Cui Lingfeng was silent. His lips were as hard as the gate of a starship that was directly faced with the vacuum of space.
Glancing at Li Yao, Tang Dingyuan appeared even more severe than before. Anger was accumulating on his face as he demanded, “First, the Red Lotus Plan, and now, the Rebirth Plan. How many things are happening on this starship that I don’t know about?”
“A lot,” Cui Lingfeng said gloomily. “You are Firefly’s captain. A captain must be fearless and sail through the tides unstoppably! The less one knows, the braver he will be. There’s no need for you to learn everything.”
“I want to know.” Staring at Cui Lingfeng in the eyes, Tang Dingyuan said, calmly but firmly, “If you would rather not tell me, I’ll see what Ding Zhengyang has to say.”
Cui Lingfeng’s lips, a gate that sealed countless secrets, shivered for a long time. Finally, he opened his mouth and said, “In the past thousand years, we have come across too many dangers and crises, and we have drafted emergency countermeasures targeting all possible situations. The Rebirth Plan is an emergency countermeasure to deal with a Level-Ultra Crisis, the most serious, dangerous, and fatal one of all the situations.”
Tang Dingyuan was slightly dazed. He observed, “I’ve never heard about the Level-Ultra Crisis before. The Level-I Crisis is already the worst emergency.”
Cui Lingfeng smiled and said, “No. Level-I is not the worst; Level-Ultra is. A Level-Ultra Crisis refers to a situation where the resources for life-sustaining and escape are at less than twenty percent, the circulation system and the artificial greenhouses have been seriously so seriously wrecked that the resources will not return to above fifty percent standard in fifty years, and the continuously diminishing resources will possibly make our civilization collapse in fifty years and go extinct in a hundred years. Right. It is only the ideal expectation. In fact, because of the natural instincts for survival and the crazy near-death actions, once everybody knows that we will perish in fifty to a hundred years, it will not take that long at all. In five years at most, the social order will completely collapse. In ten years, the fire of civilization that is flickering like a firefly will die out.
“Once the Speaker realizes that such a situation is happening, he is authorized and obliged to activate the Rebirth Plan, in order to reduce the population on the starship rapidly, effectively, and stably, until the population and the sustainable resources reach a new balance.”
Tang Dingyuan’s voice was shivering. “How—how do you ‘reduce the population’?”
“Do you still remember the meteor storm that Firefly suffered 728 years ago?” Cui Lingfeng asked. “The meteor storm was not serious per se, and it only penetrated through the shell of the starships at the outermost layer. However, the weird virus carried by the meteors caused a huge plague inside Firefly, which reduced our population by twenty percent.”
“Of course I do. It was almost the most difficult and dark time for Firefly.” Tang Dingyuan was puzzled. “But didn’t we completely extinguish the plague in the end?”
“Yes, the plague was extinguished, but the virus was not entirely demolished.” Cui Lingfeng put on a weird smile. “It was truly a perfect virus with a lot of variations. It spread via the air at a fairly high speed. The symptoms were not obvious, and the latency period was not fixed. The virus’ attack was also quite fatal. Meanwhile, it would automatically look for the strongest hosts to infect them first. The more powerful the spiritual energy of the host, the faster the mutation and corrosion of the virus, which would offset the endeavor where the host tried to cure themselves with their spiritual energy. In other words, it was an ‘indiscriminate’ virus. Neither ordinary people nor Cultivators could get away with it. Their death rate was almost the same.
“Our virologists studied it profoundly in their labs. At first, they planned to build a biological weapon to strike the Imperium, but they found out later that the virus had a fatal weakness, which was that it could easily be prevented and cured by a synthesized drug. The materials to make the drug could be found in almost every Sector, and the synthetization method was not very complicated.
“It meant that even if they did build a biological weapon, it would not deal a heavy blow to the Imperium and could only savage one or two of their starships. Therefore, the virus was not of much military significance.
“However, it was very hard to manufacture the special drug on our starship.
“Therefore, the specialists began to build the biological weapon for a new purpose. The final result was quite satisfactory. The virus would spread fast and be quite inconspicuous and lethal. It targeted Cultivators and ordinary people at the same time. Once it spread in a fully-enclosed starship through the air circulation system, a chunk of the population would be reduced instantly without a sound. Most critically of all, the virus boasted a distinctive feature that we called the ‘half-life period’. After a few generations, the virus would perish automatically and stop spreading.
“Also, the half-life period of the virus was controllable. It could be either long or short.
“In other words, this was a biological weapon designed for a ‘precise attack’. As long as the half-life period was controlled and the total population to be infected was learned, it would be possible to calculate in advance how many victims the virus would kill. After the number of the deceased met the requirement, the virus would decay and vanish, without leaving any more aftereffects.
“Such a virus was named the Rebirth Virus, which was the key to the Rebirth Plan. Perhaps it would bring rebirth to Firefly when it was on the verge of destruction.”
Tang Dingyuan found it hard to believe his ears. Looking at Cui Lingfeng in a daze for a long time, he exclaimed, “You—you developed a biological weapon in secret, not to deal with the enemy, but to kill your own people, your compatriots, everyone that you swore to protect! Was what you tried to do any different from the Immortal Cultivators’ doings?”
“Yes, it is,” Cui Lingfeng said calmly. “Assume that you are an Immortal Cultivator who is in charge of the Rebirth Plan. Think about it. What exactly will you do? Of course, you will separate the cabins of the ordinary people—the humble ‘hominoids’—from the cabins of the Immortal Cultivators—the ‘true human beings’. Then, you will project the virus only into the cabins of the hominoids. Or maybe you will ask all the Immortal Cultivators to take the special drug beforehand. You can even try to weaken the virus’ aggressiveness to those whose spiritual root has awakened when the biological weapon is still being developed so that the virus will only infect the ordinary people but not the Immortal Cultivators, right?
“After all, in the eyes of the Immortal Cultivators, ordinary people are all garbage, useless redundancies. Because of the shortage of resources, it’s only necessary to reduce the amount of garbage.
“But we were not going to do it in such a way. I can disclose the whole implemental procedures of the Rebirth Plan to you right now. We did not intend to separate anyone or ask anyone to take the special drug in advance. Moreover, for safety reasons, our ancestors had long destroyed all the special drugs and the materials to make the drug.
“Once I decide to project the virus, the virus will instantly spread throughout Firefly and kill the random prey that it has got its eyes on. Nobody will survive, be they Cultivators or ordinary people, including myself. I may be infected and eventually die, too.
“Do you understand now? The ancestors who made the decision did not consider themselves to be ‘transhuman’ who could decide the fate of ‘mortals’. Whether you are a Cultivator or an ordinary person, everybody will be equal when they listen to the ruling of their destiny. Many people will die, but still more people will take over their responsibilities and continue walking, further deep into the deep, dark universe.
“You may be thinking that those who drafted the Rebirth Plan were merely fooling themselves, but I believe that this is the biggest difference between them… between us and the Immortal Cultivators.”
It was extremely difficult for Tang Dingyuan to breathe. He gritted his teeth so hard that one would think that even a starship would have been bitten into pieces if it had been put into his mouth. “However you defend yourself, I still find it unacceptable. Utterly unacceptable!”
“Then, tell me about it, Brother Dingyuan. What would you do?” Cui Lingfeng sighed and said, “Assuming that, as the captain, you know very clearly that the resources onboard are only enough to make a hundred people survive, but we have two hundred people on the starship, two hundred mouths and bellies that are waiting to be fed but can never be filled. What would you do?”
Tang Dingyuan was deep in thought and lost for words. His voice was much lower than before. “Cultivators, Cultivators shouldn’t—shouldn’t—”
“If you think that Cultivators shouldn’t be so dark,” Cui Lingfeng said casually, “that’s because somebody else is standing before you, helping you do the dark, dirty, and cruel work first, my captain.”
Inside the prison cell, Ding Zhengyang cackled like a crow. “Captain, you know the truth of the ‘Rebirth Plan’ now, don’t you? Is your belief still alright? Tell me about it. Were the guys who proposed such a plan still real Cultivators? No. I am not the first Immortal Cultivator on Firefly. This starship has long been inhabited by Immortal Cultivators. It has long been occupied by the Immortal Cultivators!”
“Ding Zhengyang,” Cui Lingfeng said coldly, “we never implemented the ‘Rebirth Plan’ from the beginning to the end. Firefly survived all the disasters.”
“Yes, it did. But that’s only because you were fortunate enough to never run into any ‘Level-Ultra Crisis’!” Ding Zhengyang laughed. “But your luck will not stay with you forever. If you hadn’t encountered the claw fleet of the Imperium and the Star Glory Federation, Firefly would’ve continued drifting to the unknown land that had never been visited by human beings before in the deeper part of the universe. As the starship aged slowly, in another few hundred years, a ‘Level-Ultra Crisis’ was bound to happen!
“Don’t you argue with me on that. As the Chief Mate, I know the whorl of every screw on the starship as clearly as I know the back of my hand!
“What I’m saying is that, even if the Imperium never caught Firefly in the hundreds of years to come, Firefly would still have been consumed by darkness on its own and turned into a minor civilization of Immortal Cultivators!
“Do you get it now? One day, we would all have become Immortal Cultivators. I only went one step ahead of the rest!
“This is Lu Qingchen’s theory. Cultivators are just a ‘special mutation form’ in a stable environment where there are sufficient resources. However, in the dark universe, a shortage of resources and drastic changes in the environment are a regularity. Therefore, Immortal Cultivators are the general form of the ‘transhumans’!”