Age of Cosmic Exploration – Chapter 14

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Of One Root!


“If I remember correctly, you aren’t a member of the Black Star,” said the man seated before Zhang Heng. He was well-built and had a series of facial scars that lent him a streak of menace.


The room Zhang Heng was in was cramped and enclosed, and it appeared to be an interrogation room of some police station. It had been three days since their unit was ambushed at Town H. The ambush was definitely well-organized because it had surprised even Ying, the expert in ambush warfare. Everyone was killed other than Ying who despite suffering a stomach bullet wound managed to slip away through the sewers, and Zhang Heng who was captured after getting shot in the arm.


In the past three days, to Zhang Heng’s surprise and relief, there was no application of torture. As a matter of fact, he even received treatment for his bullet wound in that they helped extracted the slug and gave him antibiotics. It was only until the third day that he was brought to this interrogation room before this man who revealed himself as the leader of a rebel army of few thousands, the man whom the rest referred to as Chou.


Taking in deep breaths to steady himself, Zhang Heng replied, “I, I have nothing to tell you because I have not even heard of the Black Star…”


This gave Chou a pause before laughing out loud. He addressed Zhang Heng without a hint of ire in his voice, “Oh, sorry I forgot you’re here. The statement wasn’t addressed to you, I was merely talking to myself there. I’m pretty sure you have nothing to do with Black Star, I would have known if you are, although I suppose they could have recruited new member recently… But I doubt you’re even military, so, don’t worry.”


Caught off guard by Chou’s comment, Zhang Heng blurted out, “But aren’t you here to interrogate me?”


Smiling, Chou answered, “Interrogate you? Now, why would I do that… I believe everything you know I would have already known. For example, I know where you’re from. A Tennessean base housing a spaceship, right?”


Zhang Heng was visibly perturbed by the man’s casual dropping of confidential information. He could barely mount a response.


Seeing Zhang Heng’s flabbergasted response, Chou chuckled, “Don’t look so scared. I have no intention to harm you and in fact, you’re not here to be interrogated at all, and that information about your base… It’s really not that hard to deduce. Your people have been trekking all over the world drafting able-bodied civilians and bright minds. Even if we’re in the middle of anarchy, obvious activities like that aren’t really that hard to miss. And with all these information, it doesn’t take a genius to put two and two together, which again tells me that you aren’t a Black Star because they won’t need me to spell something this obvious out for them.”


Fearing the answer, Zhang Heng hesitated for a while before finally asking, “If that’s the case, then why am I here?”


Instead of answering, Chou retrieved a photograph from his pocket and dumped it on the table between them. Zhang Heng could feel tears pricking his eyes as his sight fell on the photograph. It was a portrait of his family, a memento from better times. A family of three was smiling brightly at the camera, there was his mother who unfortunately had died in the earlier days of the riot and his father whose location was still unknown. The sight of his parents pierced a shard of grief through his heart.


“Where did you get this photo? It has never left my father’s wallet!” he demanded hurriedly.


Chou explained, “That’s right, I heard about your team’s objective so while you’re in here I’ve gathered all my resources to help you finish what you have started. I’m sorry to say, this man in the photo had died three months ago in an outbreak. Due to the rarity of his size during these times and the fact that he had a gun on him, he had made quite an unforgettable impression on one of my men, so when I issued the search details, he came forth and I took this picture from him. Keep it, it’s yours after all.”


Afraid Chou might renege on his words, Zhang Heng hastily stored the treasured photo, and said, “If you’re expecting me to repay your kindness, then I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint, I have no say within the Black Star group… But making a case to take a few more people along, that I could still do, that’s your purpose after all, isn’t it?”


Chou snickered at the suggestion before adding ominously, “You, my friend, are sorely mistaken… I have no interest getting aboard that ship. I agree it might be a different story if the ship was found by somebody else but the thought of having to exist in the same space as that hypocrite… I’d rather die… So, I don’t need your help, I just need you to stay put and be a good bait. If I know that son of a bitch and I think I do, he’ll order his men to come save you soon, so you just sit still until then…


And then, my revenge against the Black Star would be complete…”


The time was already nine in the morning when Yao Yuan awakened from his sleep.


Guang Zhen’s unit had departed for China seven hours ago. With the best firearms and bulletproof vests, as well as satellite triangulation and hovercraft technology, there were simply no forces left on earth that could stand a chance against them. That much was certain.


But a sliver of apprehension remained lodged in Yao Yuan’s mind. It had to do with the person he had just dreamed of… The traitorous Black Star that he had eliminated way back when the squad was training on one of the space stations… But why would he dream of him now…


Added to that was the out-of-body feeling that he first experienced when they initially breached the base, that feeling had gotten more and more pronounceable in the recent months… They all seemed tied to that episode on the space station…


“I’m coming, Ol’ Wong. Until then please be careful because I sense a great danger out there…” prayed Yao Yuan silently. He then peered at the control panel of the hovercraft he was traveling in, it showed 9.30 a.m… He had left half an hour right after Guang Zhen’s unit departed. He hoped he wasn’t too late…


Few hundred miles away, the Black Star and another five hundred soldiers were preparing to engage the enemy. The group had been separated into multiple sub-units with each Black Star leading the way to infiltrate their enemy’s base. They were able to locate their enemy so quickly because the hovercraft they used were connected to earth’s satellites. By tracing Zhang Heng’s and Ying’s transmission signals, they were able to quickly pinpoint the location where Zhang Heng was held. It was a deserted skyscraper in the middle of the city, next to a police station.


They even managed to discern that the enemy had about three thousand people. After removing the harmless ruffians and civilians that they had managed to sway to their side though, the actual number of armed rebels had an expected maximum number of only eight hundred.


It was an easy mission, so Guang Zhen wasted no time for they needed to get to Zhang Heng fast, in hostage rescue operations such as this, time was of essence.


“Move! Move! Move! Lieutenants and Sergeants get your unit coordinated! Get moving!” Guang Zhen ordered out of habit, in Chinese. When he realized most of his team had remained waiting for his order, he repeated it in English.


Almost instantly, fourteen hovercraft sped into the building, their outer machinegun turrets blazing. The outermost patrols were decimated under the hail of bullets, some even fracturing into pieces. Soon after, a piercing alarm shot through the building.


Guang Zhen lifted his head and spotted a hovercraft landing on the roof. It was the scouts led by Lee. Their point of entry was from above. In the hovercraft, as Guang Zhen loaded his gun and checked his vest, he issued for landing and ordered his men to prepare to storm the building.


As the craft touched the ground, under his orders, his team spread out to secure the structure…


“Hahaha… Look at them! Walking step by step into my plan!” cackled Chou who was watching all this unfolding through a surveillance screen in the adjacent police station. With the difference of technology available in mind, he knew his men had no chance against Yao Yuan’s troops so instead he had used this inequality to his advantage. Stationing the place with just enough mobs to feed into the opponent’s sense of triumph, the skyscraper was essentially a giant trap luring Guang Zhen’s troop in with a trail of small victories.


While noting his enemies’ movement through the screen, he elaborated with dripping malevolence, “Here’s a little trivia for you. I was a spy sent by the higher-ups to infiltrate the Black Star. Espionage like this is actually extremely common, it was to the government’s benefits to keep tabs on special ops units, like Black Star, in fact before Yao Yuan became a leader, there was a long history of spies in the squad. If you think about it, it was actually a symbiotic relationship, the government would be more willing to grant the squad with larger budget and supply if they knew what was truly happening… But Yao Yuan that bastard, when he found out, wanted to silence me when we’re training on the space station, dismissing everything that I’ve done for the squad!


No thought went into his mind that I had a family to support, because unless necessary, who would volunteer as a spy? But no, he never saw things from my perspective and gave me no chance. If not for my luck, I would have been a floating carcass in space by now. But thanks to him, everything I had was taken away from me. Because of political reasons, those politicians were unable to tell my family I was actually a spy but instead spun some story about how I was a foreign mole and had to be eliminated. I never heard from them after that. Those bloody officials, they turned on me!”


Chou’s narration had gone to a point where he almost had everything yelled out, but here, he caught himself. After some time, he continued in a tone that was contrastingly and eerily calm, “But no worries, today I’ll expose Yao Yuan for the hypocrite that he is, he always says nothing is more important than your comrades and mates, well, what the hell am I? But that’s alright, I’ll make mass graves out of his so-called comrades and let’s see whether he’ll use the remaining time to avenge his supposed comrades or will he escape like the coward that I know he is…”


Chou slipped from within his uniform a tiny remote, and resumed his monologue as if he didn’t notice Zhang Heng that was scared shitless beside him, “Guess what this is… It’s connected to explosives that I’ve collected over the past few months… And bingo! They have been deployed throughout the building… With just a soft click, the place will be flattened in a matter of seconds…” here, Chou turned to peer at the screen, “There’re still a few units not within the range, but soon… We’ll have a firework display on our hand… Exciting, isn’t it…”


Zhang Heng looked at the monitor in increasing despair as Guang Zhen’s troops gradually fill up the screen. Before long, they had managed to secure the whole building.


Chou laughed manically but right before his finger touched the remote button, a shadow swooped in through the window behind Zhang Heng, sending pieces of glass flying. As the person safety rolled into a soft landing, he unbuckled his arms and released a shot at Chou. Years of training helped Chou dodged the shot by leaping back and even managed to return fire at the intruder.


“Yao Yuan! How dare you still show your face around me?!”


“It is you, Ning Bo Tao! You survived space?!”


“Yes, I survived but unfortunately for you, today you won’t!”


To Zhang Heng, it was a scene right out of the Matrix. Somehow between dodging bullets, the two men still had time to fire at each other. It was as if they knew the trajectory of the bullets before they were shot!


And the room thundered with relentless blasts of gunshots!


Author’s note: Second update. For those who love my work, please continue with the support. Like what I’ve said, your support is my motivation.


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