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270 Edge of the Known Space - Search

    The group of explorers and soldiers traveled through the area where the bearded explorer had encountered the alien race, but even after three days, they had found no trace of them.

    A few options had appeared in the heads of the people present. Some believed that the explorer had made a mistake, that the group of aliens had left the area, or worse, that they had gone back to report, and gather their troops.

    Generally speaking, the soldiers and the explorers would never work together. While the soldiers took the credit for allowing the universal government to be stable, the untold tales of the brave explorers which spent thousands of years doing the most dangerous job in the universe, would be swept under the rug. In the years, that had created a large divide between the two groups.

    That separation was clearer than ever when the soldiers and the explorers were forced to work  together. The higher the rank would be, the more enmity they would feel towards each other. In some point in history, the hostility between the two groups had gotten so bad, that the role of the judge had to be created.

    In the ancient times, any judge would be able to trump soldiers and explorers with the snap of a finger.. but true heroes grew through hardships, and not by staying in a comfortable office in wait for people to argue.

    The years passed, and while the explorers and army gained power, more groups were added to the universal government, and were called factions. In present times, the judges were only able to judge the operate of the factions, and couldn't keep up with the power of the army and the explorers anymore.

    Due to this disparity in the groups within the universal government, it had become a rule for both retired army officers and old explorers, to join a new branch of judges, which were called 'Grand Judges'. The Grand Judges, were the most powerful entities of the entire universal government, and would have the last say on the clashes between the two groups.

    Unfortunately, for as useful the role of the Grand Judge was, it did not deter the two groups from bickering with one another.. And that was the reason why the soldiers had long since started to doubt the bearded explorer's abilities.

    "It is a big offense to make a false report.. And it is even worse for the Xeno Protocol." Said the captain with a threatening tone. She didn't fear the explorers, as she had a power similar to theirs. Plus, she had been raised with the an intrinsic dislike, and sense of superiority towards them. The soldiers were the ones that got praised by the population, but whenever they were in the field, unless it was a war, they would have to follow.. And that would make them turn in their own armor.

    The bearded explorer turned to look around for a few moments, but after checking his map once again, he looked at the old mage. "I've been away only for a couple of minutes, and when I got back, they were already gone. Our territory covers forty percent of the directions they could have taken to retreat.. We can split and make a cone search in the direction from which they approached me.. And that.. would be.. There." Said the bearded man while pointing at a specific point in space.

    The mage had a few doubts, but none of these doubts were about the capabilities of the bearded explorer. What he was worried about, was the variants that would make it impossible for them to once again find these beings.. After all, every single time that the government had discovered one of the factions, they had found the powers which they possessed, extremely 'hard to deal with'.

    "You are the leader." responded the old mage before adding "How do you want us to split?" He did not know of how many aliens the team which had attacked the bearded old man was made of, reason why he had asked.

    Annoyed by the way she was being ignored, the captain of the soldiers said "I have enough men to make five groups of eight people each. We will take the area that you'll assign to us." Her tone was filled with unwilling compliance, and seemed like she was trying to find a chance to get her people as far away from the explorers as possible.

    Once again, the bearded explorer and the mage ignored the captain.

    "Don't flatter yourself, captain. You soldiers are not prepared for all of the unknown variables of a first encounter." Said the sniper while moving his musket off of his right shoulder, and placing it on the other.

    The captain was fuming, and even more so were her soldiers, which were about to burst in rage and shout their discontent to the top of their lungs. But before they could vent off their frustration, the bearded explorer turned towards the  captain, and as if nothing had happened, casually said "The group that attacked me was composed of eight people. As per protocol, we have to demonstrate our military superiority. Once made clear that we aren't harmless wanderers, we have to try to establish a communication."

    "So you agree with my division.." Said the woman while grinning. She had thought that the leader of this group of explorers had agreed to her plan, and that that would show the value of the strategizing of her part.. But unfortunately, she was sorely mistaken.

    "No. I believe your plan to be silly. We don't have to show that our military is as powerful as theirs.. What we have to show, is that our military is bigger, and corner their thoughts into believing that we only have the strength in number to show.. Then, we.. the explorers, will show our individual prowess.. Making them believe that our path of cultivation is worthy of being feared." Responded the bearded man with a matter-of-fact tone.

    What he said was true. The army was trained for group fighting, and none of the individual power of the soldiers was in any way comparable to the weakest of the explorers. Of course, that didn't mean that a group of five thousand explorers would win against a group of five thousand soldiers, as the army had many ways to add weight to their side of the scale when fighting in group.

    Unfortunately, a first encounter could hardly be considered a military operation. Psychology and individual power were more important than collective power. If during an encounter the only two people to clash were a member of the other party's group and the explorer, the enemy would be inclined to believe that each of the individuals of which that party was made of could possibly be that powerful. The universal government would gain an essential, and yet thin layer of defense against the new power. A layer caused by the fear of the unknown.

    That layer of defence would usually not mean safety from an all out war, but would definitely gain enough time for diplomacy to take place.

    "Captain, split your division into four groups. Take off your armor, and wear your daily clothes. Also, have them use a hat to cover their military haircut." Said the bearded explorer before turning to look at the group of four, and add "Krit and Borus, take one of the groups.. Krit leads. Ada, you are the only one that hasn't offended the soldiers yet.. Go with the captain and lead one of their groups, while the old man and I will take the other two."

    "Okay honey." Said Ada with a flirtatious tone before turning towards the captain of the soldiers.

    "Mhm" grunted Borus, the shirtless muscular and hairy man.

    Krit the sniper embraced his musket once again, and nodded while saying "You are the boss."

    Of the five explorers, the old mage and the bearded man were the two most powerful individuals, and that was the reason why he had divided them like that. The captain and Ada would lead a team, the shirtless man and the sniper would lead another, and he and the old mage would have a group to lead each.

    "Good.. now go." Said the bearded man before the four explorers turned towards three different directions in space, and departed like comets.

    The captain was extremely bothered by the fact that they hadn't even been asked for her opinion, but since she had no way to respond, the moment she saw the four leave, she swallowed her pride and said "Split into four groups.. Follow them."

    -----

    The four groups traveled uneventfully through the empty space for numerous days, but unfortunately, they still found nothing. There was not a single trace of spatial essence, mana, or any other form of unrecognizable power to indicate that someone had been here.

    The bearded man was feeling really uncomfortable with how the things were going. He knew the power which the aliens possessed, and while their party was not much stronger than their soldiers, there was no way to tell whether their population was smaller, or ten, a hundred, or even a billion times larger than their universal government.

    He was really hoping to spot another group and either acquire some information personally, or use the necromancer which he was bringing along, to obtain information after killing one of them.. But it seemed like they were only a passing party to which he had given crucial information to..

    There was only one possibility left.. The group had gone back to report.

    This expedition was a catastrophic failure..

    Slightly unwilling, the bearded man gave a last look at the map he carried around his spatial ring, but after calculating how far into the unknown space they had arrived, he decided to retreat.

    Next to him, the casually dressed soldiers were behaving just like soldiers on leave. Due to the absence of their leader, they had started to relax, and get distracted from their job. The bearded man was not against that, as the fact that they would not appear as soldiers was nothing but an advantage to them.

    One of the soldiers in particular was looking quite bored. He had started to play with a coin since the day before, and he was playing a trick to increase his dexterity, and control over his immortal essence. He was extremely talented, and the coin rolled across his knuckles naturally.. He would only make a mistake every many hours, and that showed for how long he had practiced.

    Luckily, it was time for his next mistake, which caused him to lose control over the coin due to an involuntary contraction of the muscle of his fingers. Irritated, the soldier let the control over his immortal essence go, and let the coin wander in space.

    He quietly massaged his hand for a minute.. But then, when he turned to look back at the coin.. The coin was already a few meters away from him.

    While the coin was let go to float on the spot, the soldier was floating in space completely still. His immortal essence was ejected at the same time in every part of his body, and that was enough to stabilize him completely.

    Curious about what had happened, he tried to approach the coin.. But as he got closer, he noticed that the coin was getting further away, and gaining speed.

    A crazy thought suddenly came into his mind. He immediately restrained his immortal cultivation, and let himself float in space without the help of his power. Soon after, he too like the coin started to gain speed, and move on the same direction.

    "THERE IS A BLACK HOLE HERE!!" shouted the soldier.

    The bearded explorer heard what the soldier said, and in response, without waiting or even giving his orders to the group he was leading, he immediately turned to look upwards, and teleported a few dozen times in that direction. When he reappeared, he was looking back at the direction where the soldier was pointing at.

    There, he saw the edge of a massive black sphere which was completely invisible to the naked eye, and behind it, was something that made him mutter "Fuck.. a wormhole."
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