Chapter 749: Big Bang

    Chapter 749: Big Bang

    Lan Jue didn't know why the West didn't join the other bastions at the front. However, he did know it was the right decision.

    Middle Heaven's impressive speed was on full display. Twenty engine fixed to its surface glowed red-hot as they pushed the planet forward. From the back it looked like a sun. It lead the other bastions toward Monteux.

    The first set of ships to reach safety were the Easts. They had been ready for the withdraw order. Lan Qing could be selfless when the time required, but he also had no qualms alerting his people to danger even if it wasn't in everyone's best interest. He knew Kang Hui was going to give his own people more time than others.

    Lan Jue didn't leave his own ship. Through communications equipment and radar he observed what was going on outside. When he saw ships bearing the insignias of the East fly passed An Lun and out into quiet space he heaved a sigh of relief. So far the East only had one bastion, and five fleets it was meant to protect. But where this might have been a problem for a normal ship, Middle Heaven was so large its whole entourage could fit safely in its wake.

    Behind the warships were the transport vessels. They were ferrying An Lun's best - including the Bloodiron Kahns. Middle Heaven was moving forward so quickly to ensure that transport ships got behind it before Monteux blew.

    And not a moment too soon. The four planets began to change just as the East's ships were getting to a safe distance. It started with their rotation, which slowed to a crawl. Even from out in space they could see the planet trembling. Thousands of acres of its surface collapsed into burning crevices that spat magma into the sky.

    It was going to blow!

    Northern Bastions had started to slow, then stop. Protecting their bastions were their first priority. Interstellar fleets and the people on board were expendable by comparison. Luckily their reaction had been fast enough that most were already safely behind the moon-sized ships. Not so lucky were their transport ships which were a few minutes behind. Despite the real risk of losing his soldiers, Admiral Kang Hui couldn't put the bulk of his fleet - and the bulk of the North's military strength - in the path of destruction.

    Not Middle Heaven. It surged forward like it was duty-bound to save as many lives as possible. In the face of the planet's imminent doom, it proceeded.

    Boom- - - ! A blinding light suddenly turned darkness into day as Dakkar exploded. The luminescence from its death spread across the whole sector. The shockwave that followed was like something from a nightmare.

    Lan Jue found himself unconsciously clenching his fists. Monteux hadn't blown yet, but he knew that when it did the results would be catastrophic. It was the largest of the four planets, which meant its death would be the most destructive.

    Brother, you better have this under control!

    He didn't dare disturb Lan Qing in this moment because he knew his brother was piloting the whole ship. Now was not the time to trouble him with nonsense.

    The ships were getting closer. In the distance, Saqi and Bollen had also erupted, one after the other. Lan Jue could feel Middle Heaven being buffeted by the first blasts of the shockwave. His radar flickered and fought static interference.

    Only Monteux remained, but it shook so fiercely it threatened to pull itself apart. The cracks that snaked over its surface glowed like angry wounds. It was going to die any moment.

    Just then a white light sprang up before Middle Heaven, spreading out line a fan. The returning transport ships just made it just in time, vanishing behind the screen of light.

    Like clockwork all of the bastion's engines shut off and went dark. Its forward momentum slowed, but the planet didn't turn around. Instead an array of circular engines extended from the front of it and immediately sparked to life. It lurched perilously as the engines fought inertia. They were powerful enough not only to stop its forward trend, but also immediately thrust it backward in the direction it'd come from.

    In the same moment a shell of orange-red light appeared around Middle Heaven. It covered every corner. Moments later Monteux gave in. First it collapsed inward, and time stood still for half a moment before it exploded out in all directions.

    Within Middle Heaven, silver light flickered as people were deposited into the control room. By the time it receded the figures already had their hands on conductor rods and were pouring their power into the ship.

    They were the strongest men and women in the universe. In the middle was the first among them; Jue Di!

    Jue Di, Luo Xianni, the Wine Master, Gourmet, Pauper, Driver, Pharmacist, Clockmaker and Lan Jue. All of Skyfire Avenue's leaders, as well as Bize, stood in solidarity in Middle Heaven's defense.

    When the impact hit, Middle Heaven shook like it was rattling from an earthquake. The humans' faces were dour but firm. Clearly the ship had been too close to the blast, but no blame was pointed at Lan Qing. He'd done it to save their fellow soldiers.

    Lan Jue knew his brother better than anyone, and he trusted him completely. Lan Qing wouldn't do anything he wasn't certain about, and if he flew in this close it was because he had faith in Middle Heaven's ability to withstand it.

    The universe around them was a tempest of frantic energy. The waves of destruction that came from the planets crashed into them, again and again. The East's fleets rocked and trembled. They were the only one who had been able to get all their transport ships behind their bastion before the blasts. For the North and West, the fate of their transports went without saying. What small ship could withstand the death of a planet? The answer seemed obvious. They would see who survived only once the dust had settled.

    The raging explosions lasted more than ten minutes before they began to subside. Lan Jue felt like the East's bastion managed valiantly, perfectly in fact. Only the initial shock had rattled the planet-turned-starship. By the end they hardly moved at all. It was evident Middle Heaven didn't sustain much damage.

    Sighs heaved through the control room. The Paragons staggered around like survivors of a disaster. If they had been closer to the center of the explosions, even with all their might they would have met their end. Only the Wine Master and the Photographer would have had favorable chances.

    The Gourmet's face was ghastly pale. "These goddamn monsters are too cruel. They're evil. I wonder how the others are doing."

    The rest of his family was fighting with the North. Most importantly, the hope of the Chu Family and their most recent Paragon had lead the ground assault team - Chung Cheng. The Gourmet worried his nephew may not have survived the blast, though he didn't say it outright. Paragons were strong, but the Northern transports had been left to their own devices. It was unclear how they fared. Outside was a universe of chaos. The fission of four planetary cores caused too much interference for any reliable communication.

    Lan Jue took a breath, his mind already calm. Detestable as the enemy was it served nothing to spit curses at a distant foe. The aliens had suffered greatly as well. They'd left many of their number behind to confuse and bait the allied human forces. There surely were no survivors of those left behind.

    This was not to say humanity got away without cost. Many from the North and West, including their ground and mecha teams, had fallen. However, thanks to prudent intelligence and the help of the bastions they'd kept their losses to a minimum. Nonetheless, a deep and abiding fear of their enemy would persist.

    Without early warning the blow to humanity would have been crippling. But as it was, the losses suffered by both sides made it palatable.

    Lan Jue told the Paragons to rest while he himself went to go find Lan Qing. As he walked the halls he was in awe of Middle Heaven and its first display of ability. Undoubtedly, the West and North were cowed by what they'd witnessed.

    Monteux was large, its blast intense, and Middle Heaven had been closer than all the other ships. And yet it had not cost them much to escape unscathed. Though it was not a contest, the East had escaped this tragic battle with the fewest losses and the most vital crystals.

    "Brother!" Lan Jue entered the Admiral's office to find Lan Qing behind his desk, staring at his screens.

    He didn't raise his head. "I told you, here you refer to me by my title."

    Lan Jue walked to his side. "Relax, we've come out the other side of it."
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