For Tang Dingyuan, the real captain of Firefly, the experience in the past three hours had been as twisting and soul-stirring as sprinting in a torrent on a ragged boat.
He had been considering the whole event during the few days in prison.
Although he had learned of Chief Mate Ding Zhengyang’s betrayal at the very beginning, at that time, he had merely thought that Speaker Cui Lingfeng was behind everything and that the ‘Immortal Cultivators’ were just lies that Cui Lingfeng and Ding Zhengyang had fabricated in order to frame him.
If that was the case, Tang Dingyuan would not have been desperate at all. He only found Cui Lingfeng’s stubbornness and Ding Zhengyang’s greed too painful to bear.
However, after the brief conversation with Cui Lingfeng in the prison cell, he had realized that there was another possibility that was much creepier. What if the whole event was not Cui Lingfeng’s plan for the struggle of power and Ding Zhengyang was not Cui Lingfeng’s puppet but had been fooling Cui Lingfeng instead all along? It meant that the Immortal Cultivators did exist and had been manipulating the two of them successfully!
Tang Dingyuan’s heart immediately fell into a black hole.
The unexpected changes that had taken place later further proved his judgement.
Soon after Speaker Cui Lingfeng left, deafening explosions echoed outside. A mysterious squad of Exos broke into the secret prison. They claimed to be ‘rescuing’ him, but they were in fact taking him away against his will.
Those men were not his subordinates. They did not listen to his demand to see their real faces. His eyes and ears were covered on the way, making him unable to see or hear anything. He had no idea where he was transferred to.
However, before his vision and hearing were sealed, he vaguely heard his capturers saying that the Speaker had already been killed by them.
Cui Lingfeng was dead!
Tang Dingyuan felt as if he had been hit by lightning before falling into a cave of ice!
As the captain of the starship, Tang Dingyuan did not find the cooperation with Cui Lingfeng, who was the Speaker, very pleasant. Friction and contradiction were common between them regarding the policies that would decide the future of Firefly and the government-in-exile. It was especially so when it came to whether or not to join the Star Glory Federation. The two of them had been at loggerheads many times and were out-and-out political rivals to each other.
Tang Dingyuan disagreed on many approaches that Cui Lingfeng adopted. He did not see eye to eye with the overstaffed, overly-powerful, and condescending parliament. However, in his eyes, no matter how obstinate, arrogant, and cunning Cui Lingfeng was, he had never doubted the loyalty of Cui Lingfeng as a Cultivator to the path of the Cultivators and to the Star Ocean Republic!
Cui Lingfeng could do anything, but it was impossible that he would surrender to the Imperium of True Human Beings!
The death of such a Speaker would definitely add to the treacherousness of the situation on Firefly.
Sorting through the whole series of events in the darkness, Tang Dingyuan basically deduced the causes and consequences of everything. Something was definitely wrong with Ding Zhengyang. Many people who were most intimate to Cui Lingfeng were suspects, too!
However, reaching a conclusion right now could not help anything.
After the Speaker died, his trusted subordinates who had planned for a long time would take over his power. As for the captain’s command, it had been seized by Ding Zhengyang a long time ago.
In both the parliament and the bridge, the Immortal Cultivators had grasped the greatest power without alarming anyone, while most of the Cultivators were fooled, unaware of what was going on.
Even for such a man made of iron like Tang Dingyuan, who had cruised through the most violent cosmic storms on ‘Firefly’ while taking the burning shooting stars that were hitting the spiritual shield if not the shell of the starship brutally to be nothing more than a spring sprinkle, he could not help but feel grasped by desperation.
Just like that, he weathered through the darkest three hours of his life. Although he did not give up hope for one second but had been considering countermeasures with all his wisdom, he still failed to come up with any practical strategy when he was embraced by light again.
However, what he saw in front of his eyes made his head dizzy. It was so hilarious that he almost burst into laughter.
Ding Zhengyang—the previous Chief Mate and the acting captain of Firefly—whom he had deduced to be the guy behind the whole scheme, was now kneeling before him dutifully, so ashamed and miserable that the man seemed to be looking for a hole in the ground to hide in!
Looking at Ding Zhengyang and at the man who helped him loosen the barriers and stand to his feet, Tang Dingyuan noticed vague smell of blood and the aura of an expert from the stranger although the guy looked rather unfamiliar. He had to be a real expert!
How many years had passed since Firefly last had such an expert due to the serious shortage of training resources and because it had been constantly fleeing?
“There’s no need to worry now, Captain Tang.” Li Yao smiled. “The Immortal Cultivators’ rebellion has been taken care of. Team Red Lotus has successfully rescued everyone that was kept in prison in Black Stone Jail. They are returning to their posts to stabilize the current situation. Many of them marched into the bridge just now. The bridge is in our hands again!”
Team Red Lotus?
Chewing on the strange name in silence, Tang Dingyuan was still completely confused, not having the vaguest clue what had happened.
“We’re the highest secret armed force that is directly under the command of every Speaker,” Li Yao said carefully. “Our team was founded by Speaker Shui Yian more than two hundred years ago. All traces of us were wiped after we finished our training and preparations. We have been kept in the hibernation state as a precaution for emergencies such as today’s situation!
“In fact, everything is Speaker Cui’s arrangement. Speaker Cui long ago sensed that a lot of Immortal Cultivators were lurking on Firefly. However, it was difficult to distinguish them when there was little evidence. Therefore, he intentionally played such a drama and awakened Team Red Lotus in order to fish up all the enemies after they jumped out! For confidentiality, the plan was not explained to you beforehand. You must’ve been suffered today, Captain Tang. On behalf of the Speaker, I apologize for everything that’s happened to you!”
Tang Dingyuan was still wearing an expression of disbelief. “This was all Speaker Cui’s plan? Well. This—this is very…”
Somehow, he felt that something was wrong. The whole thing seemed more complicated than that.
“Thankfully, the results have proved generally satisfactory in the end!”
Li Yao put on a brilliant smile again. Instead of waiting for Tang Dingyuan to think, he continued quickly.
“Cheng Xuansu, the Immortal Cultivator lurking near Speaker Cui, has been executed. This ‘Chief Mate Ding’ who has been lurking next to you is willing to repent, too. The Immortal Cultivators on the bridge, in parliament, and among the other important posts barely have any chance to escape! After the breathtaking but in fact not dangerous incident, the combat ability of Firefly will be higher instead of weaker! The negotiations to join the Star Glory Federation can begin soon, too!”
“The negotiations to join the Star Glory Federation?” Tang Dingyuan was shocked again. He felt that after only a couple of hours, the world had been overturned. “Isn’t Speaker Cui the last person in favor of joining the Star Glory Federation?”
“Speaker Cui is too visionary, wise, and considerate to really object to the merger with the Star Glory Federation now that a great enemy is upon us,” Li Yao said solemnly. “Everything has been under his control. However, in the past, a lot of Immortal Cultivators were hiding on Firefly. If we joined the Star Glory Federation recklessly before the ‘virus’ was completely annihilated, the fatal virus would’ve only spread continuously and even broken out in a key battle to come! Do you understand Speaker Cui’s thoughtfulness now, Captain Tang?”
Tang Dingyuan smiled bitterly. As the captain of Firefly, he had always been the most standard technical staff, and he was not fond of plots or schemes. He only felt that whatever Li Yao said was too complicated compared with piloting a starship. “If that’s true…”
“Of course, it is true!” Staring Tang Dingyuan in the eye, Li Yao slightly raised his voice. “Captain Tang, after the setback on Firefly, we need the captain and the Speaker to join hands in order to stabilize the situation and restore our combat ability as soon as possible! Speaker Cui would like to know one thing. On the premise that he agrees to join the Star Glory Federation in principle and the specific details are open to discussion, will you still pledge your loyalty to the parliament and to the Supreme Speaker of the rightful government of the Star Ocean Republic?”
Tang Dingyuan stared at Li Yao’s eyes carefully, trying to find some answers from the eyes that were devoid of any light, but he found absolutely nothing in the end.
After thinking for a long time, he still nodded firmly. “Of course!”
Half an hour later, when Tang Dingyuan returned to the bridge with Li Yao, he could not help imagining that it was his next life.
It was not until his daughter Tang Xiaoxing jumped into his arms, crying and laughing, that he finally recovered the calmness and decisiveness of a father and a captain.
Glancing around, he noticed that roughly one fifth of the staff on the bridge were missing. They must have been the Immortal Cultivators on Ding Zhengyang’s list and had been replaced by dozens of elite soldiers in crystal suits, who filled the bridge with an air of graveness.
However, the leading officer of the soldiers was Tang Dingyuan’s own man. He was an absolutely loyal Cultivator who had just been freed from Black Stone Jail.
The surveillance light beam of the mainframe crystal processor displayed the picture of every corner on Firefly.
As the students of the Third Military Academy continued dispersing, with the high clearance and authorization that the Speaker had granted them, they snowballed and won the support of the soldiers of the bottom level. Even if there were a few commanders who were Immortal Cultivators, there was little those people could do.
The chaotic crowds gradually went back to peace and order again. The Cultivators who were rescued from Black Stone Jail began to play a vital role, too.
The Immortal Cultivators had initiated the action, which was essentially a scam, not an assault, in too much of a hurry in the first place. Now that Ding Zhengyang and Cheng Xuansu, their two leaders, had surrendered and died, and they were faced with the unstoppable ‘Team Red Lotus’, total collapse was their only outcome.
An hour after Tang Dingyuan returned to the bridge, the rebellion of the Immortal Cultivators died down as quickly as it rose, like a thundershower in summer. The last sparks of resistance were completely extinguished.