"That man… they call him ‘the Savior of the World’, because he was left behind by the ancient gods, the key to ending ‘Father’."
Editor(s): namio, jelly
The next morning, A-Ka began working at this temporary job. Shahuang’s store provided repair services to the mercenaries in the old city district. He also resold guns on the side, a large portion of which were illegal firearms from who knows where. A-Ka’s job was to retrofit them and make some adjustments before putting them out for sale.
With his previous skills from the City of Machines, A-Ka had modified a portion of the electromagnetic weapons, which made Shahuang very pleased. In the morning, when the three of them sat together to eat breakfast, Shahuang wore a dirty white collared shirt, rolled up his sleeves, and made three portions of tomato soup. He put down a large basket of bread, and Percy and A-Ka, who were absolutely starved, began to wolf it down.
“From your appearance, I didn’t expect you to be able to repair firearms,” Shahuang said.
“Before, in 'Father'’s nation, I studied it a little,” A-Ka said, “but unless it was necessary, I rarely touched them.”
Shahuang said, “You didn’t steal one away from the City of Steel and use it for self-defense?”
A-Ka shook his head. The weapons from the City of Steel had left a strong impression on him. The mechanical lifeforms utilized the weapons that humans had created to inflict massacres upon them, which made him feel a natural aversion towards firearms since he was young. But to stay in Shahuang’s store, this was nothing more than a job, and he could do no more than do it well, otherwise he and Percy would have no food to eat.
After that night on the boat, A-Ka found, to his surprise, that his ability to sense the outside world had seemingly undergone a revolution. Before, when he was working single-mindedly, his focus was concentrated solely on the mechanical parts in his hand. But now, as soon as he entered his working state of forgetting everything, his sensing capability seemed to expand outwards.
That was a difficult feeling to describe. A machine gun in his hands, including the sight, the grip, the chamber, and other spare parts, would all become disassembled in an orderly fashion in his mind, laying itself out clear beyond a doubt. Just like on the dark sea, when the lightning struck, the world’s principles grew clear to him. Every basic building block that made up a more complicated structure seemed to take on a mysterious quality.
In a daze, A-Ka loaded the gun and put it on the counter.
“That’s it?” that mercenary said. “This Desert Eagle is something that even the precision instruments store can’t fix!”
“It’s good,” A-Ka nodded. “There was a problem with the positioning mechanism on the trigger…”
The mercenary asked, “Did you look at the blueprints?”
A-Ka said impatiently, “I didn’t, didn’t you want your gun fixed? It’s already fixed, what other problems are there?!”
The mercenary tested it out, and found that it was really as good as new, and all it lacked was bullets. He turned to Shahuang and said, astonished, “Hey, old bro, this little brat…”
“A Desert Eagle?” Shahuang, who was sitting to one side, rose at that and came over, taking over the gun and glancing at it. He said, “Huh, the producer’s already closed down right, how did you fix it?”
“I…” A-Ka felt a little uneasy, and he looked at Shahuang as he said, “The internal structure, as long as you can find the problems with it, then it’s easy.”
“This young one’s very smart.” Shahuang began to smile as he handed the gun back to the mercenary, patting his shoulders a few times.
The mercenary couldn’t believe it. This gun had been disused for many years. Since there was no way to either fix it or return it to the factory, originally he had only thought to bring it over as scrap metal to exchange for some money, possibly sneaking it by Shahuang’s new repair apprentice. He hadn’t expected that this apprentice would be able to fix it in just a few moves!
“Twenty five gold pieces,” A-Ka said.
The mercenary hurried to pull out some money and pay up.
A-Ka glanced over at Shahuang sitting in the corner, but Shahuang only smiled to himself. A-Ka thought to himself that he didn’t know if Shahuang had figured out his own potential, but no matter whether he had or not, A-Ka kept feeling that he shouldn’t go too in depth about it. There was also Percy’s dream -- A-Ka had tried to communicate a few times with Percy, but he never got a result, so he could only temporarily let it go.
With the passage of time, A-Ka and Percy had worked in Shahuang’s store for almost a week. In the beginning, the customers that had entered the shop were all mercenaries with lean faces and grim expressions, and when they saw A-Ka and Percy they always felt a little surprised. They didn’t have good attitudes towards A-Ka, but they were extremely polite to Percy, and before they left they would often give Percy some tips.
A-Ka kept all the money, and Shahuang would also give A-Ka some remuneration every day depending on the business volume. A-Ka then handed it all to Percy and had him take care of it.
The two of them had basically nowhere to spend this money, and as A-Ka repaired firearms for Shahuang, he couldn’t help but think of his original treasure -- the robot K. At that time, he had worked very hard to save a few scrap parts, but in the end he lost it all in one go. From that, A-Ka then thought of that day when he and Heishi were escaping from the City of Machines, when the robot had suddenly appeared in front of them.
Who had been controlling K? As A-Ka mused over it, he dealt with the machine gun in his hands. After a few fixes, he then thought about the one who had escaped together with them, Heishi. How was Heishi living now, was he in any danger?
That night, he resolved to have Percy contact Feiluo, so that he could ask about Heishi’s current condition.
Today, it was very cold outside, and the snow blocked the doors. The snow of Phoenix City carried an acrid stench of sulfur with it. The snow that fell to the ground was all grey, and the polluted snow piled up in front of the doorways. A-Ka outfitted a small automatic snow-clearing robot, and had it clean away the collected snow outside the door.
In Phoenix City, privately tinkering with robots was forbidden. But the regulations were very unclear, and the daily lives of the humans and clones were heavily dependent on mechanical devices. A large portion of the automated machines was something that the rebellion patrol squads turned a blind eye to.
A-Ka had nothing to do, no matter if he was horizontal or vertical, so he used the scraps in Shahuang’s store to start casually putting something together. If it was possible, he wanted to make another K. This time, it wasn’t for escape, nor was it for him to fight in, but rather his innate, internal interest towards metal and machines that caused him to have such an idea. Building a robot was like playing with blocks, with tens of thousands of changes, each filled with their own joy. There was a special sense of joy and happiness that came with being a creator in the moment that the device he built himself began to move...
Just as he was thinking about this, the bell outside the main entrance dinged.
“We’re closed for the night,” A-Ka said. “Come back tomorrow ba.”
The door was pushed open, and a tall, sturdy man walked in. Looking just like a mountain and wearing a military cap of the Rebellion, he stared down at A-Ka from high above.
“Where’s Shahuang?” His voice resounded, and the entire store shook. Percy, who was peeling potatoes in the kitchen, jumped out of surprise, and the plates and bowls clattered.
“He’s…” A-Ka apprehensively watched this man, feeling that he was talking with a huge Andalusian bear. He pointed inwards, saying, “He’s inside.”
“Hey, Huixiong.” Shahuang lifted a mug of whiskey, dangling a cigarette from his lips as he leaned against the doorway. “Welcome, and here I thought that you’d already died in the City of Steel.”
A-Ka furrowed his brow slightly. When he heard this name for the first time in a long time, he couldn't help but give a second glance towards that man named Huixiong. Huixiong said, “This blasted winter that never has an end, I’ve really had enough!”
Huixiong took off his military greatcoat, tossing it casually under the stairs, where it landed on Percy’s bunk; that revealed a body of sturdy muscles, which seemed as if they were going to explode out through the material of his shirt. This was the first time that A-Ka had seen such a powerful, well-built man, who was easily about 190 cm tall. Even the sturdily built Heishi would lose if he were to stand in front of him. One Huixiong had the physical prowess of two adult men.
Huixiong took a large gulp of whiskey, and he choked on it, his face turning bright red. “A person outside the Party has joined the secret operation team, and you have no idea what they found in the Primeval Heart! Though the revolution failed, according to the intel that man provided, ‘Father’’s system is about to be destroyed! That man… they call him ‘the Savior of the World’, because he was left behind by the ancient gods, the key to ending ‘Father’. In the Primeval Heart, he…”
A-Ka couldn’t help but stretch out his neck, curiously listening to Huixiong and Shahuang’s conversation. The door to the room opened, and Shahuang took a look outside, directly catching A-Ka’s expression.
“Shahuang, can I use your magnetic welding coil?” A-Ka asked a little awkwardly.
“Sure,” Shahuang said lazily. “But don’t test out your new weapon in my store. If you want to use it, then take it out by the river behind the little alleyway out back.”
A-Ka nodded and began to collect his mechanical arm. Just as he was thinking of eavesdropping some more, Shahuang came to the door and closed it, so A-Ka couldn’t hear their conversation anymore.
A-Ka kept feeling that the atmosphere was a little strange recently. Shahuang didn’t go out anymore, and the patrols had increased greatly outside. One clear morning, one mercenary came over and said, “Oi, young one, is the kid in Alley No. 16 your little brother? He got stopped by the patrol.”
A-Ka immediately put down the work in his hands and went out, where he found that there were many more sentries posted along the street. Percy held an electronic cane in his hand, the kind that blind people used, and he raised his head confusedly, holding a bag of bread in his other hand.
A-Ka said, “He’s my little brother!”
“Don’t wander about outside,” the clone patrolman looked him over, before returning the bread to Percy. He was also holding an epaulet in his hand, and he asked, “Who gave you this?”
“My dad,” Percy answered.
That piece of shoulder decoration that Feiluo had given him had always been in his pockets. The clone patrol man smiled. “Interesting. You’re a clone’s son?”
“Let’s go.” A-Ka warily watched the patrol guard, and he grasped Percy’s hand in his own as the two of them turned to leave. The patrol guard said, “General Mackenzie’s coming back in a few days for an inspection. If you don’t want any trouble, then you all should stay obediently in your houses. Don’t go anywhere.”
“What’s happened outside?” A-Ka asked Shahuang the moment he got back.
Shahuang slumped in a chair, his two booted feet resting on the round table, his cap covering his face. From under the brim of the cap, he spoke, “Mackenzie’s coming, so he wants to tour around, give speeches, and mobilize the troops in preparation for war…”
“He’s the person in charge around here?” A-Ka asked.
“One of the three,” Shahuang drawled. “The clone regime wants to counterattack, mobilizing all its troops to wage war on the City of Machines.”
A-Ka said, “They’ve only failed once.”
Shahuang said, “The inhabitants of Phoenix City are on tenterhooks, so at this time, they all need to find something to do about it.”
A-Ka didn’t say any more. In the night, Shahuang hummed the song of the Rebellion: “The Black Plains”. This song was one that A-Ka had heard Feiluo sing multiple times. The entire city was under curfew, and the lights had been extinguished very early on. The room was pitch-black. After A-Ka fell asleep, he heard a knock on the door, so he blearily climbed out of bed, but Percy had fumbled around and gotten there first to open the door.
Shahuang, on the other hand, seemed like he had been waiting patiently. He said, “Come in ba.”
In the darkness, that person placed something on the counter, before entering into Shahuang’s parlor. After that, the door closed. A-Ka turned on a light and saw that the thing on the counter was a long-range rifle.
He began to adjust it for the customer, thinking that he was probably another one of Shahuang’s so-called friends, and he peered in that direction curiously, trying to see if the visitor had brought any news from the mainland. But Shahuang closed the door tightly, so he couldn’t hear anything. That night, A-Ka didn’t sleep well, and with the addition of the previous night, when Huixiong had come by and disturbed them, A-Ka hadn’t slept well for two nights in a row. But in the early morning of the next day, he was awoken by a noisy hubbub outside.
The people flooded out into the streets and their cheers were like thunder, all this because the leader of the rebel forces was coming. A-Ka pushed open the window and looked outside, only to see that every street, no matter big or small, was packed with people, all streaming towards the central square. Some people brought fresh flowers, others brought food, and they all tried to push their way to the front as they headed towards the square, waiting for that legendary figure to arrive at Phoenix City.
Phoenix City had never had so many people gather like this before. It was as if they were celebrating a grand festival.
The sounds of the fireworks thundered in his ears, and A-Ka closed the window. The first thing he did was to go check on the visitor that had arrived last night.
The visitor wasn’t there, and Shahuang was still sleeping soundly. Percy said, “Are you looking for that person from yesterday? He brought us something to eat.”
On the table was a box of fresh fruit, which even had water droplets on it. Percy said, “He got up today earlier this morning, and after washing the fruit and telling us to eat it, he went onto the rooftop.”
A-Ka clambered up the stairs to find him, only to discover that the door to the roof was locked from the outside. A-Ka knocked on the door. “Are you outside?”
That man wearing a windbreaker propped the rifle up on a railing, wiping the lens. He turned his head back and shot a glance at the securely locked door to the roof but didn’t respond.
A-Ka: “Thank you for the fruit, come down and eat breakfast ba.”
The man on the rooftop didn’t respond. A-Ka waited a little longer, but when he didn’t get a reply, he comforted himself with the thought that everyone who came by Shahuang’s place was a little odd, so he didn’t pay him any more attention.
moon: and happy holidays! astrolabe will be continuing on its usual 1x per week release schedule despite the holidays, so stay tuned for the usual chapter next week
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.