Chapter 540: Progenitor?

    Chapter 540: Progenitor?

    "This is Zeus-1." Mika's voice replied to Su Xiaosu's hails. No one knew that ship like the Amazons, so they were its standard crew.

    Xiaosu continued. "Your landing zone is aquatic. When you touch down scan the biosystem."

    "Zeus-1, understood." When there was a task to complete, Mika wouldn't get in Xiaosu's way.

    Majesty cut its engines and maintained a geostationary orbit. Without more from the scouting party, it was too risky to approach.

    Suddenly, Lan Jue's eyes fixed on the planet and narrowed. "Quick, get back on with Zeus-1 and tell them to stop their approach immediately. Get them back here."

    Su Xiaosu was surprised at Lan Jue's command, but wasted no time. "Zeus-1, retreat! Get back now!"

    "What?" Mika's voice answered. "We've almost reached the mesosphere."

    Lan Jue shouted back. "Mika, turn your ship around right now!"

    She could hear the fear and worry in his voice. She asked no more questions. "Yes, boss."

    The rest of the Star Division leadership realized something was amiss and came over. The Gourmet spoke first. "What is it?"

    Lan Jue, his brows furrowed, looked over the planet. "There's trouble. Look. Enhance the planet's surface." He pointed to what he meant. To keep their presence a secret they couldn't use radar, but long-distance cameras weren't a problem.

    The monitors showed the planet, large and clear in contrast to the view out of porthole. Now everyone could see the streaks of violet that marred its surface. At present they were small and disconnected.

    Violet? The Gourmet's heart skipped a beat. He looked at Lan Jue, making no effort to hide his surprise. "That's..."

    Lan Jue shook his head. "We can't be sure yet, but I think so."

    "Aliens?" Su Xiaosu ventured.

    Lan Jue turned to face everyone. "Recall your reconnaissance team. I'll lead the Ace Squads from First and Second Brigade to go take a look. Get Majesty ready for combat."

    He had to keep safety in mind. This was training, not a full military campaign.

    "You're our commander. I should lead the reconnaissance team." The Driver interjected.

    Lan Jue shook his head. "No, I'll go. I'm well familiar with these things. Besides, the Pharmacist and the Gourmet will be with me. There won't be any problems. Xiaosu, you have the bridge. Keep contact."

    This wasn't a debate, so the Driver didn't push the matter further. He wished his commander good luck.

    Zeus-1 reacted swiftly to the orders and was docked with Majesty before long. The scout team disembarked and was replaced by Lan Jue and the two Ace Squads. Lan Jue had seen the strength of these beasts with his own eyes. It wasn't that he didn't trust these young soldiers, he was just trying to avoid any unnecessary death. When it came to these beasts he knew what to expect, and what to look for.

    Zeus-1 crept toward Tempest like a wraith. They overshot the original landing zone and headed for the violet streaks. First they needed to confirm this wasn't some kind of unique vegetation. If that was the case, then the plan would proceed as before. If it wasn't, they'd need to change their strategy.

    Zeus-1 pierced the atmosphere. After a few moments the planet's surface was skimming by a few hundred meters below. When it came in to view, Lan Jue sucked in a breath - vast fields of putrid violet. Anything that sick light touched, all the vegetation, was dead. It was a cancer, spreading across the land and leaving a poison bog behind.

    "Majesty, this is Zeus-1. Intelligence suggests high probability that alien invaders are on site. Make preparations for combat." Lan Jue delivered what information they got back to the ship.

    The experience with these creatures on Taihua had put him right in their path. He recognized that poisonous fog that ate life force. He remembered the dead vegetation. It all looked exactly the same.

    "Should we disembark?" The Pharmacist asked.

    He shook his head. "Don't rush. Let's take a look around, see if the Desert Tempest has any people left." Lan Jue glowered at the scene. The Shattered Starfields were rife with piracy, but it also bordered all three Alliances. Their presence here meant they could appear on planet in human occupied space.

    Space was vast, and closing a portion of it off completely was impossible. However, despite this there were no reports of alien presence anywhere since the news broke. Yet here they were. It was a sign, a frightful revelation that these creatures were being led by some form of intelligence. Something was directing these creatures away from Alliance space, probing for weakness and maximizing advantages. Humanity, on the other hand, had no idea where those three alien planets were.

    Lan Jue was worried. Not because they were strong - a strong enemy could be overcome. More than that, they were cunning.

    Their physiology was also troublesome. They thrived off life force, and with each planet they took the monsters became stronger. Each passing day was a victory for these creatures.

    Zeus-1 thundered across Tempest's sky, scanning for the pirate base. It wasn't long before they found it. Judging by the buildings and resources they could spot, the pirates were stronger than they'd figured. However, they were working off of Xiaosu's relatively old data. Apparently the Desert Tempest pirates had done well for themselves in the last few years.

    But the discovery revealed that these buildings had also succumbed to the violet swamp. The deadly landscape had swallowed everything up, covering the buildings entirely. The corrosive quality of it had already begun to dissolve the structures noticeably.

    They didn't pick up a single sign of human life, not even corpses or bone. There was only the slowly creeping bog of death desperately searching for more to devour.

    Lan Jue spotted a large spot of purple hunched atop a particularly tall building. It looked like an enormous flower bud, with a flashing purple light flickering within it. Great root-like tendrils crawled down the building and buried themselves in the earth. The black-red veins pulsed and throbbed.

    Eating. It was eating everything around it.

    This was the first time any of them, aside from Lan Jue, had seen one of these aliens up close. They were all changed by it.

    Lan Jue's deep voice called out. "Mika. When we disembark, return to Majesty and lead it back here. Tell all members of Star Division to get in their mechas, and do not land on the ground under any circumstances. There will be no contact with anything infected. Prepare to engage with the enemy, and be wary of any show."

    "Sir," Mika confirmed.

    Lan Jue spun around to face the Gourmet and the Pharmacist. "We're heading out - get ready to fight. This big guy out there is probably an alien progenitor. It'll be strong and almost certainly surrounded by protectors even if we can't see them. Try not to get separated."

    The ship's doors opened and several figures flew out into the crisp air. Only Adepts ninth level or higher were allowed into First and Second Brigade's Ace squads. All of them had the power of flight.

    Flashes of light flickered around each of the soldiers, and they were replaced in mid-air with humanoid machines. Lan Jue also summoned Thor, which had undergone no small amount of changes. It retained roughly the same volume, but its bluish-purple exterior was now a deep royal blue with the faintest hint of gold. An enormous sword was fixed to its back, in contrast to its unarmed default from before. It's arms were thicker, too. Most striking though, was that none of its joints or connections were visible at all. It was an integrated, seamless whole, just like a man.

    As Lan Jue entered, it was like Thor was injected with life. Its body jerked as a flash of golden light rippled through it. Then, one of the machine's enormous hands draw the dark-gold sword from its back.

    Other than Lan Jue, there were twenty soldiers preparing for battle. One by one their mechas sprang to life. They weren't just strong Adepts - to fight alongside the likes of the Pharmacist and the Gourmet, they had to be amazing pilots, too.

    Separate from Zeus-1, the team and their mechas were no longer invisible to prying eyes. Thor soared high overhead, then thrust with its massive blade. A single bolt of lightning erupted from its point, but did not hit the progenitor. Instead, it struck a spot not far from where he and his team hovered.

    Boom! The thunderous sound was met with an explosion of debris and fountains of purple fluid, like he'd blown apart a body. The others gasped in surprise. The great swath of violet that was devouring buildings was actually a part of this beast! These monsters were even scarier than they'd thought.
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