Age Of Cosmic Exploration - Chapter 8
Chapter 8: Hope!
Hope, as per its definition, is putting an oftentimes untenable target before oneself to be used as a drive to carry on. Therefore, it is always a surreal experience when hope gets realized. And it is this uncanny feeling of being in a dream that pervaded Yao Yuan's group when they passed through the door. They found themselves on a platform elevated about two hundred feet off the ground with simple staircases leading off its end. Then, a vast area about ten football fields in size opened up before their eyes. Like an underground kingdom, the place was so big that it stretched beyond the horizon.
Set in the middle of this field was a mountainous spacecraft. Even from their vantage point, it looked humongous. A visual estimation would put it at about a million meters in length and more than two hundred meters in height. Dwarfing even aircraft carriers, the spacecraft was the size of a small city.
However, with something of this size, some questions were bound to circulate. How was it made? With modern human technology, it would be pretty unfeasible to even design, much less build, such a thing. Another would be: how would it fly? How much power was needed to lift something this size into the air? And furthermore, how could it possibly gain enough momentum to break through Earth's ozone layer? So many unanswered questions!
Yao Yuan's team was heavily troubled by these prospects. Even without deep scientific and astronomical knowledge, these were simple issues that needed handling if they were to leave earth with this spaceship. Was there an energy source or technology advanced enough that could solve all these issues? They were doubtful. Man might need a few more centuries of research before they could find the solutions.
In any case, this was their best bet. After taking about ten seconds to catch their breath and perhaps also to ensure that everything around them was not an illusion, Yao Yuan ordered his troops to move out. ’’Ebon, remember to bring Lee along. Xiao Bai, how's his injury?’’
As Ebon moved to pick up the still unconscious Lee, Xiao Bai replied, ’’He's still quite unstable. A few pieces of shrapnel are lodged too deep into his body. Without proper equipment, I'm afraid it's too high of a risk to extract them. Another issue is blood loss. We're running out of available reserves;the stockpile I've collected along the way won't hold out much longer. Without proper treatment and medication soon, things aren't looking well.’’
’’How many days could he hold out without proper treatment? Give me an estimate,’’ requested Yao Yuan, as his sight fell on Lee.
After giving it some thought, Xiao Bai answered, ’’If I'm to put him on continuous physiological saline support, I'd give him five more days if there's no infection or accident.’’
’’So... it's best to have it done within three days...’’ Yao Yuan frowned. ’’Alright, I promise you I'll find you a usable surgery bay within three days. You keep him alive until then!’’
Yao Yuan then moved to descend down the stairs. The rest of the Black Star Unit picked up their slack and followed silently. Only Zhang Heng remained standing rooted to the floor. He was shaken and stunned. It was as if he hadn't come down from the adrenaline yet. Passing him, Ebon gave him a healthy smack on his shoulder. ’’Let's move, kid! That worked out better than expected, huh... so, listen. Thanks.’’
The force of Ebon's smack sent Zhang Heng sprawling. He quickly recollected himself and fell behind Ebon's footsteps, asking, ’’There's no need to thank me;it was for my own benefit as well... But is it okay leaving your comrades'bodies behind like that?’’
Ebon shook his head and took a considerable pause before answering, ’’You have to understand that this is a war... Kill or be killed. At the end of the day, we don't mind whether it's cremation, or burial, or neither. What's important is to die fighting. And that's the greatest send-off there is.’’
Zhang Heng gave a grunt of pseudo-understanding before continuing his trail behind Ebon.
Because Yao Yuan was leading the way, he was the first to step onto the solid ground. Loosening his joints, he doubled-over until his palms touched the floor before straightening up and raising his head towards the sky, which was technically the ceiling of the spacious underground cavern they were in. It was a few moments later that he started to move towards one of the nearby jeeps.
Other than the spaceship that dominated most of the cave, there was also a row of cars just beneath the platform. Around them were blocks of buildings that appeared to be residences. These white-washed buildings lacked any sort of personality, and based on their arrangement and parallelism to each other, Yao Yuan surmised that these were probably barracks, which meant that at some point, this place had an army of considerable size.
However, by then, other than the fifteen that still remained in Yao Yuan's group, there was no one else about.
As others went into their choice of vehicles, Guang Zhen leapt into the passenger seat of Yao Yuan's jeep. As he patted his hands down the dashboard, he asked, ’’So Cap'n, how's the situation?’’
Yao Yuan spread out his palm. It was covered with a thick layer of dust, a result of its previous contact with the floor.
Looking at his palm, Yao Yuan explained, ’’I believe it has been at least a month since people have set foot in here. Despite that, the electricity of this place is still on, so this place is probably some kind of a perennial bunker, probably supported by nuclear energy. Other than that,’’ and here he looked up, ’’that spacecraft probably uses anti-gravitational force as its main energy source.’’
Following Yao Yuan's line of sight, Guang Zhen repeated what his captain had just said to ensure that he hadn't heard wrongly. ’’Anti-gravitational force? The kind they write about in science-fiction?’’
Yao Yuan nodded his confirmation. ’’Vertical elevation;it's the only logical explanation. Look around you. There is no exit that is big enough for that spacecraft except up there.’’ He circled a general area above the spacecraft with his finger. ’’These cave walls look to be naturally formed, other than that area directly above the spacecraft. There is some kind of metallic construction there, and if I'm not mistaken, that can be used to pull open the ceiling. However, without a landing strip to gather momentum, it would require an immense force to lift this spacecraft into the air. I doubt you could manage that even with all the fuel in the world.
Which leaves one last possibility: anti-gravity,’’ Yao Yuan concluded.
Guang Zhen could see that indeed at that one part of the cave ceiling, there was a lattice of metal contraption. It would seem like his captain's hypothesis was very likely to be true.
That was where the pair's conversation ended, because at this point, everyone else had gotten ready in their rides. The group of motorists sped towards the spacecraft. After all, that was their main objective in coming here.
The ten kilometer journey passed without a hitch. As they neared the airship and got to a distance where its carapace was within hand's reach, they managed to truly appreciate its enormous size. Driving under its underbelly felt like a long journey in and of itself, that was how big the thing was.
Now that they were at its door, they were stumped. They had no existing information on what was inside, and more importantly, whether or not it was safe. After the hell that they went through, they could not afford to be too careful. They didn't have the resources left to face another wave of those drones.
Under these circumstances, it was Yao Yuan who acted surprisingly cavalier. Striding up to the cabin door, he sauntered into it as the door slid open. The rest exchanged a few glances, but since they heard no warning coming from within, they soon followed.
The sole exception was Zhang Heng, who shouted, from right outside the door, ’’Guys! Aren't you afraid there are more killer robots in there? We just met a few, remember? Guys... Wait for me!’’
The spacecraft's interior was perhaps even larger than it seemed when looking at it from the outside. There were rooms in multiple sizes that served different purposes. These included bedchambers, gymnasiums, media rooms, and even a surgery bay attached to an infirmary, which managed to elicit a cheer from Xiao Bai.
It was a well-equipped spacecraft with enough space to hold tens of thousands of people!
As the team continued to explore, the mood noticeably shifted to one of gaiety, to a point where there was even genuine laughters of joy. For Yao Yuan though, it was the opposite. Because he was so far ahead of the rest, lost in their jubilation, his team hadn't managed to notice that he was getting increasingly somber.
(This is all too good. So good that there must something devastatingly wrong with it. It has enough storage, space, and amenities. There are even fully-functioning technologies and devices. This spaceship could well support life in space for decades ... But did its creator ditch it even though it's so perfect? There must be something awfully wrong here...)
The more he thought about it, the more worried Yao Yuan got. Along the way, he noticed that most of the pathways were laid with railway tracks whose purpose was probably for ease of transportation, which was all well and good, but his bigger worry was why hadn't they come across a cockpit or a main control room?
Zhang Heng could barely catch his breath after the exploration party had gone on for about two hours. As he was about to suggest taking a rest, Yao Yuan grabbed hold of him and pulled him before a panel that looked like a data terminal platform. Yao Yuan said, ’’Zhang Heng, I want to you to hack into this ship's internal system. Don't disturb anything;just find me a map of this ship. We need to get to the main control room immediately.’’
Zhang Heng swallowed his words of protest when he saw Yao Yuan's bleak and earnest expression. It was clear that something was worrying Yao Yuan. Feelings of the premonition he vicariously felt launched him immediately into his hacking job.
Because the spacecraft used a similar encryption as the base, within a few minutes, Zhang Heng managed to gain access to the ship's internal system. Fortunately, he did so without sounding off any alarms this time. However, Zhang Heng's laptop screen was suddenly overloaded with a series of rogue codes. As he moved to counter it, the screen shifted to play a pre-recorded video. Standing in the middle of the camera was an old Caucasian man.
Spotting this man, Yao Yuan took a sharp intake of breath. This old man was the one who started it all. He was the encryption expert whose daughter Yao Yuan had saved, the one who had sent him the code which had led them to where they were.
’’Only people who have received my key have access to this video, and I've only sent it to one person, so hello, Yao Yuan, how have you been?’’ said the old man, while chuckling. ’’This spaceship here, consider it my parting gift;a token of appreciation for saving my daughter's life. I hope you'll find it to your taste.’’ The tone turned serious here. ’’But from here onwards, pay attention and listen up, Yao Yuan. What I'm going to say next will be a matter of life-or-death for you and I'm assuming your team too, and quite possibly the lives of tens of thousands of people. It's something related to this ship, Noah Two...