Translator: Oneshotwonder Editor: Tehrn
"The best and the worst made history, the ones in between made babies."
Although it sounds like nonsense uttered by a drunk, no one could deny humankind's ability to reproduce. Entering the age of the interstellar travel, the human population had finally surpassed the bottleneck figure of three hundred billion; outpacing even the Zergs, the so-called expansionist race.
Not all of the three hundred billion were direct descendants of Earthlings. There were the Ivantians, Kaedeians, and many other mixed races that fell in-between.
The Pan solar system had continued their agenda of expanding and exploring the solar system; transforming the entire solar system into a heaven for the whole human race at large. Thanks to its unique location and a long history of continuous development, Planet Earth had always been the political center of the Pan solar system union. That being said, Earth didn’t have any advantage when it came to living conditions.
Earth's moon had been the homeland of the Ivantians. It had been baptized by bloodshed and fire, yet withstood the test of time. It eventually became a paradise, a center of culture and technology in the solar system.
Mars had also become one the most populated human inhabited worlds; human development had even reached one of Mars's moons, Ceres.
If humans were to settle on any other planet in the solar system, it would be Venus. Other planets in the solar system were not suitable for human inhabitants; it would be more efficient to build more space cities nearby rather than directly colonize those planets. Human colonization seemed to have come to a halt at this point.
However, ever since the invention of hyper-jump, humans have started to explore planets outside of the solar system. Eventually, they found what they were looking for: three inhabitable planets in the Andromeda Galaxy. They named them the Morningstar, the Hope, and the Alfa. The planetary environment on these three planets was very similar to Earth. Faced with the ever-mounting pressure of overpopulation, humans had quickly turned the three newly discovered planets into their homeland, with the help of advanced technologies.
Within the last hundred years, humans have made yet another breakthrough in space exploration. An inhabitable planet was stumbled upon by a search fleet called Norton when they approached the Centaurus Cluster. The team named the planet after their fleet, and they quickly became filthy rich, just like the ancient sailors who had discovered the “new world” on the other side of Earth. This discovery was truly miraculous.
"The flight to Norton of the Centaurus Cluster is about to take off. All passengers, please board the spaceship immediately." The feminine voice of the space stewardess was always quick to attract young men's attention.
By the boarding gate, a crowd waved strenuously towards the spaceship. Meanwhile, on the spaceship, some people were yelling in excitement while other were quiet, but everyone's face held the same reluctant expression.
This would be the fifth group of humans to be dispatched to planet Norton.
The three planets discovered three hundred years ago at the Andromeda Galaxy had abundant materials and had undergone three hundred years of development, which helped to improve the standard of living significantly. Over the course of three hundred years, they had established systems of social welfare, free education, and impenetrable planetary defenses that were all on par with those of the planets in the solar system.
Norton, on the other hand, was yet to be tamed. The biggest hurdle in doing so was the many conflicts with the Zergs. The Zergs were extremely tough and adaptive creatures like the cockroaches living on Earth ever since the Big Bang; just like cockroaches, they were everywhere.
This group of dispatched settlers would focus its efforts on the second phase of the Norton development plan. Most people being sent there were in their thirties and forties; some were even older. Most of them had struggled to make a living on Earth, and all hoped their lives would improve after their return. In exchange, they had to endure two years of hardship on Norton.
To the people's surprise, a young boy who looked to be barely fifteen could be seen among the older crowd aboard the spaceship. The boy was looking at an old man at the departure gate, whose nose and eyes were red from crying, while the people were wondering why that old man would send his young son to a treacherous planet like Norton?
When the ship's landing apparatus rescinded, the noise from the crowd on the ground boiled over. The old man hopped up and down and tried to see his son one last time as tears poured from his reddened eyes.
Wang Tong stared at the “excited” old man; he smiled at him and slowly raised his right hand next to his face then curled his fingers into a fist, leaving only the middle finger standing. He yelled with anger, "I'll be back for your old ass!"
The old man waved his fist in the air; he had also left his middle finger erect. His face turned into an ugly grin while the tear streaks were still visible.
The year was 2565 AD. It was the first time in Wang Tong's life that he had left home for somewhere outside of his hometown of Shangjin, yet the destination had to be the sh*tty planet of Norton. Foreseeing his shining youth to be wasted on a bleak and desolate planet, the fifteen-year-old Wang Tong felt a devastating blow.
There was an expression about traveling that people used to say: "Travelling is a way of discovering oneself."
"But why the f*ck does it have to be Norton? I’m only going to get lost over there."
To make sense of what happened to Wang Tong, we have to start from the beginning.
Wang Tong was an orphan and was told that his parents were martyrs of the Confederation. He had been adopted by an old gentleman, whom Wang Tong called “Old Fart”, who said that he took him in because he was nice. But as Wang Tong grew up, he realized Old Fart simply used him to collect government cheques. Thanks to the Confederation's well-developed welfare system, Wang Tong was never abused by Old Fart, and over the years, had gained an upbeat personality and a great sense of responsibility. As he learned more about life and the history of the Confederation, he was eager to take on more in his life, and he wished to become a soldier.
Three hundred years ago, a gifted human with extraordinary abilities on the battlefield was born. His name was General Li Feng, decorated with seven stars, he was considered to be the most influential person throughout the entire history of mankind. He was the only general in history to bear seven stars on his shoulder, a sign of respect and utmost reverence between the three primary races of human: the Earthlings, the Ivantians, and the Kaedeians. He rose to power during the Earth-Kaede war, which started when the Kaedeians felt that they were being threatened in technology advancement, so they invaded Earth quickly after the latter invented the Hyper Drive. The Kaedeians were eventually defeated, and their homeland was annexed by the humans from Earth. Shortly after General Li Feng defeated the Kaedeians, he immediately led the troops into a thirty-year great war with the Zergs, a hideous alien race known for its destructive nature and quick expansions. Under the command of General Li Feng, the Confederation troops had the Zergs tasting defeat for their first time. One of the most memorable details of this war was the Blade Warrior deployed by General Li Feng. Many people in the present day thought that General Li Feng himself was the Blade Warrior, but proof has yet to be found.
As the war progressed, the Zergs started evolving on a large scale. They had begun to adapt to human's offensive and defensive capabilities. Towards the end of the war, some Zergs had developed exterior skeletons that were practically immune to energy weapons. This development had, for a time, tipped the scale for the Zergs on the battlefield, and nearly cost the human's victory when it was already at their fingertips. The situation had finally turned around when the FFC Corporation invented their newest weapon, the “METAL” suit which stood for “Mental field Enabled Tactical Assault of Liberty” suit. To put it simply, it was a wearable armor that activated and harnessed the power within the nucleus in the human genome. It was the decisive blow to the Zergs that helped the humanity to gain the final victory.
However, the Zergs had not been completely wiped out after the war, thanks to their extraordinary ability to reproduce; they had thrived again very swiftly. The four centuries of history from the great war to present day were dominated by an arms race between the humans and the Zergs; the Humans continued to improve their military technology, while the Zergs continued to mutate to their next generation.
The METAL suits had quickly replaced the power armor and became the weapon of choice against the Zergs; as they needed humans to operate, it led the Confederation to praise fertility and encourage couples to have more children.
Three building blocks made up a soldier's combat ability: The Eighth Mental Field (a.k.a. “EMF” or the “Sea of Consciousness”), the Genome Nuclear (or “GN”) force, and the METAL suit.
The Genome Nuclear force was the incredible energy stored in the strands of human DNA (the Genome), which when released, instilled the human body with superhuman strength and combat ability that surpassed the Zergs. It made an ordinary human soldier only fitted to be a Zerg's lunch into its most dreaded opponent.
The METAL suit could further maximize the GN force output while providing a decent protection against the Zergs or the environment. The current generation of METAL suit looked much different than it was a few centuries ago because of the constant updates from the FFC Corporation over the course of four centuries.
The Eighth Mantle Field was the key to activate the Genome Nuclear force. It was the deepest layer of human consciousness, and only when this layer has been fully released by an individual would he or she be able to wield the GN force. The process through which the EMF was fully released in one's current consciousness was called the "Mind Opening Operation". This involved a relatively straightforward procedure and the chances to successfully "open" one's mind were also high. Only after the "Mind Opening Operation" and with the GN force at their disposal could one stand face to face with the Zergs and win.
In a way, the GN force was a soldier's personal arsenal, and its strength was determined by the inherent traits of one's specific genes.
Some groups of people like the Ivantians modified their genes. Unfortunately, it did not affect the strength of their GN power because no modification could change the fundamental attributes of any gene; all alterations to the genes were merely superficial. In other words, birth was the only determining factor of a soldier's ultimate combat ability.
Since being born in the family of the right bloodline was evidently crucial, the status of houses with “superior” genes had been elevated to the utmost level in society.
Unlike the GN power, which was only determined by one's birth, the strength of the METAL suit could always be purchased with money, lots of money.
The standard METAL suits were only useful for optimizing the GN force output to a pre-existing cap. However, the superior suits could significantly increase those cap, but they were astronomically expensive which made the FFC Corporation one of the three largest arsenal providers in the entire Confederation.
If the METAL suit were considered as the external tool to harness GN power, then the Eighth Mental Field would be the tool within the soldier him/herself; but while rigorous training could strengthen one's EMF, only deep pockets could upgrade a METAL suit.
Within each subgroup of humans, genes were further branched into major Families as were the training methods. Out of these different training methods evolved distinct combat styles, usually recorded in a canon called the “Tactics”. Each family created their own combat tactics that had a decisive advantage in the form of unique coup de graces, and the methods to deploy these coup de graces were the greatest secret of any tactic, usually known only by the closest members of the family.
The title for the most powerful tactics undoubtedly went to the “Tactics of the Valkyrie”. The canon containing the “Tactic of the Valkyrie” was kept in the hall of Valhalla, the human's most sacred place which was said to be located in the Astral Realm. Only those who earned the privilege of entering Valhalla have the honor to study the “Tactic of the Valkyrie”.
Wang Tong had waited until the end of middle school and was then finally able to receive the “Mind Opening Operation” at the age of fifteen. As soon as he could fully grasp his Eighth Mental Field, he could then attend a Military Academy, albeit a cheaper one, it would still mean he would have a bright future ahead of him.
"But… who would’ve thought that Old Fart would trade my only free ticket to the 'Mind Opening Operation’ for moonshine? He said he did it inadvertently..."
Each citizen of the Confederation received only one free operation when he or she reached the age of fifteen. It was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity, but Old Fart exchanged Wang Tong's turn for merely one…no...merely two bottles of moonshine.
That said, he wouldn't have had to go to Norton even if he wanted to self-fund his operation, but he was sent there, Old Fart himself had enlisted Wang Tong. Perhaps it was a secret deal with the dispatcher for some quick cash? And if Wang Tong were to breach the contract, he might have to pay dearly for the kickbacks Old Fart had received. So, he was stuck with a deal that he never made.
Wang Tong looked through the windowpane into a space full of twinkling stars. He started to feel the gloomy outlook of his future weighing heavily on his shoulders. "What will happen to me on Norton? Nothing good, I bet." He didn’t blame Old Fart for his misery, although he thought he really should, Old Fart had always provided him the comfort of a home. At least he didn’t have to live in the cold orphanage.
On the other hand, perhaps great opportunities were awaiting him on the planet of Norton. Wang Tong seemed to see a glimpse of hope. "Maybe I'll be rich in two years, I'll be able to swagger in front of the Old Fart like I meant it, and I'll throw moonshine in his face until he pukes just as a lesson."
Wang Tong had always been an optimistic person, if not overly so.
"Dear passengers, the shuttle is about to enter quadratic speed, we will arrive at the space station in twenty-five earth-hours. We will start the hyper-jump from the space station and should arrive at our destination in one hundred and twenty earth-hours. Please proceed to enter deep sleep stage to ensure that you are fully rested upon arrival."
As the sweet voice of the space stewardess spread throughout the ship’s cabin, a burst of curses started to fill up the rest of the cabin space. Although uncomfortable, sleeping through the quadratic speed was the cheapest option for space liners and was also the only option for those in the economy cabin. Comfort was a luxury reserved for the richest in space traveling.
Wang Tong didn’t mind sleeping through the trip; there was nothing to see outside of the window once they had entered the quadratic speed. What Wang Tong really wanted was smelling the land, swallowing big jugs of Cola and triple layered drumstick burgers that sizzled with grease. Before he finally entered into the state of deep sleep, he wished in secret that he could have all of those in his dream.
Wang Tong never seemed to have enough sleep. He was aghast when he opened his eyes again, seeing the galaxy in the distance that looked very different from the one that he had left. This was the Centaurus Galaxy. Although Wang Tong was not an avid space navigator, instinct still told him that he had traveled many parsecs into the deep space.
The shuttle slowly descended, and from here, Wang Tong had a panoramic view of the planet as a bright green assaulted his visual sensory. Covered with a blanket of emerald colored vegetation, the scenery on Norton looked much like Earth; no wonder so much hype was stirred up the first time it was discovered by humans from Earth.
In Wang Tong's first impression of Norton, the beautiful, yet strange scenery was invigorating and relaxing at the same time.
The dispatcher had started assigning quarters as soon as the passengers had passed security. There would be no rest for this lot as they were sent here as laborers, not tourists.
The receiving officer looked at Wang Tong in surprise, seeing the dark-haired boy in front of him who looked even younger than he really was, the officer shook his head in sadness. He figured that the kid must have had terribly selfish parents.
"Wang Tong, 15... lad, let me tell you something, read your instructions carefully. Norton isn't a friendly place for a kid like you. I hope to see you again in one piece in two years. Next."
Norton indeed was not a place for a young boy like Wang Tong. The dispatcher's cheap compassion wouldn't be able to save Wang Tong's ass on this awful planet. Regardless of what the government had boasted about Norton to the people on Earth, down here, settlers lived a miserable life.
The cargo ship dropped the laborers off one by one to their home quarters, like tossing a handful of petals. Wang Tong was assigned to a mining district in Sector D-18, and his daily task was to supervise the one hundred and eighty mining bots. The Confederation had also provided him with a personal assistant - a robotic butler with only very limited AI. His code name was C-1847678，"C" stood for the class which the robot belonged to and also meant that this robot was a lower tier unit among all the units from where it was manufactured. Wang Tong gave him the nickname “Charcoal”, after his charcoal colored face.
Rule number one at work: “Never leave the base”. Firstly the gravity on Norton was five times stronger than the gravity on Earth; second, the streets on Norton were teeming with crime. Unless Wang Tong wore the METAL suit, he had to stay put as the compensation for non-work related incidents was pathetic. Wang Tong decided that he would never trade his life for a few dabs of moonshine.
With Charcoal's help, Wang Tong had a rough understanding of the colony's operation: the humans functioned as overseers, while the whole planet worked on its own like a tireless machine. This was going to make life on the planet incredibly monotonous, and this was where Charcoal came in; a robot like him was designed to provide companionship to humans, thus preventing them from losing their sanity out of complete boredom.
After a long conversation with Charcoal, Wang Tong still felt agitated, he was well rested from the space shuttle, and the rush from his first arrival on a new planet remained. He decided to walk around the base, but to Wang Tong's disappointment, he noticed the lack of entertainment facilities at the base; only a gym and a reading chamber for the workers. This planet was yet to be developed, and many basic civil infrastructures were yet to be built. Naturally, the Confederation was reluctant to spend too much money to meet workers' need for entertainment.
For the entire first week, Wang Tong practiced a combat tactic called the "Tactics of the Blade" during his free time after work. He still wanted to take the "Mind Opening Operation”, and he needed to practice to increase his success rate.
The "blade” in the name of the tactic had nothing to do with the invincible Blade Warriors who had become legendary some four hundred years ago. It was a straightforward and elementary exercise for rookies who had just finished or were about to undergo the “Mind Opening Operation”. Trainees following this tactic would increase the rate of success for the procedure; it also stimulated one's Sea of Consciousness, and for those who had just undergone a successful "Mind Opening Operation”, it could help to stabilize their EMF. It was a very common, if not mundane, tactic widely practiced by rookies like Wang Tong. The ones who were born in a prominent Family wouldn't even glance at this kind of tactics canon. Even those who had practiced it while they were rookies would switch to something more advanced once they entered a Military Academy.
That being said, one of the very few nice things Old Fart ever did for Wang Tong was to teach him the "Tactics of the Blade", but the “Old Fart” version. It had at least helped Wang Tong to complete his very first round of tactics. Old Fart, however, insisted that his version was more than just an ordinary tactic. He boasted, more often than not after a few moonshine, that Wang Tong would become as powerful as a Blade Warrior if he were ever able to master what he had taught him.
What Old Fart had taught him was indeed unique compared to the conventional version of "Tactics of the Blade". The fundamental technique of inert training in any type of tactics was to surround one's consciousness with eight of the pivotal GN nodes (or “Qi” in ancient superstitious texts) in a circle. However, Old Fart's version was called the "Tactics of the Blade: 16 Genome Nuclear Force", as it required the trainee to mobilize sixteen GN nodes instead of eight.
It was harder for a rookie like Wang Tong, and it never even did anything special.
Trapped on this beautiful but terrible planet, practice and training became Wang Tong's only downtime activities. He never stepped outside as he knew he wouldn't last long out there without a METAL suit, but it was hard for Wang Tong, an energetic virgin boy filled with testosterone, to stay calm and content.
It had been a peaceful week since Wang Tong's arrival, at times he even missed Old Fart. Practicing the tactic allowed him to focus and, more importantly, to hold on to his sanity. Here on Norton, he could even finish the entire set of training, something that he could never do on Earth because of the unique requirement of Old Fart's version; to finish a complete round could take up to five hours. Wang Tong could seldom complete an entire set of training on Earth thanks to the many distractions, but on Norton, since training was the only thing he could do, finishing the full form meant less time spent in excruciating boredom.
In his own way, he had already learned to adapt to his new lonely life.
However, this moment of calm and peace was disrupted on the morning of the seventh day since his arrival. Sirens suddenly went off unleashing ear-piercing shrieks across the sky. Wang Tong glanced at the CCTV screen, Zergs. They had already sprawled over the entire screen.
"Damn it! They didn’t even tell me that there would be Zergs here!"