Two days later, at the edge of the Dragon Snake Space Zone, where Firefly was docked…
A thousand years ago, in the last years of the Star Ocean Republic, Firefly’s antecedent had been the exploration starship of the latest generation.
At that time, the Cultivators of the republic had high hopes for the experimental starship. They had stuffed all the magical equipment of the Star Ocean Imperium, the primeval technologies excavated from relics, and the hope of all the people into the body of the starship that was as round as a whale.
The experimental starship was supposed to have carried out the greatest mission ever. It would set off from the heartland of the civilization of mankind and explore the corners of the universe in search for the worlds lost in the Armageddon Rebellion, which caused the collapse of the Star Ocean Imperium, so that they could rejoin the big family of the Star Ocean Republic and build an even more brilliant, glorious civilization of mankind together!
When the behemothic body of Firefly slid out of the dock in space for the first time, and the ninety-nine engine units in a rhombic distribution emitted the most dazzling blue light at the same time, none of the joyful, cheering Cultivators of the republic, however adept they were at deduction and calculation, could have foreseen the absurd fate of the experimental starship in the future.
The very first official voyage of Firefly was not for exploration and discovery but for hiding and running.
In the long thousand years, Firefly had discovered a lot of Sectors with the powerful probe magical equipment on board at first and received the support of the Cultivators in those worlds.
Countless Cultivators who were unwilling to bend to the rule of the Imperium had carried all their belongings, techniques, and magical equipment into their own starships that were in a myriad of different styles. Then, after simple technical modification, those tiny starships were connected to the main body of Firefly, like the barnacles that were attached to a big ship or a shoal of fish that were swimming together with a blue whale.
The advanced space jump matrix on Firefly could release a special protective membrane that prevented collisions, which should have been very likely when two starships performed a space jump close to each other.
Such a technology enabled the possibility of a hundred starships jumping simultaneously when they were stuck together closely. It also constructed the basic form of Firefly in the hundreds of years that followed.
In its prime, centered around Firefly, almost six hundred starships constituted an enormous group of refugees, with a population of more than five hundred million.
But the good days did not last long. The corpulent structure and the redundant internal control system greatly lowered the combat ability of Firefly. After a few soul-stirring battles, although they luckily escaped from the blockade of the Imperium, the number of starships that made up ‘Corporate Firefly’ was reduced from more than six hundred to less than three hundred, most of which were empty iron coffins that had lost all the impetus and only managed to stay in the group by the pulling force. The population on board had also plummeted by eighty percent. The society was on the brink of collapse.
Before encountering the Star Glory Federation, Firefly was like a whale that had half rotten. It was drifting with the current in the sea of stars and could not throw away any ‘iron coffins’ despite knowing that its body was slowly decaying, because in the universe with few available resources, a lot of useful garbage could be dismantled from the scrap starships even if they were already total losses. That way, they could manage to catch their breath for a while longer.
For Firefly and the ‘rightful government’ of the Star Ocean Republic at that time, what else could they have hoped for except to catch their breath?
Such a starship, or rather, a ‘heap’ of starships, which had become riddled with holes and rust, certainly required a protracted and arduous project to be maintained. The difficulty and the consumption were no less than to reproduce hundreds of starships.
Thankfully, to a ‘bumpkin’ living at the edge of the cosmos like the Star Glory Federation, Firefly, being from the center of the cosmos, finally had certain reserved assets that had not been entirely wasted yet.
The government-in-exile exchanged the extraordinary techniques and secret arts from the center of the cosmos for tremendous resources from the Star Glory Federation. Then, a whole area of docks and floating maintenance bases were established in the periphery of the Dragon Snake Space Zone, and the heated maintenance work began.
The government-in-exile even purchased a batch of starships from the Star Glory Federation and connected them to the main body of Firefly after preliminary modification in order to increase the activity zone and improve their quality of life. After all, in space where there was zero gravity and friction, however bizarre-looking those starships were, they would not hinder Firefly’s cruising ability.
Therefore, if one looked from the carriers that were shipping resources, Firefly—which was illuminated by the crimson flames of the red giant—did not look like one firefly but an amalgamation of hundreds of fireflies that were surrounded by circular rails, docks, floating ports, and maintenance bases.
Hundreds of carriers were shipping assets to them incessantly. Thousands of times more maintainers were working diligently in the cold vacuum outside of Firefly in their crystal suits, like a group of ants that were struggling hard in the sea of stars.
A seemingly plain carrier without any marks on the shell passed through a circular orbit dock and a starship that had been declared a total loss a long time ago and was ready to be completely dismantled. It then slowly approached the main body of Firefly.
The universal exploration starship had been utterly deformed. Hundreds of communication tubes had been connected to its shell, linking it closely with the other starships around and making it look like a heart from which countless veins and artilleries were extending.
The carrier moved unhurriedly. It entered the inside of Firefly. Countless close-distance defense cannons turned swiftly in various directions. Invisible identification rays were brushing past the newcomer now and then. A hundred fully armed Exos were also floating in the vacuum. The crystal cannons on their shoulders had been unsealed, and starry brilliance was flashing at the end of the barrel. Behind the cold masks of the Exos, sharp eyes seemed to be gazing at the carrier without blinking.
The carrier slid into a secret dock when it was several kilometers away from the ‘heart’ of Firefly.
The enormous, airtight gate was slowly closed, like an iron giant that had gritted its teeth.
Inside the dock were hundreds of fully armed Exos who were highly vigilant.
They were all the secret police of the Internal Affairs Division of the government-in-exile, who were there to pick up a batch of special ‘goods’.
The cabin door at the tail of the carrier was opened, revealing a ladder and a driving belt for cargos.
Part of the members of the ‘Election Observation Delegation’ were moved down. Some other people, who were deemed more dangerous ‘traitors’, had been loaded into special confining cases and delivered by the driving belt for cargo.
Few people there did not wear a crystal suit.
They included a middle-aged woman in a black coat. Her face suggested that she was a rigorous person. Her left eye was missing and replaced by three crimson crystal cameras.
She was Cheng Xuansu, the leader of the special investigators of the Internal Affairs Division in the government-in-exile, as well as the commander of the arrest operation.
When most of the prisoners were escorted to the internal shuttles in the starship and ready to be delivered to the secret jail, Cheng Xuansu suddenly bellowed. The crystal cameras that had been installed on the same round pedestal rotated slowly, releasing bright redness, as she looked at a prisoner who was locked inside a confining box.
It was… Tang Xiaoxing!
The secret police who were escorting Tang Xiaoxing stood at attention.
Observing Tang Xiaoxing who had fallen asleep carefully, Cheng Xuansu asked, “Repeat the whole process of your arrest exactly as it happened. Such a strengthless refiner escaped from your hands twice?”
“Yes.” An officer hesitated for a moment and said, “The first time, we attempted to knock her out with a ‘stunning cannonball’ in order to capture her, but she was not affected by the stunning cannonball and quietly slipped away. She even set up traps and heavily wounded six of our teammates. The second time, we had already captured her, but a mysterious tactical squad marched out of nowhere and rescued her again. The third time, we pressed our siege with the cooperation of the Chamber of Commerce and resorted to the surveillance cameras of Fish Dragon City. Finally, by analyzing her walking pattern, we locked onto her hideout.
“The enemy seemed to be playing a distraction trick. Most of them were delaying and harassing us on the outskirts. Few people were actually around Tang Xiaoxing. Seeing that it was not good, they could only abandon Tang Xiaoxing and run away.”
“How long was Tang Xiaoxing out of your control from the beginning to the end?” Cheng Xuansu asked emotionlessly.
“No more than six hours!” the officer replied.
“Six hours?” Cheng Xuansu sneered. “Besides, the enemy has an ‘anti-tracing specialist’ who found all the localization and navigation chips we deployed on Tang Xiaoxing?”
The officer hesitated again and said, “Yes.”
Cheng Xuansu looked her subordinate coldly. After pondering for a moment, she said, “Prepare a sterile room for me and bring two female officers. I want her body to be examined.”
The officer was slightly dazed. “We ran a full scan in Fish Dragon City. There’s nothing on her body.”
Cheng Xuansu stared at her subordinate.
The officer shivered and breathed hard. “Got it. I’ll immediately prepare a sterile room!”
Half an hour later, Cheng Xuansu walked out of the sterile room with a tiny glass jar in her hand. Inside the glass jar lay a scarlet ball that was similar to the color of the skin.
The secret police who were responsible for capturing and escorting Tang Xiaoxing began sweating hard.
“An anti-tracking specialist must be a tracking specialist. How can you not understand such simple logic?”
Frowning, Cheng Xuansu looked at her subordinates.
“I have carefully studied the operation report that you sent back yesterday. The guy who was with Tang Xiaoxing in the beginning was obviously a real expert. The team that ambushed you later was made of well-trained specialists, too. Do you really think that they would give Tang Xiaoxing away so easily when they already had her?”