Age of Cosmic Exploration – Chapter 6

Night mode

Code Name: NOAH! (1)

 

Without wanting to admit it to himself, Yao Yuan could see that their prospects weren’t good. Yes, Black Star could go toe-to-toe with each of the four Dragon squadrons, but in terms of funding, technology, and pure numbers, his team was lagging behind by leaps and bounds. Frontline equipment wasn’t always available and even at its very peak, Black Star could barely amass twenty agents. They have political manipulation and favoritism to thank for all that.

 

So, it was hard to believe his team could succeed where the Dragon Prospers had failed. However,  Yao Yuan debated with himself that the Dragon Prospers were blind sighted by betrayal, so maybe it was the shock that became their downfall.

 

In any case, Yao Yuan knew that he had to be on full alert; there can’t be any misstep because it’s not his fight now. It’s a fight for his team and quite possibly the future of humanity as well!

 

Led by Yao Yuan and other agents that made up the frontlines and rounded up by the mid and close-ranged assault battalion, the group charged into the foyer in an arranged formation.

 

The previously shadowy room lit up the instant Yao Yuan’s team stepped into it. It would seem like the place was fitted with sensory-activated lights. Bathed in the fluorescent lights were a typical looking office foyer, stairs led up the side and a few corridors led off to other areas. What was not common though were about seven to eight pieces of cadavers. To call the sight inhumane was putting it mildly for the bodies were either squished into blobs of tendons and bones or had their bodies chopped into parts and pieces.

 

The smell of congealed blood grip-locked the frowns on everyone’s faces but for Zhang Heng, it also went further south to his stomach. The butchery knocked the wind right out of him and as he went sliding down, he heaved all over the floor.

 

Before he went totally down though, Ebon who happened to be beside him, gave him a supportive grab. Setting him straight, he said, “Well that was unsanitary, but don’t you worry. I have the perfect training for you. A few days in a pile of carcasses and I promise you after having meals accompanied by squirming maggots, you won’t be puking at this kind of sights anymore.”

 

Hearing that, Zhang Heng felt another shot of vomit coming but seeing as Ebon might just put his words into action if he had another episode, he forcibly chucked it down. The physical and mental exertion combined left him shaken and spent.

 

Without looking back, Yao Yuan warned, “Ebon, he’s just a civilian, stop toying with him… Now, let’s move on.”

 

Yao Yuan trailed a series of footprints and blood that ended before a gigantic pillar, one of the many that decorated the foyer. He started to rotate around this smooth metallic post, giving it a detailed inspection.

 

After a while, one of the other members joined him. He was a man with Adonian good looks, his perfect and deceptively young features only ruined by, or some may argue made more rugged by, an ear that was half-loped off. Taking out a white dust filled aerosol, he started spraying it over the pillar surface.

 

As the dust settled, smudges of fingerprints started to float out before everyone’s naked eyes. The man exchanged a look with Yao Yuan and both started to move, noting the distribution and locations of these prints. Very quickly, Yao Yuan managed to pinpoint a spot where most of the prints overlapped and as he pushed his finger onto it, the chime of silvery tingles sounded through the hall. A few moments later, the pillar miraculously opened upon itself, revealing an elevator carriage.

 

Yao Yuan turned to cast his glance over the group and then said, “Four of you will follow me down. If this elevator doesn’t return in five minutes or it’s empty when it returns, that means…”, here Yao Yuan stopped because the prospect’s too harsh for him to elucidate.

 

He had soldiered on all this while with this hope burning in his heart. It would not be wrong to say that this hope empowered him. He couldn’t bring himself to admit openly that this hope was in reality not within grasp.

 

And thus Yao Yuan said no more, he merely stepped into the elevator. Four more moved to follow, among them Ebon and Zhang Heng whom he was still supporting.

 

However, they were stopped by Yao Yuan, “Zhang Heng can stay up here, Ebon, you also stay to look after him. Two other people can follow.”

 

Ebon stunned by the order, debated, “But Ol’ Cap’n, isn’t this why we brought him along? There might be something down there that requires his skills…”

 

Before Ebon could continue, Yao Yuan cut him off, “This isn’t a negotiation, Ebon! That’s an order!”

 

Ebon immediately stood to attention, “Sir, yes sir!” and with that, he led Zhang Heng out of the elevator.

 

There was only one button in the elevator and that’s what Yao Yuan pressed after an exchange had taken place. Instantly the door closed and the seams sealed upon itself, reverting the pillar back to an inconspicuous architectural decoration. As the elevator went deeper down, with the exception of Yao Yuan, nerves started to jangle.

 

This was because Yao Yuan had full faith that the elevator ride posed no threat. He started taking inventory the moment they entered this place, and the number of dead bodies they’ve seen thus far didn’t tally up to account for all of the members of Dragon Prosper squad. He expected more bodies, the fact that there were none in the elevator meant that it was safe, of course, this also meant that real danger was further in. These facts allowed him to attempt a reconstruction, first, due to some reason the first wave of Dragon Prosper was killed. What reason though, Yao Yuan couldn’t tell, they still hadn’t come across the first Dragon Prospers to fall to draw an inference. Chances are it’s related to those spherical objects that are themselves probably tied to the base’s defense mechanism. Anyway, in the ensuing chaos, the rest of the Dragon Prospers probably tried to escape through this elevator. Security channels likely crisscrossed the building and that’s why these killing machines could prepare for the escapees before they reached the foyer. The way the bodies were scattered suggested that they were too panicked by either the speed or the numbers of the attackers that they couldn’t mount a united defending front. In any case, it was probably a lost cause, trajectories of bullet wounds on those bodies indicated that shots were fired from all around.

 

To distract himself from those nightmarish prospects, Yao Yuan started massaging his cramping head and silently counting the meters the elevator has hurtled them past. One hundred meters, two hundred meters, three hundred meters… It was until the eighth hundred that the door whisked opened. What greeted him were bodies that have been peppered into beehives.

 

As he turned away from those sorry sights, Yao Yuan noted that the elevator had opened unto a straight corridor. On one of its end were the elevator and a tunnel that veered off into darkness. He could however still tell that the tunnel was man-made from its concrete flooring. It seemed to be a road that allowed vehicles direct access to this area straight from the surface.

 

With their weapons at the ready, the five-man party started a small canvas. After making sure nothing posed an immediate danger, Yao Yuan ordered one of the men, “Better go get them down here, it’s been almost 5 minutes. Who knows what kind of things they’ll do if they don’t hear back from us, be quick.”

 

The person went back up the elevator after giving Yao Yuan a salute. Even though he’s just waiting, Yao Yuan didn’t dare to aimlessly wander. Instead, he had his full attention trained at a metal door that sat at the end of the long corridor.

 

This door was disproportionately huge, almost fifty feet in height and a hundred meters in width.  It would dwarf even the biggest of man. Yao Yuan couldn’t spy any keyholes or door knobs so he was certain it was a password-coded door. Even without information on its actual thickness and material, Yao Yuan’s assessment was that it was built to withstand high pressure. Homing missiles might even have trouble getting it to crack. This level of security though probably meant that it was guarding something highly valuable, most probably what they came for, thought Yao Yuan. However, without even a C-grade explosive on them, it was an impossible impasse.

 

As Yao Yuan pondered over their dwindling options, his gaze landed on a small protrusion that was nestled in the lower corner of the door. It was a control panel, and should be connected to the door’s password system. If they could hack into it and retrieve its password, they would gain entry. However, systems like these would have a firewall that would trigger the defense apparatus when hacked, so if they took too long or failed… Dragon Prospers’ fate awaited them as well.

 

After the whole team had gathered, Yao Yuan briefed them on his observation and analysis. As he finished, his eyes landed squarely on Zhang Heng.

 

At this point, Zhang Heng was completely terror-stricken. He repeatedly shook his head, saying, “No, you people don’t understand. I’m just a small-time hacker who deals with simple data decryption,” a statement which made the people’s faces around him darkened. Noting this, he quickly launched into a series of explanations, “Yes, yes, my dad did say I am good at computers, but all those came from gaming. Yes, I could manage hacking basics like bait and switch or DDoS attacks, but you could barely count me as the best in China, much less in the hacking world where I have no standing what so ever…”

 

Yao Yuan strode before Zhang Heng and stared him down, cutting his monologue short, “Then tell me what rank are you in China? And don’t you lie!”

 

Zhang Heng tore his head away and stammered, “Th… third…”

 

It didn’t showcase on his face but Zhang Heng’s unexpected proficiency at hacking gave Yao Yuan a small surge of hope. Without letting his austere façade fall, Yao Yuan enunciated his order, “Then you’re our best chance at this! Look, I’m not going to lie, there’s probably going to be something that will attack us once the hacking starts but you’ll be safe. There are no bodies or blood anywhere near the control panel, so obviously the firepower won’t be focusing there first. Most likely, they will come from these two walls of this corridor here, but we’ll be in between them and you, so unless every single one of us dies, no harm will befall you! I only need you to hack the password to open this door, that’s my only request.”

 

Zhang Heng stared blankly at the panel and just as he was going to say something more, Yao Yuan hunkered down for a man-to-man talk, “Listen, kid. I’m not going to threaten you or do anything like that because honestly, our fate is in your hands now. So just hear me out… Unlike the rest of us here, you still have something concrete to fight for. That day to ensure your survival, your dad had made a big target of himself. He’s the reason you’re safe now and the rest of city S aren’t. I know he’s not the one directly responsible but resentment could be a very manipulative emotion. Do you understand what I’m saying? If you complete this mission, we’ll be able to get in there… and I’ll be frank, there’s a spacecraft in there that could carry us, your dad included, off to safety, safety from the apocalypse. Now, he had done everything he could to keep you safe, tell me, don’t you want to do the same for him?”

 

Between tears, Zhang Heng nodded his willingness to try but before he would start, he asked, “Do you have any… medicine stuff? Could you give me just one pill, it’ll help me focus better.”

 

Yao Yuan was slightly stunned by this unexpected request, but without expressing disdain, he signaled the man with the missing ear lobe, who retrieved from his bag a shot of morphine. As he moved towards Zhang Heng, he informed of him, “the dose I’m giving you is just enough to supercharge your senses, but not enough to induce hallucinations. But the high is temporary, so move fast, okay?”

 

Zhang Heng obediently withdrew his arm. The man proceeded to inject him with half a syringe of morphine.

 

Then, Yao Yuan brought everybody before the panel. The group started to get into their positions, double-checking their weapons and assigning one another’s firing range and area. Bodies that were lying about were piled up before the group to be used as a temporary barricade

 

After preparation finished, Yao Yuan nodded at Zhang Heng, who was setting up a signal interjector onto the control panel. As he saw the signal from Yao Yuan, he took a deep breath before hitting the necessary laptop key, bringing the monitor to life. Echoes of the surprisingly crisp keyboard sound reverberated through the long corridor before being replaced by a piercing alarm. In the same instant, torrents of spheres started rolling out from all four sides of the walls.

 

“ATTACK! GLORY TO THE BLACK STAR”

 

“FOR GLORY OR FOR DEA…” and the remainder of the rally was drowned out by the din of a bullet storm.

 

(Author’s note: Phew, final update for the day.)

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