Although the insurgency of the Immortal Cultivators on Firefly had quickly been suppressed, it had simply been the beginning of everything. The CIFA and their leader Master Lu—Lu Qingchen—that were hiding behind the rebellion were the key to the situation.
What kind of important role would the mysterious organization of local Immortal Cultivators play in the war between the federation and the Imperium to come?
The secret interrogation targeting Ding Zhengyang immediately began.
He was the leader of the Immortal Cultivators onboard and one of the few people who had ever been in touch with Lu Qingcheng, the most wanted criminal in the federation. The guy had obviously pushed the immature rebellion that broke out too hastily.
Cui Lingfeng, Tang Dingyuan, and Li Yao himself all wanted to dig out Lu Qingchen, and even maybe… the guys hiding behind him, through Ding Zhengyang.
Therefore, the secret interrogation was conducted by Speaker Cui Lingfeng, Captain Tang Dingyuan, and Li Yao.
The prison cell where Ding Zhengyang was caged was the one that had confined Tang Dingyuan half a day ago. It was a living example of suffering from one’s own scheme.
The Chief Mate, who had been quite revered on the deck floor previously and respected as the ‘Pillar’, crouched in a corner of the prison cell lethargically, like a viper whose tusks and bones had been extracted. He stared at the air with his eyes that had lost focus while mumbling something to himself. He switched between smiling bitterly, shaking his head, and cramping up. There was no telling whether he was moaning for the failure of his plan or begging for the mercy of his previous superior. Or maybe, was he regretting taking that very first step?
Seeing his depression and hopelessness, Captain Tang Dingyuan appeared to be even more brokenhearted than when he saw the guy betraying him. Having been a blood brother with Ding Zhengyang for decades, he knew exactly what the man whose eyebrows were thick and whose face was red had been in the past. “Look at yourself. Why did you turn yourself into? You shouldn’t have been scared of death. You have been promoted to the Chief Mate from a bottom-level sailor through nothing but hard work. You never frowned when you met any dangers in the past, and you simply led the charge to take care of them! Your nickname changed from ‘Striver’ to ‘Pillar’. You’re scared of death? You surrendered to the Imperium of True Human Beings just to keep yourself alive? I don’t believe it. Tell me exactly what happened!”
Tang Dingyuan’s every word was like a tiny lightning of ball that was flashing, rolling, and blasting Ding Zhengyang’s almost decayed nerves in the prison cell.
Ding Zhengyang’s face resembled that of a drug addict who had experienced an overdose of heroin. He gazed at the crystal camera for a long time before he touched his stubbled cheeks and chuckled. While he was chuckling, he suddenly closed his eyes, and dirty tears flowed out.
“Yes. I shouldn’t have been so scared of death. In the first fifty years of my life, people called me ‘Striver’. In the latter fifty years, they call me ‘Pillar’. I made my way to the post of Chief Mate from the dirtiest and most dangerous fuel areas and engine compartments at the bottom level of Firefly. What kind of dangers did I not experience? What kind of deformed bodies have I not seen?”
He opened his eyes again. The lackluster rainbow inside his eyes interweaved into memories of the past. “Eighty-two years ago, a great explosion took place in the engine compartment after it was pierced through by meteors. I was the first one who charged in for maintenance. Wearing the thinnest maintenance crystal suit, I filled the holes one after another while the meteors just screamed past me. One of them penetrated through my helmet directly. If it had been more to the left by five millimeters, my brains would’ve been entirely melted.
“Fifty-seven years ago, a leakage accident took place in the fuel area. The ‘Heavenly Cicada Divine Blood Sand’, which should’ve been preserved at an extremely low temperature, was vaporized immediately in the room temperature and filled the entire fuel area, threatening to corrode the main fuel transmission tube. A chain reaction of dire consequences could have been triggered at any time.
“Again, I was the one who led my brothers in and repaired the freezing rune arrays in the fatal gas that was highly toxic and corrosive and had an irreversible corrosion on the spiritual root. We sprayed the ‘Ice Freezing Liquids’ and collected the ‘Divine Blood Sand’ that was liquefied again bit by bit.
“That time, we lost 122 brothers. The protection work was already done as well as it could’ve been. But it couldn’t be helped. Such accidents could only be resolved by human lives. Before we marched in, everybody was well aware of that. Even I knew it perfectly, too, that if I entered the room and shut the door, I might never get to see it open again!
“There are also the collision accident forty-two years ago, the black hole tide accident thirty-three years ago, the super radiation accident twenty-five years ago… Captain, you’re right. It seems that I never chickened out, I never had cold feet, and I was never scared of death!
“However, hehe, however, I am not a machine or a piece of magical equipment after all. I am just a human being! Who can say that they have never been a coward in their entire life? Nobody is not scared of death as long as they are a human being!
“The only reason I gritted my teeth to face death when I was so scared of death was that I had hope at that time. I believed that my death would be meaningful and valuable! My death would earn a longer and better life for my family, my offspring, and all the compatriots on the starship!
“But is it true? Do we really have hope? Look me in the eyes and tell me honestly with your conscience, my brother, my captain. Tell me!”
Ding Zhengyang became mad all of a sudden and screamed at the surveillance cameras.
Looking at Cui Lingfeng, Tang Dingyuan solemnly said, “Of course we have hope. The sacrifice of every hero is valuable!”
“Nonsense. I will not believe you anymore, captain.”
The scream just now seemed to have drained the last bit of strength in Ding Zhengyang’s body. Like a balloon whose air had all escaped, he crouched back in the corner and held a nonexistent doll as if he were a kid who had lost his way.
With a self-mocking smile, he said, “Once upon a time, I believed in the lies as much as you do. All your talk about why we are the last hope of humanity after inheriting the heritage of the Star Ocean Imperium, why we will march back to the center of the cosmos one day eventually to slay all evil, why the tyranny of the Imperium of True Human Beings is already collapsing and can end up in self-destruction at any second… There’s even the stupid ‘Dark Star’ that has been destroyed dozens of times. I did not just believe every word of that; it was almost my faith!”
Li Yao coughed slightly. Glancing at the two big shots of the government-in-exile next to him, he asked Cui Lingfeng secretly through the private talking technique, “Sir Speaker, what exactly is this ‘Dark Star that has been destroyed dozens of times?”
Cui Lingfeng was sitting solemnly and wearing a grave expression, as if he had not heard Li Yao’s question at all. His lips did not shiver at all, yet Li Yao somehow received his reply.
“It is a series of movies that we shot intermittently over the past hundreds of years to boost morale. They tell the stories of how we defeated the Imperium of True Human Beings. The official title is ‘Universal War’!
“In the movies, the evil Imperium of True Human Beings, in order to reign over the entire universe, built the strongest, evilest, and most horrible man-made planet, known as the ‘Dark Star’, with all the crucial resources in the Sectors under their control. They then moved all the important government agencies, key technical personnel, and files about the valuable techniques onto the planet.
“Eventually, Firefly took the enemy unprepared by marching into the ‘Dark Star’. The ‘brain’ and ‘heart’ of the Imperium of True Human Beings was destroyed immediately, and the Imperium was defeated just like that!”
“… Fine. Although the Imperium of True Human Beings can’t be that stupid, it is all understandable since it is just a movie. Then what does he mean by ‘destroyed dozens of times’?”
“The movie was very popular after it was aired,” Cui Lingfeng said. “Soon, it was a hit on the entire Firefly and won countless enthusiastic supporters. Naturally, a sequel was shot. In the sequel, the Imperium of True Human Beings got even more ruthless and rose again. They came up with an even more evil approach to cope with the whole universe and the Star Ocean Republic!”
“What’s the approach?”
“To build a bigger, stronger, and more terrifying ‘Dark Star II’ by continuing to concentrate all the resources!”
“Then what? The Dark Star II did not happen to be sabotaged by Firefly again after you crawled inside it, right?”
“Yes, it was,” Cui Lingfeng replied matter-of-factly.
“Then,” Li Yao said, “you shot dozens of sequels of ‘Universal War’, and a greater ‘Dark Star’ was built in each and every one of them, only to be crawled into and destroyed by Firefly in the end?”
“You’re wrong,” Cui Lingfeng countered. “Later, the Imperium of True Human Beings stopped constructing man-made planets but simply went to hollow out an existent planet and modify it into a more powerful Dark Star. After the audience grew tired of planets, we also tried white dwarves, red giants, and suns in their prime years.”
“… Sir Speaker, I suddenly understand the anger and embarrassment that Chief Mate Ding must’ve had after he saw through the lies. What should I do?”
“What choice did we have?” Cui Lingfeng asked. “If the Imperium had adopted a less stupid strategy, how could a tiny Firefly have reversed the situation on its way and secured a glorious victory in the end?”
Inside the prison cell, the self-mocking smile on Ding Zhengyang’s face grew deeper and deeper, like a tide of bitterness that was drowning both himself and the three interrogators outside of the room. He went on wearily. “I believed in everything you told us. I believed that we did have hope. I believed that the Star Ocean Republic would eventually march back to the center of the sea of stars one day. I believed that the Imperium of True Human Beings was in fact vulnerable despite its tough appearance and that it would crash immediately after we launched our counterattack!
“It was with such a belief that I was fearless of death. It was such a belief that made the ‘Striver’ and the ‘Pillar’!
“However, lies are lies, and they will fall apart the moment the truth is out!
“My faith completely broke when we engaged with the claw fleet of the Imperium’s expedition army ten years ago!”