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Chapter 591: The Beautician’s Sorrow

    Chapter 591: The Beautician's Sorrow

    The four ships docked on Skyfire's public airfield. The pirate battleships hardly fit in with the other ships, but there was nowhere else to put them. Skyfire Avenue had called ahead to confirm their arrival so as to avoid any problems. When they touched down, the Star Division turned the ship over to Avenue representatives. They didn't need them. Whatever treasures they pilfered from the pirates was divvied up among the Division and the Avenue.

    The Division soldiers exited the ships in orderly lines. Each stuck with their Brigade and lined up to await further orders. After months in the trenches, they had developed an ironclad faith in their leaders, and it showed. Images of Commander Lan Jue destroying the alien carrier with one swipe had left a deep impression on them.

    Lan Jue was surprised to find the Wine Master had come personally to meet them at the airfield.

    "Why'd you come yourself?" Lan Jue asked when they got close.

    The Wine Master's face was ominously downcast. "It couldn't be helped. The Eastern parliament has demanded you meet with them immediately. I will go with you. The information you sent back has caused a firestorm through all of the Alliances. Are you sure what you saw?"

    Lan Jue smirked dryly. "If only I wasn't. Let me dismiss the troops and send them back then we'll deal with it. We still have to go through what we brought back. I intend to arm my people to the teeth."

    The Wine Master gave a slight nod. "You don't need to worry about that, I can arrange it. You just need to make sure you can verify these claims. It's a service to your alliance. Although we didn't independently confirm it, the East has already sent a Bastion ship to the border of the Starfields in preparation."

    Lan Jue heaved a sigh. "It's no use. If the planets can transfer at will, they could show up anywhere in the three Alliances. They'll be standing vigil over a pointless border."

    The Wine Master reacted with a resigned grin. "I know, but right now we have no other choice. At the very least the people will feel better knowing a Bastion is keeping watch. If we had Bastions orbiting inside our galaxies, what would people thing?"

    Lan Jue's brows furrowed as he thought. The sudden appearance of the aliens was a real problem.

    "Hold on for a minute. Let me dismiss the men, then we can go."

    Star Division wasn't a true military unit. After such a long period of hard work, they'd earned some good R&R.

    Lan Jue walked to the head of the four Brigades, who were standing at attention nearby. "Everyone has worked hard these last few months. We have earned glory, and you have earned a well-deserved rest. Your exploits will be recorded, and your cut will be delivered as soon as possible. You've got a week, then we strap our uniforms back on and get back to work. Dismissed."

    A week off. They were ecstatic, but military training kept them in orderly rows. They exited the airfield by brigade, just as they'd exited the ships.

    Then someone caught Lan Jue's eye.

    The Beautician, pretty as a picture, stood in place looking all around. She was beginning to look frustrated in not finding her target, and so she trotted over to Lan Jue.

    "Jewelry Master, where's the Barber?"

    Lan Jue was silent. The Driver, who stood at the commander's side, also couldn't find the words. The Barber had been in Lan Jue's Brigade, not to mention a friend.

    She had been smiling, but when she saw their expressions the smile melted away. "Where is Little Clippers?" She asked again.

    Lan Jue took a breath. He tried, but found no words could come out. The Driver came to his rescue. "The Barber, he... sacrificed himself."

    The Beautician looked back at him, stunned, as the color drained from her pretty face. "No... no that's impossible. Wasn't he with you? Things were going so smoothly, and he was strong. What could have happened? How could he have died? You're just playing with me, right? It's not funny, have him come out this instant or I swear I'll never speak with him again!"

    Lan Jue's eyes dropped to the ground, and the Driver had no more words for her. The Wine Master approached the small group, then. He'd learned of the Barber's fate from Lan Jue earlier.

    "We're so sorry, Beautician. Unfortunately, the Barber -"

    "No!" She screamed back at him. Tears streamed freely down her cheeks. "No, no, no, it's not possible! He was so strong, how could a pirate kill him? It can't be true, you're lying! You're all liars. Little Clippers, you bastard, get out here right now! Is this because I rejected your proposal? Is this how you treat me? Do you think this will make me change my mind? Stop dreaming! Get out here and I'll tell you to your face! Do you hear me?!"

    The other soldiers heard her choked cries and stopped to look back. They came back to see what was going on. None of them knew what had befallen the Barber, either.

    Lan Jue placed a hand on the Beautician's shoulder. "Please, get ahold of yourself."

    She slapped his hand away. "'Get ahold of myself'?! Why? You assholes are just lying to me, right? I won't forgive you, I'll never forgive you! I won't believe for a second that pirates killed him. Little Clippers, get out here! I'm telling you, mister sinister, if you don't come out immediately you can forget about ever talking to me again!"

    Su Xiaosu had been a few steps behind Lan Jue the whole time. The rims of her eyes were red.

    "Commander, what's going on?" One of the squad leaders couldn't keep his curiosity silent any longer. Many of the other squads had also huddled close to see what was wrong. Even those that were first to leave wandered back when they saw the crowd.

    Lan Jue allowed himself another sigh, then turned toward Xiaosu. "We're back, it's time to tell them." He'd wanted to keep it quiet for a while and give his soldiers a chance to feel joy over their accomplishments. He couldn't keep it a secret anymore.

    "Jewelry Master," the Wine Master interrupted, "this is a government secret."

    Lan Jue looked back at the Paragon with a resolute stare. "My brothers and sisters have a right to know. How can I explain, if I don't tell them everything? First Brigade, cordon off the area. Accountant, send the video to everyone's communicator. Have it auto-delete after five minutes."

    "Aye," the Accountant quietly replied.

    It took no time for the area to be cleared. When it was everyone's face dropped to watch their communicators. Projector screens lit up the soldiers' faces. Gradually everyone's eyes were wide, and their breathing was haggard.

    When the order to retreat had been given, they wondered at the fervor of it. Now they understood why they'd been so desperate to flee. The Bartender and Coffee Master were no exception. Cold sweat broke out on every brow.

    What was this new danger? If they had been even a moment slower, the wild space of the Starfields would have become their tomb.

    The Wine Master made no further effort to get in Lan Jue's way. He stood quietly to one side and waited.

    The Beautician suddenly swayed dangerously. Su Xiaosu was immediately at her side, with a hand on her arm to keep her steady. Her painted red lips quivered, and an indescribable pain dimmed her eyes.

    "Why? Why did this have to happen? Why did you rush in like that? Why? Do you know why I said no? Our age difference. I'm so much older than you! Your future was brighter than mine, I didn't want to hold you back. But how could you do this, and leave me this way?"

    Her desperate, wounded voice was like a stab to everyone's heart. Tears glittered in the eyes of everyone within earshot. The Barber had been Star Division's first casualty, but his loss scarred them deeply.

    Aliens. The word was bitter and poisonous in their hearts.

    They'd fought the aliens on Tempest. Though they were strong, Star Division had still walked away without a scratch. Afterwards most of the soldiers looked at them as little more than wild animals with a nasty bite.

    The Barber's death showed them how wrong they were. He was almost fourth rank, and still he was put down in one strike. Meanwhile, a whole planet was devoured. Who could have anticipated enemies this strong? This vicious?

    "We have to get vengeance for the Barber!" Lan Jue couldn't tell who said it first, but the rest of the Division very quickly took up the call. Calls for revenge shook the airship hangar they were huddled in.

    Lan Jue stood in front of the Beautician. "Don't cry. Crying won't bring him back. We have to turn our grief into strength. We have to give everything we've got to honor the Barber's memory!"

    The Beautician slowly lifted her head. Tears covered her face. But where her eyes had been lost and pained, he watched as murderous resolve took over. The Barber's death had been a surprise punch to the gut, and the beautiful alien hadn't shown any resignation in taking his life.
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