[su_accordion]Chapter 169: Shattered Dreams[/su_accordion]
Author’s Corner: And now, we return to our regularly scheduled plotline.
After leaving Yo’s room, I wandered around the ship for a while, lost in thought. I mean, Yo seemed to be doing so much better than she had been originally, but it was hard to see her handling the responsibility of having a kid. Then again, I didn’t know very much about how the children of slime people were normally handled, so I wasn’t the best judge there.
However, I could not spend too much time worrying about that. It wouldn’t be long before we arrived at the coordinates for the New Human Empire base we suspected would be here. If they had a fleet of ships waiting for us, or some new kind of weapon, I wasn’t sure what would happen.
Hell, they might have abandoned all of their outposts after shielding from the divination spells, and blown up whatever planet they were on. I had to consider that possibility as well. Given their displayed temperament, it was entirely possible that we would be flying to a destroyed system, or even a trap.
“Captain, we’ll be approaching the system in roughly three hours.” Ackbar called in from my comms, informing me of the proximity. Nodding my head, I thanked him, before sending a broadcast to the entire fleet.
“In three hours, we will be entering the star system of our first suspected outpost for the New Human Empire. I can’t even begin to guess what we will find there, but I want everyone to be ready. If possible, we need to capture prisoners for interrogation. If there aren’t any prisoners, prioritize gathering intelligence.” And if this is their main staging point by chance, then Malthan have mercy on us.
“But above all, everyone should assume a defensive position. There may be traps placed that we can’t detect at this range.” With that last line, I cut the communication and made my way to the bridge.
The next couple of hours were spent in preparation, everyone on edge in case of the possibility of an ambush. It wasn’t until we were half an hour out that one of the officers finally spoke up. “Sir, we’re within scanning range of the coordinates.”
I nodded my head, looking at the officer. “Picking up anything?”
“Negative, sir. No readings on either the subspace or normal space scans.” The officer shook his head after another look at his screen. However, a moment later, something flickered on the screen. “Huh?” He asked curiously, looking it over again. “Correction, sir, it looks like there might be something there. I am getting a faint response.”
Well… that was curious. “Okay. I have no idea what to do about that, aside from what I already told everyone. So, carry on.” I let out a sigh, shaking my head. I could only wait to see what would happen.
The little remaining time seemed to take forever, before we eventually made it to the coordinates. However, the signal from the scanners was still only ‘faint’, and we couldn’t get a visual. As such, we had to drop out of subspace before we could get a clear understanding. Naturally, I sent a message across the entire fleet to have weapons ready, just in case.
When the fleet was wrapped in a field of blue light and emerged from subspace, what we saw… could only be described as destruction. In front of us was a planet, or what was left of it. At least a third of it had been blasted away, leaving a great field of asteroids surrounding the planet. The parts that remained seemed scorched, as if the entire planet had burned from whatever explosion destroyed it to this extent.
When the crew aboard the bridge saw this, they let out a collective gasp. I furrowed my brows in frustration, thinking to myself. Why is there a signal coming from this? Did some piece of technology manage to survive?
“Scan for the source of the signal. If there’s anything left after this, I want to know what it could be.” Honestly, even if it was just some mundane device, that would at least be a lead.
“Understood, sir!” The officer in charge of scanning started typing away at his console, presumably to narrow the scan.
“Something’s off, John.” Celeste’s voice entered my head as I looked at the scene in front of me. She seemed unsure about whatever she was talking about. “This doesn’t feel right.”
I nodded, trusting her judgement. However, there wasn’t really much I could do about the subject. Just in case, I spread out my Mana Sense as far as it could go, to watch for anything suspicious. “Any results?”
“Sir, the signal seems to be coming from one of the asteroids. Pulling it up on screens.” After he answered, hologram appeared in the center of the bridge, showing one of the distant asteroids. From the surface, it did not seem to be anything special. However, there was a blinking red light to mark the source of the signal.
“Hold position. I need to go get a better look at that.” I got up from my chair, and walked out of the bridge. I didn’t bother waiting for the inevitable protests, thought that did not stop the one who I couldn’t really run away from.
“John, what are you doing?” Celeste called out into my mind, her voice concerned.
“I’m going to go get a better look. If there’s something there, I’ll be able to find it.” I spoke simply as I moved towards the medbay.
“And if it’s a trap?”
“Then I’ll be careful. Besides, I haven’t had a real chance to test my durability in a long while.” When I arrived at the medbay, I connected to my clone. “Don’t worry, I’m playing this safe. If anything goes wrong, disconnect me from this end.”
I felt more than heard her agree to that, and I quickly made my way to the airlock. As I did, I first altered my aura to become a void elf, in order to grant myself immunity to the hazards of space. When in the airlock, I gave them the signal to let me out.
Once I was outside, I turned into my real combat form. I felt my muscles stretching as my body grew to double its normal height. My hands and feet grew sharp claws that extended out a few inches, and my skin grew white scales that covered my entire body. Finally, large leathery wings sprouted from my back, growing until they were even bigger than my new form.
This was the ultimate form I was currently able to take, combining the best offense, defense, and utility powers I had acquired over the years. So far, I had never had the need to use it in a fight, so I was unsure just how strong it was. However, I was confident with being able to fight a boss monster of the same level as myself.
Using my new form’s space flight ability, acquired from the giant space dragon, I quickly made my way to the asteroid that had been indicated in the scan. At the same time, I kept my senses focused for even the slightest unnatural movement, giving all of the asteroids as wide a berth as possible. There was still the off chance that they were bombs or something.
It did not take me long before I arrived at the asteroid in question, but when I got there, I found myself instantly alarmed. With my Mana Sense extended, I was able to tell that this was not a chunk of rock as it appeared. In fact, there was not a trace of earth mana coming from it. Instead, there was simply metal and electricity mana.
Celeste, I need you to identify this, now! I thought back towards her as I used my Mana Sense to thoroughly scan the device, creating a three dimensional image of it in my mind.
It took a few long moments before she got back to me. “It seems to be a signal relay of some kind. If you destroy it, you’ll cut off ‘normal’ contact methods with this base, I believe. Whatever is causing the illusion must not have completely suppressed the signal.”
Take it they’ll know we were here once I smash it? I asked, flying a ways back and getting ready.
“Most likely, they knew we were here the moment we dropped out of subspace, if not earlier. We need to hurry up and find the source of the illusion. A spell this big, give me a few minutes.”
I nodded my head, before aiming a palm at the ‘asteroid’ in front of me. A thick ball of red light condensed in front of my hand, and flew towards the target. When it impacted, there was a silent explosion of red light. Although I could sense that the device had been destroyed, the ‘asteroid’ was still there.
So, hologram or illusion? I asked myself curiously as I flew towards the nearest asteroid. This one, my senses determined to be a normal floating rock.
“Okay, I’ve got a theory. Unless they have a power generator pumping out purely obscene amounts of energy, they can’t create an effect this big with just a single device or formula. Most likely, there are dozens of different ‘control points’, each one controlling a section of the illusion. I can have the Qu’Lopti help you scan for them, as their mana scanners are more advanced than either the Ariadne or the Deus Ex.”
After she finished speaking, I saw the Qu’Lopti flights all split apart, over a hundred ships flying in different directions. Presumably, they were moving to scan each asteroid one by one to determine the fakes. It only took a few moments before the first ship opened fire on an asteroid.
An invisible ripple of energy spread through the area, with most of the asteroids fading away into nothing. However, that was not the most disconcerting part. Celeste… I asked, as I looked towards a structure not too far from my present location. How do we safely break THAT?
What I saw was only a corner of the structure, but it was enough to let me know exactly what it was. A giant metal ring, the interior able to fit the Ariadne several times over. This was a warp gate, something that should definitely NOT be here. This must be one of their staging points, part of their own connection of gates. Maybe even the one that the ships before had fled to.
“It’s already powered up. You need to shut it down before you destroy it, or the backlash will be large enough to destroy you. I’ll try to pull up a map for you to follow until the Qu’Lopti break that section.” As she spoke, a wireframe map appeared in my vision, extending beyond what I saw of the gate. If this map was right, it showed me the entirety of the gate based on this corner. Of course, that is only assuming they followed the standard design.
Trusting Celeste’s map, I flew down towards where the wireframe portion began, using my mana sense to verify its accuracy. Sure enough, I felt dense metal mana coming from that apparently empty space. So, I flew towards the section that was highlighted as one of the likely power sources.
Or, that was my plan at least. Just as I was about to approach the section, I felt an eruption of different mana types beneath me, coming from the ring itself. Although I had never personally been this close to one, it was fairly obvious what was happening. There were only one of two options. Either it was self-destructing, or… “John, something’s warping in, hide yourself!”
How am I supposed to hide myself!? I’m in the middle of space for crying out loud! Looking around desperately, I flew towards one of the nearby asteroids, scanning it. Since I could feel that it was ‘empty’, I flew straight into it. Hopefully, this will be enough to hide from their sensors.
It only took a few more moments before a thick beam of light erupted from the gate, and a giant metal shape began making its way through. The front of the new ship was a smooth cylinder, roughly fifteen meters thick and sixty long, before it began curving outwards. From there, it split into four thick metal bands that circled around a glowing white shape. The white shape seemed trapped within the metal bands, which joined on the opposite side to form a thick, silvery ball. At the back of the ball was a single hole, which appeared to serve as the engine as it pushed its way out.
Okay, NOW can I blow it up?!