carefully recommended medical treatment for the trainees to Isaac, but Isaac refused, stating that the volunteers could give up if they wish to be treated for their health. So the volunteers could only limp away with their bodies covered in wounds. When Isaac even banned the use of beds and toilets, the number of quitters skyrocketed.
Those who had given up would curse and insult Isaac ferociously, but Isaac would simply respond with a satisfied smile, greet them politely and lead them to a warm bath, clean clothes, and warm food, shaking the determination of those who haven’t given up yet.
Isaac also proceeded with his brainwashing. Just being selected for the Directorate of Security didn’t mean it was over.
Isaac would demoralize them without end – he would tell them that they must obey his command no matter how unfair it was, even if it meant to kill a fellow Central agent. That they could give up now. That the reward they sought wasn’t just given because they were agents. That they would only receive it after surviving until the end and retiring. That not a single piece of it will be given if they left halfway through, so it was much better for them to look for a different route. All of this among other things Isaac said.
“Sob. I’m sorry. I can’t do it.”
“Don’t give up! You’ll lose everything if you do!”
Those who had been hunted by the North Bears were gathered into the training ground, where they are ordered to dance like maniacs or mimick an animal – all in the name of recuperative self-expression. Isaac would laugh at these volunteers and also forced the North Bears to join in belittling the volunteers. When one of the female volunteers couldn’t withstand the mental suffering and depression, she got onto the stage with tears in her eyes as she held the hammer and used it to ring the bell. All of the other volunteers pleaded with her to stop, to reconsider. But Isaac immediately greeted her with an applause. He approached her and began whispering sweet temptation into her ears like the devil.
“Give up now and I’ll send you to the baths immediately. Then, you will change into clean clothes and eat whatever you want. And a cold beer to top it all off… Kya! How about it? Just ring the bell, and I’ll give it all to you. Give up. It’s so much easier if you do.”
The volunteer couldn’t stop trembling as she listened to Isaac’s whisper, but ended up dropping onto the floor after much hesitation.
Isaac looked down on the volunteer who couldn’t even give up and just ended up crying. He clicked his tongue, disinterested by her actions and turned to Rizzly.
“Take this piece of trash and throw her back into the fold.”
With the order given, Rizzly immediately grabbed the arms of the volunteer and threw her onto the training ground.
The woman sat there blankly, as if she had lost all determination. Isaac shouted at the woman ‘Shake your body like the crazy bitch you are!’ and the woman got on her feet and enacted Isaac’s order to the word.
Agents of Central were the elites of elites. Meanwhile, Isaac had nothing to show for himself. Since he was only able to command them because of his backer’s powerful background, Isaac needed to destroy their pride if he wanted absolute obedience.
Once you remove sanity from a human being, all that’s left is instinct. Sadly, Pavlov’s findings with dogs applied to humans as well.
EDN: Pavlov is a famous psychologist who is most well-known for his work in classical conditioning. By creating associations between stimuli and involuntary reactions, you can train someone to involuntarily react a certain way. In his experiment, Pavlov rang a bell whenever he fed a dog. Eventually, the dog would salivate whenever it heard the bell, regardless of whether or not food was actually present. To read more about Pavlov, here’s his Wikipedia page.
There was a reason why the military constantly trained: so their bodies would react before their heads. When order and reward are engraved into an empty mind, the body starts to move before anything else.
After they were exhausted and ridiculed to their lowest, Isaac would give them a simple order and provide them with a proper resting place, meals, showers, warm beds, or clean clothes. Repeat it enough and they would instinctively react to Isaac’s every command.
If they went against Isaac’s command, all of their friends’ deaths, ridicule, pain, and shame would be for naught. And so they followed his orders, even when they didn’t want to.
ED/TLN: What Isaac is doing here is actually a mixture of classical conditioning and a different type of conditioning called operant conditioning. Isaac’s goal is to instill complete and automatic obedience in his troops. He’s using operant conditioning when he rewards them at the end of their suffering because there’s an incentive to a conscious decision (also when he punishes disobedient soldiers). He’s using classical conditioning in easing them into being more compliant to him (i.e. make them lean towards obeying orders). The thought of disobeying orders (arguably a neutral stimulus) may cause them an involuntary sense of fear (e.g. butterflies in one’s stomach, cold sweats). Because of a fear of punishment (a component of operant conditioning), the trainees will naturally gravitate towards actions that avoid that subconscious fear. Disclaimer: Neither Moyo nor I are thoroughly educated in psychology, but here’s where we got our information.
The training itself didn’t have a proper structure. Isaac was never trained to train professionally, and all he knew was basic military training. But that was not going to cut it in this world. So all Isaac did this time was to torture them in the name of training.
Although it’s sad, the military was the most creative organisation in coming up with abusive behavior, especially those that destroyed pride and mind. There were many for Isaac to choose from.
Three months had passed, and although the mortality rate wasn’t as bad as when training first started, two to three would die every ten days while others would give up. The number of volunteers dropped down to around thirty. But Isaac seemed to have let his guard down, as his goals were only half fulfilled.
“They’re going easy on them, you say?”
“Yes. They have left behind food and water in secret throughout the forest and given their locations to the volunteers, and they gave them rest in the name of theory lectures while you weren’t around, Sir Isaac.”
“It’d be so much nicer if they acted as predicted like that damsel.”
Isaac complained with a cigarette in his mouth. Isaac figured out things weren’t going as he had planned when he watched the behaviours of the volunteers .
They shared the materials and food given to them as a reward. Never could he witness the selfishness he saw in the old world, where people kept everything for themselves.
So Isaac would abuse them even further, but they would not break. It seemed all of the chaff had been cut off, and the people left were consolidated together by a firm will and hatred against Isaac. Groups consolidate when they have a goal. Isaac used all sorts of petty and treacherous schemes to split their unity by rewarding each agent differently and showing favoritism. So bad was this that even Kunette, who said she was on Isaac’s side no matter what, complained that she didn’t want to see it because of how petty it was.
Even so, not a crack formed in their unity. Isaac thought to himself… what if the people of the world were like this. Just when Isaac was pissed off for thinking such a thing, Rivelia gave him a plan for a structured training scheme, and despite knowing what Rivelia was up to, Isaac allowed it out of laziness.
Immediately, Rivelia moved just as Isaac had expected. No matter how strict her training was, it was nowhere near the lethality of Isaac’s training.
People tend to treat those who gave a small hand in their lowest time as their savior. Hatred for himself, loyalty for Rivelia. It was the perfect arrangement.
“Is it time to call it?”
Isaac tried to force them into obedience with his brainwashing, and it seemed to have had some effect. And with Rivelia’s grace, it was creating an adequate balance. But the longer this went on, there would only be hatred and resistance for Isaac left, while complete loyalty and obedience would shift towards Rivelia, foiling Isaac’s plan. It was difficult to expect any more results now that all of the volunteers were consolidated fully. This was it.
With the decision made, Isaac considered whether to proceed with his final training, but decided against it, thinking it would backfire against him instead.
With only thirty or so left, cutting it in half would make it too small to work as an organisation. Perhaps Isaac had eliminated too many in the beginning. With a slight bit of regret, Isaac called out to Rizzly.
“Let’s call it.”
“Tell Mazelan sunbae that the training is over, and tell the damsel to clean up the kids.”
“… So suddenly?”
“Why, do you think it’s lacking?”
“Wouldn’t you normally filter out the remainder with a final, much more vigorous training?”
Isaac smirked facing Rizzly’s question.
“I was thinking of pairing what’s left for a duel and only passing whoever survives. Shall I do it anyway?”
Both Kunette and Reisha, who had been playing around with bullets in the tent, looked at Isaac in complete shock, while Rizzly profusely shook his head with a pale face.
Rizzly quickly left the tent in fear that Isaac may change his mind – suddenly, Isaac called him again.
“Ah, tell Cordnell to give 100 thousand Giga for families of the deceased volunteers, and 10 thousand Giga for those who gave up halfway.”
“Ah, Yes! Will do!”
Rizzly firmly saluted Isaac, impressed by his order. When he disappeared, Kunette came over to Isaac and raised her hands, asking Isaac to pick her up. Isaac picked her up naturally as if he would a pet.
“… Isaac, good job.”
Kunette stood on Isaac’s lap and patted Isaac’s head as if proud of his action.
“Wow! This is why I can’t help but respect you no matter how insane you are, sunbaenim.”
Reisha also followed Kunette and started patting Isaac’s head. Too lazy to even shake their hands away, Isaac took out a cigarette and muttered.
“It’s too soon to be so happy…”