Later that night, when Guang Zhen’s team returned to the shop’s basement, the overall atmosphere was one of defeat. Even without communicating it out loud, their facial expressions said it all. Both parties had come back empty-handed; there wasn’t even one functional aircraft, much less one that could support ten something people in flight.
“Sorry sir. But there was nothing of use, not even a single one. All the planes were destroyed, either by explosion or by brute force,” Guang Zhen reported solemnly.
Staring at his laptop’s monitor, other than developing a deeper frown, Yao Yuan did not give any additional response. It was only after a long pause that he picked up the threads of conversation, “As I’ve mentioned, we have to get to Tennessee fast. It’s a race getting there so all these setbacks make me suspect that it might not be only us that have access to these coordinates. Sorry team, that was incredibly careless of me. I should have been able to tell that even if the decryption expert had sent me the coded coordinates, he might not be the original source. This is after all the last chance at survival, it should come as no surprise that other parties are interested in it as well. But we shall not have this taken away from us… Right. Lee mentioned before that you guys got into a scuffle with the Dragon Prosper squad during field training out in the desert. When was this?”
The unexpected question stunned Guang Zhen and as he pondered over it, a forbidding guy next to him answered, “That was twenty-seven days ago, sir. We were doing field training together and the relationship was amicable until the twenty-seventh when they suddenly turned on us. Three of us died on the spot, while another two were in serious injury before finally bleeding out. But don’t worry, they didn’t have it easy either, we’ve returned their favor, I’ve calculated almost 6 deaths from their squad, downsizing their number to around twenty people.”
“That was twenty-seven days ago, huh?” Yao Yuan’s face fell, and he explained, “Even though the Dragon Prosper squad isn’t in a direct command line under government agency, they still have someone up there to answer to, so they won’t haphazardly initiate an inter-squad altercation without orders from above. Cover-ups have muddled the exact departure date for the rich and powerful but it was estimated to be around that time as well, so if we were to connect these two facts, chances are the higher-ups have ordered them to eliminate Black Star before they leave. However, members of Dragon Prosper are mostly orphans of war, their loyalty in the first place will be to themselves. In a dire situation like this, one can’t guarantee that orders given to them will be followed, so the higher-ups must have dangled some kind of leverage before them to get them to obey…”
Guang Zhen agreed, “So we could safely assume that that leverage was these coordinates? And it was them who were behind the plane destruction? To jettison us here at S city and thus prevent us from catching up to them at getting the spacecraft?”
“That’s the most likely scenario… But whether it was to deter us, that we can’t be sure. For one, they don’t know we’re in possession of the coordinate as well, for another, they probably can’t tell we’re in this city too. The carnage was probably routine for them. Of the four Dragon squads, the Prosper are known for their volatility and cruelty, havoc trails in their steps… So if that’s the case, we might still have a chance at this.”
Yao Yuan continued as his head dipped in concentration and planning, “Because if that’s true, then the destruction we saw was for the sake of destruction, it wasn’t as premeditated and systematic as I’ve presumed. Following this trail, it would look like they are hightailing their way to Tennessee as well, so they probably didn’t have enough time to commit to their usual complete demolition. That’s why instead of a uniformed detonation, some planes we saw were crushed, while others were shot. This misgiving could be our lucky break…”
At this point, Yao Yuan lifted his head and issued his order to the group, “So the plan now would be to do a wider canvas. Tomorrow we will clear a path through the city to the two airfields, hitting the south one first before the north. Along the way and at those locations, we will be salvaging any and all usable parts and frames. If my calculations are correct, we would manage to patch together one or two aircraft, and they needn’t be perfect as long as they can carry us to America. If this plan was to fail, then we would have to risk raiding the nearby military base.”
Hope returned to the team as Yao Yuan laid down his plan, because each of them started to see that it could actually work. They were after all members of Special Ops, and disproportionate to their fame, they were best of the best in this field. Every single one of them has basic training in machinery, and a few were in fact experts in firearms and machine maintenance. Despite having no real experience working with middle-sized craft like commercial aircraft, they have had experience with emergency repairs of helicopters and jets during field rehearsals. All things considered, this might indeed be their biggest breakthrough yet!
The night passed in silence.
The Black Star unit started their mission early the next morning with everyone getting into their pre-assigned roles. There were four small groups in total this time around: the first being led by the forbidding guy was in charge of sniper details, the second was the assault team led by the tanned giant, while Lee and his partner were recon scouts, and the rest were tasked with clearing the streets and searching for sizeable trucks for transport. The mission progressed along slowly due to a series of deterrents, these included fallen debris and wasted vehicles as well as armed rebels and riotous civilians.
It is worth mentioning that there exists a distinct difference between trained and normal troops. Normal armies due to their strength in numbers are better at locational conquests, attritions and regular wars while Special Ops with their skill sets are better suited for small scale skirmishes, infiltrations and special operations.
And in cities where nooks and crannies are formed by alleyways, ruins, and skyscrapers, the leverage goes to the Special Ops agents.
Along the way, with their strategic deployment of unit roles, the small unit of less than ten, easily steamrolled over troops multiple times their size. The real hindrance to their progress was instead the wreckage that gave the truck that they’ve gathered intermittent halts. By this pace, they wouldn’t be able to reach one airfield, much less two in one day.
Although faced with this quandary, the group received an unexpected reinforcement. Their movements attracted the attention of survivors that had previously gone into hiding. By early noon, their numbers grew to about a hundred. The majority were women with only one-third of the total being men. In an ugly twist, the riot seemed to work in their favor. The infirm and sick had perished in the early days of riots, those that remained until then were mostly able-bodied young people. After some food and rest, they have for the most part recovered.
Given the circumstances, Yao Yuan had had to utilize the public. After being given a short rest, he separated the group into task force of tens, working in shifts to clear the rubble and salvage valuables. As the crew worked themselves towards the target, it grew in numbers attracting more survivors along the way. The hundred expanded to a thousand plus. The initial salvation crew of one increased threefold. The speed of progress was boosted tremendously.
When they reached the objective, night had fallen. As most of them stepped onto airport grounds, they collapsed on the spot. These weren’t after all trained soldiers, they were your everyday public men, ranging from students to office workers and even included children of officials who have never lifted anything heavier than a spoon, much less rubble. The combination of starvation and fear under anarchy with a long day of hard labor broke their limit. After they fell to the ground in exhaustion, none had the energy to do anything else anymore.
Yao Yuan’s team didn’t have the time to cater to the public however, they instantly regrouped and moved towards the hangars. Once inside, they separated again into group and started scavenging for what they need. As dawn drew close, the result was satisfactory.
As per Yao Yuan’s predictions, other than the giant crafts that were easy targets, most of the other crafts were salvageable. Some of the planes had ruined cask but their inner parts were relatively preserved and others had it in reverse. The salvaged parts were covered in bullet holes or dents but overall, it was a fruitful find.
Without a moment’s rest, they moved on to the remaining part of the mission. First, Yao Yuan sieved through everything they’ve procured, looking for the best among them. Next, they decided upon a frame that looked sturdy enough to support their weight on the flight to America, before moving on to its inner components, they replaced whatever that needed replacement and added others that were missing. Labor carried on through the night before finally having an aircraft that looked semi-believable. None managed to breath until only after Guang Zhen safe landed from a dry-run that took him one circle round the airfield.
“Then let’s not waste a moment’s time and head for AMERICA!” expressed Lee, who had been unusually excitable since the other members started loading the aircraft with fuel.
Yao Yuan nodded in agreement but his eyes had never left the crowd. Interpreting it as a weakness of heart, the sniper leader moved close to advise, “Ol’ Cap’n, I know leaving them behind is callous but it’s like what you said, we must think of the bigger picture. Those cowards from Dragon Prosper have their skins only for themselves, we have to move immediately to interject them or else all will be lost. Sometimes, for the greater good, hard sacrifices have to be made, Captain.”
Nodding, Yao Yuan replied as he drew in a deep breath, “Ying, I know… Don’t worry, sentimentality hasn’t clouded my judgment.” And as he said so, he moved towards the crowd.
By then, the world was getting ready for a new day and most of the civilians had risen from their slumber. Due to unfamiliarity of the situation, most were afraid to wander, many simply stayed where they were waiting for further instructions. As Yao Yuan neared, there were whispers of rumblings but those were quickly replaced by silence as they placed their focus on Yao Yuan.
Without hesitation, Yao Yuan launched into his speech, “We are strangers to each other here, but I can assure you that my team and I are different from those kill-crazy goons. We have your best interests at heart. However, due to extenuating circumstance, we have to take this plane here and leave immediately but we shall return in one or two months’ time… I can’t promise much beyond that. Whether to put your faith in us, that is your prerogative…”
Before Yao Yuan could finish, the crowd erupted into objections. Many requested themselves be taken along while some of the women started weeping openly.
Steeling his heart, Yao Yuan continued over the cacophony, “I know this is cruel but within this time, you all will need to fend for yourselves. This location is right next to downtown and there’s still plenty of resourced to be found within the airport. With systematic planning, it should be no issue for a crowd of this size to eke out a living here for a month or two… Now, we could carry a few people with us but they would have to fit a criterion, they have to be good with computers. And I’m not referring to simple troubleshooting but experts in encryption and hacking. If you know these things, please stand up, and we will bring you along and provide you with protection. Now, this is a life-or-death matter so we will not tolerate liars. If caught, my team will arrange a special lesson in honesty and I promise you, it will be long and painful… So, again, please if there are any individuals who fit the bill, do stand up now.”
Initially, when the promise of protection was issued, a few people instantly stood up but as Yao Yuan went into his thinly veiled warnings, one by one, they slowly slid back down. In the end, there was total stillness but no one standing.
Yao Yuan shook his head regretfully and as he turned to leave, a middle-aged and slightly rotund man sprang up with one hand in the air and another dragging a youngster of seventeen or eighteen beside him along. The teen’s head was dyed a halo of neon and his ears were pierced with jewelry. The older man growled, “Dear Sir! My son knows computers and he’s very good at it, one of the best in China! Do you remember the hacking of Pentagon from a few years ago? My son was the main hacker, please take him with you, I assure you he won’t disappoint!”
As Yao Yuan heard that, he quickly turned and gave the pair a once-over. He quickly surmised that the man was from an affluent background. Despite his tattered jacket and ratty appearance, he exuded an unmistakable aura of the truly rich.
The teen next to him though was in total shock, his face was draining of blood as he yelled, “Dad! The computer stuff was for fun, even the hacking was just games, please, don’t make me go with them!” He then started to struggle like a petulant child, and at one point, tears even escaped his eyes.
Things took an unexpected turn though when the older man brought down a wooden stick that somehow got into his hands on his son and knocked him out cold. As the teen went limp in his hands, he asked of Yao Yuan obsequiously, “Sir, please do believe me. My son is really a whiz at the computer. I once saw him launch a hack attack using three computers simultaneously. Trust me. I won’t use my son’s life as wager now, would I?”
Yao Yuan strode to the man with purpose and singlehandedly took over the teen, he then half-goadingly asked the man, “We won’t be taking family members because of limited space. You’ll have to stay here with the rest for another two months. So now, would you still let your son go with us? If not, now would be the best time to back out for I’m not an unreasonable person.”
The older man kindly caressed the back of the teen’s head, the spot where the stick came in contact with the body. He whispered, “Sir, I’ll be honest with you, I have no clue where you people are going and how dangerous it would be, but I truly believe my son has a better chance at surviving with you guys than down here. In any case, the world’s ending in less than eight months. I’ve long said my peace, my only worry is that son of mine. If he can be assured of protection following you sirs, then I beg of you, please take him with you, he is really, really good at computers. Just tell him, I’ll wait for him here. Even after the two months, I will wait at this spot for his return, please do tell him that…”
Yao Yuan straightened his face, studied the man intensely and said, “Yes sir, I’m sure you could do that and you have my promise… If your son is truly capable in technology, we will always have his back, and you can have my words on that. By the way, how shall I address you?”
Dropping the stick, the man gave a low chortle, “I go by Mr. Zhang, and that is my son, Zhang Heng… And don’t worry, you have my full permission to work him to the bone. I have spoilt him so much that he had picked up a bunch of bad habits, I even caught him doing drugs once…”
“Ha Ha Ha, don’t worry about that. Now that he’s part of my team, I guarantee you those habits will be whipped out of his body in no time,” as he said so, Yao Yuan reached over to give Mr. Zhang a pat on his shoulder. And in that brief exchange, a pistol surreptitiously slipped from one man’s hand into another’s jacket.
The two men parted without any more words, just a slow chortle from Mr. Zhang for the gesture was meaningful enough. As the crowd dispersed to prepare to face the rest of the day, a single father was left alone on the field, quaking with grief and reluctance.
About ten minutes later, under the watchful eyes of a thousand-something crowd, an aircraft lifted into the air and disappeared towards the eastern horizon.
“Let’s move! Target: America, Tennessee!”
(Author’s note: I hate being labeled the 2k gang, so most of my submission will be around three thousand plus, with a few of them over four thousand. This will be my first submission for today, there will be another one later in the afternoon and another one at night. I would like to take this opportunity to thank those that have liked, recommended, followed, shared, commented and voted for my book. Success or failure of this book is in your hands.)