Chapter 3 - Age of Cosmic Exploration

Chapter 3: Target!

Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation

"Now that we have a fixed mission target, it's time to hammer down some other details," said Yao Yuan. As he said it, the gravity of the situation gradually dawned on the Black Star Unit.

"The first will be the location. The coordinates have been confirmed to pinpoint the area where the spacecraft is said to have crashed in Tennessee. This further confirms my suspicion that there's a secret base around there somewhere and that is exactly where we are heading.

After arrival, the imminent objective is to secure a spacecraft. Next, we will need to learn how to start and pilot it. Those are the fundamentals of our mission. Beyond that… Of course, we will need to secure sufficient rations and drinkable water. The craft will have an air and water purifier, but it will be best if we can round up additional units in case of emergency, because we have to remember that we're going to outer space here. Without air and water, death will be certain. Other than that, we will also need repair kits, spare parts, and weaponry.

Next will be an important yet tricky matter: human resources. I hate to mimic the ones that left before us, but we have to be realistic here. Based on the size of the craft, we are going to have to decide how many passengers we are taking. This can't be helped; we simply can't rescue everyone… Of course, within our powers, we will help as many people as possible to ensure the continuity of humanity, but we will have to be selective. First priority will be given to scientists or academics, and after that, it will be technical workers or educators, before finally taking in soldiers or officers like us that haven't turned against humanity in these dire times. Of course, extreme vetting is compulsory to ensure that there won't be any felons among us.

That is a very long to-do list and I'm aware that we might not be able to complete all of these tasks with the time we have left, which leads me to the last issue: time. As you all know, time is already ticking for us. Although experts’ estimations state that we have almost eight months left before things hit the fan, I fear that in reality, it might be less than that. If the asteroid is as dense as the statistics predicted, then we will have to account for its immense gravitational pull. As it charts its way to the sun, that force will be more and more clearly felt. The pull and push dynamism between intergalactic entities could cause unforeseeable damage, especially to delicate technological devices, and that could utterly undo our effort. It could very well spell doom. Therefore, it's best to escape before then, which dramatically shortens our remaining time down to about four to six months," Yao Yuan explained.

"Alright, team! That concludes all of the research and analysis that I've collated over the past month. Hopefully everyone is clear about our situation now. Our immediate course of action is to depart for Tennessee, and hopefully get there in under six days. We'll give ourselves half a month to locate the spacecraft and another one month to learn to operate it. Remember, guys, this is our last hope… No, not our last hope, but the last hope for all of humanity!" Yao Yuan intoned as he worked himself to his finish. "So believe me, brothers, when I say we shall not bring shame to the Black Star name! FOR GLORY OR FOR DEATH!"

"FOR GLORY OR FOR DEATH!" echoed the rest of the room.

Yes, indeed… for glory or for death, because against the certainty of victory, even death shall be perceived as glory…

Silence tends to precede the storm, so the night passed without commotion. It has been a long time since the Black Star Unit could lie down to rest without worrying about their lives, and they knew that this was going to be similarly a rare occurrence in the foreseeable future. Therefore, all of the members of the group laid down their guard and tired bodies, each intent on savoring their first restful sleep in a long time. The next morning, the group woke up refreshed and readied. After a simple meal, they gathered to prepare for Yao Yuan's commands.

"So, just like what we planned yesterday. We need a means of transport that could get us to Tennessee fast. I believe the best bet will be planes. However, from my assessments, army-commissioned planes will either have been blown up in wars by now or they will be locked behind some army base. The inconvenience of travelling aside, the chances of them being guarded will be high. I do have a lot of faith in our capabilities, but it's never easy to tell who will come out on the other end in a life-or-death situation. Therefore, if it's at all possible, we shall avoid conflict at all costs. Every single one of us has an instrumental role in the overall success of the operation, so please don't lose sight of the bigger picture in the heat of the moment. The cloak-and-dagger operation yesterday night was a success and therefore we shall adopt the same tactic today. We will move only after the sun sets. The main objective is to locate the spacecraft; the rest we shall decide later."

In a serious tone, Yao Yuan continued on with his orders, "This S city has three commercial airports: one at the edge of downtown, and the other two in the city outskirts. There was a massive bombing at the downtown airport a few days ago; that coupled with the five-day-long riot, the place has been rendered to ruins. Even my surveillance system got trashed, so the possibility of finding a working plane there is too low for us to risk the journey. Although, the other two airfields might prove to be fruitful, so I would like to us to separate evenly into two parties. One of them will follow me to the city’s southern airport, while the other party shall follow Captain Wong to survey the city’s northern airport. No matter the result, we shall meet here again at nine tonight!"

Guang Zhen stepped ahead and gave his old captain a salute. "Sir, yes, Sir!"

Yao Yuan nodded his approval but not before issuing Wong another serious order. "Listen to me, Wong; these are all your juniors. Now you promise me that you will bring them out and that you will bring them back here again in one piece, every single one of them!"

"Sir, yes, Sir!" saluted Guang Zhen.

"If there's nothing else, then… dismissed!"

These were all military men, men of actions and not of words. They knew this could be the final goodbye for anyone of them but there weren't any maudlin affairs of farewell, because the focus on the success of the mission was of greater importance. As such, the group left the shop in silence, weaving through the deserted streets, each clutching their arms of choice as they moved towards their respective target locations.

This was the first time Yao Yuan had seen the surface world since he went into hiding five days ago. He led at the front, scouting ahead for his team. Despite his years being in wars, the sight of the city that night still sent apprehension and sorrow down his heart.

The carnage was indescribable…

Rivulets of blood streamed freely over the streets, and in the summer heat, they gave out waves of revolting stench that attracted nebulous clouds of flies. Decaying bodies and rotten body parts littered the ground, acting as warm beds for maggots and worms. It wasn't a cityscape, it was a hellscape!

It painted the perfect picture for the end of humanity. Man has always stood on the tipping scale of logic versus instinct. When neither science nor civility could save humanity anymore, these vestiges of logic would fall. When mankind was shoved into throes of doom and hopelessness, the majority of them simply cracked and regressed back to their carnal state of sin.

Based on his field expertise, Yao Yuan could easily tell that the first to perish were the womenfolk by analyzing the bodies' stages of decay. The bodies were so badly decomposed at this point that he couldn't tell their body types nor ages, much less their facial features. Next were the children and then were the men. Based on the distribution of bodies, as well as the exposed and burnt building frames, it would be a safe bet to say that there were only a handful of survivors. About 80 percent of the city populace had perished, and not a small amount of them were wearing military fatigue.

Nevertheless, Yao Yuan had remained relatively stoic through it all. The situation demanded that he reverted back to his Special Ops days, for he understood that he was responsible for others' lives now. It required him to be precise, careful, analytical and decisive. The lives of his team and survival of humanity hung onto his balance, so there could be no margin for error.

As his team progressed along, they saw a few remaining rebel troops. They were either stupidly drunk or dangerously unstable. The smallest of them had about five or six members while the larger ones were as big as twenty or thirty something in number. Not all of them were armed forces though; some of them were corralling civilians, mostly women, like livestock around the city. They noticed that one of the groups was in the middle of a killing spree, while another was indulging their carnal desires, and a few others were locked in a shootout. One even consisted wholly of gang members. How they got their hands on weapons was anyone's guess.

Tempering his human urges, Yao Yuan carefully skirted his team's way around these pockets of chaotic activities. Their path took them through back alleys, deserted buildings, and even a stretch of sewer before reaching their destination at around two in the afternoon. There weren't any signs of life around and the number of dead bodies was also drastically lower around this area. It was good, but Yao Yuan kept on sensing a bad vibe that was lingering in the air.

The town’s southern airport’s lobby was locked from the inside. Peering in, it was like a set piece painted fully in shades of black. Yao Yuan looked in through one of the windows and he could see that the walls, the floor, the ceiling, and everything in between were heavily singed. These included a few sets of torched remains that Yao Yuan could discern on the floor.

This scene and its implication were the first thing in the city that truly gave Yao Yuan a frightening chill. After he cleared his surroundings, he summoned the rest of his group to gather by whistling the quail birdsong. As the full group arrived, Yao Yuan efficiently relayed his commands through a series of hand gestures, signaling his group to form into roles of scouts, backline supports, and long-ranged snipers before moving into the airport lobby.

The place was completely deserted though. There was no sign of human beings other than the grotesque amount of scorched bodies that seemed to endlessly pile upon one another.

There was no other way to describe it other than a mass slaughter perpetrated by an unknown hand. The perpetrator(s) seemed to have locked thousands of people inside the room before lighting it up like a giant bonfire. The place Yao Yuan's team was in was the aftermath of thousands of victims clawing their way out on top of the furniture, the walls, and finally each other before perishing agonizingly in flames.

"BASTARDS!" growled Lee, a sentiment agreed upon but was kept in restraints by the older members of the group.

Yao Yuan folded into a deep silence. He merely locked his eyes towards the direction of the plane hangar and walked purposefully towards it. After a few moments, the team followed. A few corners and broken door locks later, they finally found themselves before the hangar. No one seemed to have noticed, but Yao Yuan's hands were literally shaking as he pulled open the door.

And what greeted them was… yet another disappointment!

There wasn't a single usable plane. What was left were a bunch of exploded metal shrapnel or crushed aircraft carcasses.

"... Let us return to base and wait for updates from Captain Wong's group," Yao Yuan concluded briskly. He had seen what he needed to see and so, he turned to head back without a lingering glance, leaving behind a number of his stunned teammates.

(That whole operation was a deliberate sabotage. The deconstruction methods of the machinery were too highly efficient. This whole thing reeks of military involvement, but why and whom? Could it be…)

(That there's someone other than myself that knew about the code or the coordinate? Someone or some group that is also currently in THIS city?)