Tang Dingyuan interrupted him. “What secret mission?”
“Relax. It was just a personal issue.” Ding Zhengyang smiled miserably. “There was a very large underground warehouse for sperm and eggs in Fish Dragon City. Not only could they help you preserve your life seed there for a long time, for an appropriate price, they could also be responsible for finding a surrogate mother and taking care of the identity, education, and other problems after your child was born.
“Most of the Immortal Cultivators on Firefly had lost many if not all of our family in the battle years ago. Naturally, we wanted to leave new offspring. My trusted subordinate was asked to preserve our life seeds in the underground warehouse.”
“Why did you do that?” Tang Dingyuan frowned. “Firefly has its own sperm warehouse. For the heroes of the battle and their families, you would be prioritized to have blood descendants. Why did you go to the black market in Fish Dragon City?”
Ding Zhengyang sniffed and said, “Exactly because we did not want our descendants to have anything to do with Firefly or the government-in-exile so that the tragedy of ten years ago would not happen again, and our new offspring would not die with the government-in-exile one day in the future!”
Tang Dingyuan was lost for words for a moment. He then said, “Go on!”
“There were quite a number of concerns during the attempt. We also had to consider the way out for the offspring if our identity was exposed and we were completely defamed, which was a matter of the utmost importance for the Immortal Cultivators. My trusted subordinate stayed in Fish Dragon City for quite a long time to handle all the details.
“It was during this period that he witnessed an assault and pursuit. The pursuers were the Secret Sword Agents and the Dim Moon Squad from the Star Glory Federation, and the pursued were the members of the CFIA.
“It seemed that a fairly-large underground branch that the CFIA had in Fish Dragon City had been discovered, and the two intelligence agencies of the federation had both sent out their elite soldiers, hoping to catch all of them.
“Since fellow Immortal Cultivators were in trouble, how could my trusted subordinate stand by and do nothing? He took the chance to rescue two members of the CFIA and established a secret channel of communication with them. As we got to know each other better, we finally made contact with Lu Qingchen, the president of the CFIA.
“At that time, although we had all turned into Immortal Cultivators, our understanding of the true path of immortality was rather juvenile and shallow. Our ancestors had fled from the Star Ocean Republic a thousand years ago when ‘Blackstar the Great’ Wuying Qi had only just claimed the throne. The theories of the Immortal Cultivators were only just born at that time, and they were still quite immature.
“For a thousand years, we had been hiding here and there. We were unaware of the latest developments of the Immortal Cultivators’ theories in other Sectors. Therefore, our minds were quite anguished, and we strongly desired new knowledge.
“We all knew that Lu Qingchen was the true disciple of Su Changfa, an Immortal Cultivator from the Imperium a hundred years ago. Then, the true path of immortality that he had brought was at least the latest theories from a hundred years ago, which would definitely much more advanced than the ‘primitive prototype of the true path of immortality’ from a thousand years ago that we were familiar with. Naturally, it was necessary that we learned more from him.
“For such a purpose, we attempted to invite Lu Qingchen to preach on Firefly and convene ‘Immortality Orientations’ in secret.
“At first, we thought that he might have concerns. After all, as the most wanted criminal of the federation, he was in a rather dangerous situation himself, and it was certainly inappropriate for him to show up in public.
“But out of our expectations, he agreed to our request quickly. Initially, he preached via remote video meetings through our secret communication channel. Later, he even visited Firefly in person. Such determination to disseminate the truth without caring about his own safety appeared quite admirable to many fellow Cultivators back then.”
Tang Dingyuan and Cui Lingfeng looked at each other, both greatly surprised. They did not know that the most dangerous criminal of the federation had once snuck onto Firefly without alarming anyone and then left utterly unharmed.
Li Yao, on the other hand, frowned and thought hard.
“Lu Qingchen showed us the ‘brand-new true path of immortality’,” Ding Zhengyang said, “which has developed in the Imperium of True Human Beings for a thousand years and crashed, challenged, and integrated with the local ideology of the Star Glory Federation for a hundred years. It was indeed enlightening and mind-boggling. My fellow Cultivators and I felt that our eyes were opened, and we finally saw the universe and ourselves clearly!”
“What are Lu Qingchen’s theories?” Tang Dingyuan asked. “Are they really so delusive?”
Ding Zhengyang smiled and said, “The true path of immortality is the ultimate truth in the universe that entails everything. It is ever changing and developing. My understanding of it is not profound enough, either. How can I explain its essence to you in only a few words?
“Let’s put it simply. Lu Qingchen believes that the true path of immortality and the path of the Cultivators are not contradictory; they are the two sides of the same coin, two extreme forms of one ‘transhuman’ that can be transformed into each other incessantly. Just as there are no absolute saints or fiends in the world, there are also two parts, ‘Immortal Cultivator’ and ‘Cultivator’, inside the body of every individual. It is all a matter of their ratio.”
“Transhuman?” Tang Dingyuan chewed on the new terms thoughtfully.
“Yes. Lu Qingchen does not like to call those whose spiritual roots are awakened ‘Cultivators’ or ‘Immortal Cultivators’. The most commonly used term in his meetings was ‘transhuman’,” Ding Zhengyang explained. “The so-called ‘transhuman’ means ‘people who originate from mortals, transcend mortals, but are ultimately bound by the properties of mortals’.
“Cultivator and Immortal Cultivator are two terms with obvious moral biases, but ‘transhuman’ itself is entirely neutral and can be either good or bad! In the Imperium of True Human Beings, anyone whose spiritual root is awakened is qualified as a ‘true human being’. However, Lu Qingchen believes that they can only be called ‘transhuman’ at best, and there is still a long way to go before they grow from ‘transhumans’ into ‘true human beings’ who completely recognize themselves, the civilization of mankind, and the entire universe.”
“Sophistry.” Cui Lingfeng could not help but remark coldly, “Of course, there are probably no flawless saints or pernicious, utterly inhumane fiends in the world, but you still can generally distinguish the ‘good guys’ from the ‘bad guys’.”
“Of course, good guys and bad guys, Cultivators and Immortal Cultivators, can be separated. However, Lu Qingchen maintains that the critical factor that decides whether a ‘transhuman’ turns into a Cultivator or an Immortal Cultivator has barely anything to do with their will, beliefs, morals, or anything about themself. It is purely decided by the environment, like the ‘Chameleonic Fish’.”
Tang Dingyuan was slightly dazed. “The Chameleonic Fish?”
“The Chameleonic Fish is a type of tiny fish living in the Forest Ocean Sector of the Star Glory Federation. The fish are only the size of a palm, but they are best known for their sense of community. They often cruise and hunt in a shoal of thousands. They are not scared even when face off against a prey hundreds of times larger; they simply lunge at the prey without any hesitation, like a well-organized army.
“The Chameleonic Fish has a remarkable feature. However harsh the living environment is, they will not abandon any compatriots easily. When other beasts in the ocean come to swallow them, they sometimes even interweave into webs and swirl like underground tornadoes, making it impossible for the enemy to bite.
“They sound like a bunch of encouraging little animals. Because of their neat teamwork, they were quite liked by the people of the federation for a while.
“However, after the ocean biologists of the federation carefully examined the features of the fish, they discovered that everything was just an illusion.
“It is true that the harsher the environment is, the more united the fish appear to be, but there is a limit!
“When the shortage of resources surpasses a certain tipping point, the fish that were friendly and united a moment ago will immediately launch the most bloody massacre against their compatriots and devour the old, the weak, the sick, and even their own children whom they were still protecting yesterday, thereby significantly reducing the size of the clan. In the end, the strongest, agilest, and most bloodthirsty ones will live!
“It is exactly because of this feature that they are known as ‘Chameleonic Fish’, but some also called them ‘devilfish’ after realizing the truth.
“Devilfish. Hehe. They’re probably the Immortal Cultivators among the fish, right?
“However, what makes them turn from ‘fish Cultivators’, who helped and watched each other’s backs yesterday, into ‘fish Immortal Cultivators’, who are too cruel and ruthless to spare their own kind?
“Environment. Only because of the environment. All living creatures are the products of an environment. Even if human beings claim to be the wisest of all things, we cannot get rid of the biological features that originate from nature. Even if so-called ‘morals’ do exist, they are not decided by our worldview, belief, will, emotions, or any other factors, but solely depend on the environment.
“This is exactly what Lu Qingchen told us.”
One word after another, Tang Dingyuan declared, “I am a human being, not a fish!”
“They’re the same. In the universe of infinite darkness, are human beings any better than fish?” Ding Zhengyang smiled miserably. “In the past thousand years, Firefly has fled in the darkness. It was the best ‘laboratory of humanity’. In retrospect, our ancestors did quite a lot of things that they were not proud of simply for ‘survival’. Interposing reproduction, abandoning the old above 150, forbidding the free choice of occupation, forced labor, the secret police system that was too powerful but unsupervised… Many of the policies did not seem to have been made by Cultivators.”
“They were unusual approaches in unusual times,” Cui Lingfeng said coldly. “In any case, we kept our last boundary and did not make Firefly turn into a paradise of animals where the strong preyed on the weak! It was with the ironfisted conduct and the devotion of all the crew members that we made it to this day as ‘Cultivators’!”
“Wrong. Greatly wrong!” Ding Zhengyang raised his voice again. Yet, he was not crazy this time but calmer than ever. The deepest grief was hidden in his eyes, as if he had seen through the whole truth. “You kept the last boundaries and your identity as ‘Cultivators’ not because of your firm belief, not because of those ‘ironfisted conduct’, much less because of the ‘devotion and sacrifice of everyone’, but only because of the environment. It was because the environment was not harsh enough, and you were not pushed to that point!
“Do you still remember the ‘Chameleonic Fish’ that I mentioned? You were only lucky enough, and you did not show your face of the ‘devilfish’ because your environment did not reach the ‘tipping point’!”
Cui Lingfeng sighed. “Ding Zhengyang, how could you have fallen for such lousy deceptions?”
“It’s simple.” Ding Zhengyang smiled, like a cobra bearing the tusks. “Because I learned of the ‘Rebirth Plan’. Any Cultivator who learns of the ‘Rebirth Plan’ cannot guarantee that their belief will not be shaken. Speaker Cui, would you care to explain the top secret ‘Rebirth Plan’ to Captain Tang, or do you want me to do it instead?”
Cui Lingfeng’s face suddenly turned extremely pale.
“The Rebirth Plan?” Tang Dingyuan glanced at Cui Lingfeng sternly. “What is it exactly?”