Chapter 74: The Shattered Starfields

Once entering the wormhole, the concept of speed ceased to exist. Once more they were in a space of varying lights and warped visuals like they had been during the light jump. Zeus-1’s five engines had returned to quietly emitting their fiery red glow.

Lan Jue sat slumped against the back of the captain’s chair, fighting to keep his exhaustion from being obvious in his half-lidded eyes.

It was a rarity among adepts to use one’s powers to manipulate a ship’s jump capabilities due to it’s risks and requirements. Even Lan Jue couldn’t rely solely on his own discipline to achieve what he did.

Aside from Lan Jue’s considerable power, the power gem fitted in Zeus-1 is what had ultimately granted it the explosive velocity that got them to light speed. His discipline had been channeled through a Core Power Gem fitted to the engines, which had served to greatly amplify output. It was a rare, special a-ranked gem – one whose value was equivalent to a five-hundred meter military cruiser.

Clearly, nearly every aspect of the ship’s system’s had been improved beyond it’s original construction.

A shudder passed through the ship as it exited the wormhole. Once again, the black expanse of space spread out before them.

“Maintain sub-light. We’ll be arriving at the Shattered Starfields in three days,” Ke’er reported.

Xiuxiu was next. “Energy recovery normal. Beginning energy conservation speed control.”

“Expanding radar scope, effective range increased to spot incoming threats,” Mika reported.

No action was wasted, and no task botched. The four women worked impeccably, with the tacit understanding that this ship – which would usually require around fifteen people to effectively operate – had to be managed with just them.

At this point forward, Zeus-1 had successfully left the scope of the Eastern Alliance’s control. They found themselves now in the expansive outer limits of the Shattered Starfields. What this meant for them, was that they could encounter a pirate force at any moment.

Lan Jue closed his eyes. The area around him flickered occasionally with pale threads of electricity. Sitting there looking majestic and at rest, a pale blue light glowed indistinctly in the center of his chest.

Two days later.

Zeus-1 soared easily through space at stable speed, it’s wings wide. Ahead, there appeared an indistinct undulation of light and darkness.

The Shattered Starfields were vast, and their interior possessed some seventy-plus stars scattered throughout. They filled the starfields with light, heat and energy in spades.

The numerous planets unfortunate enough to populate the area were constantly subjected to meteor strikes. Some were so battered that they broke apart, eventually becoming scores of asteroids themselves. It was only the smaller planets that survived, hidden away within the center sectors of the starfields. Paired with the high amounts of radiation emitted from it’s numerous stars meant the Shattered Starfields was one of the most inhospitable places in the universe. It was no wonder that time and again the three Alliances have abandoned it to piracy.

So it was that this had become a pirate’s utopia. The inhospitable environments have proven to be their greatest defense. And the three planets dominating the interior, those were the havens of all manner of scum and degenerate. Criminals from each of the alliances often found themselves stuck here.

“Entering Shattered Starfields peripheral galaxy,”Ke’er reported.

“Excellent.” Mika’s eyes flashed dangerously. Her excitement was clear even in the way she flipped her hair.

Lin Guoguo shot her a glance. “You’re always so violent, Mika. How do you expect to get married?”

Mika huffed dismissively. “And why should every woman get married? Isn’t it just as an accessory to some man? I don’t want to marry – there’s nothing appealing about a man. Oh, ‘cept the boss.”

Lan Jue had just come up from the cabin as she spoke the last sentence. He gave her a stern look. “Mika, do you need a spanking? You dare say I’m not a man?”

Mika chortled. “You said it, not me. I’m complimenting you!”

Lan Jue frowned, muttering as he walked to the window at the fore of the control room.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been here. I wonder if it’s still as chaotic as it’s always been.”

Xiuxiu spoke towards Lan Jue. “We’re heading towards SS-31, right? Should we also do some looking around for the shop?”

It was true that the Shattered Starfields were a dangerous and unstable place, but it was also a fine market for many special power gems that were mined in the region. Only, the safety concerns made any business consortium hesitant to set up shop.

Lan Jue nodded. “We’ll deal with the business at hand, first. If everything goes well we’ll make the trip and see what we can find. The bigger the take, the bigger the split.”

Beep.

The sound came from within the ship, soft and not unappealing. But the sound instantly caused Lan Jue and his four companions’ faces to grow serious.

Zeus-1 was their baby, manufactured to the last detail by them. As such they were intimately familiar with each aspect of the ship. That sound was the sound of the sleeping cabin’s door opening. But all five of the ship’s intended passengers were gathered on the bridge. So, that door had no business opening.

Lan Jue’s eyes grew cold and hard as he turned to investigate.

Mika had already reacted, crouching like a leopardess ready to strike. The fire grew visible behind her eyes.

“What a great sleep! It’s been a long time since I’ve had such a deep sleep. It’s nice not having to worry about the date or time.” The voice echoed through the halls, quick and appreciative in tone.

At the sound of the voice Lan Jue’s expression changed from hard to confused. And then downright murderous.

Mika had curled herself in to a pounce position, then shot forth. A few moments later a shrill yell filled the air. “Ah! N-not so hard! It’s a misunderstanding, just a misunderstanding!”

Mika came storming back in, dragging someone behind her. Their clothes had clearly suffered burns.

“Jewelry Master, you have to save me!” The yells continued, but they’d grown weak and faint.

“Accountant,” Lan Jue growled, glaring at the stow-away. “I’m going to need an explanation, otherwise I’m flushing you out the air lock. I wonder how long you’d last.”

“No, no don’t!” The Accountant coward pitifully, half-asleep and entirely frightened.

The women all looked shocked, Mika among them. How someone could inadvertently stumble aboard Zeus-1 and fall into Deep Sleep while totally evading their security checks and processes was simply baffling. It wasn’t just inconceivable, it was deeply shameful.

Like Lan Jue each of them had been around the proverbial block, but his was certainly a first.

“J-jewelry Master… don’t be angry. The Keeper asked me to come. I-I’m his spokesman. You wanted his cooperation, right? The Keeper’d ask me to tell you before, but I’d forgotten. Ah! Miss, don’t hit me, let me finish! Listen, ok, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been so curious, but I found your hangar. A-and I know my curiosity should have ended there but I started fiddling with the controls. A-and my curiosity got away from me, and I know I shouldn’t have but I got on the ship. But, the ship, it’s planner – genius! Really just amazing construction. All of these power gems, it’s just luxurious! Jewelry Master, you’ve really got some bank account!”

Lan Jue’s face changed by degrees, eventually dropping his hard stare for a small grin his two new disciples from the NEU were intimately familiar with.

“Mika, you can’t maim him. Otherwise…”

A wicked smile slowly spread across Mika’s face.

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