Li Yao thought of something and realized that Ding Zhengyang was referring to the claw fleet that Heiye Lan had been in and the battle in which Ding Lingdang had led a federal fleet to Firefly’s rescue.
Opening his fingers, Ding Zhengyang held his head and said, his voice shivering, “Before—before the battle, I had never seen the army of the Imperium for real. The only impression that I had of the army of the Imperium was from the memoirs and notes of the heroes before me or from the self-fooling movies. In both the memoirs and the movies, the army of the Imperium were always made of a bunch of weak, stupid guys who only tried to drown us with their sheer advantage in numbers.
“Therefore, in the decades previously, I had always longed to encounter a real troop from the Imperium and to participate in a breathtaking, brilliant battle so that they would witness the toughness of the last defenders of the Star Ocean Republic!
“I thought more than once that, if I must sacrifice myself for my country, the best death would certainly be to strike the army of the Imperium with my magnificent death and to bring about the greatest triumph for Firefly in the fiercest battle of all time, like the great hero Cheng Qizhi did in the past!
“However, hehe, when the claw fleet of the Imperium was truly unfolded into battle formation in front of me, when the overwhelming crystal suits, space shuttles, and assault warships lunged at us unstoppably, I knew that I was wrong. I was fooled and tricked the whole time!
“We were no match at all, from head to toe, and in every respect!
“The Imperium of True Human Beings is too invincible for a tiny Firefly to resist. Our struggle and escape over the past thousand years, the so-called heroes and their epic resistance, were nothing more than moths darting toward the fire and a mantis trying to stop a car with their forearms. We were hilarious clowns asking to be killed!
“When a group of ants intend to shake a tree, they can cause nothing except a round of laughter. We were exactly such ants or perhaps bugs that were even less worthy than the ants!
“It’s useless. Any resistance is useless. The valiant heroes, the boiling blood, courage, and sacrifice. Nothing can raise so much as a ripple when suppressed by overwhelming strength!
“Dead. All dead! In the battle, so many comrades and brothers, so many compatriots and families, were killed! Those who were scared of death died, as did those who weren’t. Those who were willing to sacrifice died; those who trembled in fear died; those who marched forward bravely died; those who escaped and defected died. Everybody died. Everybody!
Holding his head with both hands, Ding Zhengyang lowered his head to his chest, sobbing hard and unable to go on.
“Zhengyang…” Tang Dingyuan sighed and said, “I know that both of your sons were killed in the battle. The neighborhood of the high-level officers unfortunately suffered the fierce bombardment from the enemy. A lot of officers lost their family during the battle. Some of them even—even lost everything like you!
“But shouldn’t we hate the Imperium of True Human Beings all the more for that and swear to avenge them? Our family and compatriots were killed by the Imperium!”
“No. They were not killed by the Imperium; they were killed by you, by us, by this damn government-in-exile of the Star Ocean Republic!”
Dazzling brilliance spurted out of the gaps between Ding Zhengyang’s fingers that were covering his swollen, bloodshot eyes.
“Had it not been for your lies and tricks, had you recognized the situation sooner and surrendered to the Imperium sooner, they wouldn’t have died at all! My two sons wouldn’t have died! My five lovely grandsons and granddaughters wouldn’t have died! They would’ve survived and lived the rest of their lives in happiness!
“Hehe. It was me who murdered them. Me! It was me who inculcated the idea that the Star Ocean Republic shall never perish into the two brats. It was me who watched ‘Universal War’ with them, holding their hands, again and again! It was me who told them that being a soldier was the most honorable job in the universe, and the soldiers of the Star Ocean Republic were the most honorable of them all! It was me who told them lies like Cultivators are the sabers of humanity!
“Had it not been for me—had it not been for me, the two of them probably wouldn’t have joined the army. Even if they did, they wouldn’t have volunteered to go to the most dangerous frontline.
“If they hadn’t joined the army, my grandsons and granddaughters wouldn’t have lived in the neighborhood of the high-level officers at least. Some of them would’ve lived in some other cabins. They would’ve survived. One or two of them would’ve survived. Right? Right? Right?
“So, it was me who murdered them. It was the government-in-exile of the Star Ocean Republic that murdered them. It was us—it was you who murdered them!”
“Zhengyang!” Tang Dingyuan reprimanded. “How could you have such hysterical thoughts? What happened to you was certainly a tragedy, but even if you surrender to the Imperium of True Human Beings, are your offspring guaranteed a happy life? Don’t forget how the Imperium treats ordinary people!”
“Of course, I know the Imperium’s policies.”
The muscles on Ding Zhengyang’s face was twitching, and his previously red face turned pale. He sneered and said, “But how will my offspring be ordinary people? The achievements of my sons and myself have proved the excellence of our bloodline and our genes. The odds of my offspring awakening their spiritual roots will be multiple times higher than the odds of ordinary people. Also, I’ll leave them training resources a hundred times greater than ordinary people have. How can ordinary people expect to compete with them? They will certainly distinguish themselves in the cruel competition! My offspring would’ve lived a much better life in the Imperium than on this ragged, broken starship!”
Tang Dingyuan looked at Cui Lingfeng and then glanced at Li Yao’s reaction. He then calmly said, “But we’re not fighting alone. With the help of our allies, we were still able to annihilate the fleet of the Imperium!
“Right now, we have much more than a ‘ragged, broken starship’; we boast seven entire Sectors, a planet with relics from the primeval civilizations, and a hundred billion warriors who will fight side by side with us and never give in to the tyranny of the Imperium!”
“So what?” Ding Zhengyang laughed peculiarly. “What we destroyed was an insignificant claw fleet that belonged to an expedition army of the Imperium. I believe that the Imperium can send out ten expedition armies of such a scale from the homeland anytime, right? The Star Glory Federation appears to be exactly like us, still living in delusions. When the Black Wind Fleet begins their assault, they will soon follow our path and flee toward the deeper darkness in the sea of stars.”
“I understand it now,” Tang Dingyuan remarked. “You were completely overawed by the skirmish ten years ago. You have turned into a pessimist.”
Taking a deep breath, Ding Zhengyang gradually calmed himself down until he was almost as tranquil as a dead person. “I am not any kind of ‘-ist’. Our failure is objective, inevitable, and undergoing, not to be changed by what you or me think. My two sons were the firmest optimists who had the greatest hope for our victory. So what? Did it help him? The crystal railguns were not delayed by what they believed in at all when they ripped their bodies apart.”
“So, in the ten years that followed, you gradually degenerated from a pessimist into an Immortal Cultivator. You slowly disseminated pessimism and theories of the Immortal Cultivators in secret, corrupting and transforming even more people?” Tang Dingyuan asked.
Ding Zhengyang laughed and shook his head. “Captain, to this moment, after such an enormous rebellion took place on Firefly, do you still not understand what’s going on? I was just an illiterate, uncivilized sailor, who was capable of managing the affairs on the deck floor at best. How could I have bewildered so many people and transformed them into Immortal Cultivators?
“No. I didn’t do anything. They did it on their own.”
Tang Dingyuan frowned. “On their own?”
“Exactly,” Ding Zhengyang said. “You don’t think that I was the only one who was deeply stimulated by the skirmish that almost destroyed us ten years ago, do you? No. A lot more people came to the realization that they had been living in a hilarious dream just like me.
“Not just me, and not just Cheng Xuansu. The number of those people is much bigger than you imagined.
“I did not ‘corrupt’ them; I only ‘discovered’ them. In the darkness, it was always easy for us to smell each other’s scent. All the people who woke up from the dream shared the same air. We found each other very quickly.”
“What then?” Tang Dingyuan asked unemotionally. “What did you do?”
“Nothing much. At first, everyone just gathered cautiously. We shared the pain of losing our family in the battle and discussed our future path,” Ding Zhengyang said. “The skirmish was the first head-on clash between us and the army of the Imperium in hundreds of years. Other than the serious damage to the starship, a lot of people had severe mental problems and PTSD. Therefore, during that period, all kinds of discussions, meetings, and therapy groups popped up. We were not very eye-catching among them.
“After prolonged discussions, heated arguments, and painful self-diagnoses, we came to the same conclusion—that it was high time the dream of a thousand years ended!”
“Was it Lu Qingchen?” Tang Dingyuan asked. “Was it the so-called ‘Master Lu’ of the CIFA who guided you to that conclusion?”
“Not entirely. Lu Qingchen showed up much later. It was a long time after the ‘fraternity of Immortal Cultivators’ on Firefly was established,” Ding Zhengyang said. “Ever since we were stationed at the edge of the Dragon Snake Space Zone, we had learned a lot of information about the Star Glory Federation. Naturally, we also learned of the CIFA’s existence.
“Of course, we thought about getting in touch with the CIFA, partly to discuss the latest theories on the true path of immortality and partly to see if there was any chance that we could cooperate. We were even hoping to get the news about the expedition army of the Imperium from them.
“However, the CIFA acted very clandestinely, and we did not dare be too blatant because we were extremely weak at that time. Therefore, we failed to reach out to them for the time being.
“We never got a chance to meet them until I sent a trusted subordinate to Fish Dragon City to carry out a secret mission for the fraternity of the Immortal Cultivators—”