A week passed just like that.
Throughout the week, Caity has grown more and more settled down in the Capital. Every day, she would talk to Jason and learn more and more about the UHC. She has visited and talked to high ranking UHC officers. She has even gone to the local bar a few times.
Gradually, she learned a lot more about the politics in the UHC. Governor Hanson, the man who she saw charging out of General Kenneth’s office, used to be, well, a governor in the UEC before all this. When chaos ensued, he and his family fled to the 12th Field Army in search of protection. He was lucky enough to get it, and for that, he should be grateful.
But a year into the apocalypse, he found himself in more and more conflict with the general. The general advocated for support for any human faction that wasn’t outright hostile to the UHC. The governor suggested all factions must submit to UHC rule before they could be aided. If they refused, they might as well be left to die.
Honestly, he was a better leader than General Kenneth, but the UHC was constructed upon the basis of the 12th Field Army, which was under Kenneth’s direct command. This was the apocalypse. Politics had to give way to sheer military power. Governor Hanson would constantly try to convince the general to change his mind, and he would constantly fail.
Slowly, as she resided in the Capital, Caity realized she felt more and more like she was home. She liked everything here. She enjoyed talking to the soldiers and the civilians alike. And the buildings...she rejoiced to going to the bars and houses and even strip clubs...
In a sense, the UHC was just like an expanded Phasewalker Corps. Here, everyone was working toward the same goal: the survival of their people.
She was comfortable here, more comfortable than she has been for a long time. No longer did she have to make difficult decisions that could make or break the Corps. No longer did she have to conspire to root out potential traitors or threats. No longer did she have to put on masks of strength and valor to make an example for her people.
No longer did she have to worry about sending Phasewalkers, young men and women who walked across the Portal alive, back to Earth in ashes.
She would regularly talk to Ryan and the rest of the Phasewalker High Command to make sure nothing was wrong. Other than that, she dedicated herself to the UHC.
One day, while she was walking with Lieutenant Kenneth, the man suddenly received a phone call. Thanks to some radio towers created after the apocalypse, UHC personnel didn't need to use shouting to deliver messages.
When he looked back up, his expression darkened.
“Caity, I think I have to go. A horde of Mutants attacked a faction on the Northern flank. Judging by the reports, it’s some sort of Mutated Bird. They have Tier 2 Mutants among them. General Kenneth has instructed the Victory-Class Destroyer to be ready for combat and all crew members to board the ship. I have to be there.”
“Wait…so the starship will be on the move?” Caity suddenly felt interested. “Can I come? I really want to see the Destroyer in combat.”
“Hmmm...sure. I was told to attend to your needs, so…”
The two quickly started moving. Before they left, Caity told the 4 Security Troopers behind her to return to find Cara and Charlotte and tell them what was going on. She felt weird bringing her bodyguard onto the starship. Plus, there was absolutely no need for that.
Finally, after getting a ride from a Humvee, the two reached the hangar, which was five minutes of drive away from the Capital.
This wasn’t the first time Caity has seen a Victory-Class Destroyer, but it was the first time she has seen it in one piece. The entire vessel was parked underground, with its upper plating barely sticking out into the open.
This way, the crew members could take elevators down and board multiple levels of the ship with ease. One of the many wisdoms developed through the years that the UEC has spent navigating through the stars.
After getting off the elevator, Caity and Jason made their way across an extended bridge that connected the hangar to the ship. On the other side of the bridge was a door, guarded by multiple sentries who were checking IDs. Jason managed to get Caity past them. Finally, navigating their way across a set of somewhat familiar metal corridors, Caity found herself in the starship’s bridge .
General Kenneth was already in the bridge, along with hundreds of officers and crew members who were working on computer panels. General Kenneth gave Caity a slight nod, but he didn't talk to her. He had more important businesses at hand.
The general wasn’t originally in the Space Fleet, but the original captain of the ship was killed when the Mutations hit, along with a significant number of commanding officers. Consequently, General Kenneth had to personally command the ship in combat situations, treating it as his flagship. He has directed many battles from the Destroyer’s bridge.
Lieutenant Kenneth stood by his father. He didn't quite have a post, so he was just waiting for orders.
As Caity waited, she suddenly saw a woman walking up and standing behind her. That itself wasn’t too weird, but Caity quickly realized the woman was just staring at her. She also recalled the woman being on the trip to New Sara.
“Can I help you?” She asked politely.
Jaime snickered. Unlike General and Lieutenant Kenneth, she didn't trust Caity one bit. If it was up to her, she would take out Caity and her people by force. Unfortunately, that wasn’t a shared belief. Nonetheless, the Tier 2 Mutant made it her job to keep a close eye on Caity, especially during a time like this.
Caity frowned and turned back to the front of the bridge, ignoring the woman.
Finally, after ten minutes, the extended bridges were pulled back. General Kenneth nodded at the crew behind him.
“Bring us into the air.”
The crew complied.
For the first minute, Caity was stuck standing there, wondering why nothing was happening. And then, the entire vessel shook. Caity herself almost fell over, but Jason grabbed onto her shoulder and helped her steady herself. Looking around, Caity realized none of the crew members were knocked over by the sudden jerk.
These men and women have done this countless times.
Flames burst out of the thrusters mounted on the bottom of the starship as the Destroyer slowly lifted off from the hangar and into the air. At first, Caity could still see a few structures out of the bridge’s window, but those structures grew smaller and smaller the higher the Destroyer got. Finally, these structures were no more than small dots.
The thrusters on the bottom of the ship were still at work. They were quickly joined by the rear thrusters, which were turned to maximum power. This sent the Destroyer cruising forward at a speed faster than any vehicle or aircraft Caity has seen.
“Usually, since we got the coordinates of the destination, we could’ve done a short-ranged jump and gotten there instantly, but we are trying to conserve Energy Cells, so we have to do things a bit slower.”
Lieutenant Kenneth explained, a look of disappointment was on his face and Caity knew why. Everyone moved quickly, but it has been at least twenty minutes since the call for help arrived. Chances were, the settlement they were travelling to save was filled with corpses already.
Caity herself couldn’t quite empathize with that. Deep down, she still didn't see the locals as her own people, but that didn't stop her from reaching out a comforting hand onto his shoulder.
The starship cruised on.
Lieutenant Kenneth’s fears have come true.
When the UHC Destroyer arrived, they didn't join the battle on the side of the defenders. Why? Simple. The defenders were all dead.
Their killer was a flock of Mutated Birds. In fact, to be more precise, it was a flock of Mutated Crows. Caity tried to count how many of them were in the flock, and she wisely decided to give up. There were just so many of them, forming an endless sea of darkness.
Circling in the sky. Standing over the ruins of the settlement. Devouring the flesh and blood of the corpses that were once valiant human survivors who fought until the end to defend their home. These Mutated Crows were everywhere.
Just on a first glance, Caity suspected that the entire Phasewalker Corps would have a hard time against this flock. The Phasewalkers wouldn’t be destroyed, no, but there would be massive casualties. Much like the Mutated Ants, this flock of Mutated Crows seemed organized, with its numerous numbers serving as a critical advantage in combat.
Those they were here to save might be gone, but General Kenneth had no intention of leaving. He was too late for these survivors. The least he could do was avenge them.
“Bring all anti-air batteries online. Load missile pods. All crew members...engage the enemy.”
And thus the battle unfolded.
Across the entire Destroyer, in dozens of spots, armored plating peeled away, replaced with cannon barrels. Each barrel turned orange briefly before a condensed plasma projectile was fired out of the barrels at the Crow flock.
That wasn’t over. In a fraction of a second, another wave of plasma were fired out. And then another.
Hundreds of Mutated Crows screeched in agony as they were lit up, one by one, into giant, flaming fireballs. Those who were lucky enough to be hit directly went down immediately, their flesh and bone alike melted by the plasma bolts. Those who happened to be grazed weren’t so fortunate. Their deaths were much more gruesome as they screeched in pain while crashing into the ground below, never to rise again.
Spots of plasma missed their target and landed on the ground, resulting in a sizzling sound as the bolts burned their way into the ground before eventually being neutralized.
But the casualties only seemed to have angried the flock. Tens of thousands of Mutated Crows rose into flight at once and fearlessly launched themselves at the UHC starship. The batteries kept on blasting, dropping hundreds of them every second, but these Crows just kept on pushing forward. Their Virus mutilated brains no longer able to handle an emotion as complicated as fear.
General Kennedy was unfazed as he turned slightly.
“Fire the missile pods in a staggered sequence.”
The armored platings on the Destroyer transformed once again. Some platings disappeared. In their place was a set of tracks, similar to the ones seen for rail transports. But these tracks were attached to all around the exteriors of the starship. At first they were empty, but that statement was made false very soon.
Twenty missile pods were brought out of the starship interiors and onto the rails, where a set of computers guided them to move across the rails quickly until they were near the front of the Destroyer, facing the flock of Mutated Crows.
In sea battles in the past, captains would turn their ships so their cannons could face the enemies. Now, the captains would move their cannons so they could face the enemies. Quite an evolution indeed.
“Missile Pod Alpha, firing!”
From one of the twenty missile pods, one of them clicked. Out of the pod came hundreds of tiny missiles that flew straight into the Mutated Crows. Half a second later, a wave of sequential explosions shook the entire flank of the Crows. Before the blast even cleared, dead or wounded Mutated Crows fell off the sky like flies.
“Missile Pod Beta, firing!”
Another sea of Mutated Crowds was reduced to bits and pieces by the shrapnel from the blasts. Yes. They were Mutated by the Alpha virus, but if a chunk of metal flew over and sliced them into two, most of them could only roll over and die.
Any commander with a tactical mindset would’ve ordered a retreat. At the very least, he would’ve told the Crows to spread out and minimize the damage, but they were Mutants. They had no chain of command.
As a result, for ten minutes straight, the Mutated Crows kept on pushing into the vessel that was designed to slaughter large amounts of light air units. For ten minutes, Caity Hunter watched as the Destroyer rained down fire and death at a scale never witnessed before.
There were squads of Assassin XII starfighters in the Destroyer’s hangar, but only a fool would send them into battle against a massive number of Mutants incapable of tearing through the plating of the Destroyer, but could easily chew through the cases of the starfighters. It would be sending the starfighters to die.
Finally, the entire horde was purged.
The ironic thing was that according to the reports, out of the flock of Mutated Crows, there were multiple Tier 2 Mutants. But facing the laser batteries and missile pods of the Destroyer, those Tier 2 Mutants didn't make a single difference. They died just like thousands of their kind. Perhaps they did survive an extra plasma bolt or two, but if they did, no one would ever know.
In that sense, what happened to the UEC Space Fleet was truly tragic. This was a force capable of putting down the entire Mutation and purging every single Mutated Plant and Animal on the ground, but it never got to fight in its own field. The Mutations hit from within the hulls. Mutated Humans tore open the starships from the inside. Weapon controllers were slain in front of their computers. Captains were massacred in their bridges. They never got to truly make a stand.
General Kenneth took a slight breath of relief. Many of the crew members visibly relaxed. As calm and experienced as they were, just the visual shock of having tens of thousands of bloodthirsty monsters charging at you was enough to make many sweat.
Lieutenant Kenneth turned to Caity.
“Honestly, we got really lucky. This ship was designed to fight enemies like the Crows. Fast. Small. Numerous in numbers. They played right into our hands.”
Caity nodded slowly, but for some reason, she needed to ask.
“So what if it’s a horde of ground-based Mutated Animals? Is there nothing the ship can do? I mean...most Mutated Animals I’ve fought are on the ground.”
“Not nothing. There are several sets of anti-ground plasma batteries at the bottom of the ship.” Jason reassured. He could tell Caity was concerned about her own settlement. “But it’s definitely not as effective as against air. But don’t worry. If it’s ground-based Mutated Animals, as long as there are not too many of them, our ground forces should be able to do just fine.”
Caity nodded as General Kenneth moved to dispatch ground teams onto the ruined settlement in a likely futile attempt to search for survivors.
Saving one person was better than saving none.