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Chapter 723: Duty-Bound to Rescue

    Chapter 723: Duty-Bound to Rescue

    Tears streaked down the Pharmacist's face, twinkling like small crystals. Of course she knew her decision was foolish and emotional. But years of pain bubbling up to the surface was impossible to ignore.

    Lan Jue wanted to hit something. He'd known she wasn't in her right mind but he'd believed her and let her go. However, he also knew he wouldn't have been able to stop her. He remembered that she'd been about to say something but held back. Suddenly the sentimental and reluctant look in her eyes that day made sense.

    "I suspect my chances of coming back are slim. Jun'er has grown and has all of the Avenue to look after her. That brings me peace. Don't tell her what I'm doing, just tell her that I've gone far away and I won't be back for a long time. I've locked this with your fingerprint to ensure she can't see it. I'm sorry, Jun'er... but I can't wait any more. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry!"

    The hologram stopped here and the Pharmacist's image vanished.

    "Mama. Mama!" Jun'er squirmed uncomfortably.

    Lan Jue understood right away that the little one had lied to him. But how could he criticize her now after what they'd seen?

    There was no question as to her destination, she was after the alien planets. Her goal was also plain as the nose on his face. She was on a suicide mission to make them pay for what they'd done to her late husband.

    "Jun'er, don't rush. I'm going to go get your mother back, alright?" He hugged her tightly to his chest, using his warm embrace to try and soothe her.

    But Jun'er was calm. She spoke plainly. "Mama will come back. Definitely. Go and get her daddy - you're the only one who can."

    Lan Jue's heart sank for he knew the dangers, and the likely outcome. Could he bring her back? It didn't matter what the answer to that question was, he had to try. He had to for Jun'er, for himself.

    "Let me take you back, Jun'er. Then I'm going to go find your mom." He carried her from Zeus' Jewelry Store with hurried steps and told no one of what they'd seen. After dropping her off at the Skyfire Museum he left immediately for the airship hangars.

    Lan Jue knew it clear, he had to go on this journey alone. The chances they would have the alien planets was high, and the chance of coming back very low. Yet despite that he had to go, because if he didn't the Pharmacist's death was assured. Perhaps if he were lucky the Pharmacist would get lost in the Starfields and he'd have a chance to convince her to come back.

    Lan Jue quickly took a verti-car to the hangar, boarded Zeus-1 and departed Skyfire. He'd had no time to rest before his next mission. Once he was free of the planet's atmosphere he urged Zeus-1 to top speed and raced for the Shattered Starfields.

    He dialed a number into the ship's systems.

    "Shouldn't you be on Skyfire?" Lan Qing's face appeared on the screen.

    Lan Jue wasted no time. "Something came up that needed handling right away. The Pharmacist has gone after the alien planets by herself to seek revenge. I need to find a way to stop her. I'm by myself and it will be dangerous. If I don't come back..." He trailed off.

    He hadn't brought Lin Guoguo and thus had no way to hide his presence from alien patrols. He didn't want to force anyone to share the dangerous situation he was putting himself in.

    Lan Qing's brows furrowed. "Do you understand how irresponsible this is? Star Division needs you, all of Skyfire Avenue needs you. How can you act on impulse like this and rush off alone?"

    Lan Jue sighed. "Look, I understand everything you're saying and I understand the responsibilities that have been put on me. But you know me, you know the kind of person that I am. If I didn't help when my friends were in need than I wouldn't be me. I'm sorry, I need you to tell Skyfire Avenue. If I don't make it back then Xiaosu will be in command of Star Division. She's the best choice. I'll do whatever I can to stay safe and come home."

    Lan Qing stared at him through the screen for a long time. Eventually he replied. "Be careful."

    "Yeah, ok." He hung up then blocked all further communications. Once the word got back to the Avenue he knew people would be trying to get him to come back. However, it was already too late to change his mind. He was going to save the Pharmacist for the benefit of Jun'er and the woman herself, even if she didn't want it.

    Zeus-1 shot through space like a comet. He set the ship on cruise control and shut his eyes. He needed to gather his thoughts. He didn't want to die, but the only way to bring he and the Pharmacist back in one piece was to have a plan.

    Her goal was to find her husband, or exact vengeance for his murder. That meant that she was searching for the alien planets, specifically Monarch. If the Violet Prince was to be believed that was the one that had kill him all those years ago. Ultus was there.

    If Lan Jue wanted to stop her, his best shot was somewhere around Monarch. That meant that evading aliens along the way was paramount. Zeus-1 could cloak and Lan Jue had some psionic skill, though nothing like Lin Guoguo.

    His ship was small and he didn't have the Photographer of Wine Master here to make a quick getaway. If he was discovered he only recourse was to kill or run. That was a real problem.

    Strong as he was, there were limits to the number of creatures he could handle himself.

    Oh, but wait. He wasn't alone. He'd hesitated to bring her but in the end Qianlin had remained safely tucked away in his spirit. He'd made her a promise that no matter what they would stay together.

    Zeus-1 had undergone many upgrades over the last couple of years, and that showed itself in its speed. There likely was no other ship in its class that could catch it. Lan Jue hoped that would be enough to stop the Pharmacist. It wasn't easy to make it to the Starfields from Luo. Getting a ship was one thing, but then she had to navigate the infamously difficult Starfields by herself. Even if she found a safe route it wasn't certain she'd find the planets.

    It was actually farther to the planets' last known location from Luo than it was from Skyfire. Once she was in the Starfields her progress would also be considerably slowed. Only Xiaosu could navigate the broken currents of asteroids with speed and dexterity.

    Space travel was a lengthy process, and therein lay his chances to catch up with the Pharmacist.

    Xiaosu wasn't piloting Zeus-1 this time. However, several trips and a state-of-the-art onboard computer was enough for Lan Jue to manage, he was confident. A couple days of travel later, he'd arrived.

    As he plunged into the Stafields Lan Jue engaged the ship's cloak. He wasn't reckless, he tried to remain under the enemy's radar. No one knew what the planets were like now, or what they were up to. But just the fact they were there meant the Starfields was a place fraught with dangers.

    Things seemed unsettlingly still, even more than his last visit. It was probably because all life had been stolen from this sector. The swath he traveled was vast, who knew how much the enemy had gained from their systematic sweep.

    Hua Li was probably right in his analysis, even the aliens were limited in how far they could evolve. They strove to break free of the restraints imposed by universal protogenia, but it was not so easy.

    Once more Lan Jue was faced with just how little humanity understood about their foe.

    He was on yet another scouting mission, Lan Jue mused helplessly, though this one was not his choice. This visit was far more dangerous since his target was the strongest known enemy they faced.

    Keep it slow, sis. You need to give me a chance to catch up.

    Lan Jue didn't drive Zeus-1 directly to Monarch's location - he wasn't that foolish. If he did he was far more likely to run into patrols first. Then he'd be forced to face them, possibly a lot of them.

    After discovering the aliens' ability to psionically locate their targets, Skyfire Avenue dedicated a lot of energy toward learning more. The Keeper had designed something called a Psionic Generator which, after some testing, was able to perform at roughly one-third the capabilities of Lin Guoguo. Of course it didn't have anywhere near the flexibility of the Psychic Tide, meaning it could only emulate a few kinds of enemy pulses. Hardly stellar, but at least it held some use. At least it extended Zeus-1's safety net. Still Zeus-1 was small and the technology was knew. It was hard to say how effective it would be in practice. Yet, Lan Jue had no choice but to rely on it.

    Lan Jue's first destination was the small base they'd built for Zeus-1. It was the best place for him to launch his search. Lan Jue knew from the beginning that approaching the planets in Zeus-1 was impossible. The only way he could get close was by himself.

    But going solo with limited equipment also had its advantages. He was a small target.

    Star Division's former basecamp was still there, the same as it had always been. Lan Jue coaxed his ship into the hidden valleys on the small planet's surface, then gathered some supplies and set out on his own.
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