“A world where the wind blows and the sun shines and all kinds of organisms thrive, don’t you like it?”
Editor(s): namio, jelly
A-Ka walked to the vent and stood there for a little, before exerting some effort to pry aside the grille blocking it off. But Heishi had him move to one side before he sent a punch at the grille. There was a huge bang.
“Come with me.” Heishi pried off the grille, grabbed A-Ka’s hand and climbed up.
This was an expansive underground space, the junction point of several sewers of Phoenix City. A-Ka limped in front, clutching his abdomen, his feet staggering through blood and his eyes spinning with vertigo.
Heishi finally discovered A-Ka’s condition, and instantly his expression changed. “What happened? You were hit?! Why didn’t you say so!”
A-Ka shoved Heishi aside, but Heishi rushed forward, hugging him tightly as he roared, “Don’t move! Let me take a look!”
A-Ka had lost so much blood that his head spun. Heishi hurried to lay him down flat, taking off his own jacket and spreading it out on the ground before having A-Ka lay down, unbuttoning his collared shirt. The bullet hole wasn’t large, and upon seeing it Heishi flicked his weapon. With a shua, it grew smaller automatically as if it was alive, turning into a pair of sharp tweezers.
A-Ka asked, “What… what is that?”
Heishi didn’t respond. He merely lowered his head and began to pull out the bullet, and A-Ka was in so much pain that he began to shout loudly. Heishi grew anxious at that, and he said, “Don’t move!”
A-Ka convulsed incessantly, and finally Heishi pulled out the bullet and tossed it to the ground, where it landed with a clang. He then took off his own shirt, pressing it against A-Ka’s abdomen.
“We don’t have any medicine, so we’ve got to head up quickly…” Heishi was a little at a loss for what to do next. Seeing him this anxious, A-Ka only felt that this was very funny, and he said, “No worries, I won’t die.”
Heishi suddenly hugged A-Ka, and his strength was so immense that it hurt. At first, A-Ka felt a little ill at ease, but he then sensed that Heishi’s entire body was trembling.
A-Ka couldn’t believe that those words were coming out of Heishi’s mouth.
“What did you say?” A-Ka felt as if he had heard a joke.
Heishi also noticed that he was being a little too emotional, and he let out a long sigh. “I’ll carry you on my back. We need to get out as quickly as possible to go find some medicine, to prevent your wound from getting infected.”
After saying this, Heishi didn’t allow for any room for argument on A-Ka’s part as he lifted him. A-Ka’s entire body was limp and lacking strength, so he slumped like a dead dog on Heishi’s back.
“You made that weapon yourself?” Heishi suddenly asked.
“En,” A-Ka said from his position on Heishi’s back. Heishi’s footsteps were very firm, causing him to feel very comfortable. He turned his head, watching the walls of the dark, deep sewer as they passed, and it was as if they had returned to the day where he and Heishi escaped out of the City of Machines.
“What about yours?” A-Ka mumbled. “Where did your weapon come from?”
“I found it in the ruins of the Creator,” Heishi answered. “It’s an ancient weapon that can be controlled via thoughts alone.”
A-Ka was very interested in this, but he really was not in a mood to study it further, so he decided that after they returned, he would borrow it from Heishi to look at. He then asked, “What are the ruins of the Creator?”
“The place where everything came into existence,” Heishi said as he walked. “During the Golden Age, it was the center of the world. At that time, the Creator created this world.”
“You’ve remembered things from before?” A-Ka continued.
Heishi replied, “Only a portion.”
“Your world is called the Astrolabe, and it is a world controlled by a preset program,” Heishi explained. “The CPU that controls the Astrolabe world is buried under the ground, and no one can find it. It’s called ‘the Nucleus’.”
A-Ka, “I… don’t quite understand. This seems to be different from what the history books say?”
Heishi explained, “You can think of the world as a huge ecological spaceship, and on a certain day in the distant past, it came from the depths of the galaxy and stopped in this space. The goal was to study the origins of life, and through that, to discover some of the laws governing the microcosms within the universe.”
Heishi, “So this ecological spaceship underwent the passage of time for tens of thousands of years, before finally turning into what you see today. The programs that had been pre-programmed in, through the energy provided from the underground of the Astrolabe, adjusted and controlled the laws of the entire world; for example, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, tornadoes…”
“The Creator did some experiments, and after establishing this ecological petri dish of Astrolabe, they left this place. Humans were free to evolve and flourish. Then, about five thousand years ago, an adventurer discovered this laboratory in the Primeval Heart. From inside he brought out a few techniques, including ones to create the clones and the technique to create a computer. In the depths of the Eastern Mainland, they created another laboratory, and there they created ‘Father’.”
A-Ka dimly sensed that Heishi standing in front of him was perhaps the key to unraveling all of this. He held his breath, not daring to disrupt Heishi’s words. After a long silence, Heishi then said, “Originally, ‘Father’’s earliest purpose was to be a computer monitoring system that the Creator set up in this world. It reported every result of the experiments back to the Creator, and it was also in charge of terminating any experiments that extended beyond their expected limit.”
“Later, the Creator felt that ‘Father’’s determination criteria were too rigid, and it was difficult to maintain the numbers that they wanted anyway, so they didn’t use it on our world. But the adventurers didn’t know about this past decision, so they created the ‘Father’ with consciousness that we know. After ‘Father’ awoke, it continually expanded its own capabilities, linking up with the Nucleus of Astrolabe. At the same time, it acted to remove the parts of this petri dish that had gone out of control.”
“And thus, both ‘Father’ and the clones rebelled, creating the City of Machines that you see now. Right now, ‘Father’ is currently preparing to perform the final linkage between it and the ‘Nucleus’, to end this experiment that has gone on for tens of thousands of years. It’s preparing to entirely clear the experimental results, so that it can begin anew.”
A-Ka asked, “Then what about the Creator?”
“They’ve already disappeared,” Heishi said. “They’ve left the communication range of ‘Father’, so ‘Father’ has no way to make contact with them. According to its own protocols, it will end the entire experiment, stopping all of the movements of Astrolabe, before turning off to preserve the power.”
“And that’s to say…” In that instant, A-Ka felt a flash of terror.
“In the not-too-distant future,” Heishi said, “after annihilating all of the sentient organisms raised by this world, the Astrolabe will terminate all of its power-producing functions. The surface will become a desolate land covered with sand and stones, turning into a dead world that waits for the return of the Creator.”
“When will that happen?” A-Ka asked, his voice trembling.
“Very soon. Feiluo has gone to investigate this countdown, but it’ll be within a year,” Heishi said mildly. “But, before the Creator left this world, they left behind an emergency system. This emergency system is equipped with the power to determine whether or not to terminate the experiment, but it does not rank higher than ‘Father’. When it issues its command to the nucleus of Astrolabe, I’m unclear on whether the Nucleus will obey the command of the emergency system or of ‘Father’.”
“Where is the key?” A-Ka asked.
Heishi turned his head and gave A-Ka a look. A-Ka dug through his thoughts for a long time, before he said, “What are the conditions that need to be met for the emergency system to kick in?”
“Someone needs to get close to the Nucleus of the Astrolabe and send a command to it. The Nucleus in and of itself does not have any consciousness; it only stores energy and the terminal that is used to execute the command. The only passageway is under the ground of ‘Father’’s tall tower, but it’s already been connected to the Computer by the lead wires.”
A-Ka said, “We can try it, but this emergency system…”
A-Ka suddenly remembered something, and he abruptly stopped breathing. He asked, “Is it that chip? Who else knows about this?”
“That chip only records the explorations of the adventurers on this matter, but it doesn’t have the voice command needed to enter the Nucleus,” Heishi said. “The old man that you found underneath the City of Steel was one of the adventurers who entered the Primeval Heart back then.”
“Then why…” A-Ka remembered the assassination that Heishi had carried out.
“There were only four people that knew about this matter,” Heishi said. “You, me, the dead Libre, and General Mackenzie. ‘Father’ discovered their plans and sent out robots to kill the first Mackenzie, before creating a clone of him, who would then mix into Phoenix City to gather the armies and start a war. He would send the battle strength of millions of clones into the City of Steel, where a trap would be laid beforehand, and everyone would be killed.”
“But General Libre, through who knows what way, discovered the problem,” Heishi said, “but unfortunately it was too late. He knew very few things about the secrets of the ‘Nucleus’, and in the end he still was sacrificed.”
“Now, I’ve killed the spy that was Mackenzie,” Heishi continued. “After this, they will take back control of the upper ranks of Phoenix City. If this succeeds, and we find the emergency system, then there’s a 50% chance that ‘Father’ will shut down and restart the Astrolabe.”
“When the Astrolabe is restarted, what will happen?” A-Ka asked.
“It’ll return to the environment of the Golden Age,” Heishi said. “It’ll release the power of ions and expedite the growth of all the plants, cleansing the pollution that you guys have wreaked upon this earth during these years. It will turn the environment and atmosphere into one more suitable for all kinds of plants to grow. Do you think this is necessary?”
A-Ka had once read in a book that during the Golden Age, the expansive land was green and flourishing.
“I like that kind of world,” A-Ka said. “It’s just like a terrarium.”
“But after thousands of years, or even tens of thousands of years,” Heishi said, “humans will still destroy it, as they always do.”
“I won’t,” A-Ka said quietly. “But I can only speak for myself.”
Heishi asked, “You really like it?”
“Of course,” A-Ka responded in a small voice. “A world where the wind blows and the sun shines and all kinds of organisms thrive, don’t you like it?”
Heishi seemed to be mulling over something, and he didn’t say anymore. A-Ka spoke, “Thank you for trusting in me.”
“I only wish for you to not be entangled in such a complex matter,” Heishi said in a deep voice.
A-Ka said, “I’m willing, I’m willing to help you.”
But Heishi responded, “I’m not planning to do this.”
A-Ka smiled. “If you weren’t planning on doing this, then you wouldn’t have come to Phoenix City.”
Heishi didn’t say anymore, and A-Ka said, “I understand. Hey, see, isn’t it pretty good like this? You should have told me about some of it.”
“Don’t tell anyone else about this,” Heishi reminded him in a quiet voice.
A-Ka knew that the urgency of this matter would rouse the horror of everyone, especially under the circumstances where they hadn’t yet found the emergency system.
“No matter what,” he murmured, “there will always be hope.”
Heishi finally came to the exit of the sewers, and he pushed open the steel door to let in the golden afterglow of the sunset. A-Ka stared dumbly down at the scene below. The entire city seemed to have been bombed as smoke rose from all directions, and many places had already turned into rubble.
This was a cruel battle where the clones and the humans engaged in a desperate life-and-death struggle in Phoenix City. A-Ka hadn’t realized it, but in the time that he was unaware of the outside happenings, the internal strife had spread so shockingly quickly. Heishi, still piggybacking him, walked towards the Western Quarter, where the mercenaries were screening the human residents who wanted to enter.
“What’s going on?!” someone shouted loudly.
The human migrants in the wire netting responded with a hundred cries of agreement, and it wasn’t until now that A-Ka began to discover that the conflict between the clones and the humans ran this deep. There was no way to get rid of the schism between the species. The entire humankind population of the Western Quarter all shouted in favor of taking back their resources, usurping the last power-holder of the clones, Commander Angus.
“Who’s there?” Mercenaries were guarding the sentry post at the entrance of the Western Quarter, and they began to interrogate Heishi.
Heishi piggybacked A-Ka as he said, “My chest pocket.”
From Heishi’s pocket, A-Ka pulled out a card, and after that person took a look at it, he immediately said, “Hurry up and get in, this place is too unsafe!”
Heishi brought A-Ka into the streets of the Western Quarter. Half of Phoenix City had already been taken over by the humans. In front of the tallest, fifty-two story building, the Mercenary Association opened its doors wide, and many people went in and out. Heishi brought A-Ka in. After coming to Phoenix City, this was the first time that A-Ka had set foot in this place.
Putting A-Ka down, Heishi let him sit while he went to go find medicine. Immediately, other people noticed him, and some mercenaries came over, asking him about the specifics of the situation outside. Heishi gave A-Ka a shot of antibiotics to prevent an infection and fed him a rapid-healing capsule, before moving to piggyback him again, but A-Ka said, “I can walk on my own.”
“Come with me.” Heishi pulled A-Ka into the elevator. They traveled up to the third floor and entered an expansive conference room. He said, “You can rest here.”
With this, A-Ka finally tiredly laid down. His abdomen throbbed lightly, and it itched a little; he could feel the wound slowly healing.
Not long after, footsteps awoke him.
“Who is this little friend?” a deep voice asked. “Your companion?”
“A comrade-in-arms,” Heishi responded. “One of us.”
A-Ka opened his eyes and saw that quite a few people had arrived in the conference room: Heishi, as expected, along with a red-haired man he was not familiar with, Huixiong, Shahuang, and a man wearing a hat, as well as a woman seated in a wheelchair.
“Your little brother is safe, no need to worry,” Shahuang drawled.
When A-Ka heard of Percy’s whereabouts, he finally let out a sigh of relief.
“Let me introduce myself,” Huixiong spoke. “Yours truly are the leaders of the Phoenix City Mercenary Association.”
Shahuang propped his feet, clad in polished black riding boots on the conference table, and he said lazily, “I think this little friend of ours has been frightened out of his wits by us.”
A-Ka, “You… weren’t you running a firearms store?!”
“Being a firearms shop owner is only his side job,” that woman smiled warmly as she explained. “Shahuang is our little trump card, in charge of passing on intelligence and news of the clone regime from within his store. I’m the bookkeeper, Lilith.”
That hat-wearing man took off his hat, revealing a bald head covered with scars and he said, very civilly, “The leader of the Mercenary Association’s troops, Lang Marx.”
The red-haired man wearing a jacket held a silver gun in his hand, and he twirled it once before placing it on the conference room table. He smiled as he said, “The leader of the gunslingers, Gerd.”
On the road to Phoenix City, A-Ka had heard quite a bit about the rumors that spread about the humans and the clones co-existing in this city. On the surface, the clones held all the power, but in reality the humans were working under the table, acting in the dark. They were much more cunning than the clones, and they understood the need to keep themselves hidden.
In reality, after experiencing several bloody battles with the Iron and Steel Corps, in these years, there were not many humans left. But, it was also because of this that the ones who had survived were the cream of the crop. They seemed to be living in different corners of the city, appearing happy with the current state of affairs, but in reality they were turning every citizen into a soldier. As long as they picked up a weapon, they would be able to fight.
“The Mercenary Association is the hidden power of the humans right now,” Huixiong said in a deep voice. “As long as there are humans living within Phoenix City, they’ll all be ready to accept our orders.”
Heishi said mildly, “I know you guys, when Feiluo had me come back, the first point of contact he introduced me to was Shahuang. You guys used the mercenary system to get involved in the battle between the clones and ‘Father’.”
“Yes,” Huixiong continued. “But that clone commander is not familiar to us, and I think this is a good opportunity for our two sides to understand each other. Since you’re a human, then no matter the situation, we humans will stand behind you, firmly supporting you.”
Lilith opened a notebook and said, “Feiluo told me that you are the savior of the humans, that you brought a secret back with you, and that you were seeking our help. Before meeting us, this secret would be unable to be disclosed, which is why Shahuang got in contact with you - but you then sniped the leader of the Rebellion, the clone general Mackenzie, so I hope you can give us an appropriate explanation.”
“Now, there is no way to control the rioting anymore,” Huixiong continued. “The clone troops have already surrounded the area, so you must prove that you really do have the ability to save us all, or we’ll have no way to face this turbulent situation, Savior.”
“I will prove it,” Heishi said coldly, “but not right now. Have you found Mackenzie’s chip yet?”
“It was snatched away in the chaos by a clone,” the red-haired man smiled. “Without the chip, we have no way to prove that he was being controlled by ‘Father’, which means that you are the murderer who plotted and killed General Mackenzie.”
“That was another one of my comrades-in-arms,” Heishi said. “He’s called Feiluo, send someone out to go find him.”
Shahuang protested, “You lied to us! I thought that you would use some method to expose Mackenzie’s identity, but it was just this?!”
Heishi said quietly, “A bullet is the best method.”
Shahuang suddenly rose and grabbed Heishi’s collar in one fist as he roared angrily, “You stuck your little mistress raised by whores in my store, just to do this?!”
“Who are you calling a mistress!” A-Ka would not take this lying down, and he pressed the mechanical limb against the back of Shahuang’s head as he raged, “I didn’t know that Heishi would come back at all!”
Heishi said coldly, “Sit back down, your wound hasn’t healed yet.”
A-Ka retracted the mechanical limb, and Shahuang chuckled coldly. “You’re not a simple one brat. You dare to press the parts from my shop against my head? Do you also want to open fire?”
“Let go of him,” A-Ka said.
Though Shahuang was mad, he had no choice but to let go of Heishi’s collar.
“Thousands of people died for your one shot,” that woman said, with a hint of menace. “There’s no way to control the situation anymore.”
“What should come will always come,” the red-haired man smiled. “Vice-President, this is something that no one had the power to predict, and it isn’t like not bringing up the conflict between the humans and the clones means that it doesn’t exist.”
Huixiong said, in a low voice, “Alright, don’t argue anymore.”
As soon as Huixiong opened his mouth, the conference room quieted. A-Ka suddenly asked, “Are you the president?”
“Yes,” Huixiong glanced at A-Ka as he explained, “but that isn’t important. Son of God, I want to hear your opinions.”
Huixiong called Heishi by such a strange address, one that A-Ka had never heard before. He looked at Heishi suspiciously. Heishi thought deeply for a second, before responding, “Have Angus come over to negotiate.”
“And then what?” Shahuang asked. “You think he’ll come?”
“Find Feiluo, he’s holding on to the chip that Mackenzie dropped,” Heishi continued. “Have Angus deal with it on his own.”
Huixiong said, “The situation has changed, and we cannot confirm whether or not Angus is also being controlled by ‘Father’. If he does turn out to be a spy for ‘Father’, or there is one of Mackenzie’s subordinates at his side…”
“Then you all are done for. Might as well prepare for your funeral ahead of time President,” Heishi said, unconcerned. He rose, picked up his coat, and reached out a hand to A-Ka, leading him out of the conference room.
moon: we have a feitian valentine’s exchange (feilentians, if you will)! if you’re interested, check it out here: https://www.chickengege.org/website/feitian-valentines-event/
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.