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Chapter 676: Magnified

    Chapter 676: Magnified

    The shaking came to an abrupt stop and Zeus-1 burst from the asteroid field like a swallow from the clouds. The vast expanse of space stretched out before them.

    Ling Ya and Wu Qiu looked out onto the scene. Where the Shattered Starfields primary planets had been, there remained only a single purple world.

    "An alien planet...?" Ling Ya gapes at what she saw.

    Lan Jue nodded his head, staring at it with serious countenance. He looked toward Su Xiaosu. "Measure it. I feel like it's larger than last time."

    After a moment Xiaosu's stringent voice replied. "It is. Forty-six percent bigger than when we saw it first. That's a serious increase. Unless this is another planet, it's evolved."

    Lan Jue sighed, trying to suppress the anxiety welling up in his chest. He continued in a sour voice. "Pull into a distant orbit, keep taking video. Secretary Wu, suspend communications with Tyrannosaurus - we aren't safe here. We can deliver the information when we've finished, and are safely back in the asteroid field.

    "Alright!" Wu Qiu's reply was quick and compliant. He was witnessing the alien planet with his own eyes, and this meant several things. At the very least everything Lan Jue had told them before was true. He wasn't going to start causing trouble now.

    Ling Ya was also filled with a disquiet she couldn't shake. This thing was five times bigger than the mighty ship she'd come from. Ferocious looking creatures came and went from it in a constant stream. This was the power her army had come to face!

    The Driver muttered darkly. "The other two are still nowhere to be seen, but I'm not gunna complain there's only one of 'em. Divide and conquer. If we can put this thing down you can call the expedition a success."

    Lan Jue nodded. "Indeed."

    Maintaining distance and taking pictures did not put them in any immediate danger. Between the Blinding Stone and Lin Guoguo's constant masking they avoided detection. After an hour of silent observation, Lan Jue gave the order for them to retreat. Lin Guoguo couldn't keep the ruse up forever and needed to rest soon. Once they were safely hidden in the asteroid field, with Lan Jue's permission, Wu Qiu sent Tyrannosaurus all that they'd learned.

    Their target was confirmed. It was time to commence the operation.

    "Commander Lan. Admiral Kang would like a word with you," Wu Qiu said.

    Lan Jue walked to his side and took the communication device from the secretary. "Hello, Admiral."

    Kang Hui's glum voice answered. "Hello commander. The intelligence you gathered was tremendously important. We're preparing to move out as we speak, headed your way. We need you to continue to watch and report back what you see. We need to be kept abreast of the planet's condition and location to facilitate our operation."

    "Leave to us," Lan Jue affirmed.

    Reconnaissance was of course more involved than taking a peak. They were the North's eyes out here, and only through constant observation could they set the stage for a successful attack.

    He could hear the Admiral's appreciation for their work in his voice. Not only had they been quiet, but they had installed themselves as an invaluable source of information. It made what they had to do much easier.

    "If possible, commander, we'd like you and your time to extend the scope of your reconnaissance. Specifically, we're looking for the presence of the other two planets. These creatures obviously possess higher intelligence - we need to be sure they haven't set a trap."

    Kang Hui's suggestion struck Lan Jue. The old fox was a clever one, he silently praised.

    "Breathe easy, Admiral. We'll take a more careful look around and let you know what we find," Lan Jue confirmed.

    "Very well."

    ζ

    On the outskirts of the Shattered Starfields, a white light had risen up around Tyrannosaurus. Its main propulsion systems were coming online, and its large array of boosters were pulsing with pale light. The five fleets that had gathered around it parted to make way.

    Kang Hui, seated in the captain's charge, gave the order. "Tyrannosaurus-class Bastion ship, on the move - into the Starfields. Fleet commanders, order your ships to follow. No one stays behind. Alpha formation."

    Tyrannosaurus began to pick up speed, and from the bridge they could see the rocky expanse that marked the Starfields' border creeping toward them. Large as the ship was, they certainly weren't going to find any gaps to slip through.

    They barreled ahead at top speed, brazenly headed for the asteroid belt.

    The white light around the ship buzzed. As they met the asteroids, the larger ones were harmlessly vast to the side. Smaller space rocks were smashed to dust. The North's Tyrannosaurus-class Bastion ship drove through the belt like it was no more than a nuisance.

    It was dramatic proof that the three alliances could have dealt with the pirate menace. They just didn't want to.

    The fleets fell in behind Tyrannosaurus in a line as the massive ship cleared a path. All they had to do was follow, like hiding beneath the shade of a great tree. However the going was slow, and it cost Tyrannosaurus dearly in energy. Although it was equipped with devices that could replenish energy through space radiation, it was spending far more than it could recover in a short period.

    In distant parts of space the North's Arachnid- and Heron-class Bastions were also on the move. They pushed through the cosmic debris just like Tyrannosaurus. The operation was now fully under way.

    ζ

    Moments after Lan Jue got news of Tyrannosaurus' entry, he was struck by a surge of pressure. Now, more than ever, their role was crucial to the success of the mission. Spread out, observe, report. No rest for the wicked.

    Lan Jue had replaced Su Xiaosu at the controls. They found a relatively space spot for Lin Guoguo to recover. The five Paragons were on the bridge, leaving only the Pharmacist alone in the resting area. She would be called if combat broke out.

    "At full speed it'll take Tyrannosaurus about five days to reach our location. The interim is important," Wu Qiu reminded Lan Jue.

    He nodded.

    The alien planet was as enigmatic as it ever was. It hung in the darkness of space, and besides the aliens coming and going in droves they could learn nothing else from it.

    The days passed. The atmosphere about Zeus-1 grew more tense by the hour. All they had to do was persist until fighting broke out. They were anxious for the Bastion ship to arrive and engage the enemy, a single alien planet against three bastion ships and five fleets. The North had mobilized a third of its total military power - equally a fifth of humanity's strength.

    If they could bring punishment upon one of the alien homeworlds, it would prove that humanity has what it takes to fight back. Victory would mean tremendous gain for the North as well, but Lan Jue was unconcerned. So long as humanity's future was assured, that was all that mattered to him.

    ζ

    "Tyrannosaurus will be here in four hours. They're resting and prepping for the last leg. When they get here they'll move right in for the attack. Combat will be initiated right away, before the aliens have a chance to react." Wu Qiu gave the latest information to Lan Jue. His voice betrayed his excitement.

    It had been a long time since these terrifying weapons had seen full combat. The secretary had total faith in the Bastion ship. He knew what it was capable of.

    Lan Jue also permitted himself some measure of relief. With Tyrannosaurus' arrival their work would be done.

    "Let's perform final checks - make sure the planet is still there and the situation hasn't changed," Lan Jue ordered. He didn't assume anything. The closer it came to all-out combat, the more careful he'd been.

    Zeus-1 slipped out from the asteroid fields and continued to watch the planet, invisible as a ghost. Nothing was different, the planet was just the same as before. It seemed to have no idea what was coming.

    "No good." Lan Jue scowled, suspicious.

    "Hm? What is it?" Ling Ya swiftly hurried to his side.

    "The aliens have scouts and gathers out constantly, tracking down and bringing back energy all across the galaxy. Your military made quite an impressive entrance, but they seem totally unaware. It's too quiet."

    Wu Qiu joined them, curious. "I thought the same, but it's too late to go back now. Our only option is to go ahead with the mission. We have a lot of firepower on the way, not to mention we've been watching for days. If this is an ambush it's too late for them, too. But I'll share your concerns with Admiral Kang."

    "Good," Lan Jue replied. No matter what, they had to continue watching, continue with their reconnaissance.

    Three more hours... two more.

    One more hour!
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