Chapter 690: Retreat

    Chapter 690: Retreat

    "Connect him."

    "Admiral Kang Hui!" Yan Yuan's stern face appeared on the screen.

    "Admiral Yan Yuan, what's happened?" Kang Hui asked calmly.

    Yan Yuan explained. "We were ambushed by one of the planets. It was much stronger than we anticipated. It struck us and we were forced to eject the tail of our ship in order to escape. We recorded the encounter, I'll send it to you in a moment and we should be arriving at your location in fifteen minutes. What is your current situation?"

    Kang Hui's hands were clenched into fists. "We were in a stalemate until First Fleet sacrificed their lives to buy us a chance. We're preparing to counter-attack, I'll speak with you in a moment. Come as fast as you can."

    "Alright." Yan Yuan nodded. After hearing things were going better for Tyrannosaurus, he was visibly less worried.

    Another call was coming through.

    "Arachnid-Class Bastion has come under enemy fire and was destroyed. There were no survivors."

    For a moment Kang Hui was stunned. Holmen's craggy face swam up at him from the depths of his memory.

    Holmen's fallen in battle? Down with his Bastion? How could this happen... He...

    Kang Hui felt cold all over his body.

    The enemy had separated, waiting for the humans to stumble into their traps. Only Tyrannosaurus managed to stand their ground, but only just barely. Their operation was a failure! Heron was on its way, but so were the two other alien planets.

    A harsh and bitter expression darkened the admiral's face. Ominous as the situation was, however, he still gave his commands.

    "Sound the retreat, all hands. Tell Third and Sixth Fleets to bring up the rear. Give Admiral Yan Yuan our fallback position, and have Heron meet us there. We're getting out of here as fast as we can, and let the Alliance know what's transpired."

    Retreat was their only option. Live to fight another day. If they let themselves get surrounded by all three alien planets they would be doomed. It didn't matter how sour the taste of defeat was, withdrawal was the right decision. They'd already lost many to the expedition, further risks were irresponsible.

    Tyrannosaurus, guarded by its entourage, slowly began to head back the way it'd come. Even in retreat they kept their guns trained on the distant alien world, while keeping an eye out for the other two.

    The enemy planet had stopped once it reached the relative safety of the asteroid belt. It floated in silence, as though it were watching them go with cold, hard eyes.

    The main cannon was charged!

    Lan Jue let his arms drop, releases the charging rod. He'd also heard the retreat order.

    "Let's head back," the Wine Master said.

    The familiar flash of silver light deposited Lan Jue and the others back into Kang Hui's office.

    The Admiral sat behind his table. He looked like he'd aged sixty years since they last saw him. His hands rested limply on the desk top, pale and weak from overuse. A deep and bitter pain was behind his eyes.

    "Admiral, what's happened? Why are we pulling back?" Lan Jue asked.

    Kang Hui's response was curt. "Heron was defeated and barely managed to escape, but not before jettisoning half the ship. It's got about as much punch as a Capital ship now. Arachnid was destroyed by one of the planets, leaving no survivors. Admiral Holmen chose to self-destruct, but not before sending us all the information they'd gathered. We learned that the planets are headed back here - if we don't retreat we'll be surrounded."

    They'd guessed it would happen, but hearing it from Kang Hui made Skyfire Avenue's scout team shudder. Their hearts sank.

    The North had been defeated. Three Bastions and five fleets, and still the alien planets emerged victorious. From this battle they witnessed firsthand the terrible power of these invaders, the sheer power they were capable of. It wasn't even a direct engagement.

    At first it'd seemed the Bastions were a match for these evil worlds, but was that true? The aliens were wise and cunning, more than humans could ever have thought. For all their boisterous praise, human intelligence was thwarted.

    The aliens appeared to know human tactics even before they did, setting up an ambush in the difficult topography of the Starfields. If there was anything this ruinous ordeal revealed, it was that the planets were more than a match for a Bastion ship.

    More was being understood about the aliens every day, but humanity still seemed to just be scratching the surface. Only through more encounters could they uncover more secrets about these beasts. Until those secrets were uncovered, though, humanity was at the mercy of these beasts. A planet could transfer wherever it pleased and mankind would have no means to protect itself.

    A depressed silence hung over the office, but Kang Hui was not lost to self-pity. They were still within the dangerous confines of the Shattered Starfields. They'd cleared a path in, but another would be carved to let them out. Asteroids and planetoids were constantly moving here and they'd long ago closed the door Tyrannosaurus had opened.

    It slowed them down. That meant the three hungry planet could catch up.

    "Make sure our radar is widespread, eyes on every direction. Get me the footage from Arachnid's final moments as soon as possible." Kang Hui's cold and calculating persona had returned. He had to get the remaining forces back safe, no matter what. At the very least these soldiers had some experience fighting the creatures now. It was experience that would undoubtedly serve humanity well in the coming months.

    Lan Jue looked out into space, First Fleet's noble sacrifice still at the forefront of his mind. The aliens power was revealed to them today, but more than that their intellect and guile. From the very beginning they'd been led by the nose into a trap. It'd cost them many lives.

    But in Lan Jue's mind the North had not lost. War with the alien menace was as inevitable as the sunrise. Northern soldiers had thrown themselves into the fires relying on nothing but their own prowess, in spite of the difficulties. That took strength and courage. Defeat was a bitter pill, but Northern blood had bought invaluable knowledge of the enemy. They'd learned more in one battle than they could have from ten scouting missions.

    "Admiral, I want to go back out there. I need to know more about those planets!" Lan Jue turned and fixed Kang Hui with a resolute stare.

    Kang Hui paused. "Now?"

    Lan Jue nodded a determined response. "Yes, right now!" Now that the fight was over, there was more they could learn about how the planets would react, whether they would disperse or stay in humanity's backyard. One could never have enough intelligence on the enemy.

    Lan Jue had watched Northern soldiers give their lives, helpless to aid them. There was only so much he could do as an individual when combat broke out. But whatever he could accomplish for the future of humanity he had to do, to the best of his ability.

    "Very well, take care of yourselves." After a brief moment of contemplation, Kang Hui gave his blessing.

    Lan Jue shook his head. "We won't all be going. You are an important leader in the fight against these monsters. We'll be leaving some behind to make sure you get out alive."

    Such a suggestion would have earned him hard looks and bitter words from the Adepts around Kang Hui before, but after the battle the strength of Skyfire's representatives had been proved. Five Paragons! Together they could turn the tide of battle.

    Lan Jue looked toward Luo Xianni. "Mother, you stay with the Gourmet and Pauper to protect the admiral. Wine Master, Clockmaker, if you would come with me."

    Paragons though they were, Lan Jue was Star Division's commander. Operational decisions rested solely on his shoulders.

    Luo Xianni was their strongest, leaving her behind ensured Kang Hui would survive the trip home. The Wine Master could transfer them the same way she could to make sure Zeus-1 stayed safe, he had to come along. As for the Clockmaker, she and the Wine Master were an item so separating them would have been troublesome.

    "Very well, you be careful out there." Luo Xianni was not pleased with the decisions, but she didn't stop her son from going. He embarked on a righteous cause.

    "Then we're off!"

    The non-Paragons would of course join Lan Jue on the tour. Xiaosu was their pilot, Zhou Qianlin couldn't leave Lan Jue's side, Lin Guoguo was responsible for obfuscation, and the Driver and Pharmacist were muscle. Although not strong enough to save Tyrannosaurus in battle, this small group was enough to make sure Zeus-1 didn't bite off more than it could chew.

    Ten minutes later, Zeus-1 pulled away from Tyrannosaurus and into the depths of the Shattered Starfields.

    Su Xiaosu was at the helm, quietly mulling over her conflicted emotions. She had named Moonfiend herself, those many years ago. It'd been the home of her mighty pirate clan, the seat of her former power. Now, though, her former home had passed into memory. Gone. The pain she felt was to be expected.

    Lin Guoguo was in the captain's chair, flooding her consciousness through the ship's systems. She sensed their surroundings and monitored the radar.

    Lan Jue ordered a new route this time, swinging wide from where they'd come from. They were still in danger of attack from the alien planets.

    This time Star Division didn't have a clear mission, but Lan Jue had a plan. First he had to know if the planets would rejoin. If they did, what was their next move?"

    "Connect me with the admiral," Lan Jue told Su Xiaosu.

    "Aye, aye!" She replied.

    After everything they'd gone through it was important to maintain communication with the Northern leader. Kang Hui had opened up a special channel to make sure they stayed in touch.
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