Chapter 561: Moving Out
No matter where in the universe, dawn was the time when people were at their most sluggish. Awakening from deep sleep, it takes everyone time to clear the haze from their mind. As the sky brightened, however, the base gradually became darker as a shadow fell over it.
Lan Jue’s eyes popped open. He glanced at the time, then got out of the verticar. He stretched and got his fluids moving as a smile crept onto his face. He was looking forward to this.
Destroying the Red Widows was a given – it was going to happen, and the Star Division was more than capable of it without his help. However, their goal was to obtain experience with zero casualties. Pulling off a flawless victory was more difficult to do.
Beside the verticar hanger was the main entrance to the defense spire. According to the pirate he interrogated, there were always twenty mecha on patrol and another eighty personnel on standby. That meant that at any sign of danger, a hundred mechas could immediately be mobilized. Beyond that, the area was thick with monitoring equipment and security checks.
To Lan Jue, that last part wasn’t much of a problem anymore. He walked up to the elevator he saw the pirate exit from and pressed the call button. Then, he dissolved into lightning and slipped through the walls. The insulation was just as thick here, so he couldn’t move anywhere, but at least he could remain unseen.
The elevator arrived, and with it the familiar beam of sweeping light. Lan Jue’s hand appeared jutting from a corner of the wall with one of the pirate communicators strapped to his wrist. Despite the strange angle, the security check picked it up right away.
The light vanished, it was safe to enter. There was a soft flicker of electric light and Lan Jue reappeared. He stepped into the elevator.
Like the rest of the building, the elevator was metal. He hid within the walls as he’d done before which kept him away from the prying eyes of cameras. One of the buttons inexplicably lit up as it was pressed, then the elevator began to descend.
The control center was underground, as well as those twenty patrolling mechas. However the lower he went the better Lan Jue felt. The world of metal was now free from the insulation of
the higher floors and opened up space to move around.
The pirate’s information proved credible again when he quickly found the master control room. Outside were four mecha suits facing away from the door with weapons at the ready. For the Red Widows, this was the very heart of their whole organization.
Unfortunately for them, they weren’t ready for electricity.
Lan Jue buzzed through the wall, reforming on the other side. More than twenty pirates were busily working the various systems. He could see right away that it was an advanced set-up, no less impressive than what could be found in the Three Alliances. They must have paid through the nose for it.
He casually walked across the control room as he looked around. He spotted his objective quickly; the planetary defense controls. They were somewhat of a misnomer, because they were actually an integrated design. Aside from coordinating defense, it also constituted early warning systems, probes, counter-attacks and so forth.
The electromagnetic field around the planet was part of its
detection and warning systems. When an enemy entered the field, it immediately tripped the alarms and the system reacted.
Lan Jue’s purpose right now wasn’t to blow things up. All he needed was an opening for his people to bypass that field. He quickly sent a message to Majesty to be ready.
“Ugh, I’m so tired. Shift’s over soon, you wanna grab some grub?” A pirate stretched, looking fatigued.
“More’n eat. We’ve been burning the midnight oil, I need to relax. Let’s grab a drink. A glass before bed is relaxing. Whaddaya guys think?”
“Nice, sounds good to me. Shame there aren’t any fat-ass women around in the morning to make that drink go down smoother.”
“Give it a week and it’ll be better. Next week we’ve got the day shift, then we’ll have the nights to ourselves. Compared to our brothers on the other asteroids we’ve got it good. They only rotate back here once a month. We can get practically whenever we want when we want it.”
“Well it’s about that time, next shift should be here soon. Man the night shift is tiring.”
They started arranging everything to pass on to the next shift when, suddenly, every screen flickered and went black.
“What the hell is this?” The room was plunged into darkness for a moment before the emergency lights kicked in. The pirates were a flurry of confused motion. This was the first time they’d encountered this problem. Power was steady across all the asteroids, and they had three backup generators. Total power should not have been possible!
They clambered over one another to try and pinpoint the malfunction.
“Quick! Let the commander know!” One of the pirates ordered.
However, right then all the lights and screens came back online with an electric buzz. Everything was normal. One of the pirates – the one who was going to report to the commander – looked around surprised for a moment then dropped his communicator.
“Should I still call him?” He asked.
The one who was apparently in charge was also unsure of how to proceed. They all knew how important this place was, to the clan and to Red Widow himself. They didn’t dare shirk their duties lest they risk being punished.
“Check the systems first. See if there are any problems.” Their leader answered. Red Widow pirates weren’t military soldiers, so their incentives weren’t to deal with problems head on. He chose the safer option, for his own hide, and decided to see how bad things were first.
One by one the pirates reported no problems in any sector.
The leader pondered for a moment. “Maybe it was an electron flare that shorted everything. Everything looks good now, there doesn’t seem to be any problems. Stick to it a little longer and see if you can find any anomalies on the planet’s surface.”
“Nothing, everything’s normal. Not even a fly.” Another one of the pirates called out to him right away.
What they didn’t know was that flickering was a sign. All their images and communications were now being streamed directly to a monitoring device that wasn’t part of their system. Someone else had access.
Lan Jue was long gone. He was back inside the verticar. Luckily the pirate he’d snagged from the earlier had been someone of some importance to have this car to get around in. It made Lan Jue’s life easier.
As he rose into the air and flew off, he got in touch with Majesty. “Did it all work out?”
The Accountant’s voice answered. “Of course it did. If yours truly is on it, it gets done right. We’re in the base’s airspace, I’ll send you the coordinates. First Division Alpha Squad has boots on the ground and are waiting for you to arrive.”
“Alright, be there soon!”
He tore through the air toward Majesty. With coordinates in hand, finding the invisible ship wasn’t difficult. It was in a restricted zone.
The asteroid had several restricted zones that were flooded with radiation. You needed special permission to get in, and then had to follow a specific path to make your way through. Without special approval, no pirates were coming through this way.
Of course, this didn’t stop Lan Jue. He flew the car to the borders of the quarantine and used his Discipline to get past the walls. As the Monarch poured his Talent into his speed, a golden aura buzzed around him. He flew so fast through the irradiated wastelands that satellites would only see a streak of dim light. This early in the morning, anyone seeing that light would be too groggy to recognize what it might be.
In a blink he was at the coordinates. The faintest eminence of energy tickled at his senses, and it was there he went. A flash of electric light, and he vanished near the source of the pulses.
“Here!” Lan Jue reappeared to find Alpha Team waiting nearby, led by the Pharmacist. They were joined by another woman. Judging by her uniform she was part of Fourth Brigade. She was here because her Talent made groups of soldiers invisible. A priceless addition to their mission.
“Put ‘em on.” Lan Jue passed out the communicators he’d
pilfered from the pirates. The soldiers did as they were told. Moments later they were heading back the way Lan Jue had come.
Mechs guarded each of these restricted areas, but the one Majesty chose was remote. The path to and from was only big enough for a ship or a few mechs as well. Because danger seemed so unlikely from this location, only two mechs were on stationed here to keep watch.
They crept to the gates under the cloak of invisibility. When they arrived, Lan Jue called them to a halt with a gesture. “Stay here. I’ll deal with the guards.”
He didn’t wait for acknowledgement. Their commander became a bolt of lightning and disappeared.
The two mechas guarding the area stood outside. As dawn broke and the shift change neared, the pilots were sleepy and looking forward to bed. The only thing keeping them awake was the punishment they’d receive if they were caught sleeping.
Neither understood why there were here guarding a gate strong enough to survive a nuclear blast. To them, it was a
waste of time and their abilities.
Suddenly, both of them felt a numbness penetrate right to their hearts. They clutched feebly at their chests for a moment before slipping into unconsciousness. It was virtually painless.
“Open the gate.” Lan Jue gave the order through his communicator.
“Got it, right away!” The massive door creaked as it opened a crack. Just enough to let a series of dark silhouettes slip through.
Chapter 562: Bugle Call
The base’s shields and doors were tied to the planetary defense system, and thus were located in the master control room. The Accountant’s backdoor access gave him sway over it, and everything else.
However, he had to be wary. The pirates’ defenses were all- encompassing. If anyone in the control center saw anything out of the ordinary, they could immediately shut down any access outside of their servers. Lan Jue didn’t dare let them know that he had his fingers in their pies. They weren’t safe until they had total command over the control center.
Alpha team slipped into the base. Lan Jue waved them over. “On me!” He started off into the sky. There were too many for the verticar, so they’d have to make their own way.
The Pharmacist took up the invisibility specialist and lifted off the ground. The others of Alpha team followed and raced after Lan Jue toward the interior of the Red Widow base.
The Accountant’s people infiltrated their systems. They fed live intel of troop movements to the ground team’s communicators.
Lan Jue looked at the Pharmacist. “When we get there you take the team and clear the halls. I’ll deal with the ones inside the main control room, then the operation will official begin.”
“Got it.” The Pharmacist nodded and smirked in anticipation. This whole thing was a novel experience for her. She was eager for the new adventure.
Disciplines as strong as they were no longer needed to fear the planet’s defenses, after penetrating so deep into the base. If they wanted to, they could obliterate the control center with a wave of their hands. However, they would deprive the Star Division of their training. They had to learn, step by step, according to plan.
Lan Jue called the elevator. In contrast to his initial sneaky ingress, he marched into the elevator with his team, tall and regal. The Accountant’s work continuously scrubbed the videos to keep them hidden.
The elevator began to drop. Ding! The doors opened.
Lan Jue vanished in a flash. He crackled through the alloy walls toward his objective. Meanwhile the Pharmacist gestured
for her soldiers to sweep and clear. Eyes snapped to communicators and off they went to hunt down the patrolling mechas.
Lan Jue returned to the main control room. This time, there was no need for subtlety.
The pirates showed no sign of distress after the brief outage. It’d given them a jump but the system checks had been all clear. The threat of punishment for a screw-up, though, had filled them with adrenaline. None of them were sleepy anymore.
The one who was their leader muttered. “You guys did good today. When we get off, I’m buyin’.”
The other pirates loudly voiced their appreciation. Of course they knew it for what it was; a bribe to keep any word of that hiccup from getting out.
Among them was a voice they did not recognize.
“Gentlemen, the show is about to begin. Goodbye.”
Before anyone could react they lost all sensation. One by one they hit the ground, dead to the world. The thought of tripping an alarm didn’t have time to cross their minds.
Lan Jue pulled over a chair and took a seat. He used the base’s comms to connect with the Accountant. “We have the master controls. Commence Operation Bugle Call.”
The Accountant’s delighted voice answered. “Roger! You stay there and leave the rest to us!”
Red Widow rubbed his sleepy eyes and sat up in his bed. Yesterday’s raids had been draining, but they hadn’t stripped him of his appetites. This was evident by the sleeping woman beside him.
The sky was brightening outside his window. The planet’s three satellites were great for defense, but he had a more personal reason for choosing the asteroid as a base. It’s day- night cycle was just where he’d grown up.
The guesses about his history were true. Red Widow had indeed been a former Northerner, enlisted in their army. He’d reached the rank of colonel before defecting.
Ever since he was small he was gloomy and dark, a character very much like a spider. Once, when he was small, someone had stolen a girl he’d loved. He swore that day to become strong and exact revenge.
Later, he became an honored soldier within military command. He was especially adept at planning assassinations and other wet work. He was himself a sovereign-ranked pilot at the time. There was no doubt he had a bright future.
What he could never expect was that his sworn enemy was the son of an important military family. The day came when he would make his move. He stole into his nemesis’ house and massacred every single person. The chips imbedded in their bodies, regular measures for military families, were activated. He immediately became public enemy number one.
His training and prudence was what saved his life. He’d had a plan in case he was found out, to escape. The man that would became the Red Widow slipped away, mere inches from death.
In the North, he became persona non grata overnight. He was a man without a nation. He then decided to gather some people and carve a home from the Shattered Starfields as a pirate king.
Thinking on it now, he couldn’t help but regret some of it. Perhaps if he had been more cautious, had not done it himself, he could have gotten away with it. Good prospects were lost. Even general wasn’t out of reach back then. He’d been a rising star…
One day, I’m going back! Red Widow fiercely assured himself.
He got up, poured himself a glass of ice water and stretched. He walked over to the window and looked out over his domain.
The stringent defenses and Red Widow’s history were obviously closely connected. He lost a lot in being discovered, but he’d learned how to watch his back.
Now, ten years after the fact, his Red Widow clan was flourishing. They stood on a strong foundation for growth. There were benefits to the life of a pirate as well. If you didn’t like someone, you could end them without a second thought.
You also got to pick your targets. His clan focused mostly on Northern merchants, and never left anyone breathing. This was eye for an eye for him, cruelty knew no bounds.
“Huh?” The pirate commander’s eyes peered toward the military district. It was about time for the morning training routine. But something was off.
It was the air. It warped erratically, almost like hot air. And a strange sound…
What the hell?
Red Widow was wide awake. He threw on his flight suit and pulled his communicator up to his face. “Control. This is Red Widow. Is there something going on with our detection systems?”
His response was an explosion that shook the base. The Red Widow stood there for a moment, his mind blank. An enemy attack?!
The roar of the explosion ripped through the base. The Red Widow scrambled out of his building and look up just in time to see the colossal form
Goddamn! That’s a…
A battleship? If it was it was an odd one. How could this be? How could a whole battleship suddenly appear a few dozen feet above my bed? Why wasn’t it stopped by the defenses? Why wasn’t there an alarm!
The Red Widow was completely and thoroughly confused. He felt powerless against what he saw before him.
Four great columns of light shot out from beneath the ship. Dark figures began to descend within the beams. Mechs. When they made landfall, they spread out in all directions like a plague.
Red Widow clenched his jaw. He knew he had to keep his cool. This was his house, and he knew how to cause a little damage himself. He just needed the proper response – he still had a chance.
The pirates proved their reputations. When the blast was heard, they’d begun to mobilize. Already there were groups of mechs converging to meet the enemy.
What came was the apocalypse.
Brigades one and two were responsible for routing the pirates’ main force. Third Brigade was cleanup and rescue. The living area was left to Fourth Brigade. However, the planning was so complete as to involve every unit. They each had their objectives to contribute to the whole.
Second Brigade starting taking the high ground while First Brigade sent their troops to the base’s interior. The base had gone from a lazy morning to a tide of destructive energy in a matter of moments.
Red Widow’s mecha was red, his preferred color. He gathered what men he could and raced off.
He didn’t know how they got in, but they obviously had prepared. When he saw a group of his people mowed down by a single unit in less than ten seconds, it was clear; this was more than they could handle. He had to get out to the satellites and mount a counterattack. With the help of his own battleship he could recapture the base.
But even as he thought it the pirate leader knew it was naïve. If the enemy could show up in the heart of his organization, they must know it well. They had to have an answer in case of off-world reinforcements.
Red Widow’s attention snapped back to the present when he saw a huge golden orb heading straight for him.
“Block his path!” Red Widow roared. He needed time. No matter what was happening here, he had to get out first before he could take the next step. He had a ship here, newly refurbished. It was fast, and if he got out there was a chance to
get these bastards back.
His reputation was good in the Starfields. He had allies in other pirate clans. His mind raced for opportunities.
Chapter 563: Sweep And Clear
The Red Widow had no idea how this enemy could suddenly appear. What happened to all their defenses? After all that money, it was like it had no use at all.
Inside he was enraged, but he kept a clear head.
Six of the mechas that were guarding him broke off and engaged the metallic orb. They fired wildly at it, but their long- ranged attacks harmlessly bounced off. Then, as they watched, the orb grew several sharp and spindly protrusions. They appeared just in time, as the orb came crashing into the pirate mechas.
Peng! Bang! Two pirates were turned to slag as the orb made contact. The energy it struck with felt like it would level a mountain. The spikes launched out and pinned the remaining combatants to the floor – dead.
“Ai-ya, weak sauce.” Tang Xiao loudly complained. His round body catapulted into the air, changing back into a war machine. The Star Division unit commander chased after Red Widow.
The pirate leader was obvious. His bright red suit was better than the others, and his cunning tactics were common for someone who’d spent their life as a deplorable scum.
However, before long the red mecha was gone. Vanished without a trace.
“Where’d he go?” Tang Xiao asked his sister, he was nearby.
Tang Xiao’s unit was special. Using his metalmorphosis Discipline, the ten-member team became a singular weapon. The only teams that could outdo their damage output were Alpha Squads.
Tang Mi was just as confused. “I don’t know! Some sort of mechanism? Forget it, there are other targets. Every target is worth it.”
In terms of sheer numbers, the Red Widows outnumbered the Star Division. Quality, though, was a different story. In that regard the Star Division had a tremendous advantage. Plus, the speed and ferocity of their attack meant that many of the pirates’ mecha pilots were still groggily wandering the residential area and weren’t in their suits.
Lan Jue sat before the large screens of the central control room. He watched as the action unfolded, sweeping up the rest of the base. He couldn’t help but feel a little bored.
This was turning into a one-sided slaughter.
He figured one of the top ten pirate clans in the Starfields would put up more of a fight. Perhaps he underestimated what the Star Division could do.
After over ten missions, every brigade in the Division was working better together. Individual fighting squads were the most improved. Every ten-man team had at least one sovereign- ranked pilot or ninth level Talent. They had enough of both to go around.
The Adept-turned-pilots were a force of nature when behind a mecha suit. With Talent and technology as one, the pirates were mowed down like wheat.
Before long Lan Jue’s communicator started receiving
reports. One after the other, the important sectors of the base came under Division control.
“Should we launch the distress signal, Jewelry Master?” The Accountant asked.
“Do it.” Lan Jue replied.
A ship blasted off into the sky once the command was given.
Right away it was through the atmosphere and climbing.
“Ah, running away?” The Accountant’s face bore a disdainful grin. His fingers danced mesmerizingly across the keyboard in front of him. Outside of the base, its perimeter rail guns slowly began to retarget.
Boom—! A silvery-white light fired into the sky. The beam twinkled as it vanished into the distance. The fleeing shit was right in its path, and as the particle beam swept by the ship was atomized. Nothing was left to prove it had ever existed.
Red Widow was dismayed to find their mighty defenses turned against them. In the moments before his death, he still couldn’t understand what had happened. As the silver light approached and set his ship ablaze, he just didn’t get it. These were their own weapons.
The Accountant’s distress signal was, of course, for the three satellite asteroids. He made it look like a call to arms from the pirate commander himself. Soon they were sending a fleet of ships down to the main base while he watched.
Three battleships. Fifteen patrol boats. It looked like the pirates were throwing everything they had at them. Unfortunately for them, they were greeted by the planetary defense system they relied so heavily on. Each blast from a railgun rivaled the power of a battleship’s main battery.
If there were doubts as to why Xiaosu didn’t want to attack the asteroids head-on, this put them to rest. It wasn’t that it was impossible – Lan Jue, the Pharmacist, and the Gourmet could have handled it themselves if they threw all their power behind it. But that would just deny these soldiers invaluable battle experience. She didn’t want that.
Their future enemies weren’t going to be this easy to
overcome. The battle against those aliens on Tempest wasn’t so easy, for instance. Xiao Su’s three secret weapons – the Gourmet, Lan Jue and the Pharmacist – had all tipped their hand to deal with the Progenitor. That one was young, and still had power equivalent to a peak-ranked Adept. They also knew precious little about these foreign adversaries.
To be prepared for the fight ahead, they needed as much practice as they could get right now. They needed to be a strong, well-oiled machine. It was the only way to serve their people.
An hour had passed since Operation Bugle Call had commenced. Three battleships and sixteen patrol boats were now space debris. The Red Widow pirate clan was no more.
The battle was over.
Unfortunately, the clan was quite a bit poorer than they thought. When they found the pirate cache it didn’t even match up to what they’d found from the Desert Tempest pirates. Evidently, most of it had been used to build these bases. So while they didn’t have a lot of toys, they did have an astronomically expensive planetary defense system. It was bulky, though, and took up a lot of space. Lan Jue considered leaving it behind, but he’d forgotten something. A click of the
Photographer’s camera, a familiar phrase and snap! A whole system’s defenses were safely packaged in a Polaroid photo.
The rest of the resources they came across hardly required a thought. Railguns and planetary shields were a moment’s concern, all the rest even less so.
Stripping the base took them about a day.
The campaign was flawless, almost textbook. With little effort and minimal time, they’d taken the four asteroids without even giving their enemies time to counterattack. The reason? Clandestine operations.
Without Lan Jue’s involvement Majesty wouldn’t have been able to reach the asteroid’s surface. They wouldn’t have caught the pirates with their pants down, unable to respond.
Clearly the first one to honor for the Star Division’s victory was their commander, Lan Jue.
A day later, Majesty and Zeus-1 were in the air again. The asteroids were left behind, stripped and silenced, as they headed
for the next objective.
The soldiers were in high spirits after their win. But Xiaosu was good at keeping them in check. Morale was important, but pride was deadly. Debriefs were given after every fight, and Xiaosu made a point of highlighting where everyone could have been better. In that way she ensured they kept improving.
Over the next month, Majesty and Zeus-1 stalked the Starfields. Whatever foe they encountered was quickly silenced.
However, eventually news of the Division’s exploits became known. After all, pirate clans were disappearing right and left. One of the strongest went dark and no communications had been heard for ages. It was starting to get everyone’s attention.
Especially the Moonfiend Pirates.
Shattered Starfields, Planet Moonfiend.
“Where the hell did these people come from? They appear out of nowhere and vanish like ghosts. According to this we’ve lost contact with more than twenty groups. We have to assume they fell to nefarious means. Whoever they are, their bloodlust has started to creep in to our domain.” The pirate who spoke was tall, with a downtrodden face like he was the victim. The bald ruffian’s most striking feature was his enormous red beard.
He stood across from another man. This one was tall, too, but sat and glowered at him with a morose expression.
Were Lan Jue here, he’d recognize the man. It was his old friend, Gabriel, one of the Pontiff’s Archangels.
The seraph narrowed his eyes. “So many clans, whoever they are is on a mission. Redbeard, do you have any more specific information?”
The one called Redbeard replied. “According to our intelligence, only one person from the Black Widow clan managed to get eyes on them. Hey prefer to engage with mecha ground troops. Their ships are equipped with some kind of cloaking capability as well. They get in close, and the mechas strike hard and fast. They overwhelm the defenders and take over. Because of the cloaking no pirate patrols have found them
out in space, no way to engage. Right, and their insignia is some kind of flame. They all have them, just different colors.
“A flame insignia?” Gabriel’s face darkened as he thought.
Chapter 564: Target: Three Planets
Gabriel’s insights were different from the pirates. What did it mean for a ship to cloak itself? It meant equipment – expensive equipment. They would need at least an s-ranked power gem. Those were still more expensive even than Tears of Neptune.
To be able to carry so many mecha suits, you’d need something the size of a battleship. Capital ships and others weren’t out of the question, but were a rare sight in the Starfields. The planetary debris would keep them from finding smooth passage.
A fire insignia… to Gabriel’s knowledge, there was no clan or group of any importance with a flame insignia.
“And what do you think, Redbeard,” Gabriel asked.
Redbeard used to be the second most feared pirate in the Shattered Starfields. However, once the Pontiff’s Citadel took control of the Moonfiend pirates, they began to swallow up all the smaller competition. Now Redbeard’s crew were part of the Pontiff’s forces. All three of the Starfield’s primary planets had come under their control.
The Pontiff’s Citadel was an Adepts’ organization, but it wasn’t like Gobi Entertainment. It didn’t have the resources to build its own army. Out here, though, no one bothered them in their work. It gave the Pontiff plausible deniability.
But where they couldn’t built their own military force, the Pontiff’s Citadel did have enough resources and influence to make a pirate armada. They didn’t have larger ships, but it was enough to create a good supply train. If needed, they could turn right around and become a guerilla resistance. Out here, the darker side of the religious order was on full display.
That’s why they installed the Morning Star here, to oversee their work. They didn’t count on her being so independent and headstrong. She was removed because of it.
Now that the three primary planets were under Citadel control, the Moonfiend Pirates were stronger than ever. The Pontiff was concerned with outside threats, so he sent Gabriel here to conduct their business personally and deal with any problems. After all, the men and women they were dealing with didn’t subsist on loyalty. If they wanted to keep the pirates under control, they would need to keep their interest with riches and power.
Redbeard answered. “This sort of thing happens every now and again. Out here it’s not unusual for clans to take each other out. What’s different this time is the bastard’s reach. He’s got everyone looking over their shoulder, and pirates don’t like looking over their shoulders. They’ll group up to find him and cut out the threat. We don’t need to rush in and involve ourselves. If their gear’s anything to go by, they don’t look like normal pirates, either. Maybe they’re getting support from your enemies. I think we should sit back and stick to the plan. We’ll make changes if they need to be made. They wouldn’t dare think of coming at us directly.”
Gabriel narrowed his eyes, pondering the words before nodding in satisfaction.
Redbeard looked your typical brutish pirate from the outside. Truthfully, though, he was quite clever. Su Xiaosu had given him so much trouble because she overpowered him. When it came to outthinking, though, he was hard to beat. Now he had command of the Moonfiend Pirate forces. Smart as he was, of course he knew the benefits of siding with the Citadel. Gabriel didn’t doubt his loyalty.
“And if they do the unthinkable, and come here?” Gabriel pressed.
This brought a glint to the pirate’s eye. “Then let them come and see what greets them. The Moonfiend Pirates aren’t the strongest in the Starfields for no reason.”
Gabriel smirked. “Bearing vigilance against sinful men is ceaseless work. You must prepare.”
Redbeard chuckled. “Relax, master Gabriel. I wouldn’t dare be careless with the safety of my brothers. Right, and when are we getting that railgun you promised, eh?! These planets are the best in the system, and the only ones that support life. We have to keep them protected!”
Gabriel’s tone grew irritated. “You think those things are like picking out cabbage? Pick out whatever you like, however many you like? There are a hundred and twenty already installed here, and you need more? It’s already enough to withstand a frontal assault from an interstellar fleet.”
Redbeard chortled. “Can you have too many big guns?
“Enough.” Gabriel cut him off with a wave of his hand. “Ten more are on their way. There should be here in a few days.
Install them on the main planet. They’re the last of them, do you understand? I have no more excuses to give the Pontiff. Also, make sure you pay close mind to those people I brought. There mustn’t be any mistakes, do you understand?”
“Yes sir, I’ve got it under control!”
Gabriel stood. “Then I’m off to cultivate. Pay attention to your duties, do them well. Gather as much data as you can on these pirates with the flame insignia.”
Redbeard watched Gabriel go, and couldn’t keep the slightest scowl from creeping onto his lips. Pale-faced little shit… he doesn’t understand a thing. This is pirate territory.
Majesty. War Room.
“Are we really going after the three planets?” The Gourmet’s
face bore concern. He looked at Lan Jue and Xiaosu waiting for confirmation.
Lan Jue gave it with a nod. “All our training has been to prep them for this, but none of our enemies have been strong up to now. Those three planets have been our targets from the very beginning, but now the Star Division is tempered enough to do it.”
The Driver chimed in. “But this is completely different from other missions. This tri-planetary system makes coming at them from several angles impossible. They’re like three watch towers. After consolidating the pirate clans, they have over thirty thousand people ready to fight. They’re damn strong. Beating them won’t be easy, we just don’t have the people or ships to do it.”
Lan Jue retorted. “You’re right, if we face them head-on we’ll pay dearly for it. But we’re the Star Division. From the day it was created we said we weren’t a normal military organization. I will say that this mission will be a real test of what our troops can achieve.”
The Coffee Master added his voice. “I agree. I think my Third Brigade and Fourth Brigade should show ‘em what we’re made
“Not just Third and Fourth,” Su Xiaosu corrected. “We’re all going in. They’re strong, and we’re weak. They have the numbers, so we need to minimize contact with the enemy as much as possible. We need to initiate on their turf, feet on the ground is where we’re best. Then we need to put out scouts and wait for reports to plan our best move. The focus will be data on their defenses.”
Lan Jue nodded, showing his approval of her plan.
The Monfiend Pirates were indeed a force to be reckoned with. Never in the history of the Starfields was there a more powerful pirate clan. They’d have wept to imagine commanding more than ten thousand mecha pilots and a hundred warships.
But this also presented problems for them. In private, Xiaosu informed Lan Jue of dissatisfaction within the ranks, before she was taken. The Pontiff’s Citadel ruled by an iron fist which smashed opposition and caught all three primary planets in its grasp. But their presence was knew, and the pirates were many. They hadn’t had time to ensure their control was stable. In addition, the Pontiff’s men all bore the same sin; pride.
Under these circumstances one learns that the gargantuan beast that is the Moonfiend Pirates, isn’t in fact so invincible. There were dozens of clans, big and small, that weren’t part of any structure. They had no chain of command, or communication with others. They operated as independent cells. Assaulting the Starfields wasn’t impossible, all you had to do was find the kink in the armor. Even the greatest beast has a soft spot, and that’s where you strike.
What the Driver said was true. This fight was different. It wasn’t going to be like their training missions, this time they needed to fight with everything they had. Lan Jue had to pay special attention to this one.
Victory would only come if the Star Division could prove their strength. That had to be their top priority.
Su Xiaosu hadn’t been gone from the Starfields for long before Lan Jue had busted her out. She still understood it better than anyone else. So long as her strategies were followed to the letter, there was always a chance of success.
To further perforate the image of impenetrability, their planetary defense wasn’t any better than the one they’d seen Red Widow use. There were parts the system didn’t reach.
There was a constant flow of ships of all kinds shuttling back and forth, with no electromagnetic barrier to stop them. It would be too restrictive. Allowing access one by one would waste a tremendous amount of time and energy.
The three planets were suitable for life, and humans have exploited as much of them as they could.
This gave Lan Jue sufficient opportunity.
Majesty was too large to land on the surface. Even with the Blinding Stone its energy signal would be picked up the moment they entered the atmosphere. Zeus-1 would prove its worth here. It was small and fantastically equipped, and virtually silent. If they were cautious, they could sneak right in. It would take a few trips, but that’s how they’d shuttle their people to the surface.
The three planets served as sentinels in each others’ defense. The main planet was larger than the others, but not by much. The other two were perhaps two-thirds its mass. That meant the tactics they used for the Red Widows didn’t apply in this case. They had to get on all three planets at the same time.
At least in terms of manpower, the Star Division was stretched pretty thin.
Chapter 565: Turning A Planet Into A Photograph?
Su Xiaosu’s eyebrows drew together. “We have to take the main planet as quickly as we can, to avoid casualties. I know that personally. Most of the clan’s power will be concentrated there as well. If we can take them out than the battle is half won. Our main problems right now are the battleships docked on the other planets, and the planetary defense system. Assuming we take the main planet without any problems, they’ll have their fleet heading out way before we can respond. We’ll have a hard time fighting them off. The two satellite planets and their defenses will cancel out whatever benefit we get from the main planet.”
The Drive nodded at her determinations. “I don’t recommend breaking up. We’re already a small outfit. If we separate it gives the enemy a greater chance at routing our people. It’s dangerous.”
Su Xiaosu replied. “I’m also worried about this. Without soldiers, the damage we can do is limited. When I established the defenses we did it in layers. The first line is attack, and the second is defense. If they don’t outright destroy the enemy it at least slows them down. We’re going to encounter resistance from without and within. We’ll need time to get our troops going. We must find a way to keep their battleship’s from
launching. Majesty and Zeus-1 will be fine, but those on the ground won’t have anywhere to retreat to.”
The Bartender was next to share his views. “So what you’re saying is we need a way to keep the other two planets pinned down while we deal with the main one. Once we have control of it we can use the planetary defenses to protect ourselves from counter-attack.”
“Not only that, remember that the pirate clans of the other planets aren’t so well organized,” Xiaosu said. “Their first instinct will be to scatter, not engage. They aren’t soldiers, so a quick and hard attack will shake morale. We just need to hit the main planet hard and hold on to it. We’ll keep Majesty on patrol. The pirates wouldn’t dare throw themselves on their swords for the Pontiff’s Citadel.
“The Bartender is right. We focus on the main planet and use it to fend off the others. Especially with Majesty’s speed and weapon systems, taking one planet shouldn’t be that hard. But, I haven’t thought up an answer to the satellites yet. Zeus-1 will be too busy ferrying troops, and doesn’t hit hard enough at any rate.”
Lan Jue listened with thoughtful expression. “How about I go
in with Alpha Squad? With the Gourmet that should be enough.” The three of them – Lan Jue, the Pharmacist, and the Gourmet – had enough destructive power between them to handle the planet’s defenses. The Gourmet was a Paragon, while Lan Jue and the Pharmacist were nearly there themselves. They didn’t shy from direct confrontation.
“I’ve thought about that,” Xiaosu revealed. “Troop strength is considerable on the main planet. We also have to assume the Pontiff has one of his people here to watch over things. Strong as we are I’m afraid we could get caught up in a lengthy fight. This is their turf, if we get pinned down we’ll be surrounded and overrun in no time. If we start sustaining casualties it may be too fast to control – then we bite the dust. All this needs more thought. It doesn’t work yet. I think we should hit nearby target and search for an opportunity. If one doesn’t reveal itself, we retreat. Safety has to be the priority.”
“It’s just one piddly little planet, isn’t it? What’s the problem, just leave it to me.” This time it was a lazy, somewhat irritated voice that answered. The newly awakened Luo Xianni appeared from wherever she’d been hiding, and plopped down onto a nearby chair.
“Ma, you…” Lan Jue looked at her questioningly.
“What?” She snapped. “Am I not part of your little Star Division, hm? Have I been flying around in this miserable tub with you for no reason? Your mother needs a little exercise too, you know. Have to move these old bones. Just point out the one you need me to deal with.”
Lan Jue meekly pressed her further. “What do you plan to do?” He realized his step mother was a little off the rails. He saw things differently than normal people. He had to consider everyone’s safety before giving her free reign. Strong as she was, a slight problem could become an unmitigated disaster.
Her response was tepid. “Turn it to a photo, what of it? Let them suffer for a while then let them go.”
“Y-… the whole planet?” Lan Jue’s jaw nearly struck the floor.
Even his voice cracked.
Su Xiaosu was too stunned to speak. The cigar perched between the Driver’s lips tumbled to the ground. The Coffee Master was shaken that coffee in his hand spilled all over his white shirt. The Bartender fared better, only choking on his own saliva. He launched in to a fit of coughing.
The Gourmet’s face twitched. The Pharmacist wasn’t present. She left the decision-making to the others, and was content to just execute the plans.
“Ma, are you sure that’s even something humans are capable of?” Lan Jue forced himself to find the words for his question.
Luo Xianni’s aggravation was still clear in her voice. “Smelly runt, are you saying your mother isn’t human, ey?! How could you call yourself my son? If that reprobate you call a father were here he could turn all three of those planets into space dust by himself. You think we got where we are by only taking the easy pickings? What are a few planets, they don’t mean anything. You’ve got three hours to take control of the main planet. Leave one of the others to me. Just remember that heaven demands morality. Don’t kill for no reason, there are bound to be workers and families that don’t deserve to die. I’ll help keep them boxed up, but I won’t participate in a massacre.”
Paragons – especially Paragons as strong as she was – rarely showed their strength. They especially loathed taking life for no good reason. At their levels of power, their bodies and souls were steeped in the true nature of the universe. If they killed negligently protogenia would take revenge on their own bodies.
Jue Di was a good example. In his youth he took a great many lives. Ever since he’d lived in seclusion, trying to cleanse his soul.
Lan Jue swallowed as he thought on it. The Driver couldn’t help but insert himself in the conversation. “Aunt… no, can I also call you mom? I swear fealty.”
Luo Xianni rolled her eyes. “Not just anyone can call themselves my son. You’re too much of a ruffian for me. Right, you children go on and plan the rest then. I’m going back to sleep. Call me when we’re ready to get started.”
She stood up and sashayed out of the room before anyone could reply.
The Driver turned to the Gourmet. “What a woman, amiright? You’re a Paragon, why can’t you blow up a planet?”
“I…” The Gourmet felt like he’d been punched in the gut, but couldn’t think of a comeback. Be it strength, cultivation, or potency, he couldn’t hold a candle to the Photographer. Even as a Paragon himself, he could hardly believe she was capable of doing what she said she could.
He was excited to see her do it! A whole planet, for three whole hours.
Lan Jue stood and turned to Su Xiaosu. “Keep working on the plan. I’m going to rest.”
“I’ll rest as well,” the Gourmet added.
The Coffee Master looked up from frowning pitifully at his soiled shirt. “Rest of what?”
Lan Jue returned to his cabin and sat cross-legged atop the bed. He focused his attention inward and attempted to summon the sword-spirit. “Yongye.”
“Hm?” Jun Yongye’s voice filled his mind. Lan Jue’s body was suddenly surrounded by a pale red light.
After their joining, Captus’ power had settled into a deep slumber. Only when he called upon it did the Banishing Blade
flare to life. It was the same for the soul of the weapon. Jun Yongye spent his days cultivating, still and silent unless Lan Jue was in danger.
Just as Lan Jue was not strong enough to command Captus’ full strength, neither was Jun Yongye able to call it all at once. He had to improve as much as Lan Jue did, so that the two together could master the godly weapon. They complemented one another.
Lan Jue told him about what the Photographer had said.
“Is that possible? Can an interdimensional Adept really seal an entire planet away from reality?” Lan Jue asked. He was still surprised by the mere idea of it. He was scared of Luo Xianni before, but if what she said was true it totally changed the way he looked at Adepts and protogenia.
Jun Yongye muttered. “If she says it, then it must be true. I don’t know what she’s capable of. There are no limits to what humanity is capable of. If one day you are able to draw upon fifty percent of the sword’s power, you too would be capable of laying waste to a planet. But where we destroy, she can seal. This is gentler. I sense that she uses something else, some special strategy that she uses in tandem with her Domain. It
looks like a complete seal, but there’s some trickery involved. To truly seal away a planet for long periods, one needed to be as powerful as the Immortals of old.”
Lan Jue’s response was resigned. “Let’s stop using the immortals as comparisons. They no longer exist. Well, it looks like I’ll need to keep working hard. Qianlin is still in a coma. Who knows when she’ll awaken.”
Two months had passed and there was no change in Qianlin’s condition. He felt her life force, but consciousness still eluded her.
TJSS made a play on words. Lan Jue says he wants to 静静 – basically, relax. However, in China it is common practice to double a person’s last name as a term of endearment. In fact I knew a woman named 王静. We never called her 静静 because it’s usually reserved for people younger than you. So after hearing Lan Jue say ‘我想静静’ – I want to relax – the Coffee master misconstrues it as ‘I miss Jingjing.’ So he says ’who is Jingjing?’ Sort of like ‘Who’s on first?’ Obviously this doesn’t work in English, so I wrote up a joke that was just as bad.
Chapter 566: Reaching Moonfiend
Jun Yongye’s tone was chastising. “Don’t you find it troubling, so ponder on these things every day? I’ve told you that she will be fine. She joined seamlessly with Demortus. This baptism takes time to remold the body. In addition, her regenerative abilities are strong. Her coma is probably a result of the healing process. You should spend less time fretting and more time on yourself. Her Discipline may outstrip yours by the time she wakes up.”
The three primary planets of the Shattered Starfields were like three enormous airship bases. Every day a constant stream of ships came and went. Like the Red Widows’ asteroids, the planets worked together.
The Pontiff’s Citadel became more unscrupulous the more of the Starfields they controlled. A constant stream of resources trickled through what had practically become the Pontiff’s backyard. Him and his organization injected the area with capital to help the fledgling pirate clans grow. Lately, with the Citadel’s help, they’d begun constructing and repurposing battleships.
The largest obstacle in the Starfields was its makeup. Larger ships couldn’t maneuver through the pirates’ playground. The battleships they relied on were weaker by comparison. That’s why many of them were refitted. After a sufficient amount of power gems were installed they packed quite a punch.
The Pontiff’s Citadel was one of the West’s greatest faith- based organizations. It was a powerhouse of industry. Money for these projects wasn’t an issue.
Meanwhile the rest of the Alliances were too busy preparing for an alien invasion. Too busy, at least, to worry over a bunch of pirates. The Pontiff’s Citadel saw the opportunity and seized it, hence why the Starfields had come under their control so quickly.
Back in the day, all three Alliances used to have their fingers in the Shattered Starfields. In those times conflict was constant as the Alliances took shots at each other for control. Not to mention, the pirates weren’t so easy to order around. No one was able to get an upper hand.
When Su Xiaosu was sent over, she didn’t have the fear or reputation of the Pontiff’s Citadel to help her. She relied on their backing and her own strength to establish what would
become the Moonfiend Pirates. Now the Citadel had the pick of the litter, and regardless of everything else the power gems these three planets produced were enough to make the religious organization rich.
A top of the line patrol boat sailed through space toward the biggest of the three primary planets. It was transporting rare metals, with two more patrol boats just behind as its entourage.
“Planetary shields are opening. Entry permission granted.” The electronic voice cooed through the ship’s bridge. White light shimmered and dissipated away in to nothing, a sign that the shields were down.
The three ships quietly continued on their way.
The pilot of the ship scowled openly. “Why the hell do they have the shields up all the time, lately? They must be scared of that pirate clan.”
Another pirate answered. “How could they not be? Two months and already we’ve seen more than twenty clan go dark. No one knows what’s happened to them. We also don’t know if all of it was done by this new clan, but witnesses say they have
at least one sovereign-ranked mecha pilot. And Blinding Stones.”
“Heh, they have the right idea. No better way to make money than to take it from thieves, right? Hit a few targets, then retire. Find yourself a nice, out-of-the-way planet and do whatever you please. That said we are too careful here. They have two ships, last we heard. If they’re stupid enough to attack us here, that’d be like an old man eating a barrel of arsenic. Worse than throwing your life away.”
“Caution is a virtue. Raising these shields is a good idea. Now every ship that comes and goes is checked so thoroughly they can tell the color of your underwear right there on their screens. Talk about nasty. Now shut up and stop complaining. We’re almost there, get ready to move.”
The three pirate ships deftly made their way to the airship hangar on the main planet and docked. Another boat, invisible to the human and electronic eye, slipped in right behind them. It did not dock, though, instead staying hidden over the settlement’s airspace.
Su Xiaosu had assumed personal command of Zeus-1. With her intimate knowledge, she led Mika as the Amazon piloted them
through the skies. Their destination was the planet’s largest mountain range.
“The power gems mined here are c-ranked demon stones, named by the pirates. They’re ground into powder to create some of the best catalysts for creation of alloys. It creates an enamel that can withstand temperatures up to three thousand degrees Celsius It also serves as a reflective coating against energy attacks from a battleship. This is where they mine them. My old flagship’s hull was covered in the stuff.” There was a pang of regret in the former Pirate Queen’s voice.
“Demon Stones are radioactive, so the mountain ranges affect communications. Even satellite images are dim and hard to read out here. This will be the best LZ we can find.”
“Always with your eyes on the dollars,” Lan Jue said, clapping a hand on her shoulder.
Xiaosu smirked. “I’m fine, I made up my mind a long time ago. Before I was a patsy. Now I live my own life and make my own decisions. Relax, boss.”
So long as no one else was around, she preferred to refer to
him the way his Amazons traditionally did.
The area where they mined for the Demon Stones was expansive. Zeus-1 hovered overhead until it found a smooth patch between the mountains. It stopped perhaps a hundred meters above the ground and stopped. Its tractor beam sprang to life and delivered the soldiers to the planet’s surface. They spread out to secure the landing zone.
In order to speed up the process and avoid detection, Zeus-1 was overburdened with more than three hundred souls. They practically had to sit on top of one another, but it would take only three trips to get the whole brigade on the ground.
The first round of soldiers were in place, hidden away within the mountains. Zeus-1 lifted back into the air and crept around until another opportunity to sneak by the shields presented itself. Just like the Red Widows, the defenses were good but not good enough.
Lan Jue referred to the map Xiaosu had given him, and ordered Alpha Team to move out. While they waited for the rest of their people, they’d would need to establish a presence here in the mines.
The closest settlement to the mines was still rather far. If they wanted to get more solid intel, they would need to hide their identities and get closer. Who better than indentured servants?
A lot of these workers were slaves, captured by the pirates from outside. The planet was developed in part so their forced labor could work more comfortably. The pirates also didn’t mistreat them too terribly. It took manpower to make places like this work, and every pair of hands was precious.
So precious that they were worth the same as lower-end power gems. If you wanted to know how strong a pirate clan was, the easiest metric was to count how many people they had.
Interestingly, a mountain range is called a ‘mountain vein’ or artery in Chinese.
Nearly the temperature at the surface of the red supergiant Betelgeuse. Legends say if you speak the star’s name three times it starts an inappropriate relationship with Winona Ryder.
Chapter 567: Taking The Mines
There were around a thousand workers in the mines. It was a lot, considering modern mining technology. Big as the mines were, the workers were spread pretty thin. Taking the mines would be easier without them bunched together.
The greatest natural advantage of these mines was silence. No electronic signals could get through the stone, rendering wireless communication devices useless. It kept in touch with the town through an old-schooled land line.
The Star Division had the mines under control before the second wave of compatriots arrived.
The workers didn’t offer any resistance. After all, they were slaves here, forced to work against their will. They were desperate to escape and return to their lies. Star Division enjoyed their unmitigated cooperation.
First Brigade busily gathered the slaves together, and found a number of maglev transport trucks. Lan Jue then ordered a few soldiers to be responsible for keeping an eye on communications with the town. For this, they needed the workers’ help in case a supervisor needed more specific information.
“We’ve taken control of the demon stone mines. Waiting for your orders, commander!” First Brigade’s Alpha Squad officer appeared in front of Lan Jue.
“Break off into units and keep things under control,” Lan Jue said. “Establish an outpost on the high ground and wait for friendlies to arrive. No one is to leave the mines, and have everyone change in to worker uniforms.”
The soldiers were efficient, and quickly pulled their new disguises over their flight suits. Even if pirates did arrive, they wouldn’t be able to tell them from the slaves.
The Pharmacist stood at Lan Jue’s shoulder. She’d changed clothes too, and looked completely out of place in the simple garb.
Lan Jue couldn’t help but smirk at her. The Pharmacist saw. “Laugh if you want to laugh. It looks like these Moonfiend pirates aren’t even as well defended as the other pirate clans! There isn’t a soul here defending their mines.”
Lan Jue shrugged. “In the world of piracy this is normal. The Red Widows were an exception, not the rule. Pirates live for freedom and loathe control. Remember that the Moonfiend Pirates are also huge, and even the Alliances would find it hard to wipe them out completely. The Accountant saw a lot of railguns, too – three times as many as the Red Widows. Even Majesty wouldn’t survive a direct assault. They aren’t scared of anything.”
A smirk curled the ends of the Pharmacist’s lips. “They should be.”
Lan Jue chuckled. “You’ve been so cheerful lately, sis. I’m glad to see it. When Jun’er sees you after we get back, she’ll be so happy.”
The Pharmacist rolled her eyes. “So what are you saying? I’m too serious?”
Lan Jue tripped over himself in his haste to answer. “I wouldn’t say serious. Er, more like a romance novel. Sort of brooding all the time, a little sad.” He regretted the words the moment they left his mouth. He knew they would call back painful memories. “I’m sorry,” he rushed to add, “I –“
She sniffed and shook her head. “It’s fine. It’s been years. If you can get yourself out of it, then why can’t I? Anyway, there has never been any news of his death. There’s always hope. You were right – when you get out and see the rest of the universe, your own problems fade away. Agreeing to join the Star Division was a good decision. Anyway, Jun’er may still be locked away in that museum when we get back.”
Anxiously, Lan Jue continued. “Infusing her with so much knowledge… is it safe?”
The Pharmacist smiled. “You don’t need to worry about that.”
“Of course I’ll worry, I’m Jun’er’s father!” Lan Jue replied.
This made the Pharmacist’s face redden. “The Clairvoyant spared nothing in his plans for Jun’er. Everything he’s giving her she can surely handle. Who knows, she’s likely to surprise us when we get back. The Clairvoyant told me that it would be at least a year before she realized her full potential, though. Once she does, her capabilities will soar.”
Lan Jue listened intently, regret written on his face. “If it weren’t for these aliens, I would never want Jun’er to bear
these responsibilities so early.”
But the Pharmacist smiled at his concern. “There you’re wrong. Jun’er is different from other children. When she only just starting talking she asked me, since I cannot see will I be a burden on you? I cried, and said of course not. I told her she was the most important person in the whole universe. She didn’t say anything else at the time, but I knew it bothered her.
“You don’t know how happy she was when we took her to Luo. Between the helmet helping her to see and the awakening of her Discipline, she was ecstatic. She kept saying she wanted to be strong Adepts like us. She wanted to be useful. When the Clairvoyant told us what she’d need to do, Jun’er didn’t hesitate for a second. We told her that studying under the Clairvoyant would make her a strong Adept, like her mommy and daddy.”
Lan Jue didn’t know how to react. “Jun’er is that motivated?
How come I didn’t notice…?”
The Pharmacist grinned. “That’s because she’s a sneaky little one you assumed she didn’t know about our arrangement, but she knows everything. She just didn’t let on.”
Lan Jue shook his head in surrender. “Definitely the right choice for the Clairvoyant’s successor.”
Over the course of their conversation, Zeus-1 had returned. Second Brigade had arrived. Lan Jue ordered his men to pass out the worker uniforms they’d confiscated. Second Brigade donned the disguises. Everything appeared to be going smoothly.
Half an hour later, Fourth Brigade had joined them on the planet’s surface. Zeus-1 hid away in the mines and didn’t return to orbit. Zeus-1 was a maneuverable, hard-hitting ship. It was a fierce protector for the ground team.
Su Xiaosu cast her eyes over the troops. She’d chosen to leave Majesty in the Accountant’s hands and command from the front. She was the former Moonfiend Empress, and knew this area from memory. More than that, though, she’d built this clan with her own hands. The same hands would tear it apart.
The leaders of the Star Division gathered to discuss their next move.
Su Xiaosu indicated the holographic map reflected on the
ground in the middle them. “Bartender, you’ll take your people and use the public transport. Scope out as many pirate installations as you can. Focus on this…”
Chapter 568: Channeling The Empress
Su Xiaosu turned to Lan Jue. “Commander. We will have brigades one, two and three break up and disseminate throughout Crescent City. Once we’re in, we can keep in touch through our communicators. It’ll take about an hour for a mecha to get from Crescent City to Luna, the inner city. Once we get there we regroup, then proceed to the next part of the plan.”
Eight hundred soldiers exited the mines. Fourth Brigade spread out to scout enemy positions while the rest made their way to Crescent City.
Pirate cities grew organically around their bases. There weren’t any checks and people were mostly allowed to go where they pleased. Slaves, though, were confined mostly to the slums.
The working class typically had ten days on and two days off. They were given a small salary as well, something Su Xiaosu fought to implement. She had always been good-hearted, and pitied their suffering. Under her direction the laborer population on Moonfiend lived long and comfortable lives. Uprisings were rare things.
Crescent City was the second largest establishment behind Luna. Pirates numbered a relatively small amount of the population here near the mines. Most were slaves.
Slaves, though the alternative would have been death. The Moonfiend Empress had tried to kill as few as possible. Instead her prisoners were brought here to help build the city they would live in. The capacity to adapt was in every human, and in times of adversity we relied on habit. To most, life was more precious than pride.
There was a reason Su Xiaosu chose to lead the troops in to Crescent City, of course. The slanted demographics worked in their favor – unlike Luna, which was largely occupied by pirates. It was calmer here, and easier for them to blend in.
Pirates would be pirates, and expansion was as true here as it was in any other part of the Starfields. Planet Moonfiend was the jewel of pirate culture, and four or five cities had sprung up across its surface. Every one of them was still growing or opening mines or reclaiming land. Xiaosu’s designs were inspired. With enough time she would have turned this planet into a metropolis as impressive as anything in the Three Alliances. It would have become a center of order and stability, radiating out through the system – for independence! The Morning Star had always been self-reliant, headstrong, and
ambitious. Her goal had been to create a glorious pirate queendom.
But as it turned out, her dreams were impossible in the face of power. The Pontiff did not give her time.
Only consequences bring our failures in to focus. Su Xiaosu had to be betrayed and nearly killed before she would shed her pride. Lan Jue’s daring rescue convinced her to give him her loyalty.
While Lan Juo did his business on Luo, Xiaosu locked herself away and focused on cultivation, to return to her former strength. She had had so much time to think, about everything. All that she’d experience was on display like an old movie. Being faced with it all made her conflicted, and depressed. She realized she needed a strong shoulder to lean on.
She knew Lan Jue had his heart set on another. He would never love her. Even if he was one to take several lovers, he had his Amazons. Mika and the others were amazing women in their own right. That’s why she was so emotional when they’d returned to Skyfire Avenue. She could not be his lover, so she had to prove her worth. Otherwise, how could she measure up to the Amazons!
She returned to Planet Moonfiend. She paid her dues through hardships, freeing her people from the Pontiff’s clutches with the help of Lan Jue’s ship. Eventually she got knew of the Star Division. Her heart jumped for joy.
When the Archangels had her in their dungeons, they’d filled her with drugs to break her mind. However, they also spared no effort in keeping her body healthy. Su Xiaosu was the greatest military strategist the West had seen in a generation. She had proven her masterful command through her efforts in the Starfields. Su Xiaosu knew the time had come to prove her worth.
The Star Division ended up surpassing her expectations. It was strong, adaptable, and in no time at all the soldiers were fighting like a veteran outfit. Step by step they were becoming a force to be reckoned with.
A single unit could take on a hundred enemy mechas and walk away unscathed. They were also individually capable, giving her space to be creative with her pirate tactics.
Once-in-a-generation tactician or not, her heart still swelled when she saw her city again after so long. She knew she shouldn’t have any connection to this place, but she was just
human, after all.
Because most of the slum’s populace were workers, the streets were deserted at this time of day. Lan Jue’s soldiers were disguised well, and no one gave them any mind as they gathered within the city.
“Xiaosu, are you alright?” Lan Jue turned his concerned eyes to the former pirate queen, standing beside him.
She shook her head. “I’m fine. Once we get settled here, the next target it Luna. We’ll spread out all through the city, and once everyone’s in place the first place we hit is the Moonfiend Palace. That’s where they keep the planetary defense hub. Once we have control, we hold this place with everything we got. I designed the Palace like a castle with all the tools we’ll need to stave them off. Meanwhile, a second force will head for the airship hangars where they’ll disable battleships controls. When those two things are done, planet Moonfiend is ours. The pirates will come at us, so all we need to do is fortify this position and wait until they exhaust themselves. Then we make our move.”
Lan Jue nodded. “Good. That’s the plan.”
The Driver suggested taking the pirates’ battleships and using them to take the city. It was more direct, he argued. However, Xiaosu vetoed the idea for the simple reason that they didn’t have the people. Trying to man as many battleships as were here would leave no ground troops. Then there was the time it took to get the ships in the air.
Once they took control of the ships news would have spread to the pirates. Suddenly they would have the entire pirate fleet against a few battleships, and that would throw off all their plans.
Blowing them up was easier. A few timed explosives was simpler than flying a hundred ships around.
After careful deliberation, everyone decided to go with Su Xiaosu’s original plan.
The troops settled down in the slums. They ate their own food and spent time in rest or contemplation, waiting for deployment. It would be some time before that happened, too. They had to wait for intel from Fourth Brigade.
Going in blind was a recipe for disaster.
Xiaosu approached Lan Jue. “Let me take in to the city, boss. After this operation, the Moonfiend Pirate Clan will be wiped from existence.”
Lan Jue saw the reticence hidden in her eyes. “Xiaosu,” his deep voice replied, “we aren’t taking everyone. I’d like to, but we have to consider everybody’s safety. Our operation will not affect civilians. When we leave there is sure to be around pirate clan that wants the real estate. They’ll need people, too. You don’t have to worry.”
“Yeah,” she answered with a soft smile. “You relax too, boss. I’ve made up my mind, or have you forgotten? I used to be the heartless and cruel Moonfiend Empress. I just want to take a final look at what I made. No matter the outcome of the battle, this is likely the last time I come here.”
“Alright, I’ll go with you.” The two, dressed in their dirty worker gear, walked further into Crescent City.
A lot of the construction here was similar to other pirate bases; squat buildings made of metal. Metal was the most durable, easily produced material they had. Occasionally there were stone structures, peppered here and there. They had more personality.
There were even fewer people the further into the city they went. Xiaosu explained that those who lived here usually had specific, specialized skills. Pirates, like anyone else, needed talent if they were to advance.
As they wandered the streets, Su Xiaosu heaved a sigh. “So eager for quick success.”
Lan Jue cast her a sidelong glance. “What’s that?”
“Not much has changed since they took me away,” Xiaosu said. “The population might have decreased. It means they aren’t sticking to m plan. When I was in charge the population doubled every year. This was the epicenter, and other cities were dreamed up within these walls. At that pace we would have been self-sufficient in no more than ten years. It would have made up even stronger.
“But the ones at the top were only ever interested in swallowing up as many pirates as possible, as fast as possible. It didn’t matter if they could work together. They ignored the problems within and just let them fester. They think its power, but they contribute nothing. Instead they are like a cancer, rotting away from inside.”
Lan Jue smirked. “You sound like you’re channeling the Moonfiend Empress!”
Xiaosu blinked and shook her head. “You’re right! I guess you can never really stop being a pirate queen. Oh my, look at that woman’s figure.” As she spoke, Xiaosu’s eyes panned ahead.
Chapter 569: The Perfect Girl
Lan Jue followed her eyes to the pretty girl heading their way. Just as Xiaosu had exclaimed, she had quite the figure. She was around a hundred and eighty centimeters tall, with an hourglass figure from the front and the sides. Every slope and curve was a treat for the eyes, making his heart race.
From where Lan Jue and Xiaosu were standing they could only see her in profile. She had a pale face and long eyelashes that curled up like an old pinup poster. Long red hair reached all the way down to the crest of her buttocks. She lithely moved down the street looking at the storefronts. Her alluring silhouette slithered tantalizingly beneath her black flight suit.
Lan Jue grinned. “I didn’t expect there’d be a woman on your level anywhere else in Moonfiend. Do you know her?”
Xiaosu shook her head. “I don’t know why, but something seems strange about her. A woman like that is very rare in a pirate clan.”
“Oh? Why?” Lan Jue asked.
Xiaosu replied. “These are pirates, very different from the men of the three Alliances. Even as Queen it was impossible for me to stop my people from pillaging and taking women. These ladies become depressed and hopeless – playthings for men of power.”
She pointedly looked at Lan Jue as she finished the last sentence. Lan Jue pretended like he didn’t understand. “So you’re saying she belongs to some strong pirate?”
She shook her head. “No, she clearly doesn’t. Otherwise how would she still be a virgin?”
“A virgin?” Lan Jue looked back at his tactician, shocked. “How do you know she’s a virgin?”
The commander rolled her eyes. “A practiced eye. I’m surprised you don’t have it, surrounded by a cloud of beautiful women like you are.”
Lan Jue rubbed his nose and chuckled sheepishly. “I don’t get it! I felt some energy from her but not much. She seems like a second or third level Adept – very average. If she’s still a virgin then that would explain things. Not a strong female pirate, but a
girl. Probably protected by someone to keep her out of trouble.”
Su Xiaosu’s face scrunched as she thought. “Maybe, boss. You aren’t enticed when you see a girl like this? She really does have quite the body! She’s…. fuller than Mika, such a tiny waist, long legs. One can’t help but appreciate what they see.”
“We’re here to do a job,” Lan Jue said, annoyed, “not for you to play matchmaker. Let’s turn back, it’s about time.”
The woman that was their focus moved on, too, headed for a nearby building. After Xiaosu’s constant teasing, he couldn’t help but get a closer look at her. She looked like she wanted to go inside, but something stopped her. She turned her head, and her pretty eyes met instantly with Lan Jue’s.
When their eyes met Lan Jue froze. She really was something else.
She was the kind of beauty that made men forget to breathe. Her eyes were as captivating as the rest of her. Indeed, ‘gorgeous’ was the only word Lan Jue could think of to describe this twenty-something pirate princess.
Pretty as her eyes were, though, there was no emotion within them. She dragged her eyes away from Lan Jue, looked at the door for a moment, then walked into the building.
Curiosity flashed in Lan Jue’s eyes. “You’re right. There’s something different.”
His fellow commander snickered. “I bet you want to get a closer look.”
Lan Jue rapped his knuckles against her forehead. “I don’t mean anything like that. Even from far away she could feel my gaze. At my level of cultivation, I can hide my Discipline from most. Only level two or three, but she knew it. Impossible, unless that’s her Discipline. And she seems a little too perfect. There’s no such thing as a flawless beauty in reality. She’s incomparable, hardly human.”
Xiaosu smiled. “Alright, boss. You say you’ve got no interest but the way you’re describing her, it’s like she’s a fairy. Let’s head back, we’ve seen what there is to see. Now we have to set about tearing it apart. We should get some clothes and change, first. It’ll be hard getting into Luna dressed as laborers.”
“Yeah.” Lan Jue didn’t want to create any more problems than he already had. Strange as she was, she was a pirate and that was that. He still had business to take care of.
The two of them got back to the slums as the sky was darkening. Several of Fourth Brigades recon teams had begun to trickle back. Each one came with another piece of information for them to mull over.
Su Xiaosu’s knowledge helped inform the scouts of where to look and what to look for. By the time night had fallen, everyone was back. They had what they needed to proceed.
Lan Jue convened the Division leadership for a meeting.
“Things aren’t bad, but they aren’t good either. From what we’ve been able to dig up, there are more than thirty thousand pirates stationed on this planet alone. Among them are enough pilots to make their own Division, over a thousand mecha suits combat-ready. For air support they’ve got twelve battleships and twenty patrol boats. Altogether, that’s about fifty percent of the Moonfiend Pirates’ total strength. The rest are disseminated across the other two planets.”
“The most troubling fact lies in how dispersed they are. There are several areas that work independently, centered around the airship hangar. There were three hangars, but now there are five and they’ve all got targets we want to hit. The biggest one used to be exclusively used for Moonfiend Pirate ships. It’s got enough space for seven battleships. If we want to cripple their ability, then Third and Fourth Brigade aren’t going to cut it.
“On the other hand, having them separated means that the nearby city’s defenses can’t cover everything. It’s unlikely they’ll be checked, too, so getting in won’t be too hard. What we need to discuss now if how we’re going to pull this off.”
Su Xiaosu offered her suggestions. “The more targets there are to hit, the harder it is for us. We need to focus on priorities. Battleships in particular can do a lot of damage, and if we let them get airborne we’re likely to face casualties. Even a ninth level mecha pilot wouldn’t survive a blast from a battleship’s main guns.”
The Coffee Master, his face hard with concern, joined in. “Third Brigade doesn’t have enough people to pull it off. A single big hangar would be no problem, but five separate targets… it’ll be hard to keep track of all those spinning plates.”
The Bartender was nodding in agreement. “It’s a real problem. I’m not sure we can take control as fast as you need. With this being the case, you’ll need to make a choice – see if Zeus-1 can handle one of the bases itself. With its Blinding Stone, it should be able to hit them hard and take the hangar out before they know what’s happening.”
Xiaosu rejoined. “Zeus-1 could probably handle a hangar on its own. The biggest one is protected by a shield. A head-on attack is impossible, and sneaking in would require a lot of people. We’d need a team for each ship there, probably most of our Division.”
If there had been only three airship hangars, as they’d thought when the plan was made, then Third and Fourth Brigade would have been able to take one each. Comparatively, it was a much easier operation; Majesty and the Photographer deal with the other planets, brigades one and two take the palace, while three and four take the surroundings. All they had to do was deal enough damage to erode the pirates’ chain of command. If they didn’t know where to go or who was after them, they’d scatter.
However, that was the old plan. Now there were more problems than they could manage all at once. The addition of just two new targets threw everything out of whack.
The Gourmet’s thoughtful voice joined in. “Leave one to me.”
The Pharmacist spoke right on his heels. “And the other to me.”
This made the Driver laugh. “I’m not a big one for people acting the hero, but here they are when you need them.”
Lan Jue looked at his two volunteers. “It’s dangerous. You’re facing battleships.”
The Gourmet grinned back at him. “No danger there. If it gets a little hot, I can always disengage. At any rate we’re here to sabotage, and you haven’t seen the kind of damage a Paragon can do if they put their mind to it.”
“Speed is what’s most important,” the Pharmacist reminded them. “I won’t have any troubles in that regard, or in destroying their control systems. I’ll need more information on precisely where those controls are, then I’ll be good to go.”
In more ways than one, the Pharmacist was just as formidable as a new Paragon. With the Banishing Blade and her own
Discipline he had nothing to fear. This went double for the Gourmet, who was a true Paragon.
Lan Jue nodded decisively. “Very well, then it’s decided. Bartender, you and your brigade are responsible for taking the largest hangar. You’ll have command of First Brigades’ Alpha Squad as well. Other the Pharmacist who has her own mission, you can feel free to spread them out as you see fit.
“Coffee Master, you and your people will be here. Handle this base as quickly as you can and if possible try to spare one of the battleships. Use it to give support to the Bartender. You have to make sure there’s nothing left, no ships for the pirates to escape in. Lay it all to waste then wait for news. When the job is complete, it’ll be time to move on Luna.”
Chapter 570: Another Encounter With Beauty
Both the Coffee Master and the Bartender nodded in understanding.
Lan Jue turned his attention to the Driver. “We will lead the First and Second Brigade in an attack on the Moonfiend Palace. We need to get it under our control as fast as possible.”
The Driver nodded, but turned to speak to Xiaosu. “How much opposition can we expect in the Palace?”
“It looks like a fortress from the outside, and it is,” Xiaosu said. “A lot of its defensive measures are buried underground. They will also have around a thousand mecha pilots as guards. There is also a small railgun hidden in the buttresses that can fire a projectile over ten thousand meters. It’s a third as strong as the main guns they use for planetary defense.”
The Driver looked at her with eyes wide as saucers. “You’re shitting me! Installing a railgun like that in your own fortress, are you crazy? Fire that thing once and the radiated energy will fry everyone.”
Xiaosu seemed a little embarrassed. “We have plenty of radiation shielding, I’m confident it works. I installed it in the event of invasion. So in short, that means we aren’t walking through the front door. That’s asking for trouble.”
These sorts of guns were standard for planetary defenses systems, as well as Bastions. Like any other weapon, they came in various calibers.
Lan Jue remembered when they rolled out the latest version of their railgun. It was part of their Arachnid-class Bastion’s warfare suite. One blast from that would obliterate anyone and anything. Even Jue Di couldn’t survive a direct shot.
Naturally your average defense system wouldn’t have a gun that powerful. But even a standard-caliber railgun could rip through a battleship’s shields. Three blows was all it took for those guns to turn their ships into slag. One could imagine what it’d do to a person.
Used on a planet’s surface, a railgun blast had the same force as a neutron bomb, without all the nasty radiation. Any human caught in the explosion would be evaporated. All that at just a third of what the technology could do! If they turned it on a mecha division, the soldiers would be routed in moments.
Assuming, of course, they stood all together.
Railguns used in planetary defense were strictly forbidden for use on planet surfaces. With how much strain they produced, too many blasts could rip a planet into pieces. As such, railguns were all installed facing outward so they couldn’t ever be turned on their own.
Su Xiaosu’s gall was evident with this revelation. She didn’t put a full railgun in her palace, but at a third of its potential there was nothing on the planet’s surface that could match it.
“Leave the palace’s railgun to me,” Lan Jue said. “I’ll deal with it.”
Lan Jue’s involvement was insurance. He was the third strongest member of Star Division, outside of the Paragon and the Pharmacist. The Photographer didn’t count.
Xiaosu went on to underline their plan. “The first wave we send in has to be the strongest. These are the areas we need to control…”
She quickly went over the strategy, indicating the important areas on the digital map she provided. Copies were downloaded onto everyone’s communicators so they could follow along.
There was an air of apprehension this time that wasn’t there for their earlier missions. This one was different from a simple sweep and clear excursion. Star Division needed to bring its A- game.
Of course, Su Xiaosu and Lan Jue were being conservative. Many of the pilots were strong enough in their own right, and in teams they were even more formidable. After all, a ninth level Adept in a tricked-out mecha could do real damage. However, everyone agreed to keep to small groups to ensure safety. As much as possible, they wanted everyone to come back in one piece.
Safety first. With the right instruction and guidance, they had nothing to fear.
The war meeting went on until late into the night. Again and again they went over the information and the plan until every detail was discussed. This was going to be a defining experience for the Division, more so than any mission that had come before. There was no room for negligence. If one part of the
plan didn’t go smoothly, the whole thing was in danger of collapse.
When the first light of day began to paint the city, the meeting concluded. Leaders went their separate ways for some rest.
Third and Fourth Brigade went out into the city and bought new sets of clothes. Thus concealed, they spread out through Crescent City to prepare. Then it came down to First and Second Brigade.
Even as a pirate planet, there was a fairly good infrastructure of public transportation between cities. Even scheduled transport ships were a common site, where in all the rest of the Starfields they would be unthinkable. They were only used on- planet, though – it was too dangerous to have the slow craft out in space, where any number of pirates would be eager to take a chomp out of it.
Tickets were available to move people where they wished, but prices were stifling. They did it to keep the population under control. Pirates did not need to pay for transport. There were more than five hundred soldiers who made up First and Second Brigade. It took over twenty trips and the better part of a day to get everyone into Luna.
In stark contrast to Crescent City, Luna’s streets were absent the metal shacks. Here the homes were indistinguishable from places on an Alliance homeworld. But as they walked the streets, Lan Jue and Xiaosu saw no less than three brawls. This spoke to a crime rate much higher than the city’s upscale look let on.
The former Moonfiend Empress hid beneath a hoodie, with a mask concealing her face. She was taking every effort to keep her identity concealed.
“Security doesn’t seem to have changed,” Xiaosu said to Lan Jue in a low voice.
The Monarch grinned. “In a moment that’ll be the least of their worries. Lady Empress, we’re about to walk back into your palace. How do you feel?”
“You’re teasing me,” Xiaosu grumbled. “How should I feel? My only desire is to see the thing I made destroyed by my own hand. It’s better to let it die than live enslaved to a tyrant. As part os the Pontiff’s Citadel, we heard constantly of Satan’s evils. Today we know how hypocritical al that is. The Pontiff is much more frightening than Satan could ever be. Their poison is hidden behind a smile. Darkness in a shell of light.”
Lan Jue nodded. “Don’t think about it too much. I hope putting this clan to bed will wound the Citadel deeply. If not for the fact these aliens could show at any moment, I would have spread news of their actions to every Alliance. Now isn’t the time for in-fighting.”
Xiaou shook her head in response. “It wouldn’t matter. I know them, they always have a plan. Those poor people, their ‘experiments’, have already been moved. They’re too slippery to get caught.”
They drew near to the Moonfiend Palace. The Empress’ former abode was a proud, lofty fortress in the center of the city. The area around the palace was bare of any other buildings to hide their approach.
Xiaosu spoke furtively to Lan Jue. “When the fortresses defenses are activated the whole structure rises a hundred meters into the air. The area there with no buildings are defense rings, with mechas stationed in each in addition to counter- insurgency weapons. The railgun’s on the highest tower.”
She went on to explain the rest of the palace’s layout in detail.
“I also designed an escape tunnel. They may have found it, but if it hasn’t been destroyed that would be perfect. It’ll lead us right to the heart of the palace.”
“Good,” Lan Jue said with a nod. “Do you need me to go with you?”
She shook her head. “No, I’ll go alone. Stay close and wait for me to get back.”
That said, she slipped into a nearby ally and vanished.
Lan Jue didn’t stand around. He walked down the street until he found a coffee shop and ordered a cup. It was expensive, but that couldn’t be helped. All the materials had to be brought in from out of the system.
Even the coffee’s scent was bland. Lan Jue feared that if the Coffee Master were here, he’d throw a fit. Call it undrinkable. Lan Jue just wanted to blend in, so he choked it down and suppressed the scowls.
It was still afternoon so there were only a few people peppered
around. The occasional customer would pop in, but everything remained pleasantly quiet. Lan Jue preferred this sort of environment.
Then, his eyes narrowed. A figure caught his attention from down the street.
Indeed it was, the attractive woman he and Xiaosu had seen from earlier. A sharp whistle turned his eye to a group of pirates who’d seen her as well. They were moving in to block her path. He didn’t need to read minds to know they had bad intentions.
Lan Jue watched with knit brows. The girl seemed unconcerned, ambivalent, confident in her safety. But this was the pirate world. Some of these men didn’t care about anyone’s rules. When you ran into a group like that, trouble was sure to follow.
Three pirates spread open their arms to bar the girl from walking any further. She turned and tried to walk around them, but the men wouldn’t be denied. They swung around faster than her, not giving ground. All the while they smirked and said
Ever since the Empress lost control, this sort of thing was happening more frequently. No one was going to stop it.