Li Yao secretly frowned. “That’s rather a strong word. Are the officers of the Burning Prairie Fleet all so petty and vengeful?”
“Not exactly. It is rather complicated,” Tang Dingyuan said. “The Burning Prairie Fleet was the best troop of the best troops. The commanders of the fleet always thought highly of themselves and did not bother to laugh at the miscellaneous troops that had just been jumbled together. At that time, there were too many of such troops that were founded with the old, forsaken starships. But the Burning Prairie Fleet never called any of them a ‘garbage fleet’.
“They called Bai Xingjian’s fleet ‘garbage’ not just because of their outdated equipment and their ragged starships that were no better than wasted iron. It was more because of the officers and sailors under Bai Xingjian’s command.”
“Oh?” Li Yao blinked and asked, “What’s special about Bai Xingjian’s officers and sailors?”
“Space fleets are developed from the ‘navy’ in the era of the planetary civilization. It is a unit that is highly technical and values bloodline and lineage very much. Producing a new starship is easy, but it is much more difficult to establish an excellent team to fight on the starship, including the members of the bridge and the sailors and maintainers in the engine compartment!”
As captain of Firefly, Tang Dingyuan could not have understood the feeling better. “It takes a hundred years to build a ground troop and a thousand years to build a fleet. That is definitely not an exaggeration. In either the federation or the Imperium, once they enter the highest warring state, it is easy for them to found dozens of crystal suit legions anytime. Ordinary people, armed with ‘skill cards’ and ancillary systems based on crystal processors, can pick up the usage of beginner-level crystal suits after quick training and become qualified ‘infantries’.
“However, for space fleets, especially the Deep Sky Fleets that can cross Sectors and cruise for decades in the universe self-sufficiently, it is a whole different matter. Building the starships is only the first step. The key is those who control the starships—the sailors, navigators, fire control officers, and so son. Thousands of well-trained, experienced workers in critical posts are needed!
“What Bai Xingjian had before was a fleet of carriers. His previous subordinates did not have any experience in combat and could not be raised into warriors after only a couple years of training. Even if he used every trick possible to get numerous powerful starships, he would not have had enough men to control them.
“Therefore, Bai Xingjian walked on an ‘evil path’ that the elites of the Burning Prairie Fleet despised.
“He began recruiting new members on a large scale. The first candidates were the space pirates of the Flying Star Sector!” Li Yao was slightly dazed. “Were there still space pirates in the Flying Star Sector?”
“There were, but they had just gotten out of prison.”
Tang Dingyuan was rather amused. Shaking his head, he actually did not quite approve of it.
“You may not know this, Captain Lin, but an enormous, gory war of space pirates once took place in the Flying Star Sector a hundred years ago. Supported by the ‘The Temple of Immortals’, an organization of Immortal Cultivators, the space pirates enjoyed their heyday and savaged the entire Flying Star Sector. They were almost able to compete with the regular army of the main sects of the Flying Star Sector!
“Of course, under the lead of ‘Vulture’ Li Yao, the Cultivators of the Flying Star Sector won the war eventually and occupied ‘Spider Den’, the nest of the space pirates. Countless space pirates, after realizing that they had been tricked by the Immortal Cultivators, gave up their resistance and surrendered.
“Naturally, the leaders of the bandits who had committed too many crimes were executed, but not all the space pirates were sentenced to death.
“According to the severity of their crimes, they were sentenced to life imprisonment or thirty to fifty years in prison. A lot of space pirates spent decades, during which time the Old Federation was transformed into the New Federation, in penal servitude while they were locked in the prisons on harsh resource planets with terrible environments.
“After the New Federation launched an expedition against the Uranian Ring Sector, and the first large-scale universal war since the New Federation was founded finally began, almost eighty years had passed since the war of the space pirates and the ‘Riot of the Immortal Cultivators’ in the Flying Star Sector. Even those space pirates who were sentenced to lifelong imprisonment had basically served enough of their term and were released from prison.
“Of course, even the youngest sailors eighty years ago were now more than a hundred years old, and the technical backbones on the warships of the space pirates, if their Cultivation wasn’t too high, were all weary, dying old men.
“Because of their dark past as space pirates, they did not have a pension. They were discriminated against by society. Also, due to the decades of penal servitude, they had been disconnected from the rest of the world for too long. What kind of good job could they expect to find? Most of them worked as waiters in restaurants or salespersons in the supermarkets, prepared to live the rest of their lives in poverty.
“Before, nobody took the space pirates of the past seriously. They were considered to be aged, hairless tigers whose teeth had been removed decades ago. Neither protecting the federation nor jeopardizing it seemed to have anything to do with them.
“However, Bai Xingjian suddenly had the queer thought of recruiting the space pirates of the old days now that he was short of hands!”
Li Yao was quite amazed. “Wasn’t it against the military law of the federation?”
“If it were the Burning Prairie Fleet, the vetting of the applicants was truly very rigorous. Those with criminal records would all be rejected,” Tang Dingyuan said. “However, as for the local miscellaneous troops, the recruitments were less strict.
“You should know that the Star Glory Federation is made of seven Sectors. In the past hundred years, it is inevitable that the seven Sectors had some friction among each other. Even for the three core Sectors, the Flying Star Sector had space pirates, the Blood Demon Sector was exclusively made of demons, and the most foundational Heaven’s Origin Sector had the Patriots Partnership. Everybody had a part of their history that they were not proud of. If those with criminal records were all forbidden from the army, there would be few qualified applicants!
“Besides, most of them were distinguished Cultivators with high computational abilities. If they intended to join the army to serve their country only to be shunned, they might cause trouble to society later, which would be equally unfavorable.
“One more thing. The Star Glory Federation had more than doubled in size from the ‘Old Federation’, whose sole territory was the Heaven’s Origin Sector, to the New Federation, which had three Sectors at first and then expanded to six. The speed of its growth was too high, and the systems failed to keep up with it.
“Therefore, for the miscellaneous troops regrouped from the civil fleets of carriers, which could barely be called third-rate troops, their commander often had the say in everything. The General Staff of the federal army in the Heaven’s Origin Sector only wanted to see the results and would not meddle with the commander’s decision. Besides, they did not have enough hands, energy, and resources to meddle even if they wanted to.
“As a result, Bai Xingjian successfully recruited a lot of ‘former space pirates’, who had just been released from prison after decades and were living new lives by washing dishes or working on supermarket checkouts.
“It is said that the recruitment was quite dramatic. For the few ‘talents’ that he thought most highly of, Bai Xingjian observed them in their workplaces in secret and showed up personally to convince them. Several captains of the ‘Big Bai Fleet’ right now were even kidnapped by him from the restaurants and supermarkets because the former space pirates did not believe that they were qualified to pilot a starship again after decades of prison life despite their previous correspondence with Bai Xingjian.”
Li Yao could not help but smile. “It really sounds like a joke.”
“Right?” Tang Dingyuan held back his laugh and said. “Bai Xingjian was previously one of the best-known fellows in the federal army. Despite his recent setbacks in his career, news of him soon spread across the entire federal army.
“At that time, everybody thought that he was a joke and even speculated that he was mentally deranged again. However short of hands he was, there was no reason to look for the former space pirates who had been taught a hard lesson by life, right?
“Leaving their personality aside, they had spent decades in prison smashing rocks in the dark, cold mines on resource planets. Many of them were so old that their teeth had mostly dropped out. Could they still see the pouring streams on the mainframe crystal processor of a starship? Were their hands that were used to blasting drills and pickaxes still capable of maneuvering a cannon?
“They were nothing but a bunch of space pirates even eighty years ago, mobs who could only harass and ambush. What could they do in a great war where the fleets of regular armies competed?
“An unlucky, egoistical, and disobedient commander, a bunch of soldiers who were previously sailors on carriers, and a group of former space pirates in their hundreds who could barely stand straight and were doing odd jobs even a year ago… Such a combination did not seem promising from any perspective.
“Most critically of all, Bai Xingjian was from the Burning Prairie Fleet. Whenever his ridiculous madness was mentioned, people would always bring up the Burning Prairie Fleet. They always described the event as ‘a Mr. Bai, previously an officer of the Burning Prairie Fleet, did this and that’. Sometimes, they even omitted ‘a Mr. Bai’ and simply said that ‘a high-level officer from the Burning Prairie Fleet is hanging around with a bunch of filthy space pirates’. How could the Burning Prairie Fleet, which considered itself to be a savior of the federation and had risen first by the accomplishment of suppressing the space pirates, bear such comments? The Burning Prairie Fleet was opposed to the space pirates! Was it strange at all that they would call Bai Xingjian’s troop a ‘garbage fleet’?”
“That explains a lot.” Li Yao took a deep breath. Nobody understood the irreconcilable conflicts between the coalition army of the major sects of the Flying Star Sector, which was the Burning Prairie Fleet’s antecedent, and the space pirates of Spider Den. By doing that, Bai Xingjian was truly poking the taboo of the Burning Prairie Fleet. Li Yao was more and more curious about who exactly the bodacious ‘Bai Xingjian’ was. “What then?”
“Although it was called a ‘garbage fleet’, it had its own usage even if it was really a piece of garbage, because the war against the Uranian Ring Sector was the Star Glory Federation’s first expedition across Sectors, and there was quite a shortage of hands. Bai Xingjian’s garbage fleet was also given some simple escort missions.”
Both appreciation and regret beamed out of Tang Dingyuan’s eyes, as he said, “To the shock of everybody, especially the Burning Prairie Fleet, the showtime of the garbage fleet began!”