Zhou Qianlin was truly scared, but it wasn’t because of the shock wave.
For almost a full minute, the violent shaking continued. Eventually their speed helped them escape from the diffused destructive energy. As they stabilized, the passengers gradually calmed.
Sweat soaked everyone in the airship. They had felt the cold chill of death at their shoulder, and knew they had just narrowly avoided destruction. Had their reactions been even half a second slower, they’d all be space dust.
The Accountant was more affected. He’d performed his earlier task begrudgingly, but he also knew how important following instructions was in situations such as this. Thinking back, if he would have dragged his feet their bodies would have remained in the Starfields for ever.
Anyone who claimed to not be afraid after staring death in the face, was a liar.
Lan Jue was also shaking slightly, though he wasn’t as fearful. Most was rage. The only thing capable of carnage like that was a Bastion ship. There was only one group in this area that had one.
The Northern Alliance.
A colossal silhouette hung in the emptiness of space. It spread out like an enormous spider, with it’s spindly legs crawling through the black. It was over ten kilometers long, and weighed in the hundreds of millions. It stalked the recesses of the galaxy in darkness and in silence.
The Arachnid, one of the Northern Alliance’s seven Bastion ships. It defended them from the Starfields, and any sneak attacks that might try to pierce their borders. It was equipped with the strongest military weaponry available to mankind, and housed the North’s Seventh Cosmic Fleet. The fleet was composed of a Sovereign-Class Mothership, four Commandships, and a large number of battleships. And yet all of this comprised only one-seventh of the North’s total military power. The armed might of the North was unquestioned.
Within the blly of the massive spider sat a silvery-haired man. Slowly, he dropped his finger from the large, blood-red button.
The distinguished gentleman sat straight and tall, in a crisp white military uniform. He was a towering man, with steely blue eyes that made people uncomfortable. An hooked nose hung over a thin mouth that gave him a distinctly vulture-like appearance.
Three golden stars adorned the labels on his shoulders. They glinted in the fluorescent light.
This was the commander of the Arachnid, Admiral Holmen.
He represented the more hawkish faction of the Northern military. Since the beginning he’d advocated for a firm and combative stance toward the East and West. He was a legend among soldiers.
He was seventy-six years old this year. At eight he’d begun his training in mecha combat. By fourteen, he was a full-fledged pilot. He transferred to battleship command training when he was eighteen. By the time he was twenty-two, he was in the army and wracking up commendations. It took him forty years to earn the title of Admiral, where he committed himself to exploring the frontiers of space for mankind. The Seventh Fleet under his command was the North’s trump card, and was known for it’s strength.
Eight years ago he had achieved his latest promotion – Chief of National Defense. That was when he was given command of the Arachnid. Now he was among the top echelons of Northern command.
His political leanings were certainly more hostile toward outsiders. His techniques were always raze and occupy, and would crush any indigenous populations he came across. There were constantly calls for his removal from the more peace-loving factions, so in the end he was given command out here. Let him destroy pirates, they thought, and his proximity to the East would certainly frighten their neighbors.
Ten years ago Admiral Holmen had proposed a military campaign for An Lun, but was ultimately denied due to vociferous opposition. Lately, however, the more military minded had begun to grip the political majority. With the recent attacks on their exploratory expeditions, the calls for action were growing louder. Already there were plans put to the Ministry of National Defense for an eighth Bastion ship and three more Cosmic Fleets.
“Admiral!” A colonel shot to his feet and saluted. He was always shown the utmost respect.
“Speak.” Holmen’s voice was deep, rich, and cold.
“Our long-range satellite imaging confirms, designation Crimson Star has been destroyed. The nearby planets and asteroid belt were also destroyed or displaced by the resulting shock wave. The test fire of our main battery has completed successfully.”
“Excellent. Commence radiation recharge.” Holmen rose to his feet, slapped a military cap on his head and left the bridge. The red button he’d used to erase a planet retracted, and disappeared in to the admiral’s chair. Only admirals had the right to fire a Bastion’s main weapons.
Holmen’s face revealed a cold satisfaction as he traversed the halls. Zeus? Even someone like him was destined to become ash in the face of a Bastion. One pirate clan for one of the East’s top adepts was more than a fair trade, he felt.
Feng Ling’s calls to help had been sent to the Arachnid. Of course, why should they have any cause to listen to him? Only Holmen gave the commands here. Once the Admiral had heard of Zeus’ presence, things changed.
There were simply too many pirates on that cursed planet who had evidence of the North’s involvement. It was unallowable, they had to be silenced. He advocated war, yes, but on their terms. Sometimes it was best to avoid conflict while you prepared to strike. He was bound by congressional regulations, like everyone else, and they were always hungry for more evidence. But with all trace removed, along with that nuesance they call Zeus, how could anything be brought back to him?
With his pirate influence, and the ever present fear of the Arachnid hanging over them, Holmen was certain it wouldn’t take long to put together another batch of reprobates for his purposes.
The passengers from Zeus-1 were transferred to the battleship, and its controls were relinquished to the Accountant. Clearly this was his area of expertise. Mika and Xiuxiu were more than capable of piloting Zeus-1.
Lan Jue was less than pleased. It was not because of his brush with death, but because of how the pirates were destroyed.
He sat in the commanders chair in the cockpit of Zeus-1, mulling over memories from three years ago.
“Run! Jin Yu, RUN!”
“It’s too late, Lan Jue… it’s already too late. Goodbye, my heart. I love you. Please forget me… fare well.”
Boom– — –!
Lan Jue squeezed his eyes shut. He’d unconsciously curled his hands in to fists. Those past wounds still festered, and now he knew at least part of what happened. The difference from today, was that was a fixed planet Hera was on. There was no way anyone survived.
That powerful light from the distance had re-opened old, deep scars.
Could this all be some sort of coincidence? Although all of evidence said it was an accident, but how could it have been so sudden? What if it wasn’t?
After Hera’s death, Lan Jue lost himself for a long while. When he finally came to, he set out for any indication of what happened. But with the planet’s destruction, any hope of following a trail was gone.
So it was that he hid himself on Skyfire, and chose a quiet life on the Avenue. But for more than half a year, he would dream of that explosion every night. Now he had seen those nightmares come to life.
It had been a small planet, the Crimson Star, but it was still home to thousands of pirates. But while they certainly deserved death, their families were innocent.
Even during Lan Jue’s own pirate purge, he’d never visited harm upon their families, nor plundered their belongings. Bringing those things back had no meaning anyway. Their families needed to eat, so he left them their ill-gotten goods.
This time there was nothing left. Every living thing on that planet had vaporized in the blink of an eye. Tens of thousands of lives, gone.
If he’d thought pirates were cruel, what about the ones responsible for this? There were no words to describe this monstrous act.
These were innocent lives!
“Jewelry Master… Jewelry Master do you read?” Lan Jue’s coms crackled to life. He connected, and isolated it from the outside noise.
“What is it?”
The Accountant’s nasaly voice answered. “Guess what I found. Hehehe, these pirates were some really crafty bastards. You know they hid their entire cache of stolen goods on this ship? This whole thing’s a damn treasure vault! This is the first time I’ve ever seen this much wealth in one place, and I live on the damn Avenue. They got mecha suits, power gems… so many power gems. It looks like they traded for them, for convenience. We’re rich! Ah-hehehehe! We’ve got enough here to outfit an army.”
“Shut up.” Lan Jue’s voice was curt, he didn’t have the patience for the Accountant’s nonsense. He cut the connection without another word. Riches had never been his goal. If all it took was money to bring back that one person, he’d give up everything he owned.