Happy 5th Year Anniversary! It is by far one of my favorite Matthia novels to date, so PLEASE check it out! This was a joint effort by everyone in ExR for our 5th Year Anniversary. Thank you, Addis, Rikko, Aphelios, Ceti, KarateChopMonkey, gaeatiamat, and Rara.
Chapter 2: The True Last Day
Translated by Rikko of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
“Don’t be afraid. I’m not someone bad. What’s your name?”
“U.G.? What’s your full name? Nevermind. In this day and age, everyone has their own problems to deal with. I’ll just call you U.G. My name is Kiwi, pronounced just like the type of small bird.”
“H-Hello…Can you help me? I have nowhere to go.”
“You’re a war refugee?”
“I guess that’s the case. Come with me to the academy then. I’ll be going for a class later. You can just wait for me in my office. After that, I’ll help you contact the officials and find your family.”
As there was no clock in the gap realm, You Ji didn’t know how long he had lived there. He cut his waist-length hair a little shorter because it was inconvenient, and there was no one to appreciate it now. He often spent his time reading, and occasionally copied a few paragraphs in beautiful calligraphy. He even learned to play a virtual game of tennis with the Landlord by holding up a motion capture remote.
Finally, one day, he’d made up his mind.
There was a place he wanted to go. He didn’t know where it was, nor did he know its name. Still, he could feel a strong, powerful, mysterious voice was calling out to him. That was the place he was supposed to spend his life.
He chose a door and walked through it, towards that unknown world where the flames of war stretched far and wide, where storms raged fiercely. He thought he had become much stronger and not as meek, but once he set foot onto unfamiliar ground, he still trembled in fear.
Enormous buildings shone with a metallic sheen, while holes pockmarked the earth below. Amidst the thick fog was the faint roar of machinery. Electronic noises scurried to and from the oddly shaped structures…objects no one had ever seen, or able to imagine. To You Ji, this world was utterly beyond the scope of his knowledge.
After that, he met Mr. Kiwi, a professor in the academy. He had several research projects under him, all of which kept him busy all day long.
Convinced that U.G. indeed had nowhere to go, Kiwi let him stay at his home for the time being. At first, the stay was temporary, but it naturally became permanent.
Being around Kiwi, U.G not only gradually understood the common knowledge of the world, but also learned something terrible. This world was currently experiencing a war, where large numbers of people died every minute. The demons within the universe had their mouths open wide, as they gnawed away at their homeland bit by bit.
That’s right, within the universe. The current war wasn’t a strife between nations but a blazing fire sweeping across the entire galaxy. Not only did U.G. have lots to learn, but he also had to work to support himself. Of course, Kiwi was perfectly capable of supporting him, but he didn’t want that. He didn’t want to turn back into the kind of person he used to be.
U.G.’s life became hectic, and gave him little chance to look back on his past. By the time he inadvertently began to ponder about the past and the present, he had already spent five years at Mr. Kiwi’s side.
One night, U.G. was cleaning the bathtub. His hair was only shoulder-length now, tied in a braid and placed at the back. Barefoot and topless, he wore a pair of synthetic breathable fabric shorts. After he cleaned the tub, he got up and looked into the mirror. In the mirror stood a young man in his early thirties, no longer pale, scrawny, or melancholic. Despite still being on the thinner side, he had clear lines that defined his muscles. A scar from an appendectomy could be seen on his lower abdomen.
U.G. let out a sudden laugh. He could barely remember how he previously looked. The man in the mirror was who he actually was, and lived a life he found fulfilling. Despite the shortage of supplies and constant warfare in this world, he didn’t feel a single bit of longing for the lavish life he once had.
Those long nights of enjoying music played behind the beaded curtains while on a damask couch seemed to be a description of someone else’s story in a book.
A rapid series of coughs sounded in the house. U.G. set down the things he was holding, and rushed over to see Mr. Kiwi as he leaned over the bed’s headboard as he trembled in pain. U.G. poured a cup of water for him before he stroked his back until he calmed down.
Wounded by the war, Mr. Kiwi had been in poor health ever since then. In the early years, he was able to at least maintain his health with the help of medical treatments. During the last five years, as the war worsened, so did the living conditions of the people. He was unable to receive the timely medical treatment he once had in the past, and was now so debilitated that he could barely stand upright in front of the laboratory table.
“Thank you.” Mr. Kiwi placed his fingers on his hand.
U.G was about to tell him, I should be the one thanking you. I’m truly grateful for what I have now.
However, an urgent knock on the door rang out before he could.
It was someone from the joint forces. The situation they reported sounded rather horrible. Not only was the military fleet ambushed, but multiple lines of defense had also been broken. The city was a fortress hidden behind a projection of a rainforest, but now that the enemies discovered it, they would soon lock on and destroy it.
As Mr. Kiwi was a protected technological talent, the joint forces came over to inform him of his emergency transfer. They also took out a private, confidential letter locked by a combination only Mr. Kiwi could decode.
During the transfer, Mr. Kiwi read the confidential letter alone. As he stayed by his side, the polite U.G. never stole a glance.
They were sent to an observatory-like place camouflaged with projections that spanned hundreds of miles in all directions.
“We don’t have much time left,” said Mr. Kiwi after they settled down.
Despite having no understanding of the exact situation, U.G. could vaguely sense that the last line of defense was about to be breached. Once the worst scenario imaginable happened, it would not just be a matter of cities being targeted for eradication, or many billions of people being reduced to test subjects or slaves. Instead, it would be the destruction of all civilization.
Mr. Kiwi opened his handheld terminal screen, pulled up a map, and asked U.G. to help him over to one of the control rooms.
It had been several days since Mr. Kiwi got enough medicine, so he had to rely on others to support him when walking.
“There’s something I have never told you.” Incessant coughs intertwined Kiwi’s words. “I’m involved in a project. A project to protect the cultures of the entire world from being wiped out.”
Paper products would be burned. Metal machinery would be melted. Not to mention electronic information, which was even more easily erased. Anyone could cause human civilization to disappear into thin air if they wanted to.
Their enemies in the universe not only want to conquer, but also want to erase humanity, along with any traces of humanity’s former existence. In the future, the enemies would obtain the whole planet. In contrast, any traces of the planet’s original inhabitants and civilizations would be treated like dirt on a melon, something that needed to be thoroughly cleansed away.
However, human footprints were not on just that planet. They also possessed large space stations in the depths of the universe, and had sent several mother ships to explore other galaxies. When their planet got into danger, those people would be homeless. At the same time, they were also the last hope to protect the civilization of their planet.
Mr. Kiwi continued, “The history, literature and technology…They cannot fall into the hands of monsters, or be destroyed by our hands. We must store them in a safe place. Maybe one day, our future generations will reclaim the planet and its freedom. Then, they can find the hidden knowledge again, open it, and pass on everything.”
As Kiwi pressed his palm on a touch keypad, a crescent-shaped, sealed door slowly opened. The room within was extremely narrow, with a coffin-like mechanism in the middle connected to a small console.
“This is a research project that my colleagues and I are working on in secret,” Mr. Kiwi revealed. “Its purpose is to preserve human civilization as much as possible under a worst-case scenario.”
“How is it preserved?” U.G. asked.
Kiwi replied, “As you know, technology can convert everything into electronic information, while humans have the means to interpret it. But saving all of this information requires a large memory space. How many storage devices would be needed to save the vast majority of knowledge in this world?” Kiwi continued, “All of this information can’t be stored within just one or two chips. Don’t think that because the current memory storage devices are small, that preparing many of them will be enough… That’s not the case at all. We would need a piece of storage equipment that is large in storage capacity and huge in size.”
“It’s too risky to gather electronic devices of huge volume in just one place. So, is it possible to store the devices separately? That wouldn’t be good either. After all, if a part of it is lost or damaged, then there would be a break in information of the civilization,” Kiwi stated.
Kiwi asked U.G. to help him over to the ‘coffin’ so he could sit next to it. Although U.G. did not feel comfortable doing so, he did as asked anyways. After all, the room didn’t even have a chair.
“So here’s what we’ll do,” Mr. Kiwi leaned against the coffin. “Concurrently to using ordinary electronic devices then storing and hiding them, the storage project will use a human too.”
“That’s right. Do you know, U.G., the storage capacity of computers all over can’t hold a candle to that of a human brain? Moreover, our project is not limited to using a human brain. We use all the neural networks in the human body. It only takes one person to hold the entire knowledge of this planet.”
Whilst he was talking, Kiwi patted the coffin then pointed to the surroundings. “What you see is not a room, but a small flying escape pod. Once they’ve received the transmission of information, the person will lie into the apparatus, while someone else activates the emergency cryopreservation function, and freezes the person in a life support container. The escape pod will then be sent out into the universe. A program will determine a hiding place for the pod as pre-programmed, and it will hide on an isolated island in the universe before it runs out of energy. It will remain silent for fifty years to prevent the enemy from immediately setting out to detect it. Only after fifty years of silence will it automatically send passwords to man-made devices of the same frequency.”
U.G. looked down at the coffin-shaped container. “Can human life continue to be sustained even after the energy is exhausted?”
“It can only last for a few hundred years. If there really isn’t anyone who manages to discover and locate the human in the future, they will face a true death in the ice coffin.”
“How about before that?” U.G. asked.
“If both his brain and body bear that much memories and information… Will the human still be able to return to their original self?”
Mr. Kiwi reached out his hand, pressed it to the back of U.G’s neck, and patted him, “As expected of both a good assistant and a good student of mine. That’s right. After receiving this information, that person’s ‘self’ ceases to exist. Their entire personality must be emptied to free up storage space. Future descendants can use equipment to retrieve information from that body but cannot talk to the person at all. They will turn into a storage device. The individual within is, for practical purposes, long dead.”
Amid his talk, Mr Kiwi’s eyes reddened as tears dropped down.
In a panic, U.G. asked him what was wrong. Kiwi’s lips trembled, “U.G., I’m sorry. I’m…really sorry.”
“Why the apology?”
“I need…you to do this,” Kiwi gazed into his eyes. “I need you to be the one to receive this transmission, and be sent into the universe.”
Over the past five years, the project team had been screening people who could withstand the information transmission, with countless young men and women subjected to secret inspections. Although there were about ten people selected, several of them were dead, while some were missing and uncontactable. At this critical moment, Mr. Kiwi could find only two suitable people. One being U.G., and the other being himself.
However, he could not fill this role personally. First of all, someone was needed to carry out the complex operations needed for the transmission. U.G did not know how to operate it, so only Mr. Kiwi could do so. Secondly, they could not get any random researcher to take charge of the operation at this very instant since there would be a risk of the project being leaked, and in turn, being discovered by the enemy. Finally, and most importantly, Mr. Kiwi was too old and his physique too weak. It was likely he would die during the transmission or freezing process. In that case, the entire plan would crumble away, and fail at the very last step.
Therefore, the most suitable person right now was just U.G.
After he took all of that in, U.G. clasped his hands onto Mr. Kiwi’s face, and planted a kiss on his forehead.
“All right, I’ll do it.” U.G accepted.
Mr. Kiwi wrapped his slightly shaking arms around U.G., who returned the embrace with a firmer hug.
As he lay inside the equipment, U.G. took a deep breath and gazed at the circular ceiling. It was as though he had returned to that time, years ago, when he woke up lying in a white room. He had died before awakening then. After he woke up, he opened his eyes. Bit by bit, his tragic, humiliating memories turned into tiny pieces, which then turned into stepping stones that guided him to the present and into a life he could never have imagined.
U.G. knew that he would not wake up again this time once he closed his eyes. Still, he was neither afraid, nor resentful. He did not die out of injustice or cowardice, but out of his own volition.
U.G. tried to recall, tried to remember what kind of person “You Ji” had been.
He was young and delicate, his personality gentle. He wore a thin white shirt while he stood in a snowy December night, and gazed up at the gray sky. Just like a droplet of water on a leaf, he was destined to slip down and fall into the dust, then split into pieces.
Today, I will close my eyes once again, and return to silence. This time, I will no longer fall or sink. I will turn into light, as I rise to the heavens.
The position of U.G.’s head was fixed. As the machine started to count down, the life-support and transmission equipment got ready to start. Before the equipment closed, Mr. Kiwi tried his best to prop himself up. Both of their lips touched, yet had to be separated right after.
Gradually, U.G. lost his sense of hearing, and his conscious self began to dissipate as his body lost consciousness. He would not know when he fell into eternal sleep, nor would he see the escape pod being launched into space. He could not see Mr. Kiwi as he broke down crying as he looked up at the sky, nor could he see the gruesomely tragic scenes as the enemy destroyed the entire fortress.
The last impression he had in his mind was the kiss, and his final conversation with Mr. Kiwi, who crouched by his ear.
“I’ll never be able to see you again.” Mr. Kiwi said.
“Yeah,” U.G. reached out to wipe the tears off the researcher’s face. “But if we succeed, someone will remember us in the future, and put our names together.”
“I never got to know your real name.” Kiwi moved away slightly, and keyed in a few commands on the console.
“My name is You Ji. It’s not an abbreviation or alphabet letters, but two words with their own different meanings.” He smiled. “‘You’ stands for melancholic contemplation, and ‘Ji’ means the clear sky after a rain.”