Chapter 773: Profit at Another’s Expense

    Chapter 773: Profit at Another's Expense

    With the buffer given by Middle Heaven, the Capital ships safely made it back to the safety of the armada. The other two bastions and their entourage were still, silently watching what transpired.

    They returned to formation quickly, just in time to bear witness to Middle Heaven as its payload was released.

    Blinding, angry red light erupted from the front of the remolded planet. It was so fierce that it painted everything before it in the same blazing light. Distant aliens were a riot of squirming bodies trying to flee.

    But in the next instant they were stunned to find that the burst of fire from them only extended a thousand meters or so. Middle Heaven shot backward toward where the rest of the armada was watching.

    Those weren't cannons... they were thrusters? They were using them for a quick retreat. Everyone - not just the aliens - were stupefied by the revelation.

    What was Middle Heaven doing? Why thrusters? Those intimidating lights had all just been its engines getting ready to fire?

    By the time Middle Heaven returned to position at the head of the fleet, the twelve Capital ships were back in formation and ready for orders.

    After a moment of confusion the aliens gathered together once again. From across space it looked like they were getting ready to charge with their full strength. But the human ships were ready, their warships light up as all checks were complete. Preparations were made to meet the enemy head on.

    Human technology gave them an advantage against the aliens at long range. Their enemies had nowhere to hide and no cover to protect them. The blitz attack had also caught them off guard and broke their formation.

    Unfortunately the monsters were not impulsive, they were possessed of a superior intellect. They only surged ahead a short distance then stopped, like an enormous creature baring its fangs but refraining from the attack. Invisible sound waves brought a chorus of angry snarls and howls. A portion of them shrunk back and concealed themselves behind the planet. Like in the North they used the planet as a shield.

    As the aliens retreated the ships dimmed once more. Things returned to a quiet stalemate.

    Lan Qing stood in Middle Heaven's control room, staring at the screen before him with grim countenance. He carefully watched everything going on. Their brief skirmish had slain over four thousand six hundred foes and his people got back without a scratch. It had only cost them energy.

    Profit at another's expense, this was the first part of their plan. With all their troops the humans were still outnumbered and were in an unsafe position, even without the addition of the alien home worlds. A direct confrontation was not how they would snatch victory from their aggressors. They wouldn't be able to break the line, much less assault the enigmatic planets hiding somewhere behind them.

    Because of this Lan Qing's plan was to weaken the enemy first. They would whittle down their numbers through several means. It would be difficult if not impossible for the humans to turn the battle to their favor if they fought a typical war. Reinforcements from other planets would continue to pour in if they got caught in a full assault and his own forces would be hard pressed to keep formation.

    At present humanity's greatest advantage were their bastions, which were unparalleled by anything the aliens could put before it. In addition, humans had range whereas the aliens fought in close quarters.

    Lan Qing's plan was to take full advantage of their strengths. Lan Qing had called it a rolling blitz.

    Only the top commanders knew the whole plan, the rest only performed the orders as they were given. These orders were given face to face, for fear the enemy could hear their communications. The commanders themselves had shared nothing with their people prior to the surprise attack. Lan Qing's order to prepare had been the secret signal to act.

    How could the aliens, who saw the humans arrive on such weak footing, imagine that they would attack so suddenly and so fiercely? They had taken advantage of their Capital ships, Middle Heaven, and range to take them by surprise.

    The difference in strength between the two sides was not much, though this was only because the alien home worlds were not present. The humans were fewer in number but had three bastions, and coming in for close range combat would cost the creatures dearly.

    Lan Qing's plan was meticulous, and hinged on a simple premise; win enough small victories to win the war. Enough small changes can turn the tide of war.

    The opening salvo didn't inflict heavy losses on their foes. Nor were they able to recover vital crystals from those they killed. Still the humans had got off cheap for the damage they caused. Although the blitz had been costly, Capital ships were possessed of systems to recover energy from the space around them. So long as they weren't locked in continuous battle they could restore what was lost through cosmic radiation. It was not so easy for the aliens to recover their forces.

    But there was a deeper meaning for this opening attack. Ever since the start of this conflict the humans had suffered, and were ever at a disadvantage. Every clash had resulted in their unmitigated defeat.

    It would be foolish to assume this didn't affect the morale of their soldiers. Although the first exchange was quick and small, it had been performed without any losses on the human side. This had a marvelous effect on morale, and strengthened cooperation and trust among the allied forces.

    In this universe, truth was always more effective than promises. Actions spoke louder than words. Seeing the truth through action strengthened the bonds among soldiers. They saw themselves as a team, which was the basis for any victory. Once that unity was focused they could achieve anything.

    Moreover, Middle Heaven had thrown itself into the fray in order to give their allies cover. It revealed its impressive maneuverability, and as backup helped the Capital ships return without incident. As guardian it allowed for them to test the waters, to see how strong their foes were and how they planned to fight.

    The simple act had revealed a lot to the humans. Describe it as a success didn't do it justice.

    Both sides had withdrawn to their camps and - as before - stared at each other from across a stretch of empty space. Only now the enemy was shown not to be invisible. Middle Heaven had given them hope.

    This latest bastion was brand new, so much that even the Eastern forces didn't know what it was capable of. But it was huge, no smaller than the alien home worlds themselves, and could move with surprise agility. Everyone was anxious to see what it could do.

    Now that the surprise attack was finished, it was time to rest and reorganize. Next would be the real battle. Lan Qing had enough confidence in their formation and the strength of their ranged advantage that he didn't fear a sudden attack from the enemy. He would be happy if they tried.

    Lan Qing called another meeting to confirm the next step in their plan. He summoned all the commanders now that the stage had been set. He would need everyone's support for the fight to come.

    "You look tired." Lan Jue frowned as he walked into the control room and saw his brother.

    Lan Qing was seated behind his desk with his eyes closed, thinking of something. Outwardly he looked normal, but they were brothers after all. It didn't take long for Lan Jue to see the sag in the way Lan Qing held himself. The older Lan typically was an endless font of energy, so it was a stark contrast.

    Lan Qing opened his eyes. When he saw who arrived he sat up straight, and the sharp look in his eyes returned.

    "I'm fine. Take a seat." He motioned toward a nearby chair. Lan Jue took it.

    "Congratulations on your initial victory. I'm hearing nothing but praise." Lan Jue said with a smile. Even he didn't know about the plan for a sneak attack.

    Lan Qing shook his head. "We've only just started. Save congratulations for when we win."

    The smile fled from Lan Jue's face. "You... always so hollow."

    Lan Qing shot him a look. "Are you ready for your part? How you perform will directly impact the success of our campaign. The arrow's knocked, the bow is drawn - there's no going back. Once it begins I'm sure I don't need to tell you how dangerous things will be."

    "What is there left to prepare?" Lan Jue replied. "The Paragons are as strong as they're gonna be in a few hours. Qianlin and I have reached our bottleneck."

    Lan Qing's brows knit as he looked at his younger brother. "You have to get back safely."

    Lan Jue was comforting. "Relax, I know what I'm doing. Even though the Violet Prince and Monarch are somewhere close, I don't think they'll put that much effort into hunting me down. We're going to do everything within our power, don't you worry. If there's really no way to save those people we know the focus has to be on survival of the species."

    Lan Qing looked at him, surprise clear in his face. "I didn't expect to hear that from you. I expected to have you come in here and demand we hold nothing back to save the hostages."

    Lan Jue smirked at him. "I know what's important. Star Division will be leading the ground assault team, and I'll link up with them once our own mission is finished. So, what's next in your plan?"
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