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Chapter 5.2 - The Spine of the World

Astrolabe Rebirth


"Heishi's eyes were set deeply in his face, like black obsidian that had been hidden underneath the surface of the earth for millenia, shining with a mesmerizing brilliance."


Translator(s): moon
Editor(s): namio, jelly

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Of all the clones that A-Ka had interacted with before, Feiluo was one that had a very good temper. He was extremely polite to Heishi, and Heishi didn’t treat him like he treated A-Ka.

“Thank you guys for saving me.” One day, Feiluo said this suddenly while they were on the road.

“You’re welcome.” A-Ka still held a certain amount of goodwill towards clones as a whole; after all, when he and Heishi escaped out of their confinement, it was the clones who had saved them. If they hadn’t allied with them at that time, they would definitely have died within the City of Machines.

“I’ve now found,” Feiluo said emotionally, “that to change this world, we must still depend on humans to do so in the end.”

A-Ka half-mumbled, “Humans huh?”

The revolution of the clones was actually started for the sake of the humans. This point was a little out of A-Ka’s expectations, but after thinking about it carefully, it seemed within reason. Humans had a wealth of emotions and complex ideas, this was something that the steel beings were unable to achieve. But due to their emotions and their ideas holding each other in check, they hindered one another, oppressing the rest of their own kind. When the Creator gave humans their bright side, very many flaws were also mercilessly left behind.

The entire world changed because of humans. Or, perhaps when the Creator was creating this world, the fulcrum of the compass had been secured on the shoulders of the humans, and as for the other end, it pointed into the vast unknown.

Humans differed from each other in a thousand tiny ways, and every person was their own unique being on this wide earth. In the end, even the clones were chasing after individualization. Take Feiluo for example, who had given himself a name, turned his jacket inside out, and stuck a piece of straw on his hat, to indicate his difference from other beings.

“I once heard an older clone brother say, this is the awakening of my own ‘self’,” Feiluo said to A-Ka. “Every one of you humans has their own concept of ‘self’, but we don’t. So we must first awaken our own sense of self, before the revolution can truly start.”

“Then right now, what is your conception of ‘self’?” A-Ka asked him curiously.

Feiluo shook his head. “It’s hard to say, but at least there is one thing that is clear - I am not the same as I once was.”

A-Ka felt instinctively that this topic was deep and hard to comprehend. Every person had their own sense of self. They were all individualized, from the oldest adult to the youngest child… He looked towards the train of humans and saw that single young girl following along inquisitively behind Heishi, asking him a bunch of questions. Every now and then, Heishi would nod or shake his head, but for most of the time he remained silent, only observing this small girl.

“Children are very mysterious living creatures,” Feiluo appraised. “As soon as we are born, we are already equipped with an adult’s form, without experiencing any sort of childhood. The childhood period of a human’s life must be very happy.”

A-Ka said, “I already can’t remember my own childhood well, and the feelings there weren’t very happy to begin with.”

Heishi piggybacked that small girl as he walked forward. A-Ka walked by his side, gently teasing that girl.

A-Ka: “What is your name?”

“Ann,” that girl responded timidly.

A-Ka smiled and said seriously, “Ann, keep your chin up, we will find hope.”

The girl nodded her head.

The sun rose and set. This was a stretch of long and endless road, and traveling through the snowy mountains was very difficult. They couldn’t find food, and everyone felt despair and frustration. Only A-Ka persisted in using that magnetic field generator to set down a magnetic trap, and sometimes he would be able to catch one or two birds that fell into the trap, or even a roe deer.

He handed the food off to the girl and the women to eat. Heishi originally found this extremely strange, but later he gradually got used to A-Ka’s ways.

Just when everyone was on the brink of collapse, under Feiluo’s leadership, they left the snowy region behind and entered an expansive plain. If they kept going forward, they would reach the shoreline of the inland sea on the western side of the continent.

They had spent almost half a year on this journey, and when everyone had exhausted all their energy, they finally saw the first light of day. By now, everyone’s clothes were all in tatters. Heishi’s clothes were the most tattered; on the journey here, he had been in the lead every time they broke a path through the brambles. Heishi simply went around with a bare torso, tying his shirt which was just a few strips of cloth around his waist.

On the way, Feiluo was bitten by a venomous snake as he was rescuing that girl. Thankfully he was a clone, so he wasn’t affected by venom.

A-Ka was also completely worn down, his clothes torn beyond repair, and the cloth straps of the satchel had also broken. He could only borrow two strips of cloth from Heishi, tying them together around his body.

On the way, two people died of sickness. A-Ka had no ability to help, so he could only bring the rest of the people here. The most pressing thing was that one of the people who had died was the small girl Ann’s mother.

On the journey here Ann always kept asking where her mother had gone, but Feiluo kept answering that her mother had gone ahead to scout out the road. Ann didn’t shout, nor did she make a fuss. After the group of humans had escaped, she joined A-Ka’s little squad.

 

This was a very expansive plain, the oldest place in the heart of Astrolabe. It bridged the distance between the snowy mountains and the primordial forests below, separating the City of Machines and the region of the western shore. It was called “the Primeval Heart”. Historically, this place had been called “the Creator’s Laboratory”, only because there were many different kinds of species on the plains. In the prehistoric era, T. rexes had run rampant on these plains, and even the mechanical troopers couldn’t survive here.

Setting up supply lines would take too long and was too difficult. So, when the humans escaped from the City of Machines after the revolution many years ago and arrived at the edge of the western shoreline, they could only piecemeal build their own rest area, which they named “the Rebel Alliance”.

But everything was only temporary. Everyone knew that sooner or later there would be a day when “Father”’s mechanical troops would come to this place and occupy the entirety of the western shoreline. Only by leaving this mainland, drifting across the seas towards the countries on the far side, would they survive.

The humans living by the Primeval Heart couldn’t help but be wary of ambushes from the prehistoric living beings on the planes and the mechanical troops from the even more distant Eastern Continent. Every day was spent in gut-wrenching fear, in a state of constant, unending anxiety. 

A-Ka had originally heard of legends involving this place in the Ant Nest. Back then, he had thought that if there was one day where he could arrive here, how nice that must be. But after experiencing so many things, he slowly began to realize how laughable his original idea of driving K across the great ocean and seeking out the legendary Imaginary Country was.

Feiluo said, “After crossing the border here, ahead of us lies Martha Town.”

This group of people, covered in the dust of the road, stood on a slope on the plains and looked down. No one spoke for a long time.

From border to border, on the open plains that spanned hundreds of square meters as far as the eye could see, was packed with humans. These people sat or laid down or congregated in front of the wire netted fence, waiting for Martha Town to receive them. The wire fence was like a border between countries that rose in the middle, in front of the edge of the last hope, mercilessly refusing anyone’s approach.

A-Ka had also never expected that there would be this many people. At a first glance, there must have been some tens of thousands.

Since the day of the revolution in the City of Machines, there must have been quite a few humans who escaped from the prison that was the Country of Steel. They each took their own paths, spreading to all corners of the mainland. A-Ka thought that his group, which had directly crossed the high-altitude plains, was already near the front of the pack, but he never expected that there would be this many people who had no lodgings and no place to rest.

“Let us in!” the humans crowded in front of the wire netting, shouting loudly.

Behind them was a uniform group of resistance fighters in battle gear, holding weapons in their hands as they looked towards the refugee groups on the plain. 

A-Ka watched from a distance, his face filled with confusion.

“What should we do?” A-Ka asked.

Heishi shrugged, looking wholly unconcerned as his gaze swept over that entire plain.

Feiluo said, “Don’t worry, I’ll go try to negotiate.”  

The humans on the plains had gathered into groups. It would be night soon; the winter days were short and the nights were long, and the wind bitingly cold. Feiluo brought the small girl and A-Ka and the rest in front of the wire fence. Behind the fence, the rebel soldier immediately pointed his gun at them, asking warily, “Who?”

A bright light shone over, landing on the faces of those present. Feiluo used his finger to sweep aside his dirty locks, revealing his forehead and his indigo blue eyes.

“One of your own,” Feiluo said, “from the 7th Troop.”

“The 7th Troop has already been dissolved!” the other said. “The brothers in the City of Machines all died!”

Feiluo fell silent for a while. From all four sides, quite a few armed troopers came over, lifting up their helmets, each revealing their own indigo blue eyes. They were all clones.

“Are there humans?” A-Ka asked. “I have a few things I want to say. After all, we all escaped from the City of Machines.”

One of the clone soldiers answered, “All of the people here are refugees from the City of Machines. You’re not an uncommon sort, wait outside ba.” He then used the mouth of the gun to point at Feiluo. “You, you are one of us, you can come in.”

Feiluo said to A-Ka and Heishi, “Wait for me here for a little bit. Ann, go, we’re going in first.”

The small door in the wire fence opened a crack, and Feiluo had Ann go in first. Ann was a little afraid, turning her head back to look at them, but Heishi went against his usual cold demeanour, speaking words of comfort instead. “Go, you will be safe.”

This series of events roused the displeasure of quite a few people, and they all began to clamor. Feiluo squeezed onto the other side of the wire fence and nodded towards A-Ka, indicating that he should be calm, before he took Ann with him as they disappeared into the darkness of the night. A-Ka was squished by the people behind him until he really couldn’t bear it anymore, and he turned in hopes of finding an empty space to sit down in, but he couldn’t even take a step out. Finally his collar was grabbed by Heishi, and he was dragged out.

The rest of the group sat in an empty spot, watching the xenon lamps high up above the wire fence turn the night into daytime with their light. Tapp and the rest were still by A-Ka’s side.

Tapp said disdainfully, “That clone definitely won’t let us in.”

“I trust that he will.” In his heart, A-Ka had another thought, but he didn’t say it. He felt that Feiluo would save him and Heishi, but he might not save these temporary human companions. After all, Tapp and the rest of his group originally wanted to kill Feiluo.  

From afar came the roars of the prehistoric beasts. Under the cover of darkness, the depths of the plains seemed to hide countless dangers that were unknown to the humans.

The long night arrived, and the sky shone with a brilliant starry river as the plains sank into a deep sleep.

A-Ka was startled awake from his dreams, and he looked around.

“Come with me,” a clone lowered his voice as he spoke to A-Ka. “Don’t disturb the others.”

“Where’s Heishi?” A-Ka asked.

That clone asked confusedly, “Who?”

“Heishi!” A-Ka found that Heishi wasn’t by his side. This was the first time that Heishi had left him since they had left the City of Machines, and A-Ka instantly grew anxious as he shouted, “Heishi!”

“Shh…” That clone immediately covered up A-Ka’s mouth, saying quietly, “Don’t disturb the others, come with me!”

“My friend…”

“This is Lieutenant Colonel Feiluo’s command! If you have any words, then wait until you see Feiluo and tell him!”

A-Ka stopped struggling, and still dazed, he was brought in front of the wire fence. A crack opened within the fence to let him pass, and the clone nodded towards the guard. “That’s him.”  

The clone brought A-Ka in front of a warehouse, and A-Ka couldn’t help but become wary. The clone then said, “In a while Feiluo will be waiting outside for you, go in ba.”

A-Ka gritted his teeth and went into the warehouse, only to find that it had been remodeled into a bathing room. At this point, his head finally cleared, and he understood that they were letting him take a bath. After journeying for this long, his body was itchy to the point of extreme discomfort, and he was covered in mud. Now, he finally had a chance to take a good bath.

A-Ka turned on the hot water, and with a shua, the inside of the bathroom filled with steam. When the hot water rained over his skin, A-Ka felt a sense of relief from head to toe. In the foggy bathroom, he saw a silhouette.

“Heishi?” A-Ka asked happily.

Heishi stood to one side, untied his own clothes, and began to wash up as well. He turned his head to look over at A-Ka. His gaze made A-Ka feel extremely awkward, so he shifted to one side to let him pass. Heishi’s body was one that he had seen many times, so it was no longer strange to him, but this was the first time his own body was undergoing Heishi’s scrutiny.

A-Ka’s hair was drenched, and water dripped down constantly as he smiled at Heishi. “This is great, and here I thought you…”

Heishi faced A-Ka, looking at him without saying anything.

“On this journey, thank you for looking after me,” Heishi said suddenly.

When A-Ka heard this sentence he felt it was a little out of the blue, and he smiled. “It was you who was protecting me…”

Then, Heishi reached out a hand and pulled A-Ka into his embrace.

In an instant, A-Ka’s heart began to beat violently. In the foggy vapors of the bathroom, he pressed against Heishi’s naked, muscular chest, feeling the powerful beat of his heart under his fiery hot body and abdomen.

“You…” A-Ka suddenly felt a sense of foreboding unease.

Heishi only hugged him for a short period before letting him go, placing one hand by A-Ka’s ear and looking into his eyes.

“Thank you.” Heishi’s eyes were set deeply in his face, like black obsidian that had been hidden underneath the surface of the earth for millenia, shining with a mesmerizing brilliance. “In the future, take care of yourself.”

“Heishi?” A-Ka asked.

Heishi wiped away the water on his face, turned away to wipe his body dry, before he put on his clothes and left.  

“Heishi!” A-Ka hurriedly put on his clothes, chasing after him, but Heishi had already put on the clones’ uniform and he walked very fast. In that instant, A-Ka vaguely sensed something.

“Wait!” A-Ka anxiously raced after Heishi, heading towards the place with a lot of people, and there stood Feiluo.

“Quick! The ship is boarding!” Feiluo waited at the other end of the pier. At its front were many people lining up. The surroundings were silent and peaceful, but on the pier shone blindingly bright white lights. Many people turned their heads back to look. In the silence of the night, their discussion was very obvious to those around them.

“You’ve finished saying your goodbyes to A-Ka?” Feiluo asked.

Heishi nodded towards Feiluo, and the tacit agreement between the two of them immediately confirmed many of A-Ka’s guesses. A-Ka asked, “You’re staying?”

Feiluo explained, “He still has things to do, so he’s having me send you off first. Come here… don’t speak…”

“What is he going to do?” A-Ka asked in disbelief.

Feiluo didn’t respond, merely leading A-Ka through the crowds. Feiluo’s expression was clearly one of complexity and unease. A-Ka asked, “Because only one person can be sent away, so he willingly chose…”

“No! It’s not like that!” Feiluo hurried to respond. “A-Ka, don’t ask anymore, just trust me, Heishi is only…”

No matter what, A-Ka couldn’t stop worrying, and he responded, “I saved him from the sea, how can I leave him behind now? I must go together with him, or I also won’t go!”

Just as they were talking, Heishi finally couldn’t resist it any more. He asked, “Why do you care about me this much?”

A-Ka sighed, and in an instant he grew angry. Just now he had been a little moved by Heishi’s expression, but now as soon as he heard these words he completely didn’t want to care about him anymore.

“Hmph, none of your business” A-Ka said nastily. “Whatever, up to you, if you want to stay then stay.”

Feiluo began to smile as Heishi said to A-Ka, “I have a few things I need to take care of. If fate wills it, then we’ll meet again.”

A-Ka’s heart once again rose in his throat as he looked at Heishi, trying to figure out from his expression if he was lying. From afar, the ferry let out a whistle, breaking through the awkward silence hovering over the three of them. Feiluo hurried to say, “It’s time to get on the ship. Come, Percy!”

Feiluo brought a small boy over. With the darkness of the night, A-Ka couldn’t see that child’s face clearly; he only knew that he was a little smaller than A-Ka himself.

“This is Percy. Percy, this is A-Ka.” Feiluo introduced them to each other, before explaining, “A-Ka, I’m leaving Percy in your care. After you reach Phoenix City, please hand him to the human orphanage.”

A-Ka felt that this was a little strange, but since Feiluo had entrusted this child to him, he held this human child’s hand in his own. Feiluo said, “Quickly.”

Feiluo brought them onboard the ship from a small side passage. A-Ka looked out from the side and saw that Heishi was still standing alone under the spotlights of the pier.

“We won’t see each other again?” A-Ka asked suddenly.

Heishi lifted his head, giving A-Ka a look, before silently turning and leaving.

This fellow… A-Ka’s heart was filled with all kinds of emotions, but he didn’t know what he should say. After a short silence, he pulled out a chip from his shirt pocket. That was the chip that the old doctor trapped in house arrest underground had given A-Ka when they escaped together out of the City of Machines. He had commanded A-Ka to bring this chip to the rebel camp and hand it to General Libre.

But now the revolution had already failed, and as of today A-Ka had no idea who to hand this chip over to. Maybe the chip itself could serve as a memento for Heishi, or perhaps Heishi could decode the contents of the chip and deliver them to the right person.

“Help me pass this on to Heishi,” A-Ka said matter-of-factly, “As a memento.”

Feiluo took it over and stored it away securely, before saying to A-Ka, “Take care of yourself.”

A-Ka tugged on that youth’s hand as they were brought to the lower levels of the ship. Here, there were many humans who had escaped, all squeezing together. After Feiluo showed them a space behind a pile of boxes, he had them sit down, and with one knee on the ground, he said to Percy, “Percy, Dad is leaving.”

“...” A-Ka’s eyes were wide with shock, and he didn’t dare to speak.

He’s actually sending his own child to the orphanage?!

Percy reached out a hand and hugged Feiluo’s neck, clearly already missing him a little. After a long time, Feiluo let out a sigh, shifting Percy’s hands aside, before telling him, “Listen to A-Ka-gege. When things are finished, Dad will come to Phoenix City to find you.”

After A-Ka heard this he finally roughly relaxed in relief. He asked Feiluo, “Heishi will also come then, right?”

Feiluo responded, “He will. May the winds be in your favor.”

Feiluo left the hold of the ship, his footsteps gradually receding into the distance. The large ship had already set off, loaded with its cargo of human immigrants, leaving behind the Central Mainland and heading towards unknown islands over the seas.

Underneath the moonlight, A-Ka was still worrying over Heishi. Since the day he had appeared before A-Ka, it was as if he was carrying some secret that was unknown to anyone. Outside of the ship was only the sound of waves lapping against it, and the quiet, peaceful moonlight scattered across the endless sea around them, shining over A-Ka and the lonely Percy. Everyone around them was already deep in slumber, and it was at this time that Percy gently wrapped his hand around A-Ka’s and wiggled it.

“Is Heishi your good friend?” Percy asked quietly.

“A comrade-in-arms,” A-Ka explained to Percy. “We fought together shoulder to shoulder, and we escaped from the City of Machines together.”

Percy nodded. His hands reached into his own bag slung at his side, and A-Ka said, “I’ll do it, what are you looking for.”

A-Ka helped Percy to flip through his messenger bag, pulling out a small dagger, a piece of chocolate, a portable water filtration device, and a transmitter, inside of which was a picture of Percy and Feiluo: the two of them standing shoulder to shoulder under the sunlight, against the backdrop of a desolate landscape.


Translator's Comment:

moon: look at them, being gay 


This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.

Contributors

moon

Translator, writer, avid reader. 吃刀群众.

Jiejie enthusiast.

namio

gege simp

jelly

yolk heathen

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quingxie
quingxie
6 months ago

Ngl my heart hurt alot hope they can stay safe and meet ;^; but on another note feilou seems lit aye.

Thanks for the translation ^^