Age Of Cosmic Exploration - Chapter 16
Chapter 16: That Swath of Blue...Adieu! Home sweet home!
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
Zhang Heng was immediately glad after hearing Yao Yuan's response, but before he could express his gratitude, Yao Yuan had vanished down the halls to vanquish the rebels remaining in the station. Wasting no more time, Zhang Heng also departed for his destination.
After a short jog, he reached the rooftop where a few young women were on guard. Based on their haggard appearances and tattered clothes as well as a noticeable lack of armaments, they looked more like they were forced onto patrol duty rather than having the actual willingness to stand guard. The fact was that the women secured there were all ladies in their prime. The dangers that they had to protect themselves from originated from within the same building more often than from outside.
When they saw Zhang Heng, they were shocked but not scared, because they all knew of him. After Zhang Heng was taken in by Chou's men, he was locked together with these women and three of them took turns remedying him. The reality was that they too were curious as to why a man was imprisoned along with them. So, during Zhang Heng's period of convalescence, they had formed a strong bond.
Upon seeing Zhang Heng again while sounds of gunfire reverberated through the building, they couldn't help but feel a surge of hope.
Giving voice to their greatest hope, Zhang Heng shouted, ’’The army is here to escort us off! Get ready to move. They will only wait ten minutes for us, so pack light;take only important stuff like photographs or jewelry! Tell everyone to get ready. I repeat, we only have ten minutes!’’
The girls were stunned for a brief second before hollering out in joy. They immediately rushed to the rooftop loft to spread the news among their fellow friends in captivity. It didn't take long for the staircase to get filled with throngs of women rushing down.
Zhang Heng made the decision to not follow the crowd down. After the incident in the interrogation room, he felt like he understood Yao Yuan more. As long as he was not atrociously later than the designated ten minutes, he knew Yao Yuan would be willing to wait for him. And so he stayed behind to give the girls a slightly larger window of time to get on the hovercraft.
As people streamed out of the loft, Zhang Heng went against the current into it. Inside he saw that some of the women were still changing, putting on what was left of their Sunday's best. Because it was inappropriate to linger, he turned into a side room where he was originally detained. As he suspected, three women were sitting in it.
One of them had her hair dyed in a shimmering gold color. This woman of porcelain skin had in her arms a girl of fifteen or sixteen. This girl with ink-black locks was visibly shaken;her eyes darted nervously around the room. Cradled within the woman's embrace, she had the appearance of a frightened cat.
The last remaining woman was reclining at the far corner of the room, listlessly watching the world outside the window beside her. Even when Zhang Heng barged in, she gave no sign of response, lost in her own world as she was.
This scene that would have struck other people as weird was of no surprise to Zhang Heng. After three days of close proximity, he was already quite familiar with their peculiarities. The beauty with alabaster skin was Bai Ning Xue and the girl in her arms was Luo Mao Miao. The two weren't related by blood, but the riot seemed to have pulled the two into a sisterly bond. For as long as Zhang Heng had known them, Ning Xue had always resided over Mao Miao as the protective big sister.
The other woman went by the name of Bo Li and she had always been somewhat of a mystery. In the three days they had known each other, she had shown herself to be incredibly taciturn. A bookworm, she preferred her own company and exuded a degree of sluggishness between actions.
As Zhang Heng ran into the room, he shouted at them, ’’Quick, follow me. The rebels have been taken care of;it was the work of an official army. We have ten minutes to join them and leave this godforsaken place!’’
Ning Xue and Mao Miao were delightfully shocked by the news. As they exchanged a glance, they let out a short cheer. They then moved towards the corner of the room where most of their stuff was laid out and started packing. Alarmed by their tardiness, Zhang Heng yanked them along. ’’Didn't you two hear me? We only have ten minutes;there's no time for packing. Plus, we're leaving by hovercraft;there is a weight limit! Now is not the time to act leisurely! And Bo Li, don't just sit there, move! Hurry, only bring your most valuables, and leave the rest!’’
Ning Xue and Mao Miao were more than a bit disheartened to have to leave most of their belongings behind, but after a minute of deliberation, they took off towards the exit with only their wallets, a few pictures, and some small accessories. In contrast to the pair's urgency, Bo Li slowly lifted herself up from her seated position and without pausing to grab anything else, she sauntered towards the door.
This bemused Zhang Heng. As Bo Li passed him, he took hold of her hand. ’’Don't you want to bring anything along? Don't worry about the time;of the ten minutes, there's about seven left. There's still time for you to quickly grab something.’’
Bo Li slowly turned to stare at Zhang Heng and shook her head. ’’No, there's nothing left worth taking...’’ And with that, she wriggled out of Zhang Heng's grip and melted into the moving crowd.
On the outside of the police station, Yao Yuan was trying to catch his breath at the bottom of the stairs. He had just cleared the whole station. With what Chou described as humans' next form of evolution, he managed the feat without sustaining a single scratch. But as the heat of the moment wore off, the lethargy seemed to catch up with him all at once, almost knocking him off his feet. What wouldn't he do to just lie down and rest;he was so exhausted that he could barely keep his eyelids open.
With pure mind over matter, he powered on. As he sat recharging himself by the stairs, not far away, the hovercraft that had brought him here landed. Out of it poured twenty fully equipped soldiers who quickly assembled themselves before Yao Yuan. As they stood at the ready, one of them roared, ’’Unit twenty-one, reporting for duty, Major!’’
Against an overwhelming exhaustion, Yao Yuan pulled himself up using the wall and said, ’’Make contact with Lieutenant Wong next door and tell him to lead everyone to vacate the area. The enemies have been neutralized and the hostage has been saved. Also, tell him to figure out a way to accommodate over a hundred female refugees. Remember to screen them accordingly... We might not have the time to do that anymore, so just skip that step and make sure to get them on the hovercraft, but do register their names and other relevant details. And this operation has been ceded to Lieutenant Wong, so from now on, heed his orders.’’
’’Sir, yes, sir!’’ saluted the unit leader. After that, other than a field medic that stayed to attend to Yao Yuan, the rest of the nineteen soldiers separated into two groups. One went to the police station and another to the building next door.
By then, the fatigue Yao Yuan had been holding in bubbled over and he slipped out of consciousness.
When he woke up next, he found himself on top of a simple bed surrounded by the hovercraft's metallic enclosure. By his bed were the rest of the Black Stars and Zhang Heng.
As he sat up, a splinter of pain reminded him of his knife wounds, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw that those had all been given treatment and were bandaged. Without missing a beat, he launched into his inquiries. ’’What time is it? How are those women?’’
When Yao Yuan woke up, obvious relief was written all over the members of the Black Star Unit. Guang Zhen reassured him, ’’They are all onboard. The hovercraft fleet has more than enough room to accommodate their number. The time is now four twenty in the afternoon and we're already in America. There's still a ten-minute journey to reach our base, so we will be able to catch the six o'clock departure time with no problem.’’
Relief swept over Yao Yuan. As he leaned back down, he was pierced with pain emanating from his wounded left arm.
’’Was it... Ning Bo Tao? After I was briefed of your arrival, I inspected the structure and found many hidden explosives. Based on the way they were placed and wired, I had a feeling he was behind this.’’
After a brief silence, Yao Yuan confirmed Guang Zhen's speculation with a nod before adding, ’’Yes, you're correct, it was him... But this time, I made sure he was truly dead.’’
Sighing, Guang Zhen replied, ’’That's a relief I suppose... Are you feeling alright? You have been in coma for more than seven hours. Xiao Bai has been checking up on you, but he said he found no incriminating wounds...’’
Without hesitation, Yao Yuan confessed, ’’It was due to something else;something I thought was mere coincidence, but now I can confirm that it has to do with man's heightened state, or rather, evolution... After we leave earth, I'll explain the rest in detail, but if this turns out to be true, then the issue of military deficiency that has been troubling us will be solved.’’
The spaceship will end up accommodating twelve million residents and so, with only one thousand and five hundred military men, the issue of military deficiency was troublingly real.
Furthermore, they needed a greater military power to ward against dangerous contingencies that could happen in space. Yao Yuan's encryption expert had said it himself;it was foolish to envision outer space to be a peaceful place. If the military was to fall, who would defend the ship? The citizens? The scientists? They wouldn't be of much help, and that would be a giant waste of their expertise.
The obvious solution was military expansion, and Yao Yuan had indeed given it some thought. However, power corrupts. During the initial riot, the first to turn against the civilians were mostly armed forces. To have found a troop of one thousand and five hundred was already an impressive feat to begin with. Try as he might, Yao Yuan couldn't find any extra eligible candidates to be recruited.
However, if Chou's hypothesis was true and there was a chance that elongated habituation in space would incite man's evolution, if provided with necessary training, their lack of numbers could easily be compensated by an increase in skill.
The rest of the journey continued in silence. As the hovercraft neared the base, they veered towards a secluded entrance by the valley's side and directly proceeded into the underground base. Inside, three thousand technical workers, nine hundred academics, and the families of the one thousand and five hundred military men and women had already boarded Noah Two. They had set up residences according to previously allocated districts. These were the workshops for technicians, academies for scientists, and barracks for the military and their families.
The military had quarantined the area around Noah Two. Armed to the teeth with siege weaponry, they looked ready to defend the ship to their deaths.
As Yao Yuan and his team entered the base, orders were issued to allow passage for the remaining civilians to board. Arrangements had already been made according to nationalities, languages, and so on to enable a smooth and systematic boarding.
Even though the most spacious trucks were being used to facilitate transport, the emigration of twelve million people still took up to almost a full hour.
Most of the citizens were seeing Noah Two for the first time. The initial shock was hard to suppress. There were even some outbreaks of excitement, but those were quickly stamped out by attending officers. Twelve lanes were opened to expedite overall movement. To prevent misidentification, everyone was required to swipe their keycards on the designated panels to gain entry.
With all these measures in place, it still took them until 8 P.M, two hours past the intended 6 P.M, to have everyone onboard.
With a size of twelve million, there was expected chaos. The originally spacious spaceship appeared even slightly cramped. Furthermore, since Noah Two was originally intended for ten million people, there weren't enough sleeping bunkers. Technicians, soldiers, and scientists were given their own sleeping chambers, but it was impossible to provide similar privilege to the remaining civilians. The issue was that after the specialized districts had been cordoned off, there still remained quite a number of sleeping chambers but not enough to fit everyone. A difference in access to privileges between specialized members of the community and the normal public was manageable and even encouraged because it inspired self-improvement among the public. However, a difference in treatment among the same echelon of normal civilians would prove to be tumultuous.
Hence, Yao Yuan made the decision to break down the partitions outside of the previously mentioned designated districts. Living arrangements would still be assigned according to tents and camps like how it was in the valley.
As everyone settled into place, Yao Yuan and the rest of the Black Star Unit were congregating at central command.
’’Open the exit chute!’’
’’Captain's order, open the exit chute!’’
’’Opening the exit chute!’’
Gradually, the metal layer above Noah Two started to open itself. This had been given multiple test runs, so this part of the operation proceeded without a hitch. After a few minutes, an aperture large enough to allow passage of Noah Two opened above the base.
’’Initiate Noah Two's anti-gravitational system. Going into ten-second countdown!’’
’’Captain's order, Initiate Noah Two's anti-gravitational system. Going into ten-second countdown!’’
’’Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven...’’
As the seconds ticked down, the three sites of gravity manipulators around the base started to charge, and after an initial jolt, Noah Two began to achieve levitation. Within these few seconds, even though they couldn't see outside the ship, everyone onboard collectively held their breaths because this was the moment that would decide their fate.
Noah Two's levitation started to accelerate and it began to float into the sky. Before long, it had pushed itself beyond the clouds. It wasn't until they reached the ozone layer that Noah Two began to slow against the resisting pressure.
’’Initiate energy pulse system. Accelerate speed!’’
’’Captain's order, initiate energy pulse system. Accelerate speed!’’
’’Initiating energy pulse system. Total discharge increase by point zero two three. Energy discharge is on standard operation!’’
As Noah Two lifted beyond the ozone layer, everyone in central command was gifted with a grand view of Earth through the reinforced glass windshield. Amidst the engulfing darkness of space, the azure planet shone like a sapphire in the dark, its glittering beauty taking everyone's breaths away...
Behind the feeling of amazement, there was an undercurrent of deep melancholy. Zhang Heng was caught wiping a few stray tears with his sleeve.
’’Initiate preparation for space warp. Thirty seconds for energy calibration. Check load output for standard value!’’
’’Captain's orders, initiate preparation for space warp, thirty seconds for energy calibration, check load output for standard value!’’
’’Initiating preparations for space warp. Calibrating energy. Load output confirmed at standard value, peaked at 93.23 percent of total output. All energy channels working as intended, slight discharge variation at third energy pool...’’
Yao Yuan turned to take one good last look at that swath of blue. His heart was roiling with mixed emotions...
Adieu! Our home sweet home!
’’Initiate... Space warp...’’