The secret police all looked at each other in bewilderment, not knowing what was going on.
“They intentionally sent Tang Xiaoxing into our hands, for the purpose of making her carry this thing into our starship,” Cheng Xuansu said coldly. “From when you began the arrests to when you captured Tang Xiaoxing, she was not under your control for so long. Six hours is more than enough for the enemy to do a lot of things!
“Do you still not understand? Tang Xiaoxing is not important. Although she is Captain Tang Dingyuan’s daughter and she has one sixth of the jump token, a Tang Xiaoxing that has left Firefly is entirely useless to the enemy! This is not an empire, and Tang Xiaoxing is not a princess!
“What the enemy wants is Captain Tang Dingyuan himself!
“I don’t know what this gadget is exactly. It is not releasing any spiritual waves right now, either. I retrieved it from Tang Xiaoxing’s esophagus with an endoscope. It was stuck to the esophageal wall, with a layer of protective membrane made of flesh and blood outside. If I hadn’t searched inch by inch, it would’ve been practically impossible for me to detect it!
“I dare say that the thing will activate before long and send Tang Xiaoxing’s coordinates to the outside world. If we truly lock Tang Xiaoxing and Captain Tang Dingyuan in the same place, whoever planted the device will certainly be able to figure out where Captain Tang Dingyuan is being held and the detailed route from this place to his prison!
“By then, god knows what those mysterious people will do!”
The secret police were greatly alarmed. “Leader, is there anybody coming to rescue him?”
“It’s hard to say.” Cheng Xuansu looked at the scarlet ball. Pondering, she said, “Such technology is not something that the outcasts of the Dragon Snake Space Zone possess. Those people who stole the target from you, on the other hand, seem to be from the federation. Something is not right. I have to report this to the Speaker immediately!
“The bottom line is, triple the security around the secret jail. Pay special attention to all the tubes that allow for infiltration in the prison cells, be they ventilation tubes, maintenance tubes, or sewage pipes. I don’t want a fly to draw close to Tang Dingyuan!
“Also, search your carrier thoroughly. If necessary, cut the entire carrier into pieces, or simply roast it at a high temperature for an hour. Make sure that nobody can sneak into this place on your carrier in secret!
“Thirdly, stress the inspection on all carriers and maintenance bases. Now that Firefly is under major maintenance, a lot of cabins and channels are open to the outside world. A lot of people are coming in and out, and most of them are wearing maintenance suits, making it difficult to identify who they are. You must raise your wariness; do not be careless for even a second!
“Do you understand now?”
All the secret police stood at attention. “Understood!”
However, one of the officers, who was relatively older, stood out after a moment of hesitation. “Leader, the first two requirements can be carried out easily, but the third one is rather difficult. Our lightning arrest has raised mayhem throughout Firefly. Right now, the ground-level sailors and most of the people are quite uncooperative, if not infuriated. Under such circumstances, if we investigate every person and every corner completely, I’m afraid that the result will not be very satisfactory, and it will only add to the tension of the current situation.”
Cheng Xuansu stared at him for a long time. She then glanced at every officer with her rigorous eyes. The redness released by her artificial eyes suddenly turned gentle. She patted the old officer’s shoulder heavily and said, “I understand that the situation is quite volatile right now. Tang Dingyuan’s disguise was done too perfectly. Nobody is willing to believe that he is a traitor. All in all, please keep up the good work, everybody. As long as we persist for a while longer, we will be able to completely get rid of the mask of the Immortal Cultivator Tang Dingyuan with our undeniable proof!”
All the secret police held their heads high, their morale higher than ever. “Understood!”
“Let’s move out!” Cheng Xuansu waved her hands toward the officers resolutely. She then moved the glass jar that stored the scarlet ball closer to her eyes and observed it for a moment. At last, she gave the glass jar to the old officer and said, “Send it to Professor Luo and ask the professor to analyze what it is exactly and what kind of techniques it entails. If it is activated, is it possible to trace the enemy’s coordinates? If it is possible, can we locate the place where the item is produced and identify its producer? See that Professor Luo find the answers and report to me as soon as possible!”
Holding the glass jar carefully, the old officer left in a hurry.
It was not until all the officers left her eyesight that she finally took a deep breath. She could not help but pressed her tense shoulders.
Her eyes seemed to be piercing through the thick and heavy airtight gate into the dark, cold sea of stars.
But she did not catch the minor collision that took place in the periphery of the maintenance field of Firefly. She was in too much of a hurry to interrogate the prisoners and to report the latest updates to Speaker Cui Lingfeng. Nobody else thought much of the collision accident that everyone had become used to for anything abnormal, either.
It was indeed a very common collision accident.
Party A in the accident was the empty shell of a starship, which was slowly moving away from the big family of Firefly, pulled by two small barges. In the past hundred years, the total-loss starship had provided tremendous components for repair for the other parts of Firefly. Now, the last bit of the value had been used up, and it would be pulled to a dock in the periphery and completely dismantled.
Party B of the accident was a carrier that was fully loaded with raw materials.
The engine units of the carrier seemed to have experienced a minor problem after a long journey. When the two parties met in the complicated internal structure of Firefly, the carrier had suddenly accelerated, which led to the collision.
The empty shell of the starship to be dismantled did not have impetus in the first place but was only pulled by two tiny barges. As a result, both of the barges had been knocked out of place, and the wasted starship had been nudged toward the inside of Firefly precisely.
Thanks to the protection of the spiritual shield and the twisting field, no more serious collisions followed.
Despite the chaos caused, and although a lot of workers were thrown into the space under the blast, nothing exploded, and nobody was injured. Those people who were thrown off were quickly rescued, too. In little more than an hour, the transportation and maintenance were back in order.
It was an insignificant accident. During the maintenance over the past five years, similar accidents had taken place almost every other day.
However, the ‘insignificant’ accident did trigger enough confusion and attract enough attention for Li Yao to sneak into Firefly without alarming anyone under the cover of the broken pieces caused by the collision.
He did not directly sneak into the exploration experimental starship at the core, which, as the heart of Firefly where the parliament of the government-in-exile was located, would be at the highest level of alert. Chances were that three to five secret officers were squatting inside every tube. Crawling in that direction would be committing suicide.
Besides, his destination was not that place.
According to the map that Tang Xiaoxing had drawn two days ago, and based on Li Yao’s own deduction about the overall structure of the starship, Li Yao passed through a jetting tube for the exhaust flames of the engine units which were under repair. He crawled in pitch dark for fifteen minutes and reached another tube, which was a cooling tube that was brimming with high-heated steam. Constricting his bones to the minimum, he slithered in the narrow space with a temperature of hundreds of degrees for more than ten minutes. Finally, he found the forsaken tube that Tang Xiaoxing had described. He took a brief rest at the entrance of the tube.
Come to think of it, it’s been a hundred years since I last crawled in a ventilation tube. How I’ve missed this feeling! Li Yao thought to himself. At this moment, he finally retrieved his mini crystal processor and triggered a lackluster light beam.
There was nothing on the light beam. It was pitch-black.
The localizer that he had asked Tang Xiaoxing to swallow had been discovered.
There are indeed experts on Firefly.
Thinking for a moment, Li Yao pressed his earpiece and activated the communication channel.
“How is it doing on your end, fellow Cultivators? The localizer that I deployed on Tang Xiaoxing has been discovered. As we expected, we cannot find where Captain Tang Dingyuan is caged so easily. We have to activate Plan B now.”
Meng Chixin’s low voice came over. “We’re fine. There are thousands of carriers, docks, maintenance stations, and remnants of scrap starships here. It is practically impossible for the enemy to locate twelve experts in the Nascent Soul Stage and the Divinity Transformation Stage!
“All in all, we will be waiting for the good news here, Fellow Cultivator Spiritual Vulture. As soon as you find out where Captain Tang is being held, we will immediately march in!”
Wu Suiyun, the other Divinity Transformation Stage Cultivator, observed, “On the other hand, it must be an arduous task for you to sneak into the depths of the heavily guarded starship and to search for the place where Captain Tang is hidden. Rest assured. We have locked onto the critical parts of Firefly. Should there be anything wrong on your end, we will be able to launch an assault!”
Long Yangjun’s lighthearted voice interjected. “Exactly. It is indeed unfair to ask Fellow Cultivator Spiritual Vulture to carry out such infiltration missions, but it cannot be helped. It concerns the next step of our operations, and you are the only one who is suitable for the task. Do you still remember the ‘intensive training’ that I did with you last night? Let’s hope that such cramming proves to be more or less useful!”
“Thank you for your enlightenment, Lord Wang,” Li Yao replied. “I have learned so many secret techniques of sneaking and infiltration under your tutelage. They were such a great eye-opener that I am now seeing a whole new world!”
“You’re flattering me. After the session last night, I believe that you have the potential to be a spy or an assassin, Fellow Cultivator Spiritual Vulture. Perhaps, it is because the unpredictable battle techniques in the forests in the Southland of Sorcerers highlight camouflage, infiltration, and assassination in the first place?”
“In the case, fellow Cultivators, let’s stick to the plan that we agreed on yesterday and continue locking onto the critical parts of Firefly. I’m certain that I’ll have something for you soon!”
Li Yao turned off the communication channel. Rubbing his cheeks, he took a deep breath of the dark air.
Such an atmosphere made him feel both nostalgic and excited.
So far, he had merely crawled into the shell of Firefly.
The real infiltration had only just begun.