"Compared to the icy chill, the loneliness in the depths of A-Ka’s heart was harder to bear."
The night passed, and thousands of rays of sunlight shone down on Phoenix City on the far end of the continent. In the early morning, A-Ka brought Percy out with him to the orphanage office, explaining their situation to the supervisor.
“I’ll go find a job,” A-Ka said to the man who sat there with his knee propped up over his other. “As long as we can make enough to support ourselves, then my little brother won’t need to enter the orphanage.”
“Sure,” the man said carelessly. “Go, I hope that you two succeed.”
A-Ka held Percy’s hand as they walked out of the orphanage. After that rain from last night, the clouds hanging over the horizon had dissipated, and the sunlight came streaming through the clouds. Percy stood in the sunlight, and he couldn’t help the tears that flowed down his face.
“What’s wrong?” A-Ka was greatly startled.
Percy smiled as he wiped away his tears, shaking his head. “It’s… it’s nothing.”
“Let’s first find a place to stay.” A-Ka shoved the messenger bag a little more to the back, switching it to his other shoulder, as they walked into the bustling, busy world of Phoenix City.
“We’re not accepting technicians.” The person in charge of the maintenance shop looked A-Ka up and down oddly.
A-Ka grasped Percy’s hand, saying, “No worries. I’ll go ask other places and try my luck there.”
A-Ka led Percy out. This was the fifth shop that he had tried; all of the factories weren’t accepting technicians, and there was virtually none of the money left that Uncle Moran had left them. He used the last of the money to buy two hot dogs, and he squatted with Percy by the side of the road as they ate.
“Is finding a job very hard?” Percy asked him anxiously.
A-Ka answered, “Don’t worry, I’ll find one.”
A-Ka’s requirements were that they just had to include room and board, and that they would also take in Percy. But a large portion of the workshops didn’t believe that A-Ka could even repair things, no matter how he explained his past experience, again and again. He even tried to go to a few of the clone-run repair shops to apply, but instead, others would discover Percy and ask about Percy’s origins.
A-Ka answered that this was Feiluo’s adopted child, and Feiluo was a clone. But, the people who all heard this began to laugh loudly.
“Adopted child?” that clone boss said, before calling, “Hey! Come over and take a look! This little brat’s a clone’s son. We’ve gotta keep him here.”
“Which one?” someone asked.
“What serial number?”
Everyone surrounded them, and A-Ka instinctively felt danger, but Percy tugged at his hand and said quietly, “Don’t be afraid, A-Ka.”
Percy pulled out an army insignia and handed it over. On it was Feiluo’s military rank and his troop and designation, and with that everyone believed it. But, what came with that was a period of long silence.
“Your father owes me a lot of money. A very, very large amount…” a clone said after a long while.
“What do you all want to do?!” A-Ka blocked Percy behind his own body, not letting the clones intimidate him. Percy was very confused, and he didn’t know how to respond, but A-Ka said, “These matters are between you and Feiluo, go find him when he returns and settle them then.”
“You guys will get taken away,” the clone smiled, “and your organs will be removed to be sold."
“Don’t scare him!” A-Ka said angrily to that clone.
A-Ka wasn’t willing to talk more with them, and he took Percy and left. After asking around at a few places, he found out that Feiluo’s reputation was very bad, to the point that he didn’t even dare to bring it up towards the end. They returned to the region where humans gathered so that he could try to find a repair factory.
Percy said, “Do we need to go ask Feiluo?”
“No,” A-Ka said. “Don’t make them worry.”
At least they had freedom. Heishi’s words were ones that A-Ka remembered very clearly; he had nothing to complain about, as he brought Percy along, walking from dusk to dawn. On this day, it once again began to rain, and Percy said, “Let’s pass the night near here.”
A-Ka saw that across from them was a waste processing factory; this was the western-most district of the entire Phoenix City, and he stopped, hiding with Percy within a huge concrete pipe to pass the night temporarily.
In the heap of junk across from them, a beggar was currently starting a fire, and he lifted his head to glance at them.
A-Ka was afraid that he would come over to rob their things, or to frighten Percy, so he kept staring fixedly at that beggar who was starting a fire. An instant later, a man wearing a windbreaker and holding a black umbrella came walking through the rain, exchanging a few words with the beggar. A-Ka suddenly felt that there was something not quite right.
“What’s wrong?” Percy asked lightly.
“Nothing,” A-Ka said quietly.
As the sulfurous rain came down and they hid within a concrete pipe in the construction site, across from them was that dirty beggar -- everything was very ordinary, but then there came a man of unknown origins who found this beggar, and that change caused A-Ka to instantly be on his guard.
“Sleep ba.” A-Ka hugged Percy, letting him place his head in his lap, no longer looking at the beggar in the distance as Percy closed his eyes.
The man seemed like he hadn’t left at all, as he chatted in the distance with the beggar. A-Ka couldn’t hear what they were saying, and he had no motivation to pay them any attention. But slowly, Percy began to shift uneasily, and he began to sweat, before he suddenly jolted awake.
“Percy?” A-Ka asked. “Are you sick?”
A-Ka felt Percy’s forehead, and Percy woke up, breathing lightly.
“I had a dream,” Percy said in a small voice. “Is there someone near us?”
A-Ka was surprised. “You heard footsteps?”
Percy said, “They’ve noticed us.”
A-Ka jolted and lifted his head to look into the distance, where he saw the man who had been talking with the beggar; he had been hanging around there for almost half an hour. A-Ka didn’t have a chance to ask Percy why he said it like that, so he just said, “Get up, let’s go.”
It was already deep in the night, and the streets were devoid of any people. A-Ka couldn't determine exactly where they should go, and he didn’t know if he and Percy would be met with any sort of danger in this unfamiliar city. However, Percy piped up, “I think we should wait here for a little.”
“Why?” A-Ka asked.
Percy didn’t respond, but when the man in the distance finished chatting and noticed them, he turned and started walking towards them. In an instant, A-Ka’s heart began to beat violently as he thought of the words that that clone shopkeeper had told them -- this city was extremely dangerous and disorderly. If that man was...
“Go with him,” Percy said quietly into A-Ka’s ear.
“Who are you guys?” Tha man wore a black windbreaker, looking A-Ka up and down.
A-Ka pushed Percy behind him and asked, “What does it have to do with you?”
Percy tugged A-Ka’s sleeve, warning him wordlessly, and the man’s quiet, deep voice said, “If you don’t want to die then don’t stay here. Come with me.”
A-Ka hesitated for a split second, but the man didn’t give him too long to make a decision as he turned and left. A-Ka looked at Percy, before looking at that man in the distance. Finally, he cleaned up their things, picked up Percy’s hand, and rose, leaving behind the waste treatment area.
The man wearing the black windbreaker pulled out something from his pocket in a habitual manner. A-Ka thought it was a gun, but just as he was about to get nervous, he heard a light click, and a small flame burst to life. The man had a cigarette dangling from his lips, and the end of the cigarette lit up with a slight glow of fire.
“Who… are you?” A-Ka asked.
“Shahuang,” that man answered.
A-Ka lifted his head to look at him, only to see that this man called Shahuang had roughened skin, and the hood of his black windbreaker covered half of his face in a dark shadow. His nose bridge was hawk-shaped, and he had a pair of earrings in his ears, while on the side of his face was a one cun long scar.
His black windbreaker had an insignia pinned to it, on which was written “The Iron Blood Fighters”.
“What are the Iron Blood Fighters?” A-Ka asked.
Shahuang stiffly lifted up his collar, using his arm to block that insignia.
“A name,” Shahuang said coldly.
A-Ka furrowed his brow and answered, “I’m called A-Ka, and he’s called…”
“I know he’s called Percy,” Shahuang said.
“I’ve heard your voice before,” Percy said lightly. “In the energy supply store.”
A-Ka then remembered that in the morning, when he took Percy along job-hunting, within that clone-run store where the clones had intentionally scared him by warning him about being taken to harvest his organs, this person seemed to have been there, but he wasn’t wearing a windbreaker.
“Your eyes can’t see, but your heart’s very clear,” Shahuang tossed the cigarette stub away. “You’re that bastard Feiluo’s son?”
Percy stopped walking, and he said unhappily, “If you say bad words about my dad, then I won’t go with you anymore.”
Shahuang grinned crookedly, looking out from under his cap at Percy, saying, “Though you’re small, your temper’s fierce. Ah well, pretend that I didn’t say it.”
And with that, A-Ka and Percy finally followed along with the man as they went forward. In the small alley darkened by the night, the eaves of the houses dripped water, and one door within the alley had a light shining in front of it. Shahuang pushed open the door and went in, saying, “On Feiluo’s behalf, I’ll take you guys in.”
“I don’t need someone to take me in,” A-Ka said. “I can work.”
Shahuang turned on the lights, and the dim yellow lighting shone down on the interior of the room. To his pleasant surprise, A-Ka found that this was a weapons repair store, this was really too good!
“Let me work for you!” A-Ka offered happily. “You just need to cover our food and housing!”
“You can do it? Don’t break my things while you’re fixing them.” Shahuang took off his cap as he looked consideringly at A-Ka. He began to take off his windbreaker, before asking, “Do you understand how to fix firearms?”
A-Ka had Percy sit down before he went to the front of the counter to look at the firearms that Shahuang had. He pulled out one, testing it out by pushing and pulling, and it let out mechanical clicks as his fingers moved nimbly and swiftly in a professional manner. Shahuang took a look at A-Ka, before nodding.
A-Ka said, “They’re all older models.”
“A small medieval knife can kill people just as well,” Shahuang said easily. “Taking lives has nothing to do with the time period they’re from.”
A-Ka keenly perceived that either the person in front of him was a killer, or he was someone who used a gun very often; his wrists had traces of bullet scars and wounds. Shahuang then said, “You can sleep behind the counter, and this little one can go sleep under the stairs. You’ll start tomorrow and help me watch the store.”
A-Ka had finally found a place to stay, and though it wasn’t quite the same as what he imagined, as long as they had a place to settle down, that was the best outcome they could wish for. That night, Shahuang tossed them two sets of bedding, and though the blankets had the smell of damp and mildew, A-Ka still spread them out on the floor, smiling towards Percy. “Percy, good night.”
“En, A-Ka, good night.”
A-Ka turned off the light, and the room sank into darkness, and the only sound was Shahuang’s snores upstairs.
In this dark night, in their quiet corner, the transmitter suddenly began to resound with “beep beep beep”s.
A-Ka immediately pulled Percy's transmitter out from the bag, and after plugging in a data cable, a line of words appeared on the screen.
This was a decoder that he had made simply out of some spare parts, and though the frequency band was not stable, it could still manage to receive a portion of the messages.
Percy, this is Heishi, I’m looking for A-Ka.
A-Ka immediately lowered his head to enter a message.
This is A-Ka, Heishi, what’s up?
The other side didn’t respond, and A-Ka then entered another line of words.
Heishi, are you able to send and receive sound on your end? I can try to see if we can use the radio frequency of the transmitter so we can talk.
Heishi’s message came back.
A-Ka didn’t understand.
What was wrong?
A-Ka found the talkback module and connected it to the miniature transmitter, beginning to adjust the frequencies. The earpiece was dead silent.
A-Ka said quietly, “Heishi? Where are you? Can you hear me?”
A-Ka said to himself, “Is there a problem with the earpiece? Heishi… eh?”
“I hear you,” Heishi said on the other end.
A-Ka began to smile, and he squirreled into his blankets as he asked, “Where are you?”
Heishi said, “Still in the Eastern Mainland.”
A-Ka then asked, “When will you come back?”
Heishi didn’t speak. He sat in the darkness on the shore, watching the rolling tides. A gentle breeze blew past, bringing with it a slight hint of salt.
“Do you remember the day that you picked me up?” Heishi asked.
“What about?” A-Ka felt that this question was a little out of the blue, and he didn’t know why Heishi suddenly wanted to contact him in the middle of the night.
“It’s nothing,” Heishi said quietly. “I suddenly had a strange feeling, so I wanted to find you and chat.”
A-Ka’s smile grew gentle. He laid in his blankets, the side of his head on his pillow, as he quietly asked, “What feeling?”
“I can’t describe it clearly,” Heishi answered as he looked off into the distance.
A-Ka mumbled, “Why did you have this kind of feeling?”
“My father,” Heishi answered.
“‘Father’?” A-Ka furrowed his brow.
“Not ‘Father’, but rather… the person who made me,” Heishi said. “My father.”
A-Ka’s heart jolted, and he asked, “You’ve remembered your own past?”
Heishi didn’t respond, and A-Ka followed up with another question, “Who created you?”
“Why did you save me?” Heishi asked.
A-Ka thought of the day he had discovered Heishi, and he said, “For… for no reason. I saw that you were on the beach, so… speaking of which, your temper seems to have improved a lot, did something happen?”
“Was my temper very bad?” Heishi asked.
“I still remember the first day that I saw you,” A-Ka smiled. “You almost choked me to death, and you were very annoyed with me.”
“Hormones,” Heishi said quietly. “My scrambled memories, the effects of rationally accepting a master, and my aggressive behavior were in conflict."
“What does that mean?” A-Ka asked.
Heishi dodged this question and asked, “That day, when the robotic guards were about to kill me, why did you stand up?”
A-Ka said, “I found you, so I couldn’t bear for you to die just like that, because my conscience wouldn’t let it go. What about it?”
“It’s nothing,” Heishi said.
A-Ka said, “Have you found a clue related to your father? Who’s your father?”
Heishi said, “He has no name, and he’s already left this place.”
The communicator was silent, before Heishi said, “My master is already gone.”
In that instant A-Ka understood how Heishi was feeling. He had matters weighing on his mind, but he couldn’t tell anyone, or perhaps he was trying to think things through. And after experiencing so much confusion, he finally had no way to keep it in, and needed to find someone to talk to.
A-Ka said quietly, “The feeling in your heart is called loneliness.”
“Is it?” Heishi said indifferently. “This kind of feeling is very strange, I just want to find someone and sit with them.”
“Where’s Feiluo?” A-Ka asked.
Heishi answered, “He’s not here.”
A-Ka asked, “When will you come back?”
Heishi said, “As soon as I can.”
A-Ka, “Will you come and live with us?”
“Live?” Heishi repeated.
A-Ka said, “We’ve already found a place to stay, we’re currently in the shop of a person called Shahuang.”
Heishi seemed to be thinking, before he said, “Do you recognize the leader of the Mercenary Association, Huixiong?”
A-Ka asked confusedly, “Who’s that? Your friend?”
Heishi, “Feiluo helped me to get in contact with him. Tell me about you guys’ current condition.”
So, A-Ka quietly told him about their experiences in his blanket, and on the other end Heishi didn’t speak for a long time, only listening silently, until A-Ka had spoken for almost ten minutes, up to the point where they had arrived at Shahuang’s repair shop. He was almost nodding off, when he asked, “Heishi?”
“I’m listening,” Heishi responded.
A-Ka en-ed, and Heishi heard A-Ka’s tiredness. He said, “I’ll come back very soon. Before I come, do your best to stay there.”
“Alright,” A-Ka said. “Heishi, be careful, don’t do anything dangerous.”
Heishi broke off the communication, and A-Ka gradually fell asleep to the static of the radio waves.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.