Tang Dingyuan sniffed. “He who has a mind to beat his dog will easily find a stick. If you want to pour dirty water on my head, you can fabricate however many crimes as you want. Why bother asking me?”
Cui Lingfeng looked at him casually. “We’ll know soon enough whether or not the crimes are fabricated. I planned to save some dignity for you by asking you to confess on your own so that the whole incident could be cleaned quickly. But if you are too dogged to plead guilty… Your daughter has been arrested. It will be the same if she’s the one doing the talking.”
Tang Dingyuan’s pupils constricted violently. Every muscle on his body was tightened, and he was like a warship that was blowing out all its firepower. He bellowed, “Cui Lingfeng, it doesn’t matter that you set me up, but if you dare lay one finger on my daughter, I won’t spare you even if I’m killed and turned into a ghost!”
Cui Lingfeng sneered, “Brother Dingyuan, if you truly love your daughter as you appear to, you shouldn’t have used your daughter and her crystal processor as disguises for yourself in the first place. This is all your own fault. Why are you pretending to be in such fury?”
“I didn’t!” His daughter’s safety finally made Tang Dingyuan completely lose control. The anxiety, desperation, and exasperation from the past few days were all vented out. He seemed to have been confined in the corner of the prison cell tightly by barriers, and all he could do was struggle to one of his knees and yell at his opponent. “Cui Lingfeng, I am the captain of Firefly, and my daughter is a teacher of Star Ocean University. Even if you are the Speaker, you are not qualified to secretly arrest and interrogate us! I have never defected. I am not an Immortal Cultivator. This is all your scheme. The most shameless scheme!”
“You haven’t?” Cui Lingfeng sniffed. He suddenly bulged his eyes and raised his voice. “You have! You defected a long time ago! You completely lost faith in our cause and in Firefly a long time ago!
“You have become an out-and-out pessimist and capitulator! You lost all your loyalty to the Star Ocean Republic a long time ago! You do not believe that we can rise again with Firefly. You do not believe that the flag of the Star Ocean Republic can fly at the center of the cosmos again!
“If you have the tiniest faith in the Star Ocean Republic, why can’t you wait to join the Star Glory Federation? If you can surrender to the Star Glory Federation, of course you can surrender to the Imperium of True Human Beings. After all, you are selling your motherland and your compatriots for a good price, and it is only necessary for you to look for the richest buyer!”
“Tang Dingyuan, Captain Tang, do you deny it? Do you deny that you have completely lost faith in the Star Ocean Republic?”
His words were darting into Tang Dingyuan’s chest like arrows, making his face pale. Even his hair and his beard, which were standing up like swords, seemed to collapse all of a sudden.
Taking a deep breath, Tang Dingyuan said with a grave expression, “I do not deny that… I have lost faith in the Star Ocean Republic. But it is different from defection!”
“You’re finally admitting it?” Cui Lingfeng squinted. “Admitting that you are a cowardly traitor?”
“I am not a traitor!” Dragging the invisible shackles, Tang Dingyuan roared like a majestic lion that had fallen into a trap. “Cui Lingfeng, the MPs who make speeches every day in parliament such as yourself are free to talk about all the bullsh*t like the ‘Star Ocean Republic’ will never perish regardless of the reality. You can fool yourselves and others with your elaborate lies! But for us who command the starship in the bridge, we are faced with tens of thousands of actual problems on a daily basis.
“We are watching Firefly to decline day after day, yet there is nothing we can do. Spirit, belief, and patriotism are absolutely useless! However firmly we believe in the Star Ocean Republic, it is not going to resolve the actual problems that are happening to the starship or reward us with a piece of bread or a screw. It cannot prevent us from walking toward our doom step by step!
“Just face reality!
“The Star Ocean Republic… is dead. It died a thousand years ago. Right now, Firefly, which is drifting in the sea of stars, is nothing more than its corpse!
“You cannot resurrect the country with the corpse. It will only decay until it becomes a cluster of dust in the cold universe!
“There’s nothing we can do to reverse the trend now. The Star Ocean Republic is the past and our history from a thousand years ago. If we truly want to march back to the center of the cosmos and to avenge the fall of the Star Ocean Republic in the past, the only choice is to join the Star Glory Federation and combine the forces of the two civilizations of Cultivators. That will be the future that belongs to all the Cultivators!”
“Shut up!” There was no telling whether Cui Lingfeng was acting, his real feelings had been triggered, or it was both. But his face suddenly turned extremely horrible, as if the things that he had cherished for his entire life had been smashed to pieces. “You gutless capitulator and traitor, listen up. The Star Ocean Republic is not dead. It will never be dead as long as we exist! One day, we are going to march back to the center of the cosmos and fly the flag of the republic in each and every corner of the Empyreal Terminus Sector!”
His bloodshot eyes and his rising hair, on the other hand, slightly dazed Tang Dingyuan, who observed him carefully before putting on a scornful smile. “By ‘we’, do you mean you and the rest of the MPs who do not know the first thing about reality? What do you plan to use to march back to the center of the cosmos? Your spirit and passion?”
Taking a deep breath, Cui Lingfeng stared at Tang Dingyuan with obvious disdain. “For a pure technical officer and a great weapon worshipper such as yourself, it is only natural that you do not understand the importance of spirit. You’ll simply surrender to whoever has the tougher starships and cannons. Nothing more.
“However, let me tell you, the power of spirit is never to be underestimated. Every man needs a bit of spirit! A thousand years ago, had it not been for the ‘spirit’ that you despise, our passion and loyalty to the Star Ocean Republic, how could we have broken out of the siege and escaped the evil hands of the Imperium time and time again? How could we have persisted to this day after losing eighty percent of our population and the armed forces?
“As the commander of a warship, you should know more clearly than me that under normal circumstances, a troop will completely collapse after losing twenty percent of its soldiers at most!
“But we didn’t. We didn’t collapse but made it to this day. When the entire universe has been divided by the Imperium and the Covenant Alliance, we—the Star Ocean Republic—are still fighting!”
“I refuse to call what we are doing right now ‘fighting’,” Tang Dingyuan sneered. “Just think about the last time we encountered the claw fleet of the Imperium. We were even more devastated than stray dogs on the street! If you want a real fight, you can only join the Star Glory Federation and combine the forces of the two parties. That’s the only way that we can have a slim chance of marching back to the center of the cosmos!
“You ask me whether or not I have lost faith in the Star Ocean Republic? Yes! I never hide my thoughts. I believe that the Star Ocean Republic is hopeless. It is dead since a long time ago!
“But you ask me whether or not I’m a traitor? No! I love the Star Ocean Republic as much as you do. I’m willing to inherit the spirit of the Star Ocean Republic, too, but I also hope that the Star Ocean Republic can be reborn with a new name and a new appearance!
“The Star Ocean Republic is the supreme country of mankind that has inherited the spirit of the Star Ocean Imperium. If we call the Star Ocean Imperium the ‘first Cultivation civilization’, in which human beings dominated the sea of stars, the Star Ocean Republic will be the ‘second Cultivation civilization’. Today, after a thousand years, the Star Glory Federation is promising to become the ‘third Cultivation civilization’, succeeding the spirit that has been passed on to the Star Ocean Republic from the Star Ocean Imperium. It may accomplish the destiny that no Cultivators in the past ten thousand years ever accomplished by letting the powerful civilization of Cultivators sweep across the universe again!
“Those are my thoughts. I am not surrendering to the Star Glory Federation; I’m merely injecting the spirit of the Star Ocean Republic, which I hold dear and swear to protect, into the Star Glory Federation. We will create a stronger, brighter country of Cultivators that boasts a boundless future on the body of the Star Ocean Republic!”
Tang Dingyuan’s voice was as cold as hail in the beginning, but in the end, it became thunder mixed with fire as he continued screaming.
Cui Lingfeng seemed to be caught unprepared by his speech. There was bewilderment and confusion all over his face. “Looking at your face right now, if your acting skills are not flawless, I’m almost inclined to believe that you did nothing in secret.”
Tang Dingyuan sat back down and was caught in deep thought. While pondering, he mumbled, “Then, it’s rather terrible now. The two of us, the Speaker of the government-in-exile and the captain of Firefly, have been set up at the same time…”
Cui Lingfeng frowned. “I beg your pardon?”
Tang Dingyuan glanced at him and sneered, “Speaker Cui, I’ll believe in your love and loyalty to the Star Ocean Republic for now. However, the ‘we’ that you said just now may not be the same. Not every MP is ready to flee for another thousand years with zealous loyalty like you!
“For most MPs, the only thing they care about is the tiny bit of power and position in their hands, which allows them to live in a more spacious cabin and get access to the more delicious synthesized food.
“If they have the chance, those MPs won’t hesitate to sell their loyalty and their ‘spirit’. Like you said just now, they can sell it to the federation, and they can sell it to the Imperium, too!”
Narrowing his eyes, Cui Lingfeng said, one word after another, “What do you mean? Explain yourself.”
“Do you really think that all the MPs are willing to cruise to the end of the universe under the name of the ‘Star Ocean Republic’ like you?” Tang Dingyuan said calmly. “Yes. They’ve been acting in such a way in parliament. They are all selfless and loyal to the country. But that’s only because the name of ‘Star Ocean Republic’ hasn’t reached a good price in their heart. Do you want to know how many MPs have come to me in secret, stating that they actually do not object to joining the Star Glory Federation but never dare say it out aloud because of your coercion and tyranny?”
Silent, Cui Lingfeng stared at Tang Dingyuan.
Tang Dingyuan looked back at him without giving in.
“Brother Dingyuan, we’ll call it a day today,” Cui Lingfeng said slowly. “There’s something else I must attend to.”
“You should hurry.” Tang Dingyuan smiled miserably. “If you were not acting just now, and you truly have found evidence from my daughter’s crystal processor, and Ding Zhengyang—he is the acting captain now, right?—is really accusing me, then we—Firefly, the government-in-exile, and the Star Glory Federation—are in serious trouble.”