Chapter 18: Astrolabe Reboot
Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
A-Ka had read before that sometimes, some species would charge to their death. For example, desert mice would leave their home and jump into the ocean. Schools of biofluorescent fish that lived in the depths of the ocean would, one day, surge in thousands to the shore and strand themselves on the beach.
In even more ancient times, pods of whales that had no way of surviving would rush to dry land and exchange their life for the survival of the entire species.
When A-Ka saw the countless small aircrafts being dispatched, he couldn’t help but recall a scene he had read in a book so many years ago; the aircrafts were just like a school of fish as they bravely charged to their death in Mechanical City, using their fierce attacks to pay the price of an opportunity for the survival of their species.
All of the androids set off in full force, their aircrafts blotting out the sky. The aircrafts with flashing lights were like the biofluorescent scales of a fish in the deep sea, covering the dim horizon and filling it with lightning in an instant.
There were mech guards covering the outer edge of Mechanical City already, and the fighter mechs all rose into the air and began to shoot at them. Heishi and A-Ka stoof in the bridge of one of the aircrafts and looked at the explosions and flames all in the sky around them.
After the battle of the android revolution, Father’s body had been destroyed, and a section of its tower had been severed off. In the short half a year, only rebars and exposed wires remained at the top of the rebuilt tower and they flashed under the sky. However, Mechanical City still had the strongest forces on the mainland, and the flying mechs were like a colony of indestructible termites that rushed towards the aircrafts.
There was a boom, and alarms flashed inside the aircraft.
“Warning, the right wing has been shot. The engine is malfunctioning.”
“Prepare to abandon the aircraft and escape,” said Heishi. “A-Ka, are you ready?”
A-Ka nodded, and his pupils reflected the faraway Father, which was gathering its energy. A-Ka pulled down the transmitter next to his ear and said loudly, “Feiluo! Can you hear me?”
“I’m here.” Carna’s voice sounded from the earpiece. “What is it?”
“Father is starting to store its energy!” A-Ka said, “Tell them not to get any closer! Or else the electromagnetic storm is going to destroy all of the fighter aircrafts!”
“Commence the operation immediately,” said Carna.
The aircraft began to tilt and shake. A-Ka rushed up the escalator and entered the hangar. In an instant, the entire aircraft spun, and Heishi promptly reached out his hands and grabbed A-Ka’s waist, roaring, “Be careful!”
A-Ka slid into the seat of a small aircraft. As the red clouds of the explosions dispersed, a small aircraft zoomed out of the clouds.
“Father is trying to intercept you and is searching for your location, Heishi.” Carna said through the transmitter, “In order to avoid exposing your route, all communications will be cut off. Good luck to you both.”
“Good luck to you, too,” replied A-Ka.
The aircraft weaved through the countless explosions and dodged the metal fragments and bullets that flew in all directions. Heishi pulled down on the aircraft’s joystick and said, “Change it to manual mode.”
A-Ka did so, and Heishi moved the joystick to the side. The aircraft rolled sideways in the air and dodged the huge mech guard and android aircraft that were about to collide with them!
“I’ve come to realize that androids really don’t fear death,” a lazy voice said from the transmitter.
“Shahuang!” A-Ka shouted excitedly.
More and more soldiers of the mech army rose into the air and flew towards them. When they approached the Nucleus, their aircraft became the only target. However, a team of aircrafts flew out of the flames towards them! Immediately after, they skillfully separated into two groups, and surrounded A-Ka’s and Heishi’s aircraft to protect them!
“It’s because they know each other’s data.” Huixiong said, “It is just like how Libre described it, the entire species is like a single person.”
“Then do they swap their wives with each other?” asked Shahuang.
Huixiong guffawed and said, “Now, let us humans be the final convoy for the Son of the Gods!”
There was a chorus of affirmations from Phoenix City’s merchants, and A-Ka’s heart swelled with pride.
“Let’s head towards the center!” A-Ka said loudly, “Find the place where it flashes! We can go to Father’s core area through there!”
He had just finished speaking when Father’s majestic body flashed.
As the blue light shone, everyone was briefly blinded, and in that fleeting instant, Father’s structure appeared to A-Ka.
That moment was magical, and it was as if a deity had set everyone’s fate to a certain point. The thought that flashed by in A-Ka’s mind wasn’t of Father, nor the battle, nor his incredible ability; instead, it was of his own fate——a sacrifice.
That second, A-Ka practically understood everything: he had been born for this very reason, and through everything that had happened up until now, he took over the important task.
“Paixi… I understand…” A-Ka’s pupils contracted quickly and froze.
“What?” Heishi said, “Be careful!”
A huge metal board spun as it flew towards them, and the aircraft rolled to the left abruptly. A part of the wing was sliced off, and black smoke trailed from the aircraft as it fell towards Father’s tower.
“Did you two find the entrance?” Shahuang said, “You’d better hurry, I can’t guarantee…”
“Do a corkscrew landing!” A-Ka shouted, “It’s two hundred and twenty meters above the ground! I already see it!”
The entrance was in the center of four cannons, and Huixiong laughed helplessly. “Nice location.”
Right after, the aircrafts flanking them dove to the side, and the cannons turned and aimed at them. The blue magnetic storm brewing at the top of Father’s tower spread in an instant!
All sounds were muffled, and on the eastern mainland, with Father at the center, an electromagnetic shock wave covered the sky and the ground. All of the mech soldiers and android aircrafts were affected by the indiscriminate, paralyzing magnetic storm. The world was silenced for two seconds, and immediately after, all of the fighter mechs burst into fire and fell to the ground.
The ground quaked ceaselessly as the needles of the compasses on all the aircrafts wobbled and spun randomly. Heishi couldn’t control the aircraft anymore, and the top of the aircraft was lifted off. Right before the aircraft crashed into the tower, a myriad of shiny black feathers spread and assembled underneath their feet. A-Ka hugged Heishi’s waist and shut his eyes tightly. The two of them stood on the flying board made of feathers, and the second the cannons began to turn towards them, they dashed into Father’s tower.
Shouting came from A-Ka’s earpiece, but he couldn’t tell if it was Shahuang, Huixiong, or an android. However, that wasn’t important to him anymore. The instant he and Heishi had rushed into the tower, it was like they had entered a completely different world.
They were in a long corridor filled with light, and the ceiling, floor, and walls were all display screens that flashed with countless symbols. Standing among them was like being in a vast universe of information, and the surging of the symbols was like the rising and falling of stars, and the rolling, swelling tides that never ceased.
“Heishi?” A-Ka knelt down besides Heishi and saw that he was unconscious.
Heishi coughed out a mouthful of blood with difficulty.
“Heishi!” A-Ka said loudly.
“Zoroaster has already lost all of his abilities.” Father said in its majestic voice, “Foolish human. Even now, you still have such unrealistic fantasies…”
“These are…” Heishi said intermittently, “damping rays. Do not be scared, A-Ka. Go, we will continue forward.”
A-Ka pulled Heishi along and let Heishi lean against him as he ran down the corridor at a brisk pace. Father’s threatening voice reverberated around them.
“Give up on your operation. All of this will never stop because of you two…”
“You don’t have a lot of time left.” A-Ka raised his head and murmured, “You paralyzed all of the mechs in Mechanical City, so you have no forces left at all…”
The two of them ran to the end of the corridor and were met with a huge, deep blue crystal pillar that had countless tentacles wrapped around it.
A-Ka exclaimed, “Quick! That’s its central controller!”
Heishi roared, “Wake up, Labelle!”
Heishi shook open his wings and carried A-Ka towards the center of the pillar that glowed blue. Everything changed instantly in A-Ka’s eyes, and he spotted a notch in the crystal pillar.
At the same time, thousands of waving blue tentacles shot at them and entangled Heishi. Heishi shouted in pain, but A-Ka stepped on Heishi’s body for momentum and flew past the last stretch like an arrow. He held the chips that were inserted into the chip reader in his left hand and raised it above the crystal pillar.
The passing of time seemed to stop completely. A-Ka’s body was suspended midair as he flew towards the pillar and slapped the chips and chip reader down. With a soft click, it slid into the notch.
The entire crystal pillar turned from blue to red at once, and the symbols on the surfaces around them became scrambled up.
“Warning, emergency shutdown.” Father emitted an automated voice that violated its own will. “After thirty seconds, the core program will be rebooted. Twenty-nine, twenty-eight…”
The tentacles disappeared, and Heishi flew towards the pillar and caught A-Ka.
The two of them crashed into the crystal pillar and fell headfirst into the bottomless abyss.
The billions of symbols were like shining stars as they aggregated and assembled into a large face. The face that was composed of flashing squares opened its mouth and roared angrily.
Heishi’s head was covered in blood as he embraced A-Ka. They plummeted down the void next to Father’s energy pillar, their speed increasing as they fell from inside the tower to Astrolabe’s Nucleus.
A-Ka opened his eyes and saw a dim spot of light in the distance.
Father’s blue light whirled next to them, and the glowing tentacles shot at them. However, everytime they got near Heishi and A-Ka, the shiny black feathers would spring out and collide fiercely with the tentacles.
A-Ka and Heishi fell into the end of the blue light at the same time. Father’s consciousness faded away, and a silent field that glowed with white appeared in front of them.
Thousands of water droplets that hovered in the air appeared around them. A-Ka turned around in surprise and discovered that every droplet had a grand world inside of it. He and Heishi let go of each other’s hands and floated silently.
“Is it here?” A-Ka said in a daze. He tried to land on the ground, but he remained suspended midair. The two of them lifted their heads to see that high above them, countless blue tentacles were trying to penetrate the area; Father still hadn’t given up on seizing back control of Astrolabe.
Heishi replied, “In several million years, you are the first and the last human to come here.”
“What is this?” A-Ka’s eyes were wide in wonder as he used his finger to poke one of the suspended water beads that drifted past him. The drop of water plinked and separated into a myriad of smaller droplets. They dispersed in all directions, and as the world reflected in them disappeared, a new world emerged from it.
“This is Father’s database,” replied Heishi. “He stores all of the experiment’s data in these water droplets and uses the compatibility of liquids to do calculations.”
A-Ka couldn’t help but marvel at how mystical it was. This vast world filled with white light had already surpassed human knowledge by a lot. Heishi said, “Should we start now, A-Ka?”
“Do you know how to control it?” asked A-Ka.
Heishi stepped in front of A-Ka protectively and said, “No matter what happens, do not come forward.”
“No.” A-Ka said, “What can I do for you? Don’t always be like this.”
Heishi motioned for him to stop speaking. He tapped Astrolabe’s Nucleus and its light dissipated. An automated voice sounded.
“Cannot be activated. There needs to be a carrier.”
A-Ka was bewildered.
Heishi was silent for a moment and then stepped forward to the center of the Nucleus. However, the orbs of light repelled him and didn’t gather around him.
“Do not match. Please change the offering.”
Heishi was speechless.
A-Ka was shocked.
“I understand,” A-Ka said shakily. “Let me go, Heishi.”
“No!” Heishi stopped A-Ka immediately.
A-Ka said, “You can’t do it by yourself. You need another person. I understand now…”
He lifted his head and looked around. All of the symbols seemed to have a special meaning, and the floating water beads glowed from the center.
“I’ll work together with you to reboot Astrolabe’s central program.” A-Ka said tensely, “I will become the main program.”
“What?!” Heishi said in disbelief, “That is not possible! What about you?”
A-Ka motioned for him to calm down and smiled as he patted Heishi’s shoulder. Heishi stopped him again, but A-Ka said, “Let me try! It might not work! Don’t be so anxious!”
Heishi murmured, “No, A-ka, you cannot… We can leave this place.”
Suddenly, the world of the Nucleus quaked restlessly. The space above them began to crumble as Father used its steel frame to forcefully break into the depths of Astrolabe. In an instant, countless blue tentacles shot out and waved around, the white light faintly absorbed by the blue.
The white world began to fall apart and collapse, layer by layer, and the water droplets broke and scattered.
Amid the tremors, A-Ka and Heishi were still silent and facing each other, suspended midair.
“Listen, Heishi. When the program starts to reboot,” said A-Ka, “I’ll do as you say. Don’t worry, we can solve this. Don’t cry, Heishi, what are you crying for? I’ll be fine… Coming here with you is the happiest thing that’s happened to me…”
“No!” Heishi rushed forward, but A-Ka was quicker than him and had already walked onto Astrolabe’s Nucleus. The lights zoomed towards A-Ka and gathered around him, making him glow as they repelled Heishi out of the astrolabe.
“A-Ka!” roared Heishi.
A-Ka smiled and said, “If we don’t do anything, Father will obtain control of the Nucleus, so isn’t this the best way? Heishi, come on, let’s start.”
Heishi’s eyes were rimmed with red as he raised a hand.
The world above them seemed to be collapsing, and among the fallen debris and the light, Heishi’s body began to glow. Countless particles flew towards A-Ka as Astrolabe’s Nucleus dissolved gently. They surrounded A-Ka, who stretched out his arms and legs as he floated upwards. He lifted his head and gazed into the distance, and a teardrop slipped out of the corner of his eye.
The teardrop transformed into one of the billion starry worlds and melted into the vast ocean of information.
“The offering matches. Confirmation complete.” A-Ka’s voice sounded like an automated one, as he had supplanted Astrolabe’s Nucleus’s guiding program. He said monotonously, “The experiment’s objective has been completed. Please connect to Astrolabe’s consciousness.”
A-Ka’s consciousness seemed to be everywhere, and it melted into the vast world of Astrolabe. His body changed strangely under the luminosity of the Nucleus, and his clothing transformed into powder and drifted away.
From his feet to his waist, then to his head, A-Ka’s soft skin crystallized instantly and sparkled.
The energy used his body as its carrier, and all of the water droplets agglomerated at his head.
At that moment, Heishi seemed to realize that A-Ka wouldn’t be coming back.
“A-Ka——!” Heishi shouted hoarsely.
A-Ka said indifferently, “The connection is complete. Transferring data.”
A-Ka opened his eyes. Heishi’s tears gushed out as he stood before A-Ka. His eyebrows were knitted and he trembled uncontrollably, as sad as a newborn baby who had lost everything. A-Ka tried to smile at him, but he was unable to make any expression. His crystallized exterior flashed as knowledge and messages flooded into A-Ka’s mind like an ocean.
“Confirm permission for operation,” said A-Ka. “Warning, if your authority is not high enough, then the operation will be aborted.”
Heishi’s hand trembled as he slowly touched A-Ka’s forehead.
“Authority has passed. Highest level of authority, Zoroaster. This is the emergency control system.” A-Ka looked at Heishi and said calmly, “Welcome to Astrolabe’s Nucleus. Please begin the operation.”
Heishi looked at A-Ka, and his tears flooded out uncontrollably. He pressed his lips tightly together, yet was unable to suppress his sobs. He hugged the crystallized A-Ka tightly and buried his head into his shoulder.
“Rebooting Astrolabe.” Heishi said shakily, “Set all environment data to their original setting…”
“Confirmed.” A-Ka stretched out his arms and looked up. He turned his hands over and countless spots of light spread from his palms, merging into Astrolabe’s barriers.
That day, the world of Astrolabe that had run for thousands of years began to quake.
The sun shone brightly in Dragonmaw City. Molan lifted his head and gazed at the horizon as the ground began to shake. Hundreds of thousands of people were gathered in front of the temple, and the moment the ground split, a golden light shone from underground. A huge thruster began to buzz and fire up, causing the inner city to rise slowly.
“A-Ka has succeeded,” said Molan.
“Will he come back?” Paixi said in a low voice.
Molan said, “He has already become one with this world. His consciousness constitutes this new world, Paixi.”
Paixi stood on top of the platform and couldn’t help but cry as he buried his head into Molan’s shoulder.
Molan reached out a hand and touched Paixi’s head.
At the eastern shore, the black ocean surged out in an instant and water flooded the city. Mountain ranges collapsed and the ground sagged. The fallen aircrafts started again, and Father’s tower folded in half. Its blue light disappeared gradually and dimmed.
“Quick, board the mothership——!” Carna shouted, “This place is going to be submerged soon!”
The surviving people of Mechanical City all boarded the mothership as the ocean surged and poured itself into the city. The eastern part of the mainland began to sink, and the continental shelf fractured. Finally, the huge mothership hurtled out of the ocean and flew, like a giant whale, towards the horizon.
A cloudy haze swept across the sky, and a gale dissipated the red mist above Phoenix City. White light emanated from the ground as rainwater spilled into every corner of the world.
The black in the oceans and rivers receded, and clear waters flashed in the sunset’s glow. The pollution in the waters were drawn into whirlpools and pulled deep down underground.
“The rebooting of Astrolabe is complete.” A-Ka said, “Waiting for your next instruction. According to the irreversible rules of rebooting, after this operation, Astrolabe’s Nucleus will be completely formatted, the experiment’s data will be cleared.”
Heishi reached out his shaking hand and caressed A-Ka’s face.
A-Ka’s expression was indifferent and calm, and his pupils reflected Heishi’s grieved expression.
“Give me back… my A-Ka…” Heishi choked out.
“There are sixty seconds left of the operation. Fifty-nine…”
“Ahh——” Heishi shouted in suffering as he hugged A-Ka tightly.
“Three, two, one.”
“The program is over. Formatting complete. Farewell,” said A-Ka.
Heishi was still embracing A-Ka tightly, unwilling to let go no matter what. However, a force separated them, and Heishi’s left arm was ripped off by the Nucleus’s repulsion. Blood sprayed out from his wound, and he drifted away like a kite with a broken string.
“Goodbye, Heishi.” A-Ka closed his eyes. In that instant, he had returned to his original self, but it was only for a short second. The world fell into darkness.
Magma erupted out and covered the Nucleus. Heishi was pushed out by the force of the repulsion. Blood dripped from his hand, yet he still firmly clutched a small fragment of crystal from A-Ka’s body.
His tears mixed with the ocean water, and he gazed at the faraway fireball that had been completely sealed off by the lava. It was like the last star in the depths of the universe had burned to its end.
The fireball collapsed and sealed the Nucleus into the boundless darkness.
The azure ocean ebbed and flowed as always. Heishi was set to the shore by the tidewater, and blood dripped from his split arm. He pulled himself onto the beach with difficulty and laid on his stomach, sobbing silently. He was still clenching the fragment of crystal in his remaining hand, so tightly that it pierced his skin.
“Father…” Heishi said hoarsely between sobs, “The emotion you did not give me was this, right?”
“I used to think that…” Heishi convulsed and coughed out a mouthful of blood, “not having this emotion was the only way to mature.”
Heishi coughed violently and buried his head into the sand, roaring in agony.
“I found him!”
“Son of the gods——!”
Carna landed the aircraft on the beach and he and the other androids raced over, crowding around Heishi. Heishi was kneeling on the sand, facing the ocean, and wracked with sobs.
In the boundless darkness, A-Ka opened his eyes and saw an expanse of blue light fade and then spread again, becoming an ocean.
“Father, is it you?” A-Ka asked softly.
“There was an error in the calculations of the program,” Father said in its majestic voice. “It was about to activate its self-destruction.”
A-Ka walked into Father’s blue light and raised his arms. Countless symbols of the program spun around him, and they were like imbalanced chains as they collapsed one after another.
A figure appeared in the blue light.
“Human.” The figure said, “The evolutionary program controlled my core’s thoughts, and the self-correction file the gods gave me released the terminal karma chain. You have finally come, my child.”
The blue light gradually disappeared. A-Ka said, “What… is the terminal karma chain?”
A-Ka walked towards Father’s vague figure. Father said, “Everything’s awareness of reality was given to the human named Kalan, by me. After he selected a successor from the human villages but failed in the implantation process, he was brought back to Mechanical City by my main program. For a time, I believed that the experiment would be terminated. You seem to only have obtained the successor’s perceptive abilities, and not the prophetic abilities.”
A-ka was shocked.
“It really was… exactly the same as I suspected.” A-Ka said, “So Paixi is the failed experiment?”
Father gazed at A-Ka and said, “Perhaps I will be eliminated completely. My child, I have granted you the wish you had by running the backup program and releasing Zoroaster. Did you like that?”
A-Ka nodded. Father said, “Once, I also studied how to be a human being. Now, it seems that everything has already reached the end. Are you willing to shut me down?”
The blue light glowed and submerged A-Ka like the ocean. Countless symbols spun around him, and some texts appeared in the void, and there was a spot of light in the center of them. A-Ka reached out his finger and pressed the dot as he said, “Farewell, Father.”
All of the energy in the abandoned mechanical tower, Father, was finally extinguished, and it became completely still.
However, the moment A-Ka touched the screen, a nutrient pod appeared behind him.
“Backup escape program has been detected. The raft mode of the summoning pod has been activated.” Father said its last words: “Farewell, child.”
The hatch of the nutrient pod closed with A-Ka inside the cabin.
The tides of the ocean flowed, and magma gushed out from the seafloor. The tectonic plates collided and sank, and all of Mechanical City was swallowed by the underground abyss. The lava melted all of the steel, and in the depths of the oceanic trenches, a rescue capsule with a trail of bubbles shot out from the ocean floor and towards the surface.