Age Of Cosmic Exploration - Chapter 4
Chapter 4: Emergency Repairs
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 by either explosions or 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 the conversation. ’’As I've mentioned, we have to get to Tennessee fast. Getting there is a race, so all these setbacks make me suspect that it might not only be 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, so 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. 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 day of training. That was when they suddenly turned on us. Three of us died on the spot, while another two were seriously injured before finally bleeding out. But don't worry, they didn't have it easy either;we returned the favor. About six members of their squad died, downsizing their number to around twenty people.’’
’’That was twenty-seven days ago, huh?’’ Yao Yuan's face fell, and then he explained, ’’Even though the Dragon Prosper squad isn't under direct command from a 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 that the higher-ups have ordered them to eliminate the Black Star Unit before they leave. However, members of Dragon Prosper are mostly orphans of war, so their loyalty 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 can safely assume that the leverage was these coordinates? And it was them who were behind the planes' destruction? To jettison us here at S city and thus preventing us from catching up to them at getting the spacecraft?’’
’’That's the most likely scenario... But whether or not it was to deter us, we can't be sure of that. For one, they don't know that we're in possession of the coordinates as well;for another, they probably can't tell that 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 presumed. Following this trail, it looks like they're 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 will be to search a wider area. Tomorrow we will clear a path through the city to the two airfields. We will hit the southern one first and then the northern one. Along the way and at those locations, we will be salvaging any and all usable parts and frames. If my calculations are correct, we should manage to patch together one or two aircrafts. They needn't be perfect as long as they can carry us to America. If this plan fails, then we will 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 the best of the best in this field. Every single one of them had basic training in machinery, and a few were in fact experts in firearms and machine maintenance. Despite having no real experience working with mid-sized crafts like commercial aircrafts, they 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 was being led by the forbidding guy, who was in charge of sniper detail, the second was the assault team led by the African American giant, 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 which 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, attrition, and regular wars while the skill set of Special Ops 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 through troops multiple times their size. The real hindrance to their progress was instead the wreckage that gave the truck that they had 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 unexpected reinforcements. 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 have worked in their favor. The infirm and sick had perished in the early days of the riots. Those that remained were mostly able-bodied young people. After some food and rest, they had recovered for the most part.
Given the circumstances, Yao Yuan had to utilize the public. After being given a short rest, he separated the group into task forces of ten and organized them to work in shifts to clear the rubble and salvage valuables. As the crew worked themselves towards the target, they grew in numbers, attracting more survivors along the way. The hundred expanded to a thousand plus. The initial salvation crew 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 trained soldiers, after all;they were your everyday public men, ranging from students to office workers and even included children of officials who had 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, so they instantly regrouped and moved toward the hangars. Once inside, they separated again into groups and started scavenging for what they needed. 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 casks, but their inner parts were relatively well-preserved while 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 had procured, looking for the best parts 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 needed replacement and added parts that were missing. Labor carried on through the night before finally having an aircraft that looked airworthy. No one managed to breath until after Guang Zhen safely landed from a dry-run that took him one circle around the airfield.
’’Then let's not waste a moment's time and head for AMERICA!’’ expressed Lee, who had been unusually excited 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 him, ’’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 intercept 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.’’ As he said so, he moved toward 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 the unfamiliarity of the situation, most were afraid to wander, so many simply stayed where they were and waited for further instructions. As Yao Yuan approached, 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 interest at heart. However, due to extenuating circumstances, 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 that 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 resources 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 will 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. 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, but 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 along beside him. 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 the Pentagon from a few years ago? My son was the main hacker. Please take him with you. I assure you that 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 was in total shock though. 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 wiz with computers. I once saw him launch a hack attack using three computers simultaneously. Trust me, I wouldn'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 nor how dangerous it will be, but I truly believe that 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 this son of mine. If he can be assured of protection by following you sirs, then I beg of you, please take him with you. He is really, really good at computers. Just tell him that 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 finally 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 word on that. By the way, how shall I address you?’’
Dropping the stick, the man gave a low chortle and said, ’’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 spoiled him so much that he has 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: Tennessee, America!’’