"If I remember correctly, you aren't a member of the Black Star Unit," 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. 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. They had extracted the slug and even gave him antibiotics. It was only on 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 a few thousand. 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 Unit…"
This gave Chou a pause before he laughed 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 the Black Star Unit. I would have known if you were one them, although I suppose they could have recruited new members 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 that everything you know I already know. 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. 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 of this information, it doesn't take a genius to put two and two together, which again tells me that you aren't a Black Star member, because they wouldn't need me to spell out something this obvious 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 gathered all my resources to help you finish what you started. I'm sorry to say, but this man in the photo 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 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 then said, "If you're expecting me to repay your kindness, then I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint you. I have no say within the Black Star Unit… 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 ominously adding, "You, my friend, are sorely mistaken… I have no interest in getting aboard that ship. I agree that 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 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 Unit will 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 bullet-proof 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 had 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 after Guang Zhen's unit departed. He hoped he wasn't too late…
A few hundred miles away, the Black Star Unit and another five hundred soldiers were preparing to engage the enemy. The group had been separated into multiple sub-units, each with a Black Star leading the way to infiltrate their enemy's base. They were able to locate their enemy so quickly because the hovercrafts 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 because 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 units coordinated! Get moving!" Guang Zhen ordered out of habit, in Chinese. When he realized that most of his team had remained waiting for his order, he repeated it in English.
Almost instantly, fourteen hovercrafts 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 in technology available in mind, he knew that his men had no chance against Yao Yuan's troops, so instead, he 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' movements 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 Unit. Espionage like this was actually extremely common. It was to the government's benefit to keep tabs on special ops units such as the Black Star Unit. In fact, before Yao Yuan became the leader, there was a long history of spies in the squad. If you think about it, it was actually a symbiotic relationship; the government was more willing to grant the squad with a larger budget and more supplies if they knew what was truly happening… But Yao Yuan, that bastard, when he found out, he wanted to silence me when we were training on the space station, dismissing everything that I had 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 gotten to a point where he was almost yelling everything out, but he caught himself here. 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 that 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 if he will escape like the coward that I know he is…"
Chou slipped from within his uniform a tiny remote and then resumed his monologue as if he didn't notice Zhang Heng, who 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…" Chou turned to peer at the screen. "There're still a few units not within the range, but soon… We'll have a fireworks display on our hands… Exciting, isn't it…"
Zhang Heng looked at the monitor in increasing despair as Guang Zhen's troops gradually filled up the screen. Before long, they 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 everywhere. As the person safely rolled into a soft landing, he unbuckled his gun and released a shot at Chou. Years of training helped Chou dodge the shot by leaping back. He 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, in 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!